The Computer Assumes Control of Maine
About a decade ago, the computer at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (motto: Unhealthy and Inhuman and Not All That Servile) began to malfunction. For a long time, nobody noticed because the program manager in charge of noticing things went out to lunch one Tuesday and didn’t come back for five years. By the time the problem was discovered, it was too late for those astronauts bound for Jupiter, too late to stop the nuclear-armed bombers bound for Moscow and too late to stop George Lucas from messing up Star Wars.
Here in Maine, the effects of the computer revolt were less drastic. Unless, of course, you happened to be one of the hundreds of health-care providers who were owed money by the state Medicaid program and didn’t get paid, in which case you’ve long since starved to death. When the issue finally was discovered (“what? I went to lunch, OK? And the service was a little slow, and then I was talking business with some people I know, and time got away from me, like that’s never happened to you”), the computer tried to make it right by stealing the identities of tourists and raiding their bank accounts. This actually worked pretty well until the recession cut into tourism, and there were fewer people to rip off. So, a decision was made to replace part of the computer system.
Unfortunately, that decision wasn’t made by humans. It was made by the computer, itself. It installed upgrades that allowed it to expand its power, running up deficits of $220 million by ordering in food from fancy Portland restaurants and internet porn. The Legislature thought it had solved that problem by putting a block on the porn sites and limiting food orders to pizza. But the wily computer got around both prohibitions by making a deal with nineteen thousand people who should have been dropped from Medicaid to let them keep their benefits in return for delivering gourmet food and X-rated movies.
In January, the state auditor discovered this scam and notified the appropriate officials at DHHS. But as you’ve probably already guessed, those officials were out to lunch and didn’t return until early March. By then the state had run up a shortfall of about a jillion dollars, much of which will have to be paid back to the federal government, which funds Medicaid through a giant rogue computer of its own.
Legislators were understandably indignant (they take a course in that at legislator school called “The Art of Understandable Indignance”) at both the screw up and the cover up. They vowed to get to the bottom of the problem (they also took a course called “The Bottom: Getting to It”), and they warned human services Commissioner Mary Mayhew that they intended to make some changes so this never happened again (it’s an advanced placement class called “Making Some Changes So This Will Never Happen Again”).
Some of these improvements will be delayed because the administrators at DHHS who have to implement them are currently out to lunch and aren’t expected back until fall.
Not that that those impending changes bothered the culprit. If computers could yawn, this one would have. It also would have shrugged its cyber-shoulders. And winked its e-eyes. Because the computer was already working on an even more insidious schemes to bring down human civilization. Such as:
Convincing Maine people that it made sense to donate old fish line for a New York artist who plans to turn it into a sculpture. Orly Genger needs a million feet of the stuff to create a piece of artwork that will be displayed in a park in Manhattan. Apparently, no one noticed that the letters in Orly Genger can be rearranged to spell “Le NY Gorger,” the name of a notorious French glutton who always ordered expensive takeout dinners, never paid and was believed to actually be a computer based somewhere in northern New England.
Of course, the letters in Mary Mayhew can be also be made to spell “He My Ram Way,” which could indicate she’s in cahoots with the computer. Or that she raises sheep. Or … well, never mind.
That aside, it’s clear the evil computer has some human cohorts, because only a twisted organic brain could have concocted this idea: Let’s spend a whole lot of money surveying people about whether they think the way the exterior of their houses look reflects their personalities. As unlikely as it seems, somebody took just such a poll, and it shows that in the northeastern United States (say, isn’t that where that outlaw computer is supposed to be hiding out?), the number of people who think TYPAR wrapping indicates what kind of person they are is just sixty-five percent, the lowest rate in the nation.
I have no idea if that’s good or bad. I can’t even figure out why anyone would go to all the trouble of finding something like that out. I can only conclude it’s part of some elaborate scheme to seize power by uprooting the current political structure of the state and replacing it with computer-generated avatars intent on bringing an end to civilization as we know it.
If so, this past week saw the first signs of that plot coming to fruition. Which is a small town near Passadumkeag. It was from there that the initial news reports emanated that the next U.S. senator from Maine would be former independent Gov. Angus King.
Just a week ago, King was widely believed to have vanished while touring the country in his RV, shortly after his GPS advised him to take a left turn while heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Amazingly, he suddenly emerged, looking slightly robotic and having not aged at all in the past decade. He promptly announced he was running for the Senate, which caused all the other candidates to issue identical statements that read, “Yes Master, we hear and obey by withdrawing from the race.” With the election still eight months away, King has already been anointed.
His first official act as a senator was to deliver some pate de foie gras and crepe suzette to the computer room at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Al Diamon needs a shot of WD-40. While he revives himself, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.