Normalcy

In the musical “The Book of Mormon”, there is a number that sees the Ugandan people the missionaries have been sent to air their grievances: “There isn’t enough food to eat/People are starving a street” they sing, “we’ve had no rain in several days/80% of us have AIDS”. When it’s time for the missionaries to “list the bad things in your life”. Among them, somebody took their luggage away, the plane was crowded and the bus was late.

I’m reminded of this ridiculous comparison as I watch the fallout of the power outage at Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta. The outage, it is now believed was caused by an electrical fire. The comments consisted of a more interesting set of ideas: Government conspiracy, mayor Kasim Reed hired a buddy to run the power grid, CIA op etc. But the more prevalent complaints were of a more ignorant set than that.

Why didn’t the world’s busiest airport have backup generators?

“An hour between updates? Unacceptable”

“We’ve been here for 4 hours. This is a nightmare.”

While you’re ruminating on that brand of stupid, think back to the last emergency and the armchair governors asking “How could a major city, in a hurricane site, not have an evacuation plan?” or “How hard could it be to evacuate a city that gets hit with a major storm every other year?

I’ll answer those questions as well, but one I do not have a detailed answer to took place even earlier in the year. The Connor McGregor/ Floyd Mayweather fight broke pay-per-view and streaming records. So great were the streaming and PPV sales, that signals across the country either became choppy or failed outright. So the usual complaints come up, which we’ll just call “why weren’t you people prepared for this?” Lawsuits even came from this one

In order, backup generators are a spare tire, you’re not supposed to ride on them for hours at a time. Also, think about how many backup generators would be needed to effectively run the busiest airport in the world at a level that doesn’t just put lives at risk and schedules in jeopardy just a little further down the road. We can’t say there wasn’t a contingency plan, but if there was a contingency plan, one has to wonder just how long it would survive. It is not a stretch to believe that once the backups failed, many people would only complain about how there weren’t more generators.

Regarding Houston. of the 120 fatalities from Hurricane Rita, about 107 of them died in the evacuation. Further, you would not just be evacuating Houston, but all of Harris County, and all of at least Galveston county as well. Now, Galveston has one major interstate, 45, which heads Northwest. 45 feeds into Houston. Houston has an inner loop (I-610) and an outer loop (The massive Sam Houston Tollway” from the center of the city, there are 4 interstates/highways leading away from the Gulf, the 45, 69, 10 and the Westpark Tollway. Some of these begin in the dead center of Houston, and each one is fed through hundreds of streets along the way. You need to move 8 million people, along that, and you have 72 hours notice. And before you say “well, you should know when a storm is coming”, if Houston evacuated for every storm that threatened it, it’d be a ghost town.

Short version on the McGreggor thing. 1080p and 4K take up a ton of bandwidth, bandwidth that signal is sharing with those cable and internet providers are sharing with the rest of the viewing world.

I bring all of this up because it just strikes a weird tone. My brother Jordan turned me onto a term for this: Normalcy Bias. It’s a state of denial people enter when something interrupts their sacred schedule. You’ll see this most readily after a mass shooting in a small town. At some point someone will say “I didn’t think it could happen here”. In a sperate essay, I’ll cover the idea that evil cannot visit a town because it seems small and quiet, but for now it serves as an example of the assumption that, if it hasn’t occurred yet, it never will. Weirdly, while most use the Holocaust or a school shooting as an example to explain the phenomenon, we see it also in something like a power outage, or when the satellite signal fails. Things should work because they just should. After all, they always have. Why wouldn’t this continue?

I know the reflex is to blow it off and say “It’s facebook” or “it’s twitter”. People are always assholes on there. There is of course, incredible evidence to support that, however the outliers should not be taken as a “yeah, but” response and further, it is beginning to feel like what you see there is an extension of who people are in real life. After the 2016 election (failing that, any time spent working in retail or restaurants during the holiday) there is now strong evidence that people are infact that petty and horrible when things don’t work. You ever seen some customer rant about “what do you mean I can’t get a refund?” or in an Apple store where someone goes “What do you mean the computer needs to be sent in?” As if “It needs to be sent in” requires simplification, you’re in an Apple Store, probably in a mall where space is already limited, you have a problem you couldn’t fix by turning the thing on then off again and perhaps the reason there isn’t some repair shop ready and willing to serve you specifically is that 85-90% of the store is retail space and the rest are offices and a break room. This, strangely, isn’t computer science, the customer need only see past their own nose.

One more anecdote and we’ll come to some form of conclusion.  About 2 years ago, my family had gathered in Pittsburgh just because it had been a while. We marked this occasion with a special trip to the Capital Grille downtown. A woman had fallen, or passed out maybe, we weren’t sure and never found out, on the street corner opposite us, and the police blocked off one of the two lanes.

Now this was Pittsburgh at rush hour and while nobody actually lives there, everybody works there. So, now we have one of the main roads in the center of the business district down to one lane, at a key junction. As some of us on the street tried to inform the drivers that a man was down and the police were ahead of us and medical workers were attending to the man. We received response like “can’t they move him” and “Just get him out of the way, you don’t need to block off all these people (specifically the speaker, I imagine) when you can just move the guy.”

Stand in our position for a moment, we don’t know how, or why the man was down, and I doubt the police did either. However, it is not a stretch to assume that the police do not have the right to just “move a body” when they don’t know what’s happened or what that might do.

Now, I know there are some rebuttals coming, but the responses only serve to point out how pathetic these things are. Believe it or not, I too have had a computer fail during a major time, it was during the Whiskey Festival when the Wi-Fi failed while we were checking people in. A computer that had a major essay on it crashed and I hadn’t saved it on the cloud. Everyone has gone through this.

I’m sure you can name situations where you have seen someone freak out over getting an order wrong, (how many news stories see an incorrect McDonalds order end in the customer breaking the store or hitting the cashier?). Here’s the issue however, it’s difficult, almost impossible to reason with someone when they’ve reached this state. I think we have to. Maybe it’s due to this normalcy bias that we also lose perspective. If you or someone you know finds themselves being challenged by an inconvenience, remind them how people Harvey, the power outage in Hartsfield, the McGregor fight, and all it takes is a moment to step back and think one level deeper to save a great deal of added rage and might even take into account the guy who is doing what he can with what he has. The other guy is often ignored in this situation, and is even, apparently, considered as a last point in essays. The next time you or someone around you is about to go into a tailspin, keep these three points in mind.

Yes, things do go wrong, even during the holidays or other major events.

Whatever simple fix you think you have is missing 95% percent of the picture

If this is what you have to complain about, you are quite certainly going to be just fine.

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