Alberto Mingardi  

The art of silly norms

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Photographer Olivia Locher (here's an interesting interview) has recently presented a new art project, "I Fought the Law". This photo series captures a selection of what Ms Locher regards as the silliest regulations and prohibitions enacted by U.S. states.

Among the others, in California nobody is allowed to ride a bicycle in a swimming pool and in Wisconsin it is illegal to serve apple pie in restaurants without cheese. The pictures are as beautiful as funny and deserve to be admired.

There is a certain tendency towards over-regulation in modern political polities, and that we know.The interplay of vested interests tend to produce "regulation à la carte", and that we know. And yet this unfortunately doesn't tell us how the idea that you need a government law to forbid people to ride a bike in a swimming pool crossed a law maker's mind.

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CATEGORIES: Regulation

COMMENTS (8 to date)

In California skateboarders and BMX bikers used to practice their stunts in empty swimming pools. Any who had his pool drained for cleaning was likely to find it trashed by skaters or bikers.

So, as silly as it sounds, the no bikes in swimming pools law is probably a sensible anti-trespass law.

Jim Ancona writes:

Steve Fritzinger, why is standard trespassing law inadequate?

Chris writes:

According to this site, the cheese with pie law is a myth.

[Quote from that Wisconsin government site, for clarity: "Laws of Wis. 1935, ch. 106 provided that cheese must be served at meals in restaurants if value was more than $.25. This law was effective June 1935-March 1937 only. (Wis. Stat. 160.065 (1937) no longer contained this provision.) For cheese distribution at tourist information centers, see: Wis. Stat. 41.11 (5)...". See also Ed.]

mike shupp writes:

Jim Ancona:

"Officer, officer! I just got back from vacation and there are wheel marks in my swimming pool. Find out who left them and prosecute them for trespassing immediately!"

This works in your part of the country, eh?

What happens in California: There were a rash of these cases in the 70's as I recall. Skateboarding had become a thing and kids from all over were looking for places to get an exciting ride, and a lot of them picked empty swimming pools. Turns out, you can hurt yourself badly in skateboarding... and in a lot of places, prosecutors went after property holders. The argument was, (a) kids have no judgement and no sense of responsibility, (b) empty pools are attractive to skateboarders, (c) home owners who don't discourage such users -- by covering pools over, for example -- are maintaining unsafe property and bear the responsibility for such mishaps as occur. They can be sued for the medical bills of kids with broken bones; they might even be prosecuted for homicide if someone broke their neck. (Yes, there's precedents.)

So the Legislature has passed a law which gives a bit of protection to pool owners. You still need to cover your empty pool, as I recall, but there is a presumption now that someone using it without your permission is breaking a law, and various consequences flow from that. You can shrug off their medical bills, for instance.

So, as Mr Fritzinger pointed out, the law actually made a good deal of sense. It's just that we've forgotten the circumstances giving rise to it.

Jim Ancona writes:

mike shupp:

In my part of the country, the chances of getting the police to investigate the criminals who left tire marks in my pool would be somewhere between slim and none, regardless of whether the law they violated was trespassing or "cycling in a pool." Perhaps it's different in California.

If the law in question is intended to reduce liability for homeowners who took reasonable precautions to secure their empty pool, that makes sense to me. Making skateboarding in a pool a separate crime seems like a roundabout way of doing that.

mike shupp writes:

Jim Ancona:

Far be it from me to defend the California Legislature.... but I'd guess that the penalties attached to criminal skateboarding (a small fine, perhaps) differed from those which might be imposed on other trespassers.


My point was that the CA legislature didn't wake up one morning and say, "We'd better outlaw bikes in swimming pools!" They had a reason for doing it.

I'd agree that standard trespass laws would have worked fine. But politicians do love to pass laws against the latest outrage. They have the power. They can afford such nonsense.

James writes:

It might help to know that the online gallery (second link in the post) is pretty NSFW.

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