The news from Las Vegas is both frightful and frightening. The fire that turned the MGM Grand Hotel into a death trap for 83 people and injured at least 500 others was caused by "a combination of elements that violated no laws."
What's more, said Washington Post staff writer Kathy Sawyer in our Sunday editions, the same conditions can exist "at any typical big hotel in the country."
The MGM Grand Hotel had no smoke detectors and no automatic alarm system. It had automatic sprinklers in only a few scattered areas. The fire code in this 7-year-old building didn't require smoke detectors or an automatic alarm system.
MGM spent $120 million to build the hotel but apparently didn't think it worthwhile to add a few voluntary safety devices.
I don't know how much money MGM saved by not building in more safety features, but whatever the sum was, it turned out to be a bad gamble.
Gamblers have a saying that "the house always wins." But this time, the house lost.
Everybody who ignores the need for safety precautions runs the risk of loss.
Too often a calculated risk turns out to have been a miscalculated risk.
Quite frequently, we read about people who died in fires because no smoke alarm warned them, people who died in auto crashes because they were not wearing seat belts, people who died because they mixed sedatives and alcohol, and people in "one car accidents" who were driving too fast for prevailing conditions and lost control of their cars. Yet we remain a nation of risk-takers.
We keep making the same bad decisions other losers have made. Are we so egotistical that we think the law of averages applies only to others?
What makes the Las Vegas fire so frightening is the fact that the conditions that produced it are duplicated in many other large, modern structures throughout the country -- most of them buildings popularly thought of as "fireproof."
All first-class hotels include restaurants, and fire is a constant hazard in every place where food is cooked, whether in your own kitchen or in the finest and most modern of commercial restaurants.
What's more, it appears that most of the victims of the MGM fire were killed not by flames but by the poisonous gases created by burning plastic. And as the Las Vegas fire chief pointed out, "You got plastics in every building you enter nowadays." What happened in Vegas could happen in Washington. It could happen anywhere.
So the warning for all of us is plain enough: We spend at least some of our time in "fireproof" buildings that are taller than the highest ladders our firefighters can raise. Some of us earn our salaries in buildings of this kind. Some of us live in them. But those of us who express concern about the danger of dying in them when they burn are sometimes regarded as excessively timorous. POSTSCRIPT
Mention of the driving risks we take reminds me of a compilation made by Bob Benson of Silver Spring.
Bob is dismayed by the average driver's disregard for speed limits. Most of us quickly learn that on a typical in-town trip of 10 miles or less, little time can be saved by speeding or even by driving recklessly. Yet we break the law constantly in attempts to save a few fleeting seconds.
Why? What are we going to do with those moments we save? How can one explain such folly?
Bob thinks our recklessness has its roots in the feeling of power we attain during the "ego trip" of taking command of a powerful machine. And the auto manufacturers, who cater to our desire for speed and power, give their cars names that help perpetuate the syndrome.
Some of the names of this kind that Bob has compiled are: Bronco, Barracuda, Comet, Cougar, Thunderbird, Mustang, Hornet, Fury, Javelin, Lynx, Jaguar, Bearcat, Arrow, Dart, Maverick, Cobra, Charger, Dasher, Spitfire and Bobcat. After all, who would buy a car named "Puppy Dog"? or "Edsel"? POLITICAL NEWS
Speaking of names, Bob Orben and his wife are continuing the old American tradition of naming children after political heroes. They named their new baby after their choice in this year's election. They're calling him Noneoftheabove Orben.