Thursday, April 9, 2020

Pandemics and the Perils of Management...

"[T]he conflicts among the groups are real and cannot be eliminated even in the face of a common danger.  In fact, the presence of the common danger is itself a source of new conflicts.  This follows because the groups, from the very status they occupy and functions they fulfill, favor different methods of meeting the danger and of maintaining privilege as against the masses..." -- James Burnham, "The Managerial Revolution"

It's story time, my Minions! Gather 'round! Uncle Overlord has an entertaining fairy tale to tell you that is relevant to our times.

I'd tell you to sit on my knee, but that may be a felony in some jurisdictions.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, your beloved Dictator was once employed by a Japanese company, operating in America, overseen by a largely American management group.

Yes, I can see you eagerly anticipating the comedy gold that is about to ensue...good...good...come to the Dark Side...

Anyway, to make this as short as possible while still making my point (which is how bad management tends to simultaneously a) turn all things to shit and b) cover itself in ignominy), the story goes something like this.

The Overlord used to work the night shift in those days. One of his co-workers, who handled systems for a different client, was a woman whose chief virtues (other than being good at her job, and possessed of a special non-professional talent all women should strive to acquire) were a terrific sense of humor and chain smoking. We used to take smoke breaks together during the long hours of the night.

Now, she worked in a room in the building which had something of a reputation. Yes, you've read that right -- the SPACE she occupied (really, that the client occupied) had achieved a certain, shall we say, character, of being a place where strange shit happened.

As to the nature of the "strange shit", it was mostly centered upon unidentifiable noises, reports of phantom apparitions, disappearing items, and all-around "gives-you-the-douchechills" to be there. To be fair, some of this may be due to the influence and reportage of the man who previously held her job, who many opined was something of a pothead and drinker, and not necessarily possessed of all of his marbles.

Suffice to say, this is where (American) Management makes it's first, clumsy appearance.

In an effort to identify the strange noises, the apparent visions, and whatnot, management arranged for a vast array of electronic sensors to be set up in this room: recording devices, both acoustic and video, motion detectors, temperature and pressure gauges, and all manner of even-more esoteric and bullshit investigative devices, in an effort to discover -- once and for all -- what was happening inside this room.

Not surprisingly, all this extensive -- and expensive -- effort failed.

And so, one evening while The Galactic Scourge and his colleague were enjoying a smoke break, the Colleague expressed her experience of having heard something that she couldn't identify, and of being creeped-out by it.

Unfortunately, the Overlord is possessed of a broad and powerful streak of 10-year-old. This was exactly the right time to turn this situation into a joke.

And so it was that the Overlord regaled said Colleague with the entirely-invented tale of "Robbie the Riveter".

Robbie, you see, was a construction worker who had worked on the erection (stop thinking about that special talent!) of this building. In the tale, Robbie dies in a tragic construction accident -- right in that room -- and his disembodied spirit still roams the building, seeking revenge against the living.

The Colleague thought this hysterically funny.

So funny that she told the Japanese manager who came in the following morning.

The phone call from my boss came early the next afternoon, while I was still sleeping. I was to "get my fucking ass into the office as fucking fast as I possibly fucking could" because "shit has hit the fan" and it's my fault. I would have to answer for what I did, but had no idea of what it was at the time. So, I dragged my fucking ass out of fucking bed and made my way to the fucking office, fucking ASAP.

And upon entering the foyer, I was met with the sight of a Japanese Shinto priest, in full regalia, about to leave. Confused, I went to face what I knew not.

Apparently, this is one of those times when culture becomes a problem, and when the inability to understand -- or just be totally ignorant -- of a cultural norm creates a shitstorm from thin air.

You see, you can't tell Japanese people a place is haunted. This is because their chief religion -- the Shinto form of Buddhism - - professes a belief in the existence of spirits. All things, you see, have a spirit. Trees, rocks, people, animals, and even mainframe computer systems, have spirits. According to Shinto, we all live in a spiritual world, and if we wish to gain the favor of a spirit or to avoid it's malice, we must act accordingly.

In this case, the client, upon learning of a malignant spirit inhabiting it's very-expensive real estate flew a Shinto priest in from Tokyo on the redeye to perform an exorcism on a data center.

They then demanded a refund and other concessions from Management, who had "cheated" them by leasing out a haunted room. It was seen as disrespectful and duplicitous and happened to dovetail nicely with the ideas that since the client's company was failing, it was all due to the presence of this evil spirit.

When Management asked where all this ghostly tomfoolery began, the Japanese manager identified Colleague as his source, and Colleague identified me as the Mother Lode.

Suffice to say, the results were not pleasant and if I hadn't had been extraordinary in the execution of my duties, I would have been fired. On the spot.

But, the comedy does not end here, my Minions. If it did, there wouldn't be a point in telling the tale.

Because now confronted by the Japanese Management, demanding that "something be done" about this unusual state of affairs, the best the American management could come up with, thus ushering in it's second clumsy and useless appearance in our tale, was to...wait for it...

Establish a system of Ghost Sightings and Reporting.

Under this regime, anyone who heard, saw, experienced, what have you, an ectoplasmic or phantasmal event was to immediately fill in a form (actually two: one for management, one for other staff to review) that indicated Who, What, Where, When, Why and How...and then sign their name to it.

Stop laughing. They were serious.

And I'm absolutely telling you the complete truth. This is no bullshit.

Suffice to say, that now being required to sign your name to a document that pretty much identified you as a fucking lunatic, the ghost sightings, etc. very quickly, well, um, disappeared.

The move had satisfied an immediate need of Management, both American and Japanese, that the reports of apparititional absurdity should immediately cease (before all the other Japanese clients claimed they, too, were haunted and demanded privileges), it also served the purpose of being a demonstration of Management "doing something" about something it could do nothing about.

It would later turn out the strange noises were due to some defect in the chilled water system that serviced the mainframes in that room (as evidenced by a massive leak), but the Ghost Sighting Report remained in place for many years, until the Overlord moved on to greener pastures (and less stupidity). For all I know, it is still in effect.

And here is the point:

The report solved nothing. It was action taken for the sake of taking action that had the added benefit that it made the original problem disappear, and that was all anyone in charge wanted to know. It was a move typical of the micromanager: if I can't solve this problem through the application of logic, sound management principles, and useful action, then I'll apply an incredibly ridiculous solution that a) inconveniences everyone, b) impose a regime that can be used to punish (I promise you: the first person who signed that damned thing was going to be the first fired when cuts came, because insanity), and c) gives the impression that I've taken swift and decisive action.

The problem remains unresolved. Management has justified it's existence and paychecks. The problem is quickly obscured or forgotten about, Management Dude did not have to make a decision that will later get him into trouble. His ass is well-and-truly covered.

Management 101.

This is the mindset of the M.B.A. (Master Bullshit Artist) who has specialized in "Management" which is rich, since "Management" usually has no connection with what the people involved in production are typically doing. The guy is simply an expert in "managing" and it doesn't matter to him what he's supposed to be running or how it should be run; what counts is that when something needs to be done, he gets to decide who does it, take credit for the result, and sleep easier for another night without the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head.

He's a glorified paper pusher with a degree who has been appointed to direct people whose activities he knows little to nothing about. His job is to be the interface between the cubicle slaves and the fatter bastards in the better offices, and make the slaves do stuff. And not spending money he doesn't have to.

He then spends the majority of his time hobnobbing with the company elite, reveling in the spoils of office, attending an endless array of conferences where nothing gets accomplished, and demanding reports that no one will read, nor even wants. it's a flurry of activity undertaken for the sake of looking busy and in charge.

I have seen this type in the financial sector for many years, even in IT (especially in IT). The guy wants to know everything that's happening (so that he can repeat what you've told him at the next Manager's meeting) so that he looks smart and in command, but the truth is that on a good day, he couldn't find his own ass with both hands and a flashlight.

The corporate "Management Expert" has his counterpart in Government, as well.

This is the professional bureaucrat who has gone to the School of Government someplace, like Harvard, Georgetown, or Stanford. He owes his initial entree to the trough in government to a competitive exam, and perhaps a political connection or two. He "specializes" in truly obscure facets of public policy or one of the more-arcane functions of government. He has no connection, really, to what he advocates as policy and what the people who have to carry it out are actually doing. That's not his job: his job is to ensure that when something happens, that he's there to "manage" it.

And that no one else does.

As to spending money, well, he has the world's biggest piggy bank and he's not there to earn a profit, only to ensure his continued employment.

These principles of management have been much on display in recent weeks with the arrival of the Chinese Death Snot. We have seen them everywhere.

The CDC, until mid-March, did not allow Coronavirus testing at any but it's own lab in Atlanta -- because experts -- and so had hospitals Fed Ex-ing COVID-19 all over the country.

The FDA will not allow private enterprise to make the ventilators, masks, gloves, drugs that we need to combat the virus unless those who wish to do so pass through a rigorous series of regulatory, legal and economic flaming hoops designed to ensure the FDA has the final say, often after months, on anything because, again, experts.

State Governments close hospitals and buy faulty hospital equipment that they can't afford to maintain and so don't have when it's needed. They then blame lack of funding, even in a state (New York) that has some of the highest taxes in the world, including a $13.00 tax on cigarettes that was supposed to be earmarked for "public health" and billions of anti-terrorism aid that was suppose to help prepare for a bio attack or pandemic.

The State then discovers that it does, indeed, have the equipment it needs, but it stashed it all in a warehouse in another state. After screaming for a week that we're critically short of everything. Only to find out that a good portion of what it stashed doesn't even work because maintenance was too expensive, and then it auctions the defective equipment off to recoup it's losses.

Experts at work. Management in action.

Hospitals are short of things they need because a particularly asinine form of management arose called "Supply Chain management" that advocates against stockpiling needed resources because storing them and maintaining them, not to mention ensuring multiple suppliers, costs money, and so the hospitals lack gowns, facemasks, eyeshields, and ventilators just when they really need them. Because "Expert".

You get conflicting reports on the numbers of people infected, the numbers who have died, the number that are expected to die because, in true Management Expert fashion, you get dinguses who can't count; who have reasons to fudge numbers; who depend on the best estimates of other "experts" relying on stupid computer models that can't possibly be accurate for lack of hard input and a dazzling array of unidentifiable variables produced by a "science" (Artificial Intelligence) which is still in it's infancy.

And because even a bad projection/estimate costs money and resources to produce, some asshole gets the idea in his head that it shouldn't be discarded -- because that would be a waste -- and so even the crappy projection must be made useful in some way. When this started, we were told by Experts that the models had predicted 2 million deaths. We're not going to reach that number in all actuality, but some asshole will keep repeating it, so that when the real number comes in drastically lower, it can be presented as "a victory" for Management.

Besides, the higher, lousy number is good for frightening the cubicle slaves into compliance with the dictates of Management. That it has caused grave economic dislocation (which may not be repaired in time, so that when next year's Coronavirus arrives we'll have lost several months of production and there will still be shortages), has caused a panic run on toilet paper, and which had absolutely no part in curing the victims, does not matter. Management "did something" and the problem went away.

Because Expert.

The American people have been progressively "managed" ever since the technology allowed Management -- in business and government -- to co-ordinate and dictate, or even control, every aspect of their lives. The railroads, the interstate system, all methods of communication, mass media, the internet, GPS, the Social Security Number, the Credit Score, electronic tax filing, the New Deal alphabet soups, the Military-Industrial Complex that arose to defeat the Nazis (by out-Nazi-ing them in terms of social and industrial co-ordination), the various Boards, Commissions, Departments, Blue-Ribbon panels, Investigative Bodies, Inspector Generals created for specific purpose that then never go away, Civil Rights legislation for everything from Minorities to house cats to Jello Molds, all of it has a purpose that goes unstated by the Managers -- to provide careers, often very lucrative ones, for people who do nothing, who know nothing, and who fuck up by the numbers for a living.

They are never held accountable because a common trick between the Private  Sector and Government Sector douchebag is to muddy the waters of responsibility.

The government Manager ensures he escapes responsibility by writing contradictory regulations -- approved by Congress, another bunch of Managers who don't have a clue or do anything useful -- by ensuring that nothing gets done without inter-agency co-operation, so that when the system fails, multiple branches of government and sometimes hundreds or even thousands have to share blame, and if they're all guilty are any of them really guilty? No one will ever get fired for the biggest screwups that cost countless lives.

The Private Sector Manager resorts to the time-honored tradition of "re-shuffling the Org Chart", assigning and re-assigning responsibilities hither and yon to everyone but himself. After all, he's done his job -- he managed the re-shuffle. When that fails, he too, resorts to a variety of Research Teams and Auditors and Efficiency Experts who throw up so much more crap -- because they're Managers, too -- there's no way to tell what is what for all the suggestions and tweaks and productivity savings, and if things get dicey, he can always fire someone.

We've been managed into lockdown and economic stagnation over a virus that is really not all that dangerous. The medical profession knows how to handle Coronaviruses -- they're very common -- and can handle the after effects, as well. The problem with this particular bat flu was that the public health system -- run by "experts" in "management" in government proved to be lacking in any real expertise and appears unable to manage a 6-year-old's birthday party with any efficiency.

Our management tools are worn out. The machinery they operate creaks, screeches and backfires, and has three speeds -- slow, dead slow and dead-slow-in-reverse. When put to the test, it all failed, and like the Ghost Sighting Report, the expert managers in government did what expert managers have done for decades -- they performed a little administrative slight-of-hand, pretended to have "fixed" the problem, and then ensured that when it's all over that no one will know what the fuck happened, who was responsible for what failure, what was the truth about the numbers, and that no one will ever get fired for gross incompetence.

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