KENT WARD

The Fnu Lnu factor in government

Posted April 08, 2011, at 8:35 p.m.

A five-column story in a recent weekend newspaper about renovations under way at Bangor’s Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building reported that 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud was beside himself with joy over how swell the renovation — paid for with $54 million in federal stimulus funds — is progressing.

“Michaud touts renovations to federal building,” the headline screamed. Directly above the story, at casual glance causing the two items to seem to be related, was a dramatic five-column photograph of a tractor-trailer on fire at an area truck stop.

When you’re talking about renovating this particular mother of all ugly government buildings, torching is probably a good way to go, I surmised. Then, I noticed the faint hairline cutoff rule that separated news story from photograph, and I realized that article and picture were not a package after all. But I saved the layout for amusement purposes anyway, filing it with a stash of other clippings that never fail to induce smiles.

The collection includes some classics that were published in the Bangor Daily News — a couple of which involve typographical errors that are simply unrepeatable even by today’s loose societal standards. Trust me when I suggest that in any hall of fame for great typos, these two would easily rate top billing.

As I rummaged through the assortment, I became reacquainted with corrections that had been reprinted in the Columbia Journalism Review, a trade magazine, including one that originally had run in the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle.

“Erroneous information was inadvertently inserted into the biographical summary accompanying a story on Peter Keefe in Tuesday’s Democrat and Chronicle,” the item reads. “Keefe cannot simultaneously whistle, stand on his head and drink beer.”

Inadvertently inserted? I’m guessing that the insertion of a description of Mr. Keefe’s unique multi-tasking abilities into the biographical summary in question was anything but inadvertent, a word that my dictionary describes as an act “done unintentionally, or without thinking.” I suspect that a practical joker on the loose in the Democrat Chronicle newsroom at the time of the incident schemed long and hard in slipping the line by a half-awake editor and may still be basking in his claim to fame today, some 17 years after the fact.

A correction from the Newport News Daily Press in Virginia shows what can happen when cop-speak befuddles rookie reporters: “An article in Saturday’s local section incorrectly reported that a suspect identified as ‘Fnu Lnu’ had been indicted by a federal grand jury. ‘Fnu Lnu’ is not a name. FNU is a law enforcement abbreviation for ‘first name unknown;’ LNU for ‘last name unknown.’”

As I read the clip, it occurred to me that Fnu Lnu may be alive and well, working in Augusta as a nameless bureaucrat operating in the background, writing rules and regulations that attach to laws enacted by the Legislature. I believe his work surfaced this week in a news story reporting that Gov. Paul LePage had signed into law a bill barring the Maine Department of Environmental Protection from regulating the storage of fishing gear on commercial fishing piers.

The legislation was drafted after a South Bristol fisherman who had received state permission to build a pier on the Damariscotta River to support his commercial fishing operation was told by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that he could not store  his lobster traps on the pier during winter, when he wasn’t fishing.

According to the news story filed by BDN reporter Bill Trotter, someone in the DEP (Fnu Lnu?) decided that the wire mesh traps “would cast a shadow which would have an adverse impact on seaweed next to the dock trying to absorb sunlight.” The shadow cast by the 180-foot long dock presumably does not harm the seaweed.

A spokeswoman for LePage’s newly appointed DEP leadership could not explain the reasoning behind the former management’s 2007 anti-shadow ruling, for which no one appeared eager to claim credit. In the end, the DEP changed its mind, supporting the legislation that was cited by its sponsor as a remedy for the kind of overreaching state regulation that should be eliminated.

One could fairly picture some overreaching Fnu Lnu slinking away in defeat — like the evil Snidely Whiplash in those old Saturday-morning “Rocky and Bullwinkle” television cartoons — while muttering, “Curses. Foiled again.”

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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