Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Machinery Cares Not About the Operator

I spent many years of my life in the automation business, either designing control systems or consulting with others that did similar work. It is interesting work. What is really fun is watching a big automatic machines, with all sorts of complicated things happening, while it is running. Everything seems to be happening at once, often, to fast for the eye to follow. Then out pops a stream of finished products. Anything from dashboards to fish hooks.

These machines all have "operators". They, pretty much, hang around the machine waiting for a red light to flash or an alarm bell to ring. When this happens, they check the supply of raw material or do what ever action the alarm tells them to do. Make no mistake, these machines are autonomous. If the "operator" was not there they would still run. If there was a problem, they would shut themselves down. The term used in industry is "fail safe".

The United States is like a big machine. It just keeps running. We elect new operators periodically. They effect the immediate area around the machine of state. Some of these "operators" keep the machine in good operating condition. They check the lubrication and the hydraulics, so to speak, and all goes well. Others are less diligent about the common good and things break down more often. Sometimes very badly.

But behind the operator, who has limited skills, there are people with great skill that monitor the machine and repair it as needed. They keep it running even with a poor "operator". OK, enough analogy. I believe there are long term permanent employees in our government that keep a low profile, understand their jobs, and have worked their way up through the system. They are our countries maintenance crew. Sometimes they do the dirty work that needs to be done. Sometimes they keep communications open with those allies that our elected officials have spurned and denigrated. Sometimes they keep the military strong even with leadership that has gone political.

You or I will never know who these people are. I suspect that most politicians don't know who most of these people are. I am sure that there are some that even the President is unaware of. And that is good because politicians never see anything that they don't want to control or take credit for. 

It only makes sense that this is true. With all of the fumbling, inept, and wobbly politicians we have elected over the years, I don't think that our country could have survived without a cadre of dedicated professionals ranged across the whole of government. That is our fail safe system. That is why our greatest machine doesn't care about the operator.

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