Sunday, January 08, 2006

America The Lazy

Regardless of which side of the TC fence you're on, very few of you realize that I played a big part in kicking the Soviet Union's ass. Sure, Reagan gets all the credit, but it was me and thousands of other defense industry workers that brought those godless commies to their knees back in the late 80's.
We didn't necessarily do it through innovation or superior technology and we definitely didn't do it through hard work.
Instead, we did it by pretending to work. Tens of thousands of us sucked vigorously on the government teat while doing virtually nothing else. When a few hundred men were needed to do a particular job, the government hired thousands so the commies would think we were like tireless, malevolent army ants intent on destroying their miserable way of life. The Russians didn't have the money to keep up with this monumental level of pretense so they folded as quickly as a surfboard shop in Minsk.
I'm not kidding about this. I worked on a cruise missile program for General Dynamics for two years and the vast majority of us did exactly as we were asked to do, which was pretty much nothing. Heck, finding something productive to do required the imagination of Da Vinci and Stephen King combined.
Most of us would finish our tasks for that day before mid-morning coffee break and spend the rest of the day coming up with ways to look busy. My favorite tactic was to clutch some papers in my hand and walk really fast with a scowl on my face as if I were late for some terribly important meeting, even though I was usually just on my way to the snack machine.
As long as we at least looked productive, kept our desks tidy and didn't cut out early, General Dynamics and the government were happy.
Granted, the damn cruise missiles got built, but there was more pork in that program than in a Nebraska housewife's Wal-Mart shoppin' ass.
The shoulder patch worn by the Air Force personnel that tended to our Ground Launched Cruise Missile. Note the Cold-War logo: Moscow in the morning.
Actually, I have my doubts as to whether that whole pretending to work thing was what Reagan had in mind. He probably just didn't realize that the productivity of the American worker as a whole had degenerated to such a point that we needed three or four men to do what used to pass for one man's honest day's work.
I'm not sure I have an explanation for this demise in American productivity, but I can think of an example that might give us some clues. Just after Hitler started accumulating all that lebensraum in Europe and right after the Japanese gave us a Hirohito hotfoot, America kicked into overdrive. The will and might and economic power of America became the Arsenal of Democracy, punching out an extraordinary amount of battleships, aircraft, tanks, guns and ammo in a remarkably short amount of time.
Compare that to the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. America kicked into overdrive alright, but her manufacturing might took a different direction. The nation's presses, conveyor belts and inkjet machines started pumping out untold numbers of...mugs, ashtrays and T-shirts commemorating 9-11. The stacked-up height of the rolls of Osama Bin Laden toilet paper (help "wipe out" terrorism) probably rivaled that of the defunct twin towers. Flag manufacturers began running triple shifts to feed the jingoistic fever.
You know, of course, that if you don't profit off a tragedy, the terrorists win.
While the two situations WWII and 9-11 were quite different, I think it at least hints at the problem, and the problem is both the beauty and curse of America.
In America, everyone thinks they're eventually going to make a lot of money. Unless Americans think they can conceivably get rich doing a particular job, they do it half-ass. Most jobs are regarded as an annoying necessity; something to pay the bills with until the real thing comes along.
It seems to me that part of the education problem in America stems from the fact that a good percentage of our teachers took the job because they haven't yet found the one that's going to make them a pile of dough. Sure, there are no doubt plenty of dedicated teachers out there teachers who should have goddamn statues built to honor them but none of the ones I know take work home, spend any time outside of school hours making lesson plans, or even try to emulate the dedicated educators that we occasionally see in TV shows or movies.
Nope, they're working on screenplays, flashing beaver on personal pay-for-porn sites, or sending resumes out so they can get out of their dead-end jobs.
The other half of the education problem is the students themselves. Who wants to bust a gut stimulating a student body that, to a boy and girl, thinks that school is a waste of time because they're the next Bill Gates, LeBron James or Ashlee Simpson? Yeah, the fact that you can get to level 5 on Doom 3, dunk a ball on your rickety 8-foot-high backyard court or sing La La in the shower is irrefutable proof of your star power.
Dream on slacker.
It bothers me, too, that I can I think of at least 4 people I know who are on permanent disability; people who either faked or exaggerated some injury and bilked their companies and the government into paying them to hunt, fish, or pursue some other hobby (the one that's going to make them a ton of money someday).
I've got a friend who owns a cafe but he gave up hiring Americans a long time ago. They're chronically late, spend an inordinate amount of time talking to their boyfriends, and think nothing of calling in sick at the last minute because they partied too hard the night before or because Skankapalooza 05 is happening at the Civic Center this weekend.
Instead, he hires Irish exchange students and Brazilians. They're never late. They work hard. They realize that boyfriends are for when they're not working. They don't ask for days off, and if they're sick get this they don't call the boss, they find coverage for themselves! Not only that, but when I hit on them, they don't drop their tray, point at me and make that high-pierced shrieking sound like the pod people in the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
No wonder so many companies are outsourcing. Apu in India takes his job seriously. He probably takes pride in it. He realizes he's lucky to have it. And even if he does have "bigger plans," he's going to work hard at this job because by accepting his job he's entered into a tacit agreement with his employer: I will work hard and in exchange for a good day's work, you will pay me the agreed-upon rate.
Maybe America needs some hard-work role models. Too bad they're few and far between. One need look no further than our Commander-in-chief for what is probably a less than stellar role model as far as putting the nose to the grindstone is concerned. I don't want to enter into an argument about whether he's a good President or a bad President that's not germane to the conversation.
Consider, though, the image he presents to young Americans: a man who pretty much skirted through life, who pretty much failed at everything he did in life prior to becoming President; who was elected Governor to a state where the Lieutenant Governor is the more powerful position and where the Governor's chief duty is photo ops and presiding over an assembly that meets once every two years for 140 days; a man who gets elected President but rarely works past 5 or 6 PM and who's taken more vacation than any President in history who allegedly spends two hours a day playing video games.
None of this stuff is especially damning, but it's not exactly an Abe-Lincoln-as-a-youngster-walking-miles-just-to-borrow-a-book story.
If the average kid after being lectured by dad about how hard work will pay off were to bring up George W. Bush as an example to the contrary, dad would surely sputter and insist that junior shut up and eat his peas.
There's something to be said about not accepting your station in life and having high hopes. That's the good part of the American Dream. It really is true that virtually anyone can become rich. But what a wonderful place it would be if everyone, for the sake of integrity, just decided to do a good job, whatever his or her current station in life.
Who knows? Bill Gates might notice that you did a helluva' job applying the special sauce to his burger and decide that you've got the right stuff to head up his new European software division.


At 7:16 PM, Blogger rydel23 said...

I'm curious about your Minsk reference. Is it some sort of slang expression?

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Musings of a Demented Mind said...

The Minsk reference in this case is a sarcastic one, as are most of the comments in this post. Minsk is the capital city of The Republic of Belarus which is a landlocked nation-state in Eastern Europe. The republic officially declared its independence on August 27, 1990, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Being that it is landlocked and in Eastern Europe surfing would, presumably, not be a popular pastime and therefore any surfboard shop opened in that locale would very very quickly go out of business and close down.


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