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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Fence

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
You might not believe this, even if you saw it on television and read about it in your newspaper.

The English-speaking people of the world aren't always as smart as, say, Stephen Hawking who writes about cosmic stuff like time, black holes and the universe, but wouldn't you think the people in charge of U.S. security would at least be able to measure distance?

I'm not talking about the distance from earth to the moon or anything hard like that. Just a few feet is all I'm talking about here.

It might startle you to learn that the U.S.-Mexico border fencing fuss has resulted in something so funny that nobody could possibly make it up, not even Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck.

I hope you're sitting because otherwise, you might fall down from laughing as you read on.

It seems that a 1.5 mile barrier along the border has been discovered to have been erected on the wrong side. That's right, you heard me. It was mistakenly built inside Mexico's boundaries instead of on the border.

Embarrassed U.S. border officials aren't sure if it's one foot or maybe it could be six feet inside the Mexican border. For one thing, isn't it about time these officials converted feet into centimeters like the rest of the world so everybody doesn't have to stop what he's doing and look it up?

I just looked it up and what they've done is put the fence from 3.28 meters to as much as 19.69 meters on the wrong side.

You've got to love North Americans. These mistakes are much funnier if you do.

The barrier in question was part of more than 15 miles (that would convert to 24.14 kilometers) of border fence built in the year 2000 (no conversion necessary) stretching from Columbus, New Mexico, to James Johnson's onion farm.

Johnson places the blame for this screw-up on his forefathers who put up a barbed wire fence back in the 19th century and seemingly were unable top draw a straight line between two points. Sure, try telling that to the Mexican farmer on whose land great, great, great, great grandpa stuck his fence a couple of hundred years ago. "It was a mistake," says Johnson. Well, yeah.

Now we have a bunch of bureaucrats on both sides of the border getting into the act. The U.S.A. spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, Michael Friel, said the barrier was "built on what was known to be the international boundary at the time." He acknowledged to Fox News that the method used was "less precise than it is today." Brilliant deduction.

The International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint Mexican-American group that administers the 2,000-mile-long (3,218.68 kilometers) border, said the border has never changed and is marked every few miles by tall concrete or metal markers. I guess Mr. Johnson's great, great, great, great, etc. granddaddy failed to notice them.

According to Fox, Sally Spener, a commission spokeswoman in El Paso said the agency is generally consulted for construction projects to ensure that treaties are followed. The commission is working with the Department of Homeland Security "to develop a standardized protocol" for building fences and barriers.

"We just want to make sure those things are clear now," Spener said. Well, dearie, they aren't clear at all. Nobody knows what you're talking about; even the other bureaucrats are confused.

The super polite Mexican government sent a nice note to the U.S.A. asking for its land to be returned. "Our country will continue insisting for the removal to be done as quickly as possible," said the Foreign Relations Department in its diplomatic missive to Washington.

Mr. Johnson is not happy and said he doesn't understand why the placement of the barriers has become an issue. "The markers are in the right place, and the fence is crooked," Johnson said. Maybe granddaddy was looped that night.

The media is reporting that "the mistake could cost the federal government more than $3 million to fix."

Note that the taxpayer is referred to by the generic title, "the federal government," like the taxpayer can't figure out that it's really him.

All we have to do to get a laugh these days is read the decisions coming out of Washington.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"

July 6, 2007 column

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