A gentleman riding a bicycle, briefcase in its basket, huffed and puffed while pedaling up the right-hand lane of 18th Street Northwest near the White House, the gradual incline making his commute home rather difficult, while causing cars directly behind him to creep along in the evening rush.
We're not certain whether those drivers who sounded their horns were sending a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the cyclist after reading what was printed on the back of his shirt: "One Less Car."
POLITICS OF FEAR
As Washington conferences go, it was bound to be intriguing: "Panic Attack: The New Precautionary Culture, the Politics of Fear and the Risks to Innovation."
Among the participants was Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine and the 1993 Warren T. Brookes Fellow in Environmental Journalism. He summarizes the American Enterprise Institute conference as an examination of how Western countries have lost their cultural nerve by accepting the "precautionary principle": innovators must prove their inventions will never cause harm before they are allowed to deploy or sell them.
Also appearing was Frank Furedi, a University of Kent (United Kingdom) sociologist and author of the new book "Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right" (on sale now at Amazon.com for under $15 - Ed.). As Bailey writes for Reason Online, Furedi identified several trends fueling the rise of risk aversion in Western cultures:
- "People no longer believe in natural disasters or acts of God. Today, people suspect that someone is behind a disaster - an irresponsible corporation or a cowardly bureaucrat. Indeed, accidents don't happen anymore; they have been redefined as preventable injuries."
- "Many of us now assume that every negative experience has some inner meaning. For example, when a teenager dies in a car crash, grieving parents regularly tell television reporters, 'There is a lesson to be learned from Johnny's death.' The lesson usually is not that bad things randomly happen to good people, but that our roads don't have enough guardrails."
- "People are no longer expected to rise above adversity or encouraged to get on with their lives after they experience a hard knock. They are instead victims who are 'scarred for life.'?"
- "Even as more people are living longer and healthier lives, life is perceived as a very dangerous thing. . . . What if an asteroid hits us; what if biotech wheat gets out of control; what if Iraq is giving weapons of mass destruction to terrorists? Worst-case thinking decreases our cultural capacity to deal with uncertainty. Risk becomes something to avoid, not an opportunity to be seized."
To illustrate his point, he concludes, Furedi offered a personal story: "When he took his son to his new school, the principal told him, 'Don't worry, our No. 1 priority is your child's safety.' Furedi responded, 'I was hoping it was teaching him to read and write and do math.'"
Who better than Jelena Cukic Matic, the newly appointed counselor of the Embassy of Serbia and Montenegro, to provide an update on the unprecedented democratization of the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe, albeit with continued tensions in Kosovo as a backdrop.
"My father is Montenegrin; my mother is Serbian," Matic tells The Beltway Beat of her parents in Belgrade, a city that only seven years ago was bombed by NATO forces.
"For the first time in the history of the region, we have all democratic governments, each with the goal of being in the European Union," she says. "But first the people must accept the atrocities of the past decade. Leaders are trying to show the people that they can move forward. We can't be part of European integration without integration in the region first."
This year, Matic says, will be an "extremely important" one for Serbia and Montenegro, as residents of the former Yugoslavia vote, perhaps as early as May, on whether to remain one or become independent of each other.
"The Serbian government will accept the outcome," she says.
Kosovo, on the other hand, remains a persistent thorn.
"Serbians in Kosovo are still escorted by troops to school, to the grocery, to church, to the cemetery," she says, taunted by Albanian extremists who have carried out major terrorist attacks as recently as 2005.
In fact, the documentary "Diplomacy of the Heart," to be screened Friday at 12:30 p.m. at the National Press Club during an event hosted by Ambassador Ivan Vujacic of Serbia and Montenegro, contains exclusive footage showing how ethnic minorities in Kosovo still depend on security forces for their basic survival.
Since mid-1999, more than 230,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians have been driven out of Kosovo and Metohia, their Christian monasteries and monuments destroyed.