Pool Alarms and Parkinson's Law
June 28, 2007
The legislators of New York, eager to safeguard us all, have decreedthat, from now on, any new swimming pool deeper than 2 feet must come equipped with an alarm that will raise all hell inside & outside the house should someone (or something) fall in. Thus, Rochesterians who live in the poverty zone (trust me, there are many) who have no air conditioning but several broiling kids, who used to cool them off on a hot day with one of those cheap, inflatable pools, are now protected from that relief, since the price of an alarm exceeds the price of the pool. We just snapped a short spell of 90+ degree weather, with obscene humidity, the first of many this summer. In the air conditioned Albany State Legislature, some legislator is hero of the day. "If it saves one life, it's worth it!" he says.
Trouble is, there's not many things that won't save at least one life. What of the imposition for everyone else? Mind you, I have nothing against pool alarms. They seem a good idea. It's the mandating of pool alarms!
Folks who remember when you could ride a bicycle without a helmet, indeed, even drive a car without a seatbelt, may need help to know what to make of this. That's why this post is written. In Europe, by the way, where they bicycle far more than we do, nobody wears a helmet. "It would muss up my hair," explained one Frenchman to the Wall St Journal.
This new pool alarm requirement must be looked at in the light of Parkinson's Law, (the 2nd one) which suggests that, having utterly failed to acheive anything of real value, officials nevertheless must justify their existance. Therefore, they redouble their efforts to accomplish nonsense.
Parkinson's Law, derived in the 1950s by C. Northcote Parkinson, is actually a body of business and organizational laws which are usually stated in economic terms, but can be amended to fit swimming pools. The law which specifically applies, the 2nd law, states that the time and money spent on any item in any organizational agenda is inversely proportional to its importance. In his definative book "Parkinson's Law," Dr Parkinson illustrates his second law with a business board meeting:
The lead item on the agenda is a nuclear reactor for the company plant. It is approved immediately, not because it is a good idea, indeed, it is suspect, but because few people on the board know what a nuclear reactor is, and those who do have no idea what one should cost. The two people who do know something have no idea where to begin with explanations. They would have to refer to the blueprints. No one present can read blueprints, yet no one present would ever admit they could not! Easier just to say "yes." The reactor is approved. Time spent: about 2 minutes. However, several members have inward misgivings. They wonder if they've really been pulling their weight. They resolve to make up for it with the next item.
The next item is a bicycle tool shed for the employees. Here is something most can get their heads around. They bicker over its design, its materials, its location, indeed, even its necessity, since the ungrateful employees only take whatever you give them and demand more! Time spent: about 1 hour.
The next items concerns the coffee that is served at board meetings: its brand, supplier, and cost. No one is present who doesn't know all there is to know about coffee, and the ensuing discussion lasts the rest of the day!
Now, if we postulate that Parkinson's 2nd law applies, and that requiring pool alarms is an accomplishment relatively trivial, then there has to be some "big fishes" that got away. Are there?
The day before the local paper reported on pool alarms, it reportedon a new "academic excellence" surcharge for nearby SUNY Geneseo State college. The surcharge, which kicks in a year from September, adds $1000 to the annual tuition of $4350, a 23% increase! Where one SUNY college goes, soon the rest can be expected to follow. Lawmakers are clearly not interested in saving that "one life" of a poor child so that he may attend college!
Besides the bruising economic threats people face, there are the ever-growing threats to education quality, public morality and decency, even threats to spirituality. All these areas are ignored while legislators piss away their time on physical safety, a comparatively insignificant area which even a Frenchman knows how to keep in proper perspective so as not to muss up his hair!
As if to underscore the point, New York Governor Elliot Spitzer is crisscrossing the state, challenginglocal citizens to play "Where's Waldo" with their state senator. He'll hold up a picture of the empty Senate chambers. "Where is your Senator," he asks. "He's not here. We've looked all over." He's mad because Senators voted themselves a pay raise and then took off for the summer, leaving stuff on the plate. Important stuff. Necessary stuff. Fundamental stuff. (Most importantly) Stuff Eliot vowed to get done.
They did, however, make it tougher for poor kids to cool off. And that's something.