Friday, August 11, 2006

Brought To You By The Letter F

There are too many assclowns in positions of authority in this country, and believe it or not this time I’m not even talking about the rat bastards in the Bush administration. This time I’m talking about two separate incidents involving the people in charge of personalized license plates, one here in Iowa, the other in Ohio.

Here in Iowa, the Department of Transportation is in the process of revoking a license plate it originally awarded in 2001 because one man found it offensive.

Even if you didn’t hear the rest of the story, you’d think that was absurd, right? A guy requests the vanity plates, IDOT awards them, the guy drives around for five years (presumably not just up and down his driveway), and then suddenly, magically, his vanity message becomes offensive enough to warrant revocation.

Not because hundreds of people deluged IDOT with complaints, mind you. Because one person took offense.

John Miller of Boone owns the car in question. He drives a 1966 Corvair, which was featured rather prominently in Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Miller’s license plate reads “F NADER.”

You can look at that a couple of ways. You can look at it as a playful swat at Nader: “Hey, Ralph, I’m still driving your ‘unsafe’ Corvair 40 years later.” You could also look at it as a not-so-playful message to the candidate who siphoned off enough votes from Al Gore in 2000 to throw the election into chaos. I don’t know John Miller’s politics, but since his hobby is restoring old Corvairs I suspect it’s the first reason.

Either way, Joel Paulson of Ames caught a glimpse of Miller’s car one day, and promptly complained to IDOT that the license plate was in poor taste. When this story first came out, Paulson reportedly said he shouldn’t have to explain to a child what F NADER means.

In the first place, if the kid’s old enough, he already knows what F NADER means. If he’s younger, there’s nothing about the license plate that would make him curious enough to ask. And if he asked anyway and Joel Paulson didn’t want to explain that F is sometimes used as an abbreviation for a word “you’re not old enough to hear,” then the proper answer—listen up, Joel—would have been “Why, I’ll bet that means Fred Nader. Or maybe Frank. How many F-names can you think of, sport?”

But no, that would have been too easy. You don’t get your name in the paper that way.

Paulson had this little gem of a quote in the Des Moines Register this week: “I wonder how he’d like it if someone drove around Boone with a license plate that said ‘F JOHN MILLER?”

Good question. Of course, it would mean that somebody at IDOT approved a license plate that’s five or six letters over the limit—which is feasible considering that so much of the department’s resources are devoted to making the world safe from the letter F.

John Miller plans to appeal the revocation, as he should, and will be represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. Randall Wilson of the ACLU told the Register “The license plate isn’t obscene or vulgar by any modern standard.” Bingo. A Joel Paulson would have to take the extra step in his imagination to make it obscene, which he obviously did. And when you have government agencies trying to protect us from our own imaginations, you’ve got government agencies with entirely too much power.

The Ohio case is similar. A 74-year-old woman named Pat Niple has had her personalized license plate for ten years (no, it doesn’t say NIPLE—jeez, don’t jump to conclusions), and now the state is saying it’s obscene.

Her plate reads NWTF, because she and her late husband owned Northwood Tree Farm.

But because a generation of IMers and text messagers use it to mean something else, Ohio says Ms Niple’s plates have to go.


I’ve never seen “NWTF” in an online conversation. I assume the N stands for “Now,” although I can’t be sure. In any event, once again, the reader has to take the extra step. If he already knows what it means, he can chuckle or be offended or whatever he wants—but he can’t blame someone else for his own interpretation.

I’m not sure civil servants should be put in a position of trying to determine what’s obscene, what’s acceptable, what won’t offend the self-righteous prigs of the world. But if they’re going to uphold people like Joel Paulson as the standard of sensitivity, maybe we should just go back to random numbers and letters.

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