Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Communist leader Joan Saura demonstrated yesterday exactly what a dope he is. He said, "The people often are afraid of being victims of statistically improbable aggression and don't worry about more probable things, like being the victim of a car accident or one at work." That is, he's discounting the people's concern about terrorism and crime.

Interestingly, terrorism and crime are the two things that Mr. Saura, the Catalan interior counselor, is in charge of. So instead of, like, doing something about them, his response is to tell us not to worry.

Saura makes two mistakes here: He does not understand what people consider to be necessary risks, or what people consider to be a question of individual choice.

As for necessary risks, going to work and driving a car most certainly fit the category. Although, as Saura says, 10 people get killed every week on the Catalan highways, while 105 people died at work during 2007, you've got to do what you've got to do, and going to work and earning money are pretty high on the list of obligations. They're productive activities that contribute to the good of society, although they have some unfortunate side effects.

Crime and terrorism, however, are unnecessary risks. They are not a negative side effect of something useful to society, as car and work accidents are. The people feel that there is no reason they should have to run the risks of crime and terrorism, and so their demands on the government (lock them all up and throw away the key) are much stricter than in the cases of work and car accidents.

In addition, people feel that they are making their own choice when they choose to run labor and transportation risks because they think (perhaps wrongly) that they have some control over whether labor and transport accidents are going to happen to them. Folks figure that if they abide by the law at work and on the highway, and that if they are careful, then the risks they run are less.

Also, a lot of people think that at least some of those others who died in car or work accidents did so because they were careless, and there's a good bit of truth here. Far too many accidents on the road are caused by drunken speeders, and far too many work accidents are caused by disobeying the safety rules or drinking on the job.

Finally, regarding work accidents, it's well-known that some jobs (truck driver, miner, police officer, construction worker, longshoreman) are more dangerous than others (accountant, lawyer, English teacher). Those who choose a more dangerous job are accepting risk knowingly.

Whether you are a victim of crime and terrorism, however, generally has nothing to do with your individual choice. You're going about your business and suddenly some mugger pulls a knife on you or some suicide bomber decides to blow himself up on the bus. You have no control, whether real or perceived, over your fate.

Says Anton M. Espadaler in La Vanguardia:

To think that in Barcelona a terrible catastrophe has been avoided just in time, thanks to the work of the secret services, is a great relief, but it leaves one full of worries. Because we're not just talking about public transport as a terrorist target, but that anybody in a city such as ours may suddenly become the target of a mass murder. As if that weren't enough, experience has not ceased to instruct us that the threat is universal and terrorism is stubborn.

One has the impression that the only opinion people have wanted to hear around here is that Barcelona had earned a certificate of immunity against Islamist terrorism in the mass demonstrations against the Iraq war, which irritated Aznar and George H.W. Bush so much, and pleased Al Jazeera equally. A contract ratified with happy announcements about multiculturalism and other wonderful things such as the Forum.

But now exactly what we did not want to see has just been brutally proven. That is, that if Islamic fundamentalism has declared the West to be an enemy, there are no exceptions of any class. None.

By the way, Saura's genius traffic department has come up with another brilliant traffic idea. First it was cutting the speed limit on all motorways in the Barcelona metro area to 80 kph (50 mph), which has irritated every single person in all Catalonia who drives a car. Now they want to make the lanes narrower, so that people "will have the sensation that they are going faster" than they really are.

Now come on. We're all in favor of traffic safety, but making motorway lanes narrower is not precisely going to make the roads any safer. Even the counselor for public works says this is a terrible idea.

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