Friday, December 5, 2008

More adventures in bureaucracy

Yesterday was one of those Harlan Ellison days, one long experience in "I have no mouth but I must scream" as I suffered through two really long pointless meetings. The Document is coming down to the wire, the absolute drop dead date for anything substantive to get added was last week, on November 26, but minor comments are still trickling in -- and of course no one has the spine to tell any of these people, look, we gave you a deadline, you missed it. Your comment will be cataloged and considered when the Document is updated next year.

The formatting is still a mess, the pagination is not right, and I've got a project manager who thinks it's useful for me to spend endless hours in teleconferences debating whether or not "member states" should be capitalized when used in the phrase "member states of the European Union." She even had the nerve to put someone else on the computer to do the Live Meeting shared screen as we went through the document and to tell me to just "sit and take notes."

I also got to go back and forth with a scientist who wanted to use the phrase "countries with good public health surveillance capability, e.g., the European community, Canada, and Japan." The man has multiple degrees so must have taken an English composition course at some point in his career. He would have an absolute hissy fit if I were to say something like "infectious diseases, e.g., typhoid, influenza, and asbestosis.*" Didn't he ever watch Sesame Street?? One of these things is not like the others! Finally got him to agree to member states . . . and then we wasted another 15 minutes on capitalization. I finally got pushed into saying "You guys can have all the opinions you want on this issue, but if the Large Nameless Agency style guide says it's wrong, I'm going with the style guide. I won't argue science with you, don't argue grammar and punctuation with me." Jaws kind of dropped -- apparently support staff (and that's how the editors are viewed) aren't supposed to either argue or draw lines in the dirt.

Monday is going to be another day in hell -- nothing but meetings from noon to 5 p.m. -- but that should be it. Then I'll have 4 final days to clean up formatting and also clean out my office . . . Friday afternoon the document (or at least my association with it) is done, and the following week I'll be back in my cozy little cubicle dealing with one lead author at a time instead of committees and work groups.

I quite frankly don't understand why we bothered with the teleconferencing to "vet" comments at all. We received very few, and the ones we did get were extremely minor. One or two people suggested slight changes in phrasing, but nothing that altered the overall content or concept. I have, however, learned since arriving at LNA that the organizational culture here consists of endless second-guessing and fretting about minutiae. And there is a definite addiction to holding meeting after meeting to rehash stuff that's been discussed a zillion times before.

*Update/clarification: the first two illnesses are contagious diseases; asbestosis is a noncontagious condition caused by exposure to asbestos.


  1. I won't argue science with you, don't argue grammar and punctuation with me."

    I can hear you saying that like I was in the room.

    Did I ever tell you that you rock?

  2. i think a glass of wine is called for.

  3. You're making me glad I work in a tiny office for a small organization!


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.