Sunday, September 14, 2008

A qualified neighbor

They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska. -Govenor Sarah Palin on her qualifications for dealing with Russia.

Why didn't anybody tell me this new standard for qualification? Man! The whole world has opened up to me! If you only need to be able to see something to be qualified to deal with it, to be its neighbor, I have been selling myself waaaay short.

So, tomorrow I'm replacing a natural gas heating plant in house across town. I know I don't have any training at this stort of thing, nor the tools necessary, and hell if i were to be totally honest here I don't even really know which pipe goes where and can't tell the difference between the ones that have high-pressure hot water and the ones that have explosive natural gas, but I am "focused on the mission" and allow me to be perfectly clear about this: My neighbor Earl (no lie- his name is Earl), who's house I can see if I turn my head slightly to the right while typing this post, is a talented and accomplished plumbing contractor. There you have it. I can see it from where I live and that is obviously enough. Sweet!

Another neighbor of mine is a trawler captain. He grew up fishing, says that he knows his boat better than his wife, has 40 years of experience on the sea, rode out the Perfect Storm all that. Pfffft! Dude, I can SEE HIS HOUSE. Right now, I'm looking at it right now! Bring it on! Sure I have no clue how to strip a diesel, true I am not exactly clear on which species are available at what times, ok, I'll give you that if I were to catch even one fish I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to do with it...NO MATTER! I can see both his house AND his truck from my very living room! I am ready to be given the helm. I should probably go buy one of those yellow fishing-guy hats.

Dudes, I have a neighbor who is a nurse, her husband is an engineer at a high-tech company, I have a neighbor who is a management consultant, a roofer, a firefighter, like three or four contractors, a couple more fishermen, a mechanic and a daycare provider. Why has no one told me that as long as I live close to these people knowledge of their unique realities is instantly transferred to me?

But we have to remember that Palin's argument is that she's qualified to take on the second largest collection of hydrogen bombs on the planet, a country with hundreds of years of complex internal and external relations, that spurned worldwide political movements shaping the 20th century, one that's changing economic and political role on the global stage is a total wild card based on the fact that from a far-flung island in the Bering Straits one can see an island belonging to a distant autonomous Russian province best known for being the brunt of bawdy canibal jokes. She never said that she's actually seen it, but that you CAN see it.

So, people, from my roof, when the leaves are gone, you CAN see down to the helipad of our local Coast Guard small boat station. They regularly land H-60 rescue helicopters there. They are the Coast Guard version of the Army's Blackhawk helicopter, with extended fuel capability, advanced sensors and a rescue hoist. You can totally see it, right from my roof if you stand next to the chimney.

Yup, Yessir, I am ready. I will not blink. Sure there are people who've spent their entire careers preparing for that particular job. But that's not what I think people want in their rescue pilots. I think, when you're trapped on a roof and the floodwaters are rising or your stricken vessel is being pushed by the storm surge into the rocks, rather than have some nerdy wonk who spent his life studying esoteric topics like the so-called "Coriolis Effect," which I am incapable of articulating effectively and I'm not sure I even believe exists, I think people would rather have a helo pilot who reflects their everyday concerns and values. Someone who brings to the table not a working knowledge of how variable wind shear loads caused by Cat 3 weather conditions will effect a fully articulated rotor hub, but someone with a good gut instinct and horse-sense brought by being a "regular person." Certainly there would be no desire for someone sequestered away in the ivory towers of flight schools, spending time in the walled gardens of USCG air stations and who demonstrates a practiced ability to, say land safely on the decks of a cutter at night in rough conditions like they are some kind of hot-shot. What does that prove? That would be the last thing someone in dire need of rescue-at-sea would want.

I am ready to start on day one. Give me the keys [question: do they have keys? Need an answer on this by January!]