A failure in a complex system almost always involves a combination of factors that feed on one another to cause a breakdown. As we watch Japan's tragic nuclear-plant situation, I am reminded of the near-catastrophe at Three Mile Island in 1979 and what the postcrisis analysis showed.
Recall that the Three Mile Island nuclear plant contained sophisticated safety measures and safeguards, and engineers considered a catastrophic event highly unlikely. But a reactor meltdown nearly did happen. Why? Because of a mixture of engineering flaws, human error, and bad luck.
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The same is true for much of what happens in life--whether it's an airplane crash, a disaster in a far-off corner of the globe, a medical error, or even a personal relationship gone bad. The loss we suffer in divorce or at the end of a relationship usually doesn't result from any one thing going wrong, but from a series of underlying issues that the couple never adequately addressed. These "hidden" issues can be inside our partner's heart or history, or they can be in our own. Some event or series of things happens that allows us to see one another and ourselves more clearly. And a loss is the result.
This phenomenon happens in politics as well. Which brings us to the 2012 presidential contest. Contrary to what many pundits and partisans might have you believe, a Democratic president rarely loses a reelection race. Only once in the past 120 years has a president from that party who sought a second term lost. And that was Jimmy Carter in 1980. Thus, the odds heavily favor President Obama if he decides to run again--and all signs point that he will.