Saturday, June 29, 2013

Restoring the Voting Rights Act

What happens next (or should)

The Supreme Court wobbles from side to side in its rulings, notoriously gutting the Voting Rights Act the day before it similarly eviscerated the Defense of Marriage Act. Apparently ensuring that people get to vote is unimportant while expanding the right to marry is all right. Go figure.

Chief Justice Roberts did, of course, offer a rationale for tearing the guts out of the VRA: Things are better now, so we can shut the door on intervention against vote suppression. Also, the VRA is inherently discriminatory because it singles out certain regions for heightened scrutiny.

Actually, I am nearly on board with that last item. The regional rationale for the VRA is old and certainly in need of reexamination. As Roberts phrased it, “40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.” Unfortunately, Roberts and the court majority saw fit to simply strike down Sec. 4 of the VRA and set free the regions required to obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice before implementing changes in voting laws or procedures. The congress, the court blithely said, “may draft another formula based on current conditions.”

The congress. Right. And how much longer will it be before congress recovers sufficiently from its Tea Party dysfunction and begins to act like a legislative body again? The court's action and the congress's certain inaction have opened the way to the vigorous pursuit of partisan voter suppression, the current favorite hobby of Republican-controlled states. Texas and Mississippi didn't even pause for breath in the wake of the VRA decision before announcing the implementation of draconian new measures that had been previously blocked.

Now is the time for Democrats and democrats to respond vigorously to the Supreme Court action. Otherwise, new voter-suppression rules will seek to disenfranchise enough people so that right-wing rule in the red states and in the House of Representatives will be prolonged well beyond its sell date (which, frankly, must have been somewhere in 2011, a few days after Boehner became speaker).

I see a response with two major features.

Harness voter anger

Remember how Republican governors conspired with Republican legislatures to reduce early-voting hours, consolidate minority precincts, and impose voter ID requirements? While the GOP pretended to be fighting voter fraud (without ever managing to document anything significant—unless you examined their own activities), a few Republicans occasionally forgot the cover story and let the truth slip out; for example, Mike Turzai: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done!”

The Pennsylvania law was largely blocked for the November 2012 vote and Obama beat Romney by 5.38 percentage points, or 309,840 votes. The ID law would have had to discourage approximately 310,000 Obama voters (and no Romney voters) in order to flip the result. So close!

But several voter-suppression efforts did take effect, resulting in ridiculously long lines at precincts in minority districts and waiting times of several hours before being able to cast a vote. Why didn't these measures swing a few more states in Romney's column, he being the intended beneficiary of reduced vote totals?

The answer may be relatively simple. The voter-suppression efforts were so blatantly partisan and so clearly aimed at minority voters that people got angry. No one was going to deprive them of the right to cast their ballots, so they endured the miserable delays and cast their votes as acts of defiance.

In the 2014 midterm elections, the Democratic Party should not, however, rely on anti-GOP resentment to pump up the ranks of stubborn voters. With Section 4 of the VRA struck down, many more blockades will be put in place in the Republican states. Hence the Democratic Party and Obama's Organizing for America operation need to put into high gear a broad-based voter-assistance effort that aids voters in clearing the hurdles in their way. Help them obtain personal photo IDs in those states that require them, being aware of those states where the “acceptable” IDs are strictly and narrowly defined. Provide support in insufficiently equipped precincts where Republican election officials “forget” to provide enough voting stations. Roll up support vans with food and water and folding chairs (and chemical toilets?) to help people during multi-hour vigils in long lines.

And, of course, teams of lawyers to obtain court orders and injunctions wherever necessary to mitigate the most blatant abuses. The traditional “get out the vote” efforts must be expanded by a full magnitude if it is going to trample down the GOP-imposed barriers to democratic action. This is war, baby.

Accept the Supreme Court's invitation

Yes, the House of Representatives is singularly dysfunctional and the filibuster-hobbled Senate isn't much better. Nevertheless, Democrats in both houses should introduce measures to address the demise of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. After all, the chief justice specifically invited congress to speak to the matter.

The brand-new standard should be simple and relatively easy to explain. That way Republican naysayers will be more easily exposed as the anti-voting thugs they are. Since statistical measures would inevitably be involved (and people are often put off by such arcana), keeping it simple and explainable would be a challenge, but it must be met. I suggest a modest approach along the following lines:

Use census data and voting data to create two profiles for each state and compare the profiles. Compute the difference between the profiles by means of a simple calculation, perhaps something like the sum of the squares of the differences between corresponding demographic segments. For example, suppose that a state's population breaks into four groups: 60% is A, 20% is B, 14% is C, and 6% is D. However, voting data indicates that the voting profile was 80% A, 12% B, 4% C, and 4% D. The metric based on summed square differences would be

(60 − 80)2 + (20 − 12)2 + (14 − 4)2 + (6 − 4)2 = 568.

Is this a shockingly bad result? Let's not worry about it, because there is no need to decide in advance. Instead finish computing the metric for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia (or any city or county or other electoral entity under scrutiny; see the examples in the margin). Now the states can be ranked in order of accumulated differences between population demographics and voting demographics. The scores will be big for states with disproportionate discrepancies and small for those where differences are close to zero. Designate the top quartile (12 or 13 states) as preclearance regions. They could be anywhere in the country, without singling out the South. The playing field is level. The legislation could select a break point so that no state achieving that level of voter participation would be subjected to preclearance just because it's in the top dozen. (If a large majority of the states are doing well, some states with small metric numbers would start slipping into that dirty dozen without deserving it.)

I'm sure that sophisticated statisticians could happily argue about more suitable metrics, but I tossed this out as merely an example that could work and is simple to compute. As long as comparable data are used for the various states, the results would be sufficiently comparable to rank the states in order of voting conformity with actual state demographics, highlighting those states where certain demographics get disproportionately represented or suppressed.

Will congress adopt any measure like this to restore the VRA? Probably not. But who will the obstructionists be? Make them stand up and be counted. Flush them out and expose them to the light. Let the irritated voters know exactly who it is that does not want them to cast ballots.

Get working, folks. Voter suppression is real and the response needs to begin yesterday if we're going to be ready for the challenging landscape of 2014. Don't be content to rely on the self-destructive tendencies of the nutcases running the Republican Party. They can do a lot of damage if we're not ready to rein them in!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Love and marriage

What happens next

Today's rulings from the Supreme Court were surprisingly good, although the decision on Proposition 8 was a cowardly punt rather than a straightforward striking down. Coupled, however, with the decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, the ruling against Proposition 8 means that California becomes a rich source of foot soldiers against the narrow definition of marriage. I may not be a lawyer, but I can read the writing on the wall.

DOMA is gone, so the federal government can no longer discriminate against duly married same-sex couples. The federal government can hardly attempt to deny marriage recognition to couple who marry in one state and then move to another. As long as the marriage is solemnized in a state (or D.C.) where same-sex marriage is legal, the same-sex couple's rights have to be recognized as portable. Could even an extreme ideologue like Justice Scalia argue that the couple's rights switch on and off, depending on the state in which they reside?

No one needs a crystal ball to see what happens next. Same-sex marriage will gradually permeate all fifty states. It cannot be avoided in our mobile society. Same-sex couples in states with anti-gay legislation on the books will schedule wedding vacations in California or other states that support same-sex marriages. There will be an economic boomlet in gay-friendly states as florists and wedding planners and honeymoon locations are showered with rainbow-striped dollars. Legislators who understand revenue better than human rights will be tempted to stanch the out-flow by repealing their bans on same-sex weddings.

The most pessimistic in the anti-gay ranks are correct: Same-sex marriage has the force of history behind it and their struggle to keep prejudice enshrined in law is doomed. Let all people of good will celebrate.

Friday, June 21, 2013

It ain't necessarily so

Miraculous logic

Everyone keeps waiting for the Supreme Court to unburden itself of its ruling on California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in 2008. Trembling with trepidation that their labors will have been for naught, the Catholic clergy and laymen who struggled so hard on Proposition 8's behalf have been sharing their fears via print and broadcast media.

On Sunday, June 16, the San Francisco Chronicle published Joe Garofoli's interview with Salvatore Cordileone, the current archbishop of the San Francisco diocese. According to the article, Cordileone struck an alliance with evangelical Protestants and the Mormon Church to promote Proposition 8, with the archbishop digging up $1.5 million to support the effort. That's a lot of collection baskets! (I'm guessing that most of that money came from sources other than the members of his local congregations. San Francisco is not a happy hunting ground for anti-gay contributions, even among its Catholics.)

The Catholic hierarchy appears to be stuck on the campaign theme that worked so well in the 2008 campaign, which I heard directly from my mother's mouth when she explained why she had to vote for Proposition 8: “It's to protect the children!” This was indeed Cordileone's theme as he pitched his position to the Chronicle reporter:
With piercing blue eyes and a propensity for speaking in complete sentences, Cordileone explains that his view of marriage is based on how he believes it affects children.

Legalizing gay marriage, he said, “would result in the law teaching that children do not need an institution that connects them” to their biological parents and their parents to each other.

“Too many children are being hurt by our culture's strange and increasing inability to appreciate how important it is to bring together mothers and fathers for children in one loving home,” he said.
Let that sink in for a minute. His Excellency the archbishop is arguing that permitting same-sex couples to wed would undermine the connection between children and their parents. Even more than that, it would “teach” children that they really don't need those connections.

Is Cordileone an idiot? Or just a liar? (Can't it be both?) The archbishop is laying down a thick layer of illogical crap, and he does it as smoothly as can be. Allowing same-sex couples to wed says nothing to anyone about the parental needs of children. It would do nothing to prevent opposite-sex couples to wed and instantiate the conventional ideal of the nuclear family. Gay marriage would merely (merely!) extend marriage rights to people who are currently denied them. Wouldn't Cordileone's supposedly pro-kid mission be better accomplished with a campaign to require mothers to marry the fathers of their children? That would connect them up, all right! He might even be able to get the Mormons on board with that, since it would necessitate a return to plural marriage. But it's for the children!

As I mentioned, this “think of the children!” blather appears to be the Church's official line on the horrors of same-sex marriage. On Monday, June 17, Immaculate Heart Radio broadcast an installment of “The Bishop's Radio Hour”, during which host Bob Dunning interviewed William B. May, the president of Catholics for the Common Good. Bill May was relentless in the repetition of his mantra, which decried the possible “elimination of the only institution that unites kids with moms and dads.” Yes, he really said this. Elimination!
On the marriage issue, we have to start asking people that question. Okay, you're for redefining marriage. That eliminates the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads. How can you justify that? If you're proposing to do that you need to address that problem. How are we going to promote men and women marrying before having children if it becomes illegal to do so?
Illegal! This short excerpt cannot do justice to May's mindless repetition of his “elimination” claim. In a short ten-minute block of time, he repeated the absurdity five or six times (I can't be sure because the on-line archive clipped the final minute of the interview). Interviewer Bob Dunning, who is a legitimate newsman and reporter for all that he views the world through Vatican-tinted glasses, embarrassingly mumbled agreement with his guest throughout the entire segment. However, at one point Dunning offered an extremely pertinent observation that May had carefully avoided mentioning:
May: The voters of California have spoken clearly on this twice. There's no doubt where they stand.

Dunning: It tends to be an age demographic; that's what we're fighting.
Bob has it right. Time is not on your side, Bill. In 2000, California voters enacted marriage-defining Proposition 22 with the support of 61.4% of those casting ballots. In 2008, they added the one-man/one-woman definition to the state constitution when 52.5% of the voters supported Proposition 8. A simple straight-line projection shows that the “traditional marriage” gang loses more than one percentage point each year. By this measure, the projection for 2013 is 46.9% in favor of Proposition 8 and similar measures. The reality, however, is even worse for Cordileone and his allies. According to recent a Los Angeles Times poll, same-sex marriage opposition has fallen to 36%. Support has risen to 58%. Suck on that, Your Excellency.

Dunning sees the writing on the wall and is worried that quashing the tide in favor of same-sex marriage is a now-or-never crisis.

Here's a hint: it won't be “now.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scott Adams changes his tune?

Another victim of the matriarchy

It was clever of Scott Adams to include his e-mail address in his Dilbert comic strip. The readers are a constant source of grist for the cartoonist's mill, enabling Adams to demonstrate the existence of endless variations on the theme of corporate mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance. I long expected Dilbert to grow stale over the years, but I've been pleased to discover how well it has held up. I make a point of reading it every day.

Last week I picked up a copy of Your New Job Title is “Accomplice,” the latest in an endless stream of Dilbert compilations. Since I'm the kind of guy who always peruses the front matter, I took a minute to skim over the cartoonist's introduction. It contained a passage that took me by surprise:
Eventually, corporate America excreted me. My bosses explained that I was unqualified for any sort of promotion because I had boring DNA and a scrotum. That's a true story, by the way. Reverse discrimination was a big thing in California in the nineties. And for what it's worth, that was not the first time my scrotum had caused me trouble.
This seemed a slight departure from Adams's previous accounts of his departure from Pacific Bell. Consider, for example, what he told Inc. in 1996, a mere year after he received his walking papers:
I'd told all of my bosses I would resign if they ever felt my costs exceeded my benefits. One of the benefits, of course, was the positive PR. I get interviewed often. Anyway, in the spring of 1995 I got a new boss, and I reiterated my offer to resign if asked. A few weeks later he asked. The reason given was budget constraints. I'm pretty sure it was a local management decision, not one from the top.
Adams gives no hint that he was cashiered because of genital deficiencies. Perhaps he was concealing the sexist policies that forced him out of corporate America and now feels that masculine empowerment has freed him to tell the whole truth. I rather doubt that. He has never been too tongue-tied to express himself on such matters in the past. Adams infamously compared women who espouse equal pay for equal work to children who beg for candy. His credentials as a men's rights advocate seem bright and shiny, buffed to a high and slightly belligerent gloss.

I noted in particular the claim that California was a hotbed of women versus men “reverse discrimination” in the 1990s. From my own perspective and recollection, it seems to me that Adams's claim is untrue. In the decade of the nineties I was in the midst of academia, the unapologetic ground zero of diversity and unashamed “political correctness.” Our college president during that period was (gasp!) a woman. She presided over the hiring of six tenure-track faculty members for the mathematics department. Four of them were men. She was doing a remarkably poor job of oppressing the guys.

Proof by anecdote!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bill Priest revisited

The other side of the coin

In my recent post on Bill J. Priest and the creation of the Dallas County Community College District, I commented that the biography by Kathleen Krebbs Whitson is a “hagiography,” that is, an account of the life of a saint. According to Whitson's book, the never-wrong Priest was often betrayed by incompetence and intransigence—always in others. For example, here is her report on Priest's travails in his pre-Dallas post as founding president of American River Junior College in Sacramento in 1955:
Priest was hired as the Superintendent/President of the new college. He had the arduous task of not only beginning a new college, but also absorbing an existing college, Grant Technical College, into the new organizational structure. Grant Technical College had actually been the top two years of a kindergarten through fourteenth grade school in the local public school district. The faculty of the college levels, however, had tenure. That was the first hurdle. The new college being founded would not have tenure for the faculty. This was one of the first conflicts. The established faculty felt they should be grandfathered [with tenure] in the non-tenure for faculty policy. They sued and won. Now Priest was faced with a faculty in which some had tenure and some did not. Many of the former faculty of Grant Technical College felt that none of the new rules should apply to them. This perpetual problem more than doubled the efforts of establishing a new college.
Certainly Priest's task would have been greatly eased if only the tenured faculty of Grant Technical has simply rolled over and allowed him to strip them of their job security. What ingrates they were, failing to appreciate the great man's effort to reduce them to at-will employees!

Whitson's coda to Priest's ordeal in assimilating Grant Technical has this interesting twist:
There were continual lawsuits and the attorney was less than competent. He lost nine cases out of nine. Fortunately the Board of Trustees gave full support to Priest in the challenges he faced. In Priest's estimation, they were a quality board with a focus on the educational good for students.
Poor Priest! Saddled with a “less than competent” lawyer. (Who hired this lawyer, anyway? Did the president have no role in staffing the new college district?)

It's easy to offer a different take on this report. Was the attorney incompetent or was Priest pushing too hard against the rights of his faculty members and simply getting rebuffed by the courts? I'm curious to know more about what these nine lawsuits entailed.

By the way, the colleges of the Dallas County Community College District have tenured faculty in addition to part-time and temporary faculty, so it appears that Priest was unable to create an at-will system of faculty employment in right-to-work Texas. Furthermore, the two-tier system that was created at American River Junior College (now just American River College) went away as tenured faculty became the rule rather than the exception at the Sacramento institution. Neither in California nor in Texas was Bill J. Priest successful in establishing himself as an unfettered benevolent dictator. His accomplishments notwithstanding, Priest belongs to the patronizing era of father-knows-best. No doubt the great man would be aghast at the shared-governance practice that emerged in his wake.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

One thing Texas does right

Although Perry can't count to three

The seven-college Dallas County Community College District is one of the biggest post-secondary education institutions in the world. The legendary Bill J. Priest was present at the creation in 1965, serving as DCCCD's first president. His starting salary was $35,000, more than the governor of Texas. According to Bill Jason Priest: Community College Pioneer, a hagiography by Kathleen Krebbs Whitson, “an editorial appeared in one of the major daily newspapers in Dallas extolling the integrity of the Dallas County Junior College Board for being willing to spend the money to bring in the very best leadership for the new junior college system.”

That information piqued my curiosity, so I looked up the current salaries of the DCCCD chief executive (a “chancellor” now instead of a “president”) and the Texas governor. It turns out that Chancellor Wright Lassiter earns $271,126 and Governor Rick Perry gets $150,000 (I didn't feel right using “earns” again). Good for Texas! Educators are still out-pointing politicians.

Priest enjoyed twitting his former colleagues back in California about the support for education that he was finding in Texas. “You're working in the wrong place,” he told them. Of course, not everything about Texas was to Priest's liking, but he deftly took care of that with some judicious prevarication. His extremely generous biographer deftly soft-pedals the deception:
Texas was a new experience for him. He knew Texas culture by reputation only. He had never lived in any part of the Bible Belt before. It was an anomaly to him that as a routine part of the get acquainted conversation came the question, “What church do you go to?” He soon discovered that agnosticism was equated with atheism in the Dallas area. In his mind, agnostic meant he believed in a supreme being and that the universe was far too complicated a creation for there not to be a God over all. His negative experiences with fanaticism and those taking advantage of others in the name of organized religion caused him to disassociate with formal denominations that seemingly gave human characteristics to God. This explanation was far too complex to explore in casual chit chat. Since he had been reared in the home of his grandfather, an elder in the First Christian Church, Priest had attended those services with him. Based on that history, First Christian became his answer.
One might have expected a better definition of agnosticism from an educator, as well as less willingness to lie to his new neighbors, but Priest appears to have been undisturbed by it. I guess that's just what a person has to do to survive in Texas.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The invisibility suit

Can you see me now?

The local university has a number of facilities scattered throughout the region. One of those installations is in my neighborhood and I drive past it every day that I commute to work. For a couple of years now I have been irritated by the sign in front of the building. It's an upright slab of concrete—a latter-day stele—that displays the university logo and the street address. My irritation was occasioned by the university's indifferent maintenance. A dark mold-like stain had been permitted to accumulate across the upper edge of the sign, obscuring part of the address. I'd wrinkle my nose at it in distaste every time I passed by, tempted to fetch a bucket and brush and give the sign a good scrubbing. But I never did.

Recently, however, I strolled past the sign on foot. The university facility sits between my home and the auto shop where I take my car for maintenance. I often walk home instead of sitting around in the waiting room (I could use the exercise anyway). Although I was not carrying a bucket and brush, I could not resist the temptation to saunter across the lawn to inspect the sign at close quarters. What was that mess that disfigured it?

The sign is tall, but so am I. With a bit of a stretch, I could reach up and run my fingers across the upper edge of the sign's face. The stain no longer looked like dark mold. It looked as though a lawnmower or edger had sprayed the front of the sign with a finely chopped mixture of grass and dirt, a kind of organic gouache, crudely applied. It seemed unlikely that any mower or edger would throw its ejecta quite that high, but whatever it was, that's what it looked like.

The crusty material came away easily when I brushed my fingers across it. I rubbed a little harder and more rained down in a powdery shower. I was in an awkward position, stretching up to reach it, so I simplified my task by climbing up on the ledge of the sign's plinth. Now I could reach all of the obscured portion of the sign and industriously rubbed the dark crust away. The lettering of the facility's street address was far from pristine (oh, for a bucket and brush!), but the surface was no longer obscured and the address was easier to see.

It took only a few minutes, but I was in no particular rush. Cars drove past on the adjacent road and people walked down the sidewalk leading to the facility's front door, but no one gave me a second look. I was artfully disguised and thus invisible to all passers-by. People looked right through me. It was quite amusing. Since school was no longer in session and summer vacation had started, I was not wearing a tie (which, I admit, I usually wear during the school year as a badge of power and authority—tremble before me, students!). In fact, I was wearing overalls, which rendered me as transparent as any maintenance worker you'd ever care to see. Or not see.

I finished my task unmolested, my fingertips rendered dusty but otherwise undamaged. The sign had been freed of its squamous disfigurement. I completed my walk home. Now, when I drive past the sign, I smile. Vigilante maintenance has struck again!

I must try to control these bizarre impulses.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Custom-made shoes to fill

From time's deep abyss

It has been more than a quarter-century since I screwed my courage to the sticking point and resigned my sweet and secure civil-service position for a temporary academic appointment. Several people commented at the time that it was a “gutsy move,” and I admit that it certainly felt like one at the time. Fortunately for me, the temporary appointment eventually turned into a tenure-track position, leaving me to live happily ever after (mostly) as a full-time math professor.

My memories of this event were tickled recently while delving into the stacks of detritus that decorate my college office. The semester is over, grades have been filed, and no summer school assignment looms over me. Nevertheless, I have been on campus several days in a row because of a writers' colloquium being conducted by colleagues in the English department. During free intervals I have repaired to my office and sifted through the piles of papers and books, slowly sorting them into stacks destined to be filed, recycled, or shelved. This morning I stumbled across the job announcement that was issued when my state agency was seeking my replacement. It gave me a good chuckle.

The job announcement was drafted by the agency's executive secretary, the semi-competent and ill-tempered appointee who was extremely helpful in increasing the diligence of my job search. Until her advent, I had had a lot of job satisfaction in my position. She injected enough poison into the atmosphere to help me on my way toward the teaching position that I desired. The job announcement was a perfect illustration of the boss's myopia. She created it by simply listing every function I had accumulated in my years at the agency. In effect, she was advertising for someone who was my clone (although preferably without my subversive attitudes and tendencies toward insubordination).

Here are excerpts from that job announcement, shorn of the standard civil service boilerplate and thus reduced to the essentials of the position's duties. It brings a smile to my face when I peruse it:
Description: The Commission has a small, highly specialized staff whose basic missions are (1) to monitor the status of California's General Fund revenues, expenditures, and reserves; (2) to track the collection of federal taxes and receipt of federal expenditures by California and its counties; and (3) to issue regular reports concerning the State's short- and long-term fiscal situation and the impact of federal taxation and spending on the State for use by the Legislature, the Administration, and other interested parties.
The duties of this position are as follows: (1) providing technical advice and support to enhance the Commission's use of its computer systems; (2) being the lead editor of the Commission's publications and being principally responsible for preparing those publications for photo-reproduction; and (3) heading the Commission's legislative tracking system (including the preparation of articles for inclusion in Commission publications on the status of significant pending financial legislation).

Desirable Qualifications:This position provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate, expand, and apply expertise in the use of computer hardware and software. The position also showcases adroit writing skills, as well as providing the opportunity to identify, research, and describe key issues under consideration by the Legislature. Accordingly, the individual who fills it should:
  • have a thorough working knowledge of the IBM AT and the Burroughs B-20/B-25 system used by the Commission. [Knowledge of Basic and Fortran programming languages is preferred, as is familiarity with the Microsoft Word, Lotus 1-2-3, Multiplan, and Ventura software packages.]
  • write and edit well
  • know how to track legislation, analyze its contents, and evaluate its financial implications.
Therefore, the ideal candidate would be a computer tech support person for multiple platforms who would also be the in-house editor and compositor of  publications (one job or two?), a prolific writer (a third job, or doesn't it count because there'd be much less editing on the employee's own documents?), and a legislative analyst (surely we're up to three by now).

I remember taking the job announcement to a state user group where I knew several members had the necessary computer expertise. Many of my fellow civil servants were unfazed by the necessity of supporting two incompatible computer systems, since many state offices had been infiltrated by personal computers in addition to proprietary networked systems. They nodded their heads when I read the first desideratum. They were less sanguine, however, when I tossed in the part about programming languages and desktop publishing. The writing component made several of them nervous because they knew of my background and did not relish comparisons. However, when I added legislative analysis to the package, groans were heard and questions were asked: “Is this supposed to be one job?” “Who is your boss kidding?” “Is she trying to ensure that the position stays vacant so that she has some salary savings to play around with?”

Of course, in a small state agency where the staff members wear several hats, multiple responsibilities are standard operating procedure. However, these job configurations develop with time and evolve to fit the capabilities of the people who occupy the positions. I certainly had not started mine with the same portfolio with which I ended it. My initial assignment was legislative tracking and analysis, mainly because I had just come over from the legislative staff. While serving in that capacity I acquired a home computer and developed skills that came in handy when PCs began to invade our office. Furthermore, it was during this period that I began to publish magazine articles in computer publications and math journals. This skill set of mine grew as I worked at the state agency and my job description grew with it. No one should expect many other people to stroll in with the exact same experiences and the exact same skill set. That, however, is what my boss was looking for.

The job opening was announced while I was serving out my final weeks on staff. My position remained vacant for a few months after my departure, until someone took a sharp pencil to the job description and made it a little more generic. At one point I met my successor, who was manifestly not doing the same job I had been doing. And neither was the boss, who had been sacked as the head of the agency.

Happy memories!