Monday, November 5, 2007

Eggnog and Other Dangers of Modern Life

We see above a picture I scanned from a newspaper showing kindergartners at a local school digging into some kind of "rock" constructed from flour, searching for hidden treasure it seems. I got a big kick out of the idea they needed to be wearing eye protection.

One thing Sue keeps saying is "How did we as kids ever survive?" Surely the kinds of risks our parents exposed us to just letting us go outside to play would peg them today as child abusers. How exactly did we ever develop into a society where our kids must live in a risk-free world? Who decided this and how did society become so intense about enforcing this notion?

Certainly one of the culprits is our Tort system. You have to expect defensive behavior in a world where anyone might sue anyone for anything, no matter how ridiculous. As a consequence, some of the warning labels and disclaimers you see can be quite hilarious. One of my favorite disclaimers is in a commercial that shows an SUV driving into a volcano and subsequently getting blown out of it, landing miles away. "Do not attempt" it advises.

Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch certainly has some good ones on warning labels; after all the humorous examples it goes on to say "Predatory lawyers know they can file ridiculous lawsuits against innocent product makers and blackmail them into cash settlements..." But what amazes me is that it seemingly proves effective to use the warning labels and disclaimers in the first place. Sometimes I see some disclaimer flashed on the screen in tiny writing, and for an impossibly short period of time. Is it really true that anyone trying to sue some company that does that would just hear the judge say, "yes, it was too tiny to read and shown too briefly to read, but that was all that was required by the law and therefore you lose your lawsuit."

The law is an ass, they say. An ass that does not care how ridiculous it looks, it would seem. I remember watching a program that had a bunch of lawyers on it and one of them criticized the lawsuit that the lady had against McDonalds for making their coffee too hot to pour on your crotch. One of the other lawyers spoke up and said something like "actually I was involved in this and you know if you learn the details you find the lady had a good case, McDonalds had been warned before and blah blah blah." I guess it is probably true, that if you were involved and you buried yourself only in the legal issues, anyone who was willing to look at it only from that perspective possibly could be convinced of this.

And then there is the phenomenon of not having a warning label where one would be advisable. Take the recent case of popular little seats made to put a baby in; apparently the manufacturer suggested the kid was not able to get out of the seat and parents were using it to put the child aside so it did not have to be watched. And they would put child and seat on the tops of tables and counters [the company had literature showing this usage]. Of course there have been several incidents of severe injuries as the kid and seat topple off together to hit the floor. Well, I have little sympathy for that company [or for the dumb parents either].

I was hoping I would be able to tell you the results of an experiment I undertook. The white 7 gallon buckets that are used for my homebrewing hobby carry a big warning label that a child could fall into the bucket and drown. It occurred to me that possibly this was something that has never happened except in crazy circumstances, since under normal circumstances a child unable to get out of the bucket would also not be able to get into it. So I had Google email me every time it had a news story involving the words "drown" and "bucket" or "pail." I decided the experiment failed as there was a long period with no emails [something wasn't working] and too many stories where it wasn't clear what happened. I also decided that possibly incidents wouldn't always make the news. I wound up with just a few stories on buckets, and only one was clearly a case of drowning in a bucket similar to what I use for homebrewing [one that drywall paste comes in]. But no details of how it happened. I sure got emailed a lot of tragic stuff. Vast quantities of children drown in swimming pools and bathtubs, with an eerie constant factor being that toddlers do so silently and without much struggle, theoretically not quite realizing what is happening. There were several stories worldwide of children drowning in mop buckets, one kid also drowned in a bucket that her mother had vomited in [ugh!]. As I remember they threw the book at that poor lady. But 90% of the articles Google sent were public-service type warning that children could drown in such buckets! Nonetheless it was a failed but interesting experiment.

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