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Mons Simplicitatis


[Here’s one from the vaults, dating back to 2007, so the names are somewhat dated, plus some minor edits. The backstory is that year all Illinois state employees were required to take an online ethics test. This still occurs, though I have no idea what the specific format of the exam currently is.]

A response to the mandatory Illinois state employee ethics exam of 2007

I can handle officials like Tony Snow or Roberto Gonzalez staring into a newscamera and cracking a smirk at the absurdity of their own doublespeak. I can handle this occurring while our soldiers are being sniped like sitting ducks, for privately-profitable, publically-subsidized business ventures, defiladed by half-inspired soundbytes about liberty concocted by self-congratulatory frat boys who were too coked to even know ‘Nam was raging. I can handle the fact that we’re forging such bold new ground in government fiscal irresponsibility that economists like GAO chief David Walker say: I know when the reckoning comes it’s going to be horrible, but no nation ever overspent this much and survived through the end of the week before.

But the Illinois state government mandating an employee ethics test is simply too much to endure. The fabric of spacetime itself will not be able to withstand the irony.

It’s like the Matrix is going to implode any second now. A rogue algorithm that none of the human pod-battery people could possibly accept as reality.

The test, mandated for all state employees down to university student-teachers, is online. It requires a security code, because we wouldn’t want prying eyes or anything like governmental transparency to intrude on this, now would we? It’s all in the name of ethics, for goodness sakes. Ethics. Besides, think of all the identity thieves just waiting to pounce on those test results from the SIU Fine Arts adjunct faculty.

The format of the exam is several pages of mini-lessons, followed by multiple choice mini-exams. It all reads like Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady browbeating a Sunday school class for their lack of purity.

You’ve got several paragraphs on, say, not participating in a public opinion poll at work, or not sending an email inviting a fellow employee to attend a political rally. Then the corresponding exam contains a question with a guy named Bill hypothetically engaged in the act just described. One of the four multiple choice answers acknowledges that Bill done broke the rules.

There’s even some sporty graphics throughout the text. Say, a shot of Bill at the water cooler, seemingly inane yet potentially conspiring against the good folk of Illinois. What vast yearning for depravity may lurk in Bill’s darkest heart? Here’s the thing, we’ll make him take this test so we can find out.

Bonus question: Should Bill denounce all violators? Answer: (C)-- Immediately.

Right, because our unending state ethics fiascos are the fault of all those hundreds of IDoT roadcrew workers who relentlessly campaign for their favorite candidate on company time. That’s the real problem. Also thank the Lord that none of my colleagues at the community college has ever, to my knowledge, accepted a gift from a registered lobbyist for the purpose of influencing administrative action, nor filed a petition for or against a referendum while on the clock. How on Earth before they took the exam could they have deduced that such acts would be considered unethical? We should all be thankful they accidentally stumbled onto the righteous path. It’s almost like… now I know this is going to sound crazy… such a law reveals more about the policymakers themselves than the examinees.

Throw some maddeningly trite rhetoric at the issue, shift the focus onto some people who don’t really matter, have the opinioneers fellate the concept, and then go back to business as usual. Nice move.

If only the exam was around in time to expose the soul of former governor George Ryan. Of course, he accumulated eighteen racketeering, fraud, and conspiracy charges, collected them like baseball cards. Think of all the legal fees he could have avoided. Oh wait, my bad, he was represented pro bono by a nationally-known law firm chaired by another former governor. But maybe he would have been tripped up by one of the test questions, maybe the seemingly straightforward one which asks, Is Bill allowed to accept random bribes throughout the course of his workday? Ryan would have missed that one and we would have had him then, you see. How well he hid his lust for sin behind that innocent face, almost cherublike, as if your grandfather was built from marshmellows. If only we had the exam then, we would have known.

This whole thing is as kinked as a pig’s tail, outpacing even grandmaster Bill O’Reilley when it comes to twisted logic that loops back on itself like a Mobius strip and leaves you with a headache. Plus it’s got the added bonus, for state employees, of the implied insult. Big Brother needs to keep you misbehavin young’uns on a short leash. You, you the ISU biologist, you could be the next Dan Rostenkowski. Is it ethical for Bill to make up imaginary people and then pay them out of the state coffers?

The frosting on this cake, the masterstroke of this magnum opus, is the reprimand received by state employees who completed the test too quickly.

The test was time monitored, you see. Aha! A vague warning in the directions alluded to this. Even those who scored one hundred percent yet failed to devote the approved amount of time, received a letter last month from state Executive Inspector General [name redacted]. If the exam itself wasn’t enough to make you cringe, the rhetoric contained in this letter would bring a soldierly nod of respect from Big Brother himself. Joseph Goebbels, announcing to Berliners that the Sixth Armee had, in fact, successfully taken Stalingrad, would pause at his mic and go, “Goddamn!” in wide-eyed reverence of the high-grade purity of this bullshit:

“Contrary to instructions,” the letter states, “you appear to have failed to carefully read and review the subject matter contained in the program’s Introduction [sic] and three Lessons [sic] […] Your Certificate of Completion and record of compliance have therefore been invalidated.”

What could possibly be more democratic than following directions for the sake of following directions? It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong, it’s that you appear to have read the material too fast. Maybe you even skipped a paragraph here or there, and that, you who thought you could put one over on The System, was your fatal flaw. You thoughtcriminal.

Or worse yet, what if, harkening back to those agonizing minutes spent online, you were scheming to, say, not “cooperate with […] any investigation”? In which case, you are actually guilty of pre-crime. Ethics triumph once again. Now our nation’s breadbasket rests as untainted as the vast prairie itself. What could be more ethical than trumping the Fifth Amendment? Constitutional guarantees are nice and all, but not if you want to keep feeding your kids on a state salary, Bill.

Being reprimanded for thoughtcrime by a state government that in recent memory has had three governors convicted [now four] is simply awesome. These are convictions, mind you, in a system notorious for overlooking all but the most unspeakably heinous, James Bond supervillain-esque breaches of the public trust. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever come up with a good estimate of how many public dollars were lost to these guys, because deals were cut and because the number is simply too high. Calculators start smoldering.

Yet the deepest wound delivered in the above reprimand letter quotation is the loss of the Certificate of Completion. That’s a piece of paper one could frame, stick on a wall, or even take to your neighborhood Party cell meeting.

The letter concludes, “You must complete the enclosed [second] ethics training program and return its Certification [sic] form […] bearing your signature, to your Ethics Officer no later than February 23[…] Your failure to complete this additional training on a timely basis, as well as any future failure to properly comply with this annual training requirement, will result in disciplinary action, up to [and] including termination of state employment”.

What if there’s a conflict of opinion between your Ethics Officer and your section Political Commissar? Would such a case then be adjudicated by the Illinois state Ministry of Truth? With such clear, specific parameters as failing to “properly comply” with the annual training, how on Earth could such a policy be willfully ripe for abuse, or be considered more ideological blackmail than honest corrective action?

In some perverse way, you’ve got to tip your hat to a public official with the hubris to so breezily threaten another man’s livelihood. Pol Pot could have used a few good hands like [redacted], unencumbered by a gag reflex, to put a happy face on the re-education centers, or the plastic baggy game at the Killing Fields. Golly gee, Bill, contrary to instructions, you appear to have failed to carefully read and review the subject matter contained in the pogrom’s Introduction and three Lessons. We just want you to be ethical. Please follow the accompanying firm-looking, jackbooted fellow to picturesque Choeung Ek for a surprise…

Interesting that the office of the Executive Inspector General maintains the authority on a dynamic issue like ethics, but yet not on the appropriate capitalization of the English language. Or perhaps the “program’s Introduction and Lessons” and the disciplinary “Certification” are capitalized on purpose, to be held in the same regard as national landmarks, Congress, and God?

I’ve never even come close to meeting [redacted]. Such people seldom, if ever, visit my world. Yet I can tell you what sort of man he is. In order to sign his name to a letter like this, he must’ve decided long ago that he’d suck every advantageous [redacted] dongled in front of him for his own bigger slice of the pie. No self-serving lie is too dishonorable or brazen to inflict upon the same proles he is ostensibly there to champion. He is a man confident of the fact that the full resources of the state police stand deployed to intercept anybody straightforward enough to march into his office and call him out on being such an ignoble goon with less shame than God gave a sewer rat. Right, [redacted], I know you didn’t enact the law, but like the problem is even close to being at my end of this organization.

But what does [redacted] or the legislature care? They know that they are going to pirouette through the rest of their lives, safely snug in the loving arms of the richest five percent of the state. Plus now they've all got this line to add to their résumés: EnforCed the governor’s coMprehenSive initiative on eThical rEform.

To be honest, the exam itself isn’t even the creepiest part. It’s how lots of certainly well-intentioned people seem to have drunk the Kool Aide. Just think of all those administrators, local Ethics Officers, at every Illinois school district who are playing along, people who you figure have read 1984 or Catch-22 or Kant or a book about somebody in a fanciful foreign land getting creeped out by their governments’ despotic rhetoric and fleeing here.

Another example: the Illinois Campaign Reform Coalition - a coalition of groups like Citizen Action Illinois and the League of Woman Voters of Illinois - hailed the 2003 State Ethics Act as “striking for its breadth. It propels Illinois from being one of the least regulated states in the nation into the forefront of ethics reform. The legislation institutes a comprehensive system of ethical mandates…” (www.illinoispirg.org).

“Comprehensive” means the same thing in Chicago as it does downstate, right? How comprehensive can it be when Dennis Hastert clearly missed the question, Is it ethical for Bill to pretend he doesn’t know his colleague is trying to fuck an underage aide? This means, according to Jim’s own rigorous numbers, that somebody who has taken repeated impacts to the head (Let’s not name names) took the entire exam in 5.18 minutes and scored better, or would have scored better, than the Speaker of the House?!

One wonders, what comes next in this game of policymakers being absolutely clueless as to the appropriate place of government in a free society? Next thing you know, utility corporations could be allowed to write environmental regulations in the face of looming global environmental calamity. The FCC could prove itself more than willing to turn over the peoples’ airwaves to media concerns who wish a stranglehold on all the TV and radio stations in your hometown. Government prisons could be established outside the reach of full legal redress where people can be sent just because. Whoops, we got all those things already.

Good thing one can always count on Vichies like [redacted] to add a pretense of legitimacy to such endeavors. He isn’t the sort of guy who just reports his neighbors to the Einsatzgruppen, he poses on his balcony afterwards and waits for the thugs to arrive so he can chastise the doomed with relish as they’re stuffed in the truck.

The likes of George Washington would burst into tears at the current ethical wasteland that is American politics. All the effort, all the sacrifice, all the miraculous victories, it couldn’t all be destined to end up in a boundless kleptocracy, could it? The Founding Fathers likely just held it a priori that the population at large would’ve stopped paying half their income for the privilege of being forcefed pigshit like this state ethics test a long time ago. They never counted on the fact that the people – maybe even responding to some instinctual drive to preserve their own young – wouldn’t have the good sense to bust out the pitchforks and torches and take them to all the hypocrites, to scalpel them out of positions of leadership like the cancer they are.

Would I best serve my students by having them brush up on their Newspeak? Ignorance is Strength. War is Peace. That truncheon against your melon means freedom is on the march. After all, it’s a doubleplusgood Liberty Truncheon ™.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was one of these enormous Army battalion-level training events in the Southwest. Some kid in one of the other vehicles had plastered these centerfold pics behind clear plastic throughout the troop compartment of his Stryker. It was real slick. When you walked up the ramp, it sort of felt like that promised garden of the Koran. A civilian reporter came along, saw it, then complained to the colonel. The crew of that vehicle could have been days away from death, for all that reporter knew. That woman is America, tirelessly campaigning to recalibrate the thoughts of others, so brilliant she can’t even see the forest for the trees, and zealously believing this passes for something close to a meaningful solution to anything.

[Redacted], I’m sick to death of being shoved around by honor black holes like you. Your letter reads like you’re the spoiled rich kid who’s been ordering housekeepers around for so long, he’s convinced himself that having daddy hand him success is the same thing as success. Like Chimpy [Bush], you have that not just self-serving, but aggressively self-serving vibe going on. You won’t even do me the common courtesy as a man to not let your petty machinations spill over into my life.

And fuck you, Illinois legislature. How dare you.

[The especially hilarious thing is then-governor Rod Blagojevich was later arrested for corruption charges, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery, in December 2008. At his retrial in June 2011, he was convicted of 17 of 20 counts, including extortion and the charges relating to attempting to sell then-President-elect Obama's senate seat. Is it ethical for Bill to use the state government as a personal ATM?

Illinois isn’t so much of a US state as it is a Second World junta. The difference being, a Second World junta has less governors see the inside of a cell.]
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