Fault Tolerance

You pay the insurance bills every month.  Car, home, life – they’re all about the same, a bet against yourself that you actually hope is money wasted.  But when things go wrong, like a drunk driver smacking into you one sunny day, it’ll be there when you need it.  If you listen to the commercials, what you get for your money is peace of mind.  It should help you sleep at night without anxiety.

Insurance is just the ultimate form of taking care of when things go bad.  Building fault tolerance into a system so that it never gets that far is a far more complicated and thoughtful process.  Anyone who designs a system of some kind – a physical thing or a process that involves checks and balances – is probably going to be proud enough of their achievement to not want to think about when things go horrible wrong and the whole thing breaks.  But that’s exactly what needs to happen for it to be truly robust.  It’s also something that a culture or society has to think about ultimately, painful as it may be.

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Obama Doctrine

The term echoes through the chattering classes as if it has meaning.  “What is the Obama Doctrine?”  It’s a question being asked by any analyst who wants (desperately) to be taken seriously as we wait for the Presidential address on our latest not-war in Libya.  The question seems reasonable on the surface if you are left wondering why we intervene in some places and not others, like this excellent Daily Show routine with John Oliver.  But the framework of an “Obama Doctrine” reveals that the asker doesn’t care as much about the situation as their own ability to talk about it – by putting it back into terms a US audience might have a chance of paying attention to.

An “Obama Doctrine” is popular largely because the idea helps people who want to keep their cushy jobs.

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It came up naturally over dinner, or at least naturally to me.  It started with a wonderful buffet with Liz at the U Garden that included General Tso’s Chicken, a spicy dish that has always intrigued me.  I remembered a story that it was named for the General who defeated the Moslems in the 13th Century at the Western fringes of China – which was apparently completely wrong.  A quick look at wikipedia shows that he was the general who defeated the Taiping Rebellion in China in the 1850s – with a little help from the British.  The chicken dish?  It was probably invented later by a refugee who spiced it with a sarcastic moniker to accent the chile pepper.

Aside from my being completely wrong about a tidbit of history, the story highlighted something that always fascinates me.  Nearly everything in our world has a story hidden behind it somewhere – a tale of intrigue, suffering, triumph, and perhaps tragedy.  It turns out that General Tso is even more interesting than I knew and perhaps might be the centerpiece of an excellent movie – one that explains a lot about China today.  But as Liz and I kept talking and eating we came up with even more examples of great biographies that are never told.  I’ll bet you have some, too.

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Boundary Failure

Now that my son is 10 it seems that we always wind up talking about cars when we’re driving somewhere.  It’s classic father-son bonding, enhanced by shows like TopGear when we’re not in the car.  “They were talking about the new computer controlled suspensions,” he told me, “But they didn’t like them because when they lose control it happens suddenly and they preferred to use their own skill as drivers on a manual suspension that gives way slowly.”

Several points came to me quickly.  One is that George is definitely just like his Dad on this stuff.  The other is that he was talking about something that comes up an awful lot lately – and not just in cars or other engineering design.  We live in a world where we’ve learned to control just about everything that fits into our pre-designed limits – and then, like a 10-year-old boy, the world seems to race out to test those limits to see what happens.  I don’t even know if there is a good term for this phenom.  I’ll call it a “boundary failure”.

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Haru.  It’s a common name in Japanese anime.  It can be either a boy or a girl, but it’s almost always used for a young character full turmoil that they overcome, gradually developing an inner confidence and a radiance of quiet strength.  That’s because in Japanese “Haru” means “Spring”.

Today, on the first full day of Spring in Japan and across the northern hemisphere the tragedy and anxiety threatens to consume us through our diet of news.  It may not seem particularly fitting for the season of life, but in many ways it is exactly what Spring is all about.

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