Archive for February, 2010

Yes Minister meets Alice in Wonderland, Myles Peterson

This piece did ring a few bells with me. I would however like to raise a couple of points:

Our section was under-budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars, necessitating we blow all the unspent money before the end of the financial year. Unfortunately, ”training” did not mean I would finally get some training. ”Training” consisted of hastily booked, dubiously relevant conferences and courses, most of which were conveniently located a long way from Canberra.

Nice work if you can get it – my department is cracking down on employee travel even though we have the same amount of spare budget. We won’t waste your valuable taxpayer dollars on sending lowly public drones to the only place they can get specialised training! (I’m not bitter.)

We were not the only ones wasting money. Associated with our section were those boffins who create public health campaigns, the ones that appear on television with increasing regularity: nights out turning into nightmares, measure your fat stomach, wash your hands – that kind of thing.

I was surprised to discover the minds behind these campaigns were not health professionals. They had backgrounds and degrees in marketing, communications and advertising, not medicine.

This is actually pretty reasonable! When was the last time you changed your behaviour because of a fact? OK, a heart attack is technically a fact, but a health professional isn’t ethically allowed to actually induce a heart attack or emphysema, so they tend to say uncompelling things like “the prevalence ratio of Type II Diabetes in overweight and moderately obese women is 3x that of normal-weight women” (closer investigation revealing that the prevalence is less than 8%, so 92% of overweight and moderately obese women don’t actually have this problem).

Hence it falls to the marketing bods to come up with ever gorier images of your heart or lungs turning black under the influence of your lazy, filthy day-to-day abuse, in the vain hope that you will actually wake up and realise that incremental changes to your lifestyle really do help. I lost over 50lb, not after being informed that obesity will shave 3.6 years off my already-likely-to-be-90+ life,  but because I was the oldest, fattest slob in a graduate intake of spunky young things whose mere existence made me grind my teeth with jealousy. Could those boffins who create public health campaigns could convey that in a 15-second spot?


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Are You Happy?

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Many good things have happened here at the Ministry of Silly Walks.

In the darkest days of my Shuffling Drone-dom, a god-like hand reached into my black pit of despair and offered me a band-aid position covering for an AWOL employee (“he went mad and we shot him”). A job in a real actual Minister’s office! Paid at the Mumbling Troglodyte level! Working next to real actual policy! It was like those old wives’ tales about how if you sit at the end of the aisle in the cinema a drug dealer will come along and inject you with heroin and you’ll get addicted. Except good, and except it actually happened.

And, OK, not the most flattering way to get a job – I was only approached because the 27 other people they asked didn’t want to do it, and then I got the job because no-one else was available. But it got me out of Toenail Branch – so called because it’s dead skin and likely to be cut off soon –  and into the central nervous system. I was finally working with the people who actually decide what Silly Walks does and how it will do it, from the Minister herself  down to my fellow Mumbling Troglodytes. The fact that I had no idea what I was doing, had barely touched a brief since the end of my graduate rounds and knew almost no-one in my Ministry would be no obstacle to success!!!

… which, of course, it was. My knowledge of procedure was not only extremely poor, but so poor that I struggled to crowbar it all into my tiny brain, making some fairly egregious errors. Not all of them were my fault, of course – at least one was because of a rather violent disagreement between the Minister’s staff and the policy branch over mailroom procedures which I’m still too traumatised to talk about. But ultimately I had to interview for the position, and although the interview went about as well as they ever do for me, they decided not to give me the role. The manager of the Ministerial support branch advised me that staff members “said when they were giving you instructions you looked like you weren’t listening. And then you did it wrong.” Not a ringing endorsement.

The upside of this rather intense experience was that I got to polish my Networking skillz – not a skill that comes naturally to me the way, say, important research points embedded in 800-page non-digitised tomes come up and start eating out of my hand. Because of this unnaturalness, I had to be pretty calculating – I basically identified the most common names on the briefs that were coming in, called the extension number listed and said “Hi, my name’s Grace Forthright and I’m your Ministerial Support Mole. Would you like to do coffee and tell me all about everything your branch does?”

For the most part, this was a fairly successful strategy. It helped me understand the arcane information reaching my desk, which I was supposed to help clean up before it reached the Minister. It enabled me to understand what the hell Silly Walks actually does, what its structure is, how it interacts with other departments, and how I can get free tickets to fun things because Silly Walks provides funding for activities such as pogoing and Calvinball.

When I didn’t get the job, I returned to Toenail Branch. I diligently performed my duties, which involved arranging tea-parties, folding origami dancers and replacing photocopier cartridges. I cried myself to sleep at night, masturbating furiously (in the public service we call it “insourcing”) and dreaming of a role that would justify the $25K worth of student loans looming over my head.

And I continued the networking. I spoke to anyone who would catch up with me, and then I asked them who else would be willing to talk to me. And I found out all sorts of fun stuff about Silly Walks, and our extensive Vertical Folkdancing section, and Pogoing, and Not Stepping On The Cracks In Case The Bears Get You. I applied for jobs in these areas, meeting the policy officers who worked in my area of interest. I grilled my friends in internal departments about how to interview and how to get around the fact that I know very little about pogoing or vertical folkdancing.

And it paid off, in a rather odd way. Suffice to say I now have another band-aid position in our central policy branch. When I started I already knew several of my cow-orkers through my diligent coffee meetings or other job interviews. It’s a temporary position, but hopefully it’s my ticket out of Toenail.

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