Morgan Liddick: Heavy mental lifting for Gov. Schwarzenegger |

Morgan Liddick: Heavy mental lifting for Gov. Schwarzenegger


Ever wonder why so much goofiness originates in California? After all, the place had a reputation even before Frank Zappa immortalized its citizens in the brilliant and biting tune “Fresh Flakes.” Is it the air? Something in the water? Mass hysteria?

The lesson began at the jetway of San Jose airport. The 10-by-12 fluorescent orange poster card was hard to miss, and its all-caps black-lettered warning gave one pause. “Because of smoking which might have taken place,” read the note, “this facility may harbor toxic chemicals which the State of California has determined to cause cancer and birth defects.”

Well, they were rebuilding the airport, so I thought that some of those toxic chemicals could be related to construction. If I hurried through, the damage was liable to be minimal. Silly me.

The same sign appeared on the car rental agency’s door. On the entry to my hotel. On the hotel room door. On public buildings. Restaurants. It was ubiquitous. The wording was slightly different in each case, some fingering past smoking, others delightfully imprecise about the cause. Was there once a meth lab in the hotel lobby? A refinery in the restaurant? On two signs, “… has determined to …” was changed to “… suspects to …” but the underlying message is the same: Open this door and you’re going to die. Welcome to California.

Then there was the extensive media coverage of wildfires, a substantial portion of it dedicated not to the extent of the fires, nor the heroic efforts to contain them, but to the deleterious effects of the smoke on public health. The gist of it was, if you have any condition more serious than a hangnail and you step outside, you’re going up like a baby chick in a microwave.

After a couple of days, the thought came to me that maybe the residents of the Golden Bear State were just a little paranoid about their health. But then we began the process of locating a house for our elder son.

The standard California Contract to Buy and Sell Real Estate is about as long as Colorado’s, and covers many of the same bases. But the required addenda come to 10 to 12 more pages, and what they say is revealing.

Did you know that if your house is built of wood, it can catch fire and burn down? That if your house has electrical wiring, you might be electrocuted? That if your house has a roof, it may leak? That your water heater and/or furnace may explode, catch fire, or just plain fail to work? That if your house is located in a flood plain, it may flood? The Addenda say all these things and many, many more using fulsome legal language and giving sonorous warnings of doom in each case. You’d have to be a perfect fool to buy a house in California. It’s going be obliterated, probably tomorrow. And you’ll suffer through it, if you aren’t poisoned by toxic carpet fumes first.

What is the result of this constant barrage of warnings about the bad effects of life’s undertakings? And why should we be concerned with California’s example? What research there is on the first question suggests that two responses predominate: cynical fatalism or profound over-reaction. In America, we tend to the latter; think about the Alien and Sedition Acts, or the internment of Japanese-Americans.

More serious is the infectious nature of mental dysfunction; paranoia spreads quickly in our country. Add to this the inexplicable attraction of ideas originating in La-La land, and perhaps we can explain why our nation has become more prone to panic attacks in recent days: the California disease is spreading.

True, there are additional factors like the rumor factory of the Internet, where falsehood and foolishness spread faster than anti-American disinformation published by the Press Trust of India. And schools, which seem bent on stomping out analytical ability wherever it can be found. Or our legal community, which seems intent on erasing the word “accident” from the English language.

I don’t like the way any of this is going. Neither should you, if you respect the role of common sense in our lives. Yes, if you drink a quart of Jack Daniels and stick your finger in a light socket, you could be electrocuted. Maybe even without the preliminaries. If you climb a ladder, you might fall off. If your house is made of wood, it may burn down. But it probably won’t, at least tomorrow.

And if you walk into a formerly smoke-filled room, you aren’t going to die of lung cancer within the week.

So let’s resist the urge to gallop down California’s road to Chicken-Littledom when and wherever it appears. There are more important things in life than fear.

Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. E-mail him at Also, comment on this column at

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