Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Miracle on the Hudson" Co-Pilot is My Neighbor

Jeffrey Skiles, the co-pilot to Chesley Sullenberger, the only pilot in the history of commercial aviation to ditch a plane in water with no deaths or major injuries, lives in my town, Oregon WI. Jeff and Barb Skiles, my phone book informs me, live over on Foxridge Rd. As you know, Skyles and Sullenberger thoroughly searched the plane to be sure no one had been left behind, before abandoning it themselves.

"Well," you may be thinking, "aren't you special!" Actually I draw almost the opposite conclusion. What the press often reports as "heroism" must be very common, or the human race would never have survived the first million years of its battles with the unforgiving and indifferent cruelty of nature.

Notice how all those ferry boats appeared around the plane, quickly pulling passengers to safety. That river water was barely above freezing. Go into that and you have minutes to live. Meanwhile, the public servants who are paid to rescue people were flying uselessly overhead in helicopters. If these the passengers had waited for Leviathan to lumber into motion, there would have been deaths. Fortunately, there are plenty of decent people around who do their jobs skillfully and find it embarrassing to be called heroes.

Added Later: I'm not really sure what I should think of calling all the people who saved lives here heroes. I don't mind doing so, provided that we realize that we are reconfiguring the idea of a hero. We're no longer going with the Hercules/El Cid/George Washington paradigm. Notice that two of these were real people, who actually did heroic things -- so the old idea shouldn't be abandoned (if we do so) because it was unrealistic. Indeed, Sullenberger is something of a Hercules, isn't he? BTW, on the matter of being embarrassed to be called a hero, take a look at this.


Skip said...

Why the cheap shot about public servants? The boats there were presumably in much closer proximity than public rescue vehicles which cannot be everywhere at all times. How many public rescue boats would have fitted in the area around the plane with "all those ferry boats" that "appeared around the plane"? I'll admit it - I have no idea. If some passengers had died because all of the ferry boats had prevented people who get paid to rescue others to approach the scene, how would you have written your post differently? (I presume you would still lay the blame at the feet of the public servants for their deaths.)

Were you, say, in the Coast Guard and knowledgeable about all of the logistics of disaster rescue operations? Or just an armchair rescuer who needs only CNN to be able to hand down insults ex cathedra? Should the NY fire department be berated for their performance on 9/11 simply because of the collective nature of the department? Would a private organization paid to rescue people have done a better job in your opinion?

Comments like this sadden me because I thought you were a wonderful professor when I had a class with you. While I find much insight to be had here at your blog, such cheap shots just seem so out of character. Obviously my impressions of you were wrong.

Do you have a post here which describes what it's like to loathe the commonweal yet find employment at a public institution of learning and how you rationalize it?

I certainly wouldn't say that everything public agencies do is wonderful, so please don't misunderstand me. But what is it about working for the government that makes individuals so incompetent in your opinion? Are you a horrible waste of resources because you work for a public entity? I certainly didn't think so when I was sitting in your lecture hall. Am I a waste of resources because I work at a state agency? Or am I not merely because I am not a state employee but rather a contractor who is employed by a private firm?

It is very frustrating to read posts here which, on one hand, do what you did best in the class I had of yours: make me think; then I turn around only to be slapped in face by the obligatory "Oh, by the way, public institutions suck and their functions should be performed by private ones" which usually seem to come out of left field.

My ranting aside (and if you've read this far, you have my thanks), I ask in all seriousness in order to save me time searching: do you have a post here or an article in a journal or in any publication in which you elucidate your thoughts on what responsibilities, if any, public institutions should have? I am also keen to know why you find public institutions so offensive. Is it the taxes (and their inherent coercive nature) that are needed to fund such endeavors?

I have certainly found bits and pieces here at your blog but do you have a single repository where I can learn about your ideology?

Lester Hunt said...

It's not a cheap shot. My serious point, insofar as I had one, was not to assert that individuals are always more helpful than governments (that would be an over-generalization) but to deny the contrary claim, that states and their agents are more helpful than individuals. In case you think there is no mind-set that assumes such a thing, this author gives evidence to the contrary. One of the advantages private citizens have as rescuers is that, unlike governments and their paid agents, they are almost always nearby. This is hardly a trivial fact, for instance, in cases of criminal assault. As they say, the police are never there when you need them. If you expect to be in danger, prepare to protect yourself, or pray that your neighbors will help. The police will not serve as your bodyguards.