Summertime Blues

A few choice words about a season of off-center events.

There's something just a little off about the summer of 2007. As far as the government's concerned, it's been defined by a series of off-center events, ranging from the tragic to the simply strange. The story is perhaps best told in the form of quotations from and about some of the players involved:

"This computer, although assigned to me, was being used on board the International Space Station. I was informed that it was tossed overboard to be burned up in the atmosphere when it failed."

That's the explanation given by a NASA employee for a missing $4,265 laptop, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Just a day after that report was released, an independent panel reported on heavy drinking by NASA crew members before flights. On at least two occasions, the panel found, astronauts were allowed to fly even though they were intoxicated. Maybe there's some correlation here.

"As much as we would like to think otherwise, I am afraid that with the number of soldiers we now have in harm's way, our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies."

This quote actually dates back to a May e-mail message from Brig. Gen. William Troy, former interim commander at Fort Lewis, Wash., announcing that the base would shift from holding separate memorial services for each soldier killed in action after deploying from the base to combined services once a month. After an outcry from families and veterans, Troy's successor, Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., decided to stick with the policy of individual services.

"I did not have an 'accident' while working. I was subjected to an offensive attack by an enemy of the U.S. government who attempted to kill me. Why am I under workers' comp if workers' comp does not recognize a combat injury?"

Imagine you're a civilian Army employee working in Iraq, riding alongside service members in your Humvee when it's hit by a roadside bomb. You receive initial treatment for your severe injuries, but then you're turned away from military hospitals for ongoing treatment.

Instead, you're told to work through the Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, where you find out that your war wounds don't really match any of its bureaucratic workplace injury codes. You then embark on an odyssey of trying to find doctors in the civilian health care system with experience treating your injuries. That's what happened to Mike Helms, a counterintelligence expert with the Army's 902nd Military Intelligence Group, who used the above words in describing his plight to The Washington Post.

"There are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service."

That's David J. Kilcullen's attempt to put U.S. military and diplomatic efforts overseas into perspective. Kilcullen is a former Australian Army lieutenant colonel who is now a senior counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

"We've spent a lot of time trying to straighten this out. It would be nice if they would take care of it. They're not above the law-they have to pay their tickets like everybody else.''

That's Albert Moroni, parking commissioner for the city of White Plains, N.Y. And the "they" he's referring to is the Marine Corps-specifically, Marine recruiters who have racked up more than $90,000 in unpaid parking tickets dating back to 2001.

That led Moroni to impound one of the recruiters' cars and threaten to sell it at auction if the service didn't pay its fines.

Which in turn led the General Services Administration to tell Moroni that if he, as a local government official, followed through on his threat to sell off a vehicle in the federal fleet, he could probably expect to receive a visit from the FBI.

"I see '.gov' and '.edu' all the time."

That's Jim McBride, "chief executive officer" of MrSkin.com, a Web site that provides a guide to female nudity in Hollywood films, talking about where the site's traffic comes from. Perhaps the less said about that, the better.

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