Let Me Fly Next to Your Fire

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How government works, chapter 523:

Fire commanders say they are often pressured to order planes and helicopters into action on major fires even when the aircraft won't do any good. Such pressure has resulted in needless and costly air operations, experienced fire managers said in interviews.

The reason for the interference, they say, is that aerial drops of water and retardant make good television. They're a highly visible way for political leaders to show they're doing everything possible to quell a wildfire, even if it entails overriding the judgment of incident commanders on the ground.

Firefighters have developed their own vernacular for such spectacles. They call them "CNN drops."

Needless to say, those expensive, showy flights come with opportunity costs. But they've served their political purpose. Call it the Better One More Ribbon Cutting Than 100 Fewer Potholes Principle.

reason readers are invited to list more examples in the comments.

NEXT: Yippie! Roger, Stoned

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  1. Maybe we ought to have the planes drop gasoline instead. Sure, it would spread the fires, but it would look SO COOL!

  2. The TSA seems to be analogous.

  3. Is there any length reason won’t go to in order to depress me?

  4. The Patriot Act, the FCC, the recent tax refund “stimulus”…

  5. Call it the Better One More Ribbon Cutting Than 100 Less Potholes Principle. reason readers are invited to list more examples in the comments.

    Letting your left tackle go so you can sign that tailback you took with the second overall pick? You know, to improve your ground game.

  6. Better One More Ribbon Cutting Than 100 Less Fewer Potholes Principle

  7. Spend it or lose it. Which is a particularly stupid disincentive to act like a grownup when it comes to other peoples’ money.

    As an example, I’ll nominate the thingee we have in Iraq.

  8. Your welcome (says joe’s law) | July 29, 2008, 2:29pm | #

    Double joe’z law, I guess, because that should be “you’re welcome”.

  9. Duh.

  10. Less Fewer

    Duh. Thanks. Fixed.

  11. Epi’s Maneuver: Attempting to correct an intentional error.

  12. You might want to work on your delivery. If you weren’t a sockpuppet, we could nominate “badly delivering a joke so that it is difficult to discern from a real mistake” after you.

  13. I got it. Where’s your sense of humor?

  14. I don’t know if this qualifies, but paintng boarded up building to fool people into thinking they aren’t abandoned is one of my favorites.

    http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/article/2008/04/28/great-cover-minneapolis-takes-page-gary-indiana.html

  15. Don’t worry, joe; I see the humor in a delivery-impaired sockpuppet pedant trying to accuse me of being a humorless pedant.

  16. Say it isn’t so! Wasting resources and top-down instruction just to look like you’re doing something?

    Also, I think it’s safe to say that most who can identify a less/fewer mistake are also capable of getting your/you’re correct if they want to.

  17. Nominating:

    Epi-lation — Painfully ripping the fun out of a thread by defensively blaming another for poor joke execution instead of graciously admitting you blew it.

  18. You know, it would really be interesting if Jesse were to tell us which poster the sockpuppet’s IP matches.

  19. Spend it or lose it. Which is a particularly stupid disincentive to act like a grownup when it comes to other peoples’ money.

    Sadly, this isn’t limited to the government.

  20. Yes, that would be interesting.

    Bring it on.

  21. Epi-cycle — A series of posts in which each attempt to mitigate, explain or deny a previous mistake instead compounds it, thus inducing the subsequent post in the cycle.

    See also: vicious cycle and positive feedback loop.

  22. Here’s my local example. The stuff they flocked is still there months later.

  23. This is a social rather than governmental thing, but: despite beaucoup evidence that tanning leads to premature aging or even skin cancer, there’s still the fashion idea of a so-called “healthy tan” being better than “pale skin with no tan lines.”

    And among certain Reason commenters, there’s the self-defeating notion that being a bugnut insane one-issue maniac who calls himself the “Lonewacko” is a good way to be respected for your ideas.

  24. The commenter posted as “M” for a while, but since then has not had a consistent identity.

  25. That’s because if you have a ConsistentIdentity it’s too easy for the MexicanHordes to steal it.

  26. I’ve noticed an overuse of electronic traffic signs on metro highways that post long messages like “Road construction and closed interchange at Hwy 6. Alternative routes encouraged. Expect delays in 45 miles.” Everyone slows to read the entire message, creating immediate jams and accidents among a group of motorists that about 5% of would actually make it to the problem area.

  27. Thanks for the info, Jesse.

  28. I’m not a sock puppet. I’m one of the few confirmed cases of multiple personality disorder.

  29. I’ve noticed an overuse of electronic traffic signs on metro highways that post long messages like “Road construction and closed interchange at Hwy 6. Alternative routes encouraged. Expect delays in 45 miles.” Everyone slows to read the entire message, creating immediate jams and accidents among a group of motorists that about 5% of would actually make it to the problem area.

    In Florida, they’re now putting a DMV-blue roadside sign outside of stores and shops along major roads.

    I guess it’s for people who are incapable of turning their eyes 7 degrees to read the fucking stores’ signs.

  30. How about the War on Drugs?

  31. I’m not a sock puppet. I’m one of the few confirmed cases of multiple zero personality disorder.

    No need to thank us. You’ll be billed.

  32. There is no such thing as a healthy tan (oxymoron) but it is suggested that one get 20 minutes of sun exposure a day in order to aid the uptake of vitamin D.

  33. There is no such thing as a healthy tan (oxymoron) but it is suggested that one get 20 minutes of sun exposure a day in order to aid the uptake of vitamin D.

    Agreed, but that’s very different from the still-extant idea that a golden tan is “healthier” than my own tan-free skin.

  34. Jennifer’s just jealous because she’s melanin-challenged.

  35. well i for one am confused. during last october’s fires in san diego, the planes and choppers were kept grounded for days while the fires spread like…well…wildfire. many reasons were offered…too dangerous to fly at night, too windy to fly, no coordination btwn various agencies, etc. yet as anyone watching on tv could readily agree, major progress was only made against the fires when the planes and choppers were dropping water and retardant. live tv news would be showing flames steadily advancing toward houses, and the fires were only stopped by airborne assault. so yeah, there was “pressure” to fly and drop…cuz that was the only thing working!

    maybe you ought to question the motives of the “experienced fire managers” cited in your story. there’s been anecdotal evidence of fire agencies waiting until fires get huge and dangerous in order to look like heroes and get big tax levies passed, sorry to say. and also anecdotal evidence of fire fighters sitting around doing nothing while the fires spread, for whatever reason. just don’t be so quick to assume that airborne firefighting equals big bad government based just on what some fire department bureaucrat said.

  36. I believe the paradigm among some is to hate IllegalImmigrants while risking skin cancer to look a bit more like them.

  37. Fine, but this cuts both ways. A California state agency aborted a fire-fighting flight in Oct 2003 that could’ve dealt with a small fire in San Diego county before the next day’s Santa Ana winds literally turned it into an inferno. That flight was stopped because it was too late in the day. A decision that cost several lives, a thousand homes and half a million scorched acres.

    Maybe to solve both problems we should just let the damn pilots decide.

  38. Sadly, this isn’t limited to the government.

    True, but then it’s *their* money.

  39. If politicians really wanted to “do something”, they could off themselves. And that would actually have a positive impact.

  40. reason readers are invited to list more examples in the comments.

    The most obvious is the “drunk-driving checkpoint”.

    This is a Gov’t exercise where 8-10 officers are paid “time-and-a-half” for 6 hours while arresting one person with a .09% BAC who forgot to read the location of the checkpoint that morning in the newspaper, five people with “no liscense, no insurance” (The “No Green Card” people add another 5-10 to this number when a ‘checkpoint’ is located in western Columbus), 13 people for a missing tail-light or violating the “seatbelt law”, and 4 others for “outstanding warrants”.

  41. I believe there’s a video out there of a C-130 dropping the red fire retardant and the wings literally broke off and folded upwards. Not a joke and the aircrew all died but it is incredibly dramatic.

    The cause I believe was a the massive drop in weight cause a reverse force on the wings lift, causing a catastrophic crack. This has of course since been fixed, but talk about a cost of doing business.

    Reminds me of the NASA quote regarding the fight between the usefullness v costs of astronauts. They are a cost and practical drain on what could be accomplished without. “Without Buck Rogers, there are no bucks”

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