Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Cletus Spuckler, ain't you heard, it's a all the fault of the guvvmint ...

(Above: new role models for Sydney bikies).

Things are getting hot in Sydney town as the streets revert to the days of corrupt military officers, convicts and the Rum rebellion (Did it ever leave them?)

There's Daniel Piotrowski getting agitated about violence by punching on at The Punch (and any jokes about being punch-drunk will get you a verbal spray or punch in the moosh) with As bullets shatter windows, let's keep the safety on).

As a sometime gun owner, the pond is bemused. It seems these days the bikies of Sydney have learned how to fire their guns by watching Baz Lurhmann movies, a technique that involves leaping through the air, voiding the front and rear sights, and blazing away. As a result, barn doors seem to be in peril. What happened to the consummate skills on display in the Milperra bikie massacre back in 1984?

And speaking of killing fields, how pleasing it is to see the tobacco industry effectively argue that the government is going to get a material benefit from its plain packaging legislation ... by preventing the tobacco industry from killing people, or packing them off to hospital suffering various forms of grotesque ill-health.

It takes a peculiar form of cheek, right up there with Anders Behring Breivik, to peddle this line, but big tobacco has always found ways to make their business as professional killers seem the quintessence of consumer-caring private enterprise. The language used is frequently pure IPA:

The tobacco companies are also calling for compensation, arguing the Commonwealth is acquiring the valuable advertising space on the packaging for no payment.
They say it is irrelevant that the Government wants to use that space for public health warnings.
Alan Archibald QC, representing Philip Morris, argued the changes crossed a line from regulation to control, saying it "conscripts the cardboard package to the Government's purpose." (here)

Conscription! Why it's worse than the Vietnam days when the government sent innocent country lads off to die in paddy fields. And all the tobacco industry wants to do is help young people to quietly kill themselves.

Roll on plain packaging, and soon enough plain packaged marijuana. Would there be any better way to kill off the drug than to have it available in low dose cigarettes inside boxes full of hideous health warnings? Sometimes the turgid monotony of bureaucrats and government regulation can serve a useful purpose.

And speaking of government regulation and the IPA, what better way to throw to Chris Berg brooding about the Titanic in Regulatory failure of Titanic proportions.

The pond was hoping to avoid any mention of the Titanic. The last few days have been full of a kind of mass hysteria, which shows no sign of abating, because tonight Seven will be launching yet another re-enactment with a two hour slab of suffering.

But back to Berg, who knows his target like the back of his hand, and in a canny recyling move, also managed to get his piece published in The Wall Street Journal, under the canny header The Real Reason for the Tragedy of the Titanic, The disaster is often seen as a tale of hubris, social stratification and capitalist excess. The truth is considerably more sobering.

It's the perfect Bergian IPA analysis, wherein the wrong end of the telescope is used, and so anything of genuine insight or usefulness looks smaller or further away (or so the pond is told, accustomed as it is to using telescopes from the right end, and gun sights to line up a pistol).

There's much Bergian blather through the piece, but it builds to this consummate conclusion:

At the accident's core is this reality: British regulators assumed responsibility for lifeboat numbers, and then botched that responsibility. With a close reading of the evidence, it is hard not to see the Titanic disaster as a tragic example of government failure.

Can anyone anywhere find a better example of a hammer contemplating a world of nails? Your average fair-minded commentator might have seen it as a tragic example of government and private sector failure, but not a dedicated Bergian.

You see, there's no need for the private sector to worry about duty of care or risk management. They shouldn't ever - what never, no never ever - think about the requirements of customers or clients. They should only ever think about the bare minimum they can get away with, or whatever the government regulations dictate, which is why all cars should be built to the quality standards prevailing to the level of the minimum allowed for roadworthiness.

This freewheeling private enterprise way once got the pond in trouble over some cash in the paw payments, but hey, it's the business of the private sector to lie, cheat and create mayhem, and the business of government to try to catch it out, and when it fails, why naturally it's all the fault of the government:

There was, simply, very little reason to question the Board of Trade's wisdom about lifeboat requirements. Shipbuilders and operators thought the government was on top of it; that experts in the public service had rationally assessed the dangers of sea travel, and regulated accordingly. Otherwise why have the regulations at all?

Yep, it was nothing to do with the makers of the Titanic swallowing their own rhetoric about the ship being unsinkable, and then orchestrating a series of catastrophic errors that made it all too sinkable, and so arrive at the point where lifeboats were needed, it was simply that these innocent sheep had put all their faith, trust, hope and perhaps even charity in government regulations, and were badly let down by public servants.

Truly it's an awe-inspiring fit of logic, made even more remarkable by Berg's attempts to get Alexander Carlisle and Bruce Ismay off the hook. It wasn't about cost or aesthetics, it was about conforming to government regulations, and that's why the innocent, hapless capitalists decided to strip lifeboats off the ship. If the government said it was alright, well egad and be damned sir, it must be right ...

For some reason, the pond is reminded of an anecdote at the inquiry when Alexander Carlisle related how he and Harold Sanderson of the White Star Line often merely rubber-stamped decisions made at a meeting by Lord Pirrie and Bruce Ismay with the words "Mr. Sanderson and I were more or less dummies." The head of the inquiry, Lord Mersey replied "That has a certain verisimilitude."

The truth of course is that the truth will never be finally known. Carlisle claimed to have discussed the matter of lifeboats with Ismay, and Ismay denied any discussion of the provisions, and blaming the government was a convenient point of refuge for the private sector then (just as it's been handy ever since). But by golly when a lifeboat was handy, Ismay made use of it ...

Enough already. You can spend meaningless hours brooding on the disaster - amazingly if you want to read the actual inquiries in all their glory you can find them here in full at the Titanic inquiry project.

What the pond would like to do is to apply Bergian logic to the matter of cigarettes and big tobacco.

Now it's well known that tobacco kills people, and that the government, if it's to avoid charges of regulatory failure by Berg and the IPA in the future, should legislate by any means at its disposal to stop cigarettes from killing people - and given the fierce resistance of big tobacco, plain paper packaging seems like as good a way as any to take another step to reducing use of the killer drug.

What chance then of Berg or the IPA writing a story explaining how it's been a failure of government regulation that has allowed killer tobacco to roam the range to date?

What chance of Berg writing a column explaining how the government has set a very low target in terms of regulation - the number of lifeboats so to speak - and big tobacco is merely doing what it is allowed to do by failed government regulations? And deploring this, and perhaps even proposing that cigarettes can only be sold between noon and one on February 29th?

How soon can we see the IPA campaigning for more lifeboats and more effective government regulations in the matter of big tobacco?

Of course if you happen to share Berg's wrong end of the telescope, you'd argue that it's really up to consumers to learn that smoking can kill or badly harm you, and that big tobacco, in hiding the truth about this, was just doing what was right for its business, and that big tobacco has been an exemplary manufacturer of cigarette cruising for centuries, and has always behaved ethically towards its customers ... they might go to the grave sooner, but they go happier.

Or you might think, in a world of risk management, that perhaps an ethical capitalist wouldn't actually manufacture a product well known as a way of killing or injuring the client base.

You might even propose that Institutes that act as apologists for big tobacco are little more than mercenary propagandists of a Lord Haw Haw kind, at which point the pond would have to invoke Godwin's Law ...

Whatever, if you savour a quick drag on a Bergian column, you'll be saved the long slog of wading through the surrealist world view in Alice in Wonderland ... because Chris Berg always manages to evoke Lewis Carroll in the time it once took to have a smoko break.

Once you've had your break, you can march forward into a brave new world, where the private sector will show due care and concern for consumers, unfettered by failed government regulation, and there'll be lifeboats for all ... or at least the number of lifeboats the IPA proposes they can get away with ...

(Below: a regulatory oldie but a goodie).


  1. Whilst I appreciated your post (as I do with most), you may have saved yourself some effort. I was thinking something along the lines of:

    Read Berg today: WTF?

    Berg is a noted (as are most of his IPA peers) by his repetitious cry for the notion of "Personal Responsibility". Of all things, I never would have guessed that lifeboats aboard a luxury cruise liner built 100 years ago to be the exception to this rule.

    I could have played a form of "Go Fish" with him probably for a million years without stumbling upon that one:
    Me: Poor results of under funded schools?
    Berg: No
    Me: Aboriginal self determination?
    Berg: No
    Me: Single mothers on welfare?
    Berg: No
    Me: A pony?
    Berg: No
    Me: Tuberculosis?
    Berg: No
    Me: ....................

  2. I was amused by the comments I read following Berg's piece of fluff - most of them (at that point) tore Titanic-sized holes through what passed for his argument.

  3. It has to be noted, Trippi Takka, that this entire blog is a wasted effort, and can only be understood as a form of therapy. And yes David the comments were a hoot. That's the way it is at The Drum - it's just like The Punch. Lather the punters into a foaming frenzy, then put the hits and comments into a report for the board noting community engagement and interaction (after wiping away foam).


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