Sunday, June 15, 2014

Things I Have Learned

I have learned an number of new things in the last month, chief among them that any novel experience and situation can be a learning moment, even if that situation is a hellish nightmare realm of steel wool and diswashing liquid.

  • I have learned that I shouldn't promise what the next blog post will be, since that seems to almost guarantee that something else will come up first.
  • If all you do for 16 hours a day is wash dishes, you will start to have engaging dreams about dishwashing that feel far superior to the real experience of dishwashing. This despite it being exactly the same activity. A Zen master once asked if he was a butterfly who dreams that he was a man, or a man who dreams that he was a butterfly; Am I a dishwasher who dreams himself to be a dishwasher, or vice versa?
  • After a good inspection, we are often warned against complacency, and after a bad inspection we are usually told that we are getting complacent (and the complainant is typically correct in that assessment). I found out why those warnings had no apparent effect on the troublemakers-- only four of the twelve crewmen in this class know what the word "complacency" means, the rest having no idea, and some believing the word to have been made up by our administrators as a catch all term for things they don't like.
  • A task you undertake yourself is always more enjoyable than one you are ordered into. Either that or polishing copper pipes is an intrinsically more enjoyable task than dishwashing. I am genuinely undecided as to which hypothesis is more correct.
  • There appear to be two types of people who perform poorly in the academic setting (a third, those with disabilities, is discounted here). There are people who are generally clever but fall short in one or more academic areas due to lack of motivation, talent, or a poor foundation. These people often consider themselves "dumb", even though they can be perfectly competant and otherwise well rounded individuals. Then there are people who are just stupid, seemingly incapable of functioning appropriately in modern life who fall short academically as part of a pattern of falling short in all aspects of civilized life. These people seem to consider themselves great and brilliant people and expect what is owed them for their talents to find its way to them any day now. The fact that they have managed to escape what is due to them for 20+ years baffles me as well, though perhaps there is a selection effect in my sample.
  • For all that they insist that we as a crew must be self policing and clamp down on laziness and conflict, the system the union has put us in rewards carrying the slack of the lazy people far more than it punishes laziness itself. It having become clear exactly who the lazy people are and to what extent they are afflicted with moral turpitude, we have come to the general conclusion that if we point out and punish the lazy or allow the lazy to be noticed by an instructor or administrator (the course of action represented by the words of the union) then we will be punished as a class through extra work and delayed transition out of the boot camp mode of living. If we let them slide until they get on their first ship and get fired (the course of action that the union is adamantly opposed to, since it endangers union funding for the trainee program, union reputation with shipping companies, and entry level slots for future trainees), then we get to coast through the program without drawing negative attention, and then get the extra satisfaction of watching the lazy people waste difficult months of their life, build a huge resume hole, and possibly get stranded in a third world hellhole to catch a hopefully painful disease and die slowly away from anyone who speaks a language they can communicate in. I consider this bad mostly on a theoretical level.
  • At the union-wide meeting, I learned that there are people who will promote their own self-interest through government plunder without the slightest bit of shame. At issue were $20 million of the $180 million Maritime Security Program scheduled to be cut in a recent House bill. This, we were told by our valiant union officers, was a bad idea because A) it could cost up to 120 union jobs when those seven ships leave government service and either get scrapped to sold of to a non-union purpose, B) $20 million is basically nothing in compared to the huge federal government, and C) "Congress promised us the full $180 million" with an implied in exchange for your votes "and now they are breaking their promise". No mention was made of the strategic value or lack thereof of those seven ships on the chopping block (a point on which I am genuinely agnostic; it is an active program but whether the best number of ships held on lease is 60 or 53 is more than I know), nor of competing budget priorities even among the maritime and defense interests. I had not thought to see such a display of arrogant, selfish plundering outside an Ayn Rand novel.
I have, of course, learned much more than these things, like if you only each chicken, rice, and potatoes for every meal then you can stop pooping completely for almost a whole week, but my peaceful sojorn within the library draws nearer to a close. Tomorrow the new class comes in, which should change my living situation in the 15 minutes I spend each day neither working nor sleeping, as well as a contingent of CIA officers, for whom we will be busting our ass extra hard so that they can be comfortable as they undermine American freedoms and international stability.


  1. Jeb, Jeb, Jeb, it is your Union Brothers that you have to cover. Their is strength and economic gain to be had in the collective, your union bosses know this, and they are doing all for the working man. They are smarter than you, right!
    How much longer do you have before classes start? Are you still thinking engine room?
    Interesting reading, promise another one soon:>)

    1. Classes already started; scroll down on the main page for comments about Vessel Familiarization. Classes stop for the 2 weeks of galley, then I go to a month of lifeboat and firefighting, then 2 more weeks of galley and a class called "social responsibility", then 2 weeks of Vessel Operations.

      I don't get to do any specialized work until phase 3, but definitely engine room-- the other options are steward, which is an overpaid chef, or deck, which is boring as hell and on track to be replaced by robots, run from the engine room.

      Despite Dad's email, this isn't the second but the fifth post, scroll down on the main page or check out the sidebar for more.

  2. Jeb, once again, you confuse us common folk with your fancy words like complacency and moral turpitude!

    Great stuff - I'm always interested in your take on your classmates and the union. You have such a strong and unique opinion on that sort of stuff - opinions that I agree with. You know what they say about great minds....

    Keep up the good work. Your posts are always good for a laugh and some introspection!

  3. I went through the program in 2006, and at first I was confused about why they'd stagger classes and galley instead of doing both at once, but then I remembered that back then they had NCL trainees handle the galley while we were in class. Too bad they're not around, anymore.