Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Tatiana was Framed! And what does a tiger attack have in common with the Battle of the Bulge?

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I wanted to wait until a few more facts were in evidence in the San Francisco Zoo tiger attack before commenting on this sad situation. And the truth is out, Tatiana was framed. As anyone who isn’t avoiding the mainstream media knows, a few weeks back a tiger leaped out of its enclosure at a zoo and attacked three drunken young hooligans who were standing on a railing taunting it. (Imagine the looks on those guy’s faces when Tatiana performed her superfeline leap and came at them.) Sadly the youngest boy was killed, he was only sixteen. The two older boys escaped with only a mauling. I’d say maybe they learnt a thing or two, but it’s been clear from the beginning that they learnt nothing since they tried to lie their way out of any responsibility for their actions.

In any event, damned shame about the dead teenager and the dead tiger. In a way both were victims of an unfortunate chain of events. And this chain of events and similar chains is what strikes me as interesting about this disaster. This pretty much was a classic disaster, though obviously smaller than the typical disaster; a zoo animal leaping out of its enclosure and killing a spectator is a pretty disastrous outcome for the parties involved. The thing about disasters big and small is that almost invariably there is a chain of events or a combination of circumstances that led to the unfortunate outcome. And if even one of these links in the chain had been cut, the disaster would have been mitigated or prevented.

In this tiger attack scenario there are a number of these links. First, we have the three men trying to taut the tiger. Second we have a zoo enclosure built to out of date standards. Third we have an aggressive tiger at the prime of her life in top physical condition. These three are all critical. If the wall had been higher, the men had been well behaved, or the tiger was too old or too young to scale the wall…we wouldn’t have this topic to talk about. There were some smaller links in this chain too. It was Christmas day so very few folks were at the zoo, and it was late in the day so it was dark and even fewer folks were around. And lack of a video surveillance system also figures in here. These smaller links in the chain nonetheless contributed to the outcome, since if any of them had been different there’s a better chance the drunken men would have been seen and expelled from the zoo before they got attacked.

Another excellent and quick example is the crash of the Concorde. There were four links in that chain. First, the plane had a known design flaw that made its fuel tanks vulnerable to debris kicked up from the plane’s tires. Second, the last plane that landed on the Concorde’s runway did indeed drop a chunk of metal on the runway. Third, the crew that normally visually inspected the runway before the Concorde took off was busy with a security drill, and they didn’t inspect the runway. And fourthly of course, the Concorde’s wheel hit the debris at just the right speed and angle to fire it up into the Concorde’s fuel tank and cause a disastrous fire and crash that killed 113 people. Roll the dice enough, and eventually four snake eyes in a row will come up.

People who study disasters professionally try to identify as many of these chains of events beforehand, hopefully finding critical links that can be fixed and thus prevent all sorts of problems. Obviously if the tiger wall above had been higher, the tiger wouldn’t have been able to get at the guys until they drunkenly tumbled into its pit. And if the Concorde hadn’t had the design flaw, the chunk of debris on the runway wouldn’t have been a problem.

My point here is that any time an endeavour or a project is proposed, even a layman can make a sober analysis of potential disaster chains and come up with a considered opinion as the the wisdom of the proposed project. (Yes, the week is just about over, back to depressing reality.) This sort of analysis is why I was so against the war in Iraq from the outset and am so against an attack on Iran. In Iraq there were all sorts of potential chains of events that could lead to serious problems, and way too many people including the people who conceived of the idea, simply ignored them or rationalized them away. Now maybe some are still claiming Iraq isn’t a disaster, but at the very least it’s proved vastly more costly in every respect than was confidently predicted.

Even worse, sometimes people not only wilfully overlook the potential problems, they engage in plans where not only does disaster have to be avoided…a series of unlikely events has to occur for success to be achieved. A wonderful example is the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last gasp near the end of World War Two as they launched a bold surprise attack against the western allies. In order for the German plan to have any chance of success, it was essential that they capture stockpiles of allied fuel. Think about that, launching a major tank attack that requires captured fuel to keep the tanks running! I mean, it was insane, and the result was predictable. The Germans ran out of fuel for their tanks in the middle of the battle and the American’s won easily.

My point here is that not only did the USA engage in some pretty optimistic thinking re the proposed invasion of Iraq, I still terribly fear that the Bush Administration is going to make the wrong decision about Iran, and launch one last “Battle of the Bulge” based on rosy expectations about the results of such an attack. And the worse the economy gets and the more Bush is against the wall and seeing his “legacy” turn to ridicule, I think the more likely he is to do this. Yikes.

Have a great year everyone. ;)

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is a low resolution grey scale copy of the original, it is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit: San Francisco Chronicle. RIP Tatiana and Carlos Sousa.)



Written by unitedcats

January 18, 2008 at 1:08 pm

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