Don't Look at Me
©2011 Ross Williams
I can’t count the number of times that people who disagree with my politics, when learning what I do for a living, tell me that our nation is screwed. Often that’s the polite rendition.
Working for the people who plan our wars doesn’t require that you like war. It only means that you understand that war is necessary from time to time – and it is. Working for the people who resupply our wars doesn’t require that you like the war currently being supplied. It only requires that you understand that regardless what the popular press [and its spittle-covered readers] might be saying about it, the press doesn’t know all the details, and they [the press and their parrots] are frequently very very very incorrect about the “facts” they have built their ornately decorated house of cards from. I can say this because with a military clearance and “access”, even if I refuse to use my access any more than I absolutely have to, information I have at my disposal and which our nation is operating on contradicts what the press says about 95% of the time. And I’m on the bottom rung of data analysis. I know, as Sergeant Shultz was fond of claiming, nuthink.
That’s not accurate, of course. I know more than 98% of my fellow citizens do about the subject because they don’t work in the field. In fact, they only begin to pay attention when it sexes up by our invading some other country they never knew existed until we invaded it. At that point, they and their one course of PoliSci can hold court in any forum by preaching to choirs filled with similar ignoramuses. Given the nonsense they spout as “factual” and “authoritative” which isn’t, it’s trivially easy to spot those whose positions on this war, or that war, or even war in general is acquired by hallucination and navel-gazing. It is, actually, only among the 2% who know the subject to which I comparatively know nothing. And I’m happy having it that way. Means I don’t have any meaningful promotions in my future.
Because, if truth be told, I hate my job, and I’d hate even more to have to do more of it. I hate the weasely and pointless rules, and the petit Napoleon who make them, and the pusillanimous pencil-dicks who enforce them. Almost none of their rules serve a purpose other than to give the maker or enforcer a sense of importance to their otherwise baseless existence. Making and enforcing idiot rules serves militasters in much the same way that getting divorced, buying a Jaguar, and draping your arm with eye candy serves aging rocks stars, Hollywood B-listers, and corporate loyyers turning 50.
Three years ago someone with stars on his shoulder was in his, um, library doing his, uh, best thinking and somewhere between grunting and wiping he happened across an ad in a trade publication for a trade he knows nothing about [in this case, computer network architecture] advertising the benefits of obtaining professional certifications in network architecture. The certification he read about is called Security+.
The star-man grunted again, then put two and two together and got a quadratic equation, and decided that since he was in charge of a bunch of people who do “computer stuff”, and security is massively important to that “computer stuff”, he could just make everyone get a certification in Security+. What good are stars on your shoulder if you can’t boss people around in non-productive ways?
Never mind that this certification is only useful to network architects; never mind that it involves a fairly specialized academic subset that is beyond most people who work in “computer stuff”. “These people are on my computer systems?” General Dreedle thought to himself while flushing his best thinking of the day, “They can damn well get a Security+ certification.”
This is a lot like requiring chiropractors to get board-certified in neurosurgery because, well, chiropractors treat pain, and nerves carry pain... so chiropractors need to know how to operate on nerves.
Didn’t I tell you? I wasn’t joking.
So a whole slew of us who do not do network architecture had to get certified in network architecture. Failure to do so would result in the loss of our job ... which, at the risk of repeating myself, had nothing whatsoever to do with network architecture. Ironically, those who work on this contract and who DO do the network architecture were mostly excluded from the requirement. So the chiropractors are board-certified in neurosurgery, but the neurosurgeons are not.
I’m still not joking.
Many of those who got this certification know nothing about the subject – even after passing the exam. In my case I chalk it up as a side effect of having a 150 IQ: I test well. I may know nothing about a subject but if you give me a multiple choice test on it I’ll get a passing grade more times than not. We are data analysts, database designers, applications developers ... not network architects. Yet I can’t work as a data analyst unless I’m certified in a subject I know nothing about. The chiropractor cannot chiropract for the Defense Department unless he’s board-certified in neurosurgery.
Not joking. Still. And we wonder why the toilet seat costs them $5,000.
It still does, by the way. The Reagan administration simply refused to allow contractors to bury the costs under procurement the way they used to; they now have to itemize, and that makes it all better. The toilet seat still costs the same $34.97 at the local home improvement box store and the government is still paying the same $5,000. But when the costs are broken out, the auditing is $965.03.
Auditing is what it’s called when you hire someone else [and a staff for the paperwork] to look at the toilet seat and say, “Yep, that’s a toilet seat, alright.” This is called Quality Assurance, and a specific form of QA was prescribed for the software side of defense contracting, and then sold to it, by the idiot eggheads at Carnegie-Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, at tens of millions of dollars, not including annual maintenance and consultation fees. SEI’s QA program is little more than a logorrheic reinvention of “Two heads are better than one” coupled with “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” and other such inherently contrary platitudes. It serves as a means of being able to both prove and disprove whatever is in the interest of the DoD to have proven or disproven at any given time.
The other $4,000 of the 5-grand crapper seat is what it costs procurement clerks to enroll in [and pass] a plumber’s apprenticeship course so that they can tell the difference between a toilet seat and a shower nozzle – with authority – when they stop at Home Depot with DoD money in their pocket. Because meaningless credentials are absolutely necessary to the DoD.
Other practical epiphanies that may be escaping the Defense Department’s collective authoritarianism is that one can use a riding lawn mower without being a small engine repairman, one can turn on a light switch when the electricity is generated at a nuclear power plant without being a nuclear engineer, and one can assemble an Ikea household without being a carpenter – in fact, it helps.
The concepts that one can buy a toilet seat without being a plumber and use a computer network without being a network architect are just extensions of this reality. And one can certainly use a computer network without completing the next DoD requirement after the Security+ network architecture certification: we’ve been given three years to complete the Security+ Continuing Education course. This consists of a series of symposia and conferences that only college professors have the time and money to attend.
A mere data weenie like myself wouldn’t get reimbursed for it because there are specific rules in the company’s contract with our DoD agency over what type of non-work activities are payable by the contract. I’m not a network architect, so the cost of attending a network architecture symposium is on my own dime. And my company certainly isn’t going to give me money out of their profit margin to help them comply with a useless contract requirement – which was unilaterally added by the government in violation of all theories of Contract Law in existence, I might add. Additionally, I’d have to take vacation to attend any of these conferences – same reason. Plane ticket, if needed, is at my expense as well.
Good to see the government finally saving money by making those they hire to do their work paying for the privilege. “We require you to buy us a toilet seat, and we require you to audit your purchases, and we require you to meaninglessly educate and re-educate yourselves in extravagant ways before you do it, ... but we’ll only pay you $34.97 for the toilet seat.”
I don’t bring this up for entirely personal reasons, although that is certainly part of it. Goring the ox that totes my cart, as it were. I bring it up because of something forwarded to me this morning by another of the neurosurgery-certified chiropractors in my group. The US lost an unmanned drone over Iran last week. Iranian-funded Iraqi insurgents hacked the US spy drone fleet, and infected them all with computer viruses that captured the keystrokes sent to the aircraft – they knew what our drones were doing, and when, and where. The US Air Farce, to whom we are contracted, and its cyber security command, to which we are not, is just down the street at the same base from the man with stars on his shoulders who gets his biggest ideas on the crapper, didn’t know how it was being accomplished, and had to keep deleting the viruses every few weeks.
In fact, US Cyber Command techies didn’t even know about it until one of them, also possibly on the toilet where he could think, read about it in Wired magazine.
It would seem that I’ve identified those who should be getting their Security+ certifications in place of us data wonks. We didn’t design the computer networks hacked by Iranian yahoos; the network architects did – the ones who, on my contract, don’t need credentials in their own field.
I’ll attach my consulting bill in future correspondence. It’ll be hefty.