Thanksgiving in America

And so it is Thanksgiving again in America. It is the one specifically American holiday, and a religious one as well, in which we gratefully acknowledge the bounteous land He gave us. But you know, that is exactly what He gave us, a strip of undeveloped land along the Atlantic Ocean. The rest is a story of the use of God-given gifts and talents and hard work.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

But so much of what we do is so very inherently dangerous, and we have made it safe.

For instance, I could walk into the Denver Airport this afternoon, and have lunch tomorrow in London. I will have a safe and pleasant trip (of course, more money will make it more pleasant, although not safer). But truly this is a miracle. How did it happen?

It’s the long story of man’s climb from, child-like beasts–to men and women who hold dominion over all they see, and the costs involved. But a couple of anecdotes can serve.

Back in the mid-30s Boeing built a bomber according to what they thought the Army needed, not what the RFP called for. It was a risky move but time was short and Hitler and Tojo were plenty scary. In fact, Martin’s B-18 which fully met the RFP won the competition and was pretty much useless. But the Air Corps guys also found some money to continue testing, and even build a few more.

Then disaster struck. Boeing’s chief test pilot took off one lovely day and flew straight into a stall. Killing all aboard, Destroying 299 amid rumors that it was too much airplane for two, let alone any pilot. It also very nearly killed Boeing.

It was a simple enough answer. The engineers feared the aircraft would beat itself to death on windy hardstands. So they designed a gizmo to lock the elevators while on the ground. It was clearly marked with that streamer known to every pilot, ‘Remove Before Flight‘. But it hadn’t been. That’s why all of us, from that day until the weekend after next, who do things that can kill you quick, work from a checklist, one reading it, and the other doing it.

Boeing 299 was the prototype of the B-17 Flying Fortress that carried the American Air War in northern Europe against Nazi Germany from 1942 until 1945. Could we have won without it? Maybe. The men who flew her simply called her (and still do) ‘The Queen’.

But you know, and I know that the flight I talked about above will be safer than walking out my drive to get the mail. And that is no accident, it is the result of a lot of very hard, amazingly unflattering work by a lot of people over the last hundred years.

If you’re the average consumer when you walk into a really good hardware store you’ll end up mightily confused, why on earth does anyone need 16 different ¼ nuts? Well, the answer is that that they do sixteen somewhat different jobs, within limits they can substitute for each other, although usually, it won’t be as good.

But the thing here is, you cannot (legally, anyway) use any of those nuts on your private aircraft, let alone an airliner. They might be fine, most likely they are cheap knockoffs of the real thing. And so, in the 20s and 30s NACA (later NASA) and the Bureau of Standards, (later NIST), standardized all this stuff, especially hardware and plumbing. It’s not used only in aircraft either, it’s the basis of the specifications for race cars, and for agricultural machinery, and in automotive as well.

The catalogs, by the way, are like page after page of spreadsheet output. How do you tell them? One they’re expensive, and second, they all have part numbers that start with AN- (which stands for Army-Navy) and sometimes now NSN which is usually the same spec but stands for NATO Stock No.

As always, Rudyard Kipling spoke for us grungy doers and movers. He traces us back to Martha who didn’t have time to listen to the Lord, because her work was never done. He had a point.

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains “Be ye removèd.” They say to the lesser floods “Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd—they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit—then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger Death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden—under the earthline their altars are—
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s ways may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd—they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet—they hear the Word—they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and—the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, we sons of Martha will be on the job, as usual, so you can be your usual selves.

 

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