2.22.2005

The Computer Literacy Gap

I've been following the whole GannonGate situation, and thinking about all of the things that haven't been done to protect our country from terrorists. There isn't even a central no-fly list. Think about that for a minute - there is no universal database for our intelligence agencies to keep track on who is boarding our airplanes. Now think of what you know about the technical skill it would take to do that - not much, really. A database and some high-level encryption. A teenager with the raw info could do it in a weekend. So why hasn't it been done?

I submit that it hasn't been done because TPTB doesn't know that it can be done, and if they do, they don't know HOW to do it.

I worked for the government for quite a few years. I know exactly how difficult it is to change their processes, because I won several awards for doing so. In order to get that done, I had to go around my bosses, who fought me at every turn. I had two advantages - I was a Chief Steward with the Union, so they couldn't control me as strictly as the average drone, and there was a big trend toward Total Quality Management.

TQM was a style of management that was exported to Japan, where they promptly turned around and kicked our ass with it. It was all the rage in the government in the early 90's when Dick Cheney was running the place. I was damned good at it, and my bosses hated that. They weren't fond of me "and my white horse" as one boss used to say, to begin with. That I once made a suggestion on a Friday evening and had the tools to implement it on everyone's desk when they came in Saturday morning to work on a special Desert Storm project had them reeling. I had a grasp of new technologies - computers were brand new, fax machines just becoming available - that they didn't. Most of my ideas were simply seeing what needed to be done, and knowing how to do it.

That was when I learned that the Peter Principle, which says that in a hierarchy each individual rises to hes* level of incompetence and stays there, runs amok in government bureaucracy. People get promoted because of connections and insider information, not for their skill or excellence. Most people were working way beyond their level of incompetence. These were dinosaurs unable to adapt to the changing environment. The change accelerated and continues to leave them behind.

In Gannon's case, I don't think they understood that all of his online activities were public information that would take only a day or so to track down. They have no understanding of the speed at which we are able to retrieve and publish information and get feedback from our readers. They didn't realize that the articles they were scrubbing from GOPUSA were archived in Google. They haven't even caught on to the fact that when they lie, we can pull up the video and have evidence of it online in minutes.

We don't have the kind of money or resources they have, but we have numbers, and we have access to information. There's even a movement to take the steep fees off of Freedom of Information Act requests so bloggers can afford to avail themselves of the service without needing the funding of a media conglomerate to function. As soon as somebody makes Lexis Nexis available to the masses, we're golden.

We need to jump on this advantage. I repeat myself : WE ARE THE FREE PRESS right now. If we are going to stop the advancing wave of fascism, it's going to mean we have to get organized and focused, before the generation of little Hitlers raised with computers come to power. Fortunately, that will take a while. Elephants take a long time to age.