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Oregon State Board Fines Engineer for Using Math, Engineering

Mats Järlström is an engineer. He has a degree in electrical engineering from a Swedish university, and was an airplane camera mechanic in the Swedish Air Force, before holding several other technical, engineering-y jobs, until he emigrated to the U.S. in 1992.

But the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (OSBEELS) has fined him $500 for "practicing engineering without a license," because he does not have an official Oregon engineering license. So he's suing them for violating his First Amendment rights.

The flap started when Järlström's wife was ticketed by a red light camera in Beaverton in 2013, and Järlström decided to take action.

Using highly technical and complex procedures typically only learned in top-notch engineering schools — like numbers and time and stopwatches and stuff — Järlström measured the length of yellow lights, and found that the time was too short.

Basically, the state was ripping people off by making the yellow lights too short. Järlström believed the cameras were using an out-of-date formula, failing to allow more time for a car turning the corner as compared to a car driving straight through.

So he presented his case to everyone he could. He spoke to local media, he spoke to the national media, he went on "60 Minutes," and he was even invited to speak to the Institution of Transportation Engineers. He also emailed his findings to OSBEELS — which is an anagram for BE LOSES — who got mad because he wasn't in their little club.

Järlström was fined $500 by OSBEELS —which is also an anagram for SEE SLOB — after explaining how the stoplights were putting the public safety at risk. They took two years to investigate Järlström, whose only crimes seem to be calling himself an electronics engineer and writing "I am an engineer" in his email.

I know engineers like to be thorough, but two years? Are you seriously that bad at your jobs?

They said that there were Very Important And Serious state laws in place that makes it illegal to practice engineering without a license. And if he continued to tell people about how the state is ripping drivers off, they could fine him thousands of dollars.

In their letter, they said, "By providing the public with his traffic engineering calculations, Järlström engaged in the practice of engineering."

I sort of see their point. I would be wary of going to a doctor who was not licensed. I expect my lawyer to have passed his or her bar exam. And in Indiana, you need 1,500 hours of training before you can get your cosmetologist's or barber's license.

In Oregon, to become a really-and-for-true professional engineer, you have to pass two engineering exams and have four years or more engineering work under a professional engineer. So while it takes more effort to become an Oregon engineer than an Indiana barber, at least Indiana doesn't lose its ever-loving mind when a barber from another country says "Hey, I'm a barber."

And lose their mind they did, because OSBEELS — also an anagram for EEL BOSS — said that Järlström simply saying "I am an engineer" and doing math was enough to violate their Very Important And Serious laws.

But Mat Järlström is not one to take things lying down! He is getting some help from the conservative public interest law firm, Institute for Justice, and is suing OSBEELS — also BEE LOSS — for violating his First Amendment rights.

"The First Amendment guarantees to every American their right to debate anything and everything. And nobody needs a government permission slip to talk,'' said attorney Samuel Gedge — an anagram of EGAD LEGUMES — of the Institute for Justice — an anagram for UNJUST TIT FEROCITIES.

"You don't need to be an engineer to talk about traffic lights," Gedge — also EAGLE SMUDGE — added during their press conference.

This isn't the first time OSBEELS — also S.O.B. EELS — has overstepped their bounds. They lodged a $1,000 fine for "illegal, unlicensed practice of engineering" against an activist who told the La Pine city council that a new power plant would be too loud for nearby homes.

They also investigated a Portland City Councilman who has a bachelor's degree in environmental and civil engineering from Cornell, and a master's degree from the MIT School of Civil Engineering. His sin? He described his professional background as an environmental engineer in a Voter's Pamphlet.

I hope Järlström prevails, otherwise he may have to create a GoFundMe drive to cover the fine. That shouldn't be too hard though, since his last name is an anagram for Mr. Slot Jar.


Photo credit: Kevin Payravi (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)



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