Is it any wonder that millions of people have put off sending in their U.S. Census forms?
It's March 31st, and I want to mail in our completed United States Census 2010 form. I've wanted to do so for weeks. But I don't dare. The trouble is, we couldn't follow the instructions.
The form arrived weeks ago, and included a cover letter, dated March 15th, which tells us to "Please complete and mail back the enclosed census form today." That "today" is now weeks in the past. I worried that my procrastination was against the law. But wait...
At its outset, literally Question 1, the census form asks, "How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment or mobile home on April 1st, 2010?" And sternly warns, "Do not count anyone in a nursing home, jail, prison, detention facility, etc., on April 1st, 2010." That stopped us for weeks. We didn't want to bluff, guessing in advance. But, what about "Complete it today!", the Census Bureau command from weeks before?
It just got worse. Question 2 asks, "Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1?" How could we possibly know that before April 1st? But note that the Census Bureau just blew its cover, choosing "that" instead of "who". Up to now, we thought they thought that we were upstanding citizens or, at least, human beings - not just statistics.
You've got to admire Question 3. It says to choose one of the following:
Is this house, apartment or mobile home
- Owned by you or ... with a mortgage or loan?
- Owned by you or ... without a mortgage or loan?
- Occupied without payment of rent?
Okay, friends, think hard. IF you own it, aren't you also occupying it without payment of rent? But the Census Bureau won't permit you to check two boxes! You must cheat on the number of boxes, or you will commit perjury. And remember, you've stated this on an official and binding form. Welcome to Catch 22, government entrapment at its very worst!
Question 4 assumes that we have one, and only one, phone number. Compared to the prior goofs, this one is tame.
Question 5 demands my first name and "MI". And there's only a single character box for that "MI". If your name were, "A. Richard Miller", perhaps you'd be in a quandary. Mine is, and I am.
So far, this census form is batting zero out of five, and the list goes on.
The census form ends, "If you need help completing this form, call ..." I don't need help completing it. The Census Bureau needed help starting it. We hold these truths to be self-evident.
In college, I was lucky to take a course under Banesh Hoffman, a brilliant mathematician with a well-founded hatred for multiple-choice questions (The Tyranny of Testing). He offered many flagrant examples. But none of his bad examples came from as high an authority as the U.S. Census Bureau. None had as wide an audience as this Census 2010 form. And none were as blatantly unqualified to escape the editor's pen.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Consider the horror, should we have mailed our completed form before April 1st. Clearly we would have lied about the facts, because they didn't yet exist. What if the Feds were watching us closely, and pounced on us before April 1st? Not only would we be guilty, but they'd probably throw us into jail, or into one of those many new "detention facilities" (Wasn't that term previously used for flood control? Is water-boarding implied?) that have been built with our surplus tax dollars. Now we'd really be in trouble. Our count was off, and we blundered into their fiendish trap!
One cannot be too careful. We'll wait until April 1st.
Hmm, April 1st is April Fool's Day. Coincidence, you say? I think not!
Yours in caution,
--Dick Miller, Partner, MMS <TheMillers@millermicro.com >