5 05 2008

Those of you who fear yet another iteration of the artificial “Mac vs PC” arguments may relax. I have no intention of ever commenting on that issue.

Those of you who fear yet another iteration of the multitudes of rants about “Political Correctness” may begin the mass clenching of sphincters, because that is indeed the subject of this rant.

I say this in all sincerity: Political Correctness is going to get people killed.

Specifically, it is going to get people killed at the place where I work.

Not long ago, a storm savaged the area, destroying a good section of one nearby city and causing minor damage to my building.

I was inside when the storm blew over, and my only warning was the sounds of skylights being destroyed and large objects striking the outer walls. As soon as the sudden, bitter squall had passed, I hastened down to the front desk to make sure the people there were all right. The main entrance to the building is surrounded with large sheets of glass, and I was concerned that the savage winds and hail might have broken the windows and injured someone.

When I arrived, I found the glass was intact, but there was no one manning the desk. I called loudly and finally managed to get the desk crew to emerge from their hiding place in the back office. It turns out that they had heard the local emergency warning loudspeakers outside bellowing a warning about the weather, and had immediately taken cover … without taking the time to warn everyone else in the building via the intercom system.

I asked a few questions and discovered that the desk crew were not aware that passing the word on the intercom for such events was part of their job. OK. No problem. This is an issue that can be fixed with a little bit of training. It wasn’t my place to do so, but- in the interest of self-preservation- I gave the kids at the desk (including the supervisor) a brief lecture on what to do in this sort of emergency. I resolved to address this matter in more detail the next day.

Unfortunately, the next few days had me away from the office, dealing with some problems in another building- which then turned into problems in several buildings and finally a cross-country video-teleconference and a series of nastygrams. In short, I wasn’t able to get back to the problem for several days.

When I finally had the time to write up my observations and list some suggested remedies for the systemic problems on display during the storm, I sent the one-page document to my boss for his review prior to sending it farther up the food chain for action. Remember, I have no direct authority over the front desk personnel- I’m not even in the same department. The recommendations I’d written would have to be forwarded from my boss to our Department Manager, who could send it on to the Big Boss, whereupon it could be delivered, ex cathedra, to the appropriate Department for action.

No big deal, I thought to myself. This is how the system is supposed to work. Someone sees a problem, reports it, and suggests possible remedial action.

With all that floating through my head, I was somewhat surprised to find myself escorted by my boss into the Department Head’s office. I was asked why I was trying to cause trouble. I was asked why I was trying to create more work for the Department. According to my DH, whoever brings up a problem becomes the party responsible for fixing the problem, with daily reports to the HMFIC until the problem is resolved, with all “I”s dotted and “T”s crossed.

I’m an engineer by inclination and training. When I see a problem with the potential for catastrophic failure results, I immediately begin thinking of some effective ways to reduce the probability of calamity. Most of the time, there are a few simple ways to reduce the probability or severity of any potential clusterfuck. In an engineer’s world, those observations and recommendations get communicated to the responsible party, who would then deal with the issue.

Sadly, too few people- especially Managers- are engineers. Remember what the Flight Safety Engineer for the Challenger’s last mission was told by his Manager to “take off your engineer hat and put on your management hat“. That worked out really well, didn’t it?

I don’t give a shrill soprano hoot in Hell about politics. I suck at politics. Politics gets in the way of getting the job done. In this case, the “job” is correcting a couple of policies in another department that might save a few lives.

Despite my concern for the safety of the people working here, I am now informed that I will not report the problem through the usual channels. My boss and my DH do not want to open a can of worms or rock the boat or … fill in lame metaphor here… and get the people in the front offices upset with them. I am told to edit my observations and recommendations to avoid giving offense to the responsible personnel (and their DH- who is closely connected to the HMFIC). My thoroughly watered down suggestions will be informally conveyed to the appropriate DH in the most politically-correct manner possible. I am told that this will get the problem resolved.

More than likely, this will get the problem resolved.



If I bypass the normal food chain to report this, I might get fired. If my boss finds out I’ve written about this, I will probably get fired. Politics is very likely to get some people killed- maybe even me. Given that, a basic risk-benefit calculation is required:

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do nothing? Worst case scenario: several dozen people in this building get killed because they aren’t aware of an avoidable hazard. Probability of this happening: Low.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I make a stink about this? Worst case scenario: I end up working for Wally World as a door greeter. Since my job involves a security clearance, I could possibly end up sharing a cell with Achmed Ahmabomberguy in Gitmo. Probability of this happening: Low.

Using my handy-dandy Engineer’s Calculatron, that gives me: Scenario 1: High severity, low probability. Call it a category 3. Scenario 2: Moderate-to-high severity, low probability. Call it a category 4 or 5.

One stink, coming up.


Damn! I positively hate politics! Because everybody seems to be in mortal fear of offending the higher-ups with actual facts, I’ve been forced to do an end-run around my boss (who’s normally a good enough guy that I wouldn’t consider doing so). I made a point of quietly interviewing various people who work at the front desk to see if they had a clue. None of them did, although one girl told me that she had been told not to use the intercom- even during an emergency- without the express permission of her supervisor.

Ungood. Doubleplus ungood.

I then talked to the DH for the guy who’s supposed to be in charge of the front desk personnel.  I told him that the training for the front desk crew needed work, and repeated my concerns about their utter failure to warn the rest of the building about the severe weather. I repeated the information that the front desk was not allowed to use the intercom without permission, and asked the very reasonable question, “What if the supervisor isn’t in the building when an emergency arises?”

To his credit, the Services Department Head actually thought it over. He even agreed with me. I’ve sent him my little memo with suggestions for corrective actions, and he has promised to make sure it happens. We’ll see. I also mentioned to him that I was violating policy by going to him directly. In for a penny, in for a pound. I’ll keep informally checking with the front desk to see if anything changes. In the meantime, we’ll see if my boss or DH finds out I went around them.

I fucking hate politics!

Current status: Irked

Current music: Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2