Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back from Germany

I'm trying to switch back from the German keyboard, which switches y's and z's, among other things. Interesting how plastic the brain is in this sort of thing. More on that tomorrow.

We had checked five pieces of luggage on the flight from Frankfurt to Charlotte, and I noticed for the first time that baggage retrieval from the conveyor is a tragedy of the commons. Everyone crowds around the large oval that slowly rotates the newly retrieved bags. Everyone tries to see around his neighbor to keep an eye on what's coming down the line. If you're positioned on the flat part of the circuit, this means you can't see very far without leaning out. A better solution would be if everyone took about three steps back, and only stepped forward to grab a bag. Then you could see much more, much more easily AND not trip over people when dragging a large suitcase off the belt. But to the individual, it always seems better to go as far forward as possible, making the optimal group solution impossible. This sort of thing could be fixed with tape on the floor and signs or something (perhaps). It's a good example of how a simple rule could make things better for everyone. When I "landed" our largest suitcase, I was dragged along the edge of the conveyor trying to heave it over another bag. I felt like I'd hooked a giant fish that was pulling me through the gaggle of other people crowded around the conveyor.

I did a fair amount of reading on vacation, including Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead, which is about his time in a Siberian prison as a political prisoner. The book is remarkable for a number of reasons, but the one that I want to highlight is his description of what I called Blue Hat Syndrome in another blog post, where he describes officers that have been promoted from the lower ranks:
Their promotion turns everything topsy-turvy in them, including their brains. After groaning under the yoke for years and passing through every subordinate grade, they suddenly see themselves officers, gentlemen in command, and in the first intoxication of their position their inexperience leads them to an exaggerated idea of their power and importance; only in relation to their subordinates, of course. To their superior officer they show the same servility as ever, though it is utterly unnecessary and even revolting to many people. Some of these servile fellows hasten with peculiar zest to declare to their superior officers that they come from the lower ranks, thought they are officers, and that "they never forget their place." But with the common soldiers they are absolutely autocratic.
He notes a characteristic of BHS that I had missed in my post: that their behavior depends much on the audience. Dostoevsky also describes the fall of such a man--the Major who ruled the prison--after a trial had found him guilty of some malfeasance:
He retired, sold his pair of greys, and then his whole property, and even sank into poverty. We came across him afterwards, a civilian wearing a shabby coat and cap with a cockade in it. He looked viciously at the convicts. But all his prestige went with this uniform. In a uniform he was a terrible, a deity. In civil dress he became absolutely a nonentity, and looked like a lackey. It's wonderful what the uniform does for men like that.
Tomorrow I'll describe some thoughts about my reading material for the flight home: My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor.

No comments:

Post a Comment