Sunday, March 21, 2010

The 2010 Census - Don't Try This At Home, These Are Professionals - 3/21/2010

Those of you who have followed my blog may remember that last July I was fired from a job that I really enjoyed because of the contents of my postings. If those innocuous words resulted in my dismissal, I probably can expect another pink slip from this entry.

I decided to work for the 2010 Census for several reasons. The first being that since I have not been able to find a suitable permanent position in today’s unfavorable job market, I thought that a little cash from temporary employment would come in handy. Also, I believe in the census. I think an accurate count of South Carolina’s population can only benefit the state in getting our slice of the federal government pie: representatives, electoral votes, funding, etc. In the 2000 Census, South Carolina, in particular Horry County, which I reside in, ranked nationally among the bottom as far as participation and accuracy of the count. As a result, we lost out in many different ways. I believed I could contribute to precision in my little way. Everyone who knows me knows that I am nothing if not exacting and detail oriented. Sometimes anally so.

There are a lot of people, including friends of mine, who are against the census. Although I do not understand their reluctance and fear, I respect their position. I have already completed and submitted my own census and found nothing in the 10 question form that would give me any reason for consternation. The most personal question was my age, and I think the government pretty much knows that anyway. I don’t think “Big Brother’s” knowledge of whether I own or rent my home is going to be used against me or create a Branch Dividian situation at my condo. There are a lot of problems I have with our government, but I would rather choose my battles and “rage against the machine” on more important issues. If I thought the census invaded my privacy in an important way, I would not participate, and certainly not work as an enumerator. That is what my position is called.

That being said, I have some serious reservations about how the 2010 Census is being managed and the potential for accuracy. The cost of the census has been estimated at 15 billion dollars. Let, me repeat that, 15 billion dollars, with a “B”. Though I have only a very micro view of this process, I believe that what I see in my little corner of the operation indicates how poorly it is run overall. I doubt we are the exception as much as the rule.

I took a multiple-guess test back in December. There were 28 questions and the score required for employment consideration was 10. The test was laughably easy and I had a perfect score, as I assume everyone with a full complement of brain cells did. The minimal requirements should have immediately alarmed me as to the expectations of the census. I believed it was more revealing as to the quality of people in the applicant pool. Though, I also realized that the chance of accuracy was greatly diminished.

I did not know how bad things were going to be until my first day of the four day training program. My supervisor conducted the training, which consisted primarily of him reading verbatim from the 2010 Census manual. This would not have been so bad except for the fact that this individual could not read, had absolutely no vocabulary, nor any knowledge whatsoever of the job we were being trained to do. His obvious dyslexia manifested itself whenever any sequence of numbers was provided to us. They were, without exception scrambled. It was the most brutal four days I have ever experienced. I do not know what the requirements were for the position of supervisor, but I am certain it did not include an interview of any sort. I am convinced that the same process was used as is used by our legal system to select jurors: Finding the absolute dimmest, most obtuse, people from the available pool. Here is a recording of a portion of one of the training sessions. Imagine four days of that.

Another obstacle to learning the job was that many of the materials that we would be working with were not available during the training program, so a lot of the instruction was conducted hypothetically, without the opportunity for practical, hands-on, applications. This included visual aids that the manual often referred to. I am at the higher end of the enumerator hires and I am struggling with some of the massive paperwork. I can only imagine what the 10 of 28 people will turn in.

There are 14 people on my “enumerator crew.” Make that 13, one guy washed out during training. Evidently, it was decided that one supervisor could not adequately administer that large of a workforce. As a result, there are two crew leaders underneath the supervisor, each responsible for half of us. I am sure that there was some head-scratching to find half of 13. This means that there is a completely unnecessary level of supervision in every crew, and there are hundreds of crews just in South Carolina. Who knows how many levels of management there are above us that also serve no function?

Because the supervisor had not been adequately trained or evaluated for competency, we ended up filling out all of the required employment paperwork many times. Not only wasting many man-hours but forests of paper. The supervision team was also responsible for fingerprinting all of us. To date I have been fingerprinted three times, with no assurance that a usable set of my dactylograms has been obtained. I will not be surprised to find out tomorrow that I need to ink up again. The police have more success printing uncooperative suspects than these guys have had with me.

My crew leader’s final instruction prior to our first day of enumerating was “don’t work too fast; we want to make this job last for a while.” He is a true bureaucrat. Sucking off the government teat. Your tax dollars at work. Anyone who knows me also knows that I am not capable of giving less than my best effort. But in spite of my participation, there is no chance in hell that the Horry County 2010 Census is going to provide an accurate/timely count.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mr UnFix It - 3/14/2010

As has been chronicled in past postings, my dad had the ability to fix anything. He never used the services of any sort of repairman in his life. He could function as a plumber, electrician, auto mechanic, or carpenter; whatever was required. He was not simply a blue collar guy. The two major occupations of his life were miner and tobacco picker. I like to say that he was a “black and blue” collar worker.

Dad, though small of stature, was extremely powerful from a life of hard work. I remember his hands were as rough as 60 grit sandpaper and his grip was as strong as a vice. I, on the other hand, cannot fix anything. It is actually worse than that. If I fix something it ends up unfixed to the point of being in worse condition than it was before I began the project. Though I can muster a pretty strong grip (shut up Mike), my hands are as smooth as those of a 12 year old girl. My dad did not want to teach me any practical skills. His intention was that I earn enough money to get some guy like him to fix stuff for me. He didn't want me to learn to work on cars because he said that as soon as a boy starts tinkering with cars that is all he will ever do. Dad had no idea what an underachiever and poor earner I would end up being and that a little practical knowledge might save me from myself. I provide that back story as a preamble to the following anecdotes of my exploits as a handyman.

Some time ago, I posted a story about the wonderful work I did on the cassette deck in my vehicle, so the following accounts will not surprise anyone who follows my escapades. Because I have absolutely no tradesman skills, there is no reason to own any decent tools. I have a couple of screwdrivers, a partial set of sockets/wrenches, and a hammer. I have some sort of learning disability that prevents me from being able to follow written directions and my lack of patience is legendary. Those conditions are a recipe for disaster which I will share with you now.

My first new car was a 1972 Gremlin-X. For those too young to be familiar with the AMC Gremlin, it is widely regarded as the worst automobile ever manufactured. And that includes some Eastern European Cold War cars made from expended shell casings and scrap metal. I was an airman in the Air Force with a wife and child. I could barely afford the $36.00 per month car payment and a $5.00 tank of gas, let alone any repair/maintenance. I don’t remember having car insurance. It must not have been as big a deal in those days. Well, as soon as the warranty expired, the car began to self-destruct. I was living in Tucson, too far from my dad for him to redneck engineer it into working order. I was on my own.

It totally stopped running once and a guy looked at it and said it was the carburetor. I went to the parts department and was told that a new carb would run me about $75 but I could buy a rebuild kit for $2.99 that would allow me to repair the one I had. He said it comes with simple directions and anyone can do it in about an hour. He had obviously not seen me in action. Anyway, since I had only about $5.00 in my pocket at any given time, I opted for the DIY undertaking.

I went home, removed the carburetor from the car, sat down at the kitchen table, and commenced the rebuild. Eighteen hours later, I had “finished” the job. I held it up proudly to my wife and she commented that there were some parts left over on the table. There was a spring, a couple of metal screws, and a rubber gasket. I determined that they must have given me some spare parts in case I lost something. I tossed them into the trash and proudly took my expert workmanship outside and bolted it onto the car. I turned the key, pumped the gas pedal, and the car “fired up”. I use those words because when I started the car a flame shot straight up into the air. I don’t mean that a spark was emitted. It was an open flame, a blaze, an inferno. When I shut off the engine, the fire immediately receded. I can’t remember how I obtained the money, but I paid for and had a new carburetor installed.

Unfortunately, that was not my worst or most embarrassing handyman effort. That would come several years later. I bought my daughter, Carly, a new bike when she was about eight or nine. It was a Strawberry Shortcake bike, all the rage for girls of her age. The challenge was that it came in a box, unassembled. The box indicated that assembly should take about an hour and only required a couple of general tools, which I actually owned. I sat down in the middle of the living room floor and began assembly. After a few hours, Carly had actually given up ever getting to ride her bike. Heartbroken, she watched from a distance as questions about my progress were met with increased anger and frustration, and words no child should have to hear, let alone in reference to Strawberry Shortcake.

Eighteen hours later I stood back and admired my work. It actually looked somewhat like the picture on the box. The final touches were inserting the streamers into the handlebar grips and adjusting the seat for maximum comfort. Then it was time for a test ride. She was overjoyed that, finally, her new bike was ready to ride. Swelling with pride, we took the bike outside. She got on and attempted to pedal off for her first ride. She said that it was “kind of” hard to pedal. There was also a horrible squeak every time she tried. I figured it just needed some WD-40 (a non-mechanics answer to everything). That remedy did not work; neither did my many attempts to make adjustments to try to ease the pedaling.

Though, she loved that beautiful bike, she was never able to pedal it the way a normal bike should be propelled. For the life of the bike, it was nearly impossible to pedal and always made a sound that people could hear blocks away. But poor Carly kept trying, hoping that someday her bike would heal itself. It never did, nor did her dad ever make it better. I had other people try to fix it and evidently my assembly damaged it beyond repair. Ever the optimist, Carly would just push it along or coast it downhill, trying to get maximum enjoyment out of her crappy bike. It was the saddest bike ever. It was so hard to watch her ride it a few feet at a time. Homeless kids that got their bikes from dumpsters had more fun than Carly did. Luckily, she eventually outgrew it.

I only wish that these stories were exaggerated.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why I should not be on a party planning committee - 3/10/10

I have intended to tell this story for quite some time but was afraid of outraging my readers. Since I have apparently alienated the majority of my readership with far less offensive postings, I have elected to proceed. The handful of people who regularly peruse my blog know me well enough to realize I totally lack decorum. This article will contain full-frontal female nudity which is germane in the telling of this account. It could be argued that the photos are not crucial to the narrative, but it is my tale. So, at this point I will warn anyone who has stumbled on this blog that is offended by female nudity to stop reading now (if you haven’t already).

I was the superintendent of the manpower office at RAF Mildenhall, England. Superintendent essentially means I was the highest ranking enlisted member in the office. In that capacity, I was entrusted to be a role model and set a professional example for the more junior staff. I believe I performed that function admirably while in uniform. Off-duty, I was not necessarily a paragon of propriety (and for the past 18 years I have been off-duty). It has been said that the difference between the Boy Scouts and the Military is that the Scouts have adult supervision. After 20 years of service, I have no evidence to the contrary.

In 1991, one of my subordinates, Mark Davenport, was transferring to a CONUS assignment. Military units traditionally honor a departing coworker with a going away party. Often this soiree is tailored to the personality of the guest of honor. For instance, a party animal would rate a real Bacchanalia. It is also important to embarrass the honoree if at all possible. Mark was a very shy computer geek back when PCs were not advanced enough to support geekdom. He was not a drinker. Planning a party for him that would not suck for the rest of us was a challenge. The party committee, which consisted of me and a young Second Lieutenant, recently commissioned from Purdue (who shall remain nameless in case he is now a General), determined that it might be funny to get Mark a stripper gram. This was all the rage in England in 1991 and very benign. A frat guy and a debauchee should probably not have been entrusted to plan this shindig, but it seemed innocent enough. The other office weenies agreed and chipped in. We reserved a room in a local pub and it was on like Donkey Kong (though it was still just an arcade game then).

The party was going well and we were all having a few beers and giving Mark his going away gifts, plaques, certificates, etc. As well as the usual suspects from my office, my two teenage sons were also in attendance. As the drinking age in England is highly negotiable, they were enjoying some warm beer as well. Then, it happened. The young lady who the agency sent us showed up, right on time. She had with her a small boom box, which she turned on and began to dance, gyrate, and remove her clothes. But something went terribly wrong. She, with Mark’s assistance, removed ALL of her clothes and began to mount and ride Mark like Red Pollard on Seabiscuit. Our innocuous lingerie show turned X-rated right before our saucer-eyes.

It seemed that the agency had sent us the girl that was scheduled for a private bachelor party, the organizers of which had requested a much more personal service than we had chartered. Those groomsmen were probably a lot more disappointed than we were. We noticed the error quite early in her performance, but no one brought it to her attention.

If you look at the very first photo in the array, you will see that Mark had removed his outer shirt and was drenched in sweat. This photo was taken after the artist had departed and the guests that were revolted had bolted.

The only downside to the evening was that just outside of our room (which was less private than you would think) was a meeting of a ladies group dining after Bible study at the base chapel. The only person they recognized and acknowledged was, you guessed it, the Lieutenant. Come to think of it, he is probably not a General now. One of the ladies’ group happened to be the Wing Commander’s wife. He may still be a Lieutenant.