Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How the Cold War was Lost

Tell Me Again How We Won the Cold War, Daddy?
©2012  Ross Williams

My fifth and hopefully last child – third son – was born at the end of last month.  At least I assume it was mine.  Stories I made up about Paulo, my wife’s Brazilian surf instructor, aside there’s a few I have relatively more suspicion are not mine, but except for the one who’s through college and with a family all his own, the rest are on my health insurance, which is all the proof some people need.

Where I work, adding dependents mid-year is all automated ... today.  We have to log into a company-wide benefits system which is “secure”.   Computer “security” is gotten by preventing people who don’t belong on the system from getting on the system.  The easiest assumption to make is that anyone who tries getting on the system doesn’t belong there, and this is the method of security chosen by my company’s benefits system.  Add to it that this is being attempted while I am on a similarly “secure” Defense Department network where network “security” is measured by assuming that any outside connection you attempt to make is unauthorized and the computers won’t actually let you do it.  What you end up with is a frustrating and infuriating 6-day melodrama out of what used to be done by filling out two, maybe three forms and faxing them to HR.

...which is what ultimately ended up happening, anyway.

First, there was the fiasco of simply getting logged on, which took over an hour of convincing the local “secure” network that I should be let out, and then convincing the “secure” company system that I should be let in.  Then finding my way through the labyrinthine maze of my company’s employee website to the proper location to find the online forms – another three hours of my life I won’t get back.

My company, Computer Sciences Corporation, is, ultimately, a software company.  We write software which other companies buy to, in general, run their daily business; my own division writes software which melds together the government data from various military systems so that these multiple military systems can actually talk to each other – which for decades they could not – and so that these military systems can be used to efficiently plan wars, execute wars, supply wars, resupply wars, and bring home the dead bodies but leave the equipment in the field to be scavenged by our Good Friends®, so they can sell it to our future enemies … who are mostly the same people.  What would have taken well over a year to accomplish just five years before while preparing for the Gulf War in late 1990, took less than two months using the system we provided the DoD.  You’re welcome, guys.

But we buy our own software, the stuff that runs our own company internally, from – apparently – Zeke’s Discownt Softwear ‘n Bate Shop, ... from the irregulars rack.  It took me six days to do what used to take me MAYBE a half hour.

I had added four previous children to my medical benefits who did not have the courtesy of being born on New Year’s Eve at 11:58 pm, not to mention removing two wives and adding two others [one wife was both added and removed], and those were all done without the benefit of automation.  Which means they were trivial to accomplish to the point of being thoroughly unmemorable.

Logging in and web “navigating” to the proper place in the company’s website took as much time for this one child as all my other children and wives [current and ex-] combined.  And I hadn’t even done anything yet; this was just to find the forms.

The first form to complete was the “Add Dependent” form.  New child – born in the middle of the year – a not-rare event, right?

You’d think it was the first time they’d ever run across it.  New babies have no Social Security number, and they can’t get a number for “six to eight weeks”, but they have to be added as a dependent within 30 days or they don’t get added at all.  It takes as long for the Social Security Administration to invent a 9-digit number as it does the Department of Defense to transport 500,000 soldiers, all their equipment, and a bazillion extra bombs and bullets to Saudi Arabia.  Nine digits is monumentally more difficult.

I cannot help but think that the CSC HR department is fully aware that newborns don’t have a Social Security number, but Zeke’s Discownt Softwear isn’t.  It requires a Social Security number before you can click “submit”.  Without an SSN, the web page would keep returning with red-lettered scolds about filling in the entire form.  No combination of “we’ve applied for one”, “baby”, or “newborn child” would suffice.  It wasn’t until I looked at the third page of instructions for filling out a half-page form that I found the fine print’s finer print about what to do for a new dependent who does not have a Social Security number.  And “newborn” wasn’t even the top option.  Ahead of newborns who might fit this criterion were ”foreign nationals being added to Employee’s dependent list, either as spouse or spousal dependent”, as well as “foreign or domestic minor child adoptee”.


I understand that computer geeks are, like, geeky and all, but is there really all that many of us who get Ukrainian brides and their eastern European insta-families that it takes top billing from newborns?  Are that many of my fellow employees trekking to the Peoples’ Republic to adopt unaborted Chinese infant girls that they come in over traditional American newborns?


The instructions require the employee to call HR to learn what to do.  HR is half a continent away from me in Falls Church Virginia; I called.  I was on hold for fifteen minutes.

When someone finally answered the phone and I told her what I was trying to do, she said, “Oh, you just use the default SSN in that field and that tells us that there is no social security number yet.  The default SSN is 123-11-1111.”

That’s it?  Why can’t they put this in the instructions?

“I don’t know ... that would certainly make it easier, wouldn’t it?”

There was an email address to ask any questions about HR policies and forms and whatnot; I asked this same question of them.  Their response – two days later – was “If we published what our default SSN was then it would be available to people to use to enroll for benefits they don’t qualify for.”

My response was  ... but unless they were serious about their benefit scamming, their SSNs wouldn’t match and they wouldn’t get any benefits; if they were serious about their scamming then they’d have a falsified SSN in the first damned place and they wouldn’t need a default.  In any event, it does no harm to give a non-SSN value for people to use in the event of a newborn – such as “Newborn” – that Zeke’s Softwear can then convert into the default value.

They didn’t reply back to this.  So I’m publishing their default SSN for them.  It is 123-11-1111.

I put 123-11-1111 into my fifth child’s/third son’s SSN field on his half-page “Add Dependent” form.  I clicked “submit”.  I was given a pop-up that told me my dependent addition would have to be “approved” by HR before I could do anything else.  Of all the arrogant notions.  I was unaware that I needed company approval in order to reproduce.  In any event, this approval was somewhat over nine months late in being advised.

By the next morning I was informed of CSC’s condescending approval of my fifth/third dependent and was told to go back to the same place I had been before in their benighted maze of misnamed web links, dead-ends, gotchas, and spiraling axle-wraps.  The emailed instructions told me about “step three”, which was to actually sign up my fifth/third for the health insurance that would pay part of the hospital bills from his being born and catching an unfortunate lung full of amniotic fluid during egress, and which required him to stay an extra day.

Once I found “step three”, I clicked on the link to get the form I had to fill out for the dependent medical benefits and life insurance stuff – same as I have for the rest of the clan.  I waited for the form to load on the screen.  And waited.  And waited.

And waited.

The little bar on the bottom of the web browser indicated it was still downloading something.  After several minutes, the little bar said “Done” and I looked ... and there was nothing there.  I went back, tried it again.  When it said it was done the window was empty.

I spent all afternoon doing this.  More time I cannot get back.

In exasperation I sent a letter to the guy I work for as well as another to the HR department’s help line stating, essentially, “I was told to do ‘step three’ but when I get there, there’s no ‘there’ there.”

Day Four was spent at home, in part recuperating from bureaucracy overload, and in part driving my wife and fifth/third to various places they both had to go.

By the time I got back to work on Day Five, I had a grumpy set of emails from various people in HR informing me that they, too, were just end users of Zeke’s Discownt Softwear, and to fill out the attached forms and either scan them and email them back, or fax them back.  If I ever need anything scanned, I have my wife do it – she hadn’t come to work with me.  So the fax it is.

I filled out the forms, all but one stupid little detail.  I emailed my wife about it but didn’t hear back, which is not unusual as it sometimes takes a half hour [minimum] for the company email system to figure out where it is and what it’s doing, often getting it wrong.  We bought our email software from Zeke, too.  That night I was informed that my email had been sent to her spam folder.

Day Six I had the last information I needed, and I faxed it all to HR.

Six days to do a half hour’s worth of bureaucracy.

At around the same time, I got a company-wide email from the same HR department informing me that the health benefits for next year were going to be drastically different.  The bottom line was that “well-paid” employees will be paying more for their health insurance next year because younger employees and those who otherwise don’t make as much as, well, me, can’t afford health insurance as easily as I can.

Yes, class, CSC’s Human Resources Department is advising their employees that all employee paychecks are open and fair game for corporate plundering, to be disbursed to those that the company views as more deserving of the employee’s money than the employee who earned it.

I sent an email to HR’s help desk asking if I was reading this correctly.  I forwarded the same stuff to my wife, who works in insurance, and her response was “Welcome to Obamacare.”

The next day I was informed by HR that yes I was reading it correctly, because there is a “nationwide” problem of health care “accessibility” and that stealing my money for in-house redistribution was the way CSC was helping to fix it.  And was that a heavy dollop of pride I was reading in the email’s tone, indicating that stealing my money to give to others was a good and proper thing to do?  It was indeed.  Yes, class, Computer Sciences Collective is robbing people of their paychecks and they are proud to do so; veritably tickled pinko.

It did not seem to cross any of their Marxist minds that this money is mine and that I might have a use for it myself.  Like putting a new roof on the house.

I sent another message to the help desk people informing them that I was not really interested in assisting others through “our socialist president’s brainless socialism within our company”.  It is bad enough that it’s being done as national policy so that we need to take out another China-backed mortgage which China will not forgive when our country finally defaults.

I further mentioned a “corporate Marxist” as a vague and undirected gripe, that I was grossly offended by the prospect of my paycheck being the “from each” of the Marxist Dialectic, and to please tell me the names of the “communist collective” which made this company decision to plunder and redistribute paychecks so that I might be “rude directly to the people who more properly deserve it.”

I heard nothing more from them.

Instead I heard from the project director two days later.  It seems that someone in HR took exception to my many references to socialism in the new corporate healthcare benefits, and the vice president of Human Resources, a person by the name of John Heim, started at the top of my division and went south until he finally found someone that knew who I was that he could chew out and threaten my job at.

How dare someone actually use the feedback mechanism for feedback!  Why, why, it’s unprofessional.  Which is a term that I heard more than once myself when *I* was chewed out by the project director.  And, well, I’m sorry, but professionalism cannot be acquired in the absence of honesty and accuracy, which my comments to HR were brimming with.  What they were not brimming with, on the other hand, was diplomacy.  No, I’m not diplomatic – if you’re fine being a socialism-apologist, I’m fine saying you’re being one; I have never been diplomatic and doubt I ever will be.  I also casually mentioned that I’d worked with and for this project director for a few decades and know that he is no more diplomatic by nature than I am, so he of all people can understand the situation.

Well, we aren’t talking about him, we’re talking about me, and what would I do if I had received such an email critical of my response as I had given to HR?  “You’d be the first one to complain,” I was told.

About this?  No, I’d be the last.  I’m the first one to complain about counter-productive activities, about dictatorial high-handedness, bureaucratic  fiat writ stupid [and, typically, in childish crayon scrawls], imperiousness, officiousness, dishonesty, disingenuity, duplicity ... that’s what I complain about, continually, to the point where no one listens to me anymore.  Not that they ever did; no one wants to hear that their favorite emperor is naked.  But someone challenges me, my words, and my ideas?

Honestly, I’d laugh.  Because, first, I don’t put out a position under my name that I cannot intellectually support.  I would not have heavily implied that it was each well-paid employee’s duty to devote his paycheck for the benefit of lesser-paid employees, and to do so willingly.  I would have stated, instead, that it was Stupid Socialism Gone Wild, and so I would not have gotten a challenge directed at me on this subject.  Other subjects, where various emperors are being described as naked, perhaps.

Second, I am far from a novice in the clash of words and ideas; if I had indeed received a challenge to a position I’d taken then it’d be just like any of a thousand others I’ve received over the years.  It’s not a big deal at this point, and my ego can take it, which apparently John Heim’s can’t.  If someone challenges me to a battle of words and ideas, he is asking me – veritably begging me – to hand his ass to him in little tiny pieces.  I do not mince words and I don’t take prisoners.  You wanna challenge me, go for it.  I’ll even let you draw first.  It’s your funeral; get there how you wish.

But in the end, it was impressed upon me that plundering others’ paychecks is a professional thing to do, while objecting to it as Stupid Socialism Gone Wild is not.  And if we don’t believe it when the project director says it because he’s told to, then the vice president of Human Resources has volunteered to be available for a phone call so he can tell me this imperious, officious, dishonest, disingenuous, duplicitous bureaucratic dictation as well.  And he believes it.

Yeah, well, not without a loyyer, I won’t call.  Who trusts the man who threatens your job because you were correct and uncomplimentary about something he does because he believes in it?

For among the corporate ethics violations I’ve spotted here are the disallowance of feedback through the stated feedback mechanisms when that feedback is critical of the department being feedbacked upon, and the implied and stated attempt to seek retribution against critics.  Both are unethical corporate no-nos significantly more no-no-ish than merely being “unprofessionally” direct in an email.

But, then, at one time, also a no-no was pillaging paychecks for redistribution among new-hires who don’t make as much as those of us employed for around a quarter of a century, or the union feebs without a college degree who are unskilled labor.  Our socialist president may feel sorry enough for them to give them his money [not to mention China’s], and so may I.  But if I do, it will be because *I* choose to, not because some Marxist dweeb chose for me.

Time was, these were the folks I was hired to protect us from.


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