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We’re Sorry

November 18, 2011

To err is human.

Followed by a contrite apology, the error fades away into the mists of time, and is forgotten. Except by those that may have suffered by the error.

If the motorman of a commuter train  ignores speed limits, keeps yapping away on a hand phone while piloting the train in pouring rain near midnight, goes through red lights and then crashes into another train, as seems to have happened near Chennai recently, it has terrible consequences.

If a credit rating agency, one of those glorified outfits that punters in bourses look up to, to play ducks and drakes with old widows’ savings, accidentally downgrades France’s ratings, the widows’ losses may not be made up. (No matter they could not foresee the East Asian meltdown of the nineties, people still believe in credit rating agencies’ powers and wisdom).

But if nuclear warheads are driven along streets in unmarked vans and one is hijacked by a terrorist, who all could be sorry?

To err is human.

This assumes the error was the result of accident, or genuine mistake. Or is deliberate error also part of human nature?

“As a result of a technical error, a message was automatically disseminated today to some subscribers of S&P’s Global Credit Portal suggesting that France’s credit rating had been changed,” Standard & Poor’s said in a statement on 10th November. “We are investigating the cause of the error.”

What people have been scared of is a “technical error” that triggers launch of nuclear missiles. We already have the recent example of the US stating in the United Nations that it “has incontrovertible evidence” of WMDs in Iraq. I hope it was an error, as otherwise, the implications of the frailty of human nature would boggle my poor mind.

There may not be many people left to say they are sorry, or to hear the apology.

Tailpiece:  Charles Morgan’s play The Burning Glass (Cold War vintage, 1953) has a terrible British invention like the atomic bomb being demonstrated on a lake to obtain compliance from (apparently) the Russians.

Then was it an error to decide to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima instead of, say, on the sea off Tokyo, knowing fully well that hundreds of thousands of innocent non-combatants would be killed? Then again, why a second one on Nagasaki?

During an anti-gun campaign in the US immediately after the shooting of Robert Kennedy in 1968, there was an ad run in the newspapers that read “There’s only one thing a gun is built to do”. And a punchline below, “Write to your Congressman while you still have one”.

There’s only one thing a nuclear bomb is built to do.


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One Comment
  1. Induchoodan permalink

    S&P (for that matter Moody’s also) credit rating should be accompanied by a statutory warning. They have lost all credibility. I think the communist governments were brought down by a crisis of character in the bureaucracy with its attendant corruption. The capitalist system also is facing a similar crisis of character. Has the system got the ability to correct itself. Let us wait and weatch.

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