The Ministry of Confusion

I can think of one reason to end the federal shutdown: there are a lot of stupid people now roaming the streets. The Feds, however, do not have a monopoly on idiocy. Bureaucratic bumbling can be found wherever there's large government, even on the state and yes, on the county level.

I know a thing or two about these things. Back in the early '70s I was in Spain with my brothers Michael and Johnny, the three of us attending a Spanish high school. As part of this arrangement we had to handle all necessary requirements, uppermost being the requirement for patience dealing with the most incoherent bureaucracy ever visited on man. There was no problem Spaniards couldn’t make worse by a factor of ten just by tackling it.

Officially we never attended school in Spain. Why? Because it was impossible for an American to register. Every couple of Saturdays we would take the train to Madrid, to visit the Ministry of This, or Ministry of That (never offices, mind you, always “ministries”). We’d lug the folders with the ever-growing mountain of paperwork, in duplicate, triplicate, quadruplicate, and who knows why. After the prerequisite interminable wait, the paper pusher would examine the document carefully, harrumph where appropriate and then, pen firmly pinched between finger and thumb,perched ominously over the paper, he’d begin furiously drawing concentric circles in the air, and when the circling motion reached supersonic speed, he’d drop the pen to the paper and watch as first the paper was covered by massive circles of ink inside of which was placed a name so flowery as to make John Hancock blush with envy. Ah, the self-delusion.

That would be followed by the cannonade -- Bam! Bam! Bam! -- as the official stamp of the Ministry of Confusion pounded page after page. The official seal of approval now bestowed, we were instructed to proceed -- to the next ministry. Back to school, back to Madrid, back to school, back and forth – until after several months we finally surrendered and abandoned the mission. Which is why none of us attended high school in Spain, in my case for three years.

But oh, did we laugh at the insanity of it all! We simply could not believe the startling incompetence, on so many levels, of the socialist government. We’d shake our heads in wonderment that common sense could be so elusive for these mindless bureaucrats. It was incomprehensible to us as Americans.

Not anymore. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the brave new world of the socialized government, both on the federal and (in most instances) the state level. Just as with Spain 40 years ago, simple answers elude when government minders are not required to exert more than 15 watts of intelligence at any given time.

Dear reader, I offer you a challenge: if you can beat this example of inanity, I will reproduce it in a future column.

Early this year, I had some work performed on my property. As part of the permit exercise I was commanded by Fairfax County (Virginia) to enter into an “agreement” putting up a “conservation escrow” for the "Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance." Last week a letter arrived from said county instructing me to send them a W-9 form, or else said escrow check would not be released. Mailing directions were provided, which is nice. No explanation was given for what a W-9 form is.

So I had to call. Hand-to-God, after the endless maze of recorded instructions, I reached a live person. At least I think she was alive.

Me: I'm calling about your letter. It says I have to send a W-9 form. I have no idea what a W-9 form is.
Her: You download it from the IRS at
Me: What does the IRS have to do with this? This is a conservation escrow check held by Fairfax County.
Her: They have the W-9 form.
Me: So what is a W-9 form?
Her: (Channeling her inner Nancy Pelosi) You have to download it to see. It will be explained to you.
Me: Can't you explain it to me?
Her: It is your address.
Me: It is my what???
Her: You print it off and fill out your address and send it to us to confirm your address.
Me: But...but... but...You know my address. You have my address. You sent this letter to me at my address, referencing a job completed at this address.
Her: But we need confirmation.
Me: (Dumbstruck) So … how about I hereby confirm it.
Her: I'm sorry, we need the W-9 form which you can download at IRS. gov and mail it to us in the---


So beat that. In the meantime, watch for furloughed government workers. They know not what they do.