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When things go totally haywire

Henry Longfellow (1807-1882) warned us. He wrote that, "Into each life some rain must fall. Some days must be dark and dreary." But Longfellow didn't warn us that not only must some rain fall, but sometimes things would just plain go totally haywire. And the reason he didn't warn us about things going haywire is that the term had never been used until it turned up in a debate in the Canadian House of Commons in 1917.

Now actual hay wire itself is simply the wire used for bailing hay. There is nothing haywire about hay wire until it is used for doing makeshift repairs. For example, by the time you find yourself making repairs with duct tape (yes, half the population of English speaking people pronounce it duck tape), things have really gone haywire. Haywire is sometimes used to suggest mental problems, but it usually means "all screwed up." Haywire is also the name of a Canadian hard rock band whose music would probably be considered haywire by most of us. In the early 20th century, the term "haywire outfit" was used to describe poorly equipped loggers.

A classic example of things going haywire took place in Haiti when the earthquake struck on Jan. 12 and falling buildings that killed and injured people were compounded by lack of water, lack of food, lack of medicine, lack of medical personnel, lost children, airport congestion, looting and general confusion. That is what haywire is all about.

Haywire is about to strike much closer to home as this article is written. Within days, the surging Red River is expected to pour over its banks into flood territory. A flood all by itself might be considered nature going haywire. But when the basic problem is compounded by additional rain or snow, pumps going out, electricity being cut off, sandbags with holes in the bottom, transportation detours, delays and general chaos, haywire is in full bloom.

But most haywire is not the result of Mother Nature getting out of control, but of the man-made variety. For example, the Toyota auto company is haywire right now. Their cars are having serious acceleration problems (they speed up when you don't want them to) and braking problems (they don't brake when you want them to), the "fixes" aren't necessarily working and investigators seem to be unable to understand why it's all happening. Is it an electronics problem? Stay tuned, but keep your eyes open for runaway Toyotas.

Congress is haywire. Everybody in the United States knows it. Even Congress itself knows it. Members are bailing out like the ship has hit an iceberg. Do Democrats and Republicans speak to one another anymore? I am waiting for a "statesman" to emerge, someone who will put the public good ahead of party lines, but I don't see any likely candidates. Everybody's pointing fingers at the men and women across the aisle. It's sickening.

Families can go haywire too, but they don't have to. There can be so many causes: bad health, credit card debt, alcohol, drugs, gambling, unemployment, bankruptcy, delinquent parents, delinquent kids, car problems, bad cooking and bad breath. Those are all haywire conditions. But the family itself doesn't have to go haywire, but can survive those problems by all rowing together against the current. Only when love, trust and forgiveness are lost does the boat sink.

The moral of the story is that you can avoid a good deal of haywire by building solid buildings on firm foundations, building on high ground, building tall dikes, buying safe cars (or trading away unsafe ones), electing candidates from the middle of the road and building your family on solid values. But even with all these precautions, remember, "Into each life some rain must fall. Some days must be dark and dreary." Keep optimistic and keep smiling.