Bureau of Salmon

The president’s salmon quip was one of the better received parts of the State of the Union. Though it ticked me off to the point where it’s been bugging me ever since.

Obama: Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.

He might as well have said, ‘Government, how does it work?’ As many Republicans have said before in their own way, from John McCain wondering why government pays for planetarium projectors to Bobby Jindal wondering why it funds volcano research. To which I’d say, to each and every one of them, ‘Government, why does it cut you a check?’

Though this is really all pretty simple to understand, and I don’t even work for the government. As follows …

“the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water”

The Interior Department handles a lot of land use issues. Fresh water habitats, the watersheds that feed into them, and all the other organisms that live in those streams and lakes along with the salmon, are on the land that they are responsible for.

So long as the government has any policy at all towards salmon, who inconveniently live in both salt and fresh water at different times in their lives, the people who manage fresh water habitats are always going to have some responsibility towards the fish that live there. All of them.

Because there isn’t a Bureau of Salmon, there shouldn’t be and no one wants that.

“the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater”

Almost. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) handles salmon, and other marine species, when they’re in salt water.

That NOAA is under the commerce department is, I’m sure, an artifact of a strange fight long ago that no one cares enough to revisit. But it isn’t, technically, true to say that the Commerce Department, full stop, deals with saltwater fish, if you’re making a joke implying that the people who hold that direct authority are humorously unqualified to do so.

See, because it isn’t funny at all if you say, ‘the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration handles them when they’re in saltwater.’ Then it’s almost self-explanatory.

Because there isn’t a Bureau of Salmon, there shouldn’t be and no one wants that.

I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked

Not by that much. NOAA and Interior manage live animals in their native habitats, with the sometimes goal of keeping more of them alive. They don’t supervise the handling of dead animals so that they can be sold in grocery stores and restaurants without causing sudden outbreaks of disease and/or death. Which is as it should be.

This is like being amazed that different groups of people handle human births and burials.

It’s true, the organizations that do handle food safety are a little odd. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have issues, which their employees can bend your ear about for hours.

For example, FDA handles closed-face sandwiches and USDA deals with open-face sandwiches. That is actually funny, but it’s also easy. If you can read this paragraph, you can understand it.

Though chances are good that no one’s done anything about funny things like that because, by now, it probably seems like more trouble than it’s worth to shuffle thousands of people from one government agency office to another. Or perhaps, just change the signage over the doors.

It’s also something no one cares about as long as they keep us from getting food poisoning, or being fed one thing and told it’s another, okay? That’s simple. Do that, you can call yourselves whatever you want.

Still, between the FDA and USDA combined, there isn’t a Bureau of Salmon, or even a Salmon Administration. There shouldn’t be and no one wants that.

Bad Writing, Worse Thinking

Among the writing wisdom of the Guardian‘s former science editor, is something that sums up the worst thing in all these confused proclamations about government by elected officials:

So if an issue is tangled like a plate of spaghetti, then regard your story as just one strand of spaghetti, carefully drawn from the whole. Ideally with the oil, garlic and tomato sauce adhering to it. The reader will be grateful for being given the simple part, not the complicated whole. That is because (a) the reader knows life is complicated, but is grateful to have at least one strand explained clearly, and (b) because nobody ever reads stories that say “What follows is inexplicably complicated …

With these bumbling and fake-folksy fake jokes, elected officials announce that they’re giving up on even the most basic attempt to help their constituents interact with the government we hired them to run for us.

‘It’s too complicated for me,’ they say, ‘and probably for you, too,’ they suggest, ‘but quick, look over there, veterans!’

No. That’s not okay. It’s their job to understand these things and discuss them with us. If you really understand something, you can explain it to almost anyone. If they won’t do that, won’t even try, we’re just back to the old argument about whether they’re incompetent or trying to distract us.

And that, my fellow Americans, is an inexplicably complex topic.

5 thoughts on “Bureau of Salmon

  1. Thank you for that very rational explanation. Sadly, if that were to get into the hands of a teabagger, his or her head would explode, one hemorrhoid at a time.

  2. what he also didn’t say is that none of it fucking matters anyway because they’ve all been bought and paid for.

    watch for frankenfish coming any day now.

  3. Some good old fashioned Cascadian (Pacific Northwest) horse sense there. I missed it (not the joke, the context, as I was asking myself what he was smoking).

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