Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Census is Upon Us!

Last summer, I got my visit from my friendly neighborhood census worker (who happened to be my backyard neighbor) in order to verify my address. I questioned then, since you're here, why not just ask me how many people live here.

At the beginning of March, I received the form letter saying that the actual Census letter would arrive in a couple of weeks. My curiosity was piqued and I went to the census website. I was hoping that I could just fill it in online and be done with it. I mean, I have applied for jobs online, trade stocks online, file my taxes online, opened bank accounts online, etc. Surely something as simple as letting the government know how many people live in the house with me could be accomplished with an online form, right?

BIG WRONG! This is one proof that there is no major government conspiracy to do anything. Government of it self is rather stupid, slow, inefficient, and ineffective. Departments truly don't talk to each other, even when it would be in their (and our) best interest to. Yes, I know that the government used the census to help round up the Japanese, Germans, and Italians in WW2. But they didn't get them all. I definitely don't support the government abusing the information it is given in this way.

On the otherhand, the IRS has the names and addresses (and email addresses if you file electronically) of probably 75% of the homes in this country. So why doesn't the Census Bureau simply request the address list from the IRS? I know, because more than likely the IRS would botch up the transfer and end up sending addresses, SSN, bank account numbers, and a list of donations to charity which would then be used in nefarious ways. And they probably wouldn't encrypt it during the transfer. Oh yeah, and it would be blind copied to all of the email addresses they have.

A review of their website shows that the Census is on twitter, facebook, flickr, and youtube. But for some reason, they still haven't figured out how to count online. Well what about false responses you say? Well, what about false responses with paper forms (or just plain made up numbers)? Does that not happen now? Have they not figured out how to deal with that in the last 200 years?

Back to the point of what I was saying. The Census does not do online reporting because in their own words "No. Not at this time. We are experimenting with Internet response for the future." What? I know that I have been filing my taxes for at least 7 years electronically. The Census only happens every ten years. So if they are experimenting now, we will probably have a Beta test in 2020 with a small portion of the population, an expanded Beta test in 2030 with a larger portion, and by 2040 we will all be able to answer online. Of course by that time, all of our brains will have microchips in them and we will be interconnected. Oh yeah and health care will be free.

So, anyway, the website also tells us that the reason that we get so many visits and letters is because it is optimized for maximum response. Yes, if you send out a mailer saying you are going to get a letter, then send the letter, then send out a postcard saying that you got a letter, it decreases the number of people that come to your door to ask you if you received the letter.

A couple of weeks after getting the letter saying that I would be getting the Census, I received my very own copy of the Census form. I was giddy, I had read all sorts of blogs and news stories of people who are only going to put the number of people in the house and nothing else. Ron Paul is doing it. Michele Bachman won't even fill it out. Then I opened the form and actually read it.

Oh yeah, I forgot about that part. Census day is April 1st. By sheer coincidence, April Fool's Day is April 1st. The questions are suppose to be answered based on information available on April 1st. Well, I filed the form away until April 1st. All sorts of things could happen between now and then. We may adopt triplets, I could get hit by a bus and die, my oldest daughter may decide to move out, my parents may decide to move in, there may be a natural disaster and we house some refugees, etc. All of these things could alter who is living and staying at my home on April 1st. Did I mention it is also April Fool's Day?

So, when people at work mentioned that they had filled out their census form, I informed them that they may be providing false information to the Census bureau which is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $500. It turns out, the Census bureau wants you to return your before April 1st. Ideally, everyone's census form would be received by April 1st so they could be counted on April 1st.

The Census bureau prides itself on confidentiality. With respect to WW2, the Census bureau operated under a different set of rules so their sharing of names and addresses then wasn't illegal. But this is the newer, more improved, more confidential Census bureau (at least until the next national emergency when the .gov wants to suspend the rights of a portion of its population). That being said, I still plan on filling out the Census form, in total. That doesn't mean I have to make it easy for them.

Since the census form is printed in multiple languages, it must have people that can read multiple languages. So right off the bat, I figure besides Arabic numbers, I can use Roman numerals, Chinese numerals, etc. Next, I haven't found anything in the census form or the CFR that says I SHALL use the Gregorian calendar for reckoning time. Well there is also the Julian calendar (which isn't used anymore), there is the Jewish Calendar, the Islamic Calendar, the traditional Chinese Calendar, the Taiwan Calendar, the Unix time code, and the Windows or Mac time code. I'll have to see how many of these I can put in there. (I'll be sure to include a reference for them so that they can calculate it.) With 2012 coming up, the Mayan calendar could be a possibility, I mean, the world is going to end on December 21, 2012 (or is it the 20th - either way, the Mayans got it wrong as their world ended 500 years ago).

Names. Last, First, and Middle Initial. Well, I have the name I go by, I also have a Chinese name that I use with Chinese people (it also works for Korean and Japanese with a little translation). Then there is my nickname from college. The nickname my grandpa called me. And my superhero alterego. Which should I use... Making up names or putting obviously false ones like "Mickey Mouse" is illegal and something that ACORN would do. I'm not that way.

Then there is the age. We normally use solar years. How about calculating it by lunar years? Or maybe using the Chinese calendar to calculate one's age (which when one is born he is 1 year old - accounting for gestation - and then on Chinese New Year he advances one year - so it is entirely possible to be 2 years old according to Chinese reckoning and have been born two days ago).

Of course there is the infamous race question. We really need to get over "race" in America. It has come to the point that we don't even know how to define race. First there is the question on hispanic origin. The "other" category includes Spaniard. While normally I would answer "no" to this question, family history research has shown some lines of Spaniards that I am descended from. Sure, they are 500 years ago, but if race is going to be so convoluted maybe I still count. I'll have to cogitate on that for a few more days. And I'll have to decide whether my children count as Spaniards as well, or I have bred it all out of them. I may have the last Spaniard genes in the family. The next then asks for your race and includes terms that are more properly described as skin color, ethnicity, or national origin.

Places like China or India (with 1.5 billion people each) are given a single category. They have a box for Black, African American, and/or Negro. But what about Egyptians, Tunisians, or Libyans? Are they forced to choose Other. The concept of race is a throwback to 16th-19th century racists. Once genetics was discovered and people tried to "prove" their racist concepts, it quickly became apparent that there are no "races" that people can be divided up into. Perhaps we should change this question to just be skin color. Although then we would need to distiguish between northern and souther Europeans and between Aryan Indians (who aren't white) and Aboriginal Australians.

I could always use the "American" throwback or the "Human" in the other category, but then you are allowed to check multiple boxes. And if I am going to use the Spaniards in my genealogy to count myself as hispanic, why not use the Africans in my genealogy to also make sure that is checked. In fact based on my known family history and the proposed progression of migration out of Africa, I should check White, Black, Native American, Asian Indian, Other Asian (I am assuming that the Indo-Europeans in Turkey approximately 20,000 years ago count as other Asians). I have had some Chinese people tell me I have Chinese features so maybe I should choose that as well.

The last question is whether you sometimes live or stay somewhere else? I am sort of confused. Do they mean on April 1st, 2010 in particular or at any time in the last 10 years, or at any time in the next 10 years. If it is the first, well, I'll have to see. If it is the second, I could check "In college housing", "at a seasonal or second residence", and "for another reason." If it is the third, then I will tentatively check all of the blocks, because I don't know what the next 10 years holds.

Now for some other hypothetical questions. Do people who believe that life begins at conception include a pregnancy as an extra child in the census? If you are moving and happen to move out of your home in California on March 31st, drive across the country and spend April 1st traveling through Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska, where does your family get counted? How do you handle deaths on April 1st, are they counted in the census or not?

Finally, you may want to ask why I am being difficult. Well, frankly because I can, and it is the Census workers job to count people, if the form is not going to be specific, why not be creative, I will be sure to include all of the information they need to get the answers in the format they want. Since the money has already been allocated to counting, if the census bureau doesn't spend it all, my guess is they will have one heck of a party with the leftover $20 million and maybe give out "Lifetime Service Awards" to some of their temporary workers to use up all of the funds. My goal is to make sure they use as much of their budgeted money as possible actually doing their job, counting people. So while others are "protesting" by only filling in the number of people living in the home, I am going to fill out the entire form. And probably include lots of comments as well. I might even post some images of it when I am done. 70 years from now when the records are made public, my great grandchildren can search through the forms and find out that I took my civic responsibilities with pride and helped to ensure that someone had a job (census worker, US Marshall, judge, jury, etc.) during these tough economic times. After all, I fully expect to get a visit from another friendly neighborhood census worker. I am just not going to fill out the form or answer any questions until April 1st (actually, probably April 2nd since I want to be sure that no meteor destroys our city on April 1st thus negating the need for all of the federal dough we are "entitled" to).

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