17 March 2010

Eminently Sensible

ProfessorBainbridge.com | Stephen Bainbridge | Jeremy Clarkson on not letting tails wag dogs

I am increasingly persuaded that Jeremy Clarkson is the most sensible person in public life.
Hear, hear.
Take, for example, his recent column on the way legislators and regulators allow "the behaviour of one man" to skew "the concept of everyday life for everyone else."
As we know, one man once got on one plane in a pair of exploding hiking boots and as a result everyone else in the entire world is now forced to strip naked at airports and hand over their toiletries to a man in a high-visibility jacket. ...

Last month a Birmingham couple pleaded guilty to starving their supposedly home-schooled daughter to death. Now, of course, there are calls for parents who choose to educate their children at home to be monitored on an hourly basis by people from the “care” industry, and possibly to have their toiletries confiscated. ....

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that throughout history 90% of people have behaved quite normally 90% of the time. Agatha Christie, for instance, was home-schooled and at no point was she forced to eat breadcrumbs from her neighbour’s bird table.

Of course, at the extremes, you have 5% who are goodie-goodies and who become vicars, and 5% who build exploding hiking shoes and starve their children to death.

It’s this oddball 5% that is targeted by the tidal wave of legislation. But making it more difficult to teach your children at home will not stop kids being mistreated.

It just changes the pattern of everyday life for everyone else. This is what drives me mad.

We now think it’s normal behaviour to take off our clothes at an airport. But it isn’t. Nor is it normal to stand outside in the rain to have a cigarette or to do 30mph on a dual carriageway when it’s the middle of the night and everyone else is in bed. It’s stupid.

And last week the stupidity made yet another lunge into the fabric of society with the news that government ministers were considering new laws that would force everyone to take a test before they were allowed to keep a dog.

No, really. Because one dog once ate one child, some hopeless little twerp from the department of dogs had to think of something sincere to say on the steps of the coroner’s court. Inevitably, they will have argued that the current law is “not fit for purpose”, whatever that means, and that “steps must be taken to ensure this never happens again”.

The steps being considered mean that every dog owner in the land will have to fit their pet with a microchip so that its whereabouts can be determined from dog-spotting spy-in-the-sky drones, and that before being allowed to take delivery of a puppy, people will have to sit an exam similar to the driving theory test. The cost could reach £60, and on top of this you will need compulsory third-party insurance in case your spaniel eats the milkman. ...

What good did all the airport legislation achieve? None. It simply means that you and I now must get to the airport six years before the plane is due to leave and arrive at the other end with yellow teeth, smelly armpits and no nail file. Did it prevent a chap from getting on board with exploding underpants? No, it did not.

Happily, however, I have a solution to the problem, a way that normal human behaviour can be preserved. It’s simple. We must start to accept that 5% of the population at any given time is bonkers. There are no steps to be taken to stamp this out and no lessons to be learnt when a man with a beard boards a plane with an exploding dog.

Government officials who are questioned on the steps of coroner’s courts must be reminded of this before they speak. So that instead of saying the current law is “not fit for purpose” and that something must be done, they familiarise themselves with an expression that sums up the situation rather better: “Shit happens.”
Apologies for the long quotation, but I find it worthwhile.  We must respond to terrorism, freak accidents, health scares and moral panic attacks the same way we respond to school yard bullies: refuse to be intimidated.

By the way, that's Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame.  Not to belittle automotive journalism or Clarkson's other endeavors, but the Sunday morning stuffed shirts should be hanging their heads in embarrassment that a gearhead like Clarkson gives more level-headed advice than they do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Side note:  I should not be surprised to learn that Clarkson is largely responsible for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's stunning showing (finishing 2nd!) on the 2002 BBC poll of Greatest Britons.

For those of you who do not revere the the great engineers of history, Brunel is undoubtably one of the superstars of the Industrial Revolution.

My hat is off to Sydney Padua, who drew created the depiction of the sideburn-wearing, cigar-chomping Brunel to the left.  Well done.

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