Saturday, March 26, 2011

I feel a movement coming on…

No, not that kind of movement, you depraved gutter denizen! 

I’m thinking instead of a ‘movement’ in the social or cultural sense.

This week, the invoice for renewal of our Ostrich subscription arrived - $130 for a year.  Not an insignificant sum when you see it as an annual expense.

I’m considering mailing it back with no funds and a note that says we’ll pay up on our subscription when The Ostrich pays up on its tax delinquencies to the town, and all such accounts are in good standing.

And since The Ostrich continues to receive delivery of all town services even though they aren’t paying for them, or ‘freeloading’ to borrow a term from a recent editorial, I’m going to demand that they continue to provide full subscription delivery services even though I haven’t brought my account with them up to date.

Seems only fair, don’t you think?  And it appeals to 'journalistic justice,’ to turn a phrase.

If they won’t agree to these terms, perhaps we’ll have to come up with a new name for them.  “The Times Picayune” is appealing to me at the moment.  But “The Times Pompost” is a close second.  Pompost is a ‘combining form’ of pompous and compost.

if neither of those is a winner, there’s always ‘The Times Delinquent.’

Let us know which you prefer.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Backing out of reverse parking

Or is it reversing the decision on back-in parking?

We commented on this subject a number of times in Side’s early days (2009).  Heralded as a major advance in “traffic calming” and safety by a variety of ‘national experts,’ the counter-intuitive concept was approved in the early stages of Maine Street Station development. 

We did a double take when we first came upon it, and it’s quite clear that hundreds of others have been ‘flustrated’ by the visual discordance upon entering Station Avenue.

We’ll stipulate that those who advocated for this approach, and those who approved it, were well intentioned.  They had copious reports, justification, and supporting evidence from a variety of noted consultants, and glowing stories of success elsewhere, none of which, obviously, were Brunswick with its older than average demographics.

This is the same sort of groundswell of expert opinion and wondrous experiential evidence that led to the adoption of open classroom design for school architecture and construction.  The same open classroom approach that Jordan Acres staff has been working around for decades, trying their best to overcome the disadvantages and compromises that ‘advanced education concepts’ have wrought upon basic, well proven school design concepts.

Let’s face it; If there’s ever a time when skepticism is called for, it’s when publicly funded experts and consultants call us together to lead us to glory with their latest advances.

And so we find town officials looking for a way to gracefully walk their way back out of this clearly unpopular decision.  Just ask the owners of the two restaurants in Maine Street Station – Scarlet Begonia’s, and Byrnes’ Irish Pub.  You can read about their views  here:

Your correspondent reflected on this situation for a bit, and decided there is an Other Side to how to resolve this dilemma.  Accordingly, we wrote to town officials to share our expertise and inspiration.  Here’s the gist of what we told them:

Since back in parking was an "outside the box" concept, we’re surprised you didn't come up with an "outside the box" approach to reversing it at little or no cost, except for a sign or two and some paint.

So here’s an approach for your consideration: simply convert the southern side of Station Ave to one way traffic headed west, and convert the northern side to one way traffic headed east.

Voila!  Head in diagonal parking on both sides!  And you could simultaneously start a sister city relationship with a town in Ireland.

This should make Joe Byrnes happy; they drive on the left side in shamrock land, and it would tie in with his restaurant theme.
And subtle as it may be, there would be a connection with an enterprise we operate, known to some as 'The Other Side.'

We suppose you would like to pay us standard consulting rates for the time we put into this solution, but until we get licensed appropriately, we don't think it would be fair for us to accept compensation.

Just chalk this one up to good will and active citizen engagement.

Dilemma solved, just like that!  If that’s not outside the box thinking, what is?

Let’s go have a Guinness and enjoy the moment.  Sit right down and let you buy be a pint or two.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Late news re the $10 million Police Station

Far be it from us here at Side to gloat; it’s so unseemly in polite circles.

So what; sometimes you’ve got to do it just for the sheer fun of it.

Honest to Pete, we didn’t look at tonight’s Ostrich until well after we had posted the lengthy essay asserting that a $10 million tab for the new Police Station was entirely possible, and actually quite likely.

We sat down and took a few minutes to see what version of news they were offering today, and lo and behold on Page 2 was an article on the old Times Record building on Industry Road.

The bottom line is this:

Brunswick officials will now weigh the possibility of giving the former Times Record building to the local school department for use as a bus garage.

That’s right, the operative concept is give.  The expectation is that the school department would demolish a good portion of the facility.

This exceeds even our low expectations for the town’s disposition of the facility.  From the sound of things, we’ll receive nothing in return for our $2 million investment, except a sense of gratification.

Which in these circumstances is the equivalent of wetting one’s pants in a dark suit – it gives you a warm feeling, but nobody notices.

Taxpayers should be pleased though, since the demolition, even if not complete, will eliminate much of the visual evidence of just how improvident our leaders can be on our behalf.

We’re feeling better already about the possibility.

Think about it; the Ostrich, which walked away from the building with $1.3 of our taxpayer money in their hands, now stiffs the town on their property tax bill.  Surely there must be some accommodation that can be reached to set things right.  Like evicting them from their new building and sending them back to the old one.

Don’t you just love the way government does business?  Maybe the town could teach the MRRA a thing or two on prudent stewardship of public assets.

Are you ready for a $10 million Brunswick Police Station?

The drama (or should we say comedy) playing out in recent months over the location and construction of a new police station for the town brings back vivid and troubling memories from past proposals for new town facilities.

Background: fond recollections of past doubletalk, chicanery, and ineptitude

You may recall that in 2003 or thereabouts, the town was proposing to build a new central public safety station.  As we recall, the estimate started at $6 million; in the blink of an eye, it was $7 million.  Next thing you know, it was $11.2 million.  And just before it went to the citizens for a vote, it reached $13 million.

That last jump in price was because “we forgot the Cooks Corner substation,” in the words of a town councilor central to the process.  That still ranks as one of the all-time great excuses we’ve heard in all our years of following Brunswick town governance, and the councilor who had the stones to utter it is still in office.

Apparently, the majority of voters thought the council had lost touch with reality, because in June of 2003, they voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposal, by nearly 2 to 1.  We still cite that outcome as a morale booster when tough challenges lie ahead.

Shortly thereafter, we heard contrite pronouncements from the council, testifying to how they had ‘heard the message’ of the lopsided vote.

Yeah, sure.

It wasn’t long before they set out to build the Cooks Corner fire substation anyway.  Our recollection is that we were told it would cost $1.6 million when the process began, and it ended up at $2.4 million when it was finally done.  Not bad for government…only 50% cost growth.

It’s a lovely place, and we regularly see town citizens stopping by to kneel on the lawn, overwhelmed with community pride in the splendor of the fine brick monument to the common good.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  We expect the new elementary school will cause similar traffic jams as weepy residents pay homage to the colossus.

We have another fond memory of municipal adherence to strict standards of responsible behavior.  It involves Jordan Avenue and Charlie Priest, who we believe, had just become Chair of the Town Council. 

Shortly after formal public review of the town’s Capital improvement Program, and a council vote approving it, Charlie announced that the CIP was ‘only a guide,’ and proposed spending one million plus to reconstruct Jordan Avenue.  The point here has nothing to do with the need to do so; instead, it speaks to the council’s willingness to hoodwink the public with a 5 year spending plan, and mere weeks after approving it, toss it aside as so much scrap paper.

This move is second only to the “we forgot to include the substation” gambit as a hall of shame candidate in Brunswick’s historical record.  At least in our years of following the sport of officials vs. taxpayers.

Moving on, we have a shining monument to official incompetence – the purchase of the old Times Record building on Industry Road.  Purchased to provide significant town facility expansion, with a focus on the Police Department, we’ve already spent $2 million or thereabouts on that dead end white elephant.

You would be hard pressed to find a better case study of rank ineptitude on the part of municipal officials, who apparently were following the Pelosi Principle of government action.  You’ll recall she said last year that ‘we’ll have to pass the health care bill to find out what’s in it.’  Town officials apparently believed ‘we’d have to buy the TR building to find out what’s in it’ and what it needed.

Just like reading the bill before passing it seemed ridiculous to our ruling betters, conducting due diligence, including building inspection, before buying the TR facility never cropped up as a consideration.  So we, the taxpayers, found out we were holding a $5 million bag after the building was purchased.

To that latter point, let’s be blunt.  The entire episode revealed lack of ability on the part of town professional staff, and failed oversight by the elected officials who approved the purchase based on staff work.

But don’t worry, such surprises could never happen again.  Just look at the new school….what a marvelous testimony to rigorous oversight and protection of taxpayer interests.  Is there any doubt we can expect equal or even greater success on the new undertaking?

Recent activities

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ostrich feathers for your cap….

Given circulation trends, we’re pretty sure most of you don’t actually read The Ostrich.  For those few who do, we suspect you give it no more than 10-15 minutes of your busy day; you wonder what happened to objective and determined reporting, you grumble about their op-ed content, and then you toss it in the recycle heap like so much compost fodder. 

You try to forget about the waste of your time and money, and turn your attention to things that actually matter in your life.  You quickly forget about the few drops of water that landed on your head.

You’ve barely gotten your toes wet, we’re here to tell you.  We’ve been out of town recently, and a week or so ago, this correspondent sat down and consumed 5 days of Ostrich news and opinion offerings, on line, in a single sitting. If you’re generous, you could call it a ‘full immersion’ experience.

But Side is a realist, and instead, we’ll call it ‘full submersion.’  We were left gasping for breath after repeatedly having the oxygen of common sense and reality snatched from our airways.

The examples are too numerous to describe in full, so we’ll give you some of the lowlights.

‘Right to work’…or freeload?

Like the good little leftists they are, The Ostrich parroted the talking points given to them by union poobahs.

Imagine if our towns and cities operated under the same principle: Enjoy the benefits of public schools, police, fire protection, etc., but you don’t have to pay taxes if you don’t feel like it.

How ironic, given The Ostrich’s status as a tax delinquent; could they possibly be any more tone deaf?  They act the scold, as they often do, but somehow can’t face what they see in the mirror, if they would just look in it.

No matter, and no shame shown; Ostrich editors have ready claims that closed shop states fare better in the important things, even if they don’t cite their sources:

By every “quality of life” measure — health care, pensions, job creation, infant mortality — right-to-work states fare worse.

While we’re confident that short list doesn’t enumerate every quality of life measure, we’re also pretty sure right to work states have more flat tires, tougher pancakes, and more abrasive toilet-tissue.  And more sickly looking lawns, and rhodies that don’t bloom to their fullest potential. 

We wonder, however, how newspaper circulation trends look in right-to-work states.  And whether they have better lobster and small batch artisanal vodka.

We wonder as well what The Ostrich thinks about turnpike tolls, where only those who use it and benefit from it pay the tolls?  What does this say about the fairness of funding for government schools, libraries, and pay per bag trash collection? 

If K-12 should be paid for by everyone, whether they have students in the schools or not, why shouldn’t college and graduate school be?  Why shouldn’t all college be free?  And why shouldn’t all food, shelter, clothing, and transportation be free?

Oh, and there’s one other relevant point here.  It’s widely known that something like 80% of union dues is used by union officials to fund campaigns of those who pander to them.  In New Jersey, the teachers’ union collects $100 million in dues annually.  How much of that do you think is used to fund “collective bargaining” and other administrative activities of the union?

We’ll wait with bated breath for Ostrich editors to answer that, and to explain to us how much of our taxes are used to fund campaigns for those favored by the collectors of said taxes.  On the other hand, maybe the distinction has never occurred to them.

Fairness and social justice are wondrous concepts, aren’t they?  Especially when employed by the editors as they seek to form the attitudes of the little people who look to them for guidance.

We here at Side are hoping that The Ostrich will see the fairness and social justice in paying their taxes like the rest of us do.  On time, for a change.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

“School based” Medicaid services….WTF?

Have you seen this recent news report?

Commissioner Mayhew and her new staff have recently learned that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General will be coming to Maine to audit Medicaid payments for school-based services for years 2006 to 2008.

The total federal dollars that could be in question over the audit period total $138.9 million.

Let’s extrapolate those figures. We’ll assume the following: Medicaid dollars are matched 2 for 1 by the feds; and the way the dates are stated in this report, it sounds like two school years are involved: 06/07, and 07/08.

If $138.9 in federal money is involved, the total Medicaid spending amount, with state dollars, is $208.35 million. Maine school enrollment during this period was about 185,000, so on a prorated basis, the dollars spent on Medicaid 'school based services' is $1126 per student over the 2 year period, or $563 per student per school year.

During this period, Brunswick School System enrollment averaged  roughly 3,000 students.

This would work out to our School System spending $1,689,000 per school year in Medicaid dollars for 'school based care.' Or more than $40,000 per school week.

Does anyone else find these numbers astonishing?

We’re not talking about what the audit might find; we refer only to the magnitude of dollars attributed to this program.

Do any of us really comprehend what is going on around here?  Do these dollars show up transparently in any public documents?

It’s well established that we’re using the schools as government funded meal programs these days; now it appears they are health care clinics as well.

Should we expect to start housing kids in the public schools before long?

Here’s a novel idea: how about if we start focusing on educating in the fundamentals as the primary mission of government schools?  You know, ‘the three Rs,’ as they use to be called.

We suppose that is unenlightened, and ‘so yesterday,’ but we have fond recollections of our own learning years.

And we’re staunch believers that the basics acquired during that time have served us well.

At this point in our lives, we are puzzled as to why these realities have been lost in the muck and mire of modern progressive education theory.

Maybe the look of the new school on McKeen provides some insight into the answers.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Changes at the Coastal Journal

Gina Hamilton, long time editor and primary writer, analyst, and opinion scribe at the Coastal Journal, has changed careers.

An article in the Portland Press Herald describes it thusly:

Gina Hamilton, former editor of the Coastal Journal, a weekly newspaper based in Bath, is owner and editor of the New Maine Times, which will also be published weekly.

The business model is non-profit:

The publication has filed paperwork to be registered as a nonprofit….seeking funding through foundation grants, corporate underwriting and reader contributions -- readers may be asked to subscribe online for an annual subscription fee of $35.

Most foundations in this day and age have political/social agendas, and seeking grants from them suggests alignment with those agendas.  As to corporate underwriting, who knows what baggage that will carry with it.  Regardless, it’s safe to say that the new offering will not be free as a bird when it comes to editorial leanings.  And anyone familiar with Hamilton’s work would expect nothing less than a significant leftward slant.

Who knows, maybe that’s why she’s doing this.  It could be those in charge at the CJ would not grant her even greater latitude to head that way, so she took her golden kleenex and headed out to find ‘creative freedom.’

Now as for that $35 online subscription fee, we must admit it has some appeal.  We’ve been operating as a certifiable non-profit since inception.  If we can bring in the shekels and still carry the cachet of non-profit altruism, what’s not to like?

The Ostrich has been going the route of a ‘non-profit’ for some time now, including the tax status that affords, and the New Maine Times is following in their footsteps.

So what are we, chopped lobster tomalley?


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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

‘The Ostrich’ watch – are they up to their necks in quicksand?

Is it an endangered species, a dinosaur of our times?

There are plenty of ostriches (with a small o) living and propagating among us.  But there is only one we know as The Ostrich, and we’re verklempt over the possibility that it could be the last of its breed.

Given our fierce devotion to principled journalism, and our dogged pursuit of the facts for our readers, we have a keen interest in the well-being of our colleagues at The Ostrich.  You know this because we’ve written frequently about them over the months and years of our ascendance into the upper echelons of local news coverage.

We’ve reported more than once on their tax delinquencies, specifically their failure to pay their fair share to our beloved community, callously putting “vital” community services and the futures of “the children” at risk.

Sadly, it appears they have not remedied things.  Reports are their accounts are still in arrears, so fines and interest on their owed amounts must be accumulating, making resolution even harder.  If they’re not careful, they could find themselves upside down or sideways on their balance sheet.

What’s next?  Employee paychecks bouncing?  Health-care coverage  premiums not being paid?  Let’s hope not.  We all know the Nivens would be petrified by such a possibility, even though they’re no longer engaged.  Still, they’ve got to feel deep concern for those they once thought of as family.

That aside, the sixth sense for a hidden story we’ve developed since founding Side tells us that all is not well at The Ostrich.  Our instincts have kicked in, and our hunch is that things are getting worse, not better.  The possibilities just mentioned could be all too real.

Sensing that our colleagues might need our support, but be too proud to ask for it, we gathered Side staff together to brainstorm ideas that could help The Ostrich turn things around.  Or, at least, pull their heads out of the sand.

Here’s what came of our attempts to ‘think outside the hole.’

  • Emulate the New York Times, a paragon of journalistic success in the modern era.  Position Paul Krugman, the Napoleonic economic guru, as a fiscal savant.  Feature Nicholas Kristof, Bob Herbert, and Amy Goodman as enlightened advocates of the ever bigger government approach to a prosperous future for all.
  • Stage Doug Rooks as an all-knowing, avuncular observer of Maine politics; allow him carte blanche in describing the capabilities and intentions of all elected officials right of Jimmy Carter.
  • Run multi-installment editorials attacking the plans of Maine’s new Governor, while completely ignoring the fiscal realities of state circumstances (and their own, obviously!).
  • Print letters from favored ideologues as often as they submit them, and without challenging content and sources.
  • Publish editorials ghosted by MECEP, MMA, and other big government advocates without compunction, maintaining your reputation as good little soldiers of the left.
  • Reduce real news content, and apply selective coverage as needed to shape the remainder.  Ignore embarrassing circumstances surrounding the MRRA, Oxford Aviation, and the political wheeler dealers involved: Stan the Minority Man Gerzofsky, Johnny Protocols Richardson, etc.
  • Take direction from the local movers and shakers to keep your pages clean and properly aligned with the natural order of the community cosmos.
  • Run an item from a conservative every month or two to create the illusion of even handedness.
  • Lie directly to subscribers and frequent contributors about editorial vigilance.
  • Change your archive function from years deep to two weeks deep to minimize the chances of leaving embarrassing evidentiary trails.
  • Swallow whole anything that comes out of the school department.  Ignore teachers’ contracts and other relevant factual data.
  • Allow editors to submit items written by others for award consideration under their names, and then indulge their bragging about winning the award.
  • Run consecutive assessments of republican/conservative officials, but virtually ignore the politics of the favored ruling class: Richardson, Gerzofsky, Priest, and their fellow travelers.
  • Adopt the methods of…….

And at just that moment, a blinding flash of the obvious came upon us.  We were coming up with all the things The Ostrich has been doing for years!  Oh no!  Were we being haunted by the demons of dying journalism? 

A quick check around the table showed everyone’s face still pointed forward, no-one hurling green chunks, or any other signs of irreversible possession.  We immediately went into the emergency drill we had practiced so many times before.

We broke the glass in the safety locker door, grabbed the “No More Dinosaurs” tee-shirts and hard-hats, and put them on as our last line of personal defense.

Relieved that we had turned things around, we went back to work.

Another bullet dodged, as it were.  Perhaps we could turn this into a candidate for an annual award, we thought. 

We’ll have to think about that.  Meanwhile, we’ll look into having No More Dinosaurs pins made up for our loyal readers.  At $5 each, they could help us pay our fair share responsibly.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Channeling Harriet

As we drive by the new school on McKeen named for her, which we do frequently, we can’t help but wonder what Harriet Beecher Stowe would think of the school if she could see it.

As we sat down to reflect on this, our phone (the wireless one!) rang with an eerie, other worldly tone.  Somewhat startled, I picked it up.


A wispy, ghost-like voice responded.  ‘Tell them……, tell them…’

‘Who is this?,’ I asked.

‘Harriet,’ the voice replied, ‘Harriet Beecher Stowe.’

‘Are you kidding?,’ I replied.

‘No, I’m not, not by a long shot,’ the voice said.

‘How in this world could you be calling me?,’ I responded.

‘I’m not calling from this world,’ she said.

‘Why are you calling me?,’ I asked.

‘Well, I was resting in what I thought was eternal peace, when something startled me.’

‘What was it?’

‘It was a wake-up call about something going on in that town of yours, something that is supposed to honor me.’

‘Can you be more specific?’

‘Yes I can, sonny.  I wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but I never expected that your town would build Uncle John’s Monstrosity to honor that heart-felt work.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Don’t be coy; you know what I’m talking about.  That new school.’

‘So you’re not happy about it?’

‘No I’m not, and I don’t see how anybody else with a spoonful of common sense and good taste could be either.’

‘You said “tell them, tell them…” when I answered the phone.  Who do you want me to tell, and what do you want me to tell them?’

‘Tell the School Board I want my good name back, you young whipper-snapper.  Tell them to name the school after someone else.’

‘Why do you want it back?’

‘So I can go back to resting in peace, if you don’t mind.’

‘Yes, ma’am, I’ll do what I can,’ I replied.

And then a haze of static drowned everything out, and suddenly, the line went dead.

And so we say, good night and good rest, Harriet, wherever you are.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Does the Ostrich read the newspapers?

Our friends at The Ostrich don’t have to put a lot of effort into their editorializing, especially since groups like the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), and the Democrat legislative offices are more than willing to provide more or less print ready drafts that only require a tweak or two to appear locally generated.

But that’s another matter. 

Yesterday, the editors got all teary-eyed recounting ‘labor history,’ and describing the rise of Frances Perkins from a virtual unknown to a member of FDR’s Cabinet.  The motivating forces for her efforts are indeed compelling.

The editorial seems, however, inappropriate to the moment.  The Perkins story is one totally focused on activism in advocating for private sector employees and their working conditions.

Clearly the item was inspired by the major ‘discussion’ in a number of states, including our own, regarding union contracts, and the perceived challenge to union supremacy.  Anyone who reads the papers, or otherwise follows the news, knows that in virtually every case, the current debate involves public sector, or more correctly, government employee unions.  Unless, I suppose, they only get their news from the NOTWIUN.

The editorial says that “the New Deal legacy of FDR and Frances Perkins is under attack.”

We could be wrong, but we think we’ve heard a number of times in recent weeks that FDR specifically believed that government workers should not be permitted to unionize, because he was perceptive enough to recognize the dangers that would present, especially as it related to total imbalance in the employer-employee relationship.

If we are correct, the facts seem to completely undermine the premise of the Ostrich point of view.

Not that there’s any surprise in that.  And shame on our local government watchdog and community conscience for using the word ‘attack.’

We could say we expected better of them, but we try not to lie on these pages.

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Bad sign on the teachers’ contract

We last wrote about the open, adjustable rate Brunswick teachers’ contract several days ago in this post.  If you’ve forgotten the circumstances, reading it will bring you right up to speed.

Over three weeks ago, I emailed the School Board Chair and Vice Chair with this question:

What is the status of contract negotiations with the Teachers Union to amend the current contract for the coming year, and what part is the School Board playing in these negotiations?

I received nothing in reply from them.  So I re-sent the question a few days ago, thinking the result might be different this time.  I should have listened to Einstein’s advice.

I take the lack of a response to be a bad sign for those who pay for things in town.  We are not involved in any respect in this process, and we won’t know anything until the contract is signed and beyond challenge.  To paraphrase someone at the national level, '”we’ll have to approve this contract to find out what’s in it.”

We have no doubt that School Board leadership declined to respond because they know that whatever they said would be reported and commented on here.  And that just wouldn’t be right, right?

What they didn’t realize is that not responding would be reported and commented on here as well.

And that their silence says far more than any response might have said.

Dolphin Marina and Basin Point: dredging up the “helpers” in the bureaucratic muck

I glanced at a copy of the March edition of the Harpswell Anchor as we had breakfast this morning.

While we haven’t been out there in some years, it was interesting to see that the Dolphin Marina and Restaurant on the tip of Basin Point is undergoing major improvements in just about every regard.

The article had this informative passage:

As with any development, the permitting process has been a challenge,the Saxtons (the owners) say.  They have passed through an alphabet’s soup worth of acronymed agencies: Maine DEP, US EPA, US Army Corps, ME DMR, ME Fire Marshall’s Office, ME Department of Conservation, Harpswell planning office, Harpswell codes office, and FEMA.  (that’s right, FEMA!)

“The most challenging process was dealing with FEMA on our flood zone,” says Chris.  “This process alone took over a year and the expense we paid to an environmental engineer was unexpected.”

So the next time anyone tells you the Government isn’t here to help you when you want to grow your business, you can tell them you know better.  Look at all the help the Saxtons got, and are probably still getting.

Here at Side we feel pretty good about all of this, because the article points out the new restaurant will have ‘waterless urinals.’  I believe this is intended to remedy the fishy smell that often afflicts waterfront locations.  Here’s hoping they don’t have waterless dishwashing, too.

Or even worse, waterless boating.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

We’re like so much putty in their hands, whether we realize it or not…..

Everything is free for schoolies, right?

Color me embarrassed. I had no idea that the National Anthem words that say “o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave” meant that everything is free in this land.

I had assumed it meant America is the place where people have freedom, as in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Including the freedom to send your children to preschool, or not, on your own dime.

I can hear the laughing in response to that thought.  What, am I nuts?  Don’t I get that whatever parents want for their children should be provided, ‘free,’ by government?

A revealing disclosure of the mentality of the day in such matters was published last week in The Forecaster, entitled ‘Brunswick weighs public pre-school program.’  You can find it here:

The article is rife with the classic ploys and platitudes of the education lobby, who have honed their ability to bowl over the unenlightened for decades.  We’ll break things down for you, and translate them.

Let’s begin, class.

Since becoming the superintendent of schools in 2008, Paul Perzanoski has been an advocate for creation of a public pre-school program.

Translation: I’ve been told that if I don’t find a way to keep all the teachers employed, no matter how low enrolment goes, my contract won’t be renewed.

“They have shown over time that they help prepare kids for success in school," he said. "You get a lot of results for the money that you spent."

Translation:  No matter how badly our other reforms have worked out, you can trust us that this time will be different.  Forget the failures of open classrooms and outcome based education; if you give us the money, we’re sure we can make this idea work.  And if you don’t, you don’t care about the children.

Perzanoski isn't alone in his enthusiasm for public pre-school – 178 towns and school districts around the state have already approved the idea. He said he doesn't want Brunswick to fall behind, and this year he may get his wish.

Translation:  If nearly half the towns in Maine have swallowed the hook, it must be a good idea, right?  They’re all known for their intensive examination of proposals, and haven’t been influenced by education establishment platitudes.  If they’re going to spend all that money, how can you in good conscience deny the same spending here in the town of Perfect?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Suspicions confirmed: vetting the vetter

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

      -Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott

If you’ve been keeping up with things here at Side, you know that a bit of a kerfuffle has been brewing between our publication and the one we usually refer to as The Ostrich.  On the other hand, if you are new to the subject, you can catch up by reading these posts:

Before you rush off to do that, though, we decided we would make this particular post self-contained, to minimize your need to jump here and there to get the ‘rest of the story.’  So please bear with us and read this entire item.  We promise you won’t regret it.

Our story begins with a letter we submitted to The Ostrich one week ago today, questioning the legitimacy of two letters they had published the previous day.  Our letter read as follows;

To the Editor:

Times Record editors have a well-established penchant for accepting on faith the unsubstantiated assertions of letter writers from the left. Yesterday’s edition proves the point twice over.

Dexter Kamilewicz claims “that the Defense budget makes up about 48 percent” of the federal budget. That claim is patently absurd, as anyone reasonably informed about federal spending would have known, and a few minutes worth of internet work would confirm.

The Kehoe-Ostensens state that AEGIS Destroyers are deployed around the globe, and claim they “have launched their guided missiles, killing indiscriminately on many occasions.” Completely lacking in corroboration, this is a cavalier and reckless assertion, and arrogantly disparages those in uniform. One might even say it is ‘indiscriminate.’

This writer is well aware that the editors and the publisher are more than ready to challenge submissions that run counter to their editorial bent. In the examples above, anyone who holds the title editor in a daily paper should have instinctively sensed problems, and at the very least, demanded supporting facts before publishing such clearly erroneous claims and invective.

The plain reality that you did not intuitively know the writers were wildly wrong and/or irresponsible is more than troubling. At the very least, it calls into question your editorial qualifications for writing and accepting opinion on national matters, and for judicious publication of syndicated columns.

To paraphrase Patrick Moynihan, “you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.” More importantly, the editorial lapses cited above could be construed as willfully misinforming the public, which is dereliction of your journalistic responsibility and a breach of ethical standards.

We heard nothing from the opinion editor at said publication, until we published our submission here on Friday the 25th.  In a matter of just a few hours, we received this communication from him:

Your letter won't be published. Your premise that I did not vet the two letters in question is not true.


OK, we thought.  The challenge has been issued.  And we sensed the presence of a horse that was not yet dead enough to preclude beating.

We consulted with management here at the offices, and our leader told us to pursue the facts of the matter, and we committed to do so.  After all, we need to earn our pay.

We decided the best way to do that was to vet the claim of the opinion editor, Jim, at The Ostrich.  We placed calls to the writers of the published letters we had challenged.  The results were, in a word, enlightening.

We left messages with both authors, not expecting any response.  But we were pleasantly surprised when both returned our call, and were happy to talk with us.  Here is what they had to say:

Dexter Kamilewicz:

  • We asked if he could substantiate the claim that 48% of the federal budget is spent on defense.  He made vague references to international sources of statistics, etc, but was unable to provide specific sources for his assertion.
  • We asked if the implication that only 5% of the federal budget would have to cover everything but Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and Defense struck him as problematic, and he admitted that it did.
  • We told him that we had done some research on his claims, and found that government data shows less than 20% of the federal budget being allocated for Defense.  Here’s the data we found and told him about:
  • We told him we would send him the links to data we had found, which we did.
  • He told us he would look for the sources for his claim, and would forward them to us when he found them.  As of this moment, we have nothing from him.
  • So we repeated the question: can you substantiate the claim of 48% of the budget being spent on Defense, and he admitted that he could not do so as we spoke.
  • Now the best part: we asked him if the editors of the publication in question had contacted him to verify the content of his letter.  His answer: NO.

George Kehoe-Ostensen:

  • George and his wife are, to put it mildly, ‘interesting’ people.  You can find out more by reading their own account here.  These are not your everyday letter writers.
  • We asked him repeatedly to substantiate his letter’s claims about AEGIS ships ’launching their missiles, killing indiscriminately, on many occasions.’  He responded with various comments about attacks on Serbia, the toothpaste factory in Iraq, smart bombs launched from aircraft, etc.
  • Bottom line: 
    • After repeated questioning, he said he couldn’t substantiate the claim, but would look for data that would back him up and forward it to me.
    • He said he could get in trouble with the statement – it’s ‘subjective.’
    • He said he should have worded it differently.  He admitted that he had used ‘too strong a words’ in the letter.
  • Now the best part: we asked him if the editors of the publication in question had contacted him to verify the content of his letter.  His answer: NO.

Before we wrap this up, it’s probably appropriate to review the meaning of “vet,” as provided by

vet: to appraise, verify, or check for accuracy, authenticity, validity, etc.:  An expert vetted the manuscript before publication.

You’ll have to decide whether this behavior by the opinion editor at the NOTWIUN is an isolated case, an innocent mistake, an aberration, or is instead, evidence of a systemic pathology in our local, beloved, award winning, government watchdog press.

You’ll have to decide whether said editor, his associates, and his publisher might have favored certain local candidates for elective office in providing editorial page space for their ‘submissions.’

You’ll have to decide whether The Ostrich merits its self-described role of watching things on our behalf, and whether it deserves to survive as a viable enterprise.

You’ll have to decide whether journalistic integrity guides their conduct, or is trumped by personal agendas.

We know where we stand; let us know where you do.