Monday, September 17, 2007

You cannot open the frontiers if you want 100 percent probability that nothing is going to go wrong.
Dan Goldin, former head of NASA, reflecting on the possible loss of Steve Fossett.


Two weekends ago my daughter had a brush with immediate death. She is fine, dear readers. No need to worry. You see, she was doing something very benign; something that tens of millions of people do everyday. She went out to pick up the newspaper from the driveway.

The skies were cloudy and ominous but not terribly so. Coming back into the house, while closing the outside door, there was a powerful SMACK and an immediate boom. She, as she put it, “screamed like a girl,” and jumped into the house.

Lightning struck the street, not 20 feet from where she had been only 15 seconds before. Holding onto the steel outer door, she could even feel the discharge.

I see this as a lesson not only in our own mortality, but in taking chances.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING has a 100 percent probability that nothing can go wrong. I sit typing this in a car, outside a casino. The laptop could short circuit, giving me a sharp bite of electricity. Or perhaps the short would cause the battery to quickly heat up, possibly catching on fire or burning my leg. What if some miscreant grabbed my computer off my lap and ran, or worse, threatened my life?

Driving to work? I have been driving for more than 25 years and quite throughly understand that it is a crap shoot.

The reality is that we are not immortal. We are going to die sooner or later. The preference is of course later... much later.

Knowing that reality, why not take a few chances in life. Mitigating the possible damage in case of failure is of course a good thing. Don't jump in and tilt at that windmill without making sure you have a sturdy horse.

The simple things: Don't sky dive with World War II surplus equipment; Don't scuba dive with empty tanks; Don't take up street-luge on a busy six-lane highway. That sort of thing.

I guess the point is this: Take that chance but cover your ass. You may need it the next time you try something. Now, if you will pardon me please, I have some lightening rods to put up.

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