by Richard K. Lyon
Text ©2006 Richard K. Lyon; illustration ©2006 Cubist

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An earlier version of this story appeared in the Mar 1983 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact

Methodist Life, August 26
   The confusions to which modern life is heir were illustrated by recent events in Florida: a Florida highway patrolman arrested a man for sitting in the passenger seat of his bright red sports car while the man’s pet chimpanzee drove the machine down the highway.
   When the case came to trial, the judge dismissed the charge for reckless driving on the grounds that there was no evidence to show that the chimp was not driving the car perfectly well, and in any case, the man could not be charged with reckless driving since he was not driving. Likewise the man could not be charged with allowing an unlicensed person to operate a motor vehicle, since the chimp is not a person. While the chimp might be guilty of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, any charge against it would be a nullity since as an animal it was immune to all legal action.
   Furthermore, the judge concluded, after diligent study he was satisfied that this case, unusual as it might be, still involved no violation of Florida law, and if the state legislature did not want chimpanzees driving up and down the highways of that state, they must pass an appropriate law.
   Subsequently the Florida Legislature, acting with unusual speed, did exactly that, but this scarcely solves the problem. There are still 47 other states where it is fully legal to let your chimp drive. Unless every other state follows Florida’s example, the only solution to the problem would be for Detroit to stop making automatic transmission cars. Animal experts are agreed that, while chimpanzees can do reasonably well driving the automatic transmission cars, operating manual transmission vehicles is beyond their abilities.

New Scientist, 24/31 Dec., page 869

   Dr. John Thornquest, a research associate at the Brooklyn Zoological Gardens, announced this week that he had received an NSF grant for a study of language development in chimpanzees. Dr. Thornquest explained that while chimps are incapable of speech, their brains lacking speech centers, previous studies have shown they do quite well with sign language. Individual chimps have been taught vocabularies of hundreds of signs and used them with generally high accuracy. Moreover, spontaneous word invention sometimes occurred, e.g., the animal asking for “candy water” when it wanted Coca-Cola.
   Dr. Thornquest’s new project will carry these researches the next logical step further: Instead of working with a single animal, Thornquest will teach a substantial group of apes, fifty in the initial plan, to use signs. This will create a critical mass of chimpanzees, who can use sign language to communicate with each other, and allow a detailed study of language evolution.

New York Times, March 25, Page 3, Column 4
   Yesterday Senator Proxmire announced that he was giving a “special Golden Fleece Award for the most conspicuously foolish waste of the taxpayer’s money in history” to the Brooklyn Zoo. “I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” the senator declared. “The Brooklyn Zoo actually obtained a grant of $267,000 from the NSF to teach apes to walk around making obscene gestures at each other.”
   Officials of the National Science Foundation complained that Senator Proxmire was being grossly unfair because NSF’s internal auditing procedures had already identified the ape project as “not developing according to plan,” and the foundation was in the process of cutting off funding.
   Dr. Thornquest, the research scientist in charge of the ape project, protested that both NSF and Senator Proxmire were being unfair and that his now-defunct research project had been extraordinarily successful. “Once the first few chimps achieved some sign language fluency, the rate of learning was like a forest fire. Of course, given the nature of chimp society, particularly the way all the males get in line to take their turn when one of the females is in heat, it was only to be expected that what they had to say to each other would have a certain amount of questionable content.”
   In addition to being scientifically unjustified, the abrupt cutoff of federal funding left him in an awkward position, Dr. Thornquest complained; he had responsibility for fifty-three educated apes which the Brooklyn Zoo did not have internal funding to feed and care for. Asked how he planned to manage this crisis, the researcher replied, “Like other scientists denied federal funding, I’m forced to turn to private enterprise.”

The above may be summarized as follows: Applicant will, upon receipt of the grant funds, purchase a fleet of taxicabs and equip them for use by persons with severe hearing and vocal handicaps, thereby providing these persons with permanent employment which they could not otherwise obtain, these persons being non-whites under the categories and definitions of the Equal Opportunities Act.

The New Yorker, August 10
   So much is written in complaint that we feel it is important to take notice when someone discovers a creative solution to a problem. In many cities the high and rising rate of crime against cab drivers has made it impossible to get a taxi in the small hours of the morning. In New York, however, thanks to an innovative new company, we have a solution to this problem.
   The new company, which for some strange reason has chosen to call itself the Great Ape Taxi Corporation, has deployed a unique fleet of cabs. One hails a Great Ape cab in the usual manner, but once one is inside, the ride is a new experience. The compartments are separated by a steel partition so that one can neither see nor speak to the driver from inside (nor from the outside, since the windows are one-way glass). One sits down, puts one’s credit card into the slot, and taps one’s destination into the keyboard. On reaching one’s destination, one’s credit card pops out and one exits the cab—a somewhat eerie transaction, since never in the course of the ride does one have any contact with the driver. Still, the problem of protecting cab drivers from criminal attack clearly requires stern measures and it is good to have the problem solved, good to be able to get around our city again.

New York Post, November 3
Front Page

   In a sensational development, D.A. Goldschmidt announced the arrest of Dr. John Thornquest, a researcher at the Brooklyn Zoo, and 53 chimpanzees on charges of illegally operating a taxi company, driving without licenses, reckless driving, and bribing police officers. Informed sources state that the other six chimps and the zoo’s two gorillas were also questioned and released. While zoo officials were unavailable for comment, it is rumored that…

Opinion of Judge Charles Applebe, Superior Court, State of New York,
In Case #1,000,786: The State of New York versus The Great Ape Taxi Corporation

   The court finds that no actionable charge exists against the defendants and orders them released forthwith. The precedent set in the previous Florida case (Reference 1) leaves the Court with no choice but to dismiss the charges of reckless driving, driving without a license and allowing unlicensed persons to operate a motor vehicle.
   The only elements of the prosecution’s case which are novel with regard to the Florida case are the charges of bribing police officers. Here, however, the evidence before the Court is at best inferential. The evidence before the Court is sufficient to show that if one of the driving chimpanzees were to be stopped by a police officer and ask to step out of the car and/or show his or her license, the ape would instead send out a twenty dollar bill. This it would do as a matter of habit. The existence of such a criminal habit is not, however, sufficient, per se, to prove the actual occurrence of a crime. Moreover, even if the chimpanzee’s criminal actions could be proven, they would still, by virtue of being animals, be immune to legal action. Further, no charge of conspiracy can be brought against Dr. Thornquest, since to conspire one must enter into an illegal plan with another person, and the chimpanzees are not people.
   The Court notes the prosecution’s concerns that numerous taxi companies, long-distance trucking firms, and various others are studying the possibility of using apes. While there may be considerable public inconvenience in having large numbers of apes driving upon this State’s highways, this is clearly an ill for which no judicial remedy exists. The Court also notes Dr. Thornquest’s ingenious proposal that his chimpanzees be considered to be legally persons. Granting such a ruling would, of course, be greatly to the advantage of both Thornquest and his apes. If human, the chimps would be guilty of driving without licenses, misdemeanors punishable by fine or imprisonment. Since they have no money, they’d have to be imprisoned. The Department of Corrections, however, lacks facilities for apes and would be obliged to board them at the zoo. Thus, the net effect of a guilty verdict would be to provide the apes with free room and board for the duration of their sentence, and thereafter to give them eligibility for food stamps, unemployment, and welfare. Dr. Thornquest could hardly want more generous support for his research.
   The Court also notes that there is some merit to the arguments Dr. Thornquest advances in support of this proposal. Legally a person is, as he states, a moral agent, a being capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Since the apes have a “nono” sign in their language and are capable of admitting “did” “nono” and showing shame, they appear to satisfy the minimum requirements of personhood.
   The fact remains, however, that Dr. Thornquest is in the position of asking the Court to make a radical, precedent-setting ruling based solely on legal theory. Moreover, the ruling Dr. Thornquest wants is directly contrary to current social policy. While he wants a ruling that would have the effect of exempting the chimpanzees from work, current policy is that those who can work, should. Consequently, the only way in which the Court could make such a ruling is if there were proof that chimpanzees were inherently unsuited to work, and the evidence before the Court is quite to the contrary.

Decision of the Supreme Court, State of New York, in the appeal of lower Court decision of Case 1,000,786: The State of New York versus the Great Ape Taxi Corporation. Justice Lowell for the majority

   The appellant claims that the lower Court ruled improperly, ignoring available evidence and thereby improperly denied his charges, a group of fifty-three chimpanzees, the right to be imprisoned at taxpayer expense and other benefits.
   The Court finds for the appellant and orders that his charges be imprisoned for a period of ninety days, costs of said imprisonment to be paid by the New York City Department of Corrections.
   In reviewing this case the Court discovered that, although Judge Applebe’s legal reasoning was correct, he still arrived at the wrong conclusion. Specifically, Judge Applebe correctly reasoned that the chimpanzees could be found guilty, and thus deprived of the opportunity to work, if and only if they were inherently unsuited to work. Judge Applebe erred in ignoring evidence which showed such unsuitability. The evidence available to the lower Court unambiguously demonstrated that chimpanzees can drive automatic transmission cars but cannot handle manual transmission machines. Thus, it is clear that chimps, though they may be intelligent, are just naturally shiftless.

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