Those who grump about government usually indict Congress as the prime manufacturer of imprecise, gratuitous and goofy legislation. That is not wrong. State legislatures are as culpable, however. Indeed, more superfluous government probably is committed in those venues than along the banks of the Potomac.
Being the onslaught of intrusive laws -- at both levels -- the writers of bureaucratic regulation gallop down from the hills to shoot the wounded. A glorious example: the "voluntary" required service for high-school students faddish in a number of states. In Maryland, 75 "volunteer" hours, often directed to goo-goo projects and politically liberal initiatives, are mandated -- or you don't get your diploma, kid.
In the state pits of politics, the scramble nearly is without restraint. That's unfortunate, suggesting a public indifference to the addled laws that are being crammed into state codes already overweight. New York may have registered the wildest excess.
There, a new law requires that all public- and private-school students be taught about "The Great Hunger" -- the Irish potato famine -- of the mid-19th century. If that were all the state dictated, it might be attributed to the racial and ethnic pandering into which "multiculturalism" has degenerated. But the New York legislators and Republican Gov. George T. Pataki ventured into an intellectual bog in defining the breadth of this instruction.
At the signing ceremony, Pataki puffed that the awful potato famine (actually famines, which raged in Ireland through the first half of the 19th century) was not merely a massive failure of the crop: It was "the result of a deliberate campaign by the British to deny the Irish people the food they needed to survive."
The sponsor of the bill, an assemblyman from a heavily Hibernian district in Queens, tacked on the requirement to teach the Irish famine to a 1994 law that required New York schools to emphasize instruction about human-rights abuses "with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide, slavery and the Holocaust."
Not unexpectedly, making the Irish famines equivalent to genocide, slavery and the Holocaust ignited resentment. In addition to historians who blanched, the British Embassy in Washington protested the grotesque misrepresentation.
The Holocaust was Hitler's inhuman policy to eradicate Jews in Germany and from his Thousand-Year Reich. To equate the potato famines with that barbarism, passionately retorted a columnist in a London magazine, makes Pataki a contender for the title of "the Greatest Liar in America. …