A Short Story: Making the Numbers Work

I have written a lot of short stories and now plan to put some of them together to publish a printed and ebook version of a book of short stories. Below is a short story to be included in a book of cold war short stories. This is considered to be a draft and any comments, note of errors would be appreciated.

Making the Numbers Work

Jim Fowler settled down in his corner office with his first vendor machine cup of coffee. The coffee was pretty bad but the only alternative would be bringing a thermos. The corner office with a door represented a measure of his success as a long time employee of the Data Control Corporation, commonly known as DCC. It took a while, over twenty years to reach this position. Fowler started out as a mechanical design engineer and was finally put in charge of all program management for all space systems programs. DCC had a reputation for highly reliable, light weight, miniature sized yet capable computers for use in space for its government customers. Business had been good with President Reagan promoting his Star Wars missile defense system but that could change since the Berlin Wall had come down a month previously.

There had been a lot of pressure with the job and Jim attributed the stress to his overweight condition and loss of hair. Jim had thought about doing some exercise, maybe jogging. Trouble is he should lose some weight before he tried jogging. It was one of those chicken and egg things. There wasn’t much that could be done about the growing bald spot on the crown of his head. Combing what hair he had over the bald spot wasn’t much of an improvement.

Despite the pressure Jim liked his position, head of program management in Space Systems programs with staff of a half a dozen working on proposals, program budgets, scheduling and four program managers in charge of seven multimillion dollar programs between them. He was making more money and wielded more power than he ever would have had as a design engineer and thought he had a talent for the job. He had a reputation as a good negotiator, was liked by customers who were prime contractors for the most part like Lockheed and Boeing. He also became known as a demanding kick ass type by his program and department managers that supplied the engineers, technicians, assemblers and support people that worked on the programs. Like most of the DCC management, his background and training had been technical, not people oriented as were most of company management people and therefore company depended on managers with gifts from God type skills or adaptability. Jim suspected he had a born with his management skills.

Jim’s phone rang. He hesitated to answer it. He suspected it might be Gerald Blackstone, director of the Government Systems Division calling about an overrun on the Eagle One program that showed up in the last monthly financial report.

Gerald growled “Good morning Jim.” To Jim, Gerald’s voice didn’t sound like it was going to be a good morning.

Gerald continued, “Say Jim, that Eagle One program is over budget, behind schedule. What are you doing to fix it?”

What Jim heard wasn’t any news to him and shouldn’t be any news to Gerald Blackstone. Alex Jorden, the program manager that prepared the Eagle One proposal had instructed all of the departments doing the estimating to bid it skinny. The procurement would be fixed price and competitive. A potential for follow on programs added value to the current procurement.  The systems use would be for surveillance, something not likely to be cut during defense spending cuts. Last but not least, the division backlog had been shrinking and without new business there would be headcount reductions.

Alex had negotiated and cajoled the department managers to cut the bid to the bone and then division management cut the low ball estimates by twenty percent. They were rolling the dice, betting that other division programs could make up any Eagle One losses so the division would be able to post an acceptable profit and level of business during the coming year. Now division management wanted to know why the program was running over budget. Jim hesitated to answer, he didn’t want to say what he was thinking; which was, you dumb asses, what were you expecting?

“Hello, anybody there?” Gerald asked after waiting a while for an answer.

Jim faked a small cough to let Gerald know he was still on the line. He was trying to think of ways to stall or dodge the question. No doubt Gerald Blackstone was under pressure from corporate management to show a division year end profit to be rolled into the corporate annual report. Jim began fabricating an answer to Gerald’s question. “We are working the problem,” he said without going into any detail. “I’ll have a work around plan on your desk Monday morning.”

After discussing a number of issues on other programs Gerald signed off reminding Jim he looked forward to seeing the work around plan on Monday.

Jim rocked back in his desk chair and stared at the ceiling after hanging up the phone. He didn’t want to work this weekend on the “Plan.” For one thing it seemed to be an exercise in futility and the other thing is that he had better things planned for the week end.  He dialed Alex Jorden’s office located several doors down the hall. “Alex, you got a minute or an hour or so to talk about the Eagle One program?”

At the time Jim called Alex Jorden, manager of the Eagle One program Alex was in the middle of preparing the customer Eagle One monthly progress report so it was good timing for him and he grabbed a couple Eagle One binders and headed for Jims office.

Alex had boyish face with a full head of hair that made him look young for a man about to turn fifty. A lot of activities with his two sons, nine and eleven, helped him stay in shape. Alex like most managers in the company had technical backgrounds. Trained as an electrical engineer, he loved design and was good at it. Like many good design engineers he had been awarded by making him a manager of other engineers. It took Alex some time to realize he didn’t like managing people, particularly egotistical engineers.

The problem with leaving management and going back to computer design was that  technology evolved at a fast pace at the design level and a person away for couple of years could become obsolete. Transistors were packaged individually in cans when he was designing, now they put thousands on a microchip. Instead of doing logic at the transistor level they were doing it at the microchip level. Sure he could do it but it would be like starting over.  He worked around the problem by going into program management where he had to understand the nature of the technology changes but not the nitty gritty of implementing them. In program management he managed things, like proposals, budgets, schedules and was the primary interface with the customer. He could handle that.

Jim waved Alex to sit at a side table where they could spread out program data. “Here’s the problem,” Jim said as an introduction to what they had to do today. “Division management wants to know why Eagle One is overrunning its budget. Apparently they don’t want us to tell them what they already know. We bought the program, an investment that will pay off someday in the murky future. Apparently corporate wants the division contracts to pay off today, to hell with the murky future. So all we have to do is come up with a plan to show how we can make a profit from a contract we bought with a bid that we estimated would twenty percent less than cost. How do we do that?

Alex lookd at Jim, “Are they serious?”

“We are supposed to come up with a work around plan by Monday morning.”

“We can give them the plan this afternoon,” Alex replied. “It’ll be a note that says it can’t be done. We have technical problems we don’t even know how to solve. A twenty percent overrun could be a low ball estimate. I’m hardly charging the program. I keep haggling the department managers to keep the cost down. We have put as much pressure on the vendors as the law allows. Some of the vendors are betting on the follow on, just like us.”

Jim, who had been scanning a print out of vendor charges on the Eagle One program looked up, “That’s interesting,” He said.

Alex wanted to know what’s interesting.

“Are you doing any work on Eagle One?” Jim replied. “Don’t look like you are charging hardly any time to it.”

“You know time is charged to what you are working on, a program, a proposal, overhead if you are on vacation, sick-leave.”

“So you don’t spend much time on Eagle One?”

Alex didn’t like where the conversation had gone. Mischarging on government contracts was a no no which could result in heavy penalties for the company and individuals. Alex managed two phases of the Eagle One program; one phase a fixed price contract to develop of a new computer, and a related but separate cost plus program to manufacture a dozen satellite computers of previous design for use in a NSA program. The production program had been negotiated a year earlier as a none-competitive cost plus contract. The government had little leverage as no other suppliers had the technology or the interest in competing for the business. As a result DCC Space Systems loaded up the contract which the prime contractor was only able to negotiate out some the most egregious charges. The result had been a contract with a lot of padding and Jim knew damn well what Alex had been doing.

Alex didn’t answer the question but Jim answered it for him. “Hey,” Jim said, “It’s no big deal; we all fudge project times given an opportunity and reason. Maybe that’s a solution, doing something like this on a bigger scale.

What Jim had just said scared Alex. “What are you saying?” Alex asked, hoping maybe he had misunderstood Jim.

“Well you have two programs, one that is starving and the other one is fat. Same prime customer, same government agency, you just balance things out between the two of them.”

Alex was aware of those kind of shenanigans went on with cost plus programs where there were two contracts within the same program and two buckets of money and how you filled them didn’t make much difference in the big picture as long as they didn’t overflow. Two programs, one program cost plus and the other fixed price is a different story. People get fired, companies get fined and get a black mark when those kinds of things are mixed together. Alex had over twenty years invested in DCC and didn’t want to risk it in order to make management happy. He pointed out these obvious problems to Jim.

Jim wasn’t impressed. “There’s more than one way to get fired,” he replied. “The quickest way is to mismanage your programs. If you are given an impossible program to manage you have to figure out how to manage it. I’m in the same line of fire as you are. I see a way to fix the problem and everyone will be happy and none the wiser.”

Ales felt the pressure. Jim evaluated Alex’s performance in the annual reviews and made salary recommendations. These evaluations went into his file and stayed there forever. A bad evaluation in his record could affect his future in DCC in a bad way. Besides Alex was not sure how they could accomplish what Jim implied. How could they manage the time card information?  Alex couldn’t think of a shuttle way to ask Jim how the manipulation of time card information would be accomplished so laid it out on the table. “How do you intend to modify the time cards?” He asked.

“Hey Alex, as far as we are concerned, this conversation never took place. I expect you will work out the details and I don’t want to know how it’s done.” He said they had accomplished what they needed to do in the meeting and Alex should get busy working on the plan to to be completed by Monday.

Alex felt a migraine headache coming on after leaving Jim’s office. Alex had been looking forward to a weekend of canoeing with his two sons. They would be canoeing on a nearby river, leaving Saturday, camping overnight and returning Sunday evening. Now he had this problem hanging over his head, an impossible problem to be solved in any legitimate in a way.

Alex hadn’t been asked if he agreed with the scheme Jim had come up with. Jim had decided what to do and told Alex to do it. This was Jim’s style. So Alex knew he would be in trouble with Jim if he didn’t do as directed, and he would be in trouble with the customer if they found out what was going on. There were no good scenarios.

Jim went on the canoe trip with his two boys as planned. During the canoe trip he tried not to worry about his work problem and let it spoil the canoe trip for the boys. The first day they were going down river with the current helping them. They stopped often observed the rivers wildlife. They caught a couple nice walleyes that they roasted on a fire for a shore dinner that evening. They did some more fishing from shore that night and caught a few small sunfish that they returned to the river. They got into their sleeping bags early because they would be paddling upstream to return to their put in spot the following day. The following day they didn’t take many breaks as they worked against the current. It was a day devoted to rowing. The boys took turns rowing the bow position. It was evening by the time they had made it back and tied the canoe onto the cars luggage rack. While driving home Jim felt exhausted but felt that he had done a good days work. The boys were also exhausted and were soon sleeping in odd positions in the car. In addition to having a fun weekend with his boys, Alex had worked out a plan in his mind to satisfy Jim’s order to fix the Eagle One program.

The scheme Alex concocted involved collecting time cards on Friday that would be turned in by noon. He would then close the door to his office and select cards to be modified and replace them with time cards that had been altered. He would forge the employee’s signature on the altered card by looking at the real signature and duplicating it as best he could. He had tried to think of better ways to do it but using white out or cross outs would obviously be spotted.

In addition Alex decided during the canoe trip that he would begin looking for a new job. The twenty plus years he had invested in DCC had lost its importance after the time card meeting with Jim.

He found the defense business job market had tightened. The USSR was collapsing, the cold war ending and technology people exiting the defense business were crowding the rest of the technology world. Alex spent a month chasing leads, contacting every local business that might need his skills. He didn’t want to move out of the area. He and his family had put down roots that would be hard to extract.

A month went by and the next Eagle One budget report showed remarkable improvement. Jim congratulated Alex on how he had managed to improve the program performance

Alex began calling former associates who had left DCC recently to find out what they were doing and if they knew of any opportunities.

He called Frank Dawkins, a sharper than average engineer who had been lured away from DCC by a startup. Alex found that Frank had left the start up after three months.

“They didn’t know what to hell they were doing,” Frank said. “So I decided to start my own company. Have you heard about a thing called the internet? It’s starting to go commercial. I’m looking for C ++ coders. Know any?”

Alex said he didn’t know C ++ but was looking for work.

“What happened with DCC?” Frank asked.

“Short story,” Alex replied, “Still working but looking to leave.”

“Hell Alex, you used to do Fortran, you can learn C++ like nothing. But you know I can’t pay you like a Program Manager at DCC and you will be digging in the nitty gritty.”

Frank went on to describe what they were doing with the internet and seemed to get more excited as he talked. The idea began to appeal to Alex, he liked the nitty gritty. It wouldn’t be hardware but programming was the same kind of thing. “The idea is appealing,” Alex admitted. “I can handle a pay cut as long as it don’t last forever. How about some stock in your little enterprise in lieu of a big salary?”

Frank laughed, “All our professional people have gotten stock, don’t cost the bottom line anything and we can all get rich together.”

They agreed to meet the next day and talk some more. As a result Alex signed on for a substantial cut in the salary he made at DCC and twenty thousand shares of the new company’s stock.

The next morning Alex gave Jim the required two week notice that he would be leaving the company. Jim looked shocked. “You can’t do that,” he yelled. “You know damn well why you can’t do that.”

“I did it,” Alex admitted.

“Stay another year; you’ll get the best raise you ever had.”

“If you’re worried about the time cards I’ll brief you on the process. I’ll help you with it for the next two weeks.”

“Dammit, you know I can’t assign another manager to either program. I’ll have to manage them myself. That’s not going to work. I’ll get you a promotion.”

Alex had been focused on his own problems associated with leaving DCC and hadn’t lost much sleep worrying about the problems he might be causing Jim. But being made aware of some of Jim’s problems wasn’t giving him any heart burn either. He made his best effort to sound sympathetic to Jim’s concerns while suppressing a satisfied smile.

 

Alex soon became immersed in his work in Franks new company and it didn’t take him long to realize the thing called the internet would be transforming the communications world. Franks little company was growing as fast as it could hire engineers, programmers and staff. The stock that had no value when Alex joined the company six months previously now traded on the local market at ten dollars a share.

Through contacts Alex maintained with former DCC associates he learned the government was doing an audit of the Eagle One program, an event that only occurred when something really caught the government’s attention. A couple of months later Alex had lunch with an engineer he had worked with at DCC. The engineer said Jim had suddenly left the company and whole division had been shaken up and its future was in doubt. He heard that Jim had been manipulating time cards. “Can you imagine anyone being so dumb?”

Alex shook his head, “Ya, I can imagine it.”

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

Remembering

 

From: Lstraight <lstraight@venturecomm.net>

Murgatroyd, remember that word? Would you believe the email spell
> checker did not recognize the word Murgatroyd?
>
> Heavens to Murgatroyd!

 

I do remember the word Murgatroyd (so does Wikipedea) and just about all of the other words or phrases listed in this post. Does that mean I am getting old? Based on a recent picture, it seems possible.

2016 Image

The other day a not so elderly lady said something to her son about

driving a Jalopy and he looked at her quizzically and said “What the
> heck is a Jalopy?”
>
> OMG (new phrase)!
>
> He never heard of the word jalopy! She knew she was old…. but not
> that old.
>
> Well, I hope you are Hunky Dory after you read this and chuckle.
>
> About a month ago, I illuminated some old expressions that have
> become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology.
>
> These phrases included “Don’t touch that dial,” “Carbon copy,” “You
> sound like a broken record” and “Hung out to dry.”
>
> Back in the olden days we had a lot of ‘moxie.’ We’d put on our best
> ‘bib and tucker’ to ‘straighten up and fly right’.
>
> Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumping Jehoshaphat! Holy moley!
>
> We were ‘in like Flynn’ and ‘living the life of Riley’.
>
> Even a regular guy couldn’t accuse us of being a knucklehead, a
> nincompoop or a pill. Not for all the tea in China!
>
> Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when’s the last
> time anything was swell?
>
> Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the D.A.… of spats,
> knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes, penny loafers, and
> pedal pushers… AND DON’T FORGET… Saddle Stitched Pants
>
> Oh, my aching back! Kilroy was here, but he isn’t anymore.
>
> We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and before we
> can say, Well, I’ll be ‘a monkey’s uncle!’
>
> Or, This is a ‘fine kettle of fish’!
>
> We discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed
> omnipresent, as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our
> tongues and our pens and our keyboards.
>
> Poof, go the words of our youth, the words we’ve left behind
>
> We blink, and they’re gone. Where have all those great phrases gone?
>
> Long gone: Pshaw, The milkman did it. Hey! It’s your nickel..
>
> Don’t forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper. Well,
> Fiddlesticks! Going like sixty.
>
> I’ll see you in the funny papers. Don’t take any wooden nickels.
> Wake up and smell the roses.
>
> It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than
> Carter has liver pills.
>
> This can be disturbing stuff! (“Carter’s Little Liver Pills” are
> gone too!)
>
> We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeable times.
> For a child each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age.
> We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of
> remembering there are words that once existed… and there were words
> that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are
> heard no more, except in our collective memory.
>
> It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging.
>
> Leaves us to wonder where Superman will find a phone booth…
>
> See ya later, alligator!
>
> Okidoki
>
> WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE FABULOUS 50’S.

I’m Back, Still Able to Turn a Phrase Or Two

I have not been writing anything of significance during the past five years having been deeply involved in care taking for my wife Joan who suffered from dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. She passed away August 2, 2017. It wasn’t until after the the holidays that I felt a desire to do any writing. I felt apprehensive, would I be able to write in a way that I would feel competent. It was not only that I hadn’t been writing anything significant for a long time, but had the accumulation of years eroded my abilities to put words on paper in a satisfactory manor. Could I in my ninth decade still write?

In the middle of January of 2018 I started a project to revise “For the Cause, The Cold War Turns Hot in Korea and Why Young Men Went to War.” “For the Cause” was the last novel I had written, and like the other novels I had written, felt a need after publishing to revise the original in response to feedback from revues and other sources.

“For the Cause,” is a story about two friends, young South Dakota farm boys, having reached adulthood and having not figured out what to do with the rest of their lives joined the Marines as their best alternative in the short term.  Unfortunately, soon after graduating from marine boot camp the Korean war broke out.

The two young men had joined the marines at the same time and were in the same boot camp company. However after boot camp the two young marines were separated with one going to the Navel Air Station Sangley Point in the Philippines to be part of the navel air station security detachment. The other  marine found himself in the Marine First Provisional Brigade being hurriedly put together to be sent to Korea where North Korean forces had overrun most of South Korea. The book follows the two young men during the first six months of the Korean war with one doing guard duty in the Philippines and the other is involved in almost continuous combat in a very fluid situation as both armies maneuver for an advantage.

Reviews of the “For the Cause” book were most critical of the Korean part of the book. For the most part the Korean story revolves around the young South Dakota farm boy and the men in his fire team, squad, platoon and company. The overall view of the war by the men during the fighting was limited to what they heard or could see. As I researched the marines roll during the first six months of the Korean War I was impressed at how well the marines performed. The marines were first thrown into the line to fill holes in the Pusan Parameter, then pulled out to lead in the Inchon landings and the liberation of Seoul, and then again take to ships to land on the east coast of North Korea and advance into the mountains where they fell into a trap set by the Chinese at the Chosen Reservoir. I flew as a crewman on a navy patrol plane in the theater during the Korean War and followed what was happening on the ground closely and had the impression that the retreat from the Chosen Reservoir was a disaster.  Only after doing the research for “For the Cause” did I realize the marine retreat from Chosen is considered one of the Marine Corp’s proudest moments. I thought if I didn’t understand the history of which I had been a part of, how likely would others understand the history of the Korean War. For that reason I decided I would include an overall view of the action taking place during the first six months of the Korean War.  A view that would not be seen by the men on the line doing the fighting. To do this I had a third person narrator that would occasionally provide the reader with a general’s perspective of the war. Adding this overall perspective would seem to be something readers would be interested in. Wrong. The fiction reader is following the protagonist and their story and is not interested in the wars overall strategy. So in the revision the third person narrator is being eliminated and the reader sees the war as the protagonist sees it.

Because of the revisions mentioned, the changes to the Korean portions of the “For the Cause” were quite extensive. Since I now live alone, prepare my own meals, do my own laundry, clean, and since I had not done any serious writing for a number of years I had suspected it would take several months to complete the revision work.  However within a month and a half I had the revisions to an editor. The good news being that I had not lost my writing abilities, such as they are, due to my long absence from doing any serious writing and am now ready to move onto another project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost My Companion of Nearly 60 years

 

Joan Wellnitz

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Joan Wellnitz passed away August 2, 2017, in Bloomington, MN. She was 87. Joan Pauline Gross was born on May 22, 1930, in Chicago to her parents, Edwin and Harriet Gross. She grew up in Bridgewater, SD, and married her husband, Alfred there on August 31, 1957. The couple moved to Minnesota and settled in Bloomington where they lived for 59 years. Preceded in death by her parents and sister, Jean. Joan is survived by her husband, Alfred; her married children, Todd and daughter-in-law, Kim, Ann ans son-in-law, Blady, Matthew and daughter-in-law, Jessica; grandchildren, Guillermo, Josie and Gretchen; and siblings, Judy Olthoff, Kathlene Schroeder and Richard Gross. Joan was loving wife and mother, an avid seamstress, a reader of many books, and an occasional artist. She had a full life and will be sorely missed. Joan will be laid to rest at Fort Snelling National Cemetery following a private ceremony.

Because of Our Love

We were mutually attracted at a dance.

We dated, limited by distance and schedules.

We felt the angst, the ache, the obsessiveness of true love

And became engaged; time to have doubts, to reconsider.

Because of our love, we didn’t turn back.

 

Marriage, early bliss, and eventually children.-

The routine and challenges of everyday life engulfed us,

While doubts of our abilities as parents tested us.

The bonds that bind us were being threatened.

Because of our love, those bonds survived.

 

Eventually the children, despite our inaptitude,

Made us proud by becoming responsible adults.

Our work was nearly complete, our bonds strong,

When nature intruded with dementia to end our bliss.

Because of our love, it didn’t matter.

 

How To Make Winters Seem Short

Reminiscing: After permanently settling in Minnesota and starting a family we did the usual outdoor winter activities like skating. tobogganing and shoveling the driveway. That was fine but looked for something that might offer more variety. The North Stars , a local cross country ski club put out a notice for anyone interested to come to out and try cross country skiing one weekend. We rented some skies and and took them up on the offer. I came  away from that demo of the sport convinced we had found what I had been looking for. It was 1970 and for Christmas we equipped the family with skis. The whole family became involved but I become obsessed with the sport and still am. Following are some pictures of skiing activities over the years. We skied locally and all over the state of Minnesota and Wisconsin and took trips to ski in California, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Switzerland. I’m now a care taker for my long time skiing partner and have little time for anything else but never regret the experiences we had together skiing.

 

 

 

matt-age-5

Youngest son Matt on skies when five.

 

 

ann-junior-tryouts

Daughter Ann skied with her high school team and in a

US Junior Cross Country League team  

 

deviles-thumb-frazer-colorado

Skiing with first son Todd and his wife Kim at Devils Thumb near Fraser Colorado.

 

joan-big-mountain

Joan on a trail near Big Mountain Montana

 

skiing-on-anchorage-trail

Skiing near Anchorage Alaska. The temperature was well below zero.

 

birkebeiner-finish-1981

I skied one or two of the big area races most years

 

birkebeiner-1993

1993; Skated the 23K Kortelopet version of the Birkebeiner. Skied my last race in my early 80’s

 

joan-has-her-mora-vosaloppet-ribbon

Joan collects her ribbon for finishing the 13K version of the Vasaloppet race

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Skiing on Nine Mile ice. The last time Joan skied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jobs For Those Displaced by Automation

wpa-usa-sign

 

Some people have suggested that government jobs similar to those created during the Great Depression to build and repair infrastructure would absorb workers replaced by automation. I grew up during the Great Depression. Many of my uncles and aunts depended on the dollar a day paid by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) to survive. The primary purpose of the WPA was not to build infrastructure but to put some money into the pockets of desperate people. It was a solution to a temporary problem. Automation is not a temporary problem. Automation will replace human labor of a repetitive nature around to globe permanently. An interesting solution to the problem is to provide what is equivalent to a living wage to every adult citizen. You can earn more but in any case would never have less than the equivalent of a living wage.

Proceed With Caution

smoot_and_hawley_

Smoot-Hawley, 1929

I’m seriously scared. Particularly with regards to the economy. The Smoot- Hawley Bill, called the The Tariff Act of 1930 raised tariffs on many imports in order to protect US workers. The tariffs were the highest in the country’s history with one small exception. This started a trade war and US trade was halved and is believed to have  been a major contributor to causing the Great Depression. It seems that Trump is using the same playbook.

I was born in the late twenties so didn’t know anything but an economic depression until my teen years. Nothing moved for ten years. The economy was locked up, thousands of banks closed, savings were wiped out, many survived only because of make work government programs. Trump, be careful what you do to this country and the rest of the world.

My Wife Does Not Know Me

 

brain-image

My wife Joan and I will mark our sixtieth wedding anniversary in August of 2017. Five years ago Joan had been diagnosed as having dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Actually I had noticed memory related changes as early as twelve years ago. One of the first things I can remember with regards to this had been her asking what she should wear for an outer garment when going outdoors, something she had never questioned before. Eventually it became evident that Joan’s memory lose had become a serious problem. For example, when she went in for an annual checkup her blood pressure was off the chart. She could no longer manage her medication schedule. Soon after that Joan was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s. As expected, the disease continues to progress and seems to be accelerating recently.

It is my hope that I can, with outside assistance, keep Joan in our home as long as needed. That hope will depend on my own health, which at 89 years is still good. I am trying to get help for four hours each day and finding it difficult to get dependable help on a regular basis. Somedays I have help, some days I don’t. As a result I am for all intents and purposes fully responsible for Joan’s care, which now includes help with most of her personal needs. I have moved a single bed into Joan’s bedroom so I am there if needed at night. Whenever I go somewhere, with minor exceptions, Joan goes with me. Joan has few diversions so going someplace almost every afternoon is something she enjoys. We seldom eat out but we go to a coffee shop most days, go to the YMCA a couple of days a week, go grocery shopping often so we are doing things together every day.

Recently I have become aware that, despite all of our interaction and being married nearly sixty years, Joan does not know who I am or what our relationship is. I have explained to her that I am her husband and she is my wife many times. She will not remember my explanation even a few moments after I tell her this. Yesterday I showed Joan our wedding album. She didn’t know any of the people in the album pictures, including herself.

I have known a number of people who have had Alzheimer’s but didn’t appreciate how devastating it is until becoming closely associated with it as I am now. Alzheimer’s cannot be cured and will always result in death. For the benefit of future generations, let us hope we find a cure for this disease soon.

 

Tax Cuts and the Future of Manufacturing in the United States

roboter

Manufacturing Cars in the 21st Century

Ah the magic of tax cuts. The cure for all economic concerns. Borrow money from the Chinese to cover the cost of government. Eliminate all taxes and we will have reached nirvana.
Trump has said tax cuts and eliminating bad trade agreements will bring manufacturing back to the US.
I disagree. In the future automation will be a more important factor in where manufacturing will be done than taxes. Automation will minimize the importance of cheap labor to do repetitive and manual task in the manufacturing process. The future for people in automated factories will be developing, applying and maintaining the automation doing the work of producing products. Automated factories will not bring the manufacturing jobs of the type that supported the middle classes in the 40’s,50’s, 60’s. There will be jobs in these factories, good high paying jobs for the technically trained people needed to design install, monitor and maintain the automated equipment. There will be other people needed to manage, administer, move raw material in and product out, and service people like janitors but very few people doing unskilled manual labor or repetitive tasks associated with manufacturing.

Automation is happening and will continue to happen as manufacturing becomes more and more automated. The same thing has happened and is happening in US agriculture. I spent my youth in a Midwest farming community. I was born in the twenties and 25 percent of the population farmed. Now less than 2 percent of the population earns its livelihood by farming and produce more than ever before. US farmers compete successfully with the rest of the world because of its use of technology. One adverse aspect of this is that the farming communities have been and are being hollowed out. Where one family farmed 160 acres in the 20’s, now one farmer can farm a thousand or more acres. Instead of a farmer milking a dozen cows, he can now milk a thousand. They have automated milking for God’s sake. 

In the automated world the importance of cheap labor to do manual and repetitive jobs in manufacturing will be minimized and factors more important than manual labor will determine where factories will be built. Government’s role will be a factor and taxes are part of it but not an overriding concern. One thing the government shouldn’t do is be a barrier to trade if it wants the country to expand its manufacturing capacity. Trade by its name is a two way thing. Trade occurs when two countries each have something the other one wants. High tariffs, such as Trump suggests to keep companies from moving out of the United States would stifle trade and hurt US manufactures, agriculture other trading functions,. Not something a country that striving to be a manufacturing power house would like to see.

Things the US government should do to encourage manufacturing includes insuring that there is a skilled and educated work force available to build and run an automated factory and adequate public infrastructure to supports the factory’s needs. There are other things the government can do, such as funding research for automation, provide financial incentives to help small manufactures to automate, to encourage and increase manufacturing in the United States. There will be countries competing to be centers for automated manufacturing and the United States better get on board if it wants to be part of it. However the government shouldn’t be telling manufacturers how to run their companies. If a company decides it will build a factory outside of the United States that is a decision that the company should be able to make without government interference. The government can and should to strive to set up conditions that will entice, but not force, companies to build factories in the United States. Reducing corporate taxes will not in itself do it.