Claiming Space

By the time I came to bed, a furry mountain range had already seized most of the acreage.


Big Blake, the Clydesdale Canine, remained motionless, the dark fur of his muscular body almost invisible in the night. He may not have known the principle about possession being nine-tenths of the law. But he certainly knew how to sprawl across nine-tenths of the bed, leaving only the space my wife Heather was sleeping in, and a small corner of empty mattress that might fit an adult hobbit.


“Come on, Blake.”

Even appealing to Blake’s bottomless stomach won’t always move him off the bed at times like this. And since my own back isn’t up to lifting 80-plus pounds of sleepy dog, what usually follows is half negotiation and half dance, until the thought finally penetrates his mind. “Oh. I am not a Chihuahua. Perhaps I should move over a bit.”

And with great reluctance – and no small amount of nudging – the mountain finally moves.

What makes it frustrating sometimes is that Blake is not a bad dog. Not really. Sure, he’s a klutz who tends to think with his belly instead of his mind, like many a rescue dog before him. But he loves deeply and is loved dearly, an enthusiastic member of the family who practically flies over Pikes Peak when one of his people comes home.

But when he takes up more than his share of space, it still gets on your nerves.

For football fans, that might sound familiar.

The first direct exposure many of us had to Richard Sherman, a cornerback in the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom” was last Sunday. Over the last couple of days, I’ve heard a lot about what a decent guy he actually is, and his background seems to bear it out – the guy who got out of Compton and into Stanford; the guy who, off the field, usually has time to spare if someone else needs it.

But all that got shoved into the background after the NFC championship game, where his game-sealing interception in the end zone was followed by a quick round of trash talk. “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like (Michael) Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you EVER talk about me.”

Now, this is sports. A certain amount of braggadocio comes with the game. To compete before a crowd requires supreme confidence, whether it’s the quiet certainty of a Champ Bailey or the flamboyance of a Muhammad Ali. Most fans know that.

But when someone seems to take up more space than he should, when the interior monologue becomes too exterior, especially in an unguarded moment – that’s when it’s going to rub the wrong way.

And that’s why Sherman made a lot of Bronco fans on Sunday.

For that moment – a moment, admittedly, with his “game face” still on and his adrenaline soaring – he came across as rude, obnoxious and willing to put himself before and above the team.

It only takes one of those moments to obscure a lot of nice.

To his credit, Sherman seems to recognize that. When he apologized at a recent news conference, it was for pulling focus from his teammates. Not for believing himself great (or Crabtree mediocre), but for letting his passion push the rest of the team off the stage.

I’m not a mind-reader, so I can’t tell you how sincere he was. Only those who watch him carefully will be able to say for sure which is the posturing, the behavior on the field or the apology off it. But at the least, he understood what it was that had pushed the button and sent things over the edge.

That’s a start.

(It’s also starting from a better place than the Seahawks fans who threw food at an injured San Francisco player, but that’s another story.)

I’ll give the guy a chance. After all, I give Blake plenty of opportunities to clear some space, too.

But if the “best corner in the game” gets beaten a few times by Denver’s high-flying receivers – well, I won’t be terribly disappointed, either.

Now, let’s put this whole thing to bed.

Thinking the Unsinkable

I used to want a time machine when I was a kid, something out of H.G Wells or “Back to the Future,” so I could see the great events of the past all over again. Lately, I’m starting to wonder if I succeeded.

So far, I’ve seen a presidential candidate (now former) promise to put a man on the moon.

I’ve seen a member of Congress hold up a list of hidden Communists in Washington, D.C.

And now there’s plans to build an unsinkable ship called the Titanic.

Yes, seriously.

Credit this one to Australian billionaire Clive Palmer. He plans to launch a new Titanic sometime in 2016, built to the same dimensions and even starting on the same route – but designed to avoid the same finish.

“It will be designed as a modern ship with all the technology to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Palmer told Reuters on Monday.

Will someone sign the gentleman up for Missing The Point 101, please?

First of all, there’s nothing remarkable in designing a cruise ship that doesn’t sink. Most of them don’t. It’s like bragging that you’ve built an individual airliner that won’t crash – the odds are good that you’ll never have to test your claim.

Second, there’s no real reason to do it, beyond separating a lot of tourists from a lot of money. (Itself a good enough reason for most businessmen, admittedly.) If Titanic II sails safely into New York, it won’t magically bring back the passengers from Titanic I. It won’t even prove the first Titanic could have done it, since it won’t be using the same tools.

But most importantly, it ignores one of the biggest lessons of the Titanic – how the humility of failure can teach more than the pride of success.

I first heard the theory floated (sorry) by an engineer and author named Henry Petroski during an NPR interview. In it, he noted that if the Titanic had sailed safely, there would have been nothing historically remarkable about it. It would have made money and had imitators, like any other successful product.

But the flaws in its design would have still been there. They might have even been exaggerated as competitors tried to build it bigger and better. Sooner or later, overconfidence would get the same payoff – maybe even worse.

“When we have a success, a prolonged period of success, we tend to become more complacent,” Petroski said. “We tend to become overconfident that we’re doing it right, that we’ve got it figured out finally. And then, of course, a failure occurs and wakes us up out of our dream.”

And that’s when the learning comes – when you’re willing to acknowledge that mistakes are possible, that you can screw up, that’s when you really begin scrutinizing your work.

It almost sounds un-American, I know. We have an ideal of almost hyper-competency, that a free people can go anywhere, accomplish anything. And honestly, I’m glad when people dream big; that’s where a lot of great ideas start.

But it’s that dash of humility – that willingness to admit that maybe this time we don’t know everything – that can keep those big dreams from becoming bigger nightmares.

It’s something teachers drill into their students, that editors drill into their reporters: don’t get cocky, check your work. It’s an attitude all too rare in politics anymore, where the appearance of being right seems to matter more than the reality.

And it’s the only way to guard against a Titanic error.

Mr. Palmer, may you have the best of luck and happy sailing. But if Titanic II arrives on time, it won’t be because of unsinkable confidence. It’ll be because everyone acknowledged the worst and planned for it.

Meanwhile, I wish you well.

In fact, with the headlines lately, maybe I should wish you Wells.