Monday, June 30, 2014

Repairs and Discretion

Today was a busy day. I fixed two things and allowed one thing to remain broken.

Today we moved on from the old fashioned open air lifeboats to the newer sort of enclosed lifeboats. These newer sort are much more expensive, but are fireproof, weatherproof, and waterproofed to a substantial degree so that the occupants can spend much less time fighting the elements and more time bemoaning their hunger and stranding. As a point of reference, the old sort of lifeboat looks like a large canoe, but these new sort look like the orange lifeboat from Captain Phillips, though ours here at Piney Point Penitentiary is much smaller and more cramped.

A lifeboat sits on a crane, scaffold and track structure called a davit that allows it to be easily loaded and deployed in an emergency. Ours looks like this:
For a sense of scale, that white box is about chest high, and that concrete part of the support pillar is 2.5 times taller than me.
The last few classes haven't been able to play with our full scale modern davit because the lines which secure the lifeboat in place while at rest, the gripes, were broken. If you had to guess who fixed them today, would you guess that it was me? If so, you would be wrong. This is serious heavy equipment with multiple moving parts each capable of maiming and killing an untrained or incautious user and should only be fixed or used at all by trained professionals. I, however, worked at the top of that platform halfway up the right side atop the ladder, under full supervision, completely replacing the hooks and shackles at the end of the forward gripe line, essentially rebuilding everything except the steel wire itself, and then installed it onto the davit. All under supervision and with instruction, of course, but for all that blather in the last post about daydreaming of wealth and leisure, this is really why I quit my office job-- for a chance to work with machinery substantially larger than I and make it perform superhuman functions flawlessly. I am still all hopped up from the excitement, though, curiously, I wasn't excited at the time, just interested, happy, and completely focused. It was only after finally climbing back down that ladder that the inexplicable excitement hit.

Then, in the library, disaster struck. While making my monitoring rounds, I walked into the men's restroom to find that one of the urinals was overflowing badly and still running. I searched desperately for a shutoff valve, but none was accessible to me. I fiddled with the handle, to no avail. I tried prying off the pipe cap in hopes that a shutoff valve would be forthcoming, but without tools the task defeated me. Then, with wet shoes and frustrated mind, I smacked the upper piping with the meat of my palm and swore, and whatever part was too loose or too tight or had fallen into the wrong position righted itself at my command. The flow of water stopped and drained quickly both down the toilet drain and the floor drain. No plumbing was done on my part, since I am a mere layman to the science, but lo, for I have transcended plumbing into the higher realm of magic. With a mere caustic vocalization and flick of the arm I have made myself the victor over the trials of porcelain.

The third trial of the day, the one by which I was defeated, involved not machines but the affairs of men. The lifeboat instructor, a retired captain of great competency and odd opinions, decided to begin pontificating about all that was wrong with the world. In his tale he wove a grand fabric of villains (mostly republicans) plotting for nebulous reasons to oppress and enervate our fair republic and causing through legislation and symbolic acts of speech the collapse of our economy and the impoverishment of all good people (the "middle class") and opposed themselves only through the valiant rearguard actions of our heroes, Labor and the Democratic Party (and Bill Clinton. In fact, mostly Bill Clinton). It wasn't so much that his story was wrong as that it was completely nonsensical and filled with nonsequiturs. There were things with which I could agree, mostly regarding the general perfidy of politicians, but the things with which I could even have attempted to push back on were no more than the merest of statements, wholly unsupported and merely taken as priors by all men of good thinking. To even begin to get at the root of his mistakes would require going deep into his rational faculties to demonstrate how to think about a topic in a structured and self-consistent fashion. And when the madness began to feed off the similar madness of two very talkative, likeminded students I found every fibre of my being screaming out that someone is saying something that is inconsistent with both itself and readily observable facts of reality.

But what would be the point? These are not men who argue for the sake of truth but for the sake of victory. A good argument for them is one in which the opponent shuts up first. And bring the subject over to something in which they have genuine expertise, like basketball, line handling, or automobiles and they will demonstrate astonishing powers of recall and processing. The mental capability is clearly there, and so equally clearly not applied to political or spiritual topics (he also likes fortune tellers, spirit mediums, and the like). Agreeing to disagree is nice in theory, but much less so in practice for someone as neurotic about consistency in thought as I. At the end of the day (or, in this case, as class began), I kept my mouth shut because, for all that a hypothetical course in clear thinking might have benefited both the instructor and my classmates, what would I be getting out of the arrangement? A little bit, to be sure, both in terms of a more informed populace and in terms of my own ego, but hardly enough to justify the effort even if I thought it unlikely to be aborted at the first sign of difficulty.

People suck. Machines are fantastic.

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