No point tangling your toes or going off your feed merely becasue you have noticed some instance of injustice or depravity somewhere in the world, because that is the natural state of mankind or la condition humaine as we say.

And in America, at least, we all know there is crime, yes, and it is deplorable, but we do not go in for ultimate punishments for minor infractions.

Thus we see it is wrong for people to step on our feet in an office elevator - they should not do that - but we also feel it is wrong to shoot them dead, in most cases, unless we happen to know they are the corrupt of the earth anyway.

And yet, while we have no illusions of changing the nature of the world, we may indeed make small practical suggestions that further the cause of mercy.

So much harm is done by failing to comprehend the deep national and religious sentiments of those different from ourselves, and that is why only practical and sympathetic suggestions should ever be made.

I know some will say that Americans should tend to their own knitting, citing the example of the fellow in Florida who was recently executed - sizzled, as the eyewitnesses described it - and not worry about the justice of the other countries.

But in the Florida case, at least nobody thought it was right and not even the local cretins suggested the fellow was executed for the glory of God.

A differnet kettle of fish is got into when balderdash or injustice is engaged in on religious and high moral principles, and it is precisely in this area we must be compassionate, understanding and above all practical.

Little can be done. But a start can be made.

In Jerusalem the mayor is expected to drop dead as the result of a heavy curse laid on him by some of his fellow citizens because he has authorized the building of swimming pools and athletic facilities, which they regard as evil.

They are burning black candles (the mayor's foes report) and blowing black ram's horns, and so powerful is this form of curse that the mayor cannot possibly survive.

The foolish thing is to say they should not curse the mayor that way. To us it sounds abominable, yes, but from the point of view of the cursers it seems righteous.

We need not think we are going to keep people from cursing mayors, but with patience and understanding we can introduce small changes, very gradually, that should keep at least a few mayors from being voodooed to death.

What about blue candles, instead of black ones, and a conch shell instead of a ram's horn?

Blue, the color of the sea and of marine liquidity in general, would at least acknowledge the arguments (however faulty) of the sinners who want a swimming pool, and the conch shell, sacred to the god of the sea, would be a nice nod to the rights (however wrong) of their enemies who like to bathe occasionally

The mayor, needless to say, would drop dead from the curse of blue candles as well as black. We cannot undo the heritage of many centuries with the wave of a magic wand. But these small changes in the ritual cursing would be in the direction of an increased humanity, fitting the curse specifically to the crime, and condemning the mayor with a nicer delicacy than black ram's horns.

In time, such gradual changes would make a difference.

On the other hand, in ancient Persia, now Iran, we see that the prevailing religion forbids drinking alcohol. Fine.

People should be free to practice their religion.

But we have seen in Washington that the Persians dumped thousands of valuable bottles of booze in the fountain of their embassy a few days ago, to show they intend to start obeying their religious precepts right now.

But a fountain? Why not the drain in the basement?

Or, since the booze was bought by the former ambassador, not the present regime, why not return it to the store and get the money back?

Surely they went a bit out of their way to insult their host city of Washington by making a spectacle of the wasted booze? Inviting the press to come watch and drool, and all that.

And sixty thousands dollars worth of it - it is more than the average citizen here spends on a two-year supply.

If I were the Persian in command, I'd give it to an orphanage, saying, "This is not right for us, but it may be right for you."

One man's poison, after all, is another man's sacrament.

And yet we can see, in a way, that the Persians think wine is evil, and ought not be given even to charitable institutions. They wanted to express their sense of the evil of booze.

All right. But they know Americans all drink like fish, and they might have been more tactful in expressing their abhorrence of alcohol.

A Solomon is as rare in Persia as in Israel, and yet a wise ruler would have handled the wine differently, to illustrate the mercy and magnanimity of their la was well as its sharp justice.

Would it not have sufficed to chop the tips off the corks?

A small difference, perhaps, but a significant step in the direction of temperance.

We must never start feeling superior to kooks and klutzes, however, for we do indeed have faults right here at home.

The Florida fellow, for example, was executed for killing a murderer who,if he had not been killed, would doubtless have been executed by the state.

So the man who was executed did no more than the state was going to do anyway, and he killed the first man a lot cheaper than the state could have managed it, and more humanely, too.

So instead of executing him, we might have paid him a thousand bucks for saving the state the bother of executing the first man, and then kept him in jail to shoot, with similar economy, the othr condemned men.

In this way we could have saved one life an dispensed with the cost of hiring a state executioner, while at the same time satisfying all the nuts of Florida.

The danger always, in improving mankind, is trying to move too fast. One small step, one moderate improvement, at a time. That's the ticket.

Eventually, though it requires many years, we might aim at the sensible Roman solution of keeping all murderers (and criminals in elevators( together in a sort of basement dormitory, letting them out occasionally to fight lions and elephants in a public gala.

But the heights of classical good sense and reason are never going to be reached if (1) we kill off all the gladiators to begin with, or (2) if we try to change old custom an dold pieties too abruptly. Here, as in all else, the long way around is the shortest way home.