Sunscreen, CYA, and skin cancer

Here is some new level of nuts.  It’s not what I expected to reflect on first after two weeks of exploring the soybean/corn/cattle/forest frontier in Brazil, though there are two distant links.  For some obscure bureaucratic reason, sunscreen costs about five times as much here as in the states, so I was the bearer of a bunch of it as little presents for people we interviewed).   Second, Brazilian  social conventions are touchy.  People have trouble explaining some things without putting a hand on your shoulder, and it’s quite agreeable.

Skin cancer is not nice; I’ve had two, one of which would have killed me if my dermatologist hadn’t noticed it in time, and the other that turned my poor nose into a disaster area of topical chemotherapy for six weeks.  Both are probably the fruit of childhood sunburns before we understood the situation. These Maryland officials are poster kids for the worst kind of defensive, wrong-kind-of-lawyer-driven policymaking.  On the one hand: kids need hugs and touching. Everybody does.  Also,  see above re skin cancer.  So implementing this wretched rule damages tens of thousands of kids psychologically on the spot and perhaps  thousands physically years later; that would be too bad.  On the other hand: some kid will be inappropriately touched, maybe actually sexually assaulted in summer camp (no matter what dumb rules we make) but with rules like this, we won’t lose a lawsuit, maybe.  Well, maybe we will still face such a suit, but it won’t come back to Mitchell’s office.   This is a clear choice (from the point of view of the DOH bureaucrats) between “something that might be very disagreeable for us, and something that would be quite damaging, occasionally fatal, for a whole lot of other people”, and I guess if comfort is what you live for, the choice is clear.

Sexual abuse of minors is very bad, but we don’t need to make them sick to prevent it; we need to learn how to hug them and put on sun goo and also keep them safe from mistreatment.  Not that hard, actually.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

2 thoughts on “Sunscreen, CYA, and skin cancer”

  1. Speaking as a lawyer: AMEN!

    There are some fields of law in which good lawyering will make the client bulletproof. A perfected security interest in personal property is one example. Creating a legal defense to intentional patent infringement claims is another. If the lawyer does a good job, the client will win. But this is not true for most fields of law, especially those involving people or moral turpitude. No amount of waivers can protect a physician from malpractice claims, and disclaimers are only a partial protection against fraud claims.

    Bad lawyers respond to this with talismanic behavior, such as zero-tolerance policies or stupid unenforceable waivers that only infuriate customers, or the insane Maryland policy to which Michael O’Hare adverted.

    Good lawyers do not think that they can stop most litigation with magic words or policies. But they do think that they can reduce the amount of litigation, or the risk of losing. In employment law, for example, a good lawyer will first make sure that the employer simply does the right thing. But lawsuits still happen, for many reasons, both good and bad. Therefore, a good lawyer will make sure that there are good written policies, that there is a clear chain of training in these policies, and that all personnel decisions, both adverse and favorable, be documented up the wazoo, and be made for proper reasons. None of this prevents all litigation; it’s inherent in employment.

    Sometimes, good defensive lawyering even creates litigation. When a good employment lawyer is confronted with a manager who is afraid to fire some nasty jackass employee for fear they might sue, the lawyer’s first duty is to provide a spine transplant, so that the client does the right thing. The second duty is to make sure that it does the right thing the right way. The weak manager is only making life harder for the next manager, who will have to cope with an empowered jackass. The litigation is inevitable, and is best done quickly. (Any smart plaintiff’s lawyer will otherwise employ the: “If my client is so horrible, why did s/he always get glowing performance appraisals until the final manager” attack, which is a damn good one.)

  2. One of my accounting professors told a story from when he was in industry. (The chemical production industry, to be specific.) He and his boss were at a negotiating table concerning a merger, and at one point, in response to the folks on the other side, their lawyer said that they would institute a particular policy. The boss immediately asked for a break to talk things over. The conversation consisted of him pinning the attorney (from an outside firm, not the company itself) to the wall and told him that the lawyer worked for him, not the other way around, and the next time he presumed to speak for the company on his own initiative, the firm would be fired.

    It’s a conversation more people need to have with their counsel. *You* are the one in charge, and *you* are the one responsible. No lawyer’s opinion ever kept you from doing the right thing. *You* chose to behave unethically, and are using the attorney as an excuse.

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