20.3.07

Necessary Illusions.

It's a commonly accepted fact that government agencies of all types will protect their funding with more tenacity than a TV executive will protect her ratings. That's no different at the greenhouse, where each breath we take has to convince everyone in earshot that our project, ours, no one else's, is the greatest thing in the world. Thus, when a financial director from Ottawa came to visit today, we started cleaning up the lab like Mary Poppins herself was cheering us along.

More importantly, we did our best to make sure that the trailer which housed our prototype last year looked as operational as possible. Monitors of all shapes were carted in and set up, their video cables hanging limply behind countertops. Equipment which hadn't been used in three years was dusted off and displayed proudly. Binders of all sorts were stacked up in the office space, creating the illusion of paperwork. By the time we were done, we had created the sort of cardboard laboratory one might see in an IKEA showroom, and we were pretty proud of ourselves. While we waited for the Man From Ottawa to come in for his scheduled tour, the senior staff explained us what we should say, i.e. as little as possible.

But first, lunch break. I went down to the cafeteria, and as I was waiting in line, the people in the top two boxes of every org chart on the base stepped up behind me, along with the Man From Ottawa. I smiled politely. A few minutes later, our base's Financial Director looked right at me. "I saw you cleaning out that trailer today, didn't I?"

This is probably the second time he's ever talked to me. I smile nervously. "That's right."

"So tell me, what sort of instruments are in there?"

I fancy myself as a top-rate liar, and the trailer was essentially constructed for the sole purpose of impressing these people. I didn't hesitate for a second. "Oh, we just took some junk that was cluttering up our lab and prettied it up a bit."

Hm. That didn't come out quite like I planned it, but he seemed happy with the answer. "So it's basically ready for show-and-tell, then?"

I smiled back, relieved that he understood. "Exactly."

There's an incredible number of inane policies, requirements, and redundancies in the government, and sometimes the most exasperating thing is that everybody knows it, but everybody plays along.

On a day like today, however, the fact that everybody plays along is precisely what lets me sleep at night.

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.