What Would John Galt Do?

A whole different way of looking at "WWJD"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Southern-Fried Stupid

Last month I packed my worldly goods, moved into my motorhome, and left the South for good. I'm sure they're glad to be rid of me; I am certainly glad to not be around Southerners any more.

I spent three years in Nashville, Tennessee working in the IT department of a small non-profit known as Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). Never in my life have I worked among so much laziness, ignorance and incompetence.

Yes, you can run into stupid, lazy, incompetent people anywhere. Most of them end up "working" (I'm using that word very lightly here) for some branch of Government, and the rest are sprinkled throughout society to be albatrosses about the necks of the productive.

Except in the South. In the South, ignorance, laziness and incompetence are institutionalized. Those people -- the white ones, anyway -- are actually proud of being lazy and stupid.

Do you remember the TV show Hee Haw? Remember the segment of the show where everyone (everyone white, that is) was lying around on a barn floor telling jokes about being lazy? Well, that show was written, filmed and produced in Nashville. And that's the way those people really are.

The white people, that is. The only people I saw doing any actual work were blacks. And Mexicans, who are universally hated. Anyone who looks Hispanic is automatically assumed to be in the country illegally.

So when I rant about Southerners, I specifically mean white Southerners. Now onward with my tale.

BMI is a nonprofit corporation with headquarters in New York City but its operations center, with the bulk of its employees, is in Nashville. I have no beef with the corporation itself, or any of its people working in the New York office: I worked regularly with two of the New Yorkers and always found them pleasant -- and, more importantly, competent. Not so with my co-workers, and bosses, in Nashville. Never in my life have I worked among so much incompetence.

I think everyone who reads this blog already knows what I do, but allow me to spell it out for anyone who stumbles across this post: I am a Linux sysadmin. And I am good at it. Not because of any intrinsic good within myself, but purely because I work at being the best I can be. John Galt wouldn't have it any other way.

So, I keep Linux servers running, which is a much easier job (and much less aggravating) than keeping Windows servers running. One of the differences between the two operating systems is that to be successful at running Linux, one has to actually know something about computers and how they work (Windows sysadmins typically don't know much more than how to point at something with a mouse, click on it, and drool while they wait... and wait... and wait for Windows to complete the job). Linux people are almost universally geeks; Windows people are a more diverse mixture but the bright ones tend to migrate away from working with Windows as soon as they can.

So I was a Linux admin, responsible for about fifty servers, in a shop where most of the hardware was running Windows. This is usually not a problem as long as the Windows people know what they are doing. But the IT department at BMI does not believe in hiring people who know what they are doing. Neither do they give any support to employees who want to learn: when the subject of training and certification came up one day in a meeting, my immediate boss flat-out stated that BMI would not support it "because the only reason to get a cert is so you can look for a job somewhere else."

He didn't want people who actually know what they are doing; he only wanted people who would stay with the company until they retire -- and that's exactly what he had working for him: a bunch of people who do as little work as possible, shifting the blame for problems onto someone else and loading up their 401K while they count the days until they can laze around at home instead of lazing around at work.

And shifting the blame was about the only work that my co-workers did, except for one person who actually knew what he was doing (they treated him as a god, thinking he was exceptionally brilliant -- he wasn't; he was merely competent: I've worked with many folks through the years who were his equal). A few weeks after I started there, the email server (Microsoft Exchange -- of course) started doing weird things with my mail. I reported it, and the answer I got was that I was the only one having this problem and therefore it must be because I was running Linux! That, without any effort being put forth to troubleshoot the issue. In spite of the fact that the data I had included in the ticket clearly pointed to a problem with the server.

So I set up a packet sniffer and captured the packets coming to my workstation from the Exchange Server. There was the proof right there, but when I showed the packet trace to the Windows people they STILL blamed my Linux workstation! This was the kind of incompetence and laziness I dealt with every day on that job. No one with whom I interacted (save the one person, and he died) had any concept of how the machines s/he administered actually worked. But getting MY job done relied on them getting THEIR jobs done, and none of them knew anything about how to do their jobs.

In the end, my bosses blamed -- ME. And fired me for having an "attitude." The clueless idiots never thought about trying to find out what was CAUSING my little "attitude" problem.

This isn't just the corporate culture at BMI; it's the culture all over the South. Everywhere you go, everything you try to get done, you encounter people who aren't just ignorant, but take actual pride in being ignorant, and lazy, and incompetent. None of the maintenance done on our apartment was ever done correctly. And therein hangs a large number of tales.

We had a plumbing problem under the kitchen sink. There was a gaping hole in the side of the garbage disposer, and it was leaking water.... It took them four trips to figure out what was wrong. After one of the maintenance visits, my lady asked the maintenance man if he was going to clean up the water he'd left on the floor. "Oh, no, maam," he answered. "The air conditionin' will take care of that," and he left.

There was a spot on the bedroom ceiling from water damage caused by a roof leak. They "fixed" it by painting over it -- with a spray can of automotive paint! You see, the automotive paint, unlike normal indoor paint, is waterproof....

The company that owns the apartments had all of the HVAC units in the complex replaced. They hired a contractor from Atlanta. The indoor units were oversized, meaning, among other things, that they couldn't properly remove humidity from the indoor air. SURPRISE, we started getting mold growing all over the place. Maintenance came in to look at the problem, and found that the contractor had never bothered to re-connect the apartment's ductwork to the new indoor unit when they installed it.

The property management also replaced a bunch of front doors. Ours wasn't done right, and leaked a lot of air. I lost track of the number of visits that maintenance made from our complaints about the door leaking. It still leaked when we moved out; they never actually fixed it.

On its maiden voyage home from the dealer in Utah, I noticed that the headlights on my new motorhome were misaligned. The procedure for aligning headlights is well-known; the vehicle is parked a certain distance from a wall with marks on it at certain places, and the measurements for these marks are well-documented in garage manuals. Since my motorhome is built on a Ford truck chassis, I thought that these measurements might be different than the ones for passenger cars. So I took it to the one Ford truck dealer in Nashville to get the lights aligned. They drove the motorhome into their shop, shone the lights onto a local TV station's news van that was parked crossways at the front of the bay, and proceeded to adjust the headlights.

March 8, 2010 was our last night in Tennessee. We spent it in Memphis and crossed over the Mississippi the next morning, leaving Tennessee for good. As we were approaching Memphis that evening, we called 911 to report a U-Haul truck being driven erratically. The conversation with the operator was a perfect ending to our life in the South.

We told the operator we were on Interstate 40 westbound, and gave the milepost number. The operator could not figure out our location. "Well, what exit are y'all nearby?"

"We're not near any exit, Ma'am. We're at milepost [number]."

"Well then, what's the cross-street?"

Cross-street? We were still thirty-some miles away from Memphis, out in the country. There is no cross-street!

The call ended without the 911 operator ever getting a clue as to where we were. But that's all right, I'm sure that the driver of that U-Haul truck was a good ol' boy and that's all that really matters in the South.

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