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Common Sense

Horse Sense
There is just as much horse sense as ever, but the horses have most of it.

Published in 1776, Common Sense challenged the authority of the British government and the royal monarchy. The plain language that Paine used spoke to the common people of America and was the first work to openly ask for independence from Great Britain. "These are the times that try men's souls," begins Thomas Paine's first Crisis paper, the impassioned pamphlet that helped ignite the American Revolution.

Published in Philadelphia in January of 1776, Common Sense sold 150,000 copies almost immediately. A powerful piece of propaganda, it attacked the idea of a hereditary monarchy, dismissed the chance for reconciliation with England, and outlined the economic benefits of independence while espousing equality of rights among citizens. Paine fanned a flame that was already burning, but many historians argue that his work unified dissenting voices and persuaded patriots that the American Revolution was not only necessary, but an epochal step in world history.

We mourn the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense (not the pamphlet). Common Sense lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He selflessly devoted his life to service in schools, hospitals, homes, factories, and offices, helping folks get jobs done without fanfare and foolishness.

For decades, petty rules, silly laws and frivolous lawsuits held no power over Common Sense. He was credited with cultivating such valued lessons as to know when to come in out of the rain, the early bird gets the worm, and life isn't always fair. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adults are in charge, not the kids), and it's okay to come in second.

Passing The Blame ...

We yanks just love to pass the blame. What other country can boast of 3 lawyers for every citizen. We come up with the best reasons to blame others for our own problems.

  1. If a woman burns her thighs on the hot coffee she's holding in her lap while driving, she blames the restaurant.
  2. If your teen-age son kills himself or the next door neighbors, you blame the rock 'n' roll music or musician he liked.
  3. If you smoke three packs a day for 40 years and die of lung cancer, your family blames the tobacco company.
  4. If your daughter gets pregnant by the football captain you blame the school for poor sex education.
  5. If your neighbor crashes into a tree while driving home drunk, you blame the bartender.
  6. If your cousin gets AIDS because the needle he used to shoot up with heroin was dirty, you blame the government for not providing clean ones.
  7. If your grandchildren are brats without manners, you blame television.
  8. If your friend is shot by a deranged madman, you blame the gun manufacturer.
  9. And if a crazed person breaks into the cockpit and tries to kill the pilots at 35,000 feet, and the passengers kill him instead, the mother of the deceased blames the airline.
  10. I guess I'll just never understand the world as it is anymore ...
    So if I die while my old, wrinkled ass is parked in front of this computer typing this stuff out, I want you to blame Bill Gates, OK?

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and the Technological Revolution, Common Sense survived cultural and Educational trends including body piercing, whole language and "new math".

But his health declined when he became infected with the "If-it-only-helps-one-person-it's-worth-it" virus. In recent decades his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal regulations. He watched in pain as good people became ruled by self-seeking lawyers and activists.

His health rapidly deteriorated when schools endlessly implemented zero tolerance policies, reports of six year old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate, a teen suspended for taking a swig of mouthwash after lunch, and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student.

It declined even further when schools had to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student but could not inform the parent when a female student was pregnant or wanted an abortion.

Finally, Common Sense lost his will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, churches became businesses, criminals received better treatment than victims, and federal judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional sports.

As the end neared, Common Sense drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments, regarding questionable regulations for asbestos, low flow toilets, "smart guns", the nurturing of Prohibition Laws and mandatory air bags.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; his son, Reason. He is survived by three stepbrothers: Rights, Tolerance and Whiner. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. Happy Trails Common Sense - lets hope we meet again!

Americans are still chuckling about the “pants suit”. A man—a judge, no less—sued his dry cleaners for $54m for allegedly losing his trousers. A sign at the shop promised “Satisfaction Guaranteed”. The plaintiff was not satisfied, so he cried fraud. He then used his highly trained legal brain to calculate the damages he was owed. He started with $1,500, a reasonable fine for consumer fraud. He multiplied it by 12, for the number of his complaints. Then by 1,200, for the number of days he was deprived of his trousers. And then by three, for the three owners of the dry-cleaning shop. After adding a bit more for mental anguish, the total came to $67m, but he kindly reduced it to $54m.

When the case was dismissed in 2007, many felt justice had prevailed. But the defendants had been put through purgatory and saddled with $100,000 in legal costs. They closed the shop and considered moving back to South Korea. The case illustrates “an important truth about human nature—that angry people can go nuts,” observes Philip Howard, a campaigner for legal reform. What was most shocking about the pants suit was not the idiotic claim, he says, “but that the case was allowed to go on for more than two years.” Some judges think even the nuttiest plaintiffs deserve their day in court. As the judge who let a woman sue McDonald’s for serving her the coffee with which she scalded herself put it: “Who am I to judge?”

The rule of law is a wonderful thing, as anyone who has visited countries ruled by the whims of the powerful can attest. But you can have too much of a wonderful thing. And America has far too much law. For nearly every problem, lawmakers and bureaucrats imagine that more detailed rules are the answer. But people need to exercise their common sense, too. Alas, the proliferation of rules is making that harder.

At a school in Florida, for example, a five-year-old girl decided to throw everyone’s books and pencils on the floor. Sent to the head teacher’s office, she continued to wreak havoc. Her teachers dared not restrain her physically. Instead, they summoned the police, who led her away in handcuffs, howling. The teachers acted as they did for fear of being sued. A teacher at a different school was sued for $20m for putting a hand on a rowdy child’s back to guide him out of the classroom. The school ended up settling for $90,000. Understandably, many schools ban teachers from touching pupils under any circumstances. In New York City, where more than 60 bureaucratic steps are required to suspend a pupil for more than five days, teachers are so frightened of violating pupils’ rights that they cannot keep order.

The relentless piling of law upon law—the federal register has 70,000 ever-changing pages—does not make for a more just society. When even the most trivial daily interactions are subject to detailed rules, individual judgment is stifled. When rule-makers seek to eliminate small risks, perverse consequences proliferate. Bureaucrats rip up climbing frames for fear that children may fall off and break a leg. So children stay indoors and get fat.

The direct costs of lawsuits are only one of the drawbacks of an over-legalistic society. Too many rules squeeze the joy out of life. Doctors who inflict dozens of unnecessary tests on patients to fend off lawsuits take less pride in their work. And although the legal system is supposed to be neutral, the scales are tilted in favour of whoever is in the wrong. Because the process is so expensive and juries are so unpredictable, blameless people often settle baseless claims to make them go away. The law is supposed to protect individuals from the state, but it often allows selfish individuals to harness the state’s power to settle private scores.

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