Saturday, March 7, 2009

Anonymity - A Curse

I want to know who it was. And I never find out.

Some of the big shots we hear about. John Thain, a wonderful target of hate. I think he should be hung. Bernard Madoff, ditto.

But the media shield the individuals who I also want to hear about. We know that the Challenger disaster was due to faulty O-ring materials. Wikipedia: "The material of the failed O-ring was FKM which was specified by the shuttle motor contractor, Morton-Thiokol. FKM is not a good material for cold temperature applications." OK, it was Morton-Thiokol - but that's a company! Who was it who did it? There had to be a few engineers who chose that material, who then did not test it or didn't think what the cold would do to it, etc. We're talking personal responsibility here! Who done it? You'll never know who it was in the bowels of the company who did it - and who didn't do what they could have.

What about the Hubble Telescope reflector disaster? We know it was the Perkin-Elmer corporation that screwed up, and that NASA could easily have caught it. Wikipedia: When the Board measured the RNC, the lens was incorrectly spaced from the mirrors. Calculations of the effect of such displacement on the primary mirror show that the measured amount, 1.3 mm, accounts in detail for the amount and character of the observed image blurring. No verification of the reflective null corrector's dimensions was carried out by Perkin-Elmer after the original assembly. There were, however, clear indications of the problem from auxiliary optical tests made at the time, the results of which have been studied by the Board. A special optical unit called an inverse null corrector, designed to mimic the reflection from a perfect primary mirror, was built and used tpalign the apparatus; when so used, it clearly showed the error in the reflective null corrector. A second null corrector, made only with lenses, was used to measure the vertex radius of the fished primary mirror. It, too, clearly showed the error in the primary mirror. Both indicators of error were discounted at the time as being themselves flawed.

I want to know - who were these miscreants? Who were the John Thain's at Perkin-Elmer and at NASA? In Japan I imagine there would be public apologies and humblings, and as a consequence they quality of their automobiles would be awesome. But here - no personal identification, and we have the specter of bankruptcies as the wages of sins past. I want to know.

What about AIG? Who were the people in the London office who personally devised the credit default swaps strategy and placed the bets? I want to know who did it! It isn't just AIG - who did it? I don't go for that "it's bureaucracy" stuff. Somebody does it personally. I want to know who to hate. Maybe in this case we will find out. It's really so huge, the economic journalists surely see a bonanza in a Barbarians at the Gate type story and an interview on Jon Stewart.

We sometimes hear about heroes. Like thalidomide, as in Wikipedia again: "The impact in the United States was minimized when Frances Oldham Kelsey refused FDA-approval for an application." Now, she was someone in the bowels of the bureaucracy who became a hero, deservedly. But if she had been the person on the other side of the problem, if she could have saved the day for hundreds of patients but didn't, we would never have heard of her. It would have been "the FDA bureacracy" that failed.

I think we need more individual responsibility recognized publicly. It's not "bureaucracies" that act, it's people within those bureaucracies. Sure, there are strong organizational factors, but there is personal responsibility. People acting on their own we hear about; people in companies are shielded.

I had thought for a while that I'd like to do a weekly column, hopefully published in the Maui News, but that's such a mainstream publication I'd really probably have to put it into the local free newspaper, entitled Who I Hate. Or, as somebody said, How to Make 52 Enemies a Year. But because companies shield miscreants, it's probably a project that will never be. Also it won't ever be because I'm too lazy.

Feel free to place into nomination your own "I wish I knew who did it so I could hate him or her personally."

Budd Shenkin

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