Personal Essays

How An Airbag Impacted My Life

566px-airbag_seat_ibizaI’ve never thought much airbags, especially how they work. They have always just been there, small and hidden away. I’ve never been in an accident where an airbag deployed.

But, airbags are deceptively simple. Only a couple parts. A sensor in the front bumper area to detect rapid deceleration, and a chemical mixture inside nylon airbags to create an explosion. When the sensor gives the go-ahead, an electric current ignites the chemical mixture and the controlled explosion inflates and deflates the airbag within 40 milliseconds.

You can’t blink your eye in 40 milliseconds — it takes nearly 10 times that long — between 300 and 400 milliseconds. Besides the speed, the explosion is also precisely timed, because hitting a fully-inflated airbag instead of a partially-deflated one can cause serious injury or death.

Good Government

The airbag is a classic example of good government mixed with American ingenuity. The first U.S. patent for an airbag was filed in the 1950s. It was the era when the economy was booming and 75 percent of Americans believed the government was a good thing (compared to 19 percent today). Retired engineer, John Hetrick, was travelling with his wife and their seven year-old daughter when they had a wreck. Instinctively, John and his wife tried to shield their daughter (no one was hurt), and the crash ‘got him thinking’ about an air cushion system inside a car.

His idea, though, was ahead of its time, and the world would have to wait on technology to catch up with the concept.

But by the late 1960s, several U.S. and German car companies were toying with airbags, and the United States government passed legislation in 1969 stating that all vehicles would have factory-installed “automatic occupant protection systems.” Around this time, another American, a New Jersey mechanical engineer pushed the technology forward when he invented a reliable, five-dollar sensor.

Many consider this the piece that launched the airbag industry.

The engineer, Allen K. Breed, did not stop there, though, he was also instrumental is creating the deflating mechanism — solving the secondary injury issue.

Wear and Tear

Using a chemical formula to inflate an airbag solved another issue — the age of the vehicle. My teenage daughter drives a 2004 Chevy Cavalier — a vehicle equipped with dual airbags — one for the driver and one for the passenger. So for 12 years, the chemical mixture inside those nylon bags has just been ‘sitting there,’ unused, but ready.

But, despite the age of the vehicle, these airbags are designed to deploy quickly and efficiently. Without a properly-deployed airbag a relatively minor accident can be life-altering. I know, I’ve had friends suffer brain damage from a collision — collisions that an airbag would have altered the outcome.

The Call

I was in Logan, heading to Hocking Hills for a weekend of hiking, when my daughter called saying she had been in an accident. It’s not the type of call any parent wants to hear. Yet, within 40 milliseconds, her airbags deployed, protecting her from a potential head injury.

After the impact, although the vehicle was totaled, my daughter was able to exit the vehicle on her own, make a phone call, and no one was hurt in the ordeal. My daughter is fine (minus some soreness) because of people like Hetrick, Breed and the unnamed workers who assembled that 2004 Cavalier more than a decade earlier.

She is also fine because a functioning government had the foresight to implement laws designed to reduce death and serious injury by putting technology to work.

It’s how America should work because, even though airbags are a small thing, they made a huge difference in my life.

Categories: Personal Essays

Christian’s Social Media Post Is Epitome Of Intolerance

As I come to grips with the reality that three out of four voters in my county chose Donald Trump, I’m not as worried about what will happen, I am more concerned about what we have become.

At some point, I’m sure the national protests will abate and life will move back into some semblance of normality. (Although, as I write this, Cincinnati braces for a verdict some fear will create more unrest.) But I’m afraid we may never fully understand the pain inflicted on some members of our society.

Some of my family members, like those with children or grandchildren of minority heritage or those who are victims of sexual assault, have taken this election very personal. And rightly so. Their family, friends and neighbors put someone in power who personally denigrated them. Some of them are legitimately concerned about their future.

Part of the blame of what we’ve become rests on the shoulders of president Ronald Reagan who in vetoing the Fairness Doctrine ushered in the age of Talk Radio and Fox News, where angry white men wearing American flag label pins, exploited Americans — preaching a message of intolerance that bolstered the network’s bottom line. Technology introduced social media which quickly became the source of additional misinformation and ignorance as it mainstreamed bizarre and fringe ideologies.

With all of this came, in many corners of the country, a removal of the American idea of ‘you stay on your side of the street and I’ll stay on mine.’ Zealots using social media as a tool began subjecting the country to their intolerance because diversity — an attribute that does make America great —  is, in their eyes, a liability. One of my family members learned this firsthand when they posted a meme expressing support for a close friend in the LGBTQ community. The family member was assaulted by a litany of comments from people she has not seen in decades. Some she does not even know. As the commenters waltzed unwelcomed into her side of the street one compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

I grew up in an evangelical church, so I am acutely aware of the mindset that pushes this faulty and immoral presumption that alcoholism and homosexuality are two sides of the same sinful coin. It’s a mindset afraid to live this life, choosing instead to bank everything on the next one. Politically it’s an easy mindset to exploit, because if this life does not matter, then social reform is irrelevant and tolerance cannot be accepted.

Masked behind this Christian’s superficial claim of love is an arrogance that they know the mind of God. Science and biology be damned, because the Apostle Paul decided homosexuality is ‘unnatural,’ so ‘it is what it is,’ the logic goes.

But, in the Christian tradition, Jesus has a closer connection to the mind of God than Paul. Jesus never broached the subject, but he did, like many spiritual gurus, offer a simple way to live. It’s the Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. In this case, treating others well means staying on your side of the street while securely locking away unscientific beliefs into the deep crevices of your mind.

However, if Paul is the Christian leader to follow, do what he says and ‘become all things to all men…”

For just a moment become that teenage boy who realizes he is not heterosexual. And, if you have the courage, and I doubt you do, feel the sting of the tears when he hears the word pervert directed at him for the first time. Watch him hold in those tears and refuse to cry because, even at 13, this young man knows a father should not call his son perverted. Then stare deep and long into the father’s eyes so you can know what hatred looks and feels like. Embrace the wrath and rejection. And, if you truly love this teen’s soul like you say you do, just for one minute watch his classmates’ obscene gestures as they ridicule him, a teen whose only crime is, just like you, he possesses a biological attribute.

Then, as Jesus said, go ahead an remove the ‘plank from your own eyes.’

But please, for the love of God, don’t try to protect any member of the LGBTQ community from Hell because most — even in the Land of the Free — have already been there.

It’s something moral people — both inside and outside the LGBTQ community — are trying to rectify.

Categories: Personal Essays, Politics, Religion, Small Town Politics | Tags:

Big Brother — The TV Show — Paints Picture Of Who We Are

We have a summer tradition in my house. Each year, my wife, daughter and I huddle around the TV three times a week to watch the CBS reality show, Big Brother. If you’ve never watched the show, it has a simple premise: 12-16 people are locked into a small house for the summer — competing for $500,000. All they have to do is be the last one standing. Two things are pushing them out of the house — their ability or inability to get along with others (called the social game) and their ability to win physical challenges. In some ways, the show mimics the workplace, where people often win or lose based on their skill set and their ability to get along with co-workers.

Unlike workplaces though, people are asked to leave by their peers. This is done once a week when house guests cast votes to evict a teammate. (The idea has never been implemented in the workplace due to a fear of increased turnover.)

But, what unfolds inside the house is too much free time — which often translates to boredom — and a lot of ‘mind games,’ as every move and word of each player is recorded. Soon, they forget the cameras are there and, even with a loss of privacy, they get a false sense of security.

It is this loss of privacy that shines a light on who we are.

In season after season, despite the varying cast of players, a very predictable pattern emerges. Players make poor choices. Players say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. They trust someone who is lying. As viewers we can see their mistakes. In a small, godlike way, we see the whole picture of their life, but the players, they can only see and know what is immediately in front of them. They only know their own actions and conversations. They cannot see how it is all about to play out.

It’s why they mess up — they make decisions based on their extremely limited viewpoint.

Experience Alters The Course

This season four players are returning and they have adjusted their gameplay. One player, much more abrasive in her past performance, is only showcasing her abrasive side in the diary room — a private conversation with show producers that her peers cannot see or hear until after the season is over. She learned from life. She learned that, although she is funny and witty, not everyone gets her humor or even likes her — so she hams it up for the camera and then uses a more low-key approach when interacting with other players.

Some say this is manipulative — after all she is not being ‘real.’ I disagree. No one can be all things for all people. Our predictability is a liability. When people can push our buttons, they control our behavior. In the end, they know precisely how we will respond.

The wise players, both in the game and in life, step back, pause and think through their response before reacting. Observing life, and adjusting to its flow, is not a weakness. It can lead to peace and power.

And for one person it will mean $500,000 this fall.

Categories: Personal Essays, TV Shows | Tags: , , , ,