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.

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