The Brady Bunch

Today my eyes passed over a website referenced to the Bundy Ranch, where ranchers and the federal government had a weird standoff about western land use.

Unfortunately for me, my quick scan initially read “Bundy Ranch” to be “Brady Bunch,” so the insipid Brady Bunch theme song started playing in my head and I was beset by images of the chipper Bradys — Carol and Mike, Greg and Marcia, grinning, head-bobbing Alice, and the two little kids that nobody cared about except for the fact that the little girl was “the youngest one in curls.”

My sisters loved The Brady Bunch and idolized Marcia, so we had to watch the show on our one TV set. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand the Bradys, their ludicrous, squeaky clean children, their boring split-level suburban life, and the absurd scenarios that passed for plots. I’d managed to put the whole unpleasant thing out of my mind, but clearly it was lurking there, brooding just below the surface, ready to bubble into my consciousness when I misread “Bundy Ranch.”

Prior to today I really hadn’t read or thought much much about the Bundy Ranch incident. Now I know that I will studiously avoid any news coverage about the matter, because as soon as I read the word “Bundy Ranch” the musical loop of “Here’s the story . . . of a man named Brady . . .” will begin again. Arrgh!

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The Illusion Of Presumed Competence

Whenever we board an airplane or a boat, or enter a bus or a taxi, we’re presuming that the captain or driver knows what he or she is doing. We assume that they are fully trained, knowledgeable, competent, and indeed expert in their field — that they are all like C.B. Sullinger, the heroic airline pilot who coolly landed his crippled aircraft on the Hudson River a few years ago, allowing all of the passengers to be rescued.

That’s why it’s so jarring when we read disturbing stories about events like the catastrophic sinking of the South Korea ferry, which seems to have been mishandled in just about every way imaginable. When the accident occurred the boat was being steered by a third mate who had never navigated those waters, and the captain wasn’t even on the bridge. Transcripts of conversations between the boat and a boat traffic facility on shore indicate that the crew was panicky and confused about what to do with the passengers when the boat began to list, and the captain unwisely told passengers to stay inside the boat as it began to take on water, rather than come to the deck and evacuate. Worst of all, the captain was one of the first off the boat, in violation of a South Korea law that required him to stay aboard until all passengers were off the ship.

We presume that the people who have our lives in their hands are competent because it’s a necessary rationalization and mental defense mechanism. If we are taking a ferry ride in a foreign country, boarding a bus to see a ball game, or ducking into a cab at a busy airport, we can’t realistically check the qualifications and past performance of the captain or the driver — so we assume that somebody else has done it and that the person wouldn’t be in that position if they didn’t measure up. Sometimes, that assumption is unwarranted.

The next time I get into a cab, I’m going to be sure to fasten my seat belt.