Helicopter dispute proves tyranny more interesting than aerodynamics

A Bell Huey 205A just sits there and doesn't explode or anything.

A Bell Huey 205A just sits there and doesn’t explode or anything.

Federal officials are nearing an agreement to let the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation use its modified Huey 205 helicopters to fight wildfires, and one of our most resiliently boring stories is drawing to a close. In a nutshell: Ordinary Huey 205s can carry 200-gallon water buckets, but Montana’s Hueys have been modified with jet engines and larger tail rotors,1 so they can carry 324 gallons. The feds don’t have a box for that on their clipboards, so five such modified Hueys were grounded during this year’s unusually intense fire season.

It was another case of big government getting in the way of the states with onerous regulations. Also a contractor falsified his helicopter’s capacity in 2008 and several firefighters died. But this isn’t about loft and yaw. This is about liberty and tyranny, federal overreach and states’ rights—you know, like everything else. There are four problems in contemporary America: big government, terrorism, taxes and Republicans. Any little problem can be understood in terms of those big ones. It’s a clever system, in that you can use it to deduce your own opinion on issues from abortion to Zbigniew Brzezinski, although not insofar as it will keep helicopters from falling out of the sky.

The merits and drawbacks of this approach to discourse are the subject of this week’s column in the Missoula Independent. There’s also a Wizard of Id joke. My mother is coming to visit Missoula, and soon I will pick her up at the airport. She arrives with fall, with the returning students and coffee-hour entertainment of watching people parallel park on Front Street. It’s good to be in Missoula, and it’s good to read about our weirdo politics even if they don’t directly affect you. Think of us as Lake Wobegon. We basically do.

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  1. Thank you for the info on the federal governments yet another intrusion into affairs they likely know nothing about and due to that intrusion cause significant harm. Big brother doesn’t have all the answers nor ever will. Let locals take care of local business!

  2. Cookie Greene is either a spambot or a multi-level scheme marketeer, and in either case deserves no further consideration.

    On the subject at hand, you’ve articulated the need for experts to arbitrate technical details. The public’s lack of expertise requires that they ignore those details to preoccupy themselves with their only expertise: reiterating the worldview cohered by their brand cluster experts: news pundits, oppositional figures in politics, and anyone who wipes away unhelpful detail (usually to “tell it like it is”). This is the essence of elitism–recognizing the people, on average, inhibit the effective technocratic function of administrators. Heath and Potter detailed this distraction in cultural terms, but I think their critique applies here: criticism of government is not a threat to the system, it /is/ the system. Elites know better than to waste their time and money wringing their hands over non-issue, but do not hesitate to deploy those chestnuts to rile people up when it is useful. This is the system we have. People want to believe Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump actually intend to get elected. No one wants to throw up their hands and say “huh, I have no fucking clue what’s safe for a helicopter to carry, or how 90% of the world works.” You’ve done well to point out part of that, even if you don’t agree with how far I take it.

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