Under the Volcano

…no, that’s not the right play; it’s Huis Clos, maybe.  I’m in London in a hotel with about ten Americans originally gathered for a conference that ended Friday.  We don’t know when we can leave, it’s a nice enough group but the only link is that we all have some connection with biofuels policy, and have been trapped by this most bizarre natural disaster that hasn’t killed anyone or even damaged any property. We have rebooked tickets for various upcoming days, but of course there’s no assurance flights won’t be cancelled again Our hosts at Imperial College have been extremely hospitable, negotiating reasonable room rates at the hotel, setting us up with a place to work, arranging a field trip to Rothamsted tomorrow.  It’s been beautiful sunny British spring weather, and there’s no risk of running out of museums and the like in London in the next, um, year, I guess. We have internet access, phone, underground and buses to get around on; except that everyone is asleep when we email them during the day, it’s a lot like being home but with no dishes to wash.

It’s a bizarre crisis, because there’s no evidence of it day to day  (apparently the supermarkets are liable to run out of vegetables and fruit that come in by air freight, but no sign of that at the Waitrose down the block yet) except that we can’t quite leave.  And being stuck in London in 2010 is very different from three or four decades ago; that Waitrose has a fabulous collection of food from all over Europe, there are good restaurants of every type, indeed the only reminder of traditional British food is the hotel breakfast.  We’re staying in South Kensington, two blocks from three world-class museums, and it seems the entire V&A has been reinstalled since I was last here, very nicely.  The worst part of it in some ways is that there’s no one to blame, though the aviation authorities are beginning to get beat up for being too cautious and constantly changing their forecasts.  It’s certainly a nightmare decision scenario for the airlines and the regulators both, as the real risk of flying is not completely clear.

Thousands and thousands of Brits were caught all over the world on school holiday week, including students and teachers, and the news stories of them trying to get home, sleeping in airports, and running out of money and clean clothes, are pretty heartrending.  The government is not covering itself with glory figuring out how to get them home; there are 50,000 of them in Madrid (for a few days, the only European airport operating) waiting for buses that were promised but apparently only available to people who fly in in coming days; everyone else is advised to “make your way to the channel ports” (that’s more than a day on a packed train).

For me and my colleagues, this has to be the cushiest, safest, lowest-risk adventure imaginable, but it is beginning to grate.

We were in a pub on Thursday night when the debate came on the TV.  No-one there paid any attention to it, but someone must have been watching, because it apparently blew the Lib-Dems up to Labor/Conservative poll levels,  like, let me see, like a volcano (do you get your completely original imagery and similes at the RBC? for sure!)  underneath them.  Exciting, but the way they run their national elections here is a scandal in a capitalist country; it’s all over in a couple of months, and the amount of commerce in advertising, polling, political consulting, punditry, dealmaking and corruption, and related thrashing about that’s left on the table by this haste  is absolutely shocking.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

3 thoughts on “Under the Volcano”

  1. I trust that the lovers of individual liberty in the US and Americans abroad are at least not looking to their government to get them home? A Toronto paper this morning reported that a number of Canadians stranded in London (as you say, not the worst place to have to spend extra time) are complaining that the Canadian government is not sending ships, or something. If the Royal Navy can be used to bring Britons home (from 25 miles away in France), then the Canadian government should do likewise, apparently. See? Get single-provider universal health care, and everybody becomes a whiner!

  2. As ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano continued to keep European airspace shut down over the weekend, affecting millions of travelers around the world, some government agencies and airlines clashed over the flight bans. Some restricted airspace is now beginning to open up and some limited flights are being allowed now as airlines are pushing for the ability to judge safety conditions for themselves. The volcano continues to rumble and hurl ash skyward, if at a slightly diminished rate now, as the dispersing ash plume has dropped closer to the ground, and the World Health Organization has issued a health warning to Europeans with respiratory conditions. Collected here are some images from Iceland over the past few days. (35 photos total)

    More from Eyjafjallajokull

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