Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Risk, Rights, Rules & Right-wingers

It’s cheering when, as today, there is no agreement between the British newspapers over what to put on their front pages. Means there’s been no great disaster, real or imagined. Just the usual run of personal tragedies, ten people or so killed in road accidents, a few in household accidents and the odd murder no doubt. In the Times Magnus Linklater writes about just such an event. On New Years Day an horrific fire swept through his family's house "in the early hours [and] took with it most of [their] treasured possessions." It started in their tinder dry Christmas tree but spread frighteningly quickly. Fortunately no-one was seriously injured and the fire service responded rapidly. He writes that he’ll "never again sneer at fire regulations". It’s easy to mock health and safety regulators but incidents like this and the one that killed a friend’s child on a poorly maintained playground slide show how important they can be. Of course we need to get the balance right and we’re not as a species very good at risk assessment but those who rant loudest about oppressive H&S regulation often seem to me to lack imagination as do those who deny a connection between speed and death on the roads.

On the risk theme, the mining accident in West Virginia is a reminder of the dangers faced in the energy business. It seems particularly tragic that families had been told that most of the trapped men had been found alive when in fact only one seriously injured man survived. I’m sure it was a communication cock-up rather than a ghastly conspiracy but humanity seems unwilling to accept cock-ups nowadays. Incidentally being a travelling salesman or in any occupation that involves driving hundreds of miles a week is a more risky occupation than being a miner at least in terms of risking death. Risk analysis produces many such counter-intuitive results.

The Times front-page story is about a "secret" plan to charge for access to information under the freedom of information act. This seems a sensible move to me especially if it reduces the number of flippant enquiries. Why should we all pay to satisfy the cravings of some crank with a bee in their bonnet? The connection between rights and responsibilities is being forgotten. For example, we have a reasonable right to free speech in Britain but people like the Parliament Square anti-war bloke, whose name I can’t remember, abuse the right by pushing it beyond the reasonable limit. If only there could be a law against behaving like a c*nt, but if there was I’d probably be locked up.......

Elsewhere in the Times Alice Miles has some advice for Labour on how to deal with the David Cameron phenomenon. It boils down more or less to ‘don’t panic’. She notes that "the electorate quite likes the Conservatives’ head, which is why Labour was forced to adopt so many Tory policies, .... But voters do not like the Tories’ heart. They think them mean, spiteful, selfish, in it for the fortunate few.". Yes quite. I’m not sure how to react to new Tories. Having spent a quarter of a century despising all their party stood for it’s hard to believe that they really can change that much. But for about ten of those years I also despaired of Labour and almost joined the SDP, phew – what an escape! But it’s more than forty months to a general election and plenty of time for the forces of darkness to derail Mr C. In the Guardian Irwin Stelzer, the director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute and the editor of Neoconservatism, is perturbed about the possibility of an outbreak of political consensus in Britain.

The Guardian leader writer mulls over the plight facing the Liberal Democrats as their leader faces attacks from all sides. The problems are twofold, who would replace him and what on earth is the party for. If they answered the latter they might not need to worry about the former, they could instead shut the shop up. The ‘In Praise Of’ spot celebrates Alex Tew who has made a million dollars out of his pixel selling web site. The admirable PooterGeek first drew our attention to Mr Tew’s story (which he’d noticed in the Guardian) back in September. I worked in and around the Telecommunications business for 31 years but failed to make any serious money. Now watch me fail in the dot com revival...

The Daily Mail comment writers are again in a lather about super casinos but, more surprisingly, also about public swimming pools. For a Newspaper that Hates Subsidies to berate local authorities for closing unprofitable pools is about as hypocritical as the Telegraph yesterday lambasting Ken Livingstone for putting up Tube fares. Still it can’t be easy writing for a Tory supporting paper now that the feely-touchie politically correct brigade has possibly seized control of their party.......

But the Telegraph leader is quite sound today on energy policy and has made the connection between uncertain gas supplies and the case for nuclear electricity in the UK. There may be trouble ahead.......

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