Reg and Syd: Safe

“That was some phone call, Reg.”

“Yes, Syd, it was. Geoff’s a good egg, but he does go on a bit. One of his site managers was nervous about an upcoming health and safety audit, he passed on his anxieties to Geoff, and Geoff vented to me. I, ah, reminded him of our expectations.”

“I daresay. Still, I understand the dilemma. You can’t take away all risks in life, or business either. If you do, you turn turtle. And a boat that turns turtle sinks. Speaking of risks. So where do you draw the line?”

“As high as possible. It’s one of the best things going for us.”

“Publicity? Our feel-good spin on things?”

“Yes, and more.”

“So we don’t get BP‘ed?”

“Yes, and more.”

“Say on.”

“My pleasure. Take for example that shameful piece of real estate over there.”

“Ah yes, the marine science laboratory.”

“I tell you, Syd, the sooner we can get that eyesore taken down and replaced with one of our developments, the better we all shall be. But take it as a metaphor for the university of which it is a part. The public university, which despite our best efforts still has scientists in it. Some of whom actually have ideas that might challenge those being worked on by our scientists. I have a hard time understanding how any of them can have the intellect for this, given that they don’t perceive that the pursuit of a career in what they call ‘public good’ science makes, for them, absolutely no economic sense whatsoever …”

“They might be like your daughter, Reg. Applying your good money to misguided purposes.”

“Sydney, you are uncharitable. Unfortunately, you are also correct. However they came to be there, they represent a pool of ideas that is unfettered by any confidentiality agreement. If they find out something, they blab about it. To everybody. This is intolerable. It’s also untouchable, at least by direct methods.”

“No PR win there, is there?”

“No indeed. But with the level of funds, both capital and operating, that these people have available to them …”

“Which we’re constantly telling everybody is excessive …”

“When in fact it’s woefully inadequate, the only way they can get anything done is by taking risks. That, and paying wages to ‘students’ that would be an insult to one of their football players …”

“And which would get us a swarm of lawsuits if we tried to pay at those rates …”

“Or, given the competency of those persons who would accept such rates, get us into bankruptcy. Only jail would be worse.”

“Reg, you’re slipping. You can duck jail. Bankruptcy’s harder.”

“You forget Bernie, Syd. Now’s not the best time for thinking you can be careless and still stay out of prison. But you’re distracting me. Scientists in the ‘public good’ arena have been taking risks for decades. Jury-rigging equipment, inhaling chemical fumes, sitting in back-breaker chairs – when they have chairs – because, financially, they’ve had no other choice.”

“Aha!

“I knew you’d get it quickly, Syd. Health and safety legislation! One of our most brilliant operations. It’s intrusive. It’s expensive. And who can argue with it? No one can afford to be labeled dangerous. Especially with the lawyers we’ve primed to take advantage of any, um, episodes.”

“I thought that was one of the reasons that the ‘public good’ scientists were in public universities, Reg. So that they could be afforded some measure of capitalization and protection against this sort of thing.”

“And how well is that working these days, Syd? Didn’t you just see how the state of Washington’s mooting another 10% or so budget cut to its state universities? And how a desperate state of Hawai‘i has bills before its legislature to cut off all of the special appropriations to its state university, which even the President of the University of Hawai‘i system admits will gut its operations?”

“So, eventually, the only scientists who will be able to afford to do much more than blow their own noses …”

“Only if they have biohazard receptacles at the ready for their hankies …”

“Will be the ones who work for us.”

“And they won’t be able to blab about what they find to anybody.”

“Reg, I gotta … excuse my phone beeping, let me see what this is … ah, perfect! Oysters and champagne in the dining room. Care to join us?”

Mais certainement, mon ami. Did you arrange this? It’s so fitting. The world is our oyster, is it not?”

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