Wednesday, July 15, 2009



The Associated Press reported last week that the government’s plan to recruit more tugboat pilots for the nation’s commercial waterways “may have backfired”. Specifically, “the US tugboat fleet is increasingly piloted by captains who have spent as little as one year in the wheelhouse”.

More specifically: “We have the highest horsepower in history, pushing more tonnage than ever in history, with the least knowledgeable personnel in history. It’s a disaster.” The accident record of late, this senior tug captain observes, gives clear evidence.

Simultaneously, the NTSB has just released its report on a 2008 trolley accident in Boston where an operator blew through a stop warning and rammed another train. Charges were brought earlier this month against another operator on that same line, who was texting a girlfriend and rammed another trolley at rush-hour in the main station.

Remarkably, the government operatives involved claim that either there’s no problem or that what is required is more technology. A Coast Guard captain in charge of maritime licensing says that the old system had its flaws too and that the present master’s license apprentice policy – designed to “get people into the program” – has worked: it is “an effective program to get people into the program”. This is his response to the tug-masters’ assertion that their ranks have “become saturated with inexperienced pilots”.

In the 2008 trolley matter, the government reports itself amazed that more technology isn’t in place to help prevent this sort of thing. To which the drivers’ union adds benefit of an Amen-chorus: there is a lack of “safety culture” at the public-transit agency (Boston’s).

Neither the government nor the trolley drivers’ union mention an even more basic problem, one that is implied but ignored by the oh-so-carefully Politically Correct Coast Guard senior officer: there is a culture, and an underlying milieu, of irresponsibility that has crept into – or been imposed upon – society, and it has taken root now throughout American society and culture, even in agencies where the most acute need for responsible and competent command responsibilities are – it cannot be denied – very necessary.

At the Coast Guard’s own service academy, female cadets are not required to master disciplines such as karate or martial arts, and are allowed to substitute “interpretative dance” instead … it’s not the discipline of mind, emotions, and body that’s the objective, ya see – it’s just a thang to help cadets express themselves and feel a sense of achievement (after all, when would a Coast Guard officer ever have to rely on a coordinated and well-honed discipline of mind-emotions-and-body?).

At the Navy’s Annapolis, a two-foot step was placed at the bottom of an eight-foot wall so female cadets could climb over it; nor do they have to do pull-ups, since the idea isn’t to condition the body and force it to achieve unfamiliar levels of competence – the idea is just to get an un-coerced and ‘natural’ feeling of achievement and job-satisfaction. And after all, when would a naval officer ever need to rely on a coordinated and well-honed discipline of mind-emotions-and-body?

The Navy brass have an answer to that last question, by the by: the Naval Academy is not in the business of preparing future naval combat leaders – it’s there to help ‘persons’ prepare for a career in the Navy. After all, how much discipline and competence and maturity does it take to push a button when you’re told to? This is a concept of naval (and military) leadership that seems to have been taken straight from Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s flying Marriott-concierge suite, the USS Enterprise, hull designator NCC-1701-D, which will return after these messages.*

And We don’t’ think the country has declined to a state of the most profound un-seriousness?

How the frak did We get here?

I would connect the following dots: The civil rights movement of the 50s and early 60s envisioned the opening up of America’s opportunities to blacks, heretofore denied as a hold-over from the era of legal slavery. When affirmative-action was imposed in the later-60s the government and courts (for assorted reasons that they felt justified the scheme) made the mistake of requiring equality-of-outcomes, rather than ensuring equality-of-opportunity. In consequence, employers both civilian and governmental gravitated toward simply ensuring that certain ‘numbers’ of the favored minority became the primary guideline. And given that legislation, regulations, courts, and the media made it far easier for an unhappy job-applicant to ‘go public’ with his/her unhappiness … well, you can see where it would appear more cost-effective to managers simply to make sure they had their ‘numbers’ correct.

Further, certain strands of feminism became Politically Correct whereby ‘competence’ and even ‘maturity’ were considered both ‘oppressive’ and ‘elitist’. Generations of youth have now grown up with the impression that a robust sense of ‘entitlement’ was all that was necessary to make one’s way in the job-market.

Further, certain strands of feminism became Politically Correct whereby the typical American family was shredded, often resulting in fathers being absent. These persons had previously done much to fulfill the role of helping their offspring shape and discipline less-mature and productive urges into some working capacity to mesh oneself into exterior societal standards so as to obtain employment and sustain an acceptable level of performance. Generations of youth have now grown up with the impression that such competence is – at the most charitable – ‘quaint’, but more likely self-hating, oppressive, conformist, and unnecessary.

Further, certain strands of feminism became Politically Correct whereby the individual was to consider him/herself as primarily a ‘victim’ and a passive receiver of oppressive societal and cultural pressures. In which case the primary – perhaps only – role of the individual (excepting white, adult, male individuals) was to express outrage and make demands to become ‘un-oppressed’.

Further, the menu of those classes of persons covered by affirmative action was expanded so that by the early 1990s – now two decades ago – the list included almost all persons in the country except the afore-mentioned white adult males.

Further, the entire concept of ‘competence’ was generally pooh-poohed as merely a fabricated ploy to maintain the oppressive victimization of all individuals except the afore-mentioned white adult males. As were the concepts of ‘responsibility’ and ‘maturity’ and ‘productivity’ and – I would say – ‘adulthood’.

Further, in light of the official de-emphasis on ‘maturity’ throughout the culture and society (it was merely ‘ageism’), the youth of an applicant became irrelevant in the hiring process.
Further, in light of the official de-emphasis on ‘capability’ throughout the culture and society, all but the most grievous physical disabilities were considered irrelevant.

Further and finally, the assumption was made that if you have a ‘right’ to any job or career that you want to have (which is itself questionable) then you are by definition able to do it – and if you don’t seem to be able to do it, then that’s just some form of ‘oppression’ imposed upon you by stereotyped ‘perceptions’ and ‘attitudes’ and changing the situation isn’t something you have to worry about. The ‘right’ and your desire – magically – confer the competence. Magic indeed.

And all this in a society where children from increasingly disorganized home environments were thrust into – ummmmm – a very fluid and increasingly unstructured society; both of which experiences generated fantastic amounts of emotional distress and tensions which were often ‘solved’ by medication, prescription and otherwise.

In the Boston trolley cases, the offending operator in the 2008 instance is now revealed by the NTSB report to be “overweight, and a toxicology report showed the presence of over-the-counter sleep aid in her urine”. The Report “concluded … that [the operator] may have experienced a ‘microsleep’ based on investigation belief that she was at high risk of undiagnosed sleep apnea”. The operator was a black female, aged 24.

The offending operator in the 2009 incident was a 21 year-old female who had recently transgendered (I guess is the verb to use now) to male and was busy texting “his girlfriend” at some length, thus blowing into a main station at rush hour with a loaded train and ramming a similarly-loaded train ahead.

I am not trying to turn back any clocks here, nor trying to reinforce any old societal ‘stereotypes’.

But I do note that each operator qualified as a ‘multiple minority’ (if I may) in the imposed hiring-requirements. It is not hard to imagine that no employer, especially in government, would want to risk the consequences – including those to his or her own career – of disappointing such applicants.

In such a milieu, competence and the capacity for assuming and sustaining responsibility inevitably have become very secondary, when not actually irrelevant.

And – especially in government (We recall the military’s experiences) – there are jobs and tasks and missions that require precisely those qualities. Because they are assignments that are not simply ‘jobs’ or ‘career opportunities’ such as slinging hash or selling stuff, but rather missions that hold people’s lives in the balance.

Clearly there have been – as they say of the Iraq War now – some unintended consequences of the original scheme.

But they were hardly unforeseeable consequences.

There are now very many job-seekers who have grown up in such a milieu, and so many managers and employers – private and governmental, civilian and military – and so many office-holders, deeply enmeshed in the systemic mire that this scheme has created. It will take a massive political will and maturity to make the necessary corrections.

And the economy has collapsed. Which can hardly be a mere coincidence.**

This generation of Americans – all of Us breathing at this point – has a rendezvous with Maturity, to update FDR. And Competence, and Responsibility.

Let Us rise to the challenge.


*Readers whose cardiac primary care physician will approve the effort might allow themselves a moment to wonder if any of this has affected the performance of armed services, where NVOs (non-victorious outcomes) are much the rule these days. Readers might enhance this imagination-exercise by playing a CD or DVD of the old ‘Victory At Sea’ series while performing it.

**The red-suspender whiz kids graduated from the better business schools and partying like it was 1999 have – in the absence of mature legislative and judicial intervention – wrecked the economy; they were not ‘poor’ in any material sense, but then this isn’t about poverty but about maturity and capacity for responsibility. Although, then again now, it is increasingly about poverty – everybody’s.

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