Sunday, July 1, 2012
Brave, the Postal Service and the Pareto Principle
I saw Brave on Saturday and I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would.
And now, I'm going to talk about the Post Office and the 80/20 rule. (Don't worry, it ties back to Brave!)
One of the weirdest things about living in 2012 is how much vitriol aspects of our society that were well-respected in my childhood now draw from certain aspects of Conservative culture.
A big one is the Postal Service. It's almost axiomatic among some folks that the USPS is bad, bloated and inefficient. The critics of the postal service point to UPS and Fedex to show how private industry can make a buck and do a better job providing a necessary service. (And those of us who don't mind the Postal Service point out that the troubles facing the USPS are artificial, as the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), obligated the USPS to fund 75-years worth of future health care benefit payments to retirees within a ten-year time span – a requirement to which no other government organization is subject.)
Then one of both or us changes the subject because nobody is going to back down and no one wants to ruin a friendship over the Postal Service*. And now I'm going to engage in even more digression in the service of my original point. My old boss was huge into the the Pareto principle, a guideline that says, in many things and across many fields, 80% of results come from only 20% of the causes.
As the USPS is mandated to accept and deliver any package or letter that meets their guidelines, private carriers often exploit this, as part of the Post Office's Last Mile service, where they ship a package to a local post office and the local post office does the nitty gritty hard work of making sure it gets to the recipient.
So what does this have to do with Brave? FedEx and UPS are only profitable because they exist in a world with the USPS. The Postal Service is obligated to do the hard work and the private carriers are free to focus on the 20% that provides 80% of the profit.
And we're almost to the actual movie review.
Lily usually gets along with me better than she does with Jen. I don't think that I'm giving away any secrets by saying that. There are a couple of reasons for that. I tend to avoid confrontation in personal issues, so Jen more often plays the role of the disciplinarian, and when I do have to step in, I tend to be more circumspect, because if there's anything I hate more than someone yelling at me, it's me having to yell at someone.
To put it another way, I give her what she wants, and Jen gives her what she needs. And I don't want to imply that I'll let her get away with anything. Jen and I have similar values, but Jen's threshold is lower down on the continuum than mine, so if we're both present when Lily is being naughty, Jen will reach the point where she'll intervene before I will almost every time.
And I realize that like the relationship between FedEx and the Postal Service, the relationship I have with Lily is only possible because of the relationship Jen has with her. It only exists in the shadow of that relationship. And I do a great many worthwhile things with Lily. We read and we learn and we go for walks. But I understand that Jen is the better parent, and she does the hard work and I try to stress this to Lily. And maybe someday she'll come back to this post and she'll understand it in a way that she can't now.
So, why do I bring this up? Because there is a similar dynamic at work in Brave. Merrida is the hero of the piece.
Or the protagonist, at least.
Her dad is king Fergus and he loves her and indulges her in everything, including activities not traditionally suited for a princess of her station.
Her mom is Queen Elinor, who does the hard work of running the kingdom and raising their daughter.
It's the second part that's the hard one. A big part of adulthood is accepting that you're going to spend a lot of time doing things you don't want to do. And no one wants to tell their kid that the world will disappoint them and that they need to compromise, and teaching that lesson may be even harder than learning it.
There was a scene in the beginning of the movie, when the royal family was out having a picnic and the demon bear Mor'du attacked. And Fergus got right between the bear and his family, and even though his weapons shattered against it, he was going to fight this bear empty-handed if that's what it took to protect them.
Fergus was ready to die to protect Merrida, but Elinor has the harder job, because she's willing to weather the scorn and anger of the person she loves most in the world in order to prepare her to face the world.
And I do like the movie. It's a Pixar movie, after all, and except for movies about cars, they have yet to make a bad movie. Part of my disappointment is that Merrida is so bratty! The mannerisms were top notch. I recognized every eye roll and every sigh from my own occasionally bratty kid.
I liked the conflict between Elinor and Merrida, because they both have a reasonable point of view and they both love each other. It seemed real and compelling, but it was subsumed by events of the second act, and the second act went on entirely too long. However, the climax was so good that I'm willing to forgive it.
*Unless we're talking about the band of the same name, because they're awesome and I don't care what Tim says.