Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Operation Oddysey Dawn, on the road to the Q-word.

Rebels flee their positions after shelling from Gaddafi's forces near Ajdabiyah, March 25, 2011.
REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Well this certainly isn't helpful for Operation Oddysey Dawn.   I mean, dangit.  Who could have seen this coming?   Libya crisis: Gaddafi forces adopt rebel tactics   
"...The first is that Colonel Gaddafi's army has decided to follow methods which the rebels have used so successfully.  Its men are racing forward in the ordinary flat-bed trucks known elsewhere in Africa as 'technicals', with heavy machine-guns or anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back.  Others are equipped with mortars. Though these are quite light, they often cause great panic among the rebels, and are quick and easy to move forward...
.. it was fairly easy to destroy tanks and artillery from the air, even though, as we now know, the coalition's aircraft and missiles had difficulty dealing with tanks that had been well camouflaged or were stationed in narrow streets between houses, where ordinary civilians live.
Now the pro-Gaddafi forces have largely switched to the use of "technicals" of the kind the rebels use, the coalition will have much more difficulty identifying which ones belong on which side."
The original plan was to protect civilians caught up in the civil war/rebellion/insurgency by destroying the Libyan military assets, machine and otherwise with pinpoint airstrikes. Boom, done.  That worked as planned, so now the Libyan military is tooling around in attack trucks just like the rebels'.  So the coalition will have to change tactics or risk watching the whole thing turn into Operation Oddysey Dusk.

Next predictable development..  CIA advisers on the ground to gather intelligence and make contacts with the rebels/terrorists/freedom fighters and to direct airstrikes on their behalf.  C.I.A. in Libya Aiding Rebels, U.S. Officials Say 
"..While President Obama has insisted that no American ground troops join in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks and are part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help set back Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.
The C.I.A. presence comprises an unknown number of American officers who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and those who arrived more recently. In addition, current and former British officials said, dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British Tornado jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces, and missile installations, the officials said."
To succeed this operation will take more than precision airstrikes. Clue; boots.  Is President Obama ready to go to Congress and the people and make a case to escalate this war/peacekeeping/ effort to bring about a regime change in Libya? I hope not.  I think he's smarter than that, but who can say.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Japanese robots can dance and ride bikes, but can they fix a nuclear reactor?

I saw a story today about how some special robots are being shipped from the USA to Japan to help regain control in the Fukushima nuclear reactors.  These handy robots can travel into the high level radiation environment to provide video feed, take measurements and even help clean up radioactive waste. Japan nuclear plant gets help from US robots

OK, a blog called "Pathteacher" has to comment on this story.  Whodathunk the USA would ever, ever export a robot to Japan?  Not me.  For cripes sake, in Japan there is a factory where robots build more robots.  There isn't a more robocentric culture or automation focused industry anywhere.  The fact that no Japanese company thought to engineer a robot specifically for performing dangerous work in hostile environments comes as a surprise to me.   Having to enlist the assistance of American-born robots must be difficult for many in Japan to accept and I'm not being flippant there. Its a matter of pride.

I will take the opportunity to point out some very cool Japanese robots that can do things other than clean up nuclear waste..

First, my favorite robot, the Sony QRIO robot. These can dance..

Then there is Murata Boy.  This handy robot can ride a bicycle.

Then finally, there is the Honda Asimo robot.  From the looks of it, this robot can climb up stairs without needing a handrail... or maybe not.    

I'm sure that now inspired to do so and with a design to mimic, some Japanese company will develop an even better robot for hazardous duty than the ones the US will send to assist in Fukushima.  It doesn't need to be able to dance or ride a bike or look like a stormtrooper for that matter, but it does need to be able to go up and down stairs.  To get to the emergency power generator in the basement.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rebellions, asymetrical warfare, and youtube..

I'm not down with the whole Libya thing, not quite yet anyway.  And no its not because I'm some Obama hating wingnut.  I actually think Obama has done pretty well playing the part of George W. Bush's 3rd term.  I just don't get this military approach to protect civilians.  How can you protect civilians when you can't tell combatants from civilians?  I guess its to kill off the people who wear uniforms which will then empower the ones who don't wear them and good luck figuring out that mess after the shooting stops.

True there have been attacks from Libyan military on areas where civilians were known to be.  Maybe even a case for war crimes.  But Quadaffi is fighting a rebellion in a sovereign nation in which the last time I checked, like it or not he was still the HMFWBIC, as in the head mother f-er who be in charge.  And the combatants he is fighting are hiding (or not hiding) in civilian areas. Does that give them free reign with no fear of attack?  For some perspective look at how Syria handled the Hama uprising in 1982.

The Syrian military shelled, exploded, gassed, and shot an entire village of some 10,000-ish people in which rebels were operating from in cooperation with the locals. No one around the world even blinked an eye back then. Or look at how the US military in Iraq had to operate in civilian areas to engage hostile militias. Or how Israel had to fight their last war in Lebanon when Hezbollah combatants fired rockets from civilian neighborhoods and near UNIFIL locations.

We have two trends working together in a dog-chases-tail scenario.. The Internet allows instant sharing of accounts and video of atrocities, so leaders can no longer quell a rebellion without the world finding out immediately. And the preferred tactic of rebels, insurgents, terrorists, whatever you call them has become to use civilians as shields and wage tactical attacks against the enemy from populated areas. Combined, these two forces will lead to more rebellions and chaos. Fine, you say for people over there.

But what about if some radical armed militia here in the US decides to wage attacks against the government or military from civilian locations? You think we might see some collateral damage in the response? oh perhaps. No I am not trying to compare our two nations' military forces in any way. Of course the US would take every effort to avoid any civilian casualties, but it happens.
Hopefully someday in the future, assuming we can stop the violence by killing enough of the military and security  forces, we can hand off the protection of the new Libya to a new batch of soldiers who will get to wear uniforms and be targets for the next rebellious "civilians". Good luck with that.

Why do we want to get in the middle of that hot mess?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-born American magician and escapologist, stunt performer, actor and film producer noted for his sensational escape acts. He was also a skeptic who set out to expose frauds purporting to be supernatural phenomena.
A truly amazing performer and person. He demonstrated an incredible escapability from all sorts of predicaments including handcuffs, shackles and chains, straight-jackets, tanks of water, hanging upside down, suspended in midair, etc, to stupefied fans around the world. His skills were so "off the hook" some even thought he was invoking some sort of supernatural powers. But Harry would have none of that talk about supernatural powers. He was absolutely pro-science, and enjoyed publicly debunking self-proclaimed psychics and mediums as frauds.

 He died in Grace Hospital in Detroit on October 31, (aka Halloween) 1926, from the effects of a ruptured appendix. 

And here is a haunting Kate Bush song along with some great photos of the master for the occasion..
Rosabelle, believe..


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Think about the problem before you dive in..

Everyone has experienced or heard a story of the teacher who distributed a 25-question examination with clear instructions to the class to read all of the questions before answering any.  And to make the long story short, question #25 ends up being something like.  "Ignore the first 24 questions and turn in a blank page with only your name on it"..  ha.  Sure enough, at least some of the kids get busy immediately answering questions instead of reading them all first and then look like dummies later..  Good lesson to learn early in life.  Otherwise you might find yourself in a room full of partially assembled IKEA furniture looking at the directions for Step 12 realizing now that you did step 5 wrong.
But my favorite sort of classroom trickery was the math challenges..  The questions you had to think about for a while before diving in.  Hmm.  What's the trick?  Where's the gimmick?  I always wanted to be the first kid with the answer but it was tough competition. 

A good example..  A teacher wants to give a child a tedious math assignment to keep him busy for an hour.  She tells him to add up all the numbers from 1 to 100.  as in 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +.. all the way to 100.  Have fun kid!  ha.

So the kid comes up to her desk a minute later and says, "Yo teach I get 5,050 is that right?"  To her amazement, he was correct.  So, explain how it is possible for someone to add up 100 numbers so quickly.

 Easy one right.  See the pattern?  0+100 = 100,  1+99=100,  2+98=100, ... 49+51=100.  So that's 50 ways to make 100 and 50 in the middle left over.  5,050.  easy as Pi.

The lesson..  Think about your problem before you dive into the solution.  understand it, draw it, look for patterns, make it simpler.  Laziness is a virtue in math.  And remember my theory for everything..  The more difficult a problem seems, the simpler its solution will be.            

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Economic stability and geologic transients..

Some 7 billion people or so populate nearly every corner of the planet in a scheme where (most) people spend their time and effort working in some way in return for money to exchange for things they need and want to buy. Using this basic framework for a somewhat cooperative society, its remarkable what humankind has accomplished over the last few thousand years. Our economic and social patchwork of a system has evolved into an amazing machine that allocates human resources around the globe to research, invent, manufacture, build, distribute, educate, feed, supply water, clothe, house, transport, cure, entertain, administrate, protect, destroy, and fill all the purposes that contribute to our standard of living. Almost no one is self-sufficient, but we all contribute in some way. By freeing up people from daily survival tasks it enables specialization of skills and efficiencies and provides a stream of innovation that make the technological advances more available to all. Man-made technology, not evolution, has enabled our species to propagate exponentially in this period. It isn't a perfect system, more like a Rube Goldberg machine, but it works more or less.

Until a major cataclysmic event. The kind with devastation so enormous society can't really prepare for it. Think major earthquakes, volcanoes, meteors.. With our complicated high tech modern global economic system, the shock waves to the economy will wreak havoc long after the seismic waves dampen out. The global economy barely feeds us all as it is. If there were to be a major disruption in a supply chain and valuable resources became scarce and expensive, it would increase costs and leave people at the fringes vulnerable to losing what meager lifeline they had. What happens when the supply ships with humanitarian aid quit arriving every week?

We have had some very damaging regional disasters in the past century in which many thousands of people have died and entire cities were wiped from the map, but none of these spread an economic contagion that dragged the global economy down with it. We've been lucky in some ways. The comet/meteor? that exploded over Russia in 1908 leveled some 800 square miles, but luckily it was a very remote area.  The Tunguska Event.  This explosion was compared to 1,000 times the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. If something of this size were to strike a major metropolitan area now, the toll could easily climb into the millions and send the entire global economy off the rails in its wake. No spot on the globe is immune from the destruction of a major geologic event. None of the 7 billion people are truly "safe".

What is unfolding in Japan in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami would have been strictly a local issue 100 years ago, but not anymore. The disruption to supply chains in various industries and the full impact of the disaster in Japan will take weeks to comprehend. It is difficult to gage how much of an economic contagion the global economy will be exposed to or how long it will be until all operations are back online. Of course there will be some price drops in commodities that Japan won't need as much of for a while like petroleum, and that will help consumers elsewhere somewhat.  There will be economic disruptions far beyond Japan due to the impact on currency exchanges, the reduced economic activity and damage to operations supplying high-tech components to other businesses worldwide.  Just be glad it wasn't anything close to another Tunguska Event over Shanghai or NYC. Humans would survive, but I'm not so sure our big machine would.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How do you measure how "angry" a city is?

This is pretty lame..  Magazine names Detroit angriest city in America  Detroit, the angriest city in America? really?  I don't know..  People you meet around here seem pretty friendly.  So I dig into the story to see what criteria was used to make the claim. I mean, how does one go about determining which city is the hotbed of anger.  So here it is..
To come up with the rankings, analysts compared aggravated assaults per capita, time spent in traffic during rush hour, the number of people with high blood pressure and the number of anger management specialists per capita for each of the cities.
Interesting set of criteria.  I guess you have to start somewhere.

1) Aggravated assault per capita:   If you had to pick one crime to represent anger, I guess this is the one.  But only a very small percentage of angry people actually go out and commit aggravated assault. Because this applies to such a small part of the whole group, I don't think it correlates to anger level in the general population.
2) Time spent in traffic during rush hour: This is a function of average commute distance, the amount of people employed, and the amount of road construction underway.  My problem with this is that as unemployment rises, rush hour traffic would become less of a problem.  I think that if unemployment was very high, there would be a lot of anger in the population.

3) Number of people with high blood pressure: There are a number of causes for high blood pressure, diet and weight contribute as well as stress level and genetics.  Its a medical condition, not a mood.   This assumes correlation that may not be there at all.  
4) Number of anger management specialists per capita: I suppose this could be a real indicator.  But it might just be tied to sentencing rules in the local courts. If anger management counselling became mandated as part of sentencing for certain crimes, new anger management specialists would open up shop to grab a slice of the buisness.  I don't think too many angry people actually show up for anger management therapy without getting prodded by the courts.

And I notice that Madison Wisconsin was #5 on the list of least angry cities in America.  Ha.  Not if you've been watching the news lately.  More like angriest place this side of the Middle East.

OK, if I was going to try to scale angriness of cities and had to pick four predictors, I would look at these factors.

1) Percentage of workforce who belong to a union.  Unions thrive by keeping members angry. 
2) Long-term unemployment rate. Long term joblessness breeds resentment.
3) Popularity of Fox News. They stoke anger and toss out red meat to attract angry viewers.
4) Turnover in elections.  Incumbents are safe until voters get angry. 

Might still be Detroit?  hmm.  Or Madison Wisconsin.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Liberal and Conservative and the Political Sphere

First some definitions..

Liberal:  Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

Conservative: Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

I don't think either of these words best describes the people labeled as one or the other these days.

The political climate in the US on both sides is a battle of "us versus them" without tolerance or openness for ideas from the other side.   A true liberal wouldn't base their plan for "reform" primarily to reward loyal political constituencies.  However one describes the left wing, I don't think the word liberal works very well.  They can be just as cognitively resistant to facts and reason as their political foes.  If there were any genuine liberals on the political scene, my guess is that neither party would want them.  You couldn't necessarily count on their vote every time and the party leaders don't like rogues.

As for conservatives, well, no political figure in my lifetime did more to kick over the tables and the status quo than George W. Bush did in the Middle East with the Iraq War. The dominos are still falling and  regional unrest will get worse before it gets better and we're all going to be affected by it.  Not a very conservative approach to geopolitics if to be conservative means to oppose change.

Further, the conservatives have agenda items that climb the wall of separation between church and state.  No real conservative would support legislation hostile to the constitution. These same people always complain about activist judges who twist the words of the constitution.  Now they want to flat-out pretend the words aren't even there.

I would also add that modern conservatives don't seem very interested in conserving much of anything either.  Looking at the staggering debt we've accumulated, you can't really say they want to conserve money.  And they typically think its their God-given right to waste as much water and energy as they damn well please and that climate change science is hooey. So the word conservative is doubly wrong for them.

Instead of a 2-dimensional line to describe the range of political views from far left to far right, I think its more like a 3-dimensional sphere.  The equator line would have rational at one side and crazy at the other side.  The crazy people from both the right and the left meet up on the other side of rational at the moronic convergence point.  The Meridian line normal to the equator would have political apathy at one side and political engulfment at the other side.  That range points out how some people care little about politics and others are consumed by politics.  And this variance exists for the right and the left as well.  So, the opposite of a rational intense person is a crazy apathetic one. 

Basically everyone occupies a spot on the political sphere.  Your position has both longitude and a latitude. I like to think I'm rational and about 1/2 intense.  Call me a liberal I guess.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Education Reform, a goal without a plan is just a dream.

Everyone talks about education reform.  To teachers unions that means higher salaries and lower classroom sizes.  To conservatives, it means abolishing the teachers' unions.  Neither plan is likely.  Here are three  ideas for significant changes that could reasonably be implemented to lower costs, the key enabler to education reform.  

1) Privatize the management of building maintenance, cafeteria, administrative, and transportation.  This means eliminating the union positions in school buildings for managing employees like janitors, skilled trades, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, secretaries and other non-certified district employees and contracting managers to run these operations efficiently as possible.  The union can still represent the crew, but it will be a smaller crew.  Some say privatize these entire operations and shed all of the employees, but in many districts that fight isn't practical and will take a lot more time and effort to accomplish.  This plan targets one specific level of the union hierarchy for privatization.

Instead of chipping away at everyone's wages and benefits, focus instead on cutting the headcount. This is a good one for a public battle if the non-certified union wants one.  Do they really want the public to know how little is expected of them in a shift?

2) Convert to a 4-day school week to save building utility and transportation costs.  Huge cost savings potential and best of all its a super-green idea with the 20% reduction in petroleum use and emissions. We can count on the teachers and the other unions to support green initiatives, right?  And a Newsflash to griping parents: No one ever promised the school would be your Monday to Friday babysitter.  People will figure out how to manage it.  School districts can reap huge savings here.    

3) Eliminate popular election of the school board members and make them appointed positions of the locally elected City council or Township board.  There is about zero chance that the people who get elected onto the local school boards are the most capable people for managing district finances.  The unions, particularly the non-certified employee unions whose members are more likely to live in the district can have a large influence on the low-turnout school board elections making it relatively easy to elect friendly school board members that will negotiate their contract.   What a racket.  True, if more voters would get involved in the campaigns and participate in the elections it would be less likely the unions could sway the outcome.  But why should taxpayers even hire negotiators by a popular election in which a lot of people whose jobs are directly affected by the negotiations vote?  A professional school board team hired by the council would be at least one layer removed from local politics and freer to pursue genuine reforms in union work rules and contracts instead of tweaking the status quo like they do now.

Lots more ideas for another time..  That's a start anyway.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Some products you can't buy.. yet. .

OK a few ideas for products that no one makes yet..

1) The electric hybrid all terrain vehicle.  The ATV that doubles as the power generator for the camp.  Then, when you go out into the woods before dawn to set up to hunt, you ride along the trail in electric mode instead of announcing to every critter within a few miles of your arrival like every other ATV on the market,

2) Circus peanuts that taste like Juicy Fruit gum.  Hello?  Why can't I buy these yet?

3) Light bulbs that turn themselves off.  A light bulb with a small built-in timer for 10, 20, 30 .. minutes that turns the light off automatically after the set time.  To get the light back on you'd have to cycle power at the switch and reset the timer.

4) Socks with a snap fastener so you could match up the pair before putting them in the laundry.

5) Misfortune Cookies.  A bag of what appears to be normal Fortune Cookies, but these have all grim and depressing messages.  Good gimmick gift..

6)  The Chuckie Doll butcher block kitchen knife holder. Oh you know someone who would want this on their counter top. 

7) The refrigerated pillow.  If your pillow stayed cool, you could save money on AC for the house at night.

8) The car with 5-point seat belts.  Why not offer this as an option?

9) Nitrogen bottle tire filling stations for gas stations instead of coin-operated compressors.  Easier to maintain, faster to use, and customers would pay a premium to use it.

10)  The dollar store stick-on remote location device.  One transmitter affixes to the TV remote, the other attaches to the TV.  When you can't find the remote, you press a button and the lost remote beeps.
OK, there are a few.  I could make lots of lists like this..  ha

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Too bad the kids don't have a union to protect them too.

I've posted before about volunteering in a SAE program that brings engineers into elementary school classrooms to try to motivate young students to pursue math and science.  America needs more engineers and scientists, this is an attempt to introduce them to the kind of things of engineers do and how we design using experiments to test ideas. 

This year marks my 7th year in the program and I have been into 5 different Detroit Public Elementary schools in that time.  Its a great experience getting to know the kids and challenging them a bit.  I have to say, I feel bad for the kids subjected to these learning environments. Each school I have visited has been unkempt and cluttered.  Dirty windows, unclean bathrooms, walls needed paint, floors needed scrubbed, weeds growing all around the school, graffiti on the building, Cardboard boxes stacked all over the shelves and tables in the classrooms.  This isn't a "union" problem.  Its a lack of management.  That would fall on the principals.  Take it up with their union I suppose.

The kids are typical elementary students with the normal assortment of brainy kids who want to learn and ask questions and do their best, others who go along with the program but aren't so into it, and other kids who would rather chat and goof off.  Pretty much what I would expect going into any classroom setting.  Typically 25-30 kids in the classroom.  Oh and 100% African American students.  I don't recall seeing a white kid in any of the DPS schools where I have volunteered.  Detroit's racial polarity is most blatant at this level of the community.  There may still be some white people scattered around Detroit neighborhoods, but you couldn't tell from the public schools.  These kids may grow up never having a single white classmate or neighbor.

Almost every DPS teacher I have ever worked with was white, which seems peculiar but union seniority rules and all.. For some reason they seem to yell a lot.  I mean like YELL A LOT.  A couple of them yelled but at least the message was respectful, just at a higher volume than I care to use.  A few others were just batshit crazy screaming and yelling at the students with tone and words that would likely get them into a "situation" if any parents were within earshot.  I have felt really uncomfortable a few times standing in a room with a teacher having a temper tantrum screaming at a room full of little kids.  I don't get it.  It never works for more than a minute or so.  It makes the screaming teacher look like a fool and the kids just lose respect.  Apparently this is acceptable in the DPS, because I've seen the same thing at a number of schools. Even when the room I have been in was quiet you occasionally hear some other teacher down the hall having a conniption.

I know that it can be frustrating as hell when kids don't listen to you.  But I have never seen where screaming at them and lashing out does anything other give a short-term shock effect.  Maybe its therapy for a frazzled teacher stuck in a failing district to scream at someone/anyone.   But the effect fades if you overuse it.  It doesn't promote the most conducive learning environment.  (free tip here, the best way to quiet a room is with a shhhhhhhh!! not a scream.)

I wonder if I am being unreasonable expecting teachers to control their tempers and not melt down and scream at a roomful of children (disclaimer for football coaches of course..)  They sure wouldn't act like that if parents were in the room or if a video camera was taping their tirades.  They don't seem to mind doing it in front of me. 

Dang people, just settle down.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Because the Constitution didn't mention airplanes

John F. McManus, President of the John Birch Society wrote a memo in the new Talking Points magazine in which he agreed with the "no" vote from US Senator Rand Paul (KY) on a measure in the Senate that sought to make a federal crime out of pointing a laser at an airplane.  These two agree that this should be a state matter, not a federal matter and McManus tries to back up that stance with a quote from James Madison, the Father of the Constitution himself.

Let me boil down the Bircher logic: Federal powers are specifically defined in the Constitution and because the Constitution never defined any federal powers regarding airplane safety, then the issue is reserved for the states, as per the 10th Amendment.  Case closed, Goodnight now. ... err  something like that anyway. 

To me its clearly an interstate commerce issue and potentially a national security issue when someone on the ground is aiming a laser at an airplane cockpit.  Rand Paul's "no" vote when 96 of his Senate colleagues voted "yes" is a prime example of an egomaniac playing the part of Horatio the Hornblower.. The resolution is going to pass anyways, so I might as well use this opportunity to draw attention to myself and my ignorance of the Constitution by casting a no vote. Hey Everyone! look at me!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Public Employee Unions

I grew up in manufacturing supervising and working with union represented employees.  And one thing I know is that management is at fault when operations are inefficient.  If it turns out that the union workers are at fault, then please refer to the previous statement about management.  Its not just the literal wording of the union contract that drives waste and higher operational costs, but how the place is run day to day.  How the work is planned, how the workers are trained and supervised, how disciplinary problems are handled, how facilities and equipment are maintained, how supplies are provided and stored, how labor is allocated. Is there a focus on satisfying the customers?  Are there continuous efforts being made to streamline processes?

I don't care if you pay the crew minimum wage, if the crew isn't managed well, then there will be waste and the cost of unchecked waste in operations can easily dwarf the savings from bargain basement wages.  If there are workers sleeping on the job or getting drunk and management allows it, then the managers are the  ones that should be fired first.  Don't try to tell me any union contract shields that behavior. 

I'm not sure that we even have the right enablers in place for effective management of union employees in municipal operations.  In the schools, we entrust the management of multi-million dollar enterprises with hundreds of employees to promoted teachers who have education backgrounds. In facilities there are typically members of one union supervising crews from another union and no real management to speak of.   Managers in many civil service positions have a pay scale that is tied to the number of employees under their control so there is no strong incentive to reduce the size of their crew.  Department budgets that aren't spent by the end of the year are prone to be cut permanently so there is strong incentive to spend every drop of allocated funds, whether its needed or not.  If managers don't get rewarded for reducing costs and might actually stand to lose compensation, then what's their motivation?     

Most all union members I have worked with just want clear direction about the job and want the right tools, time and equipment to do the job well.  No one feels good about doing a job half-assed.  And believe it or not, busy workers are almost always happier in their jobs than the ones without enough work to occupy their time.  This is a direct take-off from the definition of inertia;  objects in motion tend to stay in motion, objects at rest tend to stay at rest.   Its no different with the crew.   
So we can all kick the unions as the problem, and I'm quite sure that old-school union militancy in all its ignorance is still out there resisting change, but management can almost always enact great efficiency gains even within the confines of the contract.  If they truly can't then the voters need to know that so they can  elect different politicians and local leaders who can negotiate contracts that provide the right enablers for eliminating waste and using the taxpayer's money as if it were their own.

I dare say Government operations at any level that involve union represented employees can learn a lot from the lessons in manufacturing over the last couple decades.  Don't let the inmates run the asylum.  Manage every operation by continuously striving to eliminate waste of all forms in work elements and processes.

Its not impossible to run efficiently with a union workforce.  That's a cop out and a sure sign of a poor manager.



Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Glen Beck's dog whistle message. Nuke Detroit

Yeah yeah yeah Detroit sucks.  That's some really fresh material there Glen Beck.  Wow.  And we all heard your sekrit message in the Hiroshima comparison.  The dog whistle aint working.  That Detroit is so f*ed up we should just blow it up literally and start over. Look, see how Hiroshima is all shiny and beautiful now.  No abandoned cars, no crack houses, no piles of trash, no empty gutted skyscrapers, and oh yeah minor detail but no n*s there either, right Glenn!  In fact, Detroit is such a complete craphole the only way to fix it is to blow it up and start over.  Tell everyone to leave town and just nuke it.  Now normally when some racist makes makes that joke they first turn left and right to make sure there are none of "them" around to hear it but Beck doesn't need to worry, he's way smarter than that.  He doesn't say outright we need to nuke Detroit. No, he pulls out the Hiroshima metaphor instead and Fox nation knows eggs-actly what he's talking about and they shout Hell Yes Glen! at the TV.  Ahh ratings...

One thing, Glenn Beck doesn't make anything up on his own.  If he ever had an original idea it would die of loneliness. He and his staff muck around the bottom-feeders of the net and read through Bircher pamphlets and all the conspiracy theory chain e-mails your Uncle Paul sends you and even listen in on the Alex Jones radio show to steal the latest juiciest scoops and then tone down the kookiness just enough to eke by the Ethical Standards Department at Fox News.  He isn't really leading the parade like a drum major.  He's just a clown who saw the band marching by and jumped out in front.

So yeah  we all know Detroit has tons of abandoned homes that need to be levelled and neighborhoods that need to be rebuilt and a school system that needs to be overhauled.  It needs to attract new industry build a new infrastructure and every city department needs to be scrubbed clean of the crooks and liars.  And its going to take more than just administrative tweaking, the entire system for providing all municipal services needs to be rethought from the ground up.  If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.. right?  But really, other than the part about all the abandoned homes, the same problems could be cited for nearly every urban area in the USA.  But go ahead, kick the D.  That theme always scores well in the ratings and that's the only thing that drives Glenn Beck.
Another thing, a minor point I suppose, for all the horrible photos Beck showed of the decay in the city, what he didn't give a hint to was how lush and green the city becomes in the Spring and Summer, what with all the abandoned lots on every street, all the vacant fields becoming overgrown with plants and trees again.  I could do without the packs of wild mutts roaming the streets and alleys, but there is no doubt the city is rejuvenating itself its own way while man tries to figure out how.

In this climate Mother Nature reclaims land quickly by sprouting trees and inviting critters back if you don't mow the fields for a few years.  I call it this natural greening effect "Ghettos to Meadows" and Detroit is perhaps the greenest ghetto of them all.  I wouldn't be surprised to see start-up farms sprouting with all the available acreage of vacant land in the city, the tempered climate, the water supply and food prices going through the roof from climate chaos.  More on that some other time..
Oh and I had my own post about Detroit a while back here.