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The way Michael Fay tells it, "It's like a bloody nose." In his case, however, it was bloody buttocks - "The skin did rip open, there was some blood. I mean, let's not exaggerate, and let's not say a few drops or that the blood was gushing out. It was between the two."

Thus ends the saga of the American youth who was caned in Singapore for vandalism, a charge to which he once confessed but now denies.Throughout the drawn-out affair, the issue rarely centered on Fay's guilt or innocence; that came in the days immediately prior to his caning.

Always, however, it was the brutality of caning.

When first the issue arose, it appeared that everyone in America was an expert on caning, particularly editorial writers on the nation's newspapers.

When one colleague read that I readily would have stood in line to give Fay a whack - so indignant am I about vandalism, especially graffiti - he called to detail all the horrors of caning.

Of course, he had never observed a caning, but somehow he and others, including the president of the United States, seemed to possess great knowledge of what happened in such circumstances. The skin split wide open, often the victim passed out, horrible scars were left, etc.

We were left with a picture of a half-dead person.

Shortly after Fay was caned, a U.S. consular official in Singapore reported on the severity of the punishment, saying "flesh was ripped and broken, and there was horizontal slashing and cutting."

A grim report indeed.

But Michael says, "let's not exaggerate."

I fear that is what happened before and immediately after the punishment. People who had no more knowledge of caning than they do of Einstein's theory of relativity built the issue of caning to great heights - almost as horrible as an execution, which is a form of punishment in many of the United States that much of the Western world sees as barbaric.

Had the furor around Michael Fay centered on his guilt or innocence, it would have been more logical. But those who shuddered at the thought of caning were not proclaiming the youth's innocence. By just focusing on the punishment, most of them were accepting his guilt.

We are a people quick to rush to judgment. Just dial 1-900 plus a few other digits; it's only 50 cents to register your opinion. It's going that way with the Nicole Simpson-Ronald Goldman Tragedy.

(Notice that I called it the Nicole Simpson-Ronald Goldman Tragedy. Few do. To them, to the networks and to the newspapers, it's the O.J. Simpson Tragedy. O.J. is alive, the other two are not. Whose tragedy is it, then?)

Can you be in the company of anyone these days without being asked if you think O.J. did it? Without a scintilla of evidence, we have formed opinions, just as so many of us became forensic experts vis-a-vis the effects of caning.

There is past history of 48 whacks being administered by Singapore in a 1988 case involving an armed robber - and he lived to tell about it.

Michael Fay took but four whacks. Certainly, they hurt. That's the whole idea. He bled a little and he will, he says, probably have a scar or two on his buttocks - not exactly his most public exposure.

But, as he tells us, "let's not exaggerate."

Too many of us did, before the fact.