Look closely at the paper coffee cup you picked up on the way to work this morning. Careful, the beverage you're about to enjoy is extremely hot. Some variation of this wording is standard on most disposable cups these days. Do you really need to be warned? Of course not. But someone, somewhere sued a company and won after being scalded by hot coffee, and it made sellers include words to protect themselves from litigation. Such fear has become as standard as the warning, not only in businesses but also in schools, health care institutions, and government, says Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and public policy activist. Howard claims this has led not only to nonsensical laws but to more alarming restrictions of our basic freedoms, the very rights the law is supposed to generally uphold. He proposes remedies in his talk, "Fixing Broken Government." Howard is referred to as the conservative who inspires standing ovations from liberal audiences, and his credentials show his background is indeed varied. He's been praised by conservative columnist David Brooks, he served as an adviser to Al Gore when Gore was vice president, and he blames Republicans as well as Democrats for the nation's legal and bureaucratic morass. His most recent book is called Life Without Lawyers. Howard promotes not anarchy but rather a return to common sense so that we no longer feel so paralyzed by the thicket of legalisms that have sprung up around us. Without it, maybe we can once again enjoy our coffee free of unnecessary warnings.
Tue., Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m., 2011