Grumpy Longs for the Time when Most Engineers Drove Trains

 This blog is not funny.

Actually, if you’re a nervous type of person, a little bit paranoid and prone to “worry-wart” syndrome, I suggest you pick up the entertainment or the comics section of your preferred newspaper right now.


Martha, run quick! I need the comics section -STAT!

If not, then Grumpy is here to tell you he had an Epiphany today.

Have you ever had something you experienced gobsmack you because it connects to something you heard or read in the distant past: sort of like Deja Voodoo?

It’s as if your brain is zapped by a bolt from the blue and your Eureka moment is like a chill of ice water trickling down your spine. Suddenly you are aware and cognizant of a truth: a truth that scares the bee-gee-bees out of you.

This happened to Grumpy this morning. This giant spider web connection of ideas nearly blew him off his feet. Thank God he was belted in and driving the Clown Car well below the speed limit at that particular moment.

First of all, Grumpy read an article by Lorrie Goldstein (SunMedia), about Ontario’s failed Green Energy plan and the resulting penultimate cost to consumers, and then he listened to a report on CNN that the jobless rate is dropping in the U.S.A., not because more jobs are being created, but because fewer people are looking for work. It seems as if companies are accustomed to downsizing and like it, while at the same time new technology is gobbling up jobs like some robot army.


OMG Captain, this planet is know for its energy poverty. The government has been taken over by entities known as Reeks and Wrecks.

Bottom line –new jobs are few and far between, yet technology runs rampant.

“BAM”, Grumpy experienced his Eureka moment, right then and there. Words bloomed in his head in an electroshock storm of understanding.

 “My God, we’re becoming a world of Engineers/managers and Reeks and Wrecks!”

Grumpy’s Spockian eyebrows were raised to a new height.

Author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was dead right, my friends. That’s why Grumpy was zapped with the connection. Science Fiction had become science fact!

You see, back in the late sixties and early seventies, Grumpy read everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote, became a particular fan of Kilgore Trout, and enthralled with Kurt’s oft used literary bridges of , “Hi, Ho!” and, “And so on!”

Player Piano (Published in 1952) was Vonnegut’s first book. And, that is the very book that tied everything together for Grumpy, which in this case, was nearly 40 years later.

PLAYER PIANO: The Readers Digest Version


Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

The time is the future, after the next big war and a second industrial revolution. Machines now do most of the labour that people used to do. Indeed, machines define what job you are permitted to do.

If your IQ is tested high enough, you can become an engineer (or manager) of the machines. If not, you get assigned to the Reeks and Wrecks: Reconstruction & Reclamation Corps, or basically, manual labor: fixing the roads and other maintenance projects.

Player Piano imagines a future where machines can do everything, life is mundane, and all work is boring and mind numbing. It’s a depressing world, where machines dictate what goes on, and there’s no room for personal autonomy.

In Vonnegut’s world there are the “haves” (ENGINEERS/MANAGERS) and there are the “have-nots” (REEKS AND THE WRECKS).

Take these quotes, for example.

“Those who live by electronics, die by electronics. Sic semper tyrannis.”

 “If it weren’t for the people, the god-damn people’ said Finnerty, ‘always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren’t for them, the world would be an engineer’s paradise.”

 Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1952)

So, how did Grumpy make a connection to Vonnegut’s world? Why was he gobsmacked?

And, can you see the connection?

If you don’t, Grumpy will explain this using the two morning blasts of Epiphany that resulted in his gobsmacking this morning.


We have all heard the bafflegab surrounding the Ontario Liberal Party’s GREEN ENERGY PLAN. You know, you see it everywhere, solar power farms and windmills are spouting like winter wheat.

Our enlightened politicians have paid a bonus to all of the developers (Multinational Corporations) to make this happen, assuring the public (Auditor General, Jim McCarter) that, “their initiatives would add a modest 1% annually to our electric bills.”


How much are these suckers costing YOU in the pocket book?

Lorrie Goldstein reported that a year later the projections suggest quite the contrary.

“A typical residential electric bill would rise 7.9% annually over the next 5 years, with 56% of the increase due to the investment in renewable energy.” (GREEN ENERGY TECHNOLOGY – ENGINEER DESIGNED AND MANAGED MACHINES)

In Europe this increase in cost is forcing industry to move off shore, look for better deals and bail on their native lands. Better known as “fuel poverty”, we are all feeling the pinch.

In the not too distant future energy cost will be more than 20% of our monthly expenses, or even more if you throw in gasoline pricing and the purchase of candles, firewood and coal.

The promise of 50 000 jobs being created through GREEN ENERGY is bogus at best. In fact, because industry may decide to relocate (Energy Costs/Energy Poverty), any gains will be negated by job losses from manufacturing migration.

Besides, even though it might take a bee’s nest of workers to build these systems, once they’re up and running, an Engineer/Manager and a laptop will keep them going and very profitable.

So, how does this relate to Kurt Vonnegut’s World?

  1. The Engineer/Managers, Government, Big Business Corporate conspirators develop machines (technology) with the promise that all is good and it, “Ain’t gonna cost you much, Bubba!” The Reeks and the Wrecks build these machines and maintain them but at the cost of “energy poverty”, which keeps them and their families in their economic place (Middle Class), struggling to make ends meet.
  2. The rich get richer and spend their spare time thinking up ways to build new machines to make life easier, except that they don’t care that, in the end, it makes life more expensive for the Reeks and the Wrecks. No matter, the Managers coffers will continue to “runneth over”.
  3.  The gap between the Managers and the Reeks and the Wrecks widens. There are HAVES and HAVE NOTS, society is becoming bi-plural and the gap between these classes continues to widen.


Simply stated this new economy in North America has a hard time creating new jobs that are well paying. Technology has replaced people in the workplace, where machines can do the jobs that many hands of scores of people once laboured.


Dr. Billy Boomba, Ph.D. in astrophysics at your service.

Grumpy remembers his father working in the Cost Accounting division of a large manufacturing firm. Upon visiting him at the office, young Grumpy noticed that there were about 25 people sitting at desks handling all the paper pushing. Grumpy suspects that one person with a decent computer could handle all of that work now.

The most valued companies in the world like GOOGLE, MICROSOFT and the like produce no physical product other than gigabytes. They are all about what they “can do”, not what they can physically produce. And, it takes a handful of people to run the whole sha-bam on a Worldwide Basis. Machines are running these companies almost wholeheartedly. Of course, they do need Engineer/Managers to keep it all operating smoothly.

And, of course, the next time you go to your favorite fast food emporium the guy or gal serving you might just have a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

So many more people these days are underemployed and consequently underpaid!

My friends, there is no telling how many good paying jobs have been lost to computers and robotics.

So, how does this relate to Kurt Vonnegut’s World?

  1. Look around your town at new construction. Grumpy bets most of it is of the commercial variety – stores, retail parks, fast food joints, and big box bonanzas. These retail outlets sell the products produced by other Reeks and Wrecks from faraway lands. Most of the available jobs advertised are for these retail establishments – low paying, part-time, no benefits work.
  2. How many new large manufacturing plants have you seen built lately in and around your community? How many actual widgets are made in the ivory towers of Bay Street and in the huge office complexes in our biggest cities?
  3. How many recent university graduates are working in menial jobs well below the pay scale suggested by their qualifications? How many of them have huge debts to repay because of the cost of higher education? How many qualified teachers are flipping burgers these days?
  4. Who in society is getting ahead and who is lagging behind?

It says here that we are becoming a dualistic society of Engineer/ Managers and Reeks and Wrecks. Technology is fueling this division and commerce is widening the financial gap between them.

Can you see now where all of this might be heading? Are these not warning signs that might predict that a Vonnegutian world is looming large? Will more of our children, despite their sound upbringing and expensive educations, join the ranks of the Reeks and the Wrecks? How much more technology do we need before we all become REDUNDANT?

Grumpy has actually been thinking about this a lot lately. He boldly predicts that the next big revolution by downtrodden citizens will occur in North America and it will all be because of the effects of technological poverty. The “have-nots” are going to be seeking a bigger piece of the wealth the “haves” have been accumulating. And, my friends, “it ain’t gonna be pretty”.

And so on!

You see, when push comes to shove, Grumpy longs for the good old days when most of the engineers in the world drove trains and his phone number was 82OM.

Why not tell me what you’re thinking? Or better yet, give Player Piano a read! Leave Grumpy a comment! He’ll get back to you.

Hi! Ho!


The best engineers drive trains. They DO NOT run corporations.


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