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You Can't Fix Stupid

Columnist: Mike Martini
June, 2015 Issue
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Mike Martini
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In a place screaming for OSHA, there are only screams for brisket.

 
Comedian Ron White is famous for his bit: “You Can’t Fix Stupid.” He’s a very funny man and, as with most funny guys, he pokes fun at the obvious by exaggerating the many follies of man. We all screw up. The problem is when we try to fix it.
 
There was a concrete spill in the East Bay. Someone turned the wrong valve and concrete poured down a creek bed. The creek was dry but the radio reported that all insect life was lost. Neighbors were alarmed and complained that they might have been exposed to dangerous chemicals. No one pointed out to them that these were the same chemicals that make up their patio, their driveway and their home's foundation. But this is California, so local officials and state legislators are discussing new regulations to prevent future spills.
 
I just returned from Lockhart, Tex., a town of 10,000 that’s a little more than 30 miles southeast of Austin. Lockhart is the home of Smitty’s Market. This market started as a butcher shop in the early 1900s and, like many others, began to smoke lesser cuts of beef along with sausage from the trimmings. It no longer operates as a butcher shop, but its Texas barbecue attracts hordes every day.
 
There are four large smokers, all feeding into one chimney. They’ve been in operation for 100 years and the market has yet to clean the soot off the walls. It’s painted all the interior walls black so people aren’t really sure where the soot stops.
 
The meat-smoking fires are right on the concrete floor. There are no grates, no brick fire boxes, no sprinklers and no fire extinguishers. The concrete is melted after decades of fire. There are no railings or barriers to keep customers away from the flames. The natural draft of the smoker sucks all the smoke through the chamber, so not even the smoke from the oak firewood keeps diners at bay. The sales counter is within eight feet of the fire. Kids run through the corridor while waiting for parents to bring a meal to the communal dining area.
 
In a place screaming for OSHA, there are only screams for brisket.
 
I had a chance to meet the pit master and to tour the facility, which included three more smokers and a cutting room. The market goes through hundreds of briskets per day, along with ribs and sausage made onsite. No hairnets and no latex gloves are involved. I told him there was no way this could happen in California—and he confessed it could no longer happen in Texas, either. The market had been grandfathered in, and the quality of the barbecue and constant line of customers lets the operation continue.
 
Yes, the food is that good.
 
Now, let’s take a look at something closer to home.
 
Santa Rosa, like every municipality, has set regulations requiring developers of subdivisions to include streetlights. These regulations were set by studies of safety and lighting. They weren’t cheap. The city was responsible for the power upon completion of the neighborhood. But when budget cuts were forced on the city by the downturn in the economy, one solution was to turn off every other streetlight. Residents voiced their concerns for their safety, but the city prevailed and the lights went off.
 
The result was a surprise to many. There wasn’t an increase in crime; there wasn’t an increase in accidents. Many didn’t even notice they were turned off. As the economy improved, the lights were turned back on with brighter and more economical LED bulbs. Then the complaints came in that the new lights were too bright.
 
Regulations are a part of our society and are in place for good reason. It is, however, easy to point out that we may have overdone it. We can’t protect ourselves from every hazard. Nor can we function in the ever-growing labyrinth of regulation.
 
A simpler plan is to build in a Sunset Clause in all regulation. The regulation would be removed at a future date requiring the elected body to review, debate and reestablish the regulation if it were actually doing something. Note: The streetlight requirement hasn’t been revised, even though years of experience showed we didn’t need as many lights.
 
If you’re traveling in the near future, consider living a little on the wild side and going to Lockhart for some really good barbecue and a cold beer. It’s worth it. 


 

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