Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

State Department reduces people to punch cards

Jerry Stratton, January 7, 2011

Two fathers in address book: It’s easy to create two fathers in my address book.

Look! John Smith has two fathers, not a parent unit 1 and parent unit 2.

The State Department seems to be lost in the fifties and punch cards. Faced with some people having two parents of the same gender, they feel the need to reduce us to slots and numbers.

“The words in the old form were ‘mother’ and ‘father,’” said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services. “They are now ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two.’”

The State Department said the new passport applications, not yet available to the public, will be available online soon.

That’s awesome. “Will be available online soon.” Are they providing them only as PDFs? Because computer forms have been able to handle choosing a field title since I started using a computer address book back in the last century. Even PDFs can have pull-down menus.

This “solution” indicates that the State Department is still in the ancient mindset that requires us to reduce everything to a number before they can go on a computer. Every slot is sacrosanct, it has a specific size and purpose and must not be mucked with by people filling out the form! Parent 1 is your first parent. Parent 2 is your second parent. (It looks a whole lot like mothers are being reduced to “parent 2”.)

Choosing father a second time: Address Book on Mac OS X lets you choose field titles.

See, modern computers have this thing called a “pull-down menu”.

One of the first rules of databases is don’t throw out information. This throws out information pointlessly—unless there’s a goal involved to reduce us to cogs with parental units one and two. Bureaucracies hate having to face up to the fact that they deal with real people. This takes us one small step further away from humanity; we don’t have a mother and a father, or a father and a father, or a mother and a mother. We just have parental units.

Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services, says that the old form was “imprecise” for people with two parents of the same gender. If the passport forms need to be updated for modern times, the correct solution is to make it precise for parents of the same gender, rather than making it imprecise for everyone.

I wonder sometimes if State Department officials don’t watch Terry Gilliam movies and think the bureaucrats in them are something to aspire toward.

  1. <- Standing advice
  2. Vicious intimidation ->