Nitpicking is, of course, a favorite pastime of bureaucrats everywhere. Oregon’s state engineering board, however, managed to ascend to heights heretofore unattained by the American subspecies. The title of this article is revealing: Man Fined $500 for Crime of Writing ‘I Am An Engineer’ in an Email to the Government.

The case is interesting. An electrical engineer was involved in a dispute with the government regarding the timing of yellow lights, and in the course of his complaints, did a rather exhaustive amount of research on the matter. Upon presenting his findings to the state’s engineering board, he made reference to his employment as an electrical engineer (for which he also had the suitable degree). This offended the sensibilities of the board which, apparently, has a monopoly on the use of the word.

Now, it’s one thing if you claim to be a certain kind of professional engineer, the sort that stamps architectural and civil documents (especially in government employ), as these are licensed, board-certified individuals. Whether they ought to be is another question altogether, but never mind that. It’s quite another matter to say “I am an engineer.” Many in my general line of work bear the title of software engineer. Engineering titles are applied to many disciplines not involved in the board’s business.

Whatever. The legalese of the use of the word is beyond the purview of this post. The point is, however, that Oregon didn’t want to have to consider this man’s exhaustive research into yellow light timings, and the system of camera designed to catch offenders (which the engineer argued was broken). Rather than even consider his point of view, they merely looked up a suitably arcane and nitpicky regulation, and used it to fine him. In essence, an engineer was fined for saying that he was, in fact, an engineer.

I imagine the bureaucrats felt pretty good about themselves for this.

This ties into a point I made previously about cowardly Ad Hominem tactics. This is a very literal case of Ad Hominem, where rather than dispute the man’s findings, they merely attacked him through regulatory hoops. Perhaps if he didn’t mention his engineering background, they would have dismissed him by saying he was unqualified. And if he was board-certified to bear their official titles, they might have first dismissed him (or whatever the practice is for getting rid of his certification), then said he was unqualified. The government finds a way to dismiss arguments it doesn’t want to hear, regardless of the truth.

In essence, it’s a bureaucrat’s way of saying “I’m better than you, so shut up.”

Meanwhile, of course, the matter of Oregon’s red light cameras remains unaddressed.

Here in my home state and county, there was a red light camera program that went on for some time, and after some research by many individuals, irregularities came up. First off, the red light cameras were installed, run, and maintained by a third party given license by the government. The government and the third party company then split the revenue. One or the other, or perhaps both (that matter was never conclusively settled, so far as I know) decided to shorten the yellow light timings at some busy intersections in order to boost revenue. Also, those who were ticketed, and said they were not driving the vehicle, and could not be identified in the photo (i.e. a friend or family member was driving it), were then forced into a position of either giving up the other person’s identity or paying the fine anyway. That had plenty of legal consequences that were rather unpleasant, and perhaps even unconstitutional. It was also demonstrated that one could enter the intersection through a legal right turn at just the wrong moment, and the camera system would count it as a violation anyway. People were soon afraid of making legal right turns at red lights, and this lead to an increase in traffic and road rage.

The program became extremely controversial, because the entire justification for it was to curb Florida’s problem of excessive red light runners. To be fair, this is a legitimate problem around here. Florida has an awful lot of these folks compared to most places I’ve lived. But the red light camera program merely changed the type of accident. Less actions occurred inside the intersection, but many more rear-end collisions were reported. In the end, the program proved unpopular and was mostly abandoned.

Of course, I don’t know if Oregon is facing the same issues Florida had with red light cameras. Indeed, I don’t know if the engineer’s report was correct or completely bogus. But given the government’s track record with honesty, and the fact that they went out of their way to nitpick the regulations in order to attack him personally, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that they’ve got something to hide here.

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