Friday, January 16, 2009

Excellence On The Hudson

The Miracle will be if we survive the Bush presidency intact.

No more stark contrast could have been on display yesterday than the difference between events on the west side of Manhattan and the East Room of the White House. While an empty US Airways plane bobbed in the frigid waters of the Hudson River, George W. Bush spoke, seemingly oblivious, as he has been during the unfolding of events of his eventful presidency, bidding his farewell suckers to some handpicked lackeys, his clearly ecstatic wife, some people of color who did extraordinary acts, and a scowling Dick Cheney.

As I write, still breathless reporters all over the TV dial are exclaiming the Miracle on the Hudson following the ditching of the big plane in the river west of the city after what was likely a flock of Canadian Geese got run through the plane’s engines, shutting them down. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberg, brought the damaged plane down without incident, followed almost instantly by the appearance of New York City and Port Authority ferries to grab standing passengers off the floating wing of the plane to safety without a single life-threatening injury.

But this was not a miracle.

What we see here is the result of excellence and we should be no less in awe of it. It’s just that after the relentless pummeling of failure and incompetence on display before us and the world of the Bush administration and their apologists trying to spin it away, we can hardly recognize competence and excellence anymore.

The pilot of the plane, and no doubt his co-pilot, the flight attendants, the air traffic controllers, the ferry boat operators, the manufacturers of the plane, and yes, the government bureaucrats at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) all worked together to assure that a disaster in the making instead is hailed as a miracle. Instead it should be hailed as a mark of pride that such a wide range of people can succeed to such a degree in split seconds in an incident for which all were trained and prepared.

All of these people should be celebrated not for performing miracles, they should be celebrated for being the very best at the jobs they do every day.

You can pray and hope for miracles and for much of the Bush presidency that’s what we had to do all too often to little effect because we could not rely on most of the folks at the top to do their jobs much less do them well. That era (or perhaps error is a better pun) is over.

All appearances and claims are that the incoming Obama team is put together largely because of the excellence that all will bring to their tasks. If that is the case, then maybe Americans and the world can return to the expectation of things as they once were, that we can celebrate excellence in the things we do rather than hope for miracles when nothing else works. If the standard of expectation is excellence miracles aren’t necessary.


Pudgy McCabe said...

The thing that struck me about this story was the contrast with the frequent incidences of high-casualty transportation disasters (often ferryboats) in poorly organized countries. In addition to poverty, dysgenics, and whatnot, I think one can see a relation between otherworldly mysticism/superstition and practical incompetence. This is a major caveat for me in viewing yogic/Vedic religion in particular: on some interior level it seems more important to me to fix the world (or at least, one's own sphere) than to neglect it for another.

Gravitar Profundus said...

The important phrase there is "poorly organized" countries. If you check the historical record of comparable incidences in this country in the late 1800s you will see similarities all over the place.

At the turn of the 20th century, reformers and progressives managed to influence the institution of laws and the creation of government managed regulatory bodies which made sure conditions were such that such disasters began to decrease markedly and immediately.

In this case, the NTSB and the training which kept this from being a disaster is the result. Ferry disasters in SE Asia for instance happen because of corruption and/or poor regulation/oversight/policing/enforcement, etc. Give business a chance to make money by engaging in risk calculated excess and they will. And occasionally disasters will result because the cost benefit of safety measures is higher than the cost of mere flesh. In other words, there's a practical explanation for the results of most of these sorts of accidents instead of otherworldly, etc. I blame people, not peoples' belief systems.

As for your other point, I am fully with you brother. I would prefer we treat this world as if it's heaven just in case this is all we've got. If we do that and it turns out there IS a heaven to come, well, then chances are we've earned it by our behavior in this world.

Pudgy McCabe said...

You certainly have a point, though I do think Weber’s “Protestant Ethic” or something along those lines is more supportive of complex multi-level enterprises like textile mills and rescue missions than is affable pantheism. The slovenly SWAT performance in Mumbai is another example.

It’s quite possible that some sort of pervasive corruption may be to blame, but where does that come from? I don’t think that “belief systems” as such can be ruled out as major contributing factors at this level of human affairs, though we always have to be careful to be mindful of the distortions inherent in any perspective.