Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Read ‘em and learn

As you well know, we burn many a midnight candle looking for worthwhile and informative materials to pass along to you.  And we have a far-flung network of correspondents helping us.

Recently, our curious and studious son-in-law passed along an item from the Wall Street Journal that startled us in its predictions of where medical care seems to be headed.  It was published on August 15th, and is entitled ‘Why the Doctor Can’t See You.’  You’ll find it here.

We promise it will make you think, because it raises some issues you won’t hear discussed in the day to day banter of the chattering class.  Here’s an example:

As physicians increasingly have to allocate their time, patients in plans that pay below-market prices will likely wait longest. Those patients will be the elderly and the disabled on Medicare, low-income families on Medicaid, and (if the Massachusetts model is followed) people with subsidized insurance acquired in ObamaCare's newly created health insurance exchanges.

You’ll probably find this surprising given our youthful good looks and boisterous attitude, but the Poppycock's are on Medicare, and so we are not amused.

The same page in that issue includes another thought provoker: ‘Ryan and the Fundamental Economic Debate.’  It was written by a Harvard Economics Professor, and once again, we believe it will raise some issues you hadn’t yet considered.  An excerpt:

If GM had disappeared, its former workers and other inputs would not have sat around doing nothing. Another company—be it Toyota, Honda or Ford—would likely have taken over its operations, expanding production in the U.S. As a matter of economic theory, the overall economy—though perhaps not parts of Michigan and Ohio—would have done better if the market had been allowed to reallocate GM's labor and other inputs.

The article is a worthwhile primer on economics 101 and government’s distortion of the basics.

Last, under ‘Notable and Quotable’ on that page, an excerpt from a Thomas Sowell column appearing elsewhere is provided.  We love the way Sowell, a prolific and insightful economist, sees right through the muck and provides clarity of the challenges we face today.  An example:

Even if most Americans do not have their own taxes raised, that means little, if they end up paying other people's taxes in the higher prices of goods and services that pass along the higher taxes imposed on businesses.

You can read the full version of the article here: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/08/14/the_paul_ryan_choice_115088.html

Happy reading, and perhaps, weeping.  Aren’t you glad Side is keeping tabs on things for you??

Yah, sure.

Monday, August 27, 2012


(For those who can’t decode this, it stands for Post Script to Public Servant Paul Perzanoski’s Public Political Pronouncements.)

It occurred to us that the recent, ill-considered official staff memo by the Brunswick School Superintendent could be construed as political harassment, to suggest a variation on the widely recognized notion of sexual harassment in the workplace.

As we see it, the formal memorandum presupposes complete unanimity among all staff members on political matters and agendas.  And that in a not so subtle way, if you don’t agree with the stated administration/department position, you risk being ostracized, or a political outcast, or worse.

In so many words, the memo creates a hostile political work environment, in which employees are assumed to align with the partisan inclinations of their superiors, rather than keep their political lives to themselves, unfettered by workplace pressures.

On a different note, some of you may know Brunswick resident Jim Bouchard (there may be more than one!), who is a Black Belt Champion and Motivational Speaker, among other things.  You can learn more about him here.

We have seen Jim from time to time in public roles, but have not had the pleasure of meeting him, though we hope to do so very soon.  We discovered via mutual acquaintances that Jim had drafted an inspired response to Mr. PP’s official memo, and he has graciously agreed to let us post it here for your edification:

Dear School Board Member:

It seems that it’s Brunswick school superintendent Paul Perzanoski who needs a lesson in “civility...diplomacy” and common sense.

Granted- it’s an internal memo, however, Brunswick school superintendent Paul Perzanoski is, by his own lament, a horribly abused public servant. His words are open to public scrutiny.

Forget what he said about Governor LePage. The governor is a big boy and he can handle the criticism. I’m even more troubled by these words:

“We endure enough pathology just by making the choice to work in public service.”

Well then, Mr. Perzanoski...quit.

I’ll assume that as an educator, Mr. Perzanoski is intentionally applying the secondary usage of “pathology.” That is to indicate “any deviation from a healthy, normal or efficient condition.” Even giving him the benefit of the doubt, his words are a gross insult to those of us who pay his salary and the salaries of those in public education who, according to his memo, must now endure the “annoyance that the (two month!) break so desperately needed is close to completion.”

In other words, his memo seems to imply that working in public education is a terrible burden and onerous personal sacrifice in which one endures unhealthy, abnormal and inefficient working conditions. Given the current state of public education at large, we may have to concede the point on inefficiency.

I admire, respect and appreciate the dedication of our educators both in the public and the private sector. Having said that, let’s look at some facts:

Please correct me if my math is wrong, but according to the Brunswick school budget, 172 full-time and 4 part-time teachers were paid about $9.5 million in salaries not counting benefits and stipends. This means an average salary of $54,000, slightly higher than the $53,000 mean salary of everyone in Brunswick according to pay scale.com...

...and of course teachers enjoy two-months paid vacation.

Mr. Perzanoski’s salary is $127,800. According to maineopengov.org, Governor LePage makes just over half of that.

This is not, however, about the money. The finances simply put things in perspective.

Mr. Perzanoski, you’re making a damn good living! Your teachers are paid in proportion to the people they serve. You have a brand new elementary school and a beautiful high school. The people of Brunswick have sucked it up consistently to maintain your budget as much as possible despite the tremendous losses we’ve all suffered as a result of the recession and the BNAS closing.

It’s not the governor’s job to educate the students of Brunswick, Mr. Perzanoski...it’s your job.

If you’re concerned about competition from private educators, then compete with them by improving your results, not by complaining about the competition. If your concern is a shrinking budget; welcome to our world.

We’re sick of it too, Mr. Perzanoski. We’re sick when we make personal sacrifices to support our community and invest in public officials who seem to offer little other than to bite the hands that feed them...ours.

If you’re so overwhelmed by our “pathology,” then for the sake of your own health you should consider another career.


Jim Bouchard
Brunswick Citizen

Side isn’t into tennis, but if we were, we’d be moved to declare ‘game, set, match to Jim Bouchard’ after reading his response to the Superintendent’s unforced errors. Not to mention the balls involved in making those errors.

Friday, August 24, 2012

‘Public Servant’ Paul Perzanoski’s Public Political Pronouncements….


You may have already heard about the kerfuffle stirred up by Brunswick School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski’s recent letter to
Department Staff.  It’s been publicized on radio, in the newspapers, and on a variety of web sites.

But in case you haven’t, we want to make sure you have the item of interest at your fingertips.  You can find it here.  Note that it is an official document, written in the Superintendent’s official capacity.  This is what makes the content so startling, and what raises serious questions about the propriety of his behavior as an appointed public official and head of the School Department.

(You can read coverage on the item in the Portland paper here.  Included are the reactions of a number of School Board members.)

The first passage to note in the letter is this one, in which Mr. P shows a talent for sarcasm; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say.

“Our illustrious governor has been in the news again, singing the praises of public education.  The legislators passed new laws on bullying this spring but they failed to include the Blaine House.  Remediation is on the Governor’s mind and I agree, he needs remediation in civility, public speaking, telling the truth, diplomacy, and following the law.  I think we should challenge him to take the SAT and them make the results public.”

Ever helpful as we are, we decided to respond to Mr. P’s challenge on SAT scores with a challenge of our own:

Mr. Perzanoski:

'Congratulations' on your 'pithy' letter of 17 August to School Department Staff. It has now received coverage for the department on WGAN news broadcasts, which probably means it will be highlighted on the network evening news casts.

As long as you are challenging others on SAT scores, I thought I'd play “I'll show you mine, now you show me yours” with you.
I have before me the post card with my scores on the GRE, which I took in 1966. On the aptitude section, I scored 79th percentile (580) in verbal, and 99th percentile (800) in quantitative. I took the advanced test in engineering, and scored 93rd percentile (690).

I did not find my post card for the SATs, which I took in the 58-59 school year, but I distinctly recall that I scored 800 on the math portion, and about 600 on the verbal.

I look forward to getting your scores and publicizing them along with mine now that you've turned such things into a matter of public discourse.

We can also compare college performance, if you wish. My undergraduate days as an engineering major were, shall we say, undistinguished, in-as-much as I was discovering the pleasures of fraternity and campus life in the innocent days before the political activism of the 60's invaded colleges everywhere. I believe my GPA was about 2.5.

I made up for it in graduate school, earning a 3.8 and 3.9 respectively for a Masters in EE, and a second Masters in Computer Science.

Not than any of this matters in the grand scheme of things. I don't expect my scores and GPAs to appear on my gravestone, or in my obituary.

But I'll wait patiently to get your scores and GPAs. Perhaps you can include them in the memo that includes the data you promised to provide on how much has been saved by the 102 position cuts you advertised to any and all in the budget season.
Perhaps you forgot your commitment to provide them; if you need proof, I'll be happy to send you the message in which you did so.

In this day and age, keeping your word and protecting the integrity of the department are important aspects of keeping the public trust. At least as I see it; I hope you agree.

The response I received was: “Thanks for your comments. Paul.”  Apparently he doesn’t want to ‘make his results public.’  That pretty much says it all, don’t you think?  So much for transparency.  We could pull a ‘Harry Reid’ and mention a call we received from ‘Bill’ that said the Super’s scores were an embarrassment, and demand that he prove the caller wrong by releasing them.  But we’re not going to sink to Harry’s level; that’s for high ranking ‘public servants’ like the good senator, not us.

Side wonders whether Mr. P’s contract prohibits partisan political posturing in his official capacity as School Department head.  If it doesn’t, it should; we intend to find out either way.

The letter goes on to bemoan “public school bashing” as a “favorite political sport.”

“The main goal of this 29 year attack is not to improve public education but to demean it enough so public dollars pay for private and religious schools.  Through the years this movement has morphed into vouchers and charter schools supported by the same people with the same political agenda.  It may be time to stop fighting and give them what they want under the following conditions……”

Are we to believe Mr. P and his ilk, and his associates in the teachers unions, are without ‘political agenda’ on school related matters?  That aside, we’d like to comment on the ‘following conditions’ identified in the letter:

‘Every school must hire certified, highly qualified teachers;’  Highly qualified?  We’d like the Department to prove to us that it ONLY hires and continues to employ highly qualified teachers.  We are aware of no performance monitoring, measurement, or reward system that would encourage and incentivize highly qualified teachers and superior performance.  The worst teachers get paid the same as the best and vice versa.  Every teacher in a given grade teaches to the same approved curriculum.  Getting rid of underperforming or ‘dead wood’ teachers is virtually unheard of.  You can thank the teachers union for homogenizing the teaching corps into faceless members instead of unique individuals with unique capabilities.  Our guess is that private school teachers are not protected by the same counter-intuitive pay and employment strictures.  And we bet student performance figures into teacher evaluation, which it doesn’t in the government school system.

‘Every school must accept all students who register:’  Fine; and as part of that, we assume Mr. P wants to ensure that the teachers in each system are paid the same, and that public funding per student is the same.  At the same time, he can provide access to the professionals who are always ready to declare students as special needs to invoke more public funding.  Brunswick students are now funded at more than $13,000 each, and we expect that the private/charter schools would be delighted to receive that much per student.  Meanwhile, to level things out and save funds, we would expect the government school teachers to have their pay and benefits adjusted to equity with private school teachers.  Fair is fair, after all.  The funds saved could be used to keep schools in good repair, a concept largely ignored by government schools in order to prioritize homage to the teachers unions.

‘Every student must be part of the statewide assessment;’  We’d be shocked if there was a private school that wouldn’t be happy to have it’s performance measured in return for equivalent funding and a level ‘playing field.’  Or even without.

‘Every school must follow state and federal mandates;’  Once again, equalized funding and equalized salaries and benefits should make this quite practical.  We also suspect that the vast majority of state mandates here in Maine derive from the near total monopoly liberal Democrats have had in State Government for 40 years, and we suspect these would be the politicians most dearly beloved by Mr. P and the teachers unions.  The current landscape in Augusta has not been in place for even two years yet, and is the rarest of the rare since the 70’s.  We suspect that federal mandates for the most part have been enacted by similarly inclined and affiliated leadership.

All in all, we think Mr. P would do well to remember that leveling the playing field is a two-way process before he issues such challenges, or he could get his comeuppance.

You’ll also note in the letter that the School Department is started on the road to what will likely be a $20 million or more school renovation plan, and they want to “engage the department and the community” in the process.  This is a rallying call to the schoolies, the ‘imagine and invest’ crowd who will ‘engage’ in public fits of weeping and moaning to see that all the money they want for their darlings and education heroes and saints is forthcoming from taxpayers, no matter the effect on the latter and their budgets, or the state of Brunswick’s economy.

We’re also quite astonished by this passage:

“..the recipe for professional security and strength lies in our ability to articulate support, kindness, civility, tolerance, and patience with each other.”

This is especially notable given the author’s attack upon the Governor, which exemplifies exactly the opposite.  And besides, the professional security and strength for the majority of department staff derives from their union contracts, we think.  They pretty much take the subtleties of personal relationships out of the mix; if you don’t believe us, just read a few of the contracts.

Then there’s this:  “We endure enough pathology just by making the choice to work in public service.”  Pathology is a pretty strong word, and suggests that the author is not happy in his circumstances.  Perhaps he should retreat to his Peaks Island domicile and rethink his career choices.  Given that compensation and benefits of just about everyone in the School Department exceeds that in the private sector, you would expect a bit less in the way of animosity.  But then “public service” has long since become a misnomer of epic proportion.

Now for the heartfelt closing: “Wishing you a profitable and satisfying year.”

Not a successful year or one filled with accomplishment.

Perhaps Mr. P would revise the monetary implications of his closing were he to do it over again, but given the long term record, we suspect not.  You can be the judge.

Friday, August 10, 2012

“Money tree very pretty,…”

“…and the money flower is sweet.”

That is the way the song of some years ago went, isn’t it?  Or are we mis-remembering something? 

(Before we move on, you might want to open a fresh gallon of Kool-Aid, so you can get in the mood for what follows.)


Well, no matter, because the concept of money growing on trees in government orchards is ever so au courant.  Especially in academic circles.  For proof, take a gander at this doozie from last Sunday’s big city paper.  It’s intriguingly titled “Why baseball can never run out of home runs….or the U.S. government out of money.”  It was written by Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and of women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine.

If it doesn’t make your jaw drop, than you haven’t done your homework for understanding where this country is headed (think California, Stockton, etc.)  Quick, grab for something by Thomas Sowell or Milton Friedman.

The column contains ‘hits’ like these:

Money, in all its gore and all its glory, is no more significant and no more substantial than a home run, a field goal or a service winner.

The United States is the only entity that can legally create dollars. We are "sovereign in our own currency." Our government spends dollars, borrows dollars and pays interest in dollars. That's why we can't run out of them.

In other words, if you can simply print more dollars whenever you wish, how can you ever run out of them?  Which should immediately make you wonder why we have to pay taxes.  Can’t our delegation just call for more printing on our behalf?  What’s the problem here?

This goes a long way towards explaining why most ‘public servants,’ from local to federal, seem to spend like money is no object.  In the minds of our elite betters, it simply isn’t.  Don’t worry, spend happy!

As chance often has it, we were reading an editorial in the Weekly Standard that touches upon the pathology at work here, at least tangentially.  In an item titled Unemploy Obama, this passage appears:

Like other obsessive gamblers who cannot recognize failure until they are ruined, he (Obama) wants to double down—make the same bet again in the hope that this time he will roll prosperity instead of more joblessness. Ideologues, like addicted gamblers, reject experience as a teacher. And when they are gambling with other people’s money, they have little incentive to change, especially if they can count on a winning personality to persuade supporters to overlook the minor matter of oncoming penury.

Reading the Feiner column is a stunning reminder of just how lost on the j-axis some folks can become as they work their little fannies off to rationalize gender fluidity or economic stupidity.  Only one thing can make it worse, and that’s realizing that we are paying for their work with our tax dollars so that they can fill impressionable young minds with this poppycock.  We hope the professor is appropriately grateful for us keeping her intellectual bong full of whatever she has to smoke to come up with this stuff.

There’s another dimension to this fine example of academic freedom at taxpayer expense.  Feiner and her fellow feminists are committed to the principle that there is no such thing as ‘objective reality;’ there is only ‘narrative.’

In a 2008 interview, Feiner said that her "feminist economics" follows the "feminist" multiculturalist agenda to 'liberate' science from objectivity, which they regard as "male":

"Feminist economics differs from mainstream, orthodox, plain vanilla economics in a couple of major different ways. First, or at least first for me, is that feminist economics is deeply influenced by feminist 'science studies,' the scholarship that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s (continuing today) which shows the deep flaws in the idea that knowledge is 'objective'."

We wonder what happens when Feiner and friends sit under an apple tree.  Do the apples fall up?  Or do they move sideways before traveling further to avoid hitting the professor on her head?

Soaking this all in, we’re left with one pressing question.  Just what do they use to fertilize all those money trees in the orchard?

Oops; never mind.  We think we just figured it out, and we suspect the supply is endless.  So you can stop worrying your silly little heads, and just go out and get that free lunch.

And stop grinding your molars about the fact that 30% of the people in this country receive some kind of welfare payment, and that doesn’t include Medicare or Social Security.  A few clicks here, a few clicks there, and voila!  It’s all good!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Milton Friedman, free lunches, and tooth fairies

We don’t know what your reading habits are, or how familiar you are with various economists and economic theories.  That said (to borrow a cliché) it seems to us, given our own concerns and interests, that there has never been a better or more important time in our history to read and absorb the fundamental economic principles that apply to the American system and the government we elect to protect it.

For our money, legends like Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, and Milton Friedman serve up the most sensible and understandable treatises on the ‘dismal science,’ which is at it’s core the study of how people make choices.  Or so they say.  The first two are still alive; Friedman passed away in 2006.

We recently came across a commentary by Stephen Moore on Friedman in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.  In it, he points out that Friedman is best known for illuminating the connection between liberty and capitalism, especially as it relates to free markets.  He also points out that Friedman originated the axiom that there is no such thing as a free lunch; we have often cited it, but had no idea it came from him.

You can read the column here.  A few salient passages:

Small in stature but a giant intellect, he was the economist who saved capitalism by dismembering the ideas of central planning when most of academia was mesmerized by the creed of government as savior.

Friedman stood unfailingly and heroically with the little guy against the state. He used to marvel that the intellectual left, which claims to espouse "power to the people," so often cheers as states suppress individual rights.

As long as we’ve got your attention, we’d like to tell you about a conundrum that slaps us in the face nearly every day as we listen to reporting on the ‘positive recovery’ from the ‘great recession’ of recent years.  We can’t make all the pieces fit together, but perhaps our readers can show us the way.

The Federal Government reports monthly on jobs created and the unemployment rate.  It reports weekly on first time applications for unemployment insurance.

For as long as we can remember, the latter figure has been in the range of 350,000 or more per week.  A few days ago, we were told that 160,000 plus new jobs were created in the month of July, and that the unemployment rate had increased from 8.2% to 8.3% at the same time.  You may have noticed the President bubbling over with optimism that the new jobs figure shows we are ‘making progress.’

We’re aware that ‘fuzzy math’ is a field of study, yet we are at a loss to make sense of all this.

If 1.5 million or so new applications for unemployment insurance are being filed per month, with 160,000 new jobs created in the same month, don’t we have a jobs deficit, or employment decline of 1.4 million in the same month?  How can this be seen as making progress?

Doesn’t this amount to reporting on population change by citing the number of births in the past month, while ignoring the number of deaths in the same month?  Or trumpeting the new businesses that have opened in recent months, while neglecting to mention how many have shut down?

The fact is, we don’t get the facts we need to really know what’s going on, do we?

We’re open to explanations that would prove otherwise.  Knock yourself out; we can’t wait to post them here.

Along those lines, would you believe the hair growing on our ears is reversing our baldness?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Where, oh where has the little man gone?

In our own silly way, as we thought about this post, the nursery rhyme song about ‘my little dog’ came to mind.  A Side gold star to anyone who can recall the tune from their childhood, if not all the words.  Here’s a few of the words to get you in touch with your inner toddler:

Oh where, oh where
Has my little dog gone?
Oh where, oh where can he be?
With his ears cut short
And his tail cut long
Oh where, oh where can he be?
I think he went down
To the building site
To see what he could see

We have reliable evidence that at least one Other Side reader has wondered about our whereabouts, and with that overwhelming public demand, it is clearly our duty to respond.  As it turns out, we haven’t posted an item since June 27th (of this year, in case you wondered.)

And here’s why.  It turns out that the Poppycocks traveled to another galaxy far far away where we searched for truth, ourselves, and perfect synchronism with the natural order of the cosmos.  While there, we looked for a breakthrough donut variety that would surpass Frosty’s maple-bacon creation for ability to give one the food-faints, but we found no such thing. 

We did, however, find some crumb-buns and similar old world bakery treats, the likes of which you can’t find anywhere in Maine to the best of our knowledge.  These are a different species of bakery, but are no less appealing and habit forming than Frosty’s finest.

We also put our ear to the grindstone and our nose to the ground to see if we could find ‘public servants’ in the original sense of that term, and government entities that had higher priorities than behaving as if they had all the money in the world.  While we were at it, we looked for public school systems that believed teaching kids to read, write, and do math were their number one priority.

We beamed back to Brunswick from our travels empty-handed; it appears ‘communities’ everywhere have allowed their imagination to get in the way of what really matters, all in the name of making them feel good about themselves, rather than doing what really needs to be done.

So there you have it!

What’s that you say – you’re not buying it?  Alright, you skeptics.

Try this.  We are nothing if not self aware, and mindful of our readers’ sensitivities.  We understand that our ramblings and observations can cause heartburn even in those with cast-iron intellects, and that sometimes, readers need to lay off those morsels of ours that trigger adverse reactions.

So, chomping at the bit as always to fire-hose you with stimulating commentary on a regular basis, we suppressed our own compulsions in the name of community service, in hopes you could enjoy your summer respite undisturbed and unperturbed by our caustic tidbits.  You have no idea how much self-control it took for us to do so, but we’re bigger than others when it comes to these things.  And to borrow a word in the news, we feel purposeful now that we’ve mastered our impulses.  Perhaps you can show how you’ve grown by showering us with accolades for leaving you to stew in your own juices.

How’s that for baring our soul?  Or is it bearing????  Hmmm…interesting question.  Very existential.

Excuuuuuse me?  No cigar, you say?

Alright then, let’s try this.  Our intense tracking of and commentary on the recent school budget process, and the folderol spewing forth from those associated with it’s passage, wearied us for our normal tasks.  And then life happened.  Summer has seen several family visits to our editorial offices, and we have traveled to visit others elsewhere.  Various chores and distractions have intervened in our ‘normal’ routine, and day by day, happening by happening, we fell out of our usual habits of staying tuned in and commenting as events moved us to do so.

And you know what?  We’re not really feeling all that guilty.  It remains to be seen whether this ‘departure’ from established patterns of blogitorializing will qualify as recharging the batteries, or simply getting lazy and disinterested in our old age.

The only way to know for sure will be to stay tuned and watch for what comes down the screed screen in the coming days, weeks, and months.  We invite you to do so, and to comment as you see fit.

In summary, three offerings to explain our absence.  That should provide something for everybody; let us know what your personal favorite is, should you stumble upon this little return to the saddle, as it were. 

And if you see us around, let us know what you think about the cut of our ears and tail.