Friday 23 June 2023

Titan down: is caveat emptor the only regulation?

The ghastly fate of the Titan has already sparked one commentator into making a predictably incendiary semi-political comment, so with a bit of trepidation I shall essay another ...

Many years ago I rode my first flume.  It was a monster, a 10-metre drop with the entertaining feature that the tubing was fully opaque black plastic, so that after the first bend in the fully-enclosed tunnel, one was in pitch darkness for the remainder of the descent.  So here I am, falling out of control, unable to see anything, bashing up against the walls and surrounded by water, with all instincts screaming "that's it, you've killed yourself".  However, intellectually I clung to the reassuring thought that if it was actually fatal, it wouldn't be allowed

Neither of these conflicting emotions are carefully worked-through, pre-considered rational responses, they are just what different bits of the mind throw up in extreme circumstances.  The first of the two is rather basic visceral stuff.  The second is more interesting, albeit equally spontaneous - an experience-based reaction from someone brought up in the normally-regulated western world which licences and monitors such things.  Whether we recognize it or not, we tacitly bank on that kind of thing, e.g. every time we drive on a motorway or fly in a plane.  Passenger aviation in the developed world is a particularly good example because there is quite literally zero tolerance for any avoidable mishaps in that sphere, cost no object; and exceptionally successful it is, too.

(I say some of this rather obvious stuff for the benefit of any hyper-libertarians out there, with caveat emptor their only slogan, who affect to despise regulation in all its forms .  No you don't, chum - your life depends on it, and plenty of it, to a high, if unobtrusive standard.)

Personally, I'm a former soldier (bit of danger there, and nobody made me do it): and as an individual - and a father - I have joyfully indulged in, and encouraged, all manner of non-risk-free adventurous activities.  But in all of that I was competent to assess the risks, and to mitigate them intelligently.  But what do we say about unregulated ocean-floor tourism?  Despite the waivers they signed and the warnings they were given, were these recent hapless victims not just a little bit relying on that advanced-society, learned-instinct feeling that it must be OK because otherwise, they just wouldn't ... ... would they?

Which brings us to two semi-political thoughts, specifically for 2023.

  1. What's to be said about the mad billionaires' rush into amateur space travel?  Can't help thinking there will be rather fewer takers now, BTW.
  2. What's to be said when the regulating authorities aren't adequately resourced to do their jobs?
Semi-political?  Yup: politicians need to decide these things: and if #1 is mostly a spectator sport, #2 seriously affects us all.  Whatever romantic notions we entertain, we can't (all) sensibly live in a bracing Nietzschean free-for-all.



Sobers said...

"Whatever romantic notions we entertain, we can't (all) sensibly live in a bracing Nietzschean free-for-all.2

No, but neither should we live in a world where every danger is pre-diagnosed and removed without the public having to consider that risk even exists. IMO we have reached a position (in Western society at least) where many of the public are so removed from ever doing any risk assessments in their day to day lives that they are unable to contemplate that risk exists at all. See all these people standing on the edge of cliffs to take selfies, or walking up to dangerous animals to do likewise. They have been inured to danger, because at every turn someone that they will never see has assessed everything their lives may come into contact with, and removed 99% of the risk. And when faced with actual danger they are incapable of seeing it for what it is.

Swiss Bob said...

There's also the moral hazard where should a hiccup or disaster occur along comes the coastguard, the navy, foreign governments may even despatch resources.

BlokeInBrum said...

Informed consent here are the key words, I believe.

Plenty of people die every year doing (nominally) safe things. Life is not risk free and chance will have its say.

There has to be a balance between allowing people to assume whatever level of risk that they are comfortable with and appropriate oversight from regulating authorities, otherwise we would never have any progress.

Specifically with regards to the submersible incident - various people had taken a look at going on a trip in it, only to cancel as they thought it was too dangerous.
Very sensible people. However they weren't well informed either. How many knew about the guy who was fired for not signing off on the safety concerns? How many knew that the front plexiglass window wasn't rated for the depth they were going to, and so on.

As ND says, I think we in the West make an assumption that most things are well engineered and well regulated, and that safety is implicit.

Perhaps as more pale, stale males die off, to be replaced by people who are hired less on merit, and more for correct politics or skin colour, then that implicit assumption will die with them.

jim said...

The real pioneers get in before the lawyers and regulators get in on the act. Once they get going pioneering is over.

Too bad about the squish, seems to have happened v early in the dive. Suggests some mundane snag. Wing suits look pretty dodgy to me and very personal risk. Getting in someone else's contraption does not let you off the personal risk hook - for the first 10 times.

Don Cox said...

Common sense is rare, and not inborn.

Some folk cannot imagine that anything bad can happen to them.

Don Cox

djm said...

What's to be said when the regulating authorities aren't adequately resourced to do their jobs?

Bravo. Spoken like a true son of Bliar & Cameroon.


Wenn ich "Adequately resourced" höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning

Nick Drew said...

Some great observations above.

Don - "Common sense is rare, and not inborn" - too true. It is amazing what garbage is spoken of an evening around the committee tables of voluntary organisations, by people whose 'professional' day jobs might encourage one to imagine they will have picked up a thing or two about the real world: but it turns out many of them just know whatever it is they do by rote every day at the workplace, seemingly sans comprehension

(either that, or they check in their common sense with their work clothes at 6pm)

Anonymous said...

If someone invented an activity like climbing or caving now I think it would be almost impossible to get official approval. I used to do both and preferred caving to be honest but I did see some very bad accidents. I also worked in heavy engineering and on mines before having to get a desk job to pay the mortgage.

People don’t understand risk until something happens to them. It took a couple of car accidents for me to learn to be a safe driver, until it happens you don’t think it can happen to you and you don’t know how fast things can go wrong.

I suspect that, having met and worked with some very rich individuals, the people involved thought they were special, a little bit cleverer and more successful than normal people. To be fair to accumulate large amounts of money you do need to be above average and have a ruthless streak. Such people’s attitudes to risk are slightly distorted. Having said that a parent taking their son on the same trip is totally bizarre. Think about the rules some families follow about not being on the same, highly regulated aeroplane for example.

Regulation in international waters or space is far too complex for me to work out. However when it inflicts large costs on the tax payer a degree of regulation is warranted.

Interesting thread.


jim said...

If in doubt
Make it stout
Out of things
You know about

Better luck on the next one

Nick Drew said...

Jim - calls in mind the old saying:

Anyone can make a bridge that doesn't fall down: it takes an engineer to build one that only just doesn't fall down

that's not sarcasm, it's a serious point with significant implications!

(my first few efforts at making self-designed fitted cupboards were in the "make it stout" tradition. Took me a couple of tries to evolve to "only just doesn't fall down" - but it's worth it in aesthetics - & saved £££)

jim said...

An engineer can make for 5 bob
What any fool can make for £1

A delicate job in economics

Caeser Hēméra said...

Once in space, it's a lot safer than being in the oceanic depths. Just the one atmospheric pressure to worry about, and I'll take the usual orbital dangers over gas laws and water pressures. Only bonus is you'll likely die a lot quicker down there than in vacuum if something catastrophic happens.

Of course, _getting_ there is a lot more dangerous, as you need to strap yourself into something atop a barely controlled explosion.

And regulation-wise, sure I read somewhere the Titanic sinking led to new safety rules. Irony abounds if this does the same.

And as to regulators, yup, they need not just funding, but teeth.

From water companies to social media sites, they know they can park fines under the cost of doing business. That needs to change, with management and shareholders on the hook for eye-watering losses, and management finding that some time in chokey is a distinct possibility.

I don't know about anyone else, but given some states view ownership of regulated UK businesses as a nice way to extract value from the UK, only fair we see screwing them over when they breach rules as a nice way to extract value from *them*

But they also need oversight - getting into QCIC territory - in order to stop any "mission creep" or capture from the industries they're there to regulate.

Caeser Hēméra said...

And speaking as someone who is _philosophically_, yet not _politically_, libertarian, I would say a need for regulation is the result of us advancing faster technologically than we have socially.

I'm no advocate of moving to a libertopia, mostly as it would now be a disaster, but if our societies had moved along that route back towards the Stone Age, we'd be a lot less advanced technologically - Ayn Rand only gets her smokestacks to the Moon by sitting them on the shoulders of the state - but perhaps more capable of growing in step with technology.

It'd certainly be an interesting counter history to visit.

Caeser Hēméra said...

O/T - I trust everyone has got their popcorn in for what's happening in Russia?

Putin appears to have been blinded to the possibility that Prigozhin wouldn't just stick to moaning on social media about coming under the wing of Shoigu, despite it being a death sentence for him, and instead be a little more proactive about that.

Fair play to Wagner though, not since the early days of the war have we seen such a successful Russian advance.

Anonymous said...

As somebody said earlier today, Wagner took 8 months the take Bakhmut and 3 hours to take Rostov.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Well, that was short and sweet.

More questions than answers, starting with who dies first, Putin or Prigozhin?

I can't see Putin wearing the humiliation of being forced to negotiate, and eventually capitulate, at least partially, to the demands of an invading force.

Equally, I can't see those around Putin wearing him having done that either.

Nick Drew said...

More tomorrow

E-K said...

ANYTHING that gets billionaires to spend their money is good, no ?

Nothing would get me to go in a coffin with a bolted-on hatch, let alone one going 12 miles down with five farty men in it !

Jeremy Poynton said...

"Anonymous said...
As somebody said earlier today, Wagner took 8 months the take Bakhmut and 3 hours to take Rostov."

First we take Bakhmut, then we take Rostov, to maul Mr. Cohen

dearieme said...

One of my pals thinks he must have taught that chap Fluid Mechanics in the Natural Sciences Tripos. Seems he didn't absorb the lessons. Though, to be fair, hydrostatics was presumably covered at school rather than university.

Bill Quango MP said...

Took 1 hour to retake Rostov again.

Mr Putin has some choices to make now it’s unraveling internally.

Put out feelers for a peace settlement via the Africans and Chinese. Not totally unlikely to succeed now that the Ukrainians realise an offensive can’t hope to repeat the Kherson breakout now the Russians are dug in behind strong defences.
Putin can accept keeping what he had before the denazification type excuses for invasion. Keep Crimea. Argue about the rest.
The mission has been accomplished. Medals and heroes all round, just in time for Christmas.


He can go the full Czarstalin and announce super emergency wartime powers. Conscript everyone. Arrest every dissenter. Shoot all his enemies. Move all the various mercenaries into an SS type organisation that uses them for shock troops. Under his own political and military control. Can remove his unwilling to advance generals for ( even less able) political appointees. But who will advance as instructed. Whatever the costs. To the last bullet. The last soldier.

Inform the populace it’s a wartime economy. Mother Russia is being invaded by NATO sponsored Wagnerian nazi factions opposed to peaceful Co existence with all humanity. As he said they would be. Look how right Marshall Putin was!

No more civilian goods. No washing machines unless captured from Ukraine. Only military production. If you want food, join the army!
Onto Kiev! Whatever the humanitarian, civil, military or economic cost might be. No surrender! Etc etc.

It worked in 1941. At a horrendous cost. Could work again. Providing China and India supply all the lend-lease equipment of all types. In exchange for some agreement to whatever it might be they want.
When it’s a choice between victory or being deposed, all the previously unpalatable options are suddenly acceptable.
Victory or death.

(Though it’s debatable if any nation actually wants to face the wrath of the West and openly commit to back a leader who might at any moment fall from a very high window. Having been slid along of forced to walk an unusually long makeshift plank that was his own conference table.)