Recently I zipped across
America to attend two professional educational conferences relating
to my profession in California and Louisiana. Both were wonderfully
executed (hearty thanks to the hosts) and were well worth the
time and money spent to attend them. But as a strange bonus,
in the course of attending these two meetings I had two sundry
experiences that were rich in a sinister education.
The first part of this Road to Damascus involved simple trips
to the hotel restaurant during my stay in California. Every
time I crossed the threshold of that establishment I was greeted
by a very imposing plaque that warned me of the theoretical
dangers, as confirmed by the State government, by way of risk
of cancer or birth defects if I consumed the offerings of this
restaurant. Naturally I asked one of the staff who gave me a
modest recitation of the “Precautionary Principle,”
that is to say “ya never know” what people will
sue you for whatever we serve as sustenance, so we must cover
our butt. I suspect from my reading that it may be the result
of some “environmental advocates’’ exhortation
in response to the bogus acrylamide scare a short while back.
You remember, the short lived hysteria about baked starchy food
being the source of yet another hideous environmental poison.
The premise is long dead, but the tort paranoia it spawned lingers.
But, on to Act Two…
As I passed through O’Hare Airport on the flight path
home I stopped for a snort at an airport bar. When I planted
my bottom I was soon asked for my ID, as an age check. Now as
much as I would like to think that I could be mistaken for a
high school student, sadly that is not possible. I am not decrepitly
yet am obviously middle aged. Yes, this was done as a part of
airport policy, to prop up the laws of the State of Michigan
enforcing the Drinking Age if 18. The policy demands checking
everyone’s ID, no matter how old they look. Yes,
even if you look like the Crypt Keeper, pull out that card!
Who are they trawling for? The Master of Disguise? A shape shifting
extraterrestrial? I got no answer on the spot, but then the
echo of a fashionable obsession hit my ears. It must be a fear
of an accusation of the Sin of Profiling!!! Hell, that must
be it. Doing your duty, either as a cop or barmaid, slams you
up against the risk that you might be offending someone either
because of their race or age. Either some sort of crackpot litigation
against bars has already hit the courts, or is feared to be
pending. Oh, Brave New World …
I felt quite rightly that I had taken samples of a hideous pathogen,
a rampant disease that is sapping the life out of America. A
malady that must be costing it economic competitive strength
and even simple honor in the perpetual competition with its
rivals. The great Plague of Tort must be a truly formidable
monster, if it can so warp any practice of Common Sense even
at the level of the operation of a humble restaurant or bar.
This experience inspires me to paraphrase that profound saying
(attributed to the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, if I
did my homework right), and say -- Those whom the Gods wish
to destroy, they first make litigious. It certainly nails
down a sad truth about the present.
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