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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mind-Boggling Government Stupidity: The Tale of Darrell Penwell

I met Darrell Penwell around 2000. I forget the year, but I remember being around 15 at the time. His office was tucked away in an obscure corner of the Charles Town court house. It was cluttered with boxes and loose papers. He wore a extra large "Big Dog" t-shirt which was stretched tight over his ample belly. He looked like a walrus with Down's Syndrome.

My dad and I were there to discuss Penwell's plan to change the addresses in Jefferson County. WV. That is to say, my dad came to explain why his idea sucked. You can read about the idea here. The gist was that by changing the house numbers of houses along rural roads, emergency vehicles would be able to find them more easily. So for example. a house whose original address was Rural Route 1 would get changed to 400 Rural Route 1, where the 400 signified the approximate distance from a stop sign or intersection.

Here's why it's dumb. Our house was in a subdivision. Its number was 20, the one before was 19, and the one after was 21. All adjacent houses had consecutive numbers. Penwell's address change would turn 20 into 198 and the other two into equally odd 3-digit numbers. The house numbers would no longer increase in a regular pattern, which would make it much harder for emergency vehicles to find them. My dad writes 911 software and knows from speaking with police and EMT crews that they find addresses by looking at house numbers. If the house numbers are all screwy, they're much less likely to get there in time.

Unfortunately, despite many protests, the addresses were changed. Penwell was later arrested for fraud for a travel reimbursement scam and was replaced. His idiotic address change lives on.

I consider myself lucky to have seen at young age how the government really works. Looking back, the scheme was like a miniature version of Obamacare or Prohibition. 

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