I was sent home by the police recently. I was stopped at a road block and in truth, I couldn’t justify my travel as essential. I explained that I was less than 5 km from home and that I was headed for a walk in order to take photographs of trees for an upcoming book. ‘That’s hardly essential work’ he said while his colleague was clearly issuing a fine to the driver ahead of me.
‘I’ll go home then’
He was very polite and thanked me for being so understanding. It was a Sunday. I should have known they’d be enforcing the rules to prevent long distance travel to the coastal amenities that I am privileged to have on my doorstep.
I think I could have argued for an exception. My form of exercise within five km is taken camera in hand. I could have walked or cycled but I chose to drive to a place where I had spotted trees of potential interest on a satellite image. I drove only because I fell recently and hurt my back. I might have said that many of the books I publish are being distributed freely to cancer patients and to friends by way of pandemic diversion. But I recognised the authority of the police and timidly, I chose to go home, powerless but many euros richer.
For no reason I can think of, unsinkable ships and corporate jets came to mind. Now I don’t expect you to follow my thoughts but perhaps they will spark something in your memory that will give you a few minutes of reflection.
One of the issues with The Titanic as it foundered in April 1912 was the new maritime telegraph system. People were so thrilled with the novelty of it that most of the telegraph traffic was from private people sending messages of greeting and mundane enquires and banal announcements of importance only to the wealthy senders. The radio room on The Titanic struggled with weak signal which was swamped by all the useless, idle chatter. This in turn created confusion in the vital moments when the unsinkable vessel with too few lifeboats needed help.
I was in a corporate jet some 40,000 feet above France when a boss realised the new cockpit satellite phone could be used to talk with someone in the office. The office was duly called and a technical crisis was averted. The true crisis was that the boss in the air needed the guy on the ground to realise who was in charge. Oneupmanship rather than insecurity got things done the boss’s way. It was an inessential call and inessential expression of hubris. But isn’t all hubris inessential?
The Titanic was bigger and faster than any predecessor. She sank due to unrealistic expectations and limited experience. The design of the ship was fatally flawed. The passengers had misplaced faith. Essential engineering redundancy was skipped because 100 m gashes in steel hulls hadn’t yet happened, couldn’t be imagined. Today, probability modelling is used. Monte Carlo and Bayesian modelling has predicted that extreme wave crests of 40 metres are possible at least once in 5000 years in the deepest oceans. Who is to say when in the 5000 year cycle? Or where? But just in case, the bulkhead compartments would have been isolated, one from another if the designers knew what we know today.
The satellite phone on that corporate flight deck was an expensive emergency measure that was put to inessential use.
My camera wasn’t put to inessential use.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?