Fat, Dumb and Happy

We had a CPO on our ship who didn’t miss a trick. He could see through anyone. Those with a nonchalant demeanor were classified as “fat, dumb and happy” … and unreliable.

Today we have folks like that all around us. Ask Bill Virgin, a columnist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He pulled no punches in one of his columns a couple of weeks ago, beginning with the headline, “The port must quit acting like it has a monopoly”, and then reminding us of a skit we all appreciated not too long ago.

“At times,” he wrote, “the port of Seattle’s attitude toward its taxpaying constituents, and its less-than-rigorous devotion to the fine points of skinflint budgeting and spending, recall the famous comedy routine with Lily Tomlin as a telephone operator, a bit that ends with the line, ‘We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.’

Well, we know what happened to the phone company, so forewarned is forearmed.

Unlike the folks that Bill is taking to task, there are some influential officials who know what’s in store for our “fat, dumb and happy” transportation managers. These are people who do care and are seeking ways to meet the upcoming challenges.

Mr. Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one such individual. He said in his January address, “One of the least discussed aspects of our transportation crisis [yes, he called it a ‘crisis’] is the status of our ports. Here a key statistic is telling. By 2020, every major U.S. container port is projected to at least double the volume of cargo it was designed to handle, with select East Coast ports tripling in volume and some West Coast ports quadrupling in volume. How will we handle the increase while balancing the need for security with the need for the quick, efficient movement of goods?

“That’s a simple, thumbnail sketch of the crisis we are facing. We know the implications because we are beginning to live them today: decreased productivity; more congestion; more delays; and more safety threats to us individually, and as a nation. There are no simple answers to these complex challenges (otherwise they would not be a crisis!). One thing we know for certain is that solutions will require innovation, technology, great political will, and yes, lots of money.”

Meanwhile Bill Virgin is telling us that, “The port has been in the news a bit of late, with an illuminating three-day series in the Seattle P-I on the port’s financial arrangements and management that highlighted and revived long-standing concerns about the organization’s lavish spending, the compensation package for its chief executive, its dabbling in real estate ventures, the incessant wining and dining and international junkets – er, customer relations and research trips – and cozy relationships with those contracting to do business with the port.”

Yup. Fat, dumb and happy … just like ol’ Ma Bell.