Although the weather report had called for only a light cloud cover and no rain in the forecast, the clouds hung ominously low in the sky as I began my drive. My primary objective for the day was to deliver my daughter’s computer charger to her. She had left it behind the last time she stayed the weekend with me and she now needed it as her computer, her lifeline to the free world, had given her its last. The temperature hovered somewhere in the upper sixties as I eased the car onto its first of the sixty miles I needed to close to complete my mission. I made a cursory mental note of how the weather vacillated dramatically between the sweltering heat and humidity of yesterday to the almost fall-like experience with which we were provided today to serve as the backdrop for whatever lie ahead. As I drove, raindrops began to lightly dot my windshield. A few minutes passed and I was forced to turn on the wipers as the raindrops grew larger and more frequent.
“Idiot weathermen.” I thought as I laughed at the 0% chance of precipitation that was predicted. I suddenly felt anger towards the entire lot of them and their profession. Although not an original thought (albeit an unexpected and random one), I couldn’t help but to wonder, silently, as to how some people are able to earn a living by being wrong as often as they are right. How can some people be wrong, so often, with complete impunity? Why isn’t this luxury afforded to us all? There’s a saying that Economists and Weathermen are the only professions where you can can make a living by being wrong half of the time. Nouriel Roubini, anyone? Here’s a guy who became famous, as an economist, because he made ONE right prediction, eight years ago. Granted, it was a big one, but since then, I believe he bats about .500. I’m sure that his checks still clear, however and there is no shortage of CNBC pundits who clamor to add “Dr. Doom” to their panel of “experts” on the regular.
In my life, it would seem as of late, no one has missed an opportunity to remind me of a time in my past when I was wrong. No matter how long ago it may have been, I have been forced to re-live the consequences of these decisions over and again in my mind. Forget all of the decisions I made that resulted in a wonderful life for sixteen or seventeen years of my married life. Those don’t count, apparently. Forget that these decisions were made with the best possible outcomes in mind. That doesn’t count either. Perhaps it is because the consequences of the decisions made have led to this point in my life. Does this happen to everyone? I couldn’t help but to wonder. How is it possible for one to move beyond events in one’s life if his past is constantly being thrust back in his face? I applied this line of thought to the aforementioned weatherman.
I tried to imagine what the demeanor and posture would be of a television weather personality who, immediately before taking to the airwaves, was reminded of all of the forecasts that were wrong. Perhaps he could be shown images of all of the family picnics that were ruined. Maybe he could review a comprehensive list or a video reminder of the vacation plans that were dashed, the fishing trips spoiled, the road trips that were undertaken because he sounded the “All Clear” which suddenly became perilous or, perhaps, even deadly simply because he made a mistake. I imagined that (if this were to actually happen, that is) the result would be a broken man, with sunken shoulders and a stooped neck slinking, almost apologetically, into camera view with no confidence in what he was about to say. I imagined a man who was afraid to say anything because he was now keenly aware of the weight of his words and the possible consequences of being wrong. He would try to muster some sort of conviction as he spoke of things to come but they would, undoubtedly, ring hollow. He would be unable to make anyone believe him. This would, most likely, be the posture and mindset of anyone who was forced to live, day in, and day out, with constant reminders of his mistakes or miscalculations.
But this doesn’t happen. Does it? If the weather forecast is wrong and we get rained on or, conversely, our grass goes brown due to the failure of the rain to materialize, we don’t blame the weatherman. After all, he is simply making a prediction based on computer models that incorporate available data to formulate a probable outcome. That’s what we all do, though. We compile and sort through the volumes of data that we accumulate through living and try to make some sort of a prediction of what the results of any given action, or actions, may be. Sometimes we’re wrong. Mostly, though, we’re right, or right enough to fake the rest.
Sometimes the predictions are as easy as the possible outcomes of crossing the street against the light. Sometimes the predictions are a bit more involved. Many important decisions in life are made with limited data. They have to be. If one waited to have all of the data related to all possible outcomes of a decision, the decision would never get made. How many people take out a 30-year mortgage, for instance? They do this even though they have no way of predicting what their financial situation will be in 30 years. Perhaps their health takes a turn for the worse and their earning potential declines substantially. Maybe they lose their job or the industry in which they work changes dramatically and they no longer command the same income relative to their acquired skill-set. The same holds true for a 60 month car loan, for that matter.
The fact is that we have to make many of life’s major decisions based on predictions that assume at least static, if not improving circumstances and that the possible negative outcomes of these decisions may be years in the distance, if at all. This is where it gets tricky, I suppose. What happens when we make several predictions like these concurrently? What if the most unlikely confluence of circumstances arises and the negative consequences of all of these decisions begin to create a sort of negative feedback loop in our lives, each feeding on the other, until the noise of it is intolerable?
On July 1st of 1940, a bridge was opened in Pierce County, Washington. This bridge served to span Puget Sound and connect the city of Tacoma with the Kitsap Peninsula. This bridge was of the suspension type. This means, simply put, that most of the structure was suspended over Puget Sound by heavy cables that supported the weight of the bridge between massive towers that bore the load imposed by those cables. If there are any engineers reading this (I could make several recommendations on how your time could be better spent) you already know that this is no easy feat and requires extensive planning and even more mathematical expertise to calculate and reconcile innumerable forces that the bridge could have to withstand.
Four months after the bridge’s grand opening, however, the impossible happened (technically not impossible because it did, in fact happen). High winds were able to initiate a vibration in the bridge structure that, due to the span length being what it was, developed into what physicists would call a Resonant Standing Wave. The result is that the entire bridge structure, thousands of tons steel and concrete, began to undulate in the wind which eventually resulted in the collapse of the entire structure. It wasn’t the weight of the traffic on the bridge that brought it down. It was wind. Wind that blew at exactly the right speed to initiate a vibration at just the right frequency in order for it to propagate across that particular span and create the wave that brought it down. I’ll bet they didn’t see that one coming. That goes to my point. Bridges aren’t just thrown up, as my grandmother would have said, “all willy nilly like”. They are carefully designed and heavily invested in. They are designed to last for a hundred years and yet this happened. Copy and paste the link. I’m not making this up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-zczJXSxnw
I suppose, through all of this, the fact remains that there is a certain element of risk to any decision or group thereof. What is the alternative? Can one not make any decisions and thus be safe from negative consequences? Neil Pert (lyricist and drummer, extraordinaire, for rock’s power trio RUSH) would disagree because “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” (Good luck with that ear worm. You’re welcome). No. We have to continue to make decisions and try to predict the possible outcomes without having a complete data-set. We have to make assumptions to fill in the gaps where we wish hard data could be. Sometimes, as is the case with the Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1940, data is still not enough because hard facts can only help us navigate around the foreseeable outcomes. How many outcomes are unforeseeable? That, of course, is unknowable.
Still, we are all surrounded with rear-view mirror prognosticators who are more than happy to tell you what you should, or shouldn’t have done to prevent certain events from unfolding. Even better are those who are unafraid to let you know that if only you would have asked them, they would have told you exactly what course of action should have been undertaken if only you would have been wise enough to seek their counsel. What really brings it all home, though, are those who, based on the outcome of decisions you have made, decide that they are better off without you. Losing the trust and faith that someone once placed in you is the worst part of it all.
Tomorrow, (as ridiculous as it may sound) I will listen to the weatherman again before I make some of the most basic decisions of the day (like what to wear, for instance). I will watch that cheery, cherub-faced Fool pretend to tell the future and, what’s worse, I will believe him and plan my short-term existence around his words as it pertains to outdoor activities or my attire. I know that there’s a chance he could be wrong. I’ll listen anyway. The ramifications of those decisions won’t live beyond tomorrow. That is the hope, anyway.