Friday, October 08, 2010

Fiery Debate

Yesterday I was discussing the sad case of  Gene Cranick with a co-worker. Cranick recently lost his rural Tennessee home to fire- while firefighters stood by , watching and doing nothing as Cranick's house, including three dogs and a cat, burned to the ground.

Cranick, it turns out, had not payed his annual 'fire subscription' fee to the neighboring municipality that provides emergency service, so their Fire Department refused to help him. The trucks eventually arrived after the fire spread to his neighbor's house, but even after they arrived they refused Cranick's pleas for help. Cranick and his neighbor both offered money and were rejected.

I found this to be appalling. Save the house and worry about the money later. Make the poor bastard pay a huge fine  ( not to mention a higher insurance rate), but save the house and the animals first.

My co-worker, an older woman named Grimm, thought otherwise.  She contended that he got what he deserved since he didn't pay the subscription fee. If the rules aren't enforced, she argued, what good are they? Too bad about his house, but he knew the rules.

That was my point, sort of. Some rules are inherently no good. Enforcing them only makes it worse. Any rule that forces firefighters to stand idly by and watch a family's home burn is worse than useless; it is harmful.

Grimm, who is a loudly self-professed Christian, warned me of the 'slippery slope' of  liberalism and public services. Where do we draw the line?, she asked. How much service do you want to provide? Does the government have an obligation to walk your dog or wash your  dishes?

This absurd leap-o- all-logic is typical of those who regurgitate Fox News propaganda.  Implying  that free public dish-washing  is a logical extension  of public emergency services reduces the argument to absurdity. It is the rhetorical equivalent of capsizing the chessboard when you don't like the way the pieces are lined up. The idea is to move the argument into new, friendlier territory, such as the floor or the realms of fantasy and delusion.

I had a real-life question: What happens if a data entry error wrongly causes the system to display a paid-in-full  subscriber as being in arrears? What if someone calls for emergency help and is turned down because of a typographical mistake? Lives could be lost because of a typo or computer glitch.  If 'pay-per-service' becomes a widespread reality, such mistakes are guaranteed to happen.

Grimm thought that was a "far-fetched" scenario. That kind of mistake would never happen, she said. There would be quality control to prevent such things from happening.

I reminded her that our  company's travel department has quality control and on my recent trip to Florida, the hotel couldn't find my reservation due to a data entry error. That mistake ruined my night, but not as badly as if my house had been burning and they'd misplaced my fire department payment instead of my room reservation.

Our debate was interrupted by a sudden power outage. After a moment, the emergency lights flicked on and a few minutes later the PA crackled a message to stay calm and leave the building.  We didn't know it at the time , but an underground electrical station had caught fire, sending flames up through the sidewalk grates and manholes. Luckily no one was hurt, but many buildings lost power and closed early. I was lucky and got a ride home before the traffic snarled.

Grimm was not so lucky.

The next day she told me that all the  nearby ATM machines were out-of-order due to the fire and that she couldn't withdraw any cash to pay the attendant at the lot where she parked.

The attendant, she huffed, would not listen to reason. She had to walk ten blocks to find a working ATM and by that time the traffic was hopeless.

Gosh. That's too bad. But rules are rules and what good are they if you don't enforce them?


billy pilgrim said...

i shared a room in a sanitarium with a guy named eliot who had very strong feelings about paid vs volunteer firemen. maybe he was right.

billy pilgrim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angel said...

Did she even see the irony in her being upset about the parking attendant!?

I am quite frankly stunned that something like that would even happen in a country as supposedly first-world as the USA!! Why did the firemen even bother going there if they weren't going to do anything!?!??!?

Its like something out of Terry Pratchett's stories where Ankh-Morpork is run by a collection of "guilds" to which fees are paid. For example, if your card is "stamped" for that month you won't be mugged or burgled or some such.