Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Friday, July 08, 2016 :::

Last summer, if I remember it correctly, the boyfriend of a friend of my wife's died in a Florida swamp; it appears he didn't bring enough water, and didn't stay on the path, and he got lost and died of sunstroke or something similar.  I spent a few months in 2008 hiking, and what kept going through my head last August was that he died because he made a couple of mistakes — and I had probably made mistakes that were, at least by some measure, just as bad. (There was in fact a day in which I got lost wandering off the trail and ran out of water; fortunately it was in a more forgiving environment.)

In 2004, when I first heard a no-down-payment, interest-only mortgage loan advertised, I termed it "the foreclosure loan".  There were a lot of mortgage loans made in that era that were affordable if the borrower never got sick or lost a job or had a car break down and got regular raises; that is to say, they were not affordable.  If something really big and really surprising makes your financial set-up unsustainable, you can blame that, but if your financial set-up can't tolerate any relatively normal bumps in the road, the problem isn't the bump.  "Human error" in general only makes sense as a target for blame when it's somewhat beyond the normal, run-of-the-mill human error; if a system produces a disaster because of normal human error, it's a bad system.

I'm not sure I've ever done anything as dumb, in some sense, as resisting arrest, though I've done things that should be more likely, in the natural run of things, to be fatal.  I don't know how often people resist arrest, so I have no particularly good estimate of what fraction of the time that is fatal.  When someone gets killed resisting arrest, there are people who note that you shouldn't resist arrest, and (often other) people who note that doing so should not typically be fatal, and these people are, in fact, correct.  We aren't going to have a perfect system, but if we make things such that it is less likely that people's mistakes turn unnecessarily fatal, that would be, you know, super.

What's more troubling, though, is when the person who dies is not even someone who made a mistake.  Even if I don't think resisting arrest for selling bootleg CDs or cigarettes should be fatal, it's more troubling when someone in a car that is pulled over for a minor equipment violation is killed because he was reaching for his ID in response to having been told by a police officer to reach for his ID.  People die in car accidents in which they aren't at fault, and otherwise for other people's mistakes, and we're never going to get rid of all of that, but it's still very frightening when it happens.

As I noted along the way, there is some extent to which the world can never be fully tamed, and we should keep statistics in mind when assessing the scale of the problem when there are particularly salient episodes, and it's even worth keeping in mind the possibility that the best response might actually be to do nothing, but at least investigating and looking around for something better to do is surely worth the trouble.

::: posted by dWj at 12:54 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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