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Entries in regulation (2)


Blue Highways: Pattison State Park, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

Have the signs ever seemed against you?  Have you missed the signs, or sometimes just ignored them completely?  Has it come back to bite you, or have you been okay or even better off by not heeding the warnings?  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) just walks away from the signs at Pattison State Park, but I'll reflect on warnings, signs and labels, both the good and the bad, before we move on.  If you want a sign of where we are, read the map!

Book Quote

"It was dark when I turned south, and I couldn't find a place for the night.  Pattison State Park drove me away with a board full of regulations."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 11

Big Manitou Falls, in Pattison State Park, Wisconsin. Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri and is hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Pattison State Park, Wisconsin

Like many people, I've often had a checkered relationship with rules and regulations.  Now, let me clarify when I mention this history.  Of course, there are the rules and regulations that all of us break every day with no ramifications.  Some of them are simply silly, like the warning on mattresses that seems to promise dire consequences if the tag is removed (though my understanding is that it will void the warranty).  When I read that tag as a kid, I thought that even touching it would bring the strong arm of the law down on me.  Scenario:  "Hey Kowalksi, let him go." "But he's murdered 17 teenagers, cut off their heads and made them into stew."  "Yeah, I know, but we've been called to arrest a kid who tore the tag off his mattress."  "It's your lucky day, punk.  We've got worse scum to clean up.  Lock and load, and let's go."

To be fair, there are some warning tags and signs that just aren't needed.  And some warnings that you should heed are in fine print or spoken really fast or understated.  I'm thinking of drug commercials, where a wonder drug that makes everything great can have side effects, all spoken by the announcer in a commercial in a soothing voice, such as barking like a dog, foaming at the mouth, incontinence and uncontrollable flatulence.

Many of us have, at some point, pirated CDs or DVDs, or enjoyed a pirated copy of some movie or album. Many of us run software that we haven't paid for or obtained lawfully.  Despite it being against the law where I live, I sometimes drive and talk on my cell phone though as I read more about horrible accidents caused by this activity I don't do that much any more (and I never text while driving).  When I was in high school, like many of my friends I smoked pot, though I do not partake now.

Sometimes, a regulation or rule is broken unintentionally.  Usually these are straightforward mistakes and the result of misunderstanding or lack of attention.  Not noticing a "Keep off the Grass" sign, for instance or missing a speed sign and getting pulled over for going too fast.

Sometimes, when the rule is broken unintentionally but someone in authority treats us as if we did it on purpose, or worthy of suspicion, that can result in anger and resentment.  The latest incident like that in my life, for instance, was at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  My wife likes to take pictures of me posing like museum statues.  There was a statue installation on some steps at the Getty of a woman reclining.  She wanted me to go near the statue where I would recline in an imitation of the work and she would snap my picture with her phone.  There were no signs at the steps, and I climbed up to the statue.  All of a sudden, a security person with an imperious voice told me to get down.  I came down, but was dumbfounded.  Where was the sign?  I could see none.  I asked him.  He just said it wasn't allowed.  I suggested, irritated, that they put a sign up.  He said that there was a sign.  Yes, there was a sign, on the side steps which I hadn't traversed yet and which could not be seen from down below where one could get the best view of the artwork.  I had a few choice words about incompetence that day, irritated as I was for being treated like a troublemaker when for all intents and purposes I had not known I was in transgression.

These are minor occurrences, however.  When rules and regulations, especially on signs and notices, are put up, it is usually for two purposes.  First, they are for our (the public's) protection.  Many times, we can get hurt.  It's that simple.  Second, they are for the protection of the object behind the sign.  By allowing us access to touch things, or walk on things, or go inside them, or whatever we do, there is a risk that there will be damage or destruction.  In essence, the rules, regulations and signage indicate there is something that someone feels is worth protecting.  Third, and especially in the case of privately owned areas, the signs protect the proprietors.  If we get hurt, we can sue.  In our society, where sometimes our only recourse to being hurt or wronged is through litigation, nobody is truly safe from a lawsuit but a sign listing restrictions and rules goes a long way toward protecting owners and operators.

In parks like Pattison State Park, signs are there for all of those reasons.  I just finished reading a fascinating account of deaths in the Grand Canyon.  You may think this book would be morbid and dull reading, but in reality it is like watching a car wreck.  I couldn't keep my eyes away from it.  I turned page after page to read about how the next person died, and then how the next person died.  Would you believe that there's been quite a few deaths blamed on the young male urge to piss off a cliff?  These are the kind of weird deaths that kept me interested.

Some of the deaths were simply due to not heeding warnings, rules and regulations.  What kinds of warnings?  Warnings against hiking down and back out in one day, for instance, without adequate water or protecting oneself from the heat or cold.  Or perhaps going off the main and well marked trails in order to find a short cut to the river and getting lost in the labyrinth of side canyons.  Or trying boat through rapids without any experience or swim across the Colorado River despite it's extremely cold temperatures.  Or hiking side canyons during monsoon season when flash floods are known to happen with little warning.

Sometimes ignorance, willful or unintentional, can mean the difference between life and death.  When I was younger, I was more willing to flout the rules and take risks.  Perhaps the unfinished development of my frontal lobes when I was a teen and in my early 20s led me to take more risks than I do now.  As I am older, I am more likely to obey rules, heed warnings and be more of a law abiding citizen.

There is no doubt that rules and regulations can be a hassle and take some of the fun out of things, as LHM seems to suggest in his quote, where the sign board with rules and regulations in Pattison State Park drove him to seek someplace simpler and less constrained.  For its part, Pattison State Park has two large waterfalls - Big Manitou Falls and Little Manitou Falls.  Big Manitou Falls is the highest waterfall in Wisconsin, at 165 feet.  As I am writing this, we are not too too far past tragedies surrounding waterfalls in the United States.  At Niagara Falls in August of 2011, a 19 year old Japanese woman ignored warning signs and climbed a safety rail.  She slipped, fell into the river just above Horseshoe Falls and was swept to her death.  In July, 2011 at Yosemite Park's Vernal Fall, three people climbed over a safety railing, slipped and plunged over the edge.  They didn't survive.  It stands to reason that people, wanting better views or better photos, get too close to something which is dangerous.  Sometimes it works out and they get that wonderful shot.  Sometimes, it doesn't and in the worst case scenario, they die.  If they'd respected the rules and regulations and had not taken the risk, they would probably still be alive.

The book Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon puts it this way.  Wilderness areas and parks are two edged swords.  Governments can put them completely off limits to preserve safety.  That would not go over well.  In the U.S., park visitation rises every year, even as budgets fall.  Parks can sign themselves to death, but that is not cost effective.  So, the rules and regulations are posted at the entrance, and then you are free to ignore them or respect them as you wish.  Respecting them gives you better odds of living longer.  If you feel hemmed in, you can move on down the road.

I will say, though, that a warning label on people would be extremely helpful to all of us!

Musical Interlude

This old song, Signs by the Five Man Electrical Band, is a protest against all the rules, regulations, restrictions, warnings and signage in our society.  I imagine the members of the band, all probably in their 60s at least, obey signs more than they did then.  (The song was also covered by the band Tesla).

If you want to know more about Pattison State Park

America's State Parks: Pattison State Park
Big Manitou Falls (in Pattison State Park)
Little Manitou Falls (in Pattison State Park) Big Manitou Falls Pattison State Park Pattison State Park
Wisconsin State Park System: Pattison State Park
Wikipedia: Big Manitou Falls
Wikipedia: Pattison State Park

Next up:  Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Kalispell, Montana

Unfolding the Map

We drop off Arthur O. Bakke in Kalispell, leaving him to go where his Lord takes him.  We're about to cross the Rockies and then head into the endless plains of the Northern United States.  As we head into a state where the concept of freedom is hotly defended and where the wide-open spaces make it seem almost tangible, I'll reflect a little, based on William Least Heat-Moon's quote below, on freedom and its effects generally and on me personally.  To locate Kalispell, exercise your freedom to look at the map!

Book Quote

"We rode on in silence to Kalispell, and Bakke dozed off again.....

"....the word he carried to me wasn't of the City of God; it was of simplicity, spareness, courage, directness, trust and 'charity' in Paul's sense.  He lived clean: mind, body, way of life.  Hegel believed that freedom is knowledge of one's necessity, and Arthur O. Bakke, I.M.V., was a free man hindered only by his love and conviction.  And that was just as he wanted it.  I don't know whether he had been chosen to beat the highways and hedges, but clearly he had chosen to.  Despite doctrinal differences, he reminded me of a Trappist monk or a Hopi shaman.  I liked Arthur.  I liked him very much."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 3

Downtown Kalispell. Photo by Flathead Convention and Visitors Bureau and seen at the Tripadvisor website. Clidk on photo to go to site.

Kalispell, Montana

In my last post, I wrote about my search for and need for simplicity, and also how I find it so difficult to implement in my life.  This post is not very well-thought out, but I'm going to throw and idea encompassing all kinds of different things that I've been thinking about past you.

In America, we pride ourselves on being "the land of the free."  The American Constitution takes great pains to lay out certain freedoms that are guaranteed to all citizens, enshrined in our Bill of Rights.  Some are defined as liberties, or those freedoms that existed prior to the advent of governments.  Freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the press are such liberties that according to our constitution cannot be taken away from us.  Others are considered rights, which are granted us by government but once instilled, must be protected.  Such rights are the rights to bear arms, and to due process.

Over the centuries, what constitutes the boundaries of freedoms and rights have been debated.  These arguments are still at the base of almost all political disputes today.  U.S. citizens demand and expect freedoms and rights, but nobody can truly be completely free to exercise their freedoms and rights.  Why?  Because an excess of freedom for some people has the potential to trample on the rights of others, and on the ability of governments to maintain societal order.  In order to minimize these difficulties, governments create laws which are, in effect, a relinquishment of freedom by the citizenry in exchange for order.  In the U.S., we consent to giving up some freedom in order that we can live relatively safely and securely.

An example is fitting.  We have laws against murder.  The act of murder, freely by one person, is the ultimate denial of another's freedom and rights through the taking of that person's life.  It is also a violation of public order.  The laws state that we are not free to murder, and if we do, we will lose even more of our rights and freedoms by going to jail, or in many cases, losing our life through execution.

However, in the late 20th century and the early 21st century, the idea of freedom is being pushed to the brink.  In particular, excess economic freedom has been touted and is being justified politically.  Economic freedom can be as benign as allowing people the right and freedom to exchange goods and services.  This freedom to interact economically allows for individuals to build up capital and property.  Government, to maintain public order, is tasked with defending the property we gain through our economic freedoms.  However, if we keep in mind that more freedoms impinge on an ability to maintain order, then it is easy to see that the accumulation of property (I'm using the general sense of the term here: property is stuff, whether it be little knicknacks one buys to the ownership of large tracts of land) can impede on all types of freedoms.

Politically, we have arguments about whether, in their accumulation of wealth, corporations should be regulated and taxed and how much.  Giving corporations carte blanch to do whatever they want may allow them to run roughshod over potential freedoms to work, to live in healthy environments, and to guarantee our access to things we need.  We debate, in the current popular terminology, whether the 1% should have so much and continue to gain at the expense of the 99% who seem to be losing more and more.  The freedom of the 1% to continue to accumulate takes away from the freedom of the 99% to move upward economically.

But it's not just these big picture questions that economic freedom touches, but also individual lives.  To use myself as an example, my steadily increasing income over the past three decades may have increased by ability to get the stuff that I like and want, but that stuff has also contributed to the increased disorder in my life.  My wallet may have allowed me to spend anywhere from 6-7 evenings out, but it also took away from my ability to look at big questions of family and stability and led to some decision-making at times that may have not been well thought out.

I don't want it to seem like I'm complaining.  My life as an adult has mostly been happy and full of wonderful things.  But there have been important deficits that are now begging for my attention, brought about by the freedoms I allowed myself in the past.

Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has argued that the concept of freedom has to be expanded beyond life, liberty and property.  Governments that are the most free, he argues, are the ones that guarantee their citizens the freedom, the access and the means to pursue the life that makes them happy.  In that way, his concept of freedom encompasses both the political and the economic.

I am in favor of this, even if it means regulating the freedoms of some to guarantee a decent level of freedoms for all.  But as I apply his argument to all levels of life, I particularly focus on regulation.  Regulation is important.  If an economic market cannot self-regulate and fails, and we've seen signs in the past that sometimes it can't, the outcomes may be dangerous for society as a whole.  I can also see how this works on an individual level.  If a person has no capacity for self-regulation, we consider them at best a "bit off," and at worst dangerous to themselves and others.

My personal quest right now is for more regulation in my own life.  By regulation I mean curtailing some of my personal freedom to accumulate, to consume, and to lose myself in distractions in order to focus more discipline on my desire for personal growth and growth in my relationships.  Regulation, to me, brings about discipline and entails a willingness to give up some freedoms in order to achieve what one wants.  Even as LHM, in his quote above, extols the freedom of Arthur O. Bakke (and this post is the last Bakke will appear in), he writes that even Bakke is limited by his "love and conviction."  In other words, Bakke is free to wander the roads but his faith, mission and purpose regulates his freedom in many other ways.  And that's not a bad thing, especially if it allows him to pursue what he desires, and to strive for that which makes him happy.


Arthur O. Bakke is let off by LHM at Kalispell.  Bakke offers to ride with LHM to North Dakota, but LHM tells him he has to go alone, though he says at times he will miss Bakke's company.  As he lets him out into a strong wind, LHM asks Bakke if he will be okay, and Bakke replies with a biblical verse, Philippians 4:11: "For I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content."  He adds, "Hardships are good. They prepare a man."  Another lesson I've learned only recently, and which has set my mind toward more positive things for my future.

Musical Interlude

I've been waiting for a reason to play this song.  Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb was a gospel song from the 1950s, rendered here by Arnold McCuller (website) with Ry Cooder.  I didn't use the conversion story of Arthur Bakke in these posts, but revelation can literally hit with a huge explosive force on the lives of the individuals that experience it.  Needless to say, it hasn't happened to me.  My insights have always been slow trickles.

If you want to learn more about Kalispell

City of Kalispell
Daily Inter Lake (newspaper)
Flathead Beacon (newspaper)
Flathead Convention and Visitors Bureau Kalispell
Kalispell Chamber of Commerce
Wikipedia: Kalispell

Next up: Hungry Horse, Montana