the Culture11 stuff

So in the aftermath of Culture11’s implosion I’ve seen a good deal of commentary. Much of it has been very kind, and a good deal of just praise has been handed out to the folks who ran the site. Others, on both the left and the right, have expressed the usual varieties of Schadenfreude. Particularly noteworthy among these have been the folks who say, “Well of course it failed, and here are the utterly obvious reasons why, which anyone in their right senses would have seen from the start.” To all the Schadenfreudians, but especially that last group, I have nothing to say — but I know someone who does. Take it away, Maestro:

“On those long and drunken evenings (the bane of their family life) certain theorems would be propounded and demonstrated — and all by code and example. One theorem was: There are no accidents and no fatal flaws in the machines; there are only pilots with the wrong stuff. (I.e., blind Fate can't kill me.) When Bud Jennings crashed and burned in the swamps at Jacksonville, the other pilots in Pete Conrad’s squadron said: How could he have been so stupid? In turned out that Jennings had gone up in the SNJ with his cockpit canopy opened in a way that was expressly forbidden in the manual, and carbon monoxide had been sucked in from the exhaust, and he passed out and crashed. All agreed that Bud Jennings was a good guy and a good pilot, but his epitaph on the ziggurat was: How could he have been so stupid? This seemed shocking at first, but by the time Conrad had reached the end of that bad string at Pax River, he was capable of his own corollary to the theorem: viz., no single factor ever killed a pilot; there was always a chain of mistakes. But what about Ted Whelan, who fell like a rock from 8,100 feet when his parachute failed? Well, the parachute was merely part of the chain: first, someone should have caught the structural defect that resulted in the hydraulic leak that triggered the emergency; second, Whelan did not check out his seat-parachute rig, and the drogue failed to separate the main parachute from the seat; but even after those two mistakes, Whelan had fifteen or twenty seconds, as he fell, to disengage himself from the seat and open the parachute manually. Why just stare at the scenery coming up to smack you in the face! And everyone nodded. (He failed — but I wouldn't have!) Once the theorem and the corollary were understood, the Navy’s statistics about one in every four Navy aviators dying meant nothing. The figures were averages, and averages applied to those with average stuff.”