Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apology Excepted

Our politicians are always reminding us that an apology has a fairly strict form. They remind us by not following it.
Most modern apologies take the form, "We're sorry if you were offended..."

Firstly, any apology that contains the word "if" is not an apology. If someone is truly sorry, it isn't contingent on anything.

Secondly, any apology that personalizes the offended party is not an apology. "Sorry if you're offended" casts the offended party at least as a part of the problem. Is the problem that I was offensive, or that you were so thin-skinned? That's left unclear, and a good apology leaves nothing unclear.

However, such apologies can *sound* very close to a real apology, which is probably why politicians employ these bogus mea culpas.

Our Education secretary, a Mr. Arne Duncan, takes a more sophisticated route to the non-apology. He has been getting some pushback from critics of his "Common Core" initiative. Rather than answering them substantively, he said, according to the Washington Post, that he was fascinated by the fact that some opposition to the standards was coming from “white suburban moms” who fear that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.” (No word as to what Common Core has to say about the use of argumentum ad hominem.) This frames their criticism as something unsubtantive without itself offering anything of substance, and in passing relies on a stereotype and a racial slur.

All this is fine and dandy, but unfortunately, some of the thin-skinned, white suburban moms took offense. An emergency like this calls for an excellent non-apology, and Arne's went something like this:
"I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret — particularly because it distracted from an important conversation about how to better prepare all of America’s students for success... I want to encourage a difficult conversation and challenge the underlying assumption that when we talk about the need to improve our nation’s schools, we are talking only about poor minority students in inner cities. This is simply not true. Research demonstrates that as a country, every demographic group has room for improvement."

As non-apologies go, this one is a masterpiece. Firstly, Arne expresses no contrition, but only "regret". "I feel remorse for my statements" is what the aggrieved party wants to hear -- whereas "I regret my statements" is more neutral.
E.g., I may regret my sins, and I may regret leaving my sunglasses at the restaurant.  But I don't have remorse for forgetting my sunglasses.

Then he admits to some "clumsy phrasing" when the real problem is that his phrasing was perfectly clear: a bunch of spoiled white suburban soccer moms who think they're kids are geniuses have the temerity to question the Secretary of Education... sniff.  A pox on them and their insufferable spawn.  I'm paraphrasing.

Then, Arne poses as someone who is sincere and means well, but has just been so misunderstood.  He says he wanted simply to "encourage a difficult conversation"... but then goes on to impute a lack of comprehension to his critics. Of course, difficult conversations don't get any easier when you lead off with a couple of insults. And it begs the question to insist that it's his critics who misunderstand the education process, and not him.

Ah well. We probably shouldn't criticize him at all. He is our public servant, you know. It's not our place to question our servants...
Update 11/20/2013:  I don't like Martin Bashir very much, and I certainly don't like his politics, but here he gives the world a lesson in how to deliver an apology (for an unspeakable thing he said about Sarah Palin)...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sounds Easy to Me

I'm an old warhorse database programmer/administrator, been programming since 1984, been a DBA since 1997. I've worked in defense applications, in intelligence applications, in the insurance business, and for school districts. If I haven't quite seen it all yet, I've sure seen a lot.

One of the things I've seen is that there are basically two types of people:

1. There are people who, if they don't know about something, assume that the something in question is not necessarily easily knowable. A programmer might assume, for example, that if he's worked on military software, that software for school systems might be at least as hard to master, even though that may sound counterintuitive to a non-professional.

2. There are people who assume, if they don't know about something, that it must be easy to learn. Does that sound strange? Yeah, to me too. But that is what a lot of people are like. People who would assume that school software is easier than military software. People who would assume that software is easy because they work on computers too, and all you have to do is point and click. People who assume that something can be done within the dictated deadline because that's what's on the calendar. People who, to pull out an old retread, believe that if a woman can have a baby in nine months, then nine women can pull it off in a month.

I've met plenty of people like that. If you try to explain the complications, they take it that you're making excuses. HR and benefits departments have at times seemed to be fully staffed by such folks.  A benefits lady where I once worked gave us a briefing on our retirement benefit and tried to gloss over an obvious gouging the employees received from the company, as if nobody in the room would notice. This was a room containing mostly mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and computer-science wonks, many of whom had masters' degrees and Ph.D's. But if one assumes that math and physics are no harder than payroll, you get someone who thinks she can sneak an intellectual knuckleball through the strike zone even though she's probably the dumbest person in the stadium. It didn't end well for her presentation.

If I were the guessing sort, I would guess that the entire ObamaCare software project is being overseen by our type 2 individuals. It would just never occur to them that delivering a brand-new application to be used by millions to sign up for health care would be all that complicated. They could tell it would be done by Jan 1, 2014 just by checking their calendars. Yep, there it is, Jan 1, 2014.

Lucky us.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Outsourcing Slavery?

Where does being a "wage slave" stop and being a slave begin? 

Maybe the United States doesn't just outsource jobs.  Maybe we also outsource slavery.  Is that an exaggeration?  If so, it's a slight one, and the Bloomberg writer agrees:  "Apple, along with others, calls that bonded labor, a form of modern-day indentured servitude, one step removed from slavery."  However you put it, it's not something the U.S. Dept. of Labor or the National Labor Relations Board would accept.

There's something for everyone in today's world economy.  They get our money, and we acquire their indifference to workers' conditions.  When the Fourteenth Amendment gets outsourced, so do OSHA regulations.  We depend on China to ensure that their workers are treated fairly and safely.  The suicide nets set up outside the workers' dorms, to keep the workers from jumping to their deaths, may or may not apply.

That's not all.  We also outsource EPA regulations -- "Pollution in China" gets in own page in Wikipedia.  The U.S. is all for "saving the planet" when "the planet" is defined as our own backyard.  The EPA lacks jurisdiction in China, but of course we don't have to trade with them.  Maybe the theory is that we can ruin half of the Earth's environment so long as it's the half we don't live in.

And don't forget other obligations businesses incur when operating in the U.S.  ObamaCare's heavy and incompetent hand is already poised to turn the U.S. into "part-time nation", as more businesses are and will be cutting back their workers' hours to 29 per week, to avoid getting completely sucked into helping liberals sleep better at night.  Ruining the U.S. labor market may not have been the intention of the ObamaCare legislation, but the "law of unintended consequences" is always a lurking presence when policy decisions are made -- and, like Glenn Close's psychopathic character in "Fatal Attraction", it is not gonna be ignored.

Businesses outsource not just to avoid paying higher wages, but also to avoid the other costs of producing something here in the U.S., and that includes taxes and the aforementioned regulations (including EPA and OSHA).  Maybe there's a happy medium somewhere that would enable businesses to turn a profit even when operating in the U.S., while also dealing with the government's ethical and environmental concerns.

If so, we'll never find that happy medium if we need government bureaucrats to find it.  Government bureaucrats are not judicious conservators of our nation's way of life.  They are attack dogs.  Chasing an issue beyond the bounds of any positive return is no deterrent to getting to sink teeth into a businessman's neck.  Doing so may ruin someone else's job opportunities, but the bureaucrat gets paid whether or not his actions help or hurt the economy, and life is always good in Washington.