Saturday, October 30, 2010

Drive drive drive

Yeah, they have seat belts on shopping carts now. I'm all for protecting the little ones, but? One reaches a point of diminishing returns eventually; Mr. Darwin is going to have his say on the matter.

Back in the 1960's there was an alternative child protective mechanism in shopping carts. It was called, 'Sit still and act like you've got good sense or Mom will pop those jaws for you.' It was surprisingly effective, to be so low-tech.

But we don't do barbaric parenting things like that anymore; instead we physically restrain our children like they were Hannibal Lecter. Sadly though, barbarism hasn't been entirely banished from our culture. There is still I-55.

I-55 is a marvel of civil engineering, cutting a more or less straight line through Mississippi in North/South direction. The posted speed limit is 70mph but everyone understands that's merely a suggestion. The observed speed limit is 80mph and there is a bad wreck on I-55 at least once a week.

OK, so everybody is going in the same direction. There are no stop lights or cross traffic, so... how come I see the MediVac helicopter so often? Well, the sameness of the landscape can lull one into a semi-conscious state I guess. And there are cell phones. Some people change lanes without consulting the rear view mirror.

Hmmm, well here's a thought. Doctors now have a pretty good handle on what they call 'Clean room syndrome.' It's where babies are protected from encountering any germs or dirt, and then become children allergic to everything. This because human development requires some early exposure to the natural world, in order to kick in a normal immune system.

Maybe there's an as yet unidentified human reflex system. Maybe something called 'Safe room syndrome' stunts its development. If you keep a person trussed up and encased in protective plastic through most of their early life, do they really know, on an instinctive level that this world is chock full of opportunities to get Ouchies?

Now you know where seat belts are really needed? Church pews. Must get in touch with Rick Warren on that one...

Friday, October 22, 2010

See it on TV

Well the Chilean miners are in sunlight again. Amazing story all around really.

Is it surprising there were faith conversions down in that hole, a half mile below the surface? Not really. Happens like that in some lives.

Is it significant that a shaft failure happened, and there was a safe room ready, and discipline/training paid off? Yeah, that's pretty significant. Much of the world is getting a lot better at protecting those we ask to do dangerous things.

And then, and then. Once the "We're alive" signal was received, ah yes and then. Some of the best, most mercurial spirited applied science people descended on Chile. Don't watch the movie, and I'm sure it's in the works now. Maybe somebody will write a good book. You can read it instead.

There are brains in this world who will never win a Nobel. There is no Nobel Prize for kicking ass and making things happen against all odds. There are men and women in this world who think & say things like "Yeah yeah yeah the generator is blown. I saw a CAT D-9 when I drove in, we ought to be able to..."

Lots of people like that descended on Chile. To God be the glory in all things, but the Father provided some unorthodox human brain power at the site.

We gringos, most of us don't know the heroes topside nor the miners down below. Latin American TV covered it very extensively.

And that's the deal really; it was all on TV. We're entering an era where we can watch live coverage of slow motion tragedies. Watch the Gulf Oil leak, a mile below sea level. In some ways, an environment more like Jupiter, than my patio in Olive Branch.

Watch what you can't do squat about, 24/7 if you wish!

Oddly enuf this started with a mousey little Apothecary who poisoned his slatternly, artistically pretentious wife, so he could be with the lonely little stenographer girl, or whatever she was.

I really don't think Scotland Yard was onto Crippen and Friendgirl, until the couple bolted. There the doomed lovers were on ship bound for Canada. Somebody (Chief Steward I think) read APB and wondered if couple travelling as father & son, and... things ensued.

Because of just instituted short wave radio breakthrough, folks on both side of Atlantic were digging the cat/mouse adventure. Media blackout on the ship. Meanwhile, a ship was racing from Liverpool (as I recall) to intercept.

This Crippen thing is first time I can find, where a drama unfolded real time in the media, day by day. That was in 1910. Happy 100th Birthday, media circus!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A beautiful Experiment

I tend to avoid blonde jokes. They're sort of the new Pollack joke, and as such most of them aren't even funny. I do admire the blonde 911 call though...

"Help, my house is on fire, send the Fire Dept!"
"Yes ma'am, how do we get there?"
"DUH, big red truck?"

Rule Number One: All border regions are very interesting places, have always been very interesting. They seldom give up their secrets to the casual observer though.

NW Tennessee along KY border, no exception to Rule 1. Casey Jones was born around there. The James boys visited that area. Underground railroad ran through there, and so did the Natchez Trace stage line. You won't hear any of that stuff on the evening news. But the South Fulton Fire Dept. let a house burn this week on purpose, and that's BIG news.

It's a beautiful experiment, I'm no nit-picker. Could've been a perfect experiment is all I'm saying. See, the details of the home owner enter as what's called 'Statistical Noise' in Engineering. His house burned, but he's a victim who doesn't draw much sympathy. It's just $75 a year for rural fire protection; he'd already had four fires in past decade.

Would've been perfect experiment had home owner been a neutral presence. Like he's a single OTR truck driver, just forgot to write the $75 annual check. Then we could have a perfect division between those who instinctively side with home owner, and those who understand the Fire Dept. quandry.

Eh, there's no such thing as a perfect experiment, so you work with what you have.

Stripped from statistical noise, the experiment is ethical conduct. Citizens of South Fulton pay higher taxes than surrounding rurals, in part to support Fire Dept. As such, it's their best interests that are paramount, isn't it?

Were we Greek gods, we could run the clock back and run the experiment different ways, and focus on the statistical noise first. U want the fire to get fought don't you? Go ahead and admit it. Maybe Jeff Bridges or Randy Quaid as the firetruck captain. He's talking on cellphone to Mayor, getting clear instructions NOT to fight fire, as homeowner is a system gamer and sends a bad message to save his home. Admit it, you'd like the Mayor to be evil, like that guy in 'Jaws.'

And Jeff Bridges/Randy Quaid says, "What, what? I can't hear you, you're breaking up, bye." Then he turns to his lads and says "Hell boys, I didn't join up to watch homes burn, even if it means my job!"

That's a rousing concept, and could make a commercially successful movie. It exploits the American strain for individualism. But what if a house inside South Fulton city limits was on fire at very same time?

Rule Number Two: If you want to understand a system, consider its extreme margins. If you have a really sweet old rural lady who forgot to pay the $75 and her house is burning while she's off visiting relatives, AND you have a South Fulton city taxpayer whose house is burning, AND just one big red truck, what do you do?

That's right; you prioritize and see to your core responsibility first. So in the extreme margins we understand system as a whole. You make the rule, communicate the rule, and enforce the rule. That's in best interest of South Fulton taxpayers.

Movies can be quite inspirational at times, and challenge us to consider our fundamental values. But they're just play-acting, calculated to follow well known formulas to earn revenue. The real world is a messy place. Had that Fire Company said, 'To Hell with the rules' and a firefighter had died in process (see Rule Number 2) South Fulton would be on hook for at the least a big worker's comp claim, and at most a lengthy wrongful death lawsuit if Jeff Bridges/Randy Quaid authorized the rebellion. Plaintiff would eventually win.

I know some feel quite differently about the fire, and that's why it's such a pretty experiment. I'm just looking at it as a system in operation. Make the rule, communicate the rule, enforce the rule. Enforcement means enforcement; look it up.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brighten up the room

When you're married, there will be times (usually during 4th quarter of a tied game)that a woman says, "Something something something would brighten up the room, don't you think?"

Wait until the game is over, and then go out to the garage and hit your thumb with a hammer. Because that's going to happen sometime during your upcoming adventure, so why delay the inevitable.

First, she doesn't really care what you think about her 'room brightening' project. She was only trying to be nice, in her womanly way. In these things, she only values your male upper body strength. Yes, male musculature is different from female, in case you haven't watched the news lately. Our superior strength allows us to lift heavy objects... and drop them on our foot.

Having been married for thirty years, I know these things. So it was with a spirit of joyous, sweaty abandon that I followed my wife into the mantel replacement project. Well, that's not entirely accurate. More of a "no way to get out of it" spirit I should think.

My only stipulation was that the new mantel be made in the USA. She ordered it after much perusing of other mantels. The big day arrived, the huge box arrived with big 'Made in the USA' stamped on it. Turns out the box was actually made in the US, but the contents were made in China.

It would be swell if the adventure ended with the mantel install, but nope. If you think that, you're probably not married. Next you have to pick out the new marble tile for around the fireplace. Marble comes in about three different colors, each of which is available in 1800 different shades.

So there we were at one of many many (I had no idea, but she did) local stores that sell marble tile. This was frustrating for both of us I think. She kept asking my opinion, I kept saying, "I like the light one." I was not talking shade, but weight of the many boxes I'd have to haul from store to trunk of car, then from trunk of car to living room.

But we eventually got it all straight, and the project got finished, and it does brighten up the room. Hey, little known fact of anthropology? Neanderthals died out because they couldn't figger how to 'brighten up' the cave, had to sleep on the couch, so low birth rate. Cro Magnons invented cave painting, so that's why we're all here.