Taking risk avoiding mania to task - without spelling it out

John Lapsley
Back when I set out upon this column's ponderings, I needed to come up with the right sounding title, writes columnist John Lapsley.

I decided "Wit's End" was the ticket. It was neatly brief, and it was democratic - exactly half the readership could agree the apostrophe was in the wrong spot. It also allowed different ways of bearding the penguin.

Such a title could cover straight humour or, when life's idiocies pushed me to my wit's end, I could be unfairly unkind.

Queerly, in all this time, I've never used the sentence the title suggests. That is, "I'm at my wit's end, because (specify the madness)."

There is much that pushes us to the edge of our sanities. Today I present a short list of the more egregious, but rather than endlessly repeating the mantra "I'm at my wit's end because", we shall, as is popular, acronym it into IAMWE+.

(First, get the obvious line out of the way. IAMWE+ by LGBTQI+. We can expand those 13 characters to five weeks of fist-shaking, but why not just sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit?)

We're all wit's-ended by officialdom's mania with health and safety - and its presumption that we prefer inconvenience to risk; that we'd rather they pull down the cathedral than risk being inside it during an earthquake.

Each of us is actually well qualified to do our own risk management. Every day we use a mix of common sense and experience to decide what's worth risking and what isn't.

Society needs its rules, but the moment risk management is placed in the hands of bureaucracy, safety rules begin their crawl past common sense, into "knowing what's best for the witless public" rules, and next bum-covering regulations whose only purpose is protecting officialdom if it failed to dream up the 1004th risk.

Safety rules are needed. But they should be frequently set upon with a long-handled axe.

I'm on the board of a society that organises arts events. For most, you ending up needing to apply for a liquor licence. Fair enough, I suppose. When served wine inflamed by Whitestone brie, people attending a talk on the Romantic poets may well slash the seats and vomit in the pot plants.

Add in possible traffic permits, and the need to appoint a fire officer, like as not some absent-minded writer who struggles to put out a barbeque. IAMWE+!

Health and safety has created an entire new regulatory profession. Officers for prudence may study safety at bachelor's level at Massey, but must travel to Australia for its pinnacle, the doctorate. There, in Sydney, they may develop their skills with experts such as Dr Bronwen Ackerman, who supervises studies into making symphony orchestras safer places.

Mad magazine recently closed. Its editors should be redeployed to writing safety manuals.

Air New Zealand recently faced down a fruit knife crisis in Queenstown. A cutlery count in a passenger lounge discovered a paring knife was missing. The missing implement was nearly a centimetre longer than their safety book permitted. Perhaps it had dropped down the back of a sofa, or maybe a priest had secreted it in the hate speech chapters of his Bible.

Faced with the threat, the airline played it by the book. They shouted "emergency, emergency", unloaded passengers for searching and delayed other flights.

Amidst this hue and cry, the company boasted that the case of the fruit knife demonstrated its commitment to passenger safety.

An unworthy part of Wit's End worries that Air New Zealand was actually fretting over its cutlery losses. First officers flung open cockpit doors to shout: "Back into your seats! Put your hands on your heads! Nobody flies till the culprit owns up to nicking the fruit knife."

The official safety bods are oddly reluctant about tourists learning how to drive, as they wobble along NZ roads. When they're involved in crashes, police spokespeople are now at pains to avoid identifying their nationality. It's because when safety meets race, officialdom gets dumbstruck.

Kiwis may notice many tourists who drive badly are Asian. But officialdom thinks acknowledging the origins of tourist crash victims is unsafe, because it may let racist thoughts escape out of the bag. And, of course, the ready availability of rentals cars is vital to the tourist trade.

IAMWE+ that government departments have decided that knowledge itself is unsafe in the hands of the public - until it no longer matters. It takes an aeon plus, like as not, the Ombudsmen, to get answers to the most basic questions from journalists.

So bouquets to ODT columnist Elspeth McLean, who keeps hammering the flat-out lie of "open government".

The growing obfuscation skills of our beaming PM also means IAMWE+. All this gets tiring, so I'm escaping to Hawaii. We depart from Queenstown so, to ensure a safe journey, I'll check the Duchess isn't using the lounge's grape scissors when they call the flight.

John Lapsley is an Arrowtown writer.



Hawaii's congress woman Tulsi Gabbard is running for the Democratic Presidential nomination and looked very impressive on TV last week. Members of her own party are now accusing her of being a Russian spy as she was anti going to war in Syria. I think the Democrats are in trouble if they go for candidates who tick all the right pc boxes rather than talent. Ms Gabbard has an impressive back story as a veteran and army medic.

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