Monday, February 04, 2013

The late, lamented Land of the Free

I just returned from a vacation in Hawaii, where I was dismayed to see how far the “land of the free and the home of the brave” had strayed from that description.

"How do I look up HRS Chapter 520 out here?"
A tour guide drew our attention to the absence of advertising billboards blemishing the landscape. “We have outlawed billboards,” he boasted. And indeed, the countryside looked beautiful without obstruction by huge signs.

But wait—what were all those little signs that sprouted like dandelions along the side of the road? Everywhere we went, government instructions, commands and warnings intruded upon our consciousness. Speed limits would change 3 times within the space of 200 yards. Safety warnings were everywhere. And some of the signs even quoted references to legislation by chapter and verse, as if we were all expected to whip out our Hawaii Revised Statutes or Hawaii Administrative Rules to look up the details. (See photos.)

"How do I look up HAR Chapter 130, Title 13, Subchapters 4-7 out here?"
Hawaii uses the same standard highway markings as Ontario: a dotted line down the centre of the road means you may pass, while a solid line means you can’t. Yet every time the line changed from dotted to solid or back, there was also a sign beside the highway, instructing drivers either “Do not pass” or “Pass with care”. Could people have been confused about whether to pass with reckless abandon had they not been instructed to do it with care? Did the Secretary of Transportation’s brother-in-law own a sign company or something?

When we went on a whale-watching tour, the Pacific Whale Foundation insisted on making each couple or family pose for a snapshot before boarding the boat. Were they just trying to sell us expensive photos? Were they trying to make sure they could identify us if the boat sank? Or as the stranger in line behind me stated, was this required by the Department of Homeland Security? All three explanations seemed plausible. Indeed, we passed a large building labeled Department of Homeland Security in Honolulu. It did not make us feel more secure.

I often bemoan the encroaching state here in Canada, but I could not help breathing a sigh of relief upon my return from the land of the over-regulated and intimidated.

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