Briefly Noted: Gratuitous Government


"In Liverpool," New York attorney Nathan Belofsky reports, "it is illegal for a woman to be topless except as a clerk in a tropical fish store." Although puzzled readers might want a bit more explanation, that is all they learn about this weird decree in Belofsky's redundantly named compendium The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities (Perigee).

If Belofsky had devoted less space to extended quotations from statutes, regulations, and court proceedings, he might have had room to discuss the motivation for edicts like the British law against eating mincemeat pies on Christmas Day or the Brighton, Michigan, ban on actions that "annoy another person" and "serve no legitimate purpose." 

Still, it's fun dipping into his grab bag of gratuitous government, which includes entertaining and enlightening excursions into such topics as kissing regulations, the 500-year war on bowling, Britain's Anti-Social Behavior Orders, and the insane injunctions of Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.