Damned if you do, darned if you don't!

Monday - 1/27/2014, 2:00am EST

Most people probably have heard the term "death by a thousand cuts." Depending on your source, it is either an ancient form of Chinese torture for those convicted of treason or of murdering their parents. It is also described as the slow death of something — a company, a country, a cause — because of the pile-on effect of thousands of little nicks.

The death-by-a-thousand-cuts system was outlawed in China in 1905. It remains in America, specifically in Washington, D.C. It is still practiced on many politicians, many of whom provide the cuts while shooting themselves in the foot.

Almost any top political appointee can get in trouble. But none easier than the person chosen to head the Office of Personnel Management. Other politicals can avoid trouble. But for the OPM director, old man winter is almost certain to trip them up.

Whether the director is a man, woman, Republican or Democrat, wintertime is a trying time. The OPM director makes the call (shutdown, delayed arrival or early dismissal) when the area is slammed by a storm. Like last week which was a textbook example. OPM Director Kathrine Archuleta made her first winter call of 2014. She told nonemergency workers and teleworkers (in plenty of time) to stay home Tuesday because of snow and extreme cold. The next day feds were told — again in plenty of time — they could come to work two hours after their scheduled reporting time. Many area schools either remained closed or operated under a two-hour delay.

Communities (and federal offices) from Minneapolis to Boston, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia were making the same closed or delayed-arrival call. But all eyes were on Washington. Especially if you live here. Archuleta took a lot of heat via social media for her decision to shut down, and then the next day for the delayed arrival. How come? Because...

In 2014 America, you can kill both your parents (siblings, too) and not be executed. You can betray your country — Aldrich Ames, Robert Hansen, Jonathan Pollard, etc.— and just do time. In some cases, your spouse even gets your pension. We even keep letting Charlie Sheen off the hook! But let the OPM director make the "wrong" call, when it snows, and you are tainted if not dead meat.

When he took over as director of OPM, John Berry knew a lot (more than most) about how government really operates. He had worked on Capitol Hill, for Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). He had worked for Treasury, Interior and headed the National Zoo. When the President named him director of OPM, Berry had mixed feelings. It was the dream job for somebody whose life was the people side of public administration. But Berry knew there was a dark side lurking at OPM: The dreaded winter-call.

Berry is now U.S. ambassador to Australia. The forecast for Canberra today is 88 degrees. Who's laughing now?


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

A square shape with rounded-off edges is called a "squircle."

(Source: Mental Floss)


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