COB-93: best bureaucratic jobs are in paper

Despite the unfortunate development of new information technologies, the best bureaucratic jobs remain concerned with shuffling paper.  Deep within an abandoned coal mine in Pennsylvania, bureaucrats in outstanding jobs have worked for decades to this day processing the retirement paperwork for all federal government retirees.  They collect paper documents into files and then type the files into an electronic database.  Computers and electronic databases have changed a lot over the years.  But the job of collecting paper documents together into a file has changed little.  That job is unlikely to change rapidly in the future.  Shuffling paper makes for secure jobs.

paper is the soul of bureaucracy

The advantages of paper are many.  Paper has extremely low power consumption, is immune to cyber attacks, and doesn’t need to be constantly updated.  Paper is the most general interface technology for connecting different information systems.   Paper thus supports a wide variety of bureaucratic jobs:

I used to work for a medical billing company. My job was to print patient and billing information from a database. Then I would manually type all of the information that I just printed out into another database.  {forkboy2}

I used to work for a place called Orthonet where case managers would type physical therapy costs into a spreadsheet, print it out, and hand it to me and another guy to type it into another spreadsheet. We kept our mouths shut and collected that sweet $14/hr to be that extra cog in a very inefficient machine. {kegtech}

Almost every workplace I have been in has had mind-numbing soul-crushing inefficient manual tasks. Those tasks are almost inevitably designed a decade or more ago by the people who are now seniors/management. They don’t like to see their long refined process and work flushed down the drain and respond to any suggestions with absolute hostility.

It doesn’t matter how nicely you go about it; if you don’t love and adore and gush over their paperwork baby then they will view you and the rest of your opinions with contempt and slowly freeze you out until you’re out of a job. I fell for it the first few times. But eventually I worked out “open door policy” means tow the line or it’s game over. {im_cody}

Most reports, even if they are written electronically and never printed out, are designed to be printed.  They have a first page, and another page, and another page, and another page, etc., until the last page.  That organization allows management to count easily how many pages of work employees have done.  Reports intended to be weighty must be printed on heavy paper.  A paper report must be filed in a cabinet to show that it has enduring value.   No one cares about datasets.  But reports produced are measurable outputs.  Paper, whether actually used or not, is the controlling form for bureaucracy.  Shuffling paper is the soul of bureaucracy.  It’s the substance of the best bureaucratic jobs.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, financial services companies are pondering how to migrate automated teller machines (ATMs) from legacy Windows XP systems.  If financial services companies had remained with tellers processing paper deposit and withdrawal slips, they wouldn’t now be facing the difficult question of how to migrate from Windows XP.

Microsoft recently released the source code for the MS-DOS operating system from 1981.  Releasing this code undoubtedly required many levels of management approval.  Hence it’s not surprising that it took 33 years for the code to be released.  Open-source projects that release code more rapidly should consider whether they are staying current with best bureaucratic practices.

A Harvard Business Review blog has ignored obvious bureaucratic economics in examining “why good managers are so rare.”  These management experts think that the limiting factor is inmate managerial talent:

Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it. This practice doesn’t work. Experience and skills are important, but people’s talents — the naturally recurring patterns in the ways they think, feel, and behave — predict where they’ll perform at their best. Talents are innate and are the building blocks of great performance. Knowledge, experience, and skills develop our talents, but unless we possess the right innate talents for our job, no amount of training or experience will matter.

That’s ridiculous.  The easiest way to look like a good manager to hire a lot of other bad managers.  By continually increasing the ranks of management, bureaucratic development works to increase the number of good managers. If good managers are rare, the cause is bureaucratic under-development.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-92: Chigusa and the art of bureaucracy

TPS Report, preliminary draft

The famous tea jar Chigusa is now on display at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.  Chigusa is one of numberless, anonymous ceramic jars made in southern China during the 13th or 14th century.  Chigusa was routinely transferred to Japan.  There Chigusa received its name, which means “thousand grasses” or “myriad things.”  Japanese tea men displayed, ornamented, and contemplated Chigusa for centuries.  Chigusa, under the appearance of an ordinary ceramic jar, is actually the quintessence of bureaucracy, not surprisingly discovered in Japan.

tea jar chigusa

Chigusa is like a routine bureaucratic TPS report.  To insensitive eyes, a TPS report looks like a large stack of papers and an undistinguished cover sheet.  But behind each word of such reports is a chain of crossed-out words extending to the furthermost reaches of the bureaucratic organization.  “Initiative” became “strategic initiative” then “forward-looking proposal” yielded to “business-pivot implementation step” that fell to “proposed performance milestone” raised to “aspirational millennial goal” then simplified to “initiative” that cycles forward in the never-ending business of planning the business.   Display, ornamentation, and contemplation are the core principles of TPS report creation.  A thousand blades of grass and myriad things are carefully gathered and arranged in a TPS report.

Everyone who aspires to the highest level of aestheticism in bureaucracy should view Chigusa reverently.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, ordinary citizens are now fighting back against efforts to reduce bureaucrats’ paper use.  Elderly persons are being denied ready access to paper Social Security statements.  That, not surprisingly, makes it more difficult for them to monitor whether their benefits are being cut.  Print newspapers are shrinking, and the number of coupons that can be clipped is plummeting.  The cost to consumers is obvious.  Any paper product currently being produced should not be eliminated before a thorough impact analysis report is prepared on paper.

Another disturbing development is complaint-driven development.   This software-development protocol involves pushing the product to real users, listening to their complaints, and fixing the most significant complaints.  A well-run bureaucracy, in contrast, treats each complaint equally.  Each complaint receives a standard response of the following sort:

Thank you for your complaint.  We have considered it.  We hope that you will soon recognize that we have fully addressed your complaint.

This response can easily be automated and sent out millions of times at low cost.  Complaint-driven development, in contrast, is expensive and relatively inefficient.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[image] Chigusa image courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art, which acquired Chigusa in 2009.

COB-91: how to deal with a fly on your nose

Leonid Brezhnev with a fly on his nose

Once upon a time in Basra there was a cadi called ʻAbd Allāh ibn Sawwār.  As an outstanding bureaucrat, he was grave, imperturbable, and immobile.  He spoke the proper words at the proper time and wasted no movement other than the necessary movements of his lips.  But one day a disturbance interrupted his work routine:

with his assessors and the public seated around him and in two rows in front of him, a fly landed on his nose and lingered there a long while.  Then it moved towards the inside corner of his eye.  He wanted to endure when it got into the corner of his eye and bit it with its piercing proboscis, just as he had endured it when it landed on his nose, without twitching the tip of his nose or wrinkling his face or whisking it away with his finger. [*]

The pain of the fly’s bite finally forced the cadi to blink.  He shut and opened his eye to try to dislodge the fly.  But the fly kept at him.  Finally the cadi moved his hand and attempted to whisk the fly away.  The fly kept returning.  The cadi tried to wipe the fly away with his sleeve, but he could not.  Ultimately the cadi humbled himself and acknowledged his weakness.  He addressed the fly out of the proper order of the day’s business.

Conscientious bureaucrats should be aware of even the smallest threats to their bureaucratic order.  The Bureaucrat Management Institute for the Next Generation (BMING) has adopted a recommended protocol defining what a bureaucrat should do when a fly lands on her or his nose.  While slowing moving only the right lower arm, the bureaucrat should grasp with thumb and forefinger the standard-issue fly swatter aligned vertically to the left of the pencil on the bureaucrat’s desk.  With a quick flicking motion of the wrist (keeping the upper arm as motionless as possible), the bureaucrat should vigorous plant the fly swatter onto her or his stolid face.  Slowly and solemnly return the fly swatter to its proper position aligned vertically to the left of the pencil on the desk.  According to the BMING standard recommended protocol, the bureaucrat should ignore the remains of the smashed fly on her or his nose until the close of the business day.

In other bureaucratic news this month, Jan Banning has done an outstanding series of portraits of bureaucrats from around the world.  In our age of pervasive hostility toward bureaucrats, these portraits help everyone to understand that bureaucrats are living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human beings.

Dr. Paul M. Johnson at Auburn University has made freely available online a glossary of political economy terms.  The entry for bureaucracy states:

Bureaucratic organizations are typically charcterized by great attention to the precise and stable delineation of authority or jurisdiction among the various subdivisions and among the officials who comprise them, which is done mainly by requiring the organization’s employees to operate strictly according to fixed procedures and detailed rules designed to routinize nearly all decision-making. Some of the most important of these rules and procedures may be specified in laws or decrees enacted by the higher “political” authorities that are empowered to set the official goals and general policies for the organization, but upper-level (and even medium-level) bureaucrats typically are delegated considerable discretionary powers for elaborating their own detailed rules and procedures. Because the incentive structures of bureaucratic organizations largely involve rewarding strict adherence to formal rules and punishing unauthorized departures from standard operating procedures (rather than focusing on measurable individual contributions toward actually attaining the organization’s politically assigned goals), such organizations tend to rely very heavily upon extensive written records and standardized forms, which serve primarily to document the fact that all decisions about individual “cases” were taken in accordance with approved guidelines and procedures rather than merely reflecting the personal preferences or subjective judgment of the individual bureaucrat involved.

The full entry goes on much longer.  But even this meager collection of words should leave no doubt about the value of bureaucracy.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly will tell the Federation of Small Businesses that “by scrapping more than 3,000 rules ‘dreamt up by Whitehall bureaucrats,’ businesses will save over £850m a year.”  Misguided destruction of bureaucratic capability caused the decline of the British Empire.  The decline continues.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[*] From al-Jāḥiẓ, al-Ḥayawān (Living Beings), from Arabic trans., p. 185 in Gelder, Geert Jan van. 2013. Classical Arabic literature: a library of Arabic literature anthology. New York: New York University Press.


COB-90: moss for green bureaucracy

moss garden

You know the old folk-saying, “A bureaucrat on a roll gathers moss.”  In Japanese gardens, moss (dobashi) adds a sense of calm, age, and stillness.  The same is true within organizations.

Here are six additional reasons why you need moss in your organization:

  1. Moss can transform a manager’s hard bark into a green, sound-absorbing surface.
  2. Moss can provide a modern, green look to an organization with a lot of dead wood.
  3. Moss has excellent synergies with organizations implementing modern principles of mushroom management.
  4. Moss grows well in dim environments and will thrive deep within office buildings.
  5. The softness of moss-covered walls helps to lessen employee injuries from head-banging.
  6. The light-green color of moss goes well with yellowing blue shirts.

Moss can be cultivated in many different varieties.  The Carnival of Bureaucrats recommends Splachnum sphaericum:

The stinkmoss species Splachnum sphaericum develops insect pollination further by attracting flies to its sporangia with a strong smell of carrion, and providing a strong visual cue in the form of red-coloured swollen collars beneath each spore capsule. Flies attracted to the moss carry its spores to fresh herbivore dung, which is the favoured habitat of the species of this genus.

If you don’t already have it, get some moss in your bureaucratic organization today!

moss-covered tree branches

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the US Federal Register has been criticized for accepting document submissions on floppy disks.  Accepting document submissions on floppy disks not only honors bureaucratic inertia, but also shows sound business judgment:

In the end, it’s a matter of what’s cheaper. You can pay a lady to load A LOT of floppy disks before you’ve spent the same amount of money that a fundamental IT change costs. And I’m sure the people submitting the files will rather deliver on a floppy than pay a new $35 filing fee to fund the PKI infrastructure.

Change is expensive.  Don’t change unless you can’t think of a reason not to.

The Morning Star Company, which processes tomatoes, is demonstrating the elimination of not only line management and upper management, but also middle management.   The Morning Star Self-Management Institute is peddling this dangerous approach to all organizations.  We call upon organizational leaders to quash this threat to bureaucracy.

Another frightening business development is “get shit done” organizational culture.  This ideological disease is prevalent among startups, entrepreneurs, innovators, and other disreputable figures.  Fortunately, David Spinks has roundly denounced “get shit done” culture: “That’s a bad culture.  It’s bad management.  Poor communication.”   Don’t dump on your organization’s bureaucracy if you want your organization to endure and expand.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-89: new milestones achieved

Edvard Munch, Vampire

Adjusted profits are 23% higher than benchmark expected profits quarter-on-quarter, and 11% higher than last quarter, as measured in quarts extracted.  Seasonally normalized, composite asset sales have risen 17% and have exceeded expected guidance.  That makes for the seventeenth consecutive year that all performance milestones have exceeded guidance forecasts.  Concerns that the staff appears to be anemic and may not be as productive in the future are unfounded as long as our health-care plan continues to fully fund transfusions.  The strategic plan length has been increased by 19%, while the costs of counting revenues have decreased 56%.  The newly hired group of 7 SVPs (“Super Suckers”) has already reduced line staff by 6 FTEs through targeted attrition.  All revenue has been deferred to next year, simplifying the adjustment of this year’s fiscal results.  Management’s in-house auditor has certified the corporation’s debt burden to be acceptable.  No long-term effects are forecast from the seizure of furniture from corporate headquarters last February.  New touch-screen input devices make the loss of fingers during the cold spell immaterial.  Management remains optimistic about the future of the business as long as employee turnover exceeds garlic imports.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Jerry Pournelle deserves respect as a bureaucratic authority.  He explains:

I certainly started keeping a day book well before most, and long before the term “blog” or Web Log was invented. BIX, the Byte information exchange, preceded the Web by a lot, and I also had a daily journal on GE Genie. Both of those would have been considered blogs if there had been any such term. All that was long before the World Wide Web.

In short, he’s been doing the same thing for a long time.  That’s impressive.  Pournelle has formulated the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.  The Iron Law of Bureaucracy, stated simply, says that there are two kinds of people: false bureaucrats and true bureaucrats.  False bureaucrats foolishly pursue the organization’s goals.  True bureaucrats diligently seek to perpetuate the organization.  Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy declares the world is the best of all possible worlds:

in every case the second group {true bureaucrats} will gain and keep control of the organization.  It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

Set up a meeting to celebrate the good news about your organization’s future!

Unfortunately, some history professors are failing in knowledge of the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.  Consider what Larry Cebula says to his students:

In a way it is the greatest compliment a student can give. I ask them what they want to do with their history degree. They get all passionate and earnest and vulnerable as they answer, “I want your job. I am going to be a college professor!” Then they turn their smiling faces towards me, expectantly awaiting my validation and encouragement of their dreams. And I swallow hard, and I tell them…. No, my esteemed student, you are not going to be a history professor. It isn’t going to happen. The sooner you accept this the better.

That’s typical of dinosaur positivist historians out of date with theory.  Scholarly theory has unlimited potential for growth.  It’s also has low cost to produce.  History students should be encouraged to provide life-long support for the history-student production organization.

Scott Kirsner in the Harvard Business Review blog network describes 11 ways big companies can successfully undermine innovation.  Many big-company leaders fail to appreciate the full magnitude of the risks of innovation in their organizations.  But with thorough, hands-on, detail-oriented management, these risks can be minimized.  Some of Kirsner’s ideas are simple to implement:

Seeking more influence and power, the company’s Chief Information Officer has altered his title, becoming Chief Innovation Officer.

That’s a good start, but staff renaming is also necessary.  The Chief Innovation Officer should move promptly to rename her typist an Innovation Service Specialist.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-88: organic bureaucracy enhances collard greens

bureaucracy-certified organic collard greens ($2.99 plus tax)

When you eat collard greens, don’t settle for old-fashioned collard greens.  Recently I had the pleasure of buying “certified organic” collard greens at an exorbitantly priced grocery store.  An informational tag on the collard greens explained what “certified organic” means:

It means that our product has been grown according to strict uniform standards and rules that are verified by independent state of organizations {sic}.

Bureaucrats relish vegetables grown under “strict uniform standards and rules,” irrespective of what those standards and rules are.  Being verified by organizations is also good.  The more organizations, the better.  The informational tag continues:

Cal-Organic is certified by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) as well as the USDA.

Double-acronym certified!

Our rigorous certification program include many procedures, i.e. inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and testing of soil and water to ensure that we are ultimately accountable to you.

Every consumer-accountant should be pleased: many procedures are being carried out, detailed records are being kept, and testing is being done.  What other information would you want to know?

Our motto is more than just the words “FARMING WITH PRIDE AND INTEGRITY.”  It is our action plan to assure your complete trust in our produce.

That’s a troubling action plan.  It consist of only five words.  Capitalization is no substitute for additional verbiage and a full-fledged mission statement.  Solid growth of organic bureaucracy takes time.   Nonetheless, these collard greens provide a good taste of bureaucracy.  They obviously are not your grandfather’s collard greens.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, postal services around the world have been struggling economically.  Postal services are venerable bureaucracies.  Enemies of bureaucracy deserve much of the blame for postal services’ problems.  Many bureaucratic enemies have been reducing paperwork and the volume of correspondence.  More malicious bureaucratic haters, the sort who write books entitled Bureaucrats: How to Annoy Them, actively attempt to sabotage postal services.  Consider this despicable behavior:

One man who got into a war of letters with the Royal Mail itself persisted in sticking his stamp right in the middle of the envelope. This makes it difficult for the franking machines.

This petty but effective tactic riled every official in the postal hierarchy, right up to the district chief manager. He wrote to the rebel, warning him never to stick a stamp anywhere but the top right‑hand corner of the envelope.

By return came an envelope with the stamp dead centre, and a little rhyme enclosed: ‘Hey diddle diddle, the stamp’s in the middle.’

That’s why your postal rates are going up.

Nothing is more important to the future of bureaucracy than education.  Many young people today do not understand the importance of bureaucracy.  Consider this question put to Yahoo! Answers:

I recently bought the best of rugrats on iTunes and chuckies dad mentions he’s a bureaucrat sometimes and in the episode where the babies become “big people” and go to work chuckie said that they can do what his dad does and “push paper”. what does. Bureaucrat actually do?

That’s a sad commentary on our education system.  The “best answer” is very bad:

Bureaucrats generally serve to administrate and to carry out policies. They often don’t actually get anything done, while doing quite a bit….if that makes any sense…

That makes no sense.  Please write “bureaucrats save the world” three hundred times and re-submit your answer.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-87: Jacques sticks to job description at washtub

Big Rooster, David Smith, steel sculpture

One of the great moments in bureaucratic history occurred in front of a washtub in Jacques’ house in fifteenth-century France.  Jacques, like most men throughout history, was under the rule of his wife.   Jacques’ mother-in-law frequently gave him advice.  She said that Jacques should always follow his wife’s orders, and to make sure he didn’t forget any, he should write them down.  Jacques prepared to write.  He asked his wife for orders.  His wife said:

Write clearly, do you hear?  Put down that you’ll always obey me, never disobey me, and do everything I ask. [*]

In a moment of brilliant bureaucratic insight, Jacques responded:

Nothing doing.  Itemize, and I’ll agree to what’s reasonable.

In any circumstances, the bureaucratically smart choice is always to create a lengthy, detailed document.  Thus Jacques wrote up his wife’s requests: get up first in the morning, warm her clothes by the fire, rock and comfort baby when baby wakes up at night, run to store for bread and milk, feed the cat, wash the clothes and hang them to dry, make coffee, serve her breakfast, make the bed, make lunch, clean the kitchen, wash pots and pans, wash baby’s dirty diapers (Jacques wrote that one down only after his wife threatened to beat him if he didn’t), straighten out the house, have sex with wife five or six times a day (a husband’s sexuality was more valued in the medieval period than today).  After Jacques agreed that his responsibility was to do what was in the list and nothing more, he signed the document.  He thus made that document officially his husbandly job description.

Jacques’ wife immediately ordered him to help pull the wash from the washtub and hang it to dry.  Jacques consulted his job description, found that item on it, and began to help his wife.  After throwing some washwater in Jacques’ face, Jacques’ wife accidentally fell into the washtub.  In that deep, medieval tub, she was at risk of drowning.  She screamed to Jacques to give her a hand to help get her out.  Jacques consulted his job description, did not find “save wife from drowning in washtub” in the document, and thus refused to help his wife.  She cried, begged, and pleaded.  Jacques stuck to his bureaucratic principles:

I’m scrutinizing this paper, but I have to inform you that it’s not in the list.

Save yourself any way you can.  As far as I’m concerned you’re staying where you are.

In a somewhat bureaucratically unrealistic turn of events, Jacques eventually offered his wife a deal: make me master of the house, and I’ll pull you out of the washtub.  His wife agreed.  Jacques saved his wife, and happily declared:

Well then, it looks as if I’ll be in charge from now on, since my wife says so.

Most husband know how the story would continue from there.  The bureaucratic lesson is clear: get a job description, and stick to it.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Backbone.js JavaScript library is creating bureaucratic concern.  Backbone is lightweight and has few dependencies.  Even worse, it’s associated with innovative web services.  Bureaucrats looking to strengthen their spines to help maintain their sitting positions should seek more traditional block-and-post technologies.

Bloomberg Businessweek breaks the story that Jeff Bezos failed to sit through a meeting.  Here’s Bezos’ confession of weakness:

I once found myself in a meeting with a room full of international tax experts talking about a dispute between Japanese taxing authorities and American taxing authorities. I was invited to the meeting because it was a large amount of money and in the worst-case scenario, we would have had to pay both. … But 30 minutes into the meeting I said, “Look, guys, I know this is an important issue, but it’s not one I can contribute to, so I will bow out.”

Amazon will never achieve bureaucratic greatness with a CEO who can’t pointlessly sit through a meeting.

Roy Greenslade reports that Lloyd’s List, which is not the world’s oldest newspaper, is giving up on print.  Currently 2% of readers of Lloyd’s List read the publication only in print.  Those readers are undoubtedly bureaucratic leaders.  Those who look backwards carry bureaucracies forward.  Lloyd’s List is destroying its bureaucratic future.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[*] from the Old French farce, Le Cuvier (The Washtub), trans. Oscar Mandel (1970), Five comedies of medieval France (New York: Dutton) p. 144.  All subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 144-9.

[image] My photograph of Big Rooster, David Smith, steel sculpture, 1945, in the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC.

COB-86: ancient bureaucratic wisdom

primary designer of COBOL

Innovation is a fashionable buzzword bandied about by anti-bureaucrats these days.  Don’t be deceived.  The Standard Blue Book of Bureaucratic Procedures and Practices (22nd ed., 1986) begins with bureaucratic wisdom from about 2300 years ago:

What has been is what will be
and what has been done is what will be done
and there is nothing new under the sun

Innovation is unimportant.  The challenge with any new piece of bureaucratic work is to figure out what past work it’s like.  Then you do is what has been done.  Say you have a problem with the Internet’s operating system.  Yup, that’s like that problem we fixed with the file system in the TRS-80.  Add an exception check and an extra rewrite module.  Have you heard about the Go programming language and node.js?  They’ve just variants on COBOL.  A smartphone is a kind of telephone that persons use mainly to do things other than talk with people.  It all makes sense when you understand common law and wisdom: there is nothing new under the sun.

In other bureaucrat issues this month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who received a prestigious Bureaucrat of the Month Award, has announced his retirement.   In internal email published on Microsoft’s website, Ballmer stated:

This is a time of important transformation for Microsoft. … Our new organization, which is centered on functions and engineering areas, is right for the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Re-orgs are fundamental achievements of bureaucratic management.  Some companies like Amazon foolishly seek to please customers.  In his email, Ballmer reiterated again another time for emphasis his bureaucratic focus: “I love this company.”

Researchers at the University of Washington have demonstrated a human brain-to-brain interface.  A challenge in running a bureaucracy is to hire and train workers who do exactly what their managers tell them to do.  A human brain-to-brain interface could facilitate bureaucratic management by having the manager directly control the brains of subordinates.

Oren Hazi provides an amazing, real-world example of the power of bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy isn’t sensational, dramatic, and high-profile.  But it grinds on and gets jobs done that couldn’t otherwise be accomplished.  Hazi explains:

This is how we lose our rights. Not overnight in one fell swoop, but gradually, after getting worn down again and again, and after hundreds of mini-panic-attacks, and with ever-ratcheting procedural changes that effectively invalidate the assurances and safeguards that we’re given.

Bureaucracy isn’t unimportant, and it isn’t just dull.  Your fundamental rights depend on bureaucracy.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-85: STEM is vital for workforce

bureaucarat sitting at desk (rear view)

Nothing is more important to every nation’s future than STEM education.  With the bureaucratically impressive title “Preparing Students for STEM Careers (9-10),” a recent STEM document forcefully begins:


“The growth paradigm that has driven our economy for the past generation is exhausted” (Palley, 2008, p. B10). … as the workplace changes, STEM knowledge and skills grow in importance for a variety of workers (not just for mathematicians and scientists) (The Center for Education Policy Analysis, 2008).

The opening authoritative quotation and the impressive document citations make the stated facts perfectly clear.  All students, without exception, need more STEM education to prepare for STEM careers.

Not enough students, especially women and minorities, are sitting through lectures in computer science.  Students are not scoring high enough on easily graded multiple choose examinations in digital-systems engineering.  Students are not putting enough effort into technical projects that educators formulate for them to do to learn how to do projects that leaders formulate for them to do.  These projects, of course, have no real-world use.  They’re meant to be educational.  Imagine the value of millions of energetic young persons engaged in arbitrary and duplicative programming projects all across the nation.  That’s part of the future promise of STEM education.

But STEM education is more fundamental than programming.  STEM stands for fundamental, vital skills for the modern workforce:  Sitting, Talking, Editing, and Meetings.  Parents can help give their children a headstart in developing these skills by sitting their children in front of a television.  Encourage the children to talk to the television.  That will help them develop the type of communications skills that they will use as adults in the workforce.

Fostering editing skills is merely a matter of continually making small corrections to whatever the children do.   The children will naturally respond. “Chloe, don’t throw the leaf of arugula that you didn’t eat into the mixed-stream recycling bin.  That goes into the digital organic compactor.” “Why do you keep giving me arugula?  I hate it!”  “You know what the rules are.  Stop complaining, or I’m going to take away your iPhone.”  “You’re mean to me!”  In this way, parental editing of the details of children’s behavior leads to wide-ranging discussions that lead to formal family meetings to discuss members’ roles and responsibilities.  Editing, if done consistently and persistently, provides a strong foundation for meetings.

STEM education for older children is similar to STEM education for juveniles.  Ensuring that seats are the primary ordering structure in the physical institutions of education helps to advance sitting skills.  The school day should be structured as a series of meetings scheduled across the day.  Penalize highly any student who skips a meeting.  As long as students are not moving or not doing anything, talking is productive.  Nonetheless, educational leaders should work diligently to establish procedures to edit the contents of students’ conversations, in accordance with established speech regulations.

Much progress have been made in advancing STEM education.  But much more work remains to be done.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Kremlin is turning to mechanical typewriters to ensure the secrecy of documents.   Forward-thinking bureaucracies never stopped using mechanical typewriters.

Linus Torvalds, a rogue programmer without an official position, has led a fundamental challenge to bureaucratic programming around the world.  Unrepentant, he recently declared:

Because if you want me to “act professional”, I can tell you that I’m not interested. I’m sitting in my home office wearing a bathrobe. The same way I’m not going to start wearing ties, I’m *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords. Because THAT is what “acting professionally” results in: people resort to all kinds of really nasty things because they are forced to act out their normal urges in unnatural ways.

Linus Torvalds should be regarded as incorrigible.  All professional bureaucrats should shun him.

Thomas Benton shows lack of appreciation for the value of bureaucracy in a column about the life of the mind and graduate school.  Benton describes a common tale across humanities graduate students:

She was the best student her adviser had ever seen (or so he said); it seemed like a dream when she was admitted to a distinguished doctoral program; she worked so hard for so long; she won almost every prize; she published several essays; she became fully identified with the academic life; even distancing herself from her less educated family. For all of those reasons, she continues as an adjunct who qualifies for food stamps, increasingly isolating herself to avoid feelings of being judged.

At least such persons, while living on food stamps, have the satisfaction of knowing that they have “published several essays” in journals that make such essays virtually inaccessible to almost all persons around the world.  Nonetheless, leading humanities academic work is priceless.  Personal sacrifices must be made to support academic bureaucracies.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

COB-84: Shi Miao exemplified bureaucratic virtue

Shi Miao, illustrious bureaucrat

Bureaucrats should study their illustrious ancestors for guidance in virtue and proper procedure.  Shi Miao is one such worthy figure.  He served as a bureaucrat in the Shouchun prefecture in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BGC to 220 GC).  Having lived in impoverished circumstances, he came to his bureaucratic seat wearing an old robe and driving a rickety cart that a female ox pulled.  That ox birthed a calf about a year after Shi Miao arrived in Shouchun.  When Shi Miao finished his term of office, he gave the ox calf to the people of Shouchun.  He explained:

When I came here I did not have this calf.  It was born here south of the River Huai, and it has grown big eating the grass and drinking the water of Shouchun, none of which had anything to do with me.

Note that Shi Miao did not gave the calf to the people of Shouchun because of his generosity or concern for their welfare.  He gave them the calf as a result of accurate accounting of grass and water used.  Virtuous bureaucrats keep detailed accounts and make decisions based on historical records.

In other bureaucratic issues, bureaucratic morale in the U.S. Navy continues to sink as highly successful operational procedures are abandoned based on flighty or earthy reasoning.  U.S. Navy commands have been sent in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS SINCE THE 1850S, OR SO THE STORY IMPLAUSIBLY GOES (typewriters weren’t commercially successful until the 1870s).  SENDING MESSAGES IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS HAS ACCOMPANIED THE U.S. NAVY’S RISE TO A SUPERPOWER ON THE SEA.  IGNORING THAT SUCCESS, THE NAVY HAS RECENTLY ORDERED MESSAGES TO BE MIXED UP WITH UPPER AND LOWER CASES.  JIM HUNT REPORTED THE ORDER:



Unfortunately, the problems at sea are being reduplicated again and again.  Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, has erected “6 tips to screw business meetings as usual.”  Virgin Group should not be in the business of screwing, even if it usually has been.  For Virgin Group to move forward to the next stage of development, it needs to embrace meetings.  Meetings bring people together and perpetuate the existence of organizations.

Goldman Sach’s recent investment in gaming shows that gaming is an important growth area for bureaucracy.  Goldman funded a high-tech, bureaucratically intensive scavenger hunt called Midnight Madness.  Game control, which is another name for bureaucracy, played a key role in the enterprise:

A lot of player behavior is driven by mistrust of the 34 people running the game, who are collectively known as Game Control. The parsimony with which Game Control dispenses information had historically been merciless, and the latest Midnight Madness was similar. … Most players’ default assumption was that Game Control was trying to double-cross them.

Game control makes the game, and bureaucracy makes the business.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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[image] “Leaving the Calf Behind,” China, Ming Dynasty, handscroll, ink on paper, Freer Gallery, F1916.405.  The relevant quotation above is from the image label for the scroll in the Freer Gallery.

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