Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kool-aid shot of the day…

I came across this little passage in a letter to the editor in today’s Ostrich, and just can’t resist passing it along:

This is the 21st century in forward-looking Maine — a state trying to attract and retain the best and brightest of our youth.

Excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me?

Apparently the writer has been on a Kool-aid drip for some time; I don’t know how else you could come to this conviction.

It reminds me of the letters a few  years back that said “Brunswick will continue to grow” even though the base was closing, and it’s certifiable that we had not been “growing” even with the base open.

You just can’t make this stuff up, can you?

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Ostrich – not looking too good, taxwise.

Update, Thursday, Sept 30th.

Perhaps this whole story was made up; we’ll have to see.  We just scanned the first section of today’s Ostrich, and found no confirmation of the report posted below yesterday.  And if it’s not to be found in the pages of our local government watchdog, how true could it be?


Just came across this published report:

Past deadline: Brunswick Publishing, the company that owns the Times Record afternoon daily paper, has failed to make its last two property tax payments to the town of Brunswick. As a result the town has placed a lien on BP’s property.

BP first missed a tax payment of $36,546.36 in October of 2009, according to town finance director John Eldridge.

Leave it to Al Diamon to dig up this news, and have it appear on Down East Magazine’s web page.

Much as we’re tempted, we here at the offices will refrain from noting that they missed their first payment 4 months after Side began publishing.

Maybe it’s time they get their collective heads out of the sand and pay attention.

And make sure the mail gets opened.


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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chapter 2: The Colossus of Spring & McKeen

Teaching an old dog new tricks

If you read the opening “Chapter” on this subject, you know that your correspondent is a bit “skeptical” when it comes to design characteristics of the new school, and how it relates to community pride and the traditional New England “character” of the surrounding area.

Much of this '”skepticism” derives from this correspondent’s life in the world of science and engineering, and our woeful lack of sophistication in matters of the “creative economy,” culture in general, and the fine arts.

And so it is that we are pleased to report an epiphany on this plane.  We have learned that when one is exposed to a seemingly chaotic, discombobulated, and inexplicable architectural construct, it only takes one or two very minor details to rise above the mess, as it were, and “pull everything together.”

This became obvious as we drove by the campus over and over in recent weeks, and watched the Colossus take a more definitive form.

(Let us interject here that just the other day, while approaching the site, we saw a very official looking car, a Ford Victoria typical of law enforcement, passing by on McKeen.  It was marked “US Art Marshall - To Observe and Protest".  Has anyone else seen it, or have any clue as to its existence?  Given our subject here, it seemed quite ironic to us.)

In particular, we noticed two unifying features that make the architecture of the School sing, and that ennoble and lift the human soul.  And we are confident that the children who will soon attend the School will resonate to the creativity on display.

Let’s take a look.


While some might see this octagon rising above the structure as reminiscent of a pill box hat from the Jackie O era, or an “artistic statement” about Stop Signs, I choose to believe it is much more.

Just what, I’m not sure, but I put myself in the “if you have to ask, you’d never understand” demographic.  It’s unifying power is obvious nonetheless, isn’t it?

And then we have this stunning feature of the design:


Again, some might look askance at this brickwork, seeing it as some kind of graffiti-like expression by a malcontent bricklayer, or the result of one too many at the evening barbecues on the construction site, or as a friend said, a bad batch of bricks going unnoticed until it was too late.  Then again, they could be a design recommended by the Audubon Society to attract chimney swifts from far and wide.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Today’s “kuppa kool aid”

Faithful readers know that this humble (and proud of it) and sincere (whether I mean it or not) correspondent often falls behind in reading the print media, and especially The Ostrich.

And so it is that I am a Poppy-come-lately on some matters.  The stack is nearby, however, and we work items off as we can.

Tonight we come with a brief note regarding Doug Rooks’ (rhymes with Kooks) paid column in The Ostrich on Thursday, September 16th.  It was titled “Getting to know Paul LePage.”  This is one of those columns that cannot be left without comment.

Doug can often be seen squeezing, sorting through, and reshaping the facts to meet his pre-anointed scenario, in this case, that Paul LePage has no experience worthy of becoming Governor of our state.

No one will wonder who I support; no matter.  None-the-less, expecting paid pundits, given a central op-ed page location, complete with a sympathetic photo, to be reasonably truthful and accurate is a non-partisan view.

This is the passage that got our editorial desk cables all in a knot:

What is LePage really like? His only political post of note is mayor of Waterville, a small city, and no one has been in this position — the leading candidate for Maine’s top executive office — with so little experience in two generations.

Of recent governors, John McKernan and John Baldacci had been elected to multiple terms in Congress, Angus King was a prominent businessman and political talk show host, and Joe Brennan was attorney general.

Hey; back up the truck, Doug.  You claim that LePage has only one ‘political post of note,’ while completely ignoring his real life business experience?  And then contrasting it, despairingly, to Angus King, for whom you site NO POLITICAL POST OF NOTE, OR FOR THAT MATTER, OF ANY SORT. 

Then you mention that “Angus King was a prominent businessman,” with no specifics, while completely ignoring LePage’s position as head of the very successful Marden’s chain, with 1200 employees.  I suppose King’s leadership of a legal practice with a half dozen or so employees is more impressive, at least if you’re a windmill fan.

But the pièce de ré·sis·tance, the heart and soul of Rooks’ Kool-Aid cocktail is this: Angus King was a “political talk show host.”  And that is supposed to qualify one to be Governor?

So we suppose then, that in Rooks’ eyes, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Neil Boortz, Mark Levin, and numerous others have experience that makes them more qualified than Paul LePage to be Governor of Maine.

Let’s face it; Rooks is a purveyor of pure, unadulterated, left-wing bleeder big government gruel.  Am I jealous that he gets paid for doing so?  You’re damn freakin’ right I am!  Am I angry as hell that the Editors of The Ostrich think they’re fulfilling their role as “government watchdog” by carrying his worthless drivel, and putting food on his table in the process?

Of course I am!  And saying so makes me a good deal more forthcoming and honest than they are.

Now I’ve got to go off and follow up with a post called “Getting to know Doug Rooks,” in which I assert that he has “so little experience in two generations” for being granted his featured position on the Op-Ed page.

As far as I know, he has never been a prominent businessman, or a political talk show host.  So where does he get off lecturing the rest of us on what we should think?

Not that it matters if you are anointed, and like The Ostrich, are engaged in idol worship of the New York Times.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Word or two on “abusive language”

I want to touch briefly on abuse of plain language, rather than abusive language per se’, but at some level, I suppose they are the same.

Those of you cursed by good memories may recall I have written on this subject elsewhere over the years, under such titles as “Speaking Augustan.”

As I was walking the dodo’s a little while ago, my thoughts crystallized (or is it atrophied?) around two specific examples from current public discourse.

While I will not identify specific parties, those who follow the news will easily discern who is who.

“The Party of No”

We hear this assertion all the time these days….it’s a perfect bumper sticker sound bite.  It occurs to me, however, that just about every time someone says “no” to one idea, they are saying “yes” to something else.

If you’ve been blessed to have and raise children, have you ever told them no, or have you always said yes?  This old geezer, and the “geezette,” as I once heard mom’s called, often said no, and worse, if you get my drift.

No to overnighters with unknown families at age 7; no to candy for each meal of the day; no to beer parties for middle school graduation; no to riding a bike without your helmet; no to staying out to 2am at age 14.  Is anyone prepared to say these “no’s” make no sense?

At the adult level, saying “no” to fiscal irresponsibility is saying “yes” to a sustainable future and economy.  Saying “no” to centrally planned, controlled, and regulated health care is saying “yes” to the founding principles of liberty, free enterprise, limited government, and compliance with the Constitution.

That would be the Constitution each elected official swears to preserve, protect, and defend when they take their oath of office.  Saying “no” to living beyond government’s means is saying “yes” to a better future for our children and grandchildren.

So the next time you hear the “party of no” rhetoric, stop and think for a minute what is really going on.  If you don’t change your mind, fine; at least you will have thought critically on the subject.

“No New Ideas”

I’ve heard this one over and over again: “they have no ‘new ideas.’”

So what.  I don’t see where whether or not an idea is “new” is a measure of merit.  I’m much more interested in proven, good ideas, than I am new ideas.  And convinced that is what we need first and foremost.

Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Live within your means.
  • Put something aside for the future.
  • Think about the long term, not just today and tomorrow.
  • Obey the law, and honor the Constitution.
  • Live out your oath of office.
  • Eat healthy and exercise.
  • Don’t drive drunk.  (And don’t govern as if you were drunk.)
  • Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • Get a good education.

Are any of these ideas “new?”  Can you name many more that would fit perfectly in this list?  No they aren’t, and of course you can!

These ideas are as old as the hills.  I will argue strenuously, however, that they are good – as good or better than any “new ideas.”  And more proven.

So once again, the next time you hear someone say “they don’t have any ‘new’ ideas,” shrug your shoulders, and say ‘so what, most of the ideas we really need have been around for a very, very long time.’

And that’s all I have to say about that.  Let’s see how many “idiotic” ratings come in.  With no explanation or any alternatives.  Or “new ideas.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Follow-up: Duhhhh on the bus issue

I promised the other day in this post that I would go in search of Bus ridership figures.  And I have.

My first thought was to contact Concord Coach Lines directly, and here is the response I got:

That information is not available to the public. You are welcome to submit your request in writing for individual review.

Thank you

I suppose I might have gotten a better response if I told them I was some sort of muckety-muck, or a grand high poobah, but I didn’t.  So I’ll put on the groveling pads and submit a written request.  Unless I can get one of the aforementioned to intervene on my behalf.  I’ll call Stan about this tomorrow.

I’ll sort that out and keep you posted.  For today, however, I decided to do a little ‘on site’ reporting, so I headed into town to catch 3 of the 4 Bus stops at Maine Street Station.

Before I give you the results of this highly unscientific study, here are a few interesting tidbits to go along with the data:

  • The Downeaster Train from Portland to Boston cannot take you directly to the airport, like the buses from Brunswick and Portland can.  The Buses take you right to your specific airline’s terminal, and pick you up at the same place when you return.  If you take the train to Boston, you have to catch “The T” to take you from the train station to the airport, and then you’ll have to pick up a free shuttle to take you to your terminal.
  • The Downeaster Train from Portland to Boston cannot connect you directly to the Amtrak train running from Boston down to New York and beyond.  Once again, you’ve got to catch “The T” to go from Boston’s North Station to South Station to make that connection.  The Bus, on the other hand can take you to South Station to catch the southbound train.
  • The Bus driver will load and unload your luggage for you.  I’m certain there is no one to do the same for you on the trains.

Here are the results from my one day survey in town.

  1. The first bus of the day was Southbound, and due to depart Brunswick at 10:25am.  It arrived late, and left about a half hour late for Portland.  Not a single person got off the bus when it arrived, and six people boarded in Brunswick, all with luggage indicating they were off on a serious trip.  Five were headed to Logan Airport.



2.  The second bus of the day was also Southbound, originating in Brunswick.  Two people got on the bus, each with travel luggage.  So that’s the total load to Portland, departing at 2:45pm.

3.   The third bus of the day was Northbound, and was about 15 minutes late arriving in Brunswick (due at 2:35pm.)  While I couldn’t see clearly, I’d guess there were 8-10 people tops on the bus.  One person got off in Brunswick with luggage, and one person got on in Brunswick with luggage.

I didn’t have enough dedication to meet the 6:50pm Northbound bus arrival in Brunswick, but I can’t imagine it would measurably change the impression gleaned from the other three stops.

At this juncture in the day, I’m a bit weary, and don’t want to dissect and analyze the fare issues.  The convenience factor clearly seems to be on the side of the Buses; our limited study finds Logan Airport to be the primary reason for travel, which you would expect.

I’ll take a look at the fares and ‘value’ aspects in subsequent posts.

Oh….and one more thing; what about the effect a train coming to  Brunswick will have on the economics and viability of the existing Bus service?  Will the jobs added for the train cost jobs at the Bus company?

By current standards, I figure my effort today is worth at least $1,000 in consulting fees.  Would someone please tell me who I should submit my invoice to?

Seriously, folks, I’m getting really angry about how little analysis has been done on the train proposal, and how much the entire situation seems to be driven by ‘don’t worry, we’re the government, and we have unlimited money to make us look good and all of you feel better.’  And, ‘somebody call the media and bring out the cameras.’

There will be more to follow, including thoughts on a $1 million traffic study for the local area.

Life is like a box of Chocolates….

You remember the line from Forest Gump…..”you never know what you’re gonna get.”

That’s what it was like today as I went out on the town to look into the Bus situation, as I promised I would.

While waiting, I came across some folks who haven’t quite bought into the “back-in parking” revolution.  For example:


And then there’s the other side, one parked, and one just leaving, momentarily driving in the wrong direction:


If you look carefully at the parked one, you can make out a Bowdoin College “faculty/staff” parking sticker.  From the looks of things, the liberal arts foundation at the college includes a ‘liberal’ interpretation of parking laws.

As it turns out, the lady driver was over at the Farmer’s Market picking up some fresh veggies and supporting local farmers.  If being on Bowdoin staff isn’t enough to exempt her from the town’s silly little rules, surely her produce purchase is.


It was great fun to watch her “cop a uey” to extricate herself from her circumstances and head back in the direction from which she came.


Now a word of warning on the next “chocolate” – it’s pretty disgusting, but is extremely common all around town.


I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d like to see us find a way to get rid of the butt trash everywhere in our downtown before we worry about back in parking.

But that’s just Poppycock talking.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Duhhhh…..on piloting the train with a bus

Before we begin, a simple, yet important question: what’s the difference between installing a Bus Stop sign, and announcing that a train will be coming to town, complete with a picture of a diesel locomotive?

If you don’t know the answer right up front, we’ll fill you in later.

At the moment, color Other Side truly embarrassed; we’re feeling completely clueless about the multi-modal transportation issues on the local agenda, and specifically, the train v. bus discussion we put forward in this post.  (Not to mention the tie in to the editorial testimony of Jackie Sartoris in The Ostrich a few weeks back.)

This became obvious last week, when on a casual run into town, we noticed three very sleek and classy looking buses parked on Maine Street Station premises.  They are operated by Concord Coach lines.

Here’s what the buses look like; note that some are equipped with WiFi internet service.

At first we surmised that our earlier suggestion had stimulated a pilot program to test the demand for ‘mass transit’ between Brunswick, Portland, and possibly Boston.  You know, as a prelude to committing tens of millions in “public investment” to establish rail service.

Then it dawned on us; commercial ‘mass transit’ options are already available, and have been for some years.  The new news is that the bus line now uses Maine Street Station as a depot & destination.

It would seem important then to look at schedules, fares, and connection flexibility to compare established bus service to proposed train service.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trader Joe’s coming to Portland…

Maybe you’re already familiar with Trader Joe’s - “a unique grocery store.”  And if you are, there’s a 99.9% chance that you love the place, and have wanted one within your reach for years.  We’ve sure wanted one nearby.

If you aren’t, I’m here to tell you the likelihood you’ll love the place once you shop there is 99.9%.

And now we’re finally in luck.  Trader Joe’s will be opening soon in Portland on Marginal Way in a former health food store location whose name I can’t recall at the moment.  (Was it Royal River?) They are now hiring for the location.

We’ve been devoted TJ’s patrons since the late 60’s/early 70’s when they were established on the west coast.  They’ve come a long way since then, and every store they open is an immediate success.

I confess a personal interest – my son is “First Mate” at a store in Massachusetts.  It’s a fun business, and a great place to work.  It’s not a  huge place like Whole Foods with a fresh butcher department, but you will be pleasantly surprised by their variety of unique products and their prices.

We have numerous ‘staples of our existence’ that we purchase from them, including my favorite “Pound Plus” dark chocolate bars, of which I consume two squares virtually every day.  Others include their Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, cereals, etc.

If you like picking up interesting snacks and creative items for a party or buffet, you’ll get lots of inspiration.  We did an Italian party several months ago, and found a great selection to come up with an antipasto platter.

They have mostly private label stuff.  In those stores that carry wine, they have a huge, value priced selection, and they became nationally known as a big distributor of “2 buck Chuck.”  I’m virtually certain the Portland store won’t carry wine, but you never know.

All I can say is get ready.  To get a feel for TJ’s fun and irreverent atmosphere, go here.

And be sure to look at their “Fearless Flyer,” which is mentioned here:  It doesn’t look like you can sign up for one yet, because they are location dependent, but if you know a MA zip code, you can punch it in, and get the one for that area.

In what may be the most definitive indication of how meaningless the Poppycock’s lives are, let me just say that this is the most exciting news we’ve had in the area in a decade or more.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Postscript: “Teacher, I don’t understand!”

As discussed in this article in the post by this name the other day, the Mayor of Washington, D.C. who hired Michelle Rhee to clean up the horrible mess in the city’s government schools was not looking good for re-election to his job in the election two days ago.

Well, the voters turned him out, and in all likelihood, Rhee and her robust and productive efforts to reform the school system will be out of there as well.

Once again, “it’s for the children” turns out to be nothing more than a shibboleth used by the schoolies to beat more money out of the citizenry to benefit the adults.

Tonight’s John Stossel show at 9pm on the Fox Business Network will be about the situation in our schools, and specifically the poor performance in the face of constantly increasing expenditures.

Should be a good watch.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Teacher, I don’t understand!

Let’s begin this discussion with an item that I’m sure I’ve posted before. So what; I’m convinced that it’s perhaps the most telling expression of the problem we have in our government education system in the modern era (whatever that is.)  It will set the stage for what follows.

“When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Albert Shanker - President of the United Federation of Teachers [1964-1984] & the American Federation of Teachers [1974-1997]

Have you followed the recent news from New Jersey?  The new Governor there has asked the teachers’ union to agree to a one year salary freeze.  Not a salary reduction, a one year salary freeze.

The union response?  Not on your life.  He also asked that they contribute $15 a week to the cost of health care for their entire family.  The union response?  This is the "greatest assault on public education in the history of the state."

According to published reports, the discussion turned so toxic that there was “even an email where a county teachers union leader asked that their members "pray for the death of the governor."

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., where the government school system has been a total catastrophe for decades, the reception to an admittedly tough but determined school chief, who has been turning things around, is to drive her and the mayor who hired her out of office. 

From published reports, it appears that protecting school employees, no matter how ineffective they might be, is a higher priority than a good education for the students, most of whom need all the help they can get, the unions be damned.

You can read the details here: D.C. Schools  You might not feel like reading the whole thing, so here’s the heart of the story:

Rhee's approach has forced people to confront choices and made those choices clear. In the education world, hard decisions are too often sidestepped with platitudes about consensus and common goals.

During the most recent contract negotiations, for instance, the teachers union sought to preserve tenure and seniority rules that were clearly not in the best interest of students. Rhee forced the issue, and in the end the rules were changed rather than papered over with half-measures. The result was a landmark contract.

The record on urban education reform makes plain that there is a fundamental choice between harmony among the various adult interests and rapid progress on school improvement.

Talk about counter-intuitive…talk about cognitive dissonance…talk about who comes first, the students or the teachers….  It seems pretty clear to this reporter.

Now to our local circumstances.  In a letter to The Ostrich on Friday, September 10th, by Bob Morrison, the following sentiments were expressed.  Bob, as best I can recall, is a former School Board member, a PhD, and claimed to be a holder of high office in the  national education bureaucracy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comment from “Committee to Elect…”

The message below was received as a comment, and for reasons I can’t determine, when I approved its posting, it was not appended to the selected post.  When I tried again to have it appended, I was unable to.

So in fairness to the one who submitted it, I am posting it here, as received:

Committee to Elect has left a new comment on your post "So that’s what ballots and elections are for!!":

In the spirit of providing opportunities for cognitive dissonance, mischief, and downright distortion of common sense, while at the same time allowing you to tell your elected officials what you think about things they have nothing to do with, or have no say about, you are cordially invited to a pair of legislative candidate forums to be held at our fair Town's public library on Monday, September 13, and Wednesday, September 15, at 7 o'clock in the pm. You will be obliged to sit through a few minutes of blather while the three candidates for District 66 Representative share their thoughts on various topics such as "Redeveloping the Base" and "Transportation," but you will then have your chance to declare your dislike of them and make rude comments about the fact that the current representative not only failed to obtain a majority of the registered voters in District 66 (surely a bar too high for any but the great Gerzofsky), but also failed to obtain even a majority of the votes cast in the election. I would like to close my comment by advising our esteemed editor that I am unable to post this as "anonymous coward," as is my wont, but was forced instead to select a named profile, which I have cleverly done to disguise my true identity.

Now, of course, a curious public wonders whether this comment means the “idiotic” rater has been drawn out, or this is the work of someone else?

The tension mounts.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Say it isn’t so, Angus!

Well, I almost spit my corned beef hash omelet across the table at Jen’s this morning.

Here I am, getting all excited about replacing my gas-guzzler truck, showing the inevitable signs of rust thanks to our local salt addiction, with an all electric car, for the reasons described in this post a few days ago.  No more carbon footprint, and all that.  And a blue ribbon from Al Gore, if anyone ever finds him again.

And then I see this “Maine Voices” item in today’s Portland newspaper, entitled:  “Electric cars have one besetting problem: the source of their fuel”

The author asserts:

And, while electric cars may reduce the consumption of gasoline, the electricity they burn is generated in Maine largely by burning natural gas. Just how does this represent a net reduction in carbon emissions?

What?  He’s kidding, right?  This can’t be!  They’re supposed to be clean running, ‘carbon neutral’ cars, aren’t they?

And then to make matters worse, we find out that our beloved local hero Angus is a protagonist in this story.

The high price of electricity in Maine can be traced to 1998, when then-Gov. Angus King signed into law new electric utility regulations that forced Maine's utility companies to abandon their generating facilities and instead buy electricity on wholesale markets.

Things only get more curious as you read along…..

Companies using natural gas to generate electricity have fuel costs of around 10 cents per kilowatt generated. Companies like King's that use wind to generate electricity have fuel costs of zero.  But, guess what? The regulations King signed into law stipulate that all producers get the same rate, regardless of their fuel costs.

What’s next?  A column claiming that back-in parking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

I do believe I’ll have that case of the vapors now.

Stella?  Stella!  Be a dear and get me a cold compress and a hot toddy, would you dear?


Friday, September 10, 2010

So that’s what ballots and elections are for!!

Who’d have guessed that our democratic process of elections could provide so many opportunities for cognitive dissonance, mischief, and downright distortion of common sense.  At the same time they allow us to tell our elected officials what we think about things they have nothing to do with, or have no say about.  And to purposes we can’t comprehend.

Here’s some examples.

  • In this state, election law has been so neutered and perverted that the simple act of asking for ID at the polling place can be interpreted as “voter intimidation.”
  • The voter registration process, and maintenance of the resulting voter rolls, are so lacking in rigor and discipline that they are an embarrassment, if not a threat to election outcome integrity. 
  • Selective compliance with residency law, which itself has been manipulated to the point of absurdity, is perfectly OK.  You’re supposed to get a Maine Driver’s License within 30 days of becoming a state resident.  But if you suggest registrars should ask to see your license as proof of residence, out come the intimidation claims again.  You’ll be registered as a resident on the thinnest of claims, including a simple signature affirming that you are one. 
  • There is absolutely no follow up to see that you comply with other requirements of residency, like a Driver’s License, vehicle registration and excise tax payment to the town of your residence, and filing Maine Income Tax returns.

While these are largely generic issues, they are particularly applicable to Bowdoin College students, who frequently vote in large enough numbers in our elections to effect the outcome of local races for town officials, and even members of the state legislature.

  • During the prior school year, editors of the Bowdoin College campus newspaper, The Orient, opined that it is entirely appropriate for students to vote in that locality where they “most feel like a resident,” and that it’s perfectly acceptable to change their registration from election to election based on where they would like to effect the outcomes.

I suppose if you’re used to getting your way, no matter what it means to others, that makes perfect sense.

And now, let me touch on the recent local event that stimulated this particular post.  It has to do with the proposal of two town councilors to place a “non-binding resolution” on the November ballot.

From the Forecaster on 9 September:

The proposal was: “We, the citizens of Brunswick, want our tax dollars spent on education, health, safety, environmental protection and the infrastructure of Brunswick, rather than on war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.”

Atwood ….. emphasized that the matter was “not about whether any of us agree with that statement; it’s about whether we are willing to give Brunswick residents a chance to tell us whether they agree with it or not.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ohm’s Laws, the wonder of electricity, and Poppycock

(Note: for the interested student, we’re attaching a bonus item at the end of our own essay.  Please give it a chance – we think you’ll find it just as enlightening as the commentary that follows.)

Most of you probably don’t know this, but just about everything you need to know about electricity is expressed in Ohm’s 3 Laws, which are:

V = IR; I = V/R; and R = V/I.

These laws are incredibly elegant in their natural simplicity, yet my parents had to invest thousands for me to learn, and more importantly, understand them.

I was reminded of this as I reread Jacquie Sartoris’ heartfelt plea about transportation and the environment in her recent commentary in The Ostrich, as mentioned in this post.

As I did, I began to empathize with her point of view.  I realized that electricity is the answer to all of her concerns, and to every one of our energy challenges as well.  And I’m ashamed of myself for not realizing it earlier.

Think about it; electricity is a miraculous and sustainable source of energy.  For example, if you purchase one of the new all-electric vehicles now entering the marketplace, you completely eliminate your carbon footprint, because the vehicle burns no fossil fuels. 

It only uses perfectly clean electricity.  Like your cell phone.  No one’s ever seen exhaust coming from it, or blamed you for ‘changing the climate’ by texting or blabbing away while you drive or shop.  Each night, you simply plug in your vehicle, and the next day, it’s ready to go, with no penalty to the environment.  Same thing with your cell phone.

I’m confident our ecological agent provocateur already owns one or two of these pristine vehicles.  I know if I was ever to see her motoring around town or heading to law school in a conventional fuel burning machine, I’d have a case of the vapors that could stop a train in its tracks.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Idiotic post, but “I’m afraid to comment”

In keeping with the invitation posted a few days ago, in which we encouraged those who rate posts as “idiotic” to give us their thinking via the comment feature, on an entirely anonymous basis, I tried something new a few moments ago.

I attempted to change the “idiotic” rating to “idiotic, but I’m afraid to comment.”  Unfortunately, the Blogger template can’t accommodate a rating of that length, at least with everything else I have going on.

So….attempts to draw in those who take issue with positions posted here will have to proceed by other means.  Perhaps those of you who know who the “idiotic” evaluators are can encourage them to participate in the discussion.

Assuming that’s not you, of course.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Trains, part deux

You’ve probably noticed that our return to active posting has been a slow process, to say the least.

Which is why we’re grateful for an “offer we can’t refuse” to step up our pace, even if it takes away from snooze time in the well-worn Lazy-boy.

Notwithstanding cousin Earl sweeping through the area last night, with much needed moisture for our lawns and gardens, our local publications offered the ‘perfect storm,’ as it were, in their latest editions.

I refer to the Ostrich, and Maine Insights. Both items to be discussed exemplify the phenomena we discussed just a few days ago in this post.  In a word, completely missing the point, because seeing the point would make their argument irrelevant.

Yesterday, the former printed a lead commentary entitled ‘In praise of ‘rat holes’’ by erstwhile town councilor Jackie Sartoris.  (And here I thought we were supposed to call her Jacquie)

Ostensibly a response to Fred Blanchard’s analysis of the economic viability of Amtrak service to Brunswick, her offering quickly revealed itself as an archetypical feelings and emotion based tirade that the author became known for in her years as one of our elected ‘leaders.’  She mentioned his ‘calculations,’ and then scrupulously avoided addressing them in everything that followed.

Instead, she offered a near hysterical rant about the planet and children and everything but the facts attendant to the subject.  It was reminiscent of her high dudgeon over the “Fireman’s Prayer” monument at the Cooks Corner Substation.  Those of you who follow such things will remember that she publicly bemoaned the challenge of explaining such injustice to her daughter.

It’s probably a waste of time to comment further about her column.  Let’s just say that you have no idea how much we miss her presence on the town council.

Things came together, in that odd way they often do, as we read the article in Maine Insights while we gobbled our sandwich at the Big Top yesterday.  This publication is an offering from Ramona du Houx, the mother of our local member of the Maine Legislature, Alex Cornell du Houx.  It was formerly known as The Maine Democrat, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In an article entitled All Aboard on page 6, Ms du Houx dabbled in analysis of the facts and economics associated with the extension of Amtrak to Brunswick.  The fact that Maine Insights is a clearly partisan, slobbering tribute to all things associated with the Democrat Party in Maine aside, even her fawning discussion of the issue is reason for concern.

Let me explain.  The article contains this passage:

So far the Downeaster is having our best year ever, with more than 474,000 riders and $6.7 million in revenues, to date.

My calculator says that means an average revenue of $14 per rider for folks traveling between Portland and Boston.  Wow; at that rate, recouping $50 million or so in front end costs, coupled with millions a year in recurring costs, should take….oops…the batteries just ran out in my calculator.

But don’t worry, things get better.  As demonstrated in this additional passage:

Patricia Quinn, executive director of NEPRA, says the expansion will boost ridership by another 36,000 passengers each year.

“This is just the beginning,” said Rep. Alexander Cornell du Houx. “Brunswick’s economy is already seeing new opportunities from this project.”

Hmmm….36,000 new passengers, at $14 a rider or less…well, you might just be looking at roughly $500,000 per year in new revenue.  In other words, if the optimistic projections come true, another half million dollars a year.

No wonder our former town councilor decided to avoid the facts and wax eloquent on environmental theology.

We’re open to cogent arguments on the economic value of extending Amtrak service to Brunswick.  And as soon as we see them, we’ll post them here on Other Side.

Until we do, we’ll hold to the position that this whole concept is founded more in fantasy than in reality.  And in political posturing.  LIke the grandiose pension and health care benefits promised by state and federal government.

Which means it seems like a big load of du Houx to us.

A sincere invitation to our “idiotic” readers…

We take due note that from time to time our posts inspire a number of “idiotic” ratings.  Sometimes, they equal, or even exceed, the other rating choices.

We note this with puzzlement and more than a little frustration, however.  We never, ever, expected that what we offer would find universal acceptance, and in fact, just between you and me, we hope to provoke some dismay, disagreement, and doubt about our powers of deduction, discussion, disclosure and deliberation.

The purpose of this blog is admittedly to allow your humble correspondent an outlet for self-expression with none of the traditional limits of the “mainstream media.” We are possessed, however, of just enough naiveté and idealism to hope as well that it would be a place where ‘dialogue’ would take place, to the benefit of all who visit here, and all points of view.

And so we repeat our policy.  No matter your opinion of, or reaction to our offerings, you are invited to comment, as long as you remain civil.  In fact, we encourage you to do so.  Hopefully, we will all learn and benefit from a more thorough exploration of perspectives on the subjects we choose to address.

Most importantly, keep in mind that your comments posted via the “comment” option at the end of each post will remain anonymous, if that is your wish, not only to our readers, but also to our editorial staff.

In fact, most of the time, I’m not even sure who I am.

Imagine the pure delight in proving a pompous ass like Poppycock wrong or misguided, which is what you forego by not offering your thoughts.

So have at it; there’s no risk, and no down-side, unless you know something I don’t about how blogs work. 

Which is entirely possible, if not likely.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The ‘law of the infinite cornucopia’ and trains…..and more…

Somewhere in my casual reading of various sources and publications and documents in the last year or so, I came across “The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia.”

In a nutshell, here it is:

The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia, put forth by Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski suggests that for any given doctrine one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which one can support it.

If your imagination is as fertile as mine, you should have no problem coming up with “proof” that this ‘Law’ is valid.  And you might look to the Ostrich as your best source for such evidence.

I think back, for example, to the ‘dialogue’ that took place on their pages when the issues of base closure and new school construction were fresh on the local agenda.  I remember reading letters on the op-ed page asserting that Brunswick would ‘continue to grow in spite of Base closure,’ even though we had not been growing at all, so ‘continuing’ was a non-sequitur. 

And that ‘young families’ would flock to the former Navy housing and overflow our school capacity.  We’ll let readers judge how that’s working out; as a frequent driver down McKeen, this reporter has his own view.

In recent weeks, we’ve had a local author suggest that the Federal Government could make ‘interest free’ loans of printed currency to revive the economy and end the ‘great recession.’  We don’t know where to begin with such bizarre (or should we say berserk) suggestions.

Today, however, we wish to touch briefly on the recent letters responding to Fred Blanchard’s published challenge to the fiscal wisdom of bringing ‘the train’ to Brunswick.

These letters challenged Blanchard’s thesis largely on the basis of incomplete analysis of the underlying costs of the alternative to trains, that mostly being cars.

We find two major problems with the arguments presented. 

The first is the argument that the infrastructure associated with auto travel is very costly, and should not be underestimated.  A reasonable point, except that the infrastructure is already in place and being maintained as a recurring expense. 

No-one that I know of is proposing that a new road be constructed between Portland and Brunswick and calling for an initial ‘investment’ of $40 million or more, independent of the sustaining costs of such a road.

In case the writers hadn’t noticed, we’re talking about ‘marginal’ or incremental costs to bring something into existence that doesn’t already exist, and what patronage levels would be required to make the ‘investment’ of your and my tax dollars pay off.

Secondly, the notion of ‘per capita’ costs seem to be lost on the writers as well.

The most recent writer argues that the cost of operating a train is a winner compared to the cost of operating a car every time.  Nice try, but that clearly assumes a full, or nearly full train.  Have you ever watched a Maine Eastern excursion train come through Brunswick with a head here and a head there in the windows?

The IRS ‘calculates’ the cost of operating a car independent of the number of people in it; those advocating MASS TRANSIT are working on a ‘per person’ basis, which pre-supposes a particular level of ridership.  And it’s not one person per train, I can assure you.

The same observations would apply to any ‘carbon footprint’ consideration.  I’m real sure the footprint left by a diesel engine far exceeds that of a car.  I don’t know where the per capita break even point is, but significant ridership is key.

Finally, the most recent writer asserts that he likes trains, as if that’s a sound economic argument for subsidizing them.

So do I.  And I like free car repairs as well, especially for retired people. 

Does that mean I should expect them to be financed by our public servants with your money?

You tell me.  I can’t wait until we see “Maine Street Station Auto Repair” being constructed downtown with the help of Federal and State ‘investment funds.’

If that doesn’t revive the economy, nothing will, right?

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