Simply Incompetent

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You may not be familiar with Hein’s Law, since I only made it up yesterday. It says, "There’s no job so simple it can’t be done poorly." It was inspired by our trash-collectors.

Now collecting trash is a grueling job, and the men who do it have my sympathy and understanding. Rain or shine, cold or hot, the trash must be collected, however odious and weighty it might be. Moreover, if they didn’t, life would eventually become extremely unpleasant and even dangerous.

BUT—–! Can’t the trash can, when emptied, be placed somewhere other than in the center of the driveway? We are occasionally away from home when the trash collectors come by, and on returning, must stop the car at the end of the driveway and move the empty trashcan so we can enter. I don’t much care if the can is on its side, and the lid not attached, but how much extra effort would it take to toss it a few feet in either direction so as to leave the driveway accessible? Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often — just often enough to give rise to Hein’s Law.

Sometimes I receive a package in the mail that won’t fit in the mailbox. Our regular mailperson delivers it to the door together with the rest of the mail. But the substitute carrier leaves the letters in the mailbox and brings the package, by itself, to the door. Is he doing it out of a desire to make the old geezer totter down to the mailbox? I doubt it. Rather, his synapses have not made the final connection: "If I’m going to the door anyway, why don’t I take ALL the mail!"

A well-done job is a rarity today. Some automobile dealers even brag that they will fix your car correctly the first time! A breakthrough!! And what about your computer? It’s at about the Model T stage of development. When it malfunctions (not IF!!) the obliging technician in Bombay might be able to help you if you can get him/her to understand you. It’s not about language; it’s about the communication of ideas. You explain and explain, but never have the feeling that you’re actually understood. He is awesomely knowledgeable about computers, but incompetent at listening and understanding.

If you have any dealings with government, you will find incompetence with a vengeance. Indeed, in my opinion, you will find feigned incompetence. People, even in government, cannot possibly be that inept! And they probably aren’t. They seek refuge behind the protective, if unattractive, shelter of stupidity.

The last time my medical license came due, the renewal notice from the state contained a brief note stating that all applications for license renewal must be accompanied by proof that the state income tax had been paid for the previous three years, or a valid reason why it hadn’t. Well, I hadn’t paid any state income tax during that period — a fact well known to the revenue department! My "valid reason," was explained in a letter, which resulted in a reply from the state — from the very lady who had been harassing me about income tax for years — stating, "Based on the contents of the (sic) your letter, you were not required to file a Missouri income tax return for tax years 2000, 2001, 2002. Your account for tax year 2000, 2001, and 2002 has been closed." Hooray!

Except that in the ensuing weeks, the revenue department — in the person of the very woman who had sent me the notice of my exemption — continued dunning me for the taxes for that same period. I pointed out that she had, herself, exempted me for the years in question, and her response was that the social security number which had been included in her letter (I hadn’t mentioned it in mine) was incorrect — the middle two digits were transposed. Thus, the whole letter was, somehow, invalid, and to be disregarded. I was expected to believe that because she had mis-typed my social security number in her response, that response, which stated it was based upon the contents of my letter, was invalid! Could she really think I was stupid enough to believe that she could be so incompetent?

If you’ve had any dealings with government, you have similar stories to tell. The officials are full of information when it comes to telling you what you must do, but ask them to justify their demands, and they suddenly are stricken with terminal idiocy — compounded by aggression and hostility.

It’s bad enough that so many people are simply bad at their jobs; it’s much worse when that incompetence is make-believe, as it must be on the part of government officials who cannot admit — or even allow themselves to think — that what they are doing is not lawful. It boils down to the same dilemma: we’re impaled on the horn of incompetence, or iniquity. Uncomfortable, either way, especially so when your only appeal is to the bull.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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