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July 26, 2001

Ships That Pass in the Night radar

If you have never been to sea, it is a phrase that succinctly captures a chance encounter. But ships really do pass in the night; often in a setting as tense as it is transient. Elaborate rules govern each such passing; they cover in minute detail the lights to be displayed and the signals that will be exchanged. The International Rules of the Road also tell the mariner which ship will enjoy the right of way in a given situation. The Rules distinguish between the burdened and the privileged vessels by setting forth the steps that each will execute in the careful dance that is designed to avoid the terrible consequences of contact. So, even as the human experience has precisely codified the behavior of vessels on the high seas when they meet in darkness of night, why are we often rudderless and confused when we meet other humans on dry land in familiar places.

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