Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Get in the back and no one gets hurt. You won't find a more bizarre story today than this one, buried well inside the New York Times.

Headlined "Fear of Air Bag Sends Children to Back Seat, Saving Many," the article, by Matthew Wald, reports that parents have been properly terrified by stories that exploding air bags have decapitated and maimed babies and small children sitting in the front passenger's seat.

The response -- sticking them in the back -- may have saved hundreds of lives in recent years. That's good, of course. But it's unclear why this is better than getting rid of deadly air bags and instead re-engineering the front seat so that it's safer.

Or, conversely, since the incentive appears to be arming the front seat with a lethal weapon, why not just take a cheaper approach, and mount an AK-47 in the glove compartment of every new car? If the rider is four-foot-10 or shorter, blammo!

I am no libertarian when it comes to auto safety. I'm all in favor of mandatory-seatbelt laws, for instance. But air bags are a proven mistake, and government efforts to justify their continued use only compounds the mistake.

For a laugh-out-loud example of bureaucracy run amok, check out this pamphlet from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA) on what you have to go through to get an on-off switch installed so that you can disconnect your air bag.

Air bags have been a hot issue for years in Little People of America, the leading organization for dwarfs and their families. It's an issue for drivers more than passengers: because most people with dwarfism are roughly the same size as everyone else from head to hips, they do not appear unusually short when sitting. In the passenger seat, the air bag isn't a problem -- or rather, it's no more deadly for them than it is for the rest of us.

But because their arms and legs are disproportionately small, a driver with dwarfism tends to sit much closer to the steering wheel. And that, as even the NTHSA concedes, is dangerous.

Sensible advice on Iraq. Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, as you might expect, has some excellent suggestions for solving the chaos in Iraq.

Zakaria supported the war, and thus underestimates, I think, the degree to which the entire world suspects the Bush administration's motives and resents its thumbing its nose at the international community.

Still, Paul Bremer and company would do well to ponder Zakaria's outline of heavy international involvement and a long-term commitment. His conclusion:

The fundamental purpose behind the invasion of Iraq -- more important than the exaggerated claims about weapons of mass destruction -- was to begin cleansing the Middle East of the forces that produce terror. Were America to quit, it would give those armies of hate new strength and resolve. A failed Iraq could prove a greater threat to American security than Saddam Hussein's regime ever was.

Of course, it would have helped if George W. Bush had told us what the "fundamental purpose" was ahead of time instead of mindlessly repeating his aides' lies about weapons of mass destruction.

Good news, bad news. Boston Herald columnist (and former Boston city councilor) Tom Keane writes today that the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has managed to overcome its hack origins and reinvent itself as a lean, mean, convention-snaring machine.

Even so, it appears that the only way it's been able to book any business has been to steal shows from the privately owned Bayside Expo Center and World Trade Center.

A well-run boondoggle is still a boondoggle.

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