Monday, September 1, 2014

Even four decades ago the U.S. government was so big the left hand didn’t know what the right foot was doing

Here is a story about when I was a medic in the Air Force Reserve. All aircrew were supposed to have their footprints on file for post-crash identification purposes. The old way of taking footprints involved rolling printer’s ink onto a glass plate, carefully inking each foot, and then pressing the front two-thirds down onto an 8-1/2” x 11” card. The Air Force had tried a newer way that didn’t use that messy ink, but the prints didn’t store well and thus were useless. We were ordered to go back to the old way. When people got their annual flight physical, they got their foot prints taken again.

As soon as I once got assigned that smelly job, I tried to find instructions on how to get the amount of ink on the glass plate consistently correct. The Medical Airrmans Manual just had some weasel words - that you would figure it out after a few tries. Whoever wrote it didn’t really know how.

In a catalog from the Government Printing Office, I found out that the U. S. Secret Service had a 12-page pamphlet issued in 1972 called A Guide to Taking Palm Prints. I ordered a copy. They said to put a piece of white paper underneath the glass plate, and to roll the ink out until you could barely see the paper. Their method worked every time.

Apparently it never occurred to the Air Force that the Secret Service might know more than they did about how to efficiently take prints.  

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