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May 06, 2015

The Problem is: Choice

April 08, 2015

Oaths and Oathers

(Follow @PghCHR)
Oathing: the taking of an oath. Are people who "do" oaths called Oathers?

At HumanRelationsPittsburgh, blogger Helen Gerhardt asks, what's an oath for? What good is an oath? which is prompted by her taking an Oath to serve as a Pittsburgh CHR committee member. (@PghCHR)

What a superb question, opening for examination a huge and too often unquestioned social construct, persisting the in background. Which makes me wonder, are oaths different in other cultures? But for now, what is a Pittsburgh oath? And perhaps, why?

There are folks who abstain from Oathing. Quakers and Mennonites decline to make an oath, because they place great value on telling the truth in the first instance and believe an upgraded level of oathed-truth, or truth-plus, to be unnecessary. (If I have this wrong, please correct me). They are, you might say, "loath to oath".

In the last few centuries we've seen changes. Literacy. The Reformation. The Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution. The Information Revolution. World Wars. Oathing predates all that.

With anything that predates the intermediate and current eras, we can ask: what was it when it started? Distinctly, what is it now - because those are two different things.

Let's say a thousand years ago, an Oath was a confirmation, a meta-layer that could mean two things: it could be an assertion of truth, or a promise of future behavior - both upon penalty of death. If you took an oath and broke it, death was on the table. Taking the oath added credibility to a statement, and added accountability to performance.

There are New Testament verses recommending against Oathing, what's up with that? Two of the four Christian gospel-writers urged people to not take oaths. Mathew 5:34-37 says,

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

James 5:12 brings,

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

In the modern Capitalist regime, how do ersatz-human Corporations take oaths? In many ways contracts take the place of oaths; contracts are an improved version of oathing.

Of course, in our most-recent events we see that Contracts are not binding and the penalties only apply to the un-lawyered; USAir voided its labor contracts through bankruptcy law, and USAir failed to provide the retirements it had agreed to provide to its people.

What is society's current response to a person that breaks an oath? Executives that void labor contracts? Greek elections that seek to void financial oaths? We hail the executives that void existing contracts as "saviors", which perhaps is a moral hazard.

Marriage oaths: completely unenforceable. No social stigma (at least, in the old ways) involved.

Sworn (oathed) testimony, which is to say human testimony, is imperfect. Witness the people getting out of wrongful imprisonment, and the larger group falsely convicted.

I'm inclined (at this stage, open to learning) that an oath is only as good as the person who gives it. It adds a sense of gravitas to duties and statements. In that way, the Mennonites and Quakers have it right (no surprise): a truthful person's oath is unnecessary. The gospel writers have it right: a guarantee of future performance in a chaotic world is merely aspirational.

But if an oath is only as good as the person who gives it, I feel so good about Helen's oath and I know that it is solid gold.

March 26, 2015

Germanwings Flight 9525 Explained: iPads, Distracted Driving, Hanlon's Razor

The charge by a French prosecutor that 27-year-old German copilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally flew Germanwings Flight 9525 (4U9525) into the ground, killing 150 people strains credulity. So let's pursue a more reasonable explanation.

But first, let's point out the French prosecutor's conflict of interest. Who manufactured the aircraft? Airbus. Who's one of the primary owners of Airbus? The French government. Why is a prosecutor listening to aircraft tapes? Because not too long ago, the French aviation agency BEA was caught fudging an investigation report because they didn't want Airbus to look bad.

It is an absolute gift for Airbus that the flight from Spain to Germany crashed in France, and now France owns the investigation. So do not too quickly forget the French government's position and needs, and the serendipity of blaming it on: a German! très bien! The Greeks should be so lucky.

This unsupported proposal suggests that rather than being a sociopathic outlier, the young co-pilot was instead a very normal 27-year old. Consider the following scenario, and see if it doesn't explain what we've been told.

Captain Sondenheimer - who young Andreas may have tagged with a nickname (like Herr Stickler) sees the aircraft through it's climb and is sure it's established in cruise mode. The auto-pilot is engaged, and he says to the young co-pilot Ich muss einen Mann über ein Pferd finden Sie unter (or in English, I need to see a man about a horse) and goes to the lavatory after ensuring the cockpit door is locked.

And then for a few minutes, young Andreas is alone. Herr Stickler is in the can, and I suggest that Andreas did what he'd been waiting for - he pulled out his iPad and started checking social media. No way he could do that while Herr Stickler was in the cockpit.

First young Andreas turns up the speakers on the radios, so he'll be sure to hear any ATC or company calls. He gets into his iPad and checks Facebook and MeinGott! his friend Milo has a new YouTube video of his techno-band. So Andreas pops on the earbuds, just for a moment, and he's sure he'll still here the radio.

As any cyclist overtaking a jogger wearing ear-buds knows, the person wearing ear-buds becomes immersed in the experience and loses the ability to be distracted by normal sensory inputs. And unfortunately, Milo's band is streaming the dance version of their newest arrangement; it's an eleven-minute soundtrack and Andreas is quite taken with it.

In his isolation, Andreas was doing the same thing that a few 27-year-old passengers were probably doing: watching their social media, just for a second, and losing their situational awareness.

In fact, either while positioning the iPad among the controls, or perhaps while rocking in his seat to the tunes, Andreas presses the control stick with sufficient force to disengage the autopilot.

This is exactly what happened to Eastern 401, when the crew was distracted, unintentionally disengaged the auto-pilot, and the aircraft lost altitude and crashed.

The Captain, having relieved himself, was trying to get into the cabin when he felt the change as the autopilot disengaged and the nose dropped. The aircraft continued to fly at the speed she was trimmed for, at pretty much a consistent speed and rate of descent. The Captain banged on the door but Andreas was in the YouTube Zone.

The air traffic controllers started calling the plane when they noticed the descent. It came across quite clearly on the cockpit audio recorders, because Andreas had turned the speakers up. Between the earbuds and the engrossing video, Andreas was isolated from the real world. If he had any sensation of the Captain trying to beat the door down, he probably thought it was a Dubstep sampling in Milo's video.

In the end, the tragedy wasn't caused by a monstrous evil blackguard; just a 27-year-old who was driving flying distracted.

Hanlon's Razor : Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Do you find this less believable than a 27-year old with no problems, a promising career, and no suicide note would kill 150 people without ever wavering in descent?

December 07, 2014

Sidekick Alzheimer's and the Duration of Infamy

The Japanese attacked the United States in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (which was not a State at the time) on December 7, 1941: a day which will live in infamy because there was no notification of termination of diplomacy and no declaration of war.

How long does infamy last? What's the infamy shelf-life?

  • 21 years later (October 11, 1962) a television show called McHale's Navy debuted. The light-hearted comedy was about a zany bunch of miscreant sailors - who among other things, covered for a friendly Japanese sailor (actor Yoshio Yoda playing the role of sidekick Fuji Kobiaji).
  • The 1964 World's Fair in New York City included displays from Japan and Germany
  • 24 years later (September 17, 1965), another comedy show called Hogan's Heroes was introduced - including actor John Banner in the role of sidekick Sergeant Hans Schultz, a bungling affable good German.

There were both international business and Cold-War government rationals for the normalization of relations with Japan and Germany within 20 years. American business was expanding globally, the governments we placed in Berlin and Tokyo were disposed to cooperate, and the new strategic schism between (former Allies) Russia/China and the Free World™ took precedence over nurturing grudges.


The current question, of course, is the duration of derogation after 9/11/01. How long will it be before we see television webstream comedies with zany, friendly Saudi engineers, turning a tolerant eye to our attempts to drone-target the 'bad' Saudi's?

More to the point, when will Pakistani media include depictions of us? When will there be a misplaced American grad student, hiding out in the Tribal Areas, taken in by the mufti and shielded from the NSA? Maybe his neighborhood will be nicknamed "Snowdenstan" and his hosts will try to keep him from running foul of sharia law, with zany twists and laughs.

Applying the same timeframe from Pearl Harbor to McHale's Navy to the 9-11 re-accomodation, I expect there'll be a friendly-Saudi television show in the States in July 2122, and applying the Hogan's Heroes timeframe I expect there'll be a good-American in Pakistani media in June 2125.

Really, July 22 is only 7.5 years away. As soon as business figures out when the time is right, media will declare rapproachment and we'll see zany, madcap sidekicks. It'll be more complicated, what with the ascent of Tribalism over Nationalism and the fact that American's still can't keep Shia and Shiite straight.

Perhaps we'll get to see the zany Pakistani, constantly striving to keep the friendly American out of trouble, texting to his family, "these people can't tell Shia from Shinola" with a laugh-track overdub that includes a sidetone of ululation.

November 27, 2014

Pittsburgh Survivor: Bike Commuter Assaulted by Driver

On Monday the Twitter brought this thought: a cyclist is just one driver away from being a Hashtag and getting a Ghost Bike. #OnlyTakesOne

Tuesday morning my friend Stu was riding his bicycle to work, which he does routinely, and encountered that unusual driver, riding inbound on Perrysville Ave at Marshall when he was attacked by a Pittsburgh driver who got out of the car and knocked the cyclist off the bike.

Trigger warning: violence

Stu is an accomplished, disciplined bicyclist who really does obey the law and operate very safely and conscientiously. He's a better cyclist than I am. Stu rides his bike to work because he's living lean, putting a kid through college. JAPD: Just another Pittsburgh Dad.

The driver (license plate JJV-1316) probably didn't expect that the cyclist had front- and rear-video cameras rolling.

This is the rear-view camera, and it's turned 90degrees so you'll have to adjust. Watch the white car. Stu's narractive is:

JJV-1316 comes into view at 7:30 of video, passing a church. At 7:37, I cross stop line at Marshall Ave; at 7:39, he crosses stop line. I traveled about 200 feet (hydrant by Milroy Street to stop line) in 7 seconds, about 20 mph. He traveled about 500 feet (church to stop line) in 9 seconds, about 38 mph. Posted 25 mph. Continuing south from Marshall, slightly downhill, I am going about 23 mph. This is where he decides to pass me with only a couple inches of space.

7:30

This is the front-view camera. There is audio, if you have speakers. Stu's narrative:

JJV-1316 passes me at 6:58 in video with only a couple inches to spare. No oncoming traffic. He pulls over, jumps out and immediately pushes me off the bike.

Stu's position in the lane was absolutely appropriate given the parked cars along the curb. You can go back further in the video to get a sense of the larger context.

So much tremendous anger, frustration, and violence on the part of the driver. What any driver should do is: slow down and wait for a safe opportunity to pass - or else, stay in line. Just like you would with a bulldozer or a truck.

Do you think he would have acted that way to a police horse, a bulldozer, or a heavy truck? I don't. And so this is vehicular bullying, picking on the vulnerable because: who can prove anything?

The cyclist with a camera can prove what happened. Or their survivors can.

Stu followed up by pedaling over to the Zone1 police station, which he found to be in need of a bike rack.

November 15, 2014

My Next Tattoo, NPR Edition

After years-long intermittent consideration, I believe I've found the source of my next tattoo: Public Radio Tattoos