Friday, July 2, 2010

legal paranoia

Yesterday I went to a telescope store to buy a sheet of astrosolar safety film, to use to make solar filters for my telescope and binoculars. The materials to make them would cost only $30, to buy them ready-made would cost several hundred, so the choice is obvious. Of course, since glimpsing the sun through a telescope will instantly blind you, extreme care has to be taken when constructing and maintaining one of these filters. But this is nothing that a minimal level of common sense and attention to detail can't handle.

Yet when I asked for a sheet of this stuff, the store manager said "We've had to stop carrying it in our stores. You obviously know what you're doing, but frankly, most people are idiots, and we can't risk being sued if someone uses our products incorrectly and ends up blind." I had to special order it on the internet. Thank god for the internet: 15 years ago I'd be SOL.

The fear of being sued is destroying the organic, creative, diverse, dynamic, energetic nature of life in America. How can you live and explore at full capacity when you're walking on legal pins and needles every step of the way?

What do we have to do, require every customer to sign a release of liability form for use of their purchases, every visitor to agree not to sue for any accidental or probabilistically self-inflicted injury attained while on our property? "Use at your own risk" labels on everything? Not only would this be an undesirable state of affairs in incidents where the manufacturer is justly to blame, but they probably wouldn't hold up legally anyway (for that very reason.) Why is common sense so hard to incorporate into law?

Oh how I wish the American West were still the wild, lawless place of decades past. Except for the wild lawlessness of it all, of course...

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