Tuesday, 12 October 2010

My Chair Story

It's a fascinating story over at Philly.com.

It's now come to light that the Feds have spent around $119 million on 330-odd bridge projects in Pennsylvania.   Apparently, in spending the money....it became apparent that a white-family-run concrete business in Schuylkill County....was using a Filipino man's minority status....to win contracts.  This was all part of the US government's disadvantaged-business program.

The state court system desperately wants to get to the bottom of this episode, but it appears they may have screwed up (maybe intentionally), to wrap up the case.

I can relate to this.

My boss wanted us to utilize remaining funds in the organization (our little group in the Pentagon) to buy new office chairs.  It came to 270-odd chairs.  I had two buckets of money.

I used the smaller amount to buy 54 chairs that was advertised via the GSA warehouse folks.  That 4-star ergonomic chair was $466.  It was a good deal.

The second group was over 200 chairs, and over $100k.  Little did I know that $100k is this threshold where you have to use minority or small-business operations.  My contracting officer went out.  My choice was the $466 chair obviously.  Well....one and only one company bid on the contract....for $560.  We were forced into this corner by the rule.  I had to buy fewer chairs, via this small-business operation.

My boss hated this, and wanted to cancel the deal.....then this vendor who won....got all nervous and ordered the immediately delivery (without telling us).  There's a fee involved, naturally if you cancel.  And if you have the items in your possession, it's just not practical to cancel it period.

So Friday morning, the Canadian shipping company calls us early.  They want to deliver.  We are puzzled.  We thought this was an American company that won.  Well....it's an American middle-man, and the Canadian company manufactures the chairs, then hands them off to a Canadian trucking company.

So we chatted with the Pentagon guys.  You have to be American or an American-Visa deal....to deliver to the Pentagon.  Naturally, this set off a chain of events.  When I left at 4PM, they still hadn't delivered, and I suspect they will have to hire an American to make this delivery.

I sat there and looked at the contract.  This middle-man is of interest to me.  I looked up the address and via Goggle imagery....I suddenly had a farm house in the middle of nowhere.  There's a barn and a shed.  It's all Penn farm country.  The guy is a bogus business man.  The company simply uses him as a "poor" or "small-business-man" disadvantage....to sell chairs to stupid government agencies.

Yep, another Penn episode.

I thought about this all weekend.  I just need a shack in Penn, and I could hire some blind Eskimo gal to sit there and answer the phone.  Female-owned, minority, and a disability.  We could clear $10 million in chair sales every year to stupid Washington folks who are forced to buy small-business stuff.  All of this.....is naturally....required by US law.  Yep, forced to be screwed.  Just another day in paradise.

My Monday

 I spent yesterday at Gettysburg.  It was one of those ten places I wanted to see while living here in DC.  By the end of the day, I considered it one of the most fascinating experiences I'd had in years.  I'll offer these ten observations:

First, if you want to go....at least on the first trip....do a tour bus.  From DC, it's $100 and a 10.5 hour trip. The folks know the things to go and see.  You end learning the whole story and if you want to return again in the future...then you can drive and hit the spots that you missed.  If you have 6 to 10-year old kids.....don't expect them to have any interest and don't drag them along for ten hours.

Second, less than ten days after the battle ended....folks started to arrive from New York, Maryland, and such....to tour the battlefield and see what happened.  Twenty years after the battle....these Civil War vets came back to tour the battlefield again.  The entire town has built itself into this massive tourist-trap over the battle.  In a way, it's a shame over the amount of tourism built into this one battle and the efforts of this town to capitalize off the deaths of mortal men.  I kept shaking my head through the entire day as I gazed at the town and it's efforts.  I would imagine that seventy-five percent of the town is geared toward the tourism episode.   It's sad in a way.

Third, if the town hasn't soaked you enough....they also offer 'haunted tours'.  They basically charge a fee (I didn't even want to ask) to take you out to farms or cemeteries were things are supposed to be haunted.  I suspect at least five different enterprises around town specialize in this.  So they weave this story-telling episode around ghosts who roam the local area, and by the time you have a beer or two....sitting out in the darkness....then you start to believe them. It's sad that you make money like this....just my humble opinion.

Third, it's the only place in America where two Civil War generals get their own T-Shirt.  I sat there and gazed at this one.  If you had told Lee that 140 years would pass and he'd be featured on a T-Shirt...he would have started laughing.  I don't think he would have ever thought about such a thing.  The other guy?  That's not Grant....it's Meade....who actually won the Battle at Gettysburg.  It's a confusing thing for most....because no one ever remembers Meade from high school history.  Again, this is the effort to turn the whole battle into a tourist item to sell to folks.


Fourth, Pickett's Charge.  You have to go to Gettysburg to get a real feel for the open terrain and how stupid this charge was in the end.  I stood there for ten minutes and tried to envision  how anyone would take orders like this.  In today's Army....nobody would have taken such an order.  It's a rolling field...so you could actually make the first five hundred feet before you start to come up at the other end....and then get blasted.  This charge came on the third and final day of the battle.  If you were defining the exact moment when the south really lost the momentum of the war....this is it.  If this charge had been skipped or avoided....there was still momentum left, and Gettysburg ends up being a draw with no victors.  But the charge changed most everything left in the war.

Fifth, most everyone in Gettysburg is in a fight over this idea of bringing a casino to the town.  As you can imagine.....the town's concept of making a profit off the three million who visit extends to the idea of a casino as well. Signs are well-placed around the town.  You've got the pro-crowd and the anti-crowd.  The pro-crowd talks of it's roots in protecting a vital tourist angle.  The anti-crowd thinks that this would ruin Gettysburg forever.  Frankly, just my humble opinion....they've pretty much ruined the town already, so a little casino would hurt it much more.  Yes, it might bring the mafia into town.  Yes, it might mean some folks tossing thousands down on poker during a visit.  But hey, it's the effort of soaking more tourists that counts, you know.

Sixth, there are roughly 3,000 or more plaques or statues around Gettysburg.  After the war, every state unit got around to wanting to remember their efforts.  So they built statue after statues....or plaque after plaque.  I probably saw over 150 of these....and kinda wonder if there is a statue industry that just works on Gettysburg statues.  This one here?  It's the Virginia monument...feating Lee of course.  It's over at Picketts Charge.  It's one of the top five things you need to see...if you go.  Don't worry, there's parking and fairly easy to find.  The interesting thing?  There's a sign on the corner...$500 if you deface or harm the statue.  No other statue that I saw that day....had a sign like that.  Just makes you wonder.

Seventh, this is a pretty 'stony' area.  most everyone uses stone in some fashion.  I saw dozens of houses made of stone and suspect that there's are lots more.  The tour guide made this curious comment that the stones go back to the Jurassic period.  You'd think that they'd have dinosaur diggings going on, but they've probably got all the Civil War history that they can handle, and a dinosaur find would just make things twice as bad as they are today.  Oh, and unlike any other place....if you stop and pick up a rock or two as a souvenir....no one is going to say a word. Trust me, they've got more than enough.

Eighth, in the midst of town is the Schriver House.  If you make the trip for the battlefields....take 90 minutes at the end of the day for this house tour.  It covers the problems of the townsfolk, during the battle.  It's a rather unpleasant episode.....where kids were standing there and attending wounded, and in some cases....assisting doctors who were cutting off limbs.  All but one of the locals survived the battle....but I suspect for the next thirty years....it bothered all of them greatly.

 Number nine, It is the most scenic place in the world. The leaves were turning brown as I visited.  When you add in the farms, and these wooden fences....you have some vision of a very calm and peaceful place.  You'd like to buy property and just settle there.  But then you gaze back at the town....and realize all this tourism and how the locals just grin and bare it....and it starts to bother you.

Tenth, generals tend to plan and select a battlefield...it's been that way for two thousand years.  This is one of those exceptions though.  Gettysburg was just an accidental place where two armies kinda bumped into each other....and a massive amount of pain and suffering was inflicted on each other.  This was supposed to be the battle where the South marched into the North, and made folks worry about their homeland.  By the end....it would be finished, and no one would ever consider that strategy again.

It's a tour you need to make.  If you drive up....then stop at the visitor center that the park runs and get yourself a map to hit the major spots of the battle.  The locals are friendly, and most everyone knows forty pages of history to cover any aspect if you get into a conversation with them.  To them, it's like a legend, and they've got their life and business centered around it.

Make Them Pay

Yesterday....some New York election folks got around to admitting that they haven't yet sent the absentee ballots to GI's.  By federal law, they had to mail them by 17 Sep.  But everyone felt there should be an extension....because of the 14 Sep primary vote.  So they were warned to accomplish this by 1 Oct (the Feds told them this).  Well....they now missed the extension of 1 Oct.

Naturally, some folks are angry about this.  The Feds are now taking those who missed the deadline into court, and expecting the court system to waive the deadline for those particular absentee vote.  I suspect this will be heard by next week, and some type of order by the court will occur.

Personally, for any state to delay their primary business past early August....is plain stupid.  By the time you add in various issues and printing requirements.....you are already pushing deadline business in a serious fashion.  Yet, these people never seem to care.

So I'd like to offer a new deal.  A federal law that requires each military absentee vote to count....or the county involved....pays a $3k check to each GI.  Let's make this kinda interesting.  For country commissioners....this ought to worry them a little.  Let's say you have forty GI's whose ballot arrives late and won't be counted....that'd be $120k that they have to find in their budget to pay these guys.  That's not the kind of problem that you like to think about.