March 19, 2019

Heavy Dose of Notoriety


Snow was gently mantling the pines and oak trees of Doodlebug Island when I returned recently from Washington, D.C. The icy water of Oak Creek murmured a gentle welcome as it made its way through the salt grass and holly bushes lining the banks. Nothing seemed to intrude on the quiet, peaceful reverence that gathered in the glades and rocky outcrops. “Home, at last!” I thought with happy contemplation, “And may the devil take me if either fame or notoriety is ever welcome at my door again!” For it was at the behest of those lusty twins that I had been called away.

About a year or so ago and upon the request of a friend who edits the Arizona Legislative Review, I agreed to fill in for him for the week he had to be gone. The legislature didn’t meet that week, and I, therefore, had nothing to review. So, I filled the space with what I hoped would be instructive material. I was glad to do it, for legislative folks might not have thought of those things on their own. Inexplicably, however, I only succeeded in raising the ire of members, who, upon the return of my friend, descended upon him, accusing him of threats and intimidation practices calculated to embarrass them and expose their actions to the unfriendly light of reason. On his part, my friend was rather dismissive of my efforts and hasn’t asked me to fill in for him again. Come to think of it, he hasn’t spoken to me, either.

Of all the articles I penned, the one that appeared to generate the most mischief was something I called “Jordan’s Law.” It goes like this:

Every perceived social need will sooner or later be bureaucratized and wrapped in institutional layers like a fence post enfolded in an adjacent tree. The institution will invariably be asked to expand beyond its original mission to the point it loses sight of its mission. It will then behave with the same intensity as a swarm of gnats and accomplish the same results.

If the institution is of governmental origin, it will become regulatory in nature and will generate forests of regulations distributed through the Legislative Review or the Federal Register. Those regulations will apply to everyone in the nation except the Legislature or Congress and the agency which dreamed them up. If the institution is of the private sector, it will hire lobbyists to do its work, and its director will sooner or later be indicted for embezzlement. The social need thus addressed will continue unabated. In fact, it will get worse!

At that point one third will urge greater funding; another third will urge reorganization; the last third will urge a redefinition of the problem. It will occur to practically nobody to admit the social need was wrongly perceived or was not to be rectified by public meddling. The whole mess will pass into the hands of younger generations who will be stuck paying the bill and with no clue what to do about it.

Well, an aspiring intern serving duty in Arizona and on sabbatical from Johns Hopkins University sent a copy of the foregoing to his doctoral advisor in Baltimore; she disseminated it among colleagues, the piece achieved a life of its own, and I gained the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. That was when the office of Homeland Insecurity, fearful that insurrection was about to break out, decided to learn the source of such heresy and eventually came knocking at my door. Humor and joy in these folks appeared to match quality of thought, all together approximating Pb/82 on the Periodic Table of Elements–leaden in the full sense of that word. They “invited” me to Washington to testify before committees and directors who found the whole thing “suspicious” but nevertheless covered by the First Amendment.

First a modest fame, and then a rather heavy dose of notoriety! The two may seem the same, but they’re not. The first is mildly flattering, but the second makes people want to collect your autograph and borrow money. There the comparison ends, and I’m content to be done with both.

In light of current experience, I’ve added an amendment to the 10th element referred to above:

And the messenger who brings the matter to public attention will be alternately lionized and vilified in equal measure.

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