The language of some engineering reports is more impenetrable than the armor of a battleship. My weird nephew Izzy floods badly. He was trying to slog through the Region 6 San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group DRAFT report and called for help today.
Marvel Comics It Ain’t
“Uncle Bob,” he complained, “This is @#$%&ing 295 pages long!”
“Put on your big-boy pants, Izzy,” I said. “Suck it up. I know it’s longer than a Spiderman comic, but you did apply for jobs as the Deputy County Administrator and Executive Director of the Flood Control District.”
“Yeah, but that was just to impress one of the dancers down at the Crystal Pistol.”
“Now the truth comes out!” I chuckled.
“Uncle Bob, you’re brain-shamin’ me.”
“I’m sorry, Izzy. Is there a problem beside the length?”
“Yeah, I can’t figure out what they’re trying to say.”
“That’s all?” I asked.
Izzy spat back, “They wanna spend $29 billion on the recommendations in here. You’d think they could afford $15 dollars an hour to hire a decent writer.”
The boy did have a point. But I explained, “Making it easy to understand wouldn’t make people think they were getting recommendations worth $29 billion.”
“Is it too technical? Formulas and stuff?” I asked.
“No. It’s just confusing.” Izzy sometimes has trouble with the concept of “up.” So I said…
Izzy Cites Examples: Writer Paid by the Word?
“Give me an example, Izzy.”
He threw 295 pages down on my kitchen table. The dog-eared report was covered with notes. This was an amazing step up from Spiderman for Izzy. I was encouraged.
He turned to one of the pages. “Like this,” he said. “The most common types of projects in the region are channel improvement projects, which is inclusive of channel repair and channel conveyance improvement projects.”
My jaw dropped. Aside from the circular logic and redundancy, the subject and verb didn’t agree. “Projects is?” I asked. “Improvement projects include improvement projects? That writer must have been getting paid by the word,” I said. I was beginning to see Izzy’s point. “Show me another one, Iz.”
“Here!” he said, brightening now that he had an ally. Then he took a deep breath and said, “Due to significant increases in anticipated rainfall depth seen across the entire region due to the NOAA Atlas 14 as shown in Figure 2-4, change in rainfall depth was not included as a decision point for Flood Map Gap designations, as the change in rainfall amounts would qualify the whole region as a mapping gap since the effective FEMA mapping does not yet incorporate Atlas 14 rainfall.”
“I’m surprised you could even get that out in one breath,” I said. Izzy was turning blue and gasping. While he caught his breath, I counted up the words – 67. “There’s just no substitute for 67-word sentences when you’re trying to bluff your way through something you don’t know,” I said.
Izzy looked relieved. “So, I’m not so dumb after all, Uncle Bob?”
“I don’t think even my 4th grade English teacher, Mrs. Battaligni, could diagram that sentence, Izzy.”
“What do you think it means, Uncle Bob?”
“It means taxpayers should ask for their money back, Izzy.”
“Ya’ think? Cuz’ frankly I could use a tax refund right about now.”
“Don’t hold your breath, Izzy. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Well, how will I ever know if this will fix my flooding, Uncle Bob?”
Dream No Small Dreams
“It won’t, Izzy. The state has about a $1 billion budget that has to be split 15 ways. And these guys are recommending $29 billion in projects just for the San Jacinto watershed.”
“I know what that’s like.”
“I was sweeping up down at the Crystal Pistol last night and I told the manager I sure could use a new broom.”
“He said it wasn’t in the budget. Maybe next year.”
“Maybe you should go to one of the Flood Planning Group’s open houses and ask them to explain.”
“When are they?”
“That’ll never work.”
“Happy hour. My boss’ll never let me off. Too many beer-nut dishes to refill.”
Izzy Considers a Career Change
“Maybe you could get a job helping them write the final version of the report.”
“Ya’ think?” Izzy brightened and moved to the edge of his seat.
“They recommend spending another $200 million on more reports,” I said.
“Man, I could use some of that bank!” Then Izzy’s enthusiasm quickly vanished. Uncharacteristically, he confessed, “But I barely scraped by high-school English.”
“That makes you perfect,” I said. “You know how to write a 7-word sentence.”
Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/22/22
1850 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.