25 weirdest public service stories of 2021

By Apolitical

Tuesday December 21, 2021

Government is serious business. (Carlos David/Adobe)

Government is serious business. A public servant’s daily life can range between hope, fear, inspiration, despair, optimism and exhaustion.

But there’s a lighter side to government too. Here’s a round-up of the weird dreams, solutions and publicity stunts that made us laugh this year.

Part 1: Is it the 21st century yet?

Apparently, if you hold onto outdated ways of working long enough, they’ll eventually come back into fashion.

1. Japanese public servants vs. technology 💾 📠

In 2021, civil servants in Japan waved a sad farewell to floppy disks. More than just retro memorabilia, officials said they “almost never broke or lost data” (Nikkei Asia). They weren’t, however, willing to move on from another iconic tool of the 20th Century. Tokyo officials successfully resisted a call by ministers to abolish the use of fax machines. (The Guardian)

2. A Flash crash in Northern China 🧩

A railway network in Dailan, China, collapsed for 20 hours after the Adobe Flash programme stopped running. A word to the wise: install your updates. (Inquirer)

Part 2: The future looks strange and disappointing

We were promised flying cars and a sky-high standard of living. But the future contains confusing digital ‘realities’ and convoluted fictional currencies instead.

3. El Salvador will build a “bitcoin city” — powered by a volcano 🌋

If it gets built, this will be the first city that could gain or lose chunks of its GDP based on memes on Twitter. No one told me that dystopia would be so weird. (Financial Times)

4. Government departments are moving into the “metaverse” 🥽

Seoul, South Korea plans to be the first city to offer public services via the metaverse (Seoul Metropolitan Government). They won’t be alone there for long. Barbados is set to become the first sovereign nation with an embassy in the metaverse. Get your goggles ready. (CoinDesk)

5. The New York City Mayor-elect wants to be paid in Bitcoin 💰

It’s a great way to ensure your salary sits firmly in the $0-$100,000,000 income bracket. At least it’s not in Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) — yet. (Politico)

6. An Indian state shut down the internet to prevent exam cheating ✍️

With 1.6 million people sitting the Rajasthan Eligibility Exam for Teachers across 4,000 locations, you would have needed A LOT of examiners. It’s easier just to shut down the state’s internet until the exam is over. No one will mind, right? (Quartz)

Part 3: Public servants vs. animals

Public servants are pretty good at dealing with humans, but the rest of the animal kingdom can be a challenge. Here’s what we learned in 2021:

7. Strategies for catching escaped llamas 🦙

How do you respond when a high-drama llama, Gizmo, runs wild. Local authorities used infrared drones, search parties and a giant lasso to track it down the ruminant revenant. (The New York Times)

8. What about strategies for catching escaped Zebras? 🦓

In contrast, public servants in Maryland shared the secret for catching escaped Zebras — releasing yet more Zebras. (Washingtonian)

9. How do you restock a lake remotely? 🛩️🐟

Hurl trout out of a moving aeroplane, says Utah’s wildlife agency. We’re not sure that the fish agree. (The Guardian)

10. Too many geese? Call in the pigs, says Amsterdam Airport 🐷

“Bird strikes” are a serious threat to aeroplanes. That’s why Schipol Airport, Amsterdam released pigs to scare them off and eat their food. Circle of life, I guess. (The Guardian)

Part 4: Weird laws for a weird world

It’s hard to draw up sensible policies for a world that isn’t especially sensible. Here’s how some public servants have risen to the challenge of legislating for our weird world.

11. Maine, USA, is putting the brakes on vulgar license plates 🚗

A move that will inevitably make the jobs of the “vanity plates” licensing department a bit less interesting. (WGME News)

12. The football-over-the-fence debate is finally settled ⚽

Anyone in Belgium who kicks a ball into their neighbour’s garden will have the legal right to retrieve it… but no sending it over just to have a look. (The Guardian)

13. Why do so many countries target 2% inflation? 💵

It has to do with a finance minister, a napkin, and a surprise question on TV. Next time you see a big fuss about the inflation rate, remember that monetary policy is a long way from an exact science. (Quartz)

Part 5: An odd Covid world

The pandemic has been grim for almost everyone. We’re now seeing the unpredictable ways two years of Covid-19 is shaping society. Amidst the sadness, there’s space for joy. Here’s what brought light to a dark year.

14. How to attract remote workers to your town? Offer stand-in Grandparents 👵

That’s the plan in Greensburg, USA. If they don’t call the service InstaGran, I’ll be disappointed. (ABC News)

15. Wrestlers are enforcing mask-wearing at a market in Mexico City 💪

Stopping the spread, one headlock at a time. (The Guardian)

16. A jab from Dracula 🧛

The infamous count’s castle in Romania opened up as a vaccine site. You may feel a small prick. (BBC)

Part 6: Strange but effective ways of reaching out to citizens

Some public figures shouldn’t be trusted with a social media account. But some publicity interventions are genuinely inspired ways to raise awareness on important issues. We’ll let you decide which is which.

17. A Russian city recruits a giant gingerbread man to its emergencies ministry 🍪

Meet Tula Pryanik, the most delicious fire safety instructor you’ll ever meet. The photos are definitely worth checking out. (The Moscow Times)

18. Pay your tax and play some sax 🎷

Meet Epic Tax Guy — Finland’s awareness-raising tax mascot. Featuring Windows 95 vibes and wanton abuse of a green screen. Who gets to make this stuff? (Verohallinto, YouTube)

19. Your boy in Hanoi 🎤

The US Ambassador to Vietnam released a rap to celebrate the Lunar New Year — it’s so edgy I cut my finger. (South China Morning Post)

20. On her Majesty’s slippery surface 🌨️

Kudos to whoever is naming gritters and snowploughs in Scotland. Our favourite? “Sweet Child O’ Brine”. (Trunk Road Gritter Tracker)

Part 7: Public servants getting things wrong

No one is perfect. Whilst there are very few ways of getting things right, there are so many fascinating ways to get things wrong.

21. Believed to be just 0.062 metres tall, a British man is offered a priority vaccine 💉

That’d give him a body mass index of 28,000. “If I had been less stunned, I would have asked why no one was more concerned that a man of these remarkable dimensions was slithering around south Liverpool.” (London Evening Standard)

22. Jakob Maria Mierscheid is a well-respected German politician 👻

The thing is, he doesn’t actually exist. Somehow, the joke has kept running since 1979 (Wikipedia)

23. An Italian civil servant skipped work for 15 years 🪑

By contrast, a public servant that actually does exist, but just doesn’t show up, is the “king of absentees”. It seems he never read our article on how public servants can be more productive (BBC)

Part 8: How bureaucratic can you get?

Slow-moving departmental bureaucracies are a well-worn trope. Sometimes, however, it seems that governments are parodying themselves. He’s a glance into the dark depths of public service pen-pushing.

24. How to meme in government: a 20-page report 📒

After an arduous 22-day process, the Pentagon released its first meme on Halloween last year. Hilarious. (Vice)

25. Two railway authorities debate whether a peacock can be considered a large bird 🦚

Spare a thought for the copywriters who made this 7-page report. After some serious back-and-forth on size, mobility requirements and classification precedence, it was decided that peacocks are large birds. (Delay Attribution Board Guidance Notes)


This article is curated from Apolitical.


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