Government, energy & environment

Local actions have local consequences

The British Home Secretary is planning to introduce 'community courts' in the UK where local people will decide the fate of people given community punishment orders. Punishments could include removing rubbish, re-painting buildings or doing other community work. In a similar vein, the government is also planning to make parents of vandals aged under 10-years-old pay to clean up the damage their children do.

Ref: The Guardian (UK) 8 December 2005. Neighbours to decide punishments - Travis.

Inventing new types of fear

The UK government is worried about the future. So worried in fact that it's planning to introduce no less that 32 new bills to increase security and enhance information gathering to defeat the twin headed spectre of international terrorism and crime. The results for ordinary law-abiding people are likely to include compulsory identity cards and a national persons database containing biometric information. In his book Culture of Fear: Risk Taking and the Morality of Low Expectation, Frank Fureli claims that fear has become a significant force shaping the public imagination. The problem is that as a nation (and a world) we have become so insecure that there is now little delineation between what could theoretically happen and what is likely to happen. In other words reality and science fiction have merged. Everything from asylum seekers to MMR vaccine and obesity are now treated as panics or epidemics. Why is this all happening? It's probably caused by a feeling of powerlessness, which is in turn caused by globalisation fanned by a sensationalist media. Perhaps the solution is a sense of perspective. After all, in most cases the nasty end is nigh on impossible.

Ref: The politics of fear, Frank Fureli, Spiked Online (UK), 28 October 2004., 32 Bills to widen power of public G.Jones & Crackdown on terror - or a nanny sate? T.Helm Weekly Telegraph (UK) number 697.

George Bush is my muse

They say that opposites attract so the idea of George Bush being an artist's muse is perhaps not that far-fetched. What are we talking about? - simply the fact that George Bush has been the catalyst for an explosion in political theatre, writing, music, satire and documentary filmmaking. The argument is that great art comes from bad times (think of Picasso and Guernica) - or as George Gittoies, an Australian artist puts it - "a culture in distress". This might be mixing metaphors but perhaps there's a lesson for innovation here too, namely that the best ideas come out of the hardest times and conditions. What do you think?

Ref: Sydney Morning Herald 30-31 October 2004. Arts and Minds M. Colbert.

An uncertain future

Harold MacMillan once said that his largest problem was "events" by which he meant the certainty of changed conditions, which are all but impossible to predict. Politics is littered with false prophets whose usual mistake is to take a trend and extrapolate. Moreover, once a trend is set we humans find it difficult to believe that it could possibly change. A current trend in financial markets is the low pricing of risk. There is an assumption in markets that nothing can go drastically wrong and therefore borrowers in America are typically paying just 3 percentage points above what the US treasury is paying. Historically this figure has been six. Have we seen this before? Yes, in the run up to the last Asian crisis.

Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus) If One thing's for sure, it's uncertainty. P.Hatcher, 10 December 2005.