Tuesday, February 20, 2007


John Fleck: Flames Backatcha, Pat!

[Just to show how fair and balanced this blogmeister (or -mistress) is:]

The New LANL Blog

Written by John Fleck, Tuesday, 20 February 2007

I don't know who Pat the Dog is. And therein lies a problem.

Back in the day, at the heart of Los Alamos National Laboratory's shutdown troubles, a guy named Doug Roberts, a computer scienctist [sic] at Los Alamos, started a frank and deeply useful blog that became a central gathering place for discussions of the lab's troubles. Among labbies and people like us who follow the lab, it was known simply as "the blog." LANL the Real Story was useful for a lot of reasons. But much of its strength derived from the fact that Roberts signed his name. In the Internet world, signing one's name has value. It creates accountability, makes one more conscious of one's words.

Anonymity in the Internet world, on the other hand, creates what psychologists have dubbed "online disinhibition effect ". The disinhibition - the willingness to say things on line that you would never say to someone's face - exists in Internet communications where one signs one's name. But it is far more likely to show up behind the cloak of anonymity. Anonymity allows one to be vile and stupid with no need to be held accountable later for what one says.

You could see this in Roberts' blog. He was civil, thoughtful, hard-hitting at times, but consistently decent. There was a core of contributors who signed their names. They were great. Anonymous posters in the comments on his blog could be uncivil, vile, and often useless. I used to read Roberts' posts, but I largely skipped the comment threads.

There's a new blog on the scene, focused on the recent Bechtel takeover of Los Alamos management - LANL the Corporate Story. In contrast to Roberts' openness, the new blog is run by "Pat the Dog." Pat, apparently a current lab employee, no doubt has good reasons for withholding his or her identity. But Pat's anonymity has led to rather a surfeit of disinhibition.

A recent cheap shot at the Los Alamos Monitor is a great example. If I knew who Pat the Dog was, I'd be able to have a thoughtful conversation with him or her about the underlying issue of media standards of information gathering and reporting versus blog standards, and why his criticism of Monitor reporter Roger Snodgrass is poorly informed. If Pat had to sign his or her name, he or she might be more circumspect about trashing the integrity and ethics of the Monitor reporter with so little evidence to back up the charge.

There's been some great stuff on the new blog, especially the post last week by John Pedicini, the nuclear weapons designer working on the new Reliable Replacement Warhead. It's worth noting that Pedicini signed his name and stood behind his words. (And John, if you're reading, be sure to invite me to your going away party! [Happy-Face sign]).

But mostly, the new blog has just devolved into a bunch of anonymous complaining and whining . Too bad.


[As for "anonymity," I will remain in that state for the duration--sorry, John. And I think a significantly larger number of people are choosing to remain anonymous when they post to this blog than Doug's, because of the 'atmosfear' at LANL these days under corporate management and intimidation--see, for example, the earlier post on reporting of safety incidents and the pleth of comments thereupon.

Do you think, John, that all these people from group leader on down are just flippin' paranoids? Wackos? Nutcases? Why more so now than even under Nanos' Infamous Shutdown? Oh, yeah, you always get the outspoken types who impolitely raise their hands and ask for simple, straightforward, but embarrassing clarifications from managers (even signing their names to posts or letters to the papers), but there are plenty others at the Lab who should not be held to some inhuman level of perfection you newspaper reporters seem to prefer. (I might just mention the name of one "reporter" for you to think about when you demand perfection of LANL employees: Judith Miller, formerly of the NYT.)

Now, I promise to do a better job in future of keeping in check my distaste for what looks to me like in-house ("pet") reporters, but I will ask you and your colleagues to do more assiduous digging and questioning of the manager class. They have much to answer for, believe me. And my mission is to provide as fair a forum for my fellow workers as I can for holding managers accountable.

(By the way, Doug's blog was accused at times of descending into a swamp of "anonymous complaining and whining." But you expect that from management shills, both inside and outside the institution; it's just part of the "joys" of being a blogger. Have a nice day. -No Happy-Face sign.)

--Pat, who fetches the paper in the mornings]

Interesting commentary, but it seems easy to forget that the original blog was hardly signed and free of anonymity. Unless, of course, there really are folks wandering about the world named "Arcs_N_Sparks", "outside the fence", "good2go", "LarryLivermoreVRIPer", "educatedbeyondmyability", etc. etc. etc. That is hardly credible accountability -- it just means people signed up some disposable accounts and continued posting as before.

I would estimate that some of the vitriol present here today versus on Doug's blog was that at that time, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and some (limited) optimism still existed while the contract was being recompeted. Now we've learned that the light was a train, and I don't think the overal lab attitude is even comparable. People are miserable.
Just for the record, in today's environment at LANL where employees enjoy "at-will" employment status, there is no way I would start a LANL blog in my own name. One of the benefits that employees had at LANL under the UC contract was due process. An employee could be fired for cause, but running a personal blog, on the employees own time was not of itself cause for being fired. This is no longer the situation at LANL.

--Doug Roberts
LANL, Retired
LANL is now run by a nameless and faceless corporate entity, LANS LLC. LANS is comprised of UC, BWXT, Washington Group and Bechtel. UC is present today, much like they have been for the past 60 years as the absentee landlord. BWXT and Washington Group have their hands into just about every DOE site, and Bechtel was trying to build a DOE empire with LANL and NTS (until it lost the NTS contract). They are companies and are only here for the money. They stood to earn $71 million dollars if they can run this place and make all of their performance based incentives (PBI's). Given this security snafu, it will be less.

We should all understand what the PBI will mean for everyone. Your future salary increases will probably be tied to whether or not your successful in achieving your PBI. Whether you can get support from others at the laboratory could depend on if you have a PBI, or if your PBI is worth more than another. The corporation has established priorities based on the PBI. Isn't it odd that the PBI's and the dollar amounts haven't been published? You could be doing great science to benefit manind. Yet it isn't worth anything for the corporation because they want their 10 pits and $8 million dollars.

But more to the point of John Fleck and his posting. There is fear among the rank and file if you comment against the management, which is focused only on the money! I have seen it, and I have heard it from my employees. There was a time in the LANL NewsBulletin where one could post open discussions about good and bad things at the lab. That is gone. The management fails to discuss the bad because they think it is all good. The employees cannot talk about the bad things because they know that a RIF is in the future. There is lots of stress and confusion here. Writing to the blog, even as "anonymous", perhaps reduces that stress because "someone" else might listen, read or comment.

The laboratory has lots of great science going forward every day. The laboratory is doing the work that it has been assigned by the government. Unfortunately, the LANL PR machine isn't trying to comunicate all of the positive aspects of the laboratory. I would like to see more positive elements on the blog, and hope that if others have positive things to contribute that they send them in. Perhaps the press could help us get the good information out.
The first thing that comes to mind, Anonymous 2/21/2007 1:03 PM, is that Mikey told Dingellstupakbarton that morale was IMPROVING at LANL! Now, THAT's a good thing, right? OK, OK, so it's a fabulous lie, but if he says it, that's still a GOOD thing, right?

(Hork! Hork!...HAIRBALL!)

"Isn't it odd that the PBI's and the dollar amounts haven't been published?"

Yeah, let's talk about that. How the he77 am I supposed to be helping management earn their bonuses if they won't tell me what to work on?
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