All Maine Matters

May 2006



This Month’s Issue
Read November’s Issue of All Maine Matters.


Low Bandwidth - Text Only

Designed by Laisha

On the Nature of Government
by John Frary

When officials in this state and a number of others provided Viagra to sex offenders, they were carrying out a federal directive according to their best understanding. It appears that in most states, common sense prevailed while Maine’s officials behaved in proper bureaucratic fashion. Regularity, objectivity, precision and predictability are the ideal virtues of bureaucracies. Rules, regulations and procedures are devised to embody these virtues and suppress the exercise of common sense.

Common sense is too variable. It is irregular and unpredictable because it addresses actual situations rather than the generalities and averages embodied in the rule books. It is subjective because it is based on individual human judgment. It lacks precision for the same reason.

The bureaucratic virtues are not useless or contemptible, but they virtually guarantee that the operations of government will be cumbersome, slow, expensive, and sometimes inane. Any reasonable person familiar with bureaucratic structures can provide examples illustrating this rule. I offer a few of my own.

Some time back in the late fifties, Frary Wood Turning Co. received a visit from a federal official who came to inventory its resources with a view to determining its role in a national mobilization to fight World War III. The man completed his inspection in an hour or so and, on his way out, my father inquired about a federal contract for the manufacture of tent pegs. An address was provided, an inquiry was sent, and in short order, a thick manila envelope arrived with information about the necessary procedures. More envelopes followed until Frary Wood Turning Co. accumulated about three pounds of forms, rules, regulations, procedures, and copies of relevant statutes.
Now a small wood turner with expectation of a normal lifespan and only his wife to assist him in the office does not spend his time sifting through three pounds of federal paper. He feeds them into his steam boiler to heat the dry kiln and goes on with life.

Bearing in mind that, next to a dowel, a tent peg is about the easiest product a wood turner can turn, let us consider an order from a private company for a complicated ornamental curtain rod finial. It has three parts: a base with multiple curves fitted into a kind of trumpet, tipped with a little ball. A letter of one or two pages arrives accompanied by a blueprint of the design. The manufacturer sends back a letter of one or two pages quoting a price, proposing delivery times and, perhaps, recommending some changes profitable to both parties. A letter of acceptance or rejection is returned. The paperwork is done.

My father’s reminiscence amplifies the point of this story. During World War I, my grandfather’s company in western Massachusetts turned a couple million tent pegs, so many that Washington sent a resident inspector. This man had a good war.

He showed up at the mill around ten in the morning, loafed around the office swilling coffee, broke for lunch and a spell of croquet around 11:30 a.m., returned at 2:30 or 3:00, and ended the day in a contented and rested condition. His tranquil existence was briefly disrupted when a box arrived from some office in Washington. This box contained a stamping device with instructions to stamp every single tent peg, certifying it as fit for the use of the troops. This impossible mandate caused the poor fellow a couple of days of extreme stress. He tore his hair, rent his garments, wept salt tears, and cast about desperately for a solution.

Common sense soon revealed the way out of his dilemma and restored his tranquility. He figured that no one was going to be charged to inspect the tent pegs to insure that they had been inspected. He threw away the stamper and went on as before – guzzling coffee, lunching heartily, and knocking little wooden balls about on the village green.

The country marched on to the victory we commemorate every eleventh of November. The officials in Washington congratulated themselves on their careful stewardship of the nation’s resources. Uncle Hubert reported that the soldiers at the front were grateful for the warmth from burning thousands of excess tent pegs.

John Frary was born in Farmington, where he now resides. He graduated from U of M, Orono. He did graduate work in Political Science and in Ancient, Medieval, Byzantine and modern history at U of M., Rutgers and Princeton, completing his Masters degree along with all courses and examinations for the PhD. He worked in administration and as a professor of history and political science at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ for 32 years. He is associate editor of The International Military Encyclopedia, has been assistant editor of Continuity: A Journal of History as well as editor and publisher The LU/English Newsletter. After returning to Maine he was chosen to be the conservative columnist for The Kennebec Journal and The Morning Sentinel. He was dismissed from this position in December for refusing to drop his criticism of the Dirigo Health Plan. He is currently chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee.



About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 All Maine Matters