On a Wild-Goose Chase


It’s probably not what you think it is. In the 16th Century, as if horses didn’t have enough to do already [what with pulling plows & carriages, carrying warriors into battle, or on hunts for wild boar, deer, or foxes], they were ridden [for sport & for wagers] over the fields and stone “fences” of England, in a variety of contests of speed, agility & endurance. The Steeple Chase [also called the Point-to-Point] involved racing from one church steeple to the next. In the Paper Chase, directions to the next “point” on the route were written on pieces of paper [like a treasure hunt]. More arcane than these was the Wild-Goose Chase [used as a metaphor in 1592 in Romeo & Juliet], in which the lead horse is the “alpha wild-goose” who chooses the route, which all the others must follow in the chevron formation of geese in flight. Since the interval between lead “goose” and the others must be maintained [in an apparent race of attrition], the enterprise became a metaphor for “a fool’s errand” [a futile waste of Therbligs], since the only way to beat the “goose” in pole position would be for it to fall at one of the fences. As in modern steeplechases [such as the Grand National], however, many fewer horses finish the race than start it, so it’s a Schadenfreudelich, Survival-of-the-Fittest wager the punters are making.

What a great concept for a reality TV show, no?

Most mornings, Lili gets to engage in a more literal wild-goose chase, charging the flock of insouciant, poo-dropping Canada geese who congregate on the school playing fields, and sending them off in a honking, airborne chevron [possibly just to the nearby golf course]. The school groundskeepers love this, as do the kids out for PhysEd [who whoop and applaud, and shout “It’s a wolf! It’s a bear! It’s the Goose-anator!”]. Haven’t heard the last moniker much, since the Fall of Arnie, though.

Unlike the English sporting event, no animals are harmed in the making of Lili’s morning show. The geese do not seem to experience her intrusion as awful [after all, they come back again the next day]; just highly inconvenient. Her efforts could be viewed as futile, in that they offer no permanent “goose-anation.” This is not a trivial matter for the keepers & users of airport runways, as Sully the Hero of the Hudson could tell you. Indeed, many airports have hired wild-goose-chasing dogs, since that high-profile [but not uncommon] bird-strike incident.

The mission [as they say in government-speak] is “on-going.” Win some, lose some. [Supply your own triumphs and disasters from this month’s headlines.] Disasters cause pain & suffering to their immediate victims, fear to the rest of us [that we could be next], intrusion [of additional security measures] and humiliation [that we can’t seem to find a “fool-proof” fix for the given threat]. No wonder the wolf is howling!

But, if we can focus on some of the triumphs, we might believe that our efforts are not futile. Our personal wild-goose chase may not be a “fool’s errand,” even if it must be “repeated, as necessary.” Our Therbligs will have not been expended in vain.

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Filed under therbligs, zero-sum-gaming

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