Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
What is this fascination with zombies?
We put the question to Dr. Howard Bashford, who holds the prestigious Stickley chair in psychology at the prestigious Louis Lockzeeb Institute of the prestigious Memphremagog College in Derby, Vt.
“Why this proliferation of zombie-themed television programs and motion pictures?” we asked.
Bashford replied, “You might ask the same question about vampires.” So we amended our question to include that variety of undead.
The professor posed his own question: “Have you ever been frustrated by a government bureaucracy?”
We answered “yes,” and the professor said, “What you are observing is a sublimated frustration with bureaucrats, who the general public subconsciously recognizes as virtual zombies and blood suckers. As people feel unable to affect the situation, they cope by watching zombie movies and TV series. The impulse is fueled by stories such as this.”
Bashford shoved a newspaper clipping toward me. It was an AP dispatch that began, “Citing budget cuts, the Internal Revenue Service is canceling this year’s employee bonuses …”
“Most workers don’t get bonuses, even for a job well done,” he said. “People see this story and subconsciously feel they might as well give a bonus to a zombie. They seek relief in the film or video destruction of zombies.”
He went to a file cabinet and extracted a thick folder.
“This is just a small portion of the data I have collected,” he said, plopping it on the desk in front of me and inviting me to browse through it.*
It was loaded with case studies of public agency zombies. One detailed the career of a California worker who drew a handsome salary for doing – literally – nothing.
“His is a political patronage job,” said Bashford, looking over my shoulder. “There are hundreds like him in the Golden State.”
Another study told of a secretary who went to pieces over an assignment to retype a two-page, double-spaced memorandum.
“Two pages were just too much for an eight-hour day,” mused Bashford.
Several pages clipped together told of a unit of five “workers” whose job was to track down tax delinquents. Their goal was to make four contacts a day.
“Mind you, leaving a message on an answering machine counted as a contact,” Bashford noted. “After a year, none of these worthies had been able to produce at such a ‘high level.'”
A receptionist whose work day began at 8 a.m. usually didn’t show up until noon, at which time she went to lunch. After the proper drill of counseling and reprimand, she actually was fired, only to file a union grievance that led to her reinstatement.
“Here’s a fun one,” said the professor, warming to the topic. “A bureaucrat drafted this during working hours.” He handed me an amusing, two-page treatise on how to look busy without doing anything.
“I love this one,” Bashford said, selecting yet another study. It reported how some federal employees had spent hours discussing whether or not their boss was “for real.” The boss, feeling hurt, went on at length that of course he was for real and had been for real throughout his career.
“That was just an in-house venting,” Bashford chuckled. “There weren’t even sweet rolls and coffee. But let us not forget the accumulated waste of the annual, government team-building and technical conferences that are regarded as fringe benefits for public employees. I’m sure you recall last year’s scandal over the General Services Administration’s Las Vegas debauchery.”
“I’m getting a bit of pressure to withhold my report on public worker zombieism,” said the professor. “Many of my academic colleagues are a bit sensitive about it.”
“But aren’t some public employees hard workers?” we asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Bashford, displaying some exasperation. “The smaller the bureaucracy the more likely public employees are to do actual work. The bigger the bureaucracy, well …
“The fact is, most public employees, habituated to low expectations and little pressure to perform, accustomed to high pay and top-of-the line fringe benefits, would die of shock if they were dropped into private-sector jobs.”
*(Bashford may be fictional, but his “case studies,” described above, are true.)
Who do you trust? A promotional copy of the Reader’s Digest – once a respectable publication – arrived in my mailbox. It featured an article on “The 100 Most Trusted People in America Today.” You’ll be thrilled to know that President Barack Obama ranked 65th, just below comedian Adam Sandler.
The rest of the rankings were what you would expect, mainly an aggregation of entertainers and sports luminaries. Pick up the magazine if you enjoy nausea.