April 2005


It is amazing how protective we have become, in some ways, and how oblivious to obvious harm we remain in others. Much of our protectionist tendencies can be explained by litigation, but not all.

I was driving down a major highway the other day and I passed under one of those pedestrian overpasses. That it had been built some years before was obvious, because it had been added to: several layers of barbed wire rose up from the original structure, put there obviously to deter folks from leaping over the seven foot parapet into the traffic below. Certainly, the local authorities were worried about the suicidal tendencies of their citizens.

Then I passed under a regular overpass, one made for the efficient passage of cars over the highway. This overpass wasn't a quarter mile from the pedestrian overpass. It contained a two lane road with sidewalks on either side. Beside the sidewalk was a low wall, topped with a modest guardrail with a total height of about four feet. The local authorities didn't see fit to festoon this overpass with barbed wire to protect pedestrians. Evidently, suicidal people only use pedestrian overpasses. In fact, the low wall and guardrail provided what amounted to a diving platform for the depressed.

People tell me all that extra wire is to keep delinquents from dropping "things" on cars. How stupid do they think these delinquents are? Too stupid to put "things" in their cars and drive three blocks, apparently.

I wonder how much extra money was spent on the pedestrian overpass to "make it safe?"

There must be some regulation somewhere, of the same sort as the rule that requires braille instructions on drive-through ATMs, that requires miles of barbed wire only on overpasses we do not share with automobiles.

The good thing about living in a republic is that your government is supposed to listen to you and take seriously their job of looking out for you. The downside is that they only tend to do this when they think somebody is paying attention. This is why we're spending billions on protecting Americans from hypothetical terrorists (responsible for collectively killing or injuring fewer than 5,000 Americans in the current century) while the same government relaxes and removes safety regulations and inspections of workplaces in which tens of thousands of people are killed or crippled every single year, citing lack of funds. Our government thinks that we only pay attention to the "hot" issues of the moment.

We require manufacturers of towel dispensers and venetian blinds to label them as potentially hazardous to your health, but there is no similar requirement for handguns and rifles, whose purpose is to be hazardous. When you walk into a store, you're often greeted by a sign saying that the floor may be wet if it's been raining, but when you go back outside you may need a tank of oxygen to make it to your car because the air quality is so bad. It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make any sense for a reason. The government is like a teenager who has been told to do something, but really wants to do something else. You only have their attention while you're screaming at them and then they give you the minimum they think you'll accept.

We want a strong and responsible government that looks out for our best interests and protects us from the bad guys -- be they foreign, domestic, or trans-national. The trouble is that the government is too busy to pay attention to us, unless we make an unholy racket about something. And in order to get good government, you have to make a big stink about bad government or you just get what its easiest for them to give you: more hot air.

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