Des Moines Register 09-13-06 Carlson: Can't escape dumb and offensive (but legal) messages By JOHN CARLSON REGISTER COLUMNIST So I'm driving west on University Avenue in Cedar Falls the other day and a sharp-looking blonde swerves in front of me. A little too close, but the young woman had a good reason. She was, after all, on the phone. Red light. We stop. Which is when I notice the sticker on the rear bumper of her car. Two words: "(Blank) War." Or close to that. "Blank" is as close as I can come to getting the real thing in the newspaper, but that's all right, because you know what her little rolling billboard said. She turned right onto the UNI campus a few blocks down the street, presumably a student going to class. Unless she's a teacher of some sort, which also is possible. The only near certainty is, she wasn't going to a Mensa luncheon. The guess here is that most people are offended when they see the message on her car, no matter what their view is on the current war. Some are clearly horrified a supposedly normal person would paste something like that on her car. Most likely, they yell at their children to "Hey, quick, look at the lady walking the cute puppy down the sidewalk," or duck into McDonald's for a burger and fries nobody wants. Anything to get their little eyes away from the woman, her car and its obscene message. What the woman in Cedar Falls is doing may be crude, and she's probably too dense to express herself in any other way, but she's not violating Iowa law. For further proof of the fact stupid is not necessarily illegal, we look ahead to Iowa City on Saturday, the Hawkeye-Cyclone football game and the sure-tocome pregame gross-out in the parking lots and stadium. This is where you get a good look at the fans, some of whom walk around with goofy grins and T-shirts that say, "(Blank) Iowa State." And, yes, "(Blank) Iowa." Most seem to be women. Young women. College age. And they proudly represent both institutions. They seem oblivious to the message they're strutting around with, possibly because they're obliterated by vodka Jell-O shots. It's a pity they never seem to run into their mothers. The cops or universities can't do anything about it. As former University of Iowa President David Skorton explained a few years ago after a particularly ugly weekend in Iowa City, "Our legal counsel has advised us that it would not be constitutional to ban vulgar T-shirts from Kinnick Stadium." So we're back to the stupid thing again and a guarantee these things aren't going away. And a consultation with my focus group — meaning a friend with a kid who's nearly 5 years old — and the inevitable questions he'll be facing some day on the street or at the ball game. What would the kid say if he saw the car in Cedar Falls? "Bad word, Dad." The father said, yes, he'd agree with the boy, it is a bad word, and he'd tell him never to say it. Just like his own dad told him 30 years ago. What about when the kid asks him why somebody would put that word on a bumper sticker or T-shirt where everybody could see it? "I'd say it's because that person's mom or dad never sat down with him and told him it was a bad thing to do." My friend said his son would understand that. OK, he probably won't understand when his dad has to explain that a guy isn't allowed to drive around with an Iowa license plate that says "F NADER"; that a woman can't wear a "Kerry for President" button to a Bush rally; that a girl can't wear an anti-abortion T-shirt to a Des Moines high school; but that the ultimate bad word, the real thing, is plastered on this other stuff. But that's all right. Some things can't be explained. It's probably best if my friend pulls into McDonald's, gives his kid another bag of fries and hopes he stops asking questions.