Belmont Club

The Field of Schemes

Lee Vyborny, one of the “plankowners” of the NR-1 mini nuclear submarine recalls how Electric Boat became a victim of its own success during the Cold War. As more submarines were built both the unions and corporate freebooters started to cash in on the apparent river of gold which the burgeoning contract portfolio represented. Vyborny signed on to the follow-on NR-2 project as an engineer and discovered that beneath the glittering exterior which he had admired from afar the system was beginning to putrefy.

business was booming at EB. Things could not have been better for the largest employer in both Rhode Island and Connecticut, and the 688-class attack boats and the monster Trident submarines were pulling in a seemingly endless supply of money. The yard was filled with twenty thousand people and the thunder of their machines.

So it was a great surprise when I discovered that the shiny apple was rotting fast on the inside. I was among some three thousand engineers on the EB staff who worked jammed together in a pair of five-story brick buildings. Management offices occupied the outside edges near the windows, while in the center area the desks were arranged end to end in long rows. Each engineer was given thirty square feet of space and the desk took up twenty-five of it. There was only eighteen inches of space behind each desk – just enough to pull open the drawers. If a person in the middle of a row wanted out, everyone between him and the aisle had to stand and push his chair in. We on the NR-2 design counted ourselves fortunate to have a small glass-enclosed space. It really set us apart, and we guarded it zealously.

However, the tight quarters was not the main problem. Ironclad union rules clashed with an unrealistic workload in the design departments and in the shipyard. This brewed a recipe for disaster. Engineers, for instance, were only allowed to make free-hand sketches of their projects. Any straight line had to be drawn by a union draftsman. All typing, no matter how few lines or characters, had to be done by a union secretary. As a result, schedules slipped, the backlog of subs to build grew, design changes accumulated, costs mounted, and the navy grew impatient. EB had too much work, but also idle and inefficiently applied resources.

After years of unrelenting, fast-paced effort, first in the navy and then at school, the enforced slowdown left me shocked and bewildered. Union representatives would creep by our offices and peer through the glass partitions to insure no contract rules were being violated, while mid-level managers would also frequently check to see if any engineers were slacking off. Therefore, we kept the appropriate props in plain view, usually a stack of blue-line drawings with pencil marks scrawled all over them. If you wanted to stretch your legs, you picked up a sheaf of papers and walked somewhere quickly, as if on an urgent mission, because strolling casually was frowned upon. …

As bad as things were for the engineers, the incredible amount of wasted time in the shipyard was killing the company, for down by the Thames where the work was being done, restrictive union rules affected everyone.  A welder needing to move a heating element just one inch to complete a job was required to inform his boss, who had to schedule a union electrician to show up and do something the welder could have taken care of in a moment.  Almost two dozen trade unions protected their contracts with a vengeance, and the slightest violation resulted in a grievance.  The average worker who welded or installed equipment in the hull sections spent only two hours a day actually on the ship performing his job because of the continual coming and going involved, and that little bit of time was often ineffective because the workplace was so crowded.  The yard was working three shifts, but much was not communicated from one to the next, and even more time was lost to rework.  In order to speed up the delivery of subs, more people were hired, but that only made the situation worse.

It worked real good. After the NR-1 there was never an NR-2.

The same sort of misfortune seems to have befallen Venezuela. Its oil riches attracted rentseekers like flies to honey. And the biggest rentseekers of all are the Men of the People. Even the Guardian knows that the enlightened ones have done in what should have been the richest country in the region.

“Living here is like a cartoon,” Becerra says. “Most of us can’t find milk to drink, let alone to produce, and the president’s best plan is to lower the prices of TVs.”

She was referring to president Nicolás Maduro’s recent moves to get shopkeepers to slash their prices. Maduro has spoken of jailing retailers, criticising the “speculation and usury” that he blames for Venezuela’s economic woes.

Those excuses sound exactly like the reasons now given for the failure of Obamacare. Salon accuses the “right” of “sabotage” and warns that conservatives will be sorry when Obamacare finally delivers paradise on earth.

The trouble starts with their gleeful rubbing of hands over the rollout. Gloating about the website is unwise for a couple of reasons. First, the website’s design and implementation was conducted by a private government contractor, CGI Global, not by government employees. There are many lessons to be learned from the website’s problems, but one of them clearly seems to be this: The privatization of government services, a key goal for the Republican Party, can work very poorly.

Accounts of the Obamacare implementation read like a how-to manual in inept contracting with outside corporations, and the administration deserves to take a hit for that. But the problem isn’t that government created the website. A larger part of the problem lies in the fact that it used a private contractor to do the job.

Yep. A private, no-bidding foreign contractor, with a record of failure in Canada managed by former classmates of certain relations to President Obama. “If you build it they will come.” The only problem is, you might not like who the they are.

The California Health Exchange issued a report on who had enrolled in Obamacare to date.   According to the report “the oldest age brackets 45-64, are overrepresented [in the enrollments] compared to the population.”  A side by side comparison between the California Health Exchange enrollees to date and the underlying population looks like this


Obamacare is filling up rapidly with older and less healthy population who by and by will pull the low risk premium payers underwater with them.  They can hardly be blamed.  Grabbing free Obamaphones and subsidized insurance is in self-interest. It is offering it in the first place that is Policy suicide.  Willy Sutton, the robber, was once asked why he stuck up banks.  “Because that’s where the money is,” he explained.

The money was once at Electric Boat and in Venezuela.  So people came to “improve” it.

What eventually straightens things out is arithmetic. And arithmetic is no respecter of persons. Even as president Maduro of Venezuela reached a peroration on how he would put the capitalist roaders and profiteers in their places the electric grid of Caracas crapped out. The Jefe General Maximo Comandante El Presidente del Pueblo found himself talking into a dead mike.  But he never saw it as the revenge of arithmetic; never perceived in it the Hand of God or the Workings of Physics. To the locomotives of history the facts don’t matter. Only conspiracies do. So naturally he thought it was the work of saboteurs.

A power outage briefly darkened Venezuela’s capital and other parts of the country in what President Nicolas Maduro said was an act of sabotage against his socialist government.

The blackout began shortly after 8:00PM on Monday night, as Maduro was addressing the nation about his plan to reduce inflation battering the automotive industry.

Within minutes, people in downtown Caracas could be heard banging on pots in an act of protest.

Maduro, deprived of the airwaves, then took to Twitter to say that he and his aides were monitoring the “strange blackout that occurred in the same place as the last act of sabotage”.

Later, when power was restored, he ordered the armed forces on maximum alert to prevent attacks that he said were being planned by his opponents against the electric grid and the nation’s oil installations.

Maduro in recent days had warned that his opponents might try to sabotage the electrical grid to gain advantage in nationwide elections for mayors taking place on Sunday.

The late President Hugo Chavez used to levy the same charge, also without presenting any evidence, as blackouts became more frequent in recent years.

Yet the reason the blackouts have become more frequent was spelled out in the electric company’s own report, which warned the grid could collapse in 120 days; that 8 of a major installation’s 20 turbines were out of commission and the whole thing was running on fumes.  There was nothing strange about the blackout. The only wonder was that it didn’t happen sooner.

We can confidently say that when Venezuela goes belly up the socialist geniuses will go elsewhere. One such genius, Heinz Dietrich, a European socialist academic who served as Hugo Chavez’s mentor, has already concluded the situation “deteriorated essentially because of the lack of rigor with which Chávez understood and applied Dieterich’s rigid understanding of socialism. On 15 August 2011 he submitted an article to the website where he explained the reasons behind his definitive break-off with Chávez.”

And so parasites move on, looking for another place to suck dry.  As I pointed out earlier, to be a real Man of the People you should ideally wear a Rolex.  Transparency International rates Venezuela one of the most corrupt countries on earth, worse than Zimbabwe and in the same category as Eritrea, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau.  This is rarely mentioned in “progressive” universities.

This grift has been going on for a long time. Long before Kevin Costner made the movie about the Field of Dreams, Carlo Collodi’s Pinnochio described a place called the Field of Miracles. Entrusted by his father Gepetto with some coins Pinnochio encounters “a fox and a cat. A white blackbird tries to warn Pinocchio of their lies, but is eaten by the Cat. They convince him that if he plants his coins in the Field of Miracles outside the city of Catchfools, they will grow into a tree with one or two thousand gold coins.”

What a deal! Something for nothing and your kicks for free. It has always been thus. “If you build it they will come.”  But who comes? That’s the question. Progress doesn’t always work out the way we think.

Ninety years of progress in Egypt

Ninety years of progress in Egypt

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