In Threes?

I've heard that "deaths come in threes," and this week, for the world of entertainment, that certainly seems to have been the case, as three icons of the 1970s and 1980s have died.

On Tuesday, we got the news that Ed McMahon, longtime second banana to Johnny Carson, had died at the age of 86. It wasn't really a surprise, because he had been in ill health for some time, and besides, once you get to the age of 86, you're playing with the house's money.

Earlier today, I heard that Farrah Fawcett lost her very public battle with cancer. She was 62. Those of us who were old enough to remember watching her on "Charlie's Angels" and seeing the poster of her in the swimsuit will never forget her.

And then, when I got up this evening, I heard the shocking news that Michael Jackson had suffered a massive cardiac arrest and died. Very talented and equally controversial, he was only 50 years old. I suspect that all of the plastic surgeries he had may have taken some kind of physical toll on him. To me, watching him morph from a young black man into some kind of sideshow freak made him a very tragic figure, because it showed that he was incapable of being happy with himself as he was. For all of his money and fame, it was apparent that he was still deeply unhappy. He might have been better off if his father hadn't hustled him and his brothers into show business when he was a kid. He never had a chance at a normal life.

RIP, Ed, Farrah and Michael.


Watching Iran

As did many people in the West, I watched the weekend's demonstrations in Iran with fascination. These were people who were literally putting their lives on the line to protest against an oppressive, thuggish government. To be honest, I don't know what kind of a government the protesters might choose to replace it with should they win, but it could hardly be anything worse. If you want to gauge how evil a government is, look at how they treat their citizens. A government whose agents shoot down teenage girls in the streets is too vile to stand. It's my sincere hope that Neda's death won't be in vain.


A Stressful Week

Have you ever had your boss decide to shake things up just for the sake of doing so, even though things were running smoothly and people, if not necessarily happy, weren't angry or unhappy either? Well, that's my week in a nutshell.

Starting on Tuesday, he decided that we would start rotating people onto different machines than the ones that they have worked on almost exclusively for the past several years. In my case, I had been on my machine since early 2000, when efficiency experts had been brought into the plant to make suggestions, and they had suggested putting people on specific machines and leaving them there. This was recommended in order to develop a sense of "ownership" as well as to allow the operators to become so familiar with the day-to-day operations of that machine and its sort plans that it would become second-nature to them. This worked extremely well.

When you've worked on a machine for nine years, you know what kinds of mail cause problems, any little quirks in the sort plans, what needs to be done with special holdouts, etc.

It is, of course, possible to gain that sort of information about multiple machines over a period of time, but there's really no reason to do it. If a person is an expert at a particular job, it is best to leave him on it, rather than trying to make him a utility guy.

It's like a baseball manager telling his star shortstop that today, he wants him to pitch, and tomorrow, he's going to play catcher. This despite the fact that the team has experienced pitchers and catchers, and could best make use of his skills at his best position, shortstop. No, the manager wants everyone to be able to play every position.

The problem with this fallacious idea is that while I can give a yeoman effort on any machine in Automation, I am an expert on the machine that I've run for the past nine years. I could run it without even having to think about it, because I knew at a bone-deep level what needed to be done at all times. I don't have that instinctive knowledge on any other machine, and it means that I have to stop and take time to think about how to do things. During a slow period like the middle of the week in the summer off-season, we can get away with that kind of inefficiency. On a busy Monday or Friday in season, we can't. It may be the difference between making dispatches on time and not making dispatches on time.

Even worse, this violation of the classic rule of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" has adversely affected morale. A lot of people are unhappy with the changes. Morale is in the toilet. People who would go the extra mile, make the extra effort on their regular machines are saying, "Hey, it's not my problem" when they're assigned somewhere else. People who previously strove for excellence are now willing to settle for adequacy.

My own personal observation: Working on a different, unfamiliar machine is like wearing someone else's clothes -- and they don't fit very well.


Thought For the Day

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -- George Santayana

Regarding my upcoming week at work, all I will tell you is the following joke:
A hillbilly goes to the railroad office to apply for a job. The man interviewing him asks him, "If you see a train coming westbound at fifty miles per hour and another train coming toward it eastbound on the same track at sixty miles per hour, what would you do?"

The hillbilly replies, "I'd go get my brother Clem."

The interviewer asks, "Why?"

The hillbilly tells him, "'Cause he ain't never seen a train wreck like that before."
And that's all that I have to say about that.

Update: Second bonus thought for the day: "Stupid doesn't have a sharp end."


One More Thought On Dinosaur Rockers

I guess the best reply they could make would be:
"Well it's all right, even if you're old and gray,
"Well it's all right, you've still got something to say..."
As the Traveling Wilburys put it in their song, "End of the Line."

Of course, that was in 1988. It hardly seems possible that it could have been that long ago!


Dinosaurs Still Roam the Earth

I was watching the news yesterday and they had a report from the latest, greatest entertainment expo. Among the hottest game titles is a new version of the game "Rock Band," featuring the Beatles. John, Paul, George and Ringo never looked so digitally good, and they had the two surviving Beatles* present to introduce the demo for the game. Isn't it odd that the game will mostly be played by people born ten or twenty years after the Beatles broke up? Yeah, I thought so, too.

But this ties into an article I read the other day about how some of the biggest-grossing touring attractions these days are the superannuated rockers from my youth. They're almost all in their sixties (or even early seventies!) now, with a few of the "kids" in their early fifties. They've all been AARPed (at age 50), the American ones at least. But they show no sign of leaving the stage gracefully any time soon. There's money to be made in those reunion tours! Back in the day, rockers made music so that they could meet chicks; these days, those chicks are young enough to be their granddaughters, and the ewww factor would be very high if they tried to pick them up.

Rock music used to be the music of youthful rebellion, but it's hard to get rebellious youth to identify with you when you're in your sixties. Tempus fugit, baby. Like that great head of hair and the flat belly you had in your twenties, it's gone, baby, gone.

* -- Do I really have to tell you who they are? Yes, Paul and Ringo.


Just A Thought

Isn't it a helluva note when GM stock is worth about as much as a roll of Charmin, and much less useful?

I'm reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and it's amazing how timely the book is, even thought the book was published more than fifty years ago. It's a brick of a book, almost 1200 pages, and I'm making progress at more than 200 pages in.

While the characters and many of their views are somewhat archaic, the theme of the book (what happens when government policies make it not worthwhile to be a productive businessman, and the necessity for them to put social "fairness" ahead of profit) could be ripped right from our daily headlines. Why work harder if the government is going to take a bigger cut of your profits? It's better to go John Galt and do less. Of course, that means that the people you would have employed are out of a job, and the overall economy suffers.

Government policies such as putting additional taxes on the "rich" can actually be counterproductive; in Maryland, for instance, their new "millionaire's tax" resulted in the number of millionaires in Maryland dropping from 3,000 to 2,000 in the past year. Some of them may have just been victims of the economy, but others may have just voted with their feet by moving to another state rather than paying an additional 6.5% to the state of Maryland.