Stupid Mistake Week

This past Sunday, I found myself revisiting an old habit from high school days, in that I was watching TV while doing homework.  I was watching Ax Men on the History Channel, seeking relief from the inanities of my life in a world where people know what they’re doing.  Alas, not this week: it seemed that all of the drama turned on someone’s stupid mistake, or an old hand’s inability to adapt to changed circumstances.

Monday was not a good day at the office.  A few weeks ago, I sent reviewed and sent out a passel of about 150 drawings.  Monday one of them came back because it was missing a date.  An instruction manual also came back, disapproved by the client.  I had drawn an illustration with colored arrows to illustrate signal flows, then used other arrows in the same colors to point out devices in the illustration.  It also gave the client the opportunity to do a hunting and fishing expedition through the rest of the document, which they were previously happy with.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

This morning, the two New York tabloids, which normally try to outdo each other with witty headlines, ran the exact same headline for the same story:

Meat the Wife

This morning I got a message from a client on another project that a large group of drawings were rejected, and many of them will have to be updated.  I didn’t prepare these drawings, so it’s not an immediate crisis for me, but it’s the latest in a long line of oopsies on that project.

This afternoon, my telephone rang with a call from the trenches: more glitches to be fixed.  And while I can say ‘I didn’t do it’ in this case, I’ve still gotta fix it.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the horror show continues.  A year and a half ago, to resolve the budget crisis of the week, the parties agreed that if they were not able to reach agreement on how to at least move things a little closer to balance, there would be automatic spending cuts (the ‘sequester’) eighteen months hence, i.e. this Friday.

And now both sides are moaning and wailing about how the sequester is a bad idea.  It’ll cut teachers!  It’ll weaken our defense!  It’ll be the end of the world as we know it!

In reality, if you consider that entitlements and debt service are sacrosanct, you end up with about a 10% cut of everything else.  Yes, it’s painful, but hardly the end of the world.  But it is another example of how we have been overrun with stupid mistakes.

And it’s only Tuesday….

11 thoughts on “Stupid Mistake Week”

  1. <p><p><p>Actually, they should have put a colon ( I mean the punctuation mark, not a real colon) after the word MEAT in the headline. As for your mistakes: you should study all of your mistakes up till now, and develop a protocol, so you can avoid repeating the same mistakes and instead experience new ones in the future :-). I think doing this is called the Deming(?) Method of Constant Quality Improvement. Do not feel bad, though, at least you are not the literal, and now figurative (a figure of ridicule, in fact) Yahoo! CEO. Her actions on telecommuting make her the Queen of yahoos, at Yahoo! :-). Some people think she got the job there because she is competent. No, she was never competent, just lucky. ‘She was born on third base, and thinks she hit a triple.’ People like her have never run a real company, and now she screws up and everyone is just shocked! This is just like all of us here have been saying: People get jobs because of who they are, and not due to being competent. In The Atlantic Monthly, from a few months back, is an article ( I have yet to read) explaining why the US Army has so many incompetent officers. I think anyone can read it online for free. I encourage everyone here to do so.</p></p></p>

  2. You KNOW that the little guy is going to be the one who winds up getting it in the pooper, as USUAL, whenever it comes to budget cuts. Nothing new here.

  3. One reason that the Army has so many incompetent officers is that nearly all (97%+) of the eligible captains made major since about 2003. Normally 18-20% are culled out at that point. There’s going to be an ugly drawdown within a few years. Chuck Hagel is slated to preside over a declining defense budget for the first time in well over a decade.

    I’m half expecting Congress to punt and not do the sequester. If they push it off for another two months. as is being discussed, it becomes hard to do this year. I also expect all unobligated funds to be pulled back. A 10% cut at this point of the year is a 20% cut for the rest of the year, but this ignores money that has been put on contract already that would trigger damages to contractors if the contract was cancelled or the contractor isn’t willing to give the government a no-cost extension to the contract. There’s also a requirement for 30 days of notice to federal employees, and more notice than that to contractors (WARN Act). I don’t mind being furloughed, but I’d like to pick when and how. I work 4 10-hour days. I’d prefer to take 2 hours of vacation time and 8 hours of furlough time and have a 4-day weekend every week than go back to an 8-hour day. 22 non-continuous days is the longest amount of time that a federal employee can be furloughed without it being considered an adverse personnel action.

    A reason to pick the furlough time now is because the next federal holiday is Memorial Day, and it gives the illusion that things will be fixed by then. I’ve been reading that one has to work the day before and the day after the holiday when furloughs are in effect in order to get paid for the holiday. That seems strange to me, because if you have a Monday holiday, that forces the furlough day to Wednesday or Thursday.

  4. Madness, I’m a little confused by your first remark. When an organization gets busy, it promotes people before their time to keep the numbers up. Yes, there will be an ugly drawdown as the Afghanistan war winds down, but that’s a separate issue from our budget problems, or our overall trend toward stupidity.

    The 10% figure is my very rough calculation, taking the amount of the proposed cuts vs. discretionary spending. It’s actually a bit less than that. The conservative press uses the figure 2.4%, comparing the cuts to all Federal spending. Since the sequester is taking place in the middle of the Federal fiscal year, the government would have to make a half-years worth of cuts, so the figure does not double as you proposed.

    You’re quite right that spending cuts could trigger penalties when contracts are cancelled. They can also cause costs for entitlements to rise, as people become unemployed, go on food stamps, or elect to retire early. So to deliver, say, an overall cut in spending of 10%, discretionary spending might have to be cut, say, 12-15%. Still not the end of the world.

    A responsible government would prioritize the cuts to do the least damage, and present their plan calmly to the American people. But the last President who tried to do that was Jimmy Carter.

  5. Here’s the thing Obama wants to increase funding for things that don’t help us and may hurt us. I posted it in another thread but Obama wants to increase funding so those in Indonesia can get master degrees. Hey idiot worry about Americans not other countries.

  6. The Federal government spends piles of money on really stupid things. But all of them have constituencies that supported them, and will yowl in pain if they are cut. Whether they are any good for the country at large is, of course, beside the point.

  7. Retention was a big problem for the Army over the last decade or so, leading to lowering of enlistment and retention standards. I think that one could enlist in the Army through the age of 42, four years older than in the past.

    Typically, the military increases its staff in time of war, and then lays off those people, much like any other company. The first step is to take volunteers in the reserves to active duty, then to activate the reserves. Increased recruitment efforts will accompany the activation of the reserves. If the Army isn’t getting the people that it needs, it will retain the people that they have, even when their enlistment contracts or other service obligation is over. The result is that marginal soldiers will be retained.

    I know the most about the officer corps selection rates. Historical rates are that about 99% of eligible second lieutenants make first lieutenant, 95% of first lieutenants make captain, and 80-85% of captains make major. We had about ten years where nearly everyone who stayed in the Army got promoted, so marginal officers were not encouraged to resign. Ratings are also inflated. If one does not have the “picket fence” (all ones, the highest rating), it was and is viewed as something that would hurt their career, and poor officers were often transferred rather than encouraged to resign.

    Think of it as “social promotion” for the military.

  8. I believe that all government agencies will seek “no-cost extensions” where the period of performance is extended rather than cancel contracts that have been awarded. The cost of termination for convenience is simply too great. This would have the effect of slowing down work on the contract, and people who might be hired won’t be hired. The contractor who operates the chemical plant where I work is in the middle of a hiring ramp, and the second increment of hiring could be at risk due to budget problems.

    Contracts that have not yet been awarded will be postponed. Just because the government puts out a request for proposals does not obligate the government to make an award.

  9. Madness, it’s hard to imagine now but when I went in the navy (1989)it was somewhat hard to enlist, especially if you were a woman. Back then I remember I had to score very high on the ASVAB and had to have my diploma before I enlisted. Also, you had to be in amazing shape and they gave me a list of things I needed to know before going and I had to stay in shape. When I got to boot several of my shipmates were sent home immediately because they were overweight, others sent home because they couldn’t swim and others for other reasons. In fact I heard that things that automatically got you sent home then wouldn’t now and partly because of the need for people for wars. You also had to be under 35 and one of my shipmates was sent home because she was 34 when enlisted but 35 when she got to boot. I was sent home because of bad ankles and more than likely the beginning of arthritis.

    Now from what I know about those serving (and I know a lot of current military being involved in the American Legion)is that in many cases the weight and age standards have relaxed, especially in the army. Sometimes I watch training videos online and the people in the videos are much larger than people I know sent home when I was in. In the navy one especially the one officer says they relaxed PT because so many enlistees are overweight.

  10. Military recruitment stanadrds are changed with the needs of the military. Talk to someone who was in the military during Vietnam at your American Legion post. No doubt that they can tell you stories about how enlistment standards or what it took to be exempted or deferred from military service changed even in a period of a feww months.

    One of the decisions made after Vietnam was to have a larger number of reservists who could be activated. This tended to keep down the number of enlistees required. I’ve long said that we are getting serious about going to war when the Army activates the graves registration specialists, all of whom are in the reserves. They handle getting people who are killed back to their families, although it is common to escort the body of the fallen with a member of his service branch of the same rankk or higher.

    Afghanistan is called “the graveyard of empires” for a good reason: it’s a hard place to fight because of the difficulty of resupply.. I went to a conference about 8 years ago where I heard the commander of Fort Leonard Wood talk about how the way that we fight wars has to change from the open and rolling terrain of the Fulda Gap in Germany to complex urban terrain. We no longer have the luxury of sending tank battalions to fight, and my opinion is that Special Operations will have a much heavier influence in doctrine in coming decades.

    Which service branch you pick also matters. All else equal, the Army probably has the largest “end strength” (the number of people allowed to be employed as a service member at the end of the fiscal year), followed by the Air Force. The Navy and Marines are a good bit smaller. Once the dream of a 600-ship Navy died in 1986 or so, military planners had to adjust accordingly, whcih probably increased the difficulty of enlisting. because the Navy anticipated needing fewer people to replace those who would leave through resignation or retirement.

  11. My dad was in the army during Vietnam (though not in Vietnam like his friends)and he told me many stories on how troublemakers often had the choice between army and prison. When I went in if you had any criminal record you were automatically discharged. I’ve heard once again they are relaxing standards again because it looks like Afghanistan is going to be happening many years and so are other potential wars. In fact my brother is a doctor in the army and is going there next year which tells me it will happen for many years.

    From becoming involved in the Legion I have heard many stories about war and some of the stories are so horrific, like killing people at random. Many of those coming home suffer from PTSD and it’ll get worse.

    While watching a navy boot camp video on YouTube (I am fascinated by these maybe because it is my history)and they have new things that didn’t happen when I was in boot, like remedial classes for those who can’t pass the classes. When I was in if you couldn’t pass the classes you were sent home, they didn’t cater to you. Same thing with PT and swimming.

Leave a Reply