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commentary

The nature of hurricanes

Hurricane Katrina may cost more than $100b. That is the financial cost alone: what about the human factor? Yet how can human loss ever be calculated? And if apportioning costs is hard enough, what about apportioning responsibility? As extreme weather events become more frequent, will anyone put up their hand and say it was, in part, due to their actions or consumption of energy or planning decisions? Is it really an ‘act of God’?

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Lovesick teens turn to junkfood

Junk food makes us ill – but of course only when we eat too much of it. Companies which make junk food routinely say that their product is fine “as part of a healthy diet”. But that rather begs the question of how much junk food you can eat and still have a healthy diet. Maybe that is something which we all just have to negotriate in our own way. But what about all that advertising which links feeling good with bad food?

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commentary

Being Free with the Press

It appears that both BP and Morgan Stanley are trying to extend their sphere of control. Not content with any self-censorship by the press, it appears they have declared they wish to see in advance all articles mentioning them when they advertise. And they will pull ads with uncomfortable bedfellows. And I had thought these giants of the ethical world wanted to build our trust in them – not command our thoughts.

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Who is neutral about carbon?

Alcoa has announced it will be carbon neutral by 2017. This will not be through using renewable energy, but because transport products will use more aluminium and so be able to reduce opeational energy costs. I wonder whether the train companies, for example, will also claim a reduced carbon burden. And maybe consumers will also be able to claim a reduced carbon burden – they will be travelling on those lighter trains, after all.

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Is Comet Temple uninhabited?

It must be very difficult to hit something 85m miles away; the skill of NASA scientists and technicians must be very great. But what if someone – or something – lives on the comet? I wonder what they might think of it all.

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Securing ID

The UK government wants to construct a huge database holding information about every citizen. The justtification is that it will ‘increase security’. Yet it is technically possible to secure identification – even biometrically – while holding very little information centrally. However this might not serve the other purposes of the central database…

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Paying Living Wages to the Supply Chain

Taco Bell has agreed to increase by 75% the wages of its tomato pickers in Florida. Insisting that the extra money goes to the pickers it has ended a long running wage dispute. And at perhaps $20m for a 1¢ per pound increase, it shows that even fast food doesn’t have to play loose with ethics.

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Is co-operation what we really need?

That bastion of corporate competition, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, has dared to suggest that co-operation might be more useful than competition in achieving desirable social outcomes in the supply chain. For example, you might have two health and safety standards from two companies each requiring a factory to have a fire extinguisher – but one at 50cm from the floor, another 75cm! This simply raises costs and the number of fire extinguishers. I wonder how far PriceWaterhouseCoopers thinks co-operation should go…

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The Accountability of our Politicians

What are the legitimate demands of accountability on politicians. The received wisdom of the western democracies is that the ballot box suffices. But do people vote for policies or personalities? When celebrities stand for office, you can expect a high turnout. But should you expect people to vote according to what they stand for or who they are?

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Pope's critics speak out

After the grief is the appraisal: how should the pope be judged? How should a religious leader demonstrate their accountability? Is God ‘just’ another stakeholder? Or do values, spiritual and otherwise, have a special place in relation to accountability? After the grief is the appraisal – and the choice of a new pope.