Thursday, October 28, 2010

Didn't Need This

We were on short final, in the kind of inky black you get when the starlight from a moonless sky has long since lost its way in dense cloud.

Suddenly we break out of the weather, and I see the runway a mile to our left, and ocean just as black as the cloud we had only just left right in front of us.

I started yelling, which is distinguishable from screaming only by the adjacent bass clef.

Then, with only a few seconds to live I decided to shut up and die like a man. Resignation and terror make an interesting combination.

The impact wasn't what I expected. We didn't hit the surface of the water so much slip through it, the black turning into cobalt blue as it surrounded the cockpit.

Which, of course, is the instant I woke up, heart pounding, adrenaline oozing from every pore, momentarily surprised that I was not both very wet and very dead.

We all dream, a phenomena odd enough in and of itself. Recurrent dreams are weirder still. Being somewhere public without clothes on and wrong place or wrong time for an exam seem to be two pretty common themes among those for whom being clothed and passing tests are important.

To those I add dreams about airplane crashes, which started years before I became a pilot, and have continued at about one a month ever since without one of them answering the fundamental question: what's the point?

Having never had one that killed me before, I can say one thing for sure. I don't need another.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Land of the Free

From a car magazine article I saw a couple weeks ago:
Photo Radar Dead on Arizona Roads

Arizona pulled the plug on its state roadway photo radar network in mid-July. It didn't work in just about every way possible: Many citizens resented its intrusive nature. American chauvinists didn't like that the system was operated by—and funds expatriated to—an Aussie firm named Redflex. Violators ignored the tickets, and less than a third of the 1,200,000 ticketes issued were ever paid—including those issued to a man in a monkey suit who deliberately collected dozens of tickets and fought them all in court. Process servers couldn't keep up with the unpaid (typically) $181 tickets.

Tragically, the operator of a van carrying a mobile speed camera was shot to death while parked by the roadside.* Dozens of units were vandalized with Silly String, clubs and axes. The state had projected that it would rake in $120,000,000 from its citizens; it collected just $78,000,000. Redflex predicted that accidents and deaths would spike on state highways now.
I bet two things are true:
  • The state cared much less about safety than revenue
  • There will be no spike in accidents, because there was no reduction in accidents after the radar was put in place.
It warms the soul when citizens give the single digit salute to overbearing government.

* Apparently, the shooter didn't realize the van, which had been parked alongside the road, was manned.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Let the Indoctrination Begin

The woman-child, being this year a high school senior, is in the throes of college applications.

Back in the antewebian day when I was similarly throed, the process was limited to grades and SAT scores, which pretty much defined one's academic aspirations. Grades and scores were proxies to gain admission into colleges whose brand names were proxies in turn for entry into the world after industrialized education. My record strongly suggested I restrain my ambitions to those schools whose academic standards were friendly to those who could reliably fog a mirror.

Which makes a great deal of sense, when you think about it. The whole process, end-to-end, contained selection criteria chosen to yield a likelihood of success. Yes, legacy and money made their inevitable appearances. But put them off to the side: there were perfectly good reasons why Yale would have been exercising an instant of sanity by binning my application, should I have been so insane as to send one their direction in the first place.

My daughter, firmly ensconced in the upper 5% of her class, is not similarly constrained. And the application process seems also to have lost its moorings.

Besides the old standbys, grades and scores, there is now a small flotilla of essay questions with which to do battle:

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge. Include whether you turned to anyone in facing the challenge, the role the person played, and what you learned about yourself.
Gosh. I am the child of two not same sex parents who have failed to not be amicably and persistently married. I have tried to get cancer, but it seems not to be contagious. Is it too late to get a heroin addiction?
Describe your experiences facing or witnessing discrimination. Tell us how you responded and what you learned from these experiences and how they have prepared you to contribute to the OSU community.
I'm short. Being a girl, I throw like a girl. I face discrimination every day because the basketball team refuses to embrace diversity, which doesn't make me feel good about myself.

Surely, OSU will not engage in tallist-throwist normative thinking when picking their starting center. I'm ready to contribute.
“Iconoclasts” is a Sundance Channel show that explores the intersection where two great talents meet. Each episode pairs two creative visionaries who discuss their lives, influences, and art. Examples: Quentin Tarantino and Fiona Apple; Madeleine Albright and Ashley Judd. The producer of the show has asked you to suggest a new pair. What two well-known, living individuals would you like to see paired in discussion? Why? What insights might emerge from their discussion?
Having labored through an episode, I learned the dictionary needs amending: apparently iconoclast is the word that means "someone who works in the entertainment industry, although it often isn't clear why". And that one of the acts that the Geneva convention must surely include as torture is sitting through one of these preening mutually congratulating tongue baths.

If the past is any guide, any two names I cough up need only satisfy the notoriety requirement. I'll go with the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Dennis the Menace. A producer that will green light Madeleine Albright and Ashley Judd will green light anything.
Food plays an important role in all of our lives. Food can reflect our values, beliefs, culture or ethnicity. Please provide an example of how food reflects one of these aspects in your life and explain why.
My family is half-British, which means we don't have an ethnicity; just ask the census bureau. As for values, beliefs and culture, they are apparently neatly tied up in negligent preparation and slapdash presentation. I am grateful for anything my dad cooks that isn't an immediate threat to my health.

Which is why, to avoid starvation -- that lesser well known role that food plays in our lives -- we have pizza delivered.

A lot.

Even though we aren't Italian, and, from what I have heard, it isn't, either.

Could be an American thing, although apparently that isn't an ethnicity. Can I get half-credit anyway?

Tell us about something that you have done on your own in the last two years that makes you feel good about yourself.
I am very uncomfortable with the harsh individualism implicit in this question. We are products of our community; therefore, we owe everything to our community. Life being what it is, I may not always feel good about myself. But, thanks to you and these questions, I will make any sacrifice, suffer any indignity, just so I never face the existential hell of working in college admissions.

The questions are real; the answers are just dad trying to help his little girl work her way through the perplexing folkways of academia.

Perhaps this is one time in her life when my daughter should look elsewhere for guidance.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Someone missed Econ 101, Day 1

Being a military retiree, I am eligible for excellent low cost health care coverage, which I pay for, but don't use because my job provides health insurance as part of the compensation package.

Yesterday I got a DoD health care survey, which included this question:

For your civilian coverage, do you or your family member pay all or part of the insurance premium?

Please select one
a. Yes, I or my family members pay all of the premium
b. Yes, I or my family members pay part of the premium
c. No, coverage is available at no cost
d. Don’t know

Maybe the health care debate would be more productive if "c" was expunged, using every bit as much ridicule as is required to complete the task, from every government critter's vocabulary.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Off the Rails

Several lifetimes ago, so deep in the musty past that the first personal computers were nearly a decade away, I took my first college philosophy class.

And my last.

I remember the course description being fascinating, but the actuality a merciless immersion in convoluted writing* and question begging untainted by reality.

Or perhaps it was just over my head.

Moral philosophers have attempted to highlight how people view as quite different moral problems that are, in terms of their consequences, identical. Their preferred hypothetical is the trolley problem, consisting of two situations, Spur and Fat Man:

In Spur, an out-of-control trolley—or train—is hurtling towards five people on the track, who face certain death. You are nearby and, by turning a switch, could send the trolley onto a spur and save their lives. But one man is chained to the spur and would be killed if the trolley is diverted. Should you flick the switch?
In Fat Man, the same trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are on a footbridge overlooking the track, next to a fat man. If you were to push him off the bridge onto the track his bulk would stop the trolley and save the lives of those five people—but kill him. Do you push him?

Study after study has shown that people will sacrifice the spur man but not the fat man. Yet in both cases, one person is killed to save five others. What, then, is the relevant ethical distinction between them? This question has spawned a thriving academic mini-industry, called trolleyology.

Trolleyology encapsulates the deepest tensions in our moral outlook. To tease out our moral intuitions, philosophers have come up with ever more ingenious scenarios. The trolley is usually racing towards five unfortunates and the reader is presented with various means to rescue them at the cost of another life, involving props such as obese gentlemen, footbridges, trapdoors and lazy Susans. Some of the examples are so complex that, in the words of one exasperated philosopher, this branch of ethics “makes the Talmud look like Cliffs Notes [a US brand of study guides].” But at its root the trolley problem is a philosophical detective story, attracting some of the smartest minds in moral philosophy.

Perhaps this whole philosophy thing remains well above my easily perplexed cranium, but doesn't Spur differ from Fat Man in a very significant respect that doesn't involve body count?

*In non-fiction writing, the moral imperative is clarity. Perhaps Philosophy's lack thereof suggests notting the non.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Lord of the Flies, Redux

Thanks to the intarwebz, it is magically easy to come upon stories, and points of view, that would have been inaccessible otherwise.

Unfortunately, there is nothing fun about this one. From What About Our Daughters: Unapologetic, Uncompromising, and Unbowed in Defense of Black Women and Girls, comes this story from just the other side of civilization:

We joke a lot about ESSENCE magazine's [For international readers, this refers to a magazine catering to African American women.] editorial philosophy being that we're all going to die old and alone and be eaten alive by 9 cats, but seriously, what is life going to look like for all of these single Black women when they are 85 years old?

In this case, an elderly woman who lived alone found herself the target of the neighborhood bully... a 12 year old boy.

YES the neighborhood allowed itself to be terrorized by a pre-teen who apparently led a gang of other teens. they tried to set her house on fire, they cursed her out, she called the police and nobody came and apparently this little group of URBAN TERRORISTS were terrorizing the entire neighborhood... and he's only 12. Of course the "grandmother" of the 12 year old says he and his friends were ....just. walking. by.... AT 11PM AT NIGHT. Notice they didn't say the mother or father, but the GRANDMOTHER. I would be embarrassed to admit, my child ran the streets at night.

[From the accompanying news story] Neighbors said an elderly woman was fed up with constant harassment from a 12-year-old boy, so she took a gun and shot the child after he and his friends threw bricks into her home.

What surprised me most about this story was the comments. When reading them, which I obviously recommend, keep in mind who the audience is.

Two other things pushed to the fore.

Patrick Moynihan told us so, in as clear a case of prescience as one is likely to find nearly, fifty years ago.

Also, guns are a great equalizer.

In both cases, being a progressive means never saying "Whoops. Sorry."