Monday, February 28, 2005

...On Schools

Schools today are run by some real idiots. Read the stories below to see what I mean.

Just remember zero tolerance is the same as intolerant and aren’t supposed to be a tolerant society? School administrators must be the stupidest people on the planet…

More evidence… Unfortunately, this makes the police, prosecutors and judges look stupider than the school administrators. Oh, and thanks Grandma.

Schools are communist training grounds that trample on parent’s rights.

Keep an eye on your kid's school or you might find them or yourself hauled into court.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Great Democrat Presidents of the Twentieth Century - Franklin D. Roosevelt

The second installment of my critically acclaimed (or heavily criticized) series glossing over and misrepresenting the records of great Democrat presidents of the twentieth century focuses on Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR, as he is commonly known, is practically a saint in American history. There is probably more information about him and his presidency that any other US president. Distorting his record in a convincing way will be a challenge.

FDR is the only US president to be elected to 4 terms and he will be the only president elected to more that two terms due to the restrictions of the twenty-second amendment. He was president during some of the most trying times in American history. Major events of his presidency include the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the Second World War. Just one of these evens is more that almost any president has ever had to deal with and FDR got them all. For the most part, his record is exemplary but there are things that are possible to critic if not our-right criticize.

It is indisputable that during the Great Depression strong leadership from the president was required. The government could not sit idly by and wait for the economy to recover on its own. The question is were the actions taken by FDR the correct actions for the speediest recovery? Economists are still arguing the value of the New Deal. Most actions did need to be taken, particularly taking the US currency off the gold standard. One fact that is undeniable is that FDR created the largest governmental bureaucracies in American history. He added twelve new major government agencies:

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC)
Public Works Administration (WPA)
Social Security Administration
Federal Housing Authority (FHA)
National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA)
Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA)
Civil Works Administration (CWA)
Glass-Steagall Act (FDIC)
Wagner Act (NLRB)

I am sure that there many more small organization founded as part of the New Deal government expansion. Many of these major agencies have become critical to American society and I could hardly imagine life without them. Without a doubt, these agencies did many projects for the greater good of the nation and they provided hope for millions of people across the nation - the question remains - was this the best way to approach economic recovery? In the end, this is a purely academic exercise - it truly is “all’s well that end well.”

By the early 1940s, even before US entry into the Second World War, the US economy was back at almost full swing. Military orders for lend-lease and the revamping of the US military put millions of factory workers to work. This recovery would have continued and possible been even stronger without the U.S. entering the war. This leads us to FDR’s record in World War II. If there is depute about Roosevelt’s domestic policies during he Great Depression, his record during the war has plenty of things to criticize.

Revisionist historians have long speculated whether or not Roosevelt had advance warning of the Pearl Harbor attack. The idea is that Roosevelt needed an excuse to enter the war and when it was learned that the Japanese had plans to attack the U.S. Roosevelt, somehow, allowed this to happen. These theories are, of course, complete crap. There is no credible evidence to suggest that anyone in a position of power was privy to Japanese attack plans concerning Pearl Harbor. There is plenty of evidence that the president and the military leaders in Washington did not take the threat of war with Japan seriously enough in 1941. There is also ample evidence of ineptitude on the part of U.S. military commanders in the Pacific. It was this lax attitude that allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to be such a massive Japanese victory.

The day after the Pearl Harbor attack Germany declared war on the U.S. in support of their Japanese allies. At this point the president was faced with a choice - join Great Britain and commit the United States to a war against Germany or immediately enter into negotiations with the Germans. Did Roosevelt have good enough reason to fight the Germans? Germany’s declaration on war against the US was largely symbolic - the Germans posed little or no threat to the US in 1941 and were not likely to ever pose a serious threat. In fact, Hitler would have been open to a negotiated settlement without ever fighting the Americans. As we have learned from the Iraq war, liberating oppressed peoples and stopping mass murder are not sufficient justification for going to war or invading countries. You must be directly attacked, or in imminent threat of being attacked, in order to justify going to war. Roosevelt did not have these justifications - clearly war with Germany was wrong. Certainly, Roosevelt’s policies cost America needless lives.

Once the president decided to got to war he must pick the best course of action in prosecuting the war. Roosevelt quickly gave in to British pressure to make the war in Europe the primary focus of US military action. The US would commit 80% of its military might against the Germans - in an attempt to correct British and French failures - and only committed 20% against the Japanese - a nation that attacked the United States. Roosevelt was also very naive in dealing with Stalin; failing to get real concessions from the Russians about the status of Eastern European countries after the war. Without a forceful stand from the United States the Soviets had a free hand in the east. In the end, the US only succeeded in replacing one genocidal maniac for another genocidal maniac.

The reality of the Second World War that U.S. and British peoples do not want to face is the fact that their contribution to the war in Europe was negligible. Japan should have had our full attention and Germany and the Soviet Union should have been allowed to destroy each other without interference from the United States. The US committed 80% of it military might to fight Germany and the British committed nearly 100% and at no time did the Western Allies face more than 25% of the German war machine. If it had not been for the Soviet Union’s mind-numbing sacrifice Germans would not have been defeated. The policies adopted by the Western Allies do not meet today’s standards of war-time behavior. Britain and the U.S. directly targeted civilians and Roosevelt fully backed these policies. U.S and British bombing policies caused massive death and destruction among civilians - clearly a war crime.

On the home front the president didn’t run things much better during the war years. Everyone is familiar with the internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens but how many are aware of the treatment of Germans and Italians during this time. The fact is thousands of Germans and Italians were interned during the war. In addition, FDR was a staunch supporter of segregation in society and in the military - clearly he was a racist.

To sum up, FDR was a man faced with amazing challenges during his extremely long presidency. He made the hard choices in an effort to lead the country through difficult times but history has been far too kind to these choices. Had George W. Bush faced the same challenges and made the same decision his public crucifixion would be assured.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Jems of the Day

I guess people 10 years ago were smart enough to avoid skiing in places like this.

Peggy Noonan is the first person to really understand what blogging is all about.

I guess the Kyoto exemption for China was a HUGE mistake after all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Stupid Tax Ideas

Today there have been a couple of really dumb tax proposals in the news. The first is from Montana. It seems that Montana is angry that big box stores about low wage jobs. They seem to think that people who WORK for Wal-mart are more likely to use welfare that people who HAVE NO JOB. Therefore, the government needs to tax these stores to cover the welfare costs. Insane!

The next piece of taxation genius comes from, were else, California. It seems that they are concerned that people are conserving too much gas by switching to Hybrids and more fuel efficient vehicles. This has lowered the tax revenue for gas taxes. The solution is to tax drivers by the mile! Brilliant!

These politicians never seem to have a problem finding a way to get our money! Too bad they can't kind a way to fix problems without it...

Friday, February 11, 2005

...On Gun Control

My buddy the Mad Tech recently posted on the topic of Gun Control. I was going to post this as a comment to his post but it just got a little too long for that. Enjoy!

The question of the intent of the second amendment is a common area that gun control advocates look at. Their contention is that the second amendment ONLY allows the state to arm the members of the militia. This generally seen as the right of the state to form National Guard units. Let’s read the text:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

A quick reading of the amendment can lead to assumptions of what is actually meant. What is meant by ‘A well regulated Militia?’ Let’s look at the Militia Act of 1792 – written by many of the people who brought you the constitution. In it the Militia is defined as follows:

“…That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia…”

This seems to make it clear that the Militia referred to in the second amendment is all white males between the age of 18 and 45. Easy… The Militia Act of 1792 REQUIRES members of the militia to purchase and maintain their own guns. The State organizes the militia but the citizens provided their own guns and equipment.

Let’s look at the next part of the text – ‘being necessary to the security of a free State.’ This seems to mean that the militia is involved ONLY insecurity. This is reinforced by the Militia Act of 1792 that states when the militia can be used:

“…That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion, … and in case of an insurrection in any state, against the government thereof, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, … to call forth such number of the militia of any other state or states, as may be applied for, or as he may judge sufficient to suppress such insurrection.”

OK, what does this mean? It seems like the militia can only be used to repel invaders, kill Indians and make war on another state (in the Union). There is no mention of deploying them in foreign wars as the National Guard does. This doesn’t seem to support the idea that the second amendment is only for the National Guard.

Let’s look at the next piece of text – ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ Who in the hell are the people they speak of? It is funny that they don’t say ‘the right of the State to keep and assign arms, shall not be infringed.’ This would be a much better wording IF the authors had NO intention of allowing private citizens to own fire-arms. But they didn’t say that did they? They said the PEOPLE which only means private citizens, it NEVER means the STATE.

The founders felt only white males were citizens worthy of owning fire-arms so they were the ones who are specified in the Militia Act. These people would have never allowed women, Indians or Blacks to be armed. Times have changed and you don’t see people arguing that the second amendment only applies to white males. We do not believe in racial segregation any more and citizenship is no longer viewed as a male only benefit. Over time, the concept of the militia began to die out and was replaced by the National Guard system. In fact the Militia Act of 1792 is eventually repealed, but not the Second Amendment.

I hear you asking ‘what is your point?’ The point is that the authors of the Constitution meant both the people and the militia when they wrote the amendment. I know it seems weird that they would actually say what they meant but they did. In the view of the founders the militia was the general population. It is clear that they intended for each person to own a weapon and know how to use it. They never dreamed of a day in which each state of the union would have a standing army equipped at tax-payer expense so why would they have written the second amendment as a guarantee of the right of a state only? The Second Amendment guarantees the right of the state to organize a militia AND the right of the people to own fire-arms – in the eyes of the founders the two were actually one-in-the same. Why is this so hard to understand? What the founding father meant and what modern Americans want out of the Second Amendment are two different things...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Great Democrat Presidents of the Twentieth Century – Woodrow Wilson

It has been nearly two years since the beginning of the Iraq war and during that time the President and his administration have been viciously attacked by Democrats in the House and the Senate. During this time the Iraq war has repeatedly been compared to the Vietnam War and the families of the fallen have been told that their sacrifice has been for nothing - the war is a horrible mistake and the President is responsible for essentially murdering innocent Iraqis as well as US soldiers. The same people who have criticized the President so vocally are, most assuredly, fans of the great Democrat Presidents of the Twentieth Century, but how do these Democrat Presidents compare to George W. Bush? Lets take a look at the most important of the these presidents and their biggest historical contributions.

The first president that we should examine is Woodrow Wilson. Wilson is undoubtedly an important American president and accomplished many great things in office: notably child labor restriction and worker compensation. Wilson. However, had a dark side, he was a racist who wrote in support of the Klan and believed in the inferiority of African-Americans. He was an opponent of the US constitution and for a time believed it should be replaced with a European style parliamentary system. Wilson implemented the graduated income tax (which we all know and love) and began farm subsidies.

He ran for re-election in 1916 on a peace platform all the while knowing that the US would not be able to stay out of WWI. In fact, he used very weak provocations to declare war on Germany in 1917. Wilson’s 14 points would become the inspiration for Russian revolutionaries as well as German peace advocates. In fact, the main reason for the tragedy known as the Treaty of Versailles was Wilson’s 14 points and US involvement in the war. Without US involvement and Wilson’s speech the Germans would have been in a stronger position to resist draconian allied demands of the Treaty of Versailles. This, in turn, would have removed one of the major causes of WWII.

Wilson intervened repeatedly in Latin America - sending tropps to Mexico, Haiti, Cuba and others. He, also, sent troops to Siberia to fight the Bolsheviks. In all, Wilson is responsible for the deaths of nearly 200,000 Americans and untold numbers of innocent people in Europe and Latin America. He never liberated a single country and most of his military interventions were to support the status quo not to bring freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples. At home he imprisoned political rivals and destroyed unions. He presided over one of the largest expansions of government in American history. In the end this evaluation is an attempt to judge Wilson by the same standards that the media uses today to judge the performance of George W. Bush. Wilson sure doesn’t hold up well in this light.

Note: This article is full of exaggerations and over-simplifications. This is intentional. Today we tend to view very complicated domestic and international issues in the simplest possible way to allow people to understand them. Unfortunately it just leads to confusion and further misunderstanding. None of this matters because no one knows the truth about Wilson anyway. Go read a book, or two, about him.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

How Not to Run a Help Desk Part 2

In my continuing rant on how not to run a help desk I will start by looking at how a help desk technicians are evaluated for job performance. The point of a help desk technician’s job is to provide customer service and correct computer problems - seems pretty straight forward. With this goal in mind it seems logical that the best way to determine how well an agent is doing their job is to look at items like; Customer Satisfaction, Number of Calls, First Call Resolution. These statistics are directly related to how well an agent does their job and are the natural measuring stick for job performance. If I talk to 30 people in a shift and fix 29 problems myself, and the customers are all happy, then I have done my job properly.

Let’s look at what these items actually mean in the help desk world. Customer Satisfaction is exactly the same as any other customer service business, if a customer is happy you will get a good rating and if they are mad you will get shredded. Number of Calls is a no brainer, this is how many calls an agent takes - the more the better. First Call Resolution is the most important stat; this is how many calls are resolved without requiring the customer or the agent to call back. Unfortunately, most help desk only track these number for an entire team not for individual agents.

The reality of the situation is much different, since help desk managers, as previously mentioned, do not know how to do the job they must use performance matrices they can understand. In a help desk environment the agent must log into a phone queue. The queue is run by a computer that tracks everything that an agent does on their phone while logged in. It has the ability to track how long each call was and how many calls an agent has taken. It tracks how many out bound calls and they can track every keystroke on the phone. Some of the key stats that are tracked are: Ready or Available, Release or Unavailable, Wrap-up or After Call Work. In addition the agent’s time is stamped, like a time clock, for start time, lunch and breaks.

Before I go any further I need to explain what the stats really mean for those of you who are unfamiliar with the help desk world. Ready (Available) is time the agent spends logged into the phone waiting for a call. It is seen as productive time for most call centers. Release (Unavailable) is time the agent spends not in Ready or Wrap-up, most call centers count this as unproductive time and it counts against the agent (I am not sure why this is something that an agent can do). Wrap-up (After Call Work) is time the agent spends after hanging up with a user but is still working the case; it is productive time to a point. In addition to these stats there is also the Talk Time stat. Talk Time is always productive time but if an agent’s Average Talk Time is significantly higher than the team average then there may be a problem with the agent.

All of these stats are important for determining how well a help desk is operating but they do not give a clear picture of what level of service an agent is providing. I have work with many people who were expert at managing their phones but had no clue how to fix a computer problem. Since help desk managers put such high value one these numbers they will frequently recognize the wrong employees for awards such as employee of the month (more on this jewel later). As previously mentioned, help desk managers will use the phone system as a form of time clock; an agent is considered on time if they login within 2 minutes of their scheduled time. In addition, agents log out for breaks and lunch and at the end of the day. If an agent is to go to a meeting or work on non-call related projects they will log off as well. Each time an agent logs off he/she must enter a Reason Code. If the agent enters the wrong code it will be counted against there job performance. Like most jobs, if you are tardy too many times in a period/quarter that will also count against the agent. It is, however, interesting that positive contributions are frequently less important to a manger that these petty mistakes. At times, the most productive people will be penalized because of substandard phone management and the most useless people are getting awards because they always login on time and use the correct codes. Needless to say, this is murder on morale.

Silent Monitoring is a popular quality control tool used by many help desks in an effort to track and address job performance issues. The idea is that an agent’s calls will be taped, unknown to the agent, and then reviewed by the manager or a technical lead. After the call has been reviewed the agent will be informed and the evaluation will be covered with the agent. Ideally this should be done very soon after the call so the issue is still fresh in their mind. Often, however, they are reviewed with the agent days or even weeks after the fact. Sometime these silent monitoring evaluations are never reviewed with the agent, making the entire program a huge waste of time. Staffing concerns can contribute to a manger’s ability to perform this process; a manager who is running an understaffed desk will not want to pull an agent from the phones to review calls. Technical ability also impacts this program, a manager with poor technical skills will not want to review calls because they have little understanding of what is happening.

Continuing with the topic of quality review help desk will also review the call tickets for each agent. This is done for two reasons: 1. the customer can frequently see these cases and you don’t want your agents looking like illiterate fools, 2. the ticketing system is used to create customer reports on the common issues and may be used to create documentation of solutions. These are two very important reasons to review each and every case to ensure that they have been properly categorized and that there are no spelling errors. This is clearly a function for the best people on the team and ideally for a lead. Ticket review is never something that should be a peer review item, but it often is. This tedious task will be assigned to the person with the lowest call volume, which is frequently the least qualified person to be reviewing someone’s work. Quality control should NEVER be a peer review process. My co-workers don’t know any more about the job that I do so what makes them qualified to determine if I am doing the job correctly? Nothing; the manager of a help desk or a dedicated, trained, QR person should be doing these functions to ensure that the review process is not a collection of opinions but actual fact.

Another common issue that plagues many help desks, particularly at companies that have cash problems, is staffing. Help desk managers, in an attempt to control costs, will short staff, which greatly increases the impact of poor quality agents; this in turn contributes to agent burnout. A help desk that has been short staffed will, obviously, have a higher work load than a properly staffed desk. In the short run this seems like a good idea but over the long haul there begins to be real problems particularly with scheduling vacations. On a short staffed help desk every time an agent goes on vacation the already high workload increases, sometimes to the point that agents begin to get burned out. This burnout contributes to unscheduled absences (sick time). When an agent is on vacation and another is out sick the problem of short staffing is at its worst. Poor customer service is inevitable in this environment.

In the end, help desks are run pretty much the same as any other operation. They are filled with competent people who are under appreciated and ignorant people who are glorified. They are run by managers that don’t know the difference between a technical help desk and a telemarketing operation. Sometimes it amazes me that anything gets done.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Why are Arizonans So Mad about Illegal Immigration?

With the passage of Prop 200 Arizona has been put center stage on the issue of illegal immigration. The passage of the prop into law the state has become the target of legal action from special interest groups as well as the Mexican government. This is bad enough, but then add articles from the Arizona Republic, and other publications, and passions could start to get out of hand.

Salvador Reza wrote an article entitled “What is it about Mexicans” in yesterdays AZ Republic. The thesis of his essay is that Mexicans are the most abused and discriminated against people in the world. He likens their plight to Native Americans who battled European settlers and Africans who were brought here as slaves. This is, of course, patently absurd. The plight of Mexicans in the US is much better than the plight of Mexicans in Mexico; this is why they come here. Life is improved for these people when they come to the US. Why do “Human Rights” advocates refuse to condemn the abuses people in Mexico are subjected to that cause them to risk everything to leave the country? Mexico is a mind numbingly corrupt society and no one, not even Mr. Reza cares.

In his eyes illegal Mexican immigrants have a RIGHT to come to the US and get hand-outs of tax payer money. I have news for Mr. Reza; no one has a RIGHT to come to the US. They do not have a RIGHT to enter illegally. They do not have RIGHT to a job. They do not have a RIGHT public assistance. This is true no matter what nation the person comes from. The only people who have a RIGHT to public services are CITIZENS and LEGAL immigrants.

Salavador Reza wants desperately to make the issue of illegal immigration into an issue of race. It is not. Most Americans do not have any problem with legal Mexican immigrants. Legal immigrants are vital to the future of the country. There is need for immigration reform but reform cannot take place until our boarders are secured. Without boarder security immigration reform is meaningless and more states will need to follow Arizona’s lead in attempting to deal with the problem. What Mr. Reza and the Mexican government should be doing is trying to stop illegal immigration and then work with the US government to allow more people to come here to work legally.

The dark side of illegal immigration that no human rights advocate will talk about is its relationship with organized crime. Human traffickers, or Coyotes, are the worst type of criminal scum. They charge people huge amounts of money to smuggle them into the US. Many times they force the immigrants to carry drugs across the boarder. Often the Coyotes will abandon the immigrants in the Arizona desert with no water and miles from any town or road. Once the immigrants make it to a city like Phoenix they are blackmailed, and sometimes murdered by Coyotes who are extorting money from the illegal immigrants. Coyotes steal cars from major metro areas to use in the smuggle operations which increase auto insurance rates. Illegal immigrants face death in a multitude of different ways when coming to the US; they can dies in the desert from exposure; they can be murdered by smugglers; they can be killed in frequent, horrific car accidents in over loaded vehicles. All of these things lead to huge problems of crime and health care for the aliens.

In addition to the criminal aspect associated with illegal immigration there is a larger economic issue. Illegal immigrants come to the US for work. US employers love to hire these people because they can pay them under the table at lower wages than Americans are willing to make. This costs tax revenue and causes American workers to be pushed out of jobs. The excuse that people like Mr. Reza might use against this argument is that Americans will not do the jobs that illegal aliens will do. This is totally false; Americans will not work for less than fair market value for their labor. They will not work a job that pays cash under the table for less than minimum wage. In fact, illegal immigration completely undermines the purpose of a minimum wage because employers can always hire an illegal under the table.

All of these issues cause a huge burden on the US economy. The job loss and crime associated with illegal immigration cost money - huge money - measured in the billions of dollars per year. This is money that should be in the pockets of US workers; user for services that benefit US workers. It is time that Americans stand up and DEMAND that our boarders be secured and immigration properly controlled and people like Salvador Reza should shut the hell up!