Monday, January 30, 2012

Duct Tape: A Force for Good or Evil?

Dear George,

There’s sure been a lot of news about duct tape lately in Cincinnati. I didn’t even know that much about duct tape until Katja brought some home from her agency (where it’s manufactured by blind workers). It didn’t take long for me to discover its wonders. I accidentally sat down on top of my ninety-nine cent reading glasses and broke the frame in two, but duct tape and a paper clip put it back together in a jiffy. Then, sadly, my toenail cut a hole through my brand new running shoes, but, voila, a duct tape patch inside the shoe sealed it perfectly. When I ran into the rock wall while backing our car out of the driveway a section of the front bumper got dislodged, but a couple wrap-arounds of duct tape made it as good as new. Since then I’ve repaired a hole in my tent roof, a latch on my digital camera, a postcard storage box, and numerous other items I can’t even remember. In the process, I discovered what many people already know – that duct tape is probably the most significant human creation since the invention of the wheel.

I was feeling excited about our lives being transformed by duct tape when I ran across a rash of recent news stories in the Cincinnati Enquirer . The first one, just last week, was about Mary Beth Ryon, a 21-year-old worker at the Maple Leaf Day Care Center in Andersonville Township. Mary Beth, it turns out, was having trouble getting a 16-month-old baby to sleep at nap time, so she taped him to his sleeping mat with duct tape “to get him to calm down.” Mary Beth has since retired from her child care career, but the company is installing video equipment to prevent any more baby duct taping.

Once aware of the possibility of immoral duct tape behavior, I did a Google search, restricting myself to Cincinnati area news for the month of January. I quickly learned that duct tape isn’t just used to discipline tiny babies. Mack Mollwitz, 39, of suburban Barkley Township was arrested for abusing his own 13-year-old daughter. According to a Jan. 20 Enquirer story, Mollwitz bound his daughter's hands and legs with duct tape, locked her in a dog cage, threatened to electrify the cage, photographed her, and got her brother to post the photos on Facebook. A classmate saw the pictures and called Children’s Services. Mollwitz's lawyer claims this was just "a joke that got out of control."

Then my search grew uglier. In a Jan. 16 Enquirer story, it was reported that Randolph Zyam, 63, from our affluent suburb of Blue Ridge went to the house he’d been sharing with his ex-girlfriend to retrieve his belongings. He got into an argument, taped her eyes and mouth shut with duct tape, beat her repeatedly, and dumped her at the front door of the neighborhood hospital. As bad as this story was, the duct tape picture got even worse. On Jan. 4 a local judge sentenced Thelma Blank, 52, to life in prison. Blank had kidnapped a Northern Kentucky millionaire for whom she worked, duct taped him to a chair in her basement while she pilfered his money, left him to die, then burned up his body in Indiana. Her niece testified, “She’s a very nice person, loving.” I guess duct tape can lead even the most decent people astray.

Now I don’t know what to think. I did a Google search on “duct tape ethical issues,” but didn’t turn up much. I did discover that a popular college fund-raising gimmick is for students to tape their professors to walls or ceilings, with organizers selling strips of duct tape to use for this amusing stunt. Even though the professors are volunteers, the web-site didn’t think this was healthy since it can result in rashes or broken bones, or, in severe cases, in loss of circulation and dehydration, causing death.

I guess duct tape can be a force for good or a force for evil. It just depends. I would think that, in real life, beneficial uses of duct tape probably outweigh violent, destructive ones. It’s just that duct tape homicide gets so much more public press than more mundane examples. I don’t think duct tape should be banned outright, and it would be cumbersome to register duct tape buyers or prohibit purchases by convicted felons. Maybe the best step would be to add a warning label on the packaging, e.g., something like “Use Only on Inanimate Objects – Do NOT use on Human Faces or Limbs.” This could be accompanied by a picture of a teenage stroke victim. Maybe one of our socially conscious Ohio state legislators will pick up on this issue. In the meantime we’re storing the duct tape at our house in a padlocked cabinet.



*Pseudonyms are used in this story

G-mail Comments

-Donna D (1-31): unbelievable. donna

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