Panorama of Silicon Valley from Mt. Umunhum and a story of fraud and corruption

Recently, we had a day of extremely clear air here in Silicon Valley, so we made our first trip up to Mount Umunhum, the high peak to the south of San Jose, and the former site of a SAGE radar station. Recently it was opened to the public. Close as it seems, it's an hour drive, but fun in the Tesla.

Up there I shot a high resolution panorama of the whole South Bay, stretching up to SF. I have shot many panoramas of the Bay Area so I add this one to the list.

Click on the thumbnail for a "zoom" viewer, then in the viewer click full screen, and wander around using your scroll wheel to zoom and your arrow keys or mouse.

I was reminded at the top of the campaign by my friend Les Earnest, who worked on Sage, to make it a monument to government waste. Sage cost the taxpayaers an immense amount of money, and never worked, and they knew it didn't work.

He tells the story in his essay here.

His story opens up an interesting question. After spending billions to detect Soviet bombers, they "decided" that the fact that it doesn't work should be classified. This silenced critics, but in theory, it was done because the real purpose of such a system is not to spot the bombers but deter them. In theory, again, if the Soviets didn't know it didn't work, it made sense to keep spending money to run it and improve it, as though it worked. To stop spending money or admit failure would mean that even the deterrent value of the early spending was lost.

There are many flaws with that theory. The Soviets almost certainly knew it didn't work, it was only the public being fooled. And there is a huge incentive for generals and contractors to line their pockets with money to "maintain" it. But let's presume for a moment that the Soviets didn't know. What's the right strategy?

People who build failed projecs should be punished, and certainly should not be rewarded with more money. Yet, if you don't, enemy spies will surely notice this. They look at the clues about how much contractors are making, how officers are progressing in the ranks. If a contractor is punished with no new work, that will be evident, hinting they failed at earlier work. Executives will live in less expensive houses. Officers will get less prime duty. It's almost impossible to hide this sort of thing.

So it's a difficult question. How do you punish failure, or at least not reward failure, without letting the enemy know what failed? But if you do reward failure, how do you incentivize success? One minor thought would be the promise of posthumous shaming, which is what Les suggested -- that the monument on the mountain tell the story of how those who built it were part of what he calls "the biggest taxpayer fraud in world history." Nobody wants to admit this, and Les never got his way.

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