I read every single word of Steve Allen’s “Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking” — not just because his thesis (American know-how has morphed into American don’t-know much) resonated with my teaching experience, but also because I feared Allen could have easily used me as a personal example.
One hundred percent of us, according to Allen, are sporadically guilty of “dumbth,” a term he coined to describe the witlessness, ignorance, superstition and/or knee jerk responses that currently masquerade as reason. But it’s not, he reassured me, our usual modus operandi.
In his 1998 book, the late-, late-night comedian-author-composer-autodidact cataloged a whole host of hilarious encounters with shoddy workmanship, lousy service, mangled communication and fuzzy-headed thinking.
Dumbth has become institutionalized, maintained Allen, by bosses who insist that everything be done by the book — their book.
Try to order iced tea, as Allen did, when iced tea does not appear on the menu. Even though the restaurant in question possessed an abundance of tea bags, ice, lemons and sugar, Allen’s request, in a moment eerily reminiscent of the “chicken salad scene” in the film “Five Easy Pieces,” was summarily refused.
But the blame clearly falls, Allen told me, on the employer. By failing to empower his/her workers with a means of taking initiative, solving problems or thinking outside the box, he/she was essentially raising havoc with his/her own bottom line.
I couldn’t help thinking of dumbth in conjunction with Steve Hudson. He’s the South Central Coast district manager at the Coastal Commission. Despite 32 days of begging by city of Port Hueneme officials for an emergency permit to armor their dwindling beach sand with boulders — the highly recommended method of shoreline protection used with two previously granted permits — Hudson opted to drag his feet.
And Port Hueneme officials were forced to wait. You see, the $2 million for emergency shore protection from the Coastal Conservancy may have been available, but was contingent on a Coastal Commission permit.
Even the day before the mighty Pacific rammed through the sand wall on April 26, Hudson, who couldn’t be bothered to make the 20-minute trip from Ventura to see the situation for himself, insisted that the situation in Port Hueneme was no emergency, and that city engineers explore “sand back-passing” — essentially digging up thousands of cubic feet of sand from the area in front of the Alaska Airlines Memorial, which is also an endangered bird habitat area, and trucking it to the beach in front of Surfside I.
Hardhearted Hudson simply would not listen to city officials, who argued that this so-called “alternative” was not only unfeasible but also futile. Simply put, since sand on Hueneme Beach predictably erodes at a rate of 100,000 cubic yards a month, a transplant of exorbitantly expensive back-passed sand would last only a few weeks at best.
Hudson started whistling out of the other side of his mouth when Gov. Jerry Brown (alerted by State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell) cut in on his hesitation waltz. I have no idea what was said, but an emergency permit for three times more rock than requested was granted immediately.
So why did Hudson drag his feet? Better journalists than myself have tried to reach him, yet he doggedly refused to speak to any of us.
We may not know why he stalled, but we do know the results of his 32-day delay — significant property loss after a large portion of the sand wall and the sidewalk collapsed, allowing the ocean at high tide, to threaten the street and residences across Surfside Drive.
The price tag for Hudson’s dithering? “Over a quarter of a million dollars,” according to Greg Brown, community development director for Port Hueneme.
In addition, there’s been a loss of access to Surfside Drive (in front of Surfside I), the Lighthouse Promenade (due to debris thrown over the revetment by the sea) and the pier (because of cracked structural pilings).
Thus far, Hudson’s dumbth has resulted in neither consequences to himself nor the Coastal Commission.
But, if a picture is worth a thousand words, Mayor Jon Sharkey, City Manager Cynthia Haas and Councilman Ellis Green carried an arsenal of arguments in their smartphones as they stormed Washington, D.C., last month to lobby for a permanent solution to Port Hueneme’s perennial problem.
“Protect, conserve, restore and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.” Do you see anything in this mission statement that suggests stall tactics or obstacle course checklists should be the price of doing business with the Coastal Commission?
So why the indecision? Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) once shrewdly observed, “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” And Sir Joshua didn’t even know Mr. Hudson.