Tell Me Another One

sink-grids-qi003218-64_1000No, this isn’t a kitchen remodeling update … not exactly. We’re in a dry spell between sub-contractor jobs, which resume Thursday with the installation of countertops, then continue Friday with the installation of the new cooktop, dishwasher, and sink, topped off with the ceremonial connection of the plumbing, at which point we’ll have a fully-functioning kitchen again. It won’t be a fully-finished kitchen, though, until the 9th of December.

Donna originally wanted one section of wall cut down to the level of her new countertops, but it turned out that section had something to do with holding up the roof, so that part of the project had to be scrapped. Since we’re stuck with a floor-to-ceiling wall, she ordered an overhead cabinet to go above the cupboards below, but it had to be built and won’t be delivered until the 6th. Sal the tile guy can’t put in the backsplash tiles until that cabinet is in, so he plans to do his thing on the 9th. That’ll be everything. I think.

But back to the lovely clean dishes in the image. For 21 years I’ve been talking up the merits of an old-school drainboard and dish rack. To deaf ears. Donna’s a modern girl and won’t hear a word against automatic dishwashers, no matter how crappy a job they do. And brother, the one we had put the crap in crappy. I’ve gotten used to inspecting cups, glasses, plates, and silverware before I use them, because half the time the dishwasher didn’t get them clean. For the past few weeks we haven’t had a dishwasher, let alone a sink—let alone water in the kitchen—so we’ve been schlepping dirty dishes back to the laundry room at the other end of the house, washing them by hand in the utility sink, then putting them on top of the washing machine to dry. And they’ve been spotlessly clean.

I plucked my favorite coffee cup off the shelf this morning and it positively sparkled. I could see inside all the way to the bottom, where my reflection looked back at me. I remarked on its pristine condition to Donna, but it was a waste of breath. A new (and one hopes better or at least adequate) dishwasher will be installed Friday, and that’ll be the end of hand-washing, at least as far as Donna’s concerned. The salesman told Donna not only will we not have to rinse dishes before putting them in the new unit, we shouldn’t, because the dishwasher’s designed to work best with dirty dishes. Uh-huh. Tell me another one, appliance salesman.

Well, enough bitching.

Are any of you into Watchmen and His Dark Materials on HBO? I’m inclined to look down my nose at comic book-based movies and TV shows, and I always say fantasy literature isn’t my thing, but I’m totally in for these two shows. I may never pick up the actual Watchmen comic books (or graphic novels, if that hurts your fee-fees), but I love the show and everything about it: the actors, the sets, the special effects, the incorporation of American history that isn’t taught in schools, and maybe best of all the music. The other series, His Dark Materials, is based on three “young adult” novels by Philip Pullman: “The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife,” and “The Amber Spyglass,” which are among the best and most spell-binding books I’ve ever read. The HBO series so far more than does justice to the books. Just wanted to get that in there in case you have HBO and are looking for something good to watch.

As a volunteer docent, I tell visitors about a number of McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing aircraft at Pima Air and Space Museum. The one that always gives me pause, though, is our former US Navy Blue Angels McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, because the museum wants us to call it a Boeing F/A-18, what with Mac D having become part of Boeing in the late 1990s and Boeing’s continuing manufacture of new Super Hornets. I always stumble over the phrase “Boeing F/A-18 Hornet.” It’ll always be a McDonnell-Douglas jet to me.

Anyway, here’s an interesting article in the current issue of The Atlantic, purporting to explain how the aircraft manufacturer lost its way. It posits two important reasons for Boeing’s current problems: one, the company’s late-1990s “reverse takeover” of McDonnell-Douglas, wherein McDonnell-Douglas leadership moved into Boeing headquarters and imported its own bottom-line culture; two, the relocation of Boeing’s headquarters to Chicago a year or two later, which separated executives from the engineers in Seattle who previously ran the show. The article purports to tell how a respected pillar of the aerospace business, a company run by engineer-executives who put the emphasis on building the best aircraft possible, morphed into a corporate giant whose primary purpose is to make money for its shareholders.

I have a beef with the McDonnell-Douglas part of The Atlantic’s argument. McDonnell had a well-earned reputation as a designer and manufacturer of spacecraft and military aircraft; Douglas an equally solid reputation in the airliner business. I flew the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle during my Air Force career, and never once felt it was anything less than the best fast-mover in the skies, beautifully designed and engineered, the Cadillac—nay, the Mercedes-Benz—of fighters. Every base I was posted to had a McDonnell-Douglas rep on hand, and when we needed support from St. Louis we got it, if not on the spot then overnight, even in the most remote locations. I’m not alone in feeling this way. Never have I ever* heard a fighter pilot, whether Air Force, Navy, or Marine, bad-mouth one of Mister Mac’s jets.

The part about separating Boeing’s headquarters from the manufacturing plant—and the engineers—in Seattle? Which was primarily done, by the way, in a foot-stomping fit of conservative pique over Seattle’s left-leaning culture? I’ll buy that; it makes sense. But don’t you be putting down McDonnell-Douglas, not around me anyway.

*Other than in those ubiquitous Facebook cut & paste meme posts, who ever has said “never have I ever”? But you know what? It felt right to use it in that one sentence: “Never have I ever heard a fighter pilot, whether Air Force, Navy, or Marine, bad-mouth one of Mister Mac’s jets.”

3 thoughts on “Tell Me Another One

  • My thoughts on The Atlantic’s Boeing article drew numerous comments on Daily Kos, where I cross-posted it. I’ll share two thought-provoking ones, leaving off the commenters’ names since I didn’t ask their permission to cross-post their comments on Paul’s Thing.

    They’re not the Boeing of old.

    We’re having brand new 767’s show up on the property with a lot of problems that our maintenance has to set right.

    That would not have happened back in the day.

    They’ve turned into General Motors. Great designers and engineers, then the corporate bean-counters get their hands on it and start cutting corners….

    The problem with this argument is that the headquarters of Boeing Commercial Aircraft (BCA) is still in the Puget Sound area, across the street from one of BCA’s many faculties spread over a 100 square mile area in that region. Boeing Corporation headquarters moved to Chicago, and at the time that move was made BCA was not as large a proportion of Boeing Corp compared to (what were then) Boeing Defense Systems and Boeing Missiles & Space at it is today. The headquarters was only about 200 senior personnel and support, and the argument was that the corporate HQ needed to be closer to its customers in Chicago, Dallas, and Washington DC.

    One can make Kelly Johnson’s argument that the boss and the engineers need to be within 20 steps of the production floor, but there are many Boeing plants (quite a few in St. Louis, and at that time in Long Beach and Wichita as well) . Given that corporate HQ can only be across the street from one plant why should that one be Plant B in Everett rather than Plant F in St. Louis?

    I would suggest however reading up a bit on McDonnell Aircraft, which requires poking around estate sales in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties in Missouri and picking up some of the self-published memoirs from retired McDonnell engineers, tests pilots, and others. James McDonnell designed some very good aircraft — along with some clunkers — but he killed a lot of people doing it both in the air and at the drafting board. And that is just to count the deaths, not the divorces, broken homes, etc. From what I gather many of the people who worked at McDonnell 1950-1980 really loved it but did not recognize the corrosive nature of what their managers and employer’s owner was doing to them.

  • Another comment, this one by DM, from a former Boeing employee who wants to remain anonymous:

    A couple of corrections in the article. The Space division is located in Huntington Beach, not Long Beach, CA. Long Beach was HQ for Douglas commercial aircraft and Huntington Beach (next door) for Douglas Space division.

    From what I could tell there was a schism between the Douglas people in California and the McDonnell folks in St. Louis. The reverse takeover actually goes back to the 1960s when a failing Douglas sought help from McDonnell to keep the company viable. At the time Douglas was spending money like crazy in the new DC-10 engineering. It was the Douglas management that seemed to prevailed in that merger and they are the ones who brought in Harry Stonecipher. We called him Harry Stonesphincter….

    Harry was an arrogant a-hole bean counter who liked to brag about firing people and it was thought that he was behind the Board of directors firing CEO Phil Condit (the Boeing Engineer). Phil was kind of passive though and it was Harry who pushed for the move to Chicago. Again, rumor had it that the move was orchestrated because he wanted his girlfriend to be far from his wife. Eventually he was busted and both he and his VP girlfriend were shit canned but of course with gazillion dollar golden parachutes (unlike all the regular employees he bragged about firing). My impression of Harry S is that he is kind of a combination of Dick Cheney and Trump.

    Boeing has been going downhill for years (like the article talks about) but ironically its stock price has been going up like crazy. Can’t figure that one out. It is easily the worst managed company that I ever worked for. Some of the engineering managers I worked for there were total nut jobs. Many of the managers had no idea who the people were who worked for them. I once worked in a new department for 4 months and the manager came up and asked me who I was…. Very poor leadership. I can only relate my experience there. I’m sure other employees had different experiences. From my impression Lockheed Martin wasn’t much better… These government cost plus contracts are basically corporate welfare, but hey it kept me employed…

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