All entries for Wednesday 17 November 2004

November 17, 2004

Guardian: Compensation Culture Does Not Exist

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1352227,00.html

Pretty interesting, and I think useful article from the Guardian, a few days ago, in its comments and opinions section.

I recommend anyone go take a look.

For those that can't be bothered, key points:

1. Evidence for the lack of a real, harmful compensation culture:

Despite the legalisation in 2000 of "no win, no fee" lawsuits, the total cost of compensation cases in Britain has remained, in real terms, static since 1989. The two biggest claims-marketing companies – the great beneficiaries of compensation culture – have both gone bust. Last year the number of accident claims fell by 9.5%. The government's Better Regulation Task Force, which at other times has taken the part of big business, bluntly reports that "the compensation culture is a myth".

2. Monbiot claims that the idea behind such things crippling innocent companies is invalid. Spurious claims almost never succeed, and so the legal companies willing to take up no-win-no-fee claims always end up shouldering any legal fees themselves. And so THEY go bust, not the companies. "It is no easier to win a case under the "no win, no fee" system than it was to win a case brought with the help of legal aid."

3. Notice the people behind the myth of the compensation culture. They are the ones with the most to gain, because they use the idea of the culture as an excuse to avoid litigation from their own victims. (Examples given are asbestos merchants in the US.) These companies deploy a different idea of a risk taking society:

"Sunderland is calling for precisely the "reduction in personal responsibility" he affects to despise. The entrepreneur shall not be held responsible for any of the risks he dumps on other people…. In opposing our mythical compensation culture, Sunderland and Letwin are creating something much uglier: a risk culture. They are glorifying the risks that the powerful impose on the weak. "

4. "Of course there is another way, and that is to stop big business exposing people to risk in the first place. But the state enforcement of health and safety laws is in the interests of neither businessmen nor lawyers; the money won't vote for it. Without regulation, compensation is often the only protection we have. "


4.66

Now what?

Now was the time for standing, waiting in the rain. It seemed to rain forever, a rain that washed away the traces of where they were, soaked away footprints, blasted down fingerprints, made them mere ghosts in a universe which did not want to know. A good rain, then. A rain that made them, the government, everyone happy. But anyone could see the sunlight poking through the peripheral layers of cloud, like the glint of steel off a dagger, the spark of bright teeth.

Now what?

Now she had to find a place to stay. A little hole to hide in, where she can safely keep to herself, keep the world from daring, or wanting to intrude. A little hole with a gate she could cover. A place they'd never expect her to be. While they discussed with growing excitement the opportunities that Constance showed them, she had to find a place to be safe, to be warm, to be as far away from everything as she could. Ignorance was bliss. Distance made the heart grow fonder. And other such sweet little lies.

This was not the place to be safe.

Why had she driven here? She was parked outside a house well within sight of the wall, such that, as the sun moved, the region of shadow brushed occassionally by, like a chill in the spine, a dark premonition. It was the place just between heaven and hell, a place where she had him. But she did not have herself.

Now, she had herself, but did not have him.

The house was dim. No, they wouldn't let him live there anymore. If it was true what they said about him, then they would move him out to high, thick-walled castles, to positions of safety where roguish vengeance could not touch. A place gated by nightmares and watching eyes. If it was a lie, and she knew then and would always know in her heart that it was indeed a lie, then he could never come back. Rather, he must be running now, hiding for his life and liberty just as she did. For once, they'd have something in common. And if he was dead…

But the dimness was inviting. She had driven here too often before, drawn by the aching pain of familiarity, by the leash-string that wound round her heart. Often, intent on taking a random route, intent on tossing a dart at a map and going where-ever it fell, she found her way here instead. All roads lead to Rome, to capture, to home. And each and every time, she had seen the lights in the window, leaking from between curtains, or between stitches in the cloth itself. The warm light of life, of continued existence, that made her feel weak at the knees, made her breathe heavily, repelled her with its dazzling temptation. But the house was vacant now. And she felt vacant too.

Without thinking, she opened the door of the car, and climbed out, her new high heels clicking on the concrete slab paving. Without any feeling at all, she had walked across down the driveway, to the front door. She expected the security lights to appear, bright flashes which would scare her away. Then, she expected the alarm system to activate, loud sirens that would summon enemies, trap her where she stood. But none of that happened. The CCTV cameras seemed dead in their stillness, and carefully, madly, she knocked on the door.

No response. But there wouldn't be. They wouldn't rehouse people like this, not so quickly. It was not exactly top on their list of priorities right now. But it didn't matter. There was no need for people around to find her, to know she was there. If they were waiting, they would already be coming. Even by car, she would not make it out of the block.

But there was a chance, a small chance… No, the key was missing from under the doormat. Something did change, after all. She hesitated for a moment, the hairs rising on the backs of her limbs, the feeling of being watched. For a moment, she felt as though every moment she spent there was an agony, and felt a weight upon her head as though the sword of Damocles had become literal fact, and rested on her brow, just short of parting the skin. But there was nothing, no one, and before she could stop herself, the feeling had reversed, and she felt a sudden recklessness grip her.

What little did caution now mean, after all, if doom was certain?

Grabbing the handle, she rocked the door backwards and forward. It shifted a little, just as she expected it to. There, just as she had left it, the door was weak. With the Inhibitor, there was never any reason for excessive security, so people found it convenient to leave their doors half-rotted, pathetically latched, unlocked, or even wide open. Now, if this door would shift, then it would break, and so there was hope. She pulled the door back a little more, and then threw herself forwards. The wood creaked, protested, but held. But she was more determined than that. As abruptly as she could manage, she braced herself against the cracks in the floor paving, and pulled with all the might she could manage.

With an ear-splitting crack, the wood near the handle exploded in a shower of splintered fragments. Shielding her eyes, she fell back onto the ground as the handle came away in her hands. But sitting up, she smiled in triumph, for the door had been defeated. The door was now open.

Now what else was there to do but walk in and investigate?

Picking up herself off the floor and patting down the wood and paint chips which now adorned her dress, she peered into the darkness within. Flicking the switch, she saw only that the power was off, and after some frustrated clicking, she told herself to stop. If only she had brought a torch…

But then she realised she did not need a torch. She realised that she knew this place, that even the details she thought she had forgotten reappeared as unforgettable old friends. That even in the dark, so dark that she could see her own feet as only blobs of slight contrast, the presences were there, just beneath the shroud. When she walked too fast, she could feel the sofa, the television, the dining chairs brush by, just out of touch. In the rustling of curtains, she heard old voices, heartbreaking familiar. If she could just pinpoint when…

*

He was about to leave. He had put on his coat already, scoffed a few scones for a better-late-than-never breakfast. He looked back at her, face filled with an undefinable joy, turned the handle, ready to go out.

"Are you sure you are fine?" she said. She was dressed in a bathrobe, the smell of shampoo fighting with his aftershave. She was standing… here. And he stood… there.

"Of course I'm fine. Don't you think I know my health better than you? For your information, I'm better than fine. In fact, I've never felt better in my life." He grinned at her. Just like him to turn anyone else's concern for him into a drawn out argument. She had no time for this, she had thought. There was no point getting into a row over nothing.

And so, she shrugged reluctantly.

"I suppose you're right. Well, have fun at doing… whatever it is you are doing. Unless you're going to find another woman, in which case you can go to hell."

He smiled back, opened the door and left. Something in his motions, his demeanour whispered to her that she would never see him again. But it had happened before. He would return, she thought. Only different, but still worthy of her love.

She shut the door.

*

The door wouldn't shut properly, any more. She had no choice but to wedge it shut with the broken handle that would have opened it before. Otherwise, people would see an empty house change, and there would be questions, questions which would be difficult to answer.
How long had she dreamed of being in this house? For as long as she remembered, for as long as she could trust her memory. The desire survived the IH, she believed. That even when the device was telling her to move on, to find someone, somewhere
else, she struggled against its advice, its orders. And now, at last, the dreams gain a reality, a tangibility with which she can now reach out, and try to touch. Her eyes closed, she saw the room in the warm summery light of the past, bathed in the texture of the tables, the upholstered chairs, the photographs against the wall. The urge grew too strong, and gladly she gave in, reached towards the nearest memory-texture with an open palm.

There was nothing. Only blank, emotionless air. She leant forward, desperate, but still felt nothing. Even bent almost double, close to toppling due to her unbalanced posture, she failed to find what she could clearly see. As she straightened up again, her vision, her fantasy of a location collapsed, leaving only a hollow, unmoving debris. Worse, her eyes were adjusting to the light around her, and the form of the chamber became suddenly clear, faint geometries outlined in white-blue.

There was nothing. Nothing at all. Not even trash, no trace of him, or here. It was merely the shell of a life, a location distinguishible only by its map coordinates. Logic treacherously interceded. Of course it would be empty, she realised. They weren't that incompetent.

The place was safe enough, she decided. Its desolation was intentional, and would have remained unchanged for a while. Calmly, she unpacked the sleeping bag with which she intended to rest.

The thought could not escape her head. The knowledge that all their love, all their existence, had been wiped away by some bleach, a broom, a band of hired hands and a few, determined, ruthless years.

*

Her mobile rang in the middle of the night. Wiping bleary eyes, she slid out of her sleeping bag onto the cold, bare, pine floorboards, dug into her backpack. It took an eternity to find it, an eternity marked by wincing at the cheesiness of her musical ring tone, and the great volume with which it shook the room. Pressing the wrong key twice, she managed to answer the call.

"Hello?"

"This isn't a safe line."

"Right."

"There is going to be a conference of all the local branches."

"The usual time and place?"

"No. Right now. Normal place."

"You want me to come?"

The caller hung up.

She sighed, and began to put back on her clothes. The excitement, it seemed, never stops.


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