Confidence in the system

January 31, 2008

In the state of the union speech the other night, GWB said:

Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice.

While I was expecting a virtually content-free speech, I think he has put his finger on something here.

The only thing I would add is that the justice system is not the only system people lack confidence in. Think of any system that is supposed to serve and protect the people of the US. The health care system. The waste disposal system. The system of government. The election system. The financial system. The news media. Public utilities. Law enforcement.

For any system you can name, there is a substantial group who think it’s broken, failing, or about to break. And the value of a system, almost as much as what it accomplishes when it works, is what happens when it fails. In computer science they say that a system has to have built into it a way to “fail gracefully” — to recover from its errors and avoid crashing completely. A system that litters the landscape with its mistakes, and can’t or won’t correct them, is a system that can’t inspire confidence.

Right now we’re starting to figure out that a whole lot of systems fit that description.

Speaking as I always do, from ignorance, I think it’s at least a possibility that the lack of economic confidence we’re all suffering from these days is just a symptom of a more widespread crisis of confidence in the system.  Any system.  Every system.

Every time someone is forced to go outside the system to accomplish something that the system is supposed to accomplish, confidence in the system takes another blow.  And what happens if our confidence in the system takes too many blows?

Right now is what happens.


What am I supposed to do with this?

January 31, 2008

The sign on the side of the truck said:

“Eat Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

It struck me as odd for a couple of reasons.

1. People don’t need to be told what to do with a donut. Not even if it’s a super-ultra-special one. Somehow they just know.

2. They don’t care if you eat them or not. What they really want is for you to buy them. After that the company’s interest in the transaction is concluded. You can apply them to any entirely food-unrelated purpose without violating the trust between you and the Krispy Kreme company, as long as they were lawfully purchased.

It would have been just as well to leave off the “eat” and just say “Krispy Kreme Doughnuts” to remind people of their existence, and then let nature take its course. Psychology teaches us that any path of least resistance leads eventually, but inevitably, to a doughnut.