Stories of the nanny state

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No good deed goes unpunished.

At least that’s how Muir Beach resident Sigward Moser felt Friday after he says he was threatened with a Taser gun, forced to the ground and handcuffed by a National Park Service ranger for refusing to stop cleaning up the oily beach beneath his home.

Moser, a 45-year-old communications consultant, said he was forced to sprawl handcuffed on the wet sand for an hour before he was released and given two misdemeanor citations, one for entering an emergency area and another for refusing a lawful order.

“It was pretty wet and uncomfortable,” he said Saturday. “This is very frustrating, and it was completely avoidable.”

Moser’s Pacific Way home overlooks Muir Beach, where cleanup crews with 100 professionals in white and yellow protective coveralls were at work yesterday.

But there was no one cleaning up Friday when oily globs the size of bowling balls began washing up on shore from Wednesday’s disastrous fuel oil spill.

Moser, a neighborhood liaison on the Muir Beach Disaster Council, went out on the oily beach with an impromptu crew of Buddhist monks in training at the nearby Green Gulch Zen Center.

He said they scooped up 7,000 pounds of solidified oil and put it in plastic bags before park service officials arrived in the afternoon to size up the situation.

“You don’t have to be trained to do this,” he said. “We had on gloves and we didn’t feel there was a health risk. It just lifted up from the sand like it was in kitty litter. They came late with only five people. We felt that anything we could do is better than nothing.”

Moser said he declined three orders to halt his activities before he was cited.

Park service officials held a conference call on Saturday about the incident with members of the Muir Beach Community Services District.

“They were upset, but we tried to reassure them why trained professionals are needed to do this work,” said National Park Service publicist Rich Weideman, citing health hazards and unintended injuries to wildlife by untrained volunteers.


17 Responses

  1. I think you’re jumping the gun on this one. While it’s obvious to me that the ranger overreacted, there might well be substance to their case. Has it been established that there are no safety hazards associated with the oil? The stuff is full of heavy hydrocarbons, many of which are carcinogenic. The problem here is that we are a society run by the rule of law, and the law has to be clear, even though there are always weird situations in which the law yields bizarre results. In this case, there appears to have a declaration that the site was a hazmat site, which triggers a number of legal conditions. I believe that one of those conditions is that all officers of the law are required to clear the area of unauthorized people. Thus, the ranger might well have found himself in violation of the law had he not acted against the volunteers. We don’t know.

    Let’s also recognize that Mr. Moser appears to have been acting like a jerk here. He ignored three orders to leave the area. It appears that none of the monks were charged — apparently they had the good sense to accept the authority of the ranger.

    Mr. Moser’s proper response would have been to obey the ranger, demand his badge number, and file a complaint.

    In any case, in the absence of further details, we’re in no position to draw firm conclusions. My own thoughts on this are tentative; if more information becomes available I’ll happily amend them.

  2. Your place, Book, is to pay the money. Not to question the elites that know best.

    Let’s also recognize that Mr. Moser appears to have been acting like a jerk here. He ignored three orders to leave the area. It appears that none of the monks were charged — apparently they had the good sense to accept the authority of the ranger.

    Let’s recognize that authority is only forwarded as a good thing when it serves the con game of the Left.

    What happened to the civil liberties that the Patriot Act was destroying with the library raids? What happened to the right of Americans to live free, instead of under a police state?

    What happened to the Bush is the worst President? Should authority from the worst President in US History be “obeyed”?

    Cognitive dissonance.

  3. Well, having lived for considerable periods in South America, I’m with Ophiuchus on this one. Maybe he wasn’t “a jerk”, but refusing to obey someone with a gun when he tells you to do something is really stupid behavior. I suppose if there’s some principle at stake, one can admire the guy who stands in front of the tank……but for the right to pick up tar balls off the beach?

    And speaking of South America, the U.S. is becoming more like a banana republic, all the time. I refer to the gradual loss of the rule of law. In a better world, the ranger would have warned Mr. Moser of the dangers, and then let him take whatever risk is involved in handling the tar. However, we all know that the courts will not accept that Mr. Moser has responsibility for his actions….if he were to be sickened or injured, he could probably bring a tort against all and sundry for his injuries, pain and suffering, etc. At the very least, no judge is likely to throw it out of court and sanction the attorney who brought the stupid thing — thereby assuring that great costs would be borne in what ought to be a totally unnecessary defense.

    So…..hiss and boo to Mr. Moser. Grow up, you maroon!

  4. Earl: Your second paragraph nails why the article bothered me. I agree that Mr. Moser was a jerk and a fool when confronted by law enforcement. But it would have been better to warn him of the risks and then let him be responsible for his actions. That’s what I meant about the nanny state, which removes from people the ability to calculate their risks and make their choices.

  5. So…..hiss and boo to Mr. Moser. Grow up, you maroon!

    What is this based upon except disagreement with Moser’s choices?


    Certainly you can choose to do nothing while everytime you look out your window, you can see globes of hideous black stuff washing up on the beach, Earl. Certainly Europeans can look around at their crime infested neighborhoods and think that it is the police’s problem to solve.

    Some people though, clearly disagree. Why that has anything to do with Moser needing to grow up, is not very obvious.

    Training for dealing with hazardous oil takes at least 24 hours, according to state and federal authorities. Officials from several agencies said no such training is available right now.

    “It’s frustrating,” said Ryan Gross of San Francisco. “I want to help. I don’t want to sit home and do nothing. But that’s what they told us to do.”

    Meanwhile, a group of surfer activists with the Surfrider Foundation was urging its members to show up at Ocean Beach with “kitty litter scoops and heavy duty bags.” And that’s just what Alex Stein of San Francisco did.

    “It just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said, picking up oil droplets with kitchen gloves.

    In Richmond, not all volunteers felt frustrated. Oakland psychologist Ed Grigas said the prevailing mood at the class for volunteers reflected “a lot of positive public opinion” and understanding about the limited opportunities for untrained helpers.

    Those who could not undergo 24-hour training were offered other suggestions for helping, such as preparing food for recovering birds or donating supplies.

    “The Berkeley Marina is accepting donations of sheets and towels,” Grigas said. “I called my friends and asked them to help out. I plan to take old sheets and towels after work on Monday.”

    Things were more tense Friday in Marin County, where Sigward Moser led a 30-person volunteer group – including 20 monks-in-training from the Mill Valley Zen Center – onto Muir Beach. For his efforts, he was detained and handcuffed.

    The little army managed to scoop up nearly 500 bags of gloppy, sandy oil between 2 and 5 p.m. Moser said it was easy duty: “It rolls up like kitty litter, right off the surface of the sand. Went right into the bags with no problem.”

    They got almost all the oil they could find – and then a National Park Service ranger showed up.

    “He asked us to leave, and we said we needed to do what we were doing, so he put me in handcuffs,” said Moser, a communications consultant. “I told him, ‘Well, there was nobody else doing the cleanup before we began.’ But he just said I was breaking the law and this is hazardous material that I shouldn’t be dealing with.”

    Moser was cited for two misdemeanors – failure to obey an official order and entry into a restricted area – and released.

    Now he has 500 bags of glop in his yard, and he has no idea how to get rid of it.

    A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people gathered today in the Marin Headlands for yet another orientation by the Department of Fish and Game on how they could help – and they, too, wound up feeling flummoxed.

    There was a long slide show presentation updating the spill situation, describing the cleanup equipment and how Fish and Game operates. But the crowd interrupted, wanting to know what they could do – instead of listening to a lot of talk.

    “I’ve been to a lot of oil spills, and I have never been to one where there were this many volunteers,” said Addassi, the environmental scientist with the department.

    She was interrupted by frustrated people. “Don’t waste us!” a man shouted. “We want to do something now!” yelled another.

    I went around searching for more information. This is what I got.

    It fits well with what I was saying about top down hiearchies and bottom up hierarchies.

    THe bureacracy naturally covers itself, and the birds of course. They have no desire nor intention of protecting actual human beings. That is just one truism that has to be said.

  7. But it would have been better to warn him of the risks and then let him be responsible for his actions

    To establish this legally, the ranger would have had to have Mr. Moser sign a release form, which apparently the ranger did not have handy. In the absence of that release form, there really wasn’t any alternative for the ranger. Yes, this is truly stupid. But we got here because people sue on the slightest trace of liability. Had the ranger knowingly permitted Mr. Moser to continue his presence on the beach, and had anything then gone wrong and inflicted injury upon Mr. Moser, you can be sure that his option to file an expensive suit against the National Park Service would not go unnoticed.

  8. Oil is not a hazardous material. The Feds do not classify oil as hazardous. No hazardous placards are required for transportation or storage. How do I know? I haul oil by the tankful around the Chicago area for a living.

  9. rockdalian, fuel oils are not particularly hazardous, and so I very much doubt that they would fall into any of the serious categories. However, all petroleum products contain tiny amounts of heavy hydrocarbons, some of which are known to be carcinogens. In small amounts, or when properly isolated, they present no threat to anybody. But turn loose — what was it, some thousands of gallons? — of this stuff into the open environment and things get stickier (ahem!).

    Moreover, I believe that the general rule is that, in the opening stages of any spill, when you don’t really know exactly what is involved, you treat it as hazardous, relaxing your protocols only after you know exactly what you’re dealing with. What if the spill were a mix of benzene and fuel oil? Benzene is highly carcinogenic and is used in a lot of industrial processes, and a benzene spill would be a major health hazard. If they had not established the nature of the spill at the time of the altercation described here, then that ranger was absolutely 100% correct in insisting that those people depart immediately.

  10. Fuels are indeed classified as hazardous, mainly due to flammability. Reading the article left me the impression this was ordinary oil. The fact that the park rangers did not arrive on scene in bio hazard suits leads me to believe they knew what the spill consisted of.

  11. This is the same state that forced two dozen (I think that was the number) tanker aircraft to sit out the first day of the So-Cal fires because state regulation required a “trained fire spotter” be on board. By the time they got the clearance to fly, the winds were too heavy and it was unsafe. Millions of dollars of damage later . . .Fine, tell Mr. Moser there is risk to cleaning the stuff up. Wow, what a news flash. A substance which is feared to be killing marine wildlife might not be to good for humans either. I’m sure Mr. Moser would be floored.

    I don’t live in California, but I suspect its citizens are not pleased with the disaster response system about now. What we don’t know is whether Mr. Moser had been watching the “trained” cleaners doing essentially the same thing he decided to do. I would not be surprised. It’s almost like saying to the man whose house is on fire “Hey, put down the hose. You’re not trained to put out fires. Put it down or I’m gonna Tase you.”

  12. InkMiser, it’s easy to bitch and moan about “the bureaucracy” when you’re not there. We lose one fire tanker almost every year, and sometimes two. These guys fly right down on the deck in mountainous terrain, in dense smoke, piloting lumbering aircraft that have little maneuverability. Moreover, they can kill people on the ground if they’re not careful. You may bitch and moan when your passenger aircraft gets grounded because of a burned-out instrument panel light, but these are the kinds of things that kill people. Yes, most of the time, safety protocols are a pain in the butt. Most of the time, they don’t accomplish anything. But every now and then, somebody shortcuts a safety protocol, something goes wrong, and people die. That’s when a hue and cry goes up, “Why wasn’t something done to prevent this from happening?”

    We’re a society that just loves to blame somebody whenever bad things happen. Give these people a break.

  13. I’m with Ophi on this one. The point was not that this guy took up the initiative to clean up the mess on his beach, but that he deliberately disobeyed a lawful order. As Martin Luther King acknowledged, to deliberately disobey the Law because it is wrong is courageous, but you have to be willing to accept the consequences.

    Whether or not the authorities were correct in their decision is a separate question to be handled in a separate venue.

  14. However, I don’t agree with Ophi on the issue of oil toxicity. If skin exposure to oil was bad, oil workers the world over would be keeling over from cancer. There are carcinogens in virtually everything we touch, including virtually all the natural foods we eat (e.g., natural benzene in strawberries, for example).

    As the 16th Century physician/pharmacologist/philosopher Paracelsus so aptly put it, “the dose makes the poison”.

    This, of course, is arguing rationally on the basis of hard facts. I fully concede the point that once the California tort bar intercedes, rational discourse goes out the window.

  15. Danny, there are many kinds of oil — light oils, heavy oils, lubricating oils, and fuel oils. I suspect that you’re talking about lubricating oils, which are highly refined and contain less of the heavy hydrocarbons that can be dangerous. Fuel oils are only lightly refined and contain a lot more random stuff. The fuel oils used in oil-fired power plants, for example, have the consistency of shoe polish at room temperature. I know that the fuel oils used in ships are lighter, but I doubt that they’re anywhere near as light as, say, diesel fuel.

  16. Ophi, I believe that the oil that was released in the bay was lightly-refined bunker fuel oil. The dangerous one are the highly refined distillates, but distillates wouldn’t create the tar balls that are fouling the Bay Area’s beaches.

    As rockdalian pointed out, people who work in the industry (including the shipping and heating oil industry) regularly get exposed to the stuff.

  17. Danny, I think I found the basis for the policy in question:

    “After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, hundreds of untrained volunteers who helped swab up oil complained of respiratory problems, nausea and headaches after the crisis.”

    This pretty much justifies the official policy, as far as I am concerned. Yes, there’s a difference between the crude oil in the Exxon Valdez case and the bunker oil in this case, but it’s still close enough that the precautionary policy of the feds seems justified to me.

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