Sweat the small stuff

Via Twitter, The Fix’s Chris Ciillizza of the Washington Post asks an intriguing question:


Does it worry anyone else that a massive plane can be brought down by a flock of birds?

Any minute now, someone will propose that all airplanes have an additional engine and be wrapped in rabbit wire. Sometimes you just can’t plan for the little stuff that creates big problems. And that got me thinking about some of the little things:

  • September 11th never would’ve happened without a 99 cent boxcutter. Thousands died, two wars started, and an economy went in the tank.
  • A small chunk of foam — the kind we hit our siblings with just for fun — put a small nick in the space shuttle Columbia, causing it to burn up on re-entry.
  • An Eastern Airlines L-1011 crashed into the Florida Everglades in 1972, killing 94 passengers and 5 crewmembers, because a burned out light bulb in an indicator light diverted the pilots’ attention from flying the airplane.
  • A relatively inexpensive valve broke at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant in 1979 after a pump stopped working, triggering the only partial nuclear core meltdown in U.S. history.

    It’s always something — often something small. Feel free to add to the list.

    • Bonnie

      Mrs. O’Reilly’s cow?

    • Bonnie

      Woops, I guess not. It was Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

    • Bob Dobalina

      Only 537 votes sent G. W. Bush to the White House–appointed by the right-wing Supreme Court, as everyone knows. The result? The worst president in history. The sheer magnitude of destruction left in his wake is astounding. Thanks god our long national nightmare called the Bush administration is finally at an end!!!

    • Carina

      The O ring that led to the Challenger explosion.

    • bsimon

      “someone will propose that all airplanes have an additional engine and be wrapped in rabbit wire.”

      that would be impractical.

      how about issuing the Marshals some shotguns & having them do double-duty protecting the flying public from boxcutters and inadvertent fowl injestion.

    • Bob

      Hate to correct you on 9/11 but, among other things, it was a massive U.S. intelligence failure/lack of communication between the CIA and FBI that led to 9/11, not a boxcutter.

      I like Bob D.’s observation about how a very small number of votes put The Worst President in History in office.

      How about the fact that several recent highly destructive CA fires have been started by a match or a discarded cig?

    • Paul

      Birds also prevented the B-1 bomber, the most expensive warplane in history until very recently, from flying the missions it was designed to. It was supposed to fly low and fast under radar, but a bird in the engine brought one down and at 500 million a piece they just couldn’t take that chance anymore so the B-1 became the most expensive conventional bomber ever built.

    • Bob Collins

      //Hate to correct you on 9/11 but, among other things, it was a massive U.S. intelligence failure/lack of communication between the CIA and FBI that led to 9/11, not a boxcutter.

      Sure, we can go there, and have another big philosophical brouhaha about the Bush years. But in its most elemental form — the part where people die and things are set in motion — it was a box cutter to a flight attendant’s throat.

    • Pops W

      I guess if I’m going to join in & be this anal too…I better get one of ya’all to recomend a lax for me. Really…there is a disease for people who sweat all the small stuff, it’s called obsessive compulsive disorder. I don’t guess I need to be so blunt but I just can’t get behind the idea of being so minutely detail oriented out of a fear that something unforseen is going to cause a negative ouitcome. I wouldn’t ever be able to relax and enjoy what’s going on right now!

    • Pops W

      outcome…see what I mean? lol

    • Bob

      Bob C., I still gotta say that the boxcutter wouldn’t have been there in the first place if the FBI and CIA had had their act together. That statement isn’t intended to start a brouhaha of any kind, and isn’t a slam on Bush; the incompetence of these agencies vis-a-vis info sharing was a decades-long condition.

    • MN

      If something other than a boxcutter had been used the outcome would be different – something less threatening wouldn’t have the same effect, but something more threatening probably wouldn’t have made it past security.

    • Bob Collins

      Most of our processes to determine the point of failure involve a consideration of the large, not the small. That was the only point, which I’m now sorry I made. (g).

      I was originally going to stay with the aviation theme and point out that — forget birds — that if people knew how little actual mass there is an airplane, they wouldn’t get on one. They’re entirely safe, no question about, but part of that sense of safety is the illusion of mass.

    • Beryl K Gullsgate

      After 9/11 many wrapped themselves in duct tape and plastic…just made breathing freely pretty difficult,eh? Later we began and continue to build walls to keep others out…which essentially just keeps us in?

      The risk factor is a narrow ridge between absolutes and creative response. (Give philosopher Martin Buber credit for that one)

      The risk factor is life itself in all its delicious or dialectical or devious anticipations?

      It is the risk factor not of our own choosing…that’s the rub. Like the Palestinian child who steps outside her doorstep to feel the morning sun on her face and is instantly reduced to bloody body parts her mother cannot recognize…

    • Elizabeth T

      2000 microscopic Bacillus anthracis bacteria – general estimate for the infectious dose (how much you need to have to actually catch the disease). Such a teeeeny tiiiiiny ittttsy biitsy bit of biological gunk. Look at the immense impact to the daily operation of the United States government after the anthrax letters in Oct. ’01.

      Pops W – this isn’t obsessive compulsive – it’s just fun intellectual exercise.