Friday, April 26, 2013

Cheap Tickets Anyone?

(Ed. Note: this post has been corrected to change the ticket price from $6 to $5)



“Pssstt…..pssstt….hey, come over heah.”

“I got a deal for youse.”

“Heah’s how its gonna woik; youse gonna love dis.”

“Foist, we print up $50 million and spend it to bring a train to Brunswick….you know, that place up in Maine wit all them nice old people.”

“Then we sell ‘em tickets for $5 to ride dat train from where they lives to see my business associates down in Portland, Boston, and udder places down the line.  When they gets there, we sell ‘em food and moichendise for their real money, until they ain’t got no more left.”

“It’s like takin’ candy from a baby, only easier.”

“Then we send ‘em home wid anudder $5 train ticket, and tell ‘em to send all their friends down to see us wid their moneys, too.”

“Is dis great or what?  You want in on some of the action?”


Do you have your tickets yet?  Earlier this week we saw a sticker pasted on copies of The Ostrich being sold at Hannafords.  They promoted upcoming ‘special days’ when you could take these $5 rides, and all the places you could stop.  I suspect we’ll see them on other papers as well (turns out they are on The Forecaster.) 

We could say it looks like they’re trying to goose up the ridership numbers, but why go to the trouble.  We’re pretty sure they could goose them up with a data entry ‘mistake’ here or there anyway. 

It’s one of the ways in which government works its magic.  See the IRS’ recent overpayment of tax credits for example:

In the last decade the Internal Revenue Service has improperly paid up to $132.6 billion in refunds through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) aimed at assisting low-income families with children, an IRS Inspector General report found.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pachyderm Puzzler

(By LT Ben Dover, Other Side contributor)


Judging from this article in The Forecaster, Brunswick Town Manager Gary Brown has been wearing his special elephant hiding eyeglasses as well.

I don’t think it should be that hard to see the little fellow, shown below. 


But apparently, no-one in Council chambers wants to be the first to shout  “Incoming, incoming!  Elephant at 12 o’clock!”  They look around the room, and all they see is this:


They’ll get another chance to look for him tonight, because the School Department is coming before the Town Council at 7pm for a Budget Workshop.  You can watch live at mms:// 

The elephant will be there; only those officials who have an ulterior motive for denying his presence won’t recognize him.  And so our poor fellow will continue to need therapy.


If you decide to read the article linked above, you should see this comment posted below it, which adds some factual insights to the story in response to a prior reader comment:

James C:

Since FY 01, Brunswick school enrolment has declined by 1,000 to it's current total of 2,350. In that year, the school budget was $23 million, and per student costs were under $7,000.

The proposal for the coming year (FY 14) is a budget of $35.7 million, which works out to a per student cost of over $15,000.

Since that time, 3 schools have been closed and replaced with one "more efficient" new one. Jordan Acres was closed and scheduled for demolition because no-one thought to keep the roof clear of snow accumulation that could cause structural failure. How's that for responsible stewardship by our 'public servants?' Who knew it snows here in Maine?

Here's a 'what if' scenario: In FY 06, per student costs were about $8,800 per year. If those costs had escalated by 5% a year, which is well above inflation, the cost per student in the coming year would be about $13,000, and the total budget would be $30.7 million, or $5 million less than the current proposal. Guess what: $5 million translates to about 17% in tax rate...exactly the amount talked about here!

I could go back to FY 01 and do the 5% escalation since then, and the numbers would end up lowering taxes substantially.

Does this budget increase history sound like a School Board and a School Department that has been diligent in the face of economic reality? Does this sound like a School Establishment that "gets it?" Does this sound like leaders that are mindful of the fiscal realities of its aging and largely elderly property taxpayer base?

And remember; the news reported here completely ignores the expected $40-50 million debt that will be incurred to tear down the remaining 'old schools' and replace them, which will add another tax increase of about 15%.

So here's an idea, James C. Go back to the FY 06 scenario I mentioned above, and escalate per student costs by 5% a year on a spread sheet; take those numbers and distribute them across the various budget lines. Do that for each year, and you'll have the numbers for FY 14. Should be just enough to call for no budget increase in the coming year.

Don't like that idea? Cut the salary and benefits line by $3 million just for starters, by whatever means you wish. Have to break a contract? Fine, do it.

Then get somebody with some common sense and integrity to deal with the maintenance issues at the existing schools, and replace those who allowed the schools to deteriorate to this point. And make public examples of them all.

The fact is that the public has been sleeping on duty for far too long, and tolerating incompetent management/oversight of municipal assets and functions.

Now it's time for someone else to pay their 'fair share.' We can no longer tolerate money-tree government.

What's your solution, James C? Putting your increased property taxes on your credit card?

Wow…that’s some pretty strong talk; I wonder who said it?


Education Excellence, BCU, and the Brunswick School Establishment

(Ed. Note: based on the revelations in this post, we will henceforth refer to Brunswick Community United (BCU) as “Brunswick Community Unionists,” which more accurately reflects their allegiance.)

Setting the Stage

Brunswick has the best schools!”  (Frequently claimed by Sally Sellit and others who assert that people move to Brunswick only because of the schools.)

Brunswick schools have excellent teachers!”  (Enraptured parents affirming that they’ve placed their children in superior learning situations.)


Brunswick kids are great students!”  (“I don’t know about your kids, buy mine are incredibly talented.”)

Such are the three prongs of communal self-esteem deriving from Brunswick’s government run schools.  Inquiring minds might ask what specifically is meant by “best,” “excellent,” and “great.” “Best schools” obviously doesn’t refer to physical school assets, since we’re heading towards tearing down and replacing three of the five schools still standing.  It’s a Brunswick thing, you know.

Even more, we’d ask what objective info the speakers have to substantiate their claims.

“The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction.”
Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays

Challenging such indefinite but passionately held views is tantamount to telling a parent that neither Brunswick or its schools are superior, that they are sending their kids to schools that have poor as well as good teachers, and that not every child is above average.  You can’t get very far with such a position, and so we have the completely lopsided dialogue over school budgets.  All but a very few are too intimidated to say anything that might be labeled anti-school and anti-child.

The School Establishment’s One Note Serenade

With the foregoing as context, consider these recent citations in a Forecaster article:

“We’re tasked with ensuring that each student in Brunswick receives an adequate education, and I don’t think that’s enough,” Vice Chairwoman Michele Joyce said. “Let’s change that expectation from adequate to excellent.

Alright, Michele, all we ask is that you clearly define what you mean by adequate and excellent.  Write it up, and we’ll publish it right here.  Because we need a way to measure the results.

The state continues to give to give us challenges and one of the latest is publicly funded charter schools. Let’s keep Brunswick students in Brunswick by providing an excellent education for all of our students.”

Great idea; isn’t it time for Brunswick to prove to parents that the town’s government run schools are the best choice for their children?  This is the essence of the Charter School movement – creating competition in what has been a government sanctioned monopoly.

Chairman Jim Grant addressed budget concerns for residents without children in Brunwick’s  (sic) school district.

“One of the things I’m asked a lot by people that don’t have children, like myself, or the elderly, is ‘why is it that we pay to schools?’ and the answer has always been, ‘it benefits the community,’” Grant said.

We can think of a zillion things that would ‘benefit the community’ in the broadest sense if taxpayers funded it.  We’d like to think that Grant can come up with something more profound, but maybe we expect too much.

“… I can’t answer that anymore because now our dollars are going outside of this town to fund what is essentially a private education through public dollars.

As we see it, Brunswick taxpayer dollars paying to educate Brunswick resident children is not ‘dollars going outside of this town.’  You just said that educating the kids “benefits the community.”  Do those home-schooling their kids “benefit the community?”  Or those who send them to private schools?

“I think it’s irresponsible if we continue to allow money to leave this district that the taxpayers put into it, so yes, I’m going to ask them to pay a little bit more in the hope that more of it stays here.”

The School Department is proposing a $35 million budget for the coming year.  Are you really asking us to believe that reallocating less than 1% of that to another school is a back-breaker?  Especially when you’re sending the Charter School less than we provide you for each pupil?  Sounds from here like this is a $ saver for the town.

Given our opening words, and related school board rhetoric, we wonder how having “the best schools” could be reconciled with providing an “adequate” education.  So which is it; are our schools “the best,” of just “adequate?”  We don’t see how you can possibly be both, unless the state of public education has sunk even lower than we thought.                                                            

One might ask those responsible to define “adequate” and “excellent” in measurable educational terms, instead of using them as emotional trigger words.  Good luck on that; measurability is a profane concept in the halls of education and the halls of the teachers union.  Or maybe Ms. Joyce would rather correct Sally Sellit the next time she says how great our schools are, and tell her they are just ‘adequate.’

What’s a little cognitive dissonance amongst friends, right?  Maybe The Ostrich can sort this all out for us. 

All of the above posturing is textbook ‘spend more’ rhetoric, completely devoid of any details or specific references to education fundamentals.  It is designed solely to create a local ‘mandate’ for raising taxes through our predatory adjustable rate property tax.

Clearly, the School Board, the School Department, the assorted schoolies and Brunswick Community Unionists all equate spending, and more importantly spending increases, to school excellence.  Which always leads one to ask “just how much would be enough?”

This view is like rating how good as parents you are by how much you spend on your kids.

And how good a cook you are by how much you spend on groceries.

Not to mention how good a golfer you are by how expensive your golf outfits are.


It should be obvious that being a better, or the best parent, cook, or golfer has very little to do with how much you spend on the effort, as is true for most of life’s pursuits.  Instead, it depends on strong principles, attention to detail, and mastering the fundamentals, with a good dose of performance assessment.             

“You can govern or you can spend.” 

We’re pretty sure we’ve quoted this pithy observation many times before, but you can’t be reminded of it too often.  It refers to typically ignored meanings of the word govern, which include “to exercise a directing or restraining influence over,” and “to hold in check.”  Think of a governor on a car or engine that limits speed, so it doesn’t race out of your control.

There is another sense of the word: “to rule over by right of authority,” which is the interpretation preferred by most in elected office, and appointed offices as well.

“It’s for the children.”

We’ve referred to this phrase countless times as well, because it’s the proven, all-purpose mantra of government school advocates as they seek to embarrass, demonize, and silence those who would challenge them in any regard, almost always while distracting from the facts of the matter.

Combine the two sayings, and you have the core of our main thesis.

“Critical thinking” is a concept enjoying some resurgence in public interest as Bowdoin’s intellectual foundations undergo examination at the national level.  See this post to be reminded of that discussion.

Our long held view is that the government school establishment has long insisted that spending is the only true measure of excellence, and that more importantly, increase in spending is the only meaningful indicator of community commitment to school success.

So bear with us as we attempt to think critically on school excellence. It appears to us that three factors have the greatest influence on achieving excellence, as distinct from just claiming it.

The first factor is curriculum: what do our schools teach?  Does what they teach really matter?  Is it the fundamental, mandatory skills and knowledge necessary to make a successful life for yourself? What used to be know as the “three R’s,”  along with contemporary extensions of the same need for rudimentary ability to prosper in the modern era?

Or is it more focused on the fashionable social and cultural puffery of our day, as exemplified by this course description in the Bowdoin catalog?

212  Gender, Sexuality, and Schooling.

Schools are sites where young people learn to “do” gender and sexuality through direct instruction, the hidden curriculum, and peer-to-peer learning. In schools, gender and sexuality are challenged, constrained, constructed, normalized, and performed. Explores instructional and curricular reforms that have attempted to address students’ and teachers’ sexual identities and behavior. Examines the effects of gender and sexual identity on students’ experience of school, their academic achievement, and the work of teaching. Topics may include Compulsory Heterosexuality in the Curriculum; The Gender of the Good Student and Good Teacher; Sex Ed in an Age of Abstinence.

How much of the curriculum consists of videos and other prepackaged materials projected over “technology resources” that require constant upgrades?

As we understand it, curriculum is handed down by a central authority in the school department.  The 2nd grade curriculum is the 2nd grade curriculum.  It doesn’t matter how experienced or inexperienced the teacher is, or whether they make $35,000 per year or twice that; they are required to teach the same things.

While we’re on the subject, is there a single central location where a parent or taxpayer can go to examine all the textbooks and other materials used in all grades from K through 12?  It might be very interesting to spend an hour or two thumbing through the materials for each grade.

The second factor is the students: what expectations do we place upon them to study, work, and master what the system attempts to teach them?  How are these expectations expressed in writing and in policy that anyone can examine?

Do we expect and inspire them to succeed, or do we simply see them as seat-takers who drive revenue and consume subsidized meals?  Does making the honor roll really mean something, or are we more into ‘everyone needs affirmation’ modernity?

Do we give seat-time promotions?  Does the possibility of being held back even exist any more as an incentive to keep up?  Are there any consequences of being a slacker, or are you simply moved along with your classmates (‘peers’) because it’s just easier?

It goes without saying that expectations for students are tightly coupled to the expectations parents place upon them and the school system.  In the same way, expectations placed upon students necessarily reflect back to parents and their involvement in their children’s success.  What expectations are placed upon parents, and are they detailed in written policy?

The third factor is the teachers: what do we expect of them, and how do we measure and confirm they meet these expectations?  Where are these expectations documented and viewable?

To begin with, their compensation package is antithetical to any rational concept of excellence and performance.  Teacher salary progression is based almost entirely on time in grade, with no dependence on performance or merit.  Do the time, and you get the increase.  Even though you are teaching to exactly the same curriculum as the teacher who is 15 years your junior, and making far less for the same task.

So what is our point?

Here we are, faced with the standard budget propaganda of the Brunswick School Board and the School Superintendent.  The School Board is the elected governing body charged with overseeing the Brunswick School Department, and therefore its state of adequacy and/or excellence.

(Brunswick Community Unionists are probably getting lovely new signs printed, or maybe they’re just going to use the ones from last year. They should be appearing any day on a property near you.  Given the figures rolling out in the news, ‘invest in our schools’ seems way too understated.  We’re thinking more like “Imagine your future; go without for our schools.”)

The School Board is and virtually always has been a near unanimous rubber stamp operation afraid to take on the teachers, the administration, or the students and parents.  So they do the only thing they know how to do: spend.  And it is a metric everyone can see and judge them by.  You can govern, or you can spend; they’ve made their choice, and it’s obvious.

Now that we’ve examined the three major factors in education excellence as we see it, we pose these questions:

  • Have you ever heard the School Board or the Superintendent address school curriculum in public discussions, and a need to change or upgrade it to improve educational success?
  • Have you ever heard the School Board or the Superintendent talk about student expectations in any regard in public discussions?
  • Have you ever heard the School Board or the Superintendent address teacher accountability and  performance measurement as vital to system success?

If you’re like  us, your answer to all three of these questions is “no.”

And you need to ask why this is.  Instead of buying into the spend more, spend lots more shouts of BCU, and the ‘it’s for the children’ chanting of the School Administrator and his captive School Board.


If you don’t, you’ll confirm that you really aren’t for the children, and that you would much rather roll over and have your tummy tickled.

Some other questions we’ll leave for interested students:

  • If dollars drive excellence, why isn’t ours growing by leaps and bounds?  Per student spending is doubling for the last 10 years, and is up by $3,000 per student in the last 4 years alone, or approx. 25%.
  • Can you name a parent who would say their child’s teacher is less than the best?  Self-denial is a great defense mechanism.
  • Shouldn’t education professionals (teachers) be insulted by the inference that they’ll do a better job teaching our kids next year than this year if we pay them more?  For doing the same thing?
  • Why do we have graduates that can’t make change?  And adults that can’t read?  How can you graduate from high school as a functional illiterate?
  • Why do 50% of incoming community college students need remediation coursework, and 25% of those entering UM System four year programs?
  • Since Maine has the lowest student to teacher ratio in the nation, and spends 50% more per student per year than the national average, shouldn’t our achievement be sky high?

Let us leave you one more favorite of the school advocate chorus.

“You get what you pay for.”


And they’re absolutely right; when you increase teacher salaries, you get higher paid teachers.  See?  They’re right!


They say ‘it’s for the children,’ which we’ve argued a number of times, in a number of different ways, is not at all true (in numerous prior posts.)

But here’s what is true, and it cannot be argued: ‘it’s from the taxpayers.’

Now don’t forget to be a good parent to that swell young golfer of yours!  And keep your receipts, so we can see how much you spend on him.


PS: about that elephant

Maybe you’ve noticed the elephant in the post.  It’s meant to remind you that there’s a huge elephant hanging out in Brunswick’s Council Meeting room, where budgets are presented, discussed, and deliberated.  Too bad we can’t get anyone to notice it and do something about it.  It’s standing there in plain view of the council, but the elephant can’t get their attention.  Maybe it’s because he’s wearing a blanket that says “it’s for the children.”

The elephant we refer to is the $40-50 million school renovation bill we’re about to get hit with, but isn’t being discussed in the coming sessions. 

Lucky for the elephant, he doesn’t pay property taxes.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Sounds of Suction: The Great Train Fantasy, Part 2

(Ed Note:  this post is a follow up to the discussion begun here.)

“If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) -- not just most of them.”
            - Carl Sagan

Our argument is that when it comes to bringing Amtrak passenger service to Brunswick, very few links in the chain of argument work, and the basic premise is false.  Bringing the train here amounts to throwing good money down the drain; money we don’t have, to begin with.  All while we amass suicidal debt, and more realistic needs go unfulfilled. Take bridge repair, for instance.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this, if you subscribe to the Seinfeld view of things.


Henry Hazlitt’s ‘economics in one lesson’ reads as follows:

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

We will explain our argument.  But before we do, we thought it serendipitous that after closing out the prior post with a reference to the train bringing Santa Claus to town, an article in a recent Coastal Journal included a Christmas (Santa Claus) themed image of the train:

             amtrak downeaster

Back to our message: The Downeaster to Brunswick is a boondoggle, and an insult to rational thought.  To local leadership, though, it’s OUR boondoggle, which makes it more than acceptable - it’s desirable. 

Our assertion will probably result in accusations that yours truly is a ‘trainist.’  Great; it doesn’t bother us in the least, and maybe, just maybe, it will stimulate an honest discussion of the subject.  Refreshing as that sounds, it would be a first.  And too many reputations and egos are at stake to ever allow such a thing.

We have a thick skin, and take pleasure in speaking truth to the hind end of a male steer.  All while providing an open invitation to those who question our thinking.  So far, in nearly 4 years, we can think of no more instances of anyone doing so than you can count on no fingers on no hands.

Emphasizing the Positive, Ignoring the Negative

The proven methodology in such boondoggles is to ‘ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive and elim-in-nate the negative,’ as a Consultant who asked to remain unidentified explains:

What do we mean by this?  In a nutshell, it means stay away from critical thinking and play to local emotions, hopes, and tooth-fairy beliefs.  Think of it as winning elections with a slightly different twist.

In the simplest of terms, all we are told about are the purported positive consequences of train service coming to Perfect.  No matter that service began at the onset of winter, and that only a few months of experience, all gamed to make a splash, exists.  The honeymoon is still on, and discounts and promotions, some changing regularly, are being offered.

Supporters scour the town to find a report, no matter how unsubstantiated, that the train has had ‘a positive impact.’

We can’t prove this, but we’re guessing no one has surveyed the local business community to document how many have lost business because of the train, and how severe the loss has been.  Why would they?  Why put the dream at risk?  Besides, how do you track someone that didn’t come in because they went elsewhere?

For example, how much has bus travel declined?  If ridership declines, the bus company may well reduce scheduled runs.  Even though bus service is more flexible, more convenient, more earth-friendly, more affordable, more economically viable, and a private enterprise without need for government subsidy.  And the bus is actually useful and convenient for getting to Logan Airport, while the train is anything but.

If, on the other hand, train ridership doesn’t meet “expectations,” expect the government run service to increase runs “because that’s why it isn’t working.”  And issue more attractive coupon offers to Bowdoin students.  The standard government explanation for a program that doesn’t work is that we aren’t spending enough on it, so we need to spend more.

As long as we’re on the subject, why is it incumbent upon taxpayers to subsidize costs so college students can get to Boston on the cheap?  You can read an older article here anticipating great student discounts:  The actual discounts, we hear, are even better than cited in the article.  Here’s hoping there isn’t much vomiting on the train on the way back to town.

When you read the article, keep in mind that you can’t head south of Boston on a train after taking one to Boston without finding a way to get you and your bags from North Station to South Station.  And if you want to go to the Airport, the bus is the only sensible approach.

But in this case, we’ve got to be careful; positives are OK, negatives aren’t, and Mr. In Between is not welcome.

Local Infatuation & Political Irreversibility

It doesn’t take much to realize that numerous officials at the local and state level are heavily invested in the idea of making the Brunswick Downeaster a success.  And the Federal Government, flush as always, is more than ready to speculate on the idea.  If they can afford Solyndra and various other incredibly flawed ventures, surely they can spare a few bucks for bringing a train to Brunswick, right?

We’re shocked,though, that they haven’t decided to back out of the whole idea using ‘sequestration’ as an excuse.  Apparently our little engine that could is more important than FAA air traffic control and Homeland Security enforcement.  Or wouldn’t yield the same level of public pain and backpressure.


Once our local officials step over the line, they have so much political capital invested in their decision that reversing course becomes an untenable idea.  Add to that community emotional and psychic capital, taxpayer funds capital, and the interests of the revered local College, and you have an obsession that simply can’t be denied.


Even those who once disagreed with the concept jump on board the whistle tour when they can’t bear the thought of being left behind and excluded from photo ops and related homage.  Such is the power of the lemming impulse.  Getting sucked in; just another form of suction in our story.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the Downeaster extension project is that seemingly well-intended local officials have swallowed whole the sermonizing of Patricia Quinn and the NNEPRA cabal, along with that of Train Riders Northeast.  Neither is even remotely objective on the subject, any more than Senator King, Angus is objective on matters of wind power.

Think of Maine State Housing Authority’s ‘affordable housing’ units at $300 thousand plus a few years back, and translate the same ‘disciplined management patterns’ to The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority that functions in the same quasi-governmental way.

The Romance Factor

There’s no question that ‘the romance of the rails’ is a powerful factor in this undertaking.  It’s what motivates Train Riders Northeast and many others.  And we’re sure that many of the early riders have taken a ride to relive old memories. 

But how long will the honeymoon last, and how long can romance compensate for economic non-viability?  Watch the Eastern Maine Railroad summer trains come in and out of Brunswick, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of just how much romance plays into the business.

Speaking of romance and honeymoons, Horse and Carriage rides are an ever popular tourist attraction.  And you often see them used in wedding settings.  And in Royal Processions in England.

Does that mean it makes sense to create a scheduled Horse and Carriage service here in the early years of the 21st Century?  We don’t think so, Tim.

There’s a reason passenger trains went the way of the horse and buggy; they aren’t viable economically.  Oh sure, you can take a carriage ride through Central Park to enjoy the “romance of the buggy.”  That’s what the summer trains are for, and the narrow gauge in Portland.  Assuming that the romance of the rails makes regular passenger service a winner in the face of the auto, the bus, and livery service is, in a word, idiotic and the stuff of local pipe dreams and insolvency.  It shows just how desperate we are for economic growth, and how little we understand how to go about it.

The Economic Fantasy & The Balance of Trade

Let’s begin with the projections that ridership would be 35,000 per year, or 100 per day on average.  Oh great!  100 people per day coming to Brunswick to spend money!

Wrong….facts not in evidence.  To begin with, we think it’s pretty certain that most people who ride this train are riding it round trip.  So the first thing you can do is figure that on average, ridership projections amount to 50 individuals traveling in both directions on the train per day.

Then we need to ask how many of those were formerly traveling back and forth to Portland by auto, or perhaps bus, and represent no actual change in the number of people traveling between the two points.  Instead, they’ve chosen a different form of transit.

Now ponder which is the greater motivation for riding the train: local region small town residents heading to bigger, more exciting locales with lots to do and see like Portland and Boston, or residents of Boston and Portland regions seeking more exciting options in downtown Brunswick?

We assert that the majority of ridership is local region residents traveling south, taking their dollars with them and spending them elsewhere, instead of potentially at local businesses.  Doesn’t providing cheap seats to Bowdoin Students end up taking their precious dollars out of Brunswick to be spent elsewhere?


Here’s a picture of the Long Term Parking Lot near the station.  Our guess is that those cars each represent substantial dollars leaving this area to be spent elsewhere.  Do you think there are free parking lots in Portland and Boston to accommodate the cars of travelers to Brunswick?  If you’ve seen them, please forward a photo or two for us to publish.

Did you see where People Plus is running a special “Seniors Only” trip to Boston today?  For shopping, sight-seeing, and lunch at Quincy Market?  Do you think a seniors group in Boston is running a special “Seniors Only” trip to Brunswick to enjoy Danny’s Dogs and the Town Mall?

In so many words, the sucking sound you hear is the sound of more dollars being sucked to points south of Brunswick then there are being sucked north to Brunswick.

What we’re talking about here is the difference between ‘static analysis’ and ‘dynamic analysis,’ the former favored by government, and the latter favored by ‘critical thinkers.’  The first looks only at the isolated issue at hand, while the second examines how behavior changes in other areas to arrive at a complete understanding.

The CJ article linked earlier includes this passage:

“It’s change. It will be an adjustment, I’m not denying that,” said Knight. “But the service to Brunswick has done amazing things already for the businesses downtown.”

It would be helpful if Knight provided some facts to support the claim of ‘amazing things.’  We suspect that Brynes Irish Pub and Scarlet Begonias have sold more hamburgers and more beer.  But at what cost?  It’s easy to count train-riders coming into restaurants; you can ask them; they may look lost; or you could offer a discount if they show a ticket, right?

If, as we’ve heard, the train will require a subsidy of millions a year in perpetuity, wouldn’t we all be better off if the feds just sent each restaurant a check for $25,000 a year and shut down the train? 

Does Councilor Knight really want us to believe that no local money travels southward, rather than being spent in town like it used to be?  How many meals etc, do other in town restaurants lose when local area residents take their disposable funds to Portland, Boston, or other points?  And how do you count people that don’t show up; the fact is you can’t.  Eliminating the negative is ever so much easier when you can’t get a handle on it.

How many limos could operate between Portland and Brunswick for $1 million plus a year?  Twenty?  With on call service?  To your door?

Oh, you say, we’re a community of givers…..we see.  We’re willing to make taxpayers all across the land fork it over to have the joy of diesel fumes in the center of town.

Freight trains are another issue, but you need freight to haul, and we aren’t real good at buying it or making it at the moment, are we? They operate on an as needed basis, in response to market demand, which is the exact opposite of what we have in front of us now.

The Environment

We haven’t reached the time of year when being outside is the norm, and we relish every moment.  Wait until those lovely diesel fumes waft over the sidewalk diners at Scarlets, Byrnes, BoHo and other in town favorites.  And won’t they add to the pleasure of a Cote’s ice cream treat?  And shopping at the Farmer’s Market on the Town Mall?

Should we worry that J. Hilary Rocket will complain that train fumes are compromising the al fresco cocktail and dining experience at the Inn at Brunswick?

We’ve heard they’re already improving the joys of the Hannaford’s parking lot; we assume it won’t be too long before the aromas of progress are noticeable inside the store.  As we said in our prior post, once you get a taste, a smell, and a feel for the experience, you won’t soon forget it.  Aroma therapy anyone?

Should we expect micro-climate change in Brunswick now that Amtrak has come to town?  How large do you think the carbon footprint of an Amtrak diesel engine running 24 hours a day is compared to a bus that only runs when it’s being used?

Neutering Priuses

One last point to ponder, especially for the environmentally conscious folks in our area.  And we know there are many driving around in that most pious of all vehicles, the Prius, making it clear to all that they stand for environmental justice.

Maybe they could do some calculations to figure out how many Priuses are effectively neutered by each 4,250 Amtrak Diesel running 24 hours a day, as they are now?  And how many of those engines will be added to service because of the extension to Brunswick?

We’re guessing the numbers are pretty darn big.  Where’s the outrage?  Where are the protestors on Maine Street?  Where is the parade of Priuses blocking the railroad crossings and then taking up all the free parking spots in the long term parking lots?

Or among its other faults, is Brunswick now seeking a Gold Star Award in sanctimony cum duplicity?

Summing Up: A Call To the Advocates

Whew.  We’re tired of working on this post, which may well be our longest ever, so we’re going to wind it up, ready for the presses or not.  Time to move on to other things, and the dogs would like a walk before the rain begins.

Given the history of passenger trains, we’re moved to ask what fantastic breakthrough has occurred to restore the viability of a system that died of natural economic causes?  None that we can tell, unless you consider governments spending with reckless abandon to revive long abandoned historic curiosities. 


The takeaway?  “Free money” can make a loser into a winner in nothing flat.  And even create some local heroes who will likely be gone from office by the time reality sinks in.

Oh for an honest public debate on trains vs buses.  We’d give anything to see someone from NNEPRA and the Town Council stand up and arrange that. 


We might even give you this scratch ticket, which seems appropriate to the circumstances.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hurry! Get Your Tickets Now!

As is our habit, we picked up the latest edition of The Bowdoin Orient.  Ever mindful of our readers’ interests, and their insatiable thirst for knowledge, we want to highlight a rare opportunity this week.

On Wednesday the 24th, there is an ‘event’ labeled:

“Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America.”

It will take place in the Faculty Room of Massachusetts Hall at 4:30 p.m.

Here’s the enticing description (emphasis ours):

English Professor Peter Coviello will celebrate the release of his new book, which addresses queer theory and Mormon sexuality.

Well!  All we can say is finally, thank goodness, someone on the Bowdoin faculty has decided to explore a subject that has been ignored for all too long.  As a Bowdoin student said a while ago, “What is Brunswick without Bowdoin – nothing!”

This event/book should put an end to concerns expressed in the NAS report on Bowdoin, which suggested that trivial intellectual pursuits were all too common at the college.  And that a disproportionate fascination with all things sexual, especially queer theory, is reflected in course offerings and faculty publications.

By the way, you can pick up a hardcover version of the book and celebrate along with the author for $75.  The good professor has served in the past as chair of the program in Gay and Lesbian Studies, as Acting Director of the Program in Africana Studies, and is currently Chair of the English Department.  So he’s got all the bases covered, it would seem.

We’ll close with a “cranky comment” on the latest Security Report, which, with some irony, appeared on the page opposite the profile on Side.

There were five explicit reports on intoxicated students, including one attending a concert at Colby.  One report relates how a student vomited in a College shuttle van, and that it was taken out of service and the driver sent home.

A number of other items could possibly involve intoxication, though the word was not used.  Various forms of vandalism, and one case of falling out of bed come to mind.

But the top pick of the week has to be this one, in which intoxication, though not mentioned, may have played a role:

Two female students were warned for urinating in public within view of College Street.

Which might lead you to ask whether the warning offense was “urinating in public,” or doing it “within view of College Street.”

Side pretty much thought such behavior was the exclusive province of male students, but apparently, post-modern feminist theory has freed females to mark their campus territory as well.

I smell a new book in this somewhere, and perhaps even a related course offering.

Friday, April 19, 2013

“The Children” and Brunswick Community United

In January of this year, we had an item published in The MaineWire arguing that “Everyone has a champion in the school bureaucracy – except the children.”  You can read it here.

It opened with this favorite quote of ours:

“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] and the American Federation of Teachers [1974-1997]

                         Brunswick Community United Logo

We mentioned Brunswick Community United in the article, and described them thusly:

Organized citizen groups:  Here in Brunswick, we have Brunswick Community United, a formalized group of unknowing school budget boosters.  They are aided and abetted by the leadership of Bowdoin College “academics,” well known for their inability to discern reality.  They have added structure to the worship of saintly “educators,” and consider any questioning of school policy and spending to be heresy, perpetrated by demons from the dark side.  Fond of posting non-campaign budget campaign signs around town, using trigger words like “imagine” and “invest.” Card-carrying enablers of the first order.  And we mustn’t forget those parental support groups who serve hot breakfasts to the teachers on a regular basis, and ironically, foster teacher beliefs that they are “undervalued” by the system.

Funny thing about the organization; in the ‘about’ section of their web site, they don’t identify who leads it.

We’ve recently come to understand that it’s a husband & wife team: Sarah Singer, and John Kosinski.

You should find reading about Ms. Singer here very interesting.  What you’ll note is that the majority of her ‘professional political organizing’ experience is related to the interests of public sector unions and Hollywood unions.  You might even think of her as a ‘community organizer,’ which makes her a member of a very select group, if you get our drift.

As for Mr. Kosinski, he has an interesting resume as well.  Turns out he’s the head lobbyist for the Maine Teachers Union (The MEA), or as they call him, their Government Relations Director.  You can follow up to your heart’s content starting at this page.

So it may well be that we grossly underestimated BCU in our earlier musings.  Given our new understanding, it’s not too much of a logical leap to surmise that this earnest group could, in fact, be a front for teachers union interests, whether local, state level, or even higher. 

Which could explain why they had such lovely, high end ‘non-campaign’ campaign signs spread all over town last year in the budget season.  The MEA, which makes big money as a middle-man on teacher insurance benefits, not to mention member dues, can more than afford to seed local efforts with funds to prevail against unorganized “un-special” interests.  That would be the general public.

We’ll close with this offering, which we hope Ms. Singer and Mr. Kosinski appreciate.  We' think of ourselves as a writer, though we’ve never belonged to the Writers Guild Sarah once organized for.

It’s a paraphrase of the quote at the top of this post, which we submit to Brunswick Community United as a candidate for the message they place on their signs this year:

“When school children start paying union dues, that’s when BCU will start representing the interests of school children.”

If they don’t like that one, they can have this one:

“Imagine future pay scales; invest in our teachers.”

Geez; we better stop here; if we keep this up, we’ll have to get someone to lobby for us and organize our supporters.  And unless our advertising revenue spikes, we simply can’t afford it.

“Gladys!  Take a note; remind us to be more suspicious, cynical, and untrusting in the future.  Thanks, Dearie.”

The Ostrich and Mt. Ararat High School

Last night, we found in our driveway a ‘free copy’ of what remains of the ‘once proud’ Ostrich. Or as it’s known to traditionalists, The Brunswick Times Record.

Inserted in the copy was a plaintive note fairly begging us to subscribe, for rates far better than they ever charged in the past.  For a split second, we thought about ….. and then just as quickly, our common sense returned, and we blew off any chance of taking them up on their offer.  If for no other reason, because paying them in advance for anything is the last thing that makes any sense.

With a quick glance at the pages, we discovered that Chris Miles is no longer the publisher.  Don’t no how long he’s been gone, and under what pretense, but there are only two names in the masthead….a publisher and a managing editor, neither of whose names we recognized.

All in all, with the departure of much of the reporting staff, and other dismal signs, we’d guess the NOTWIUN is in its last stages of life, at least as a 5 day a week daily.  The only question is whether they end it all quickly, or slowly plod down a more gradual slippery slope.

Coincidentally, the opinion page had a letter from a student at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham.  While praising the school in general, she talked of what a poor state of repair it’s in, and how that is effecting the learning process.  Leaky ceilings, mold, etc.  She said she knew the administration doesn’t have the money required for all the fixes; we wonder where she got that idea?  Plus, the school is ‘40 years old.’ 

Some of her other comments made it sound like the school was designed and built when ‘open classrooms’ were the great new breakthrough promoted by ‘professional educators,’ and lapped up 3 bowls full by School Boards and school architects.

If memory serves, Jordan Acres, the next school to be torn down in Brunswick was also designed as an open classroom ‘learning community,’ and this had been a source of concern for decades.

                      Save Jordan Acres Elementary School

Jordan Acres is an open space elementary building that opened in the fall of 1972. It was built on a nine acre site, which originally housed a two-room kindergarten building. Our school consists of a series of pods, each capable of containing approximately 80 students. The pods consist of three class areas, a wet area, and an amphitheater. As Brunswick grew, so did Jordan Acres. The Early Childhood Center was added in the fall of 1989, supplying an additional 8 classrooms.

We just discovered the last fact when we did a bit of searching.  It must be the beam that cracked from the snow load ran through every area of the school, so those 8 classrooms that are less than 25 years old can’t possibly be saved and used.  You know how it is; if you’re draining the bathwater, you might as well throw out the blah-blah-blah.

Apparently, officials in Topsham and the relevant school administrators, as well as the young letter writer, have not ‘gone to school’ on Brunswick’s leadership in such situations.  If they had, surely they would have realized they could let the snow build up on Mt Ararat roofs, and before you know it, the place could have been condemned. 

Voila!  Call PDT and have them start the new design!  The only challenge is whether they can handle Brunswick and Topsham simultaneously.

We wonder why Topsham wasn’t up to speed on school renovation strategy; could they have cancelled their subscription to The Ostrich a while back?

That’ll learn them!

As a final note, have you ever thought how much of Brunswick, Topsham, and Bowdoin College would still be standing if 40-50 years was the useful life of buildings?  With very few exceptions, Brunswick’s downtown would have to go.  Along with the majority of the Bowdoin Campus.  And a major share of area housing.

Apparently, not everyone follows the School Department physical asset model.  But then, most other folks aren’t playing with other people’s money, which can be quite addictive.

The Bowdoin Orient Profiles The Other Side

The Bowdoin Orient, the campus newspaper, has a story on Other Side in this week’s edition.  Here’s their opening:

Pem Schaeffer keeps a blog that has earned him a reputation as a man who hates Bowdoin. He doesn’t see it quite that way.

“I don’t have an axe to grind per se with Bowdoin,” he said. “I have an axe to grind with certain principles and positions.”

You can read the entire story here.


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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Only 6%? Doesn’t Brunswick care about the children?


(Ed. Note:  Since LT Ben Dover authored the first installment in this series, for continuity purposes we’ve decided to let him probe to get to the bottom of the story.)

Other Side has often amused itself by reading the green tea leaves to discern what’s about to happen in the Town of Perfect, the richest little town in America.  But it doesn’t take more than modest attention to the facts and the news to do so, coupled with the sort of ‘critical thinking’ skills the elites at Bowdoin College claim to specialize in.  If you know us, you know just how critical our thinking can be.

The truth is that we at Other Side would just as soon we were wrong, and that our prognostications were wildly exaggerated.  Sadly, from what we know right now, they aren’t.  It’s time to get out your personal budget worksheet, and make sure you’re ready to escalate your property tax payments generously.

Why?  Read this article for starters.  And then read this recent budget presentation by the School Department.

The Forecaster article can be read as the ‘first shoe dropping.’  How many more shoes will drop before this all plays out?  Let’s see; the school super certainly plans on at least one more giant clippety-clop.  Then we have nine town councilors times two, and nine school board members times two.  That’s at least 37 more.

Without even thinking about the editors (if you can call them that) at The Ostrich, the schoolies, and especially the groupies at Brunswick Community United. Town Councilor Benet Pols deserves special mention, because he often sides with the spend more, spend lots more crowd on his blog.

In our most recent check, all of the above are strangely silent on the budget growth, borrowing, and tax increase issues.  This could cause you to accept that our assessment of their strategy, as described here, is right on the mark.  That’s for you to decide.

As we read the cited article, we took note that

Perzanoski also proposed several reductions to the budget, including moving some costs, like the razing of the defunct Jordan Acres Elementary School and moving the bus garage, to the town's capital improvement budget.

So if nothing else, it looks like tearing down Jordan Acres is now a given.  And it’s clear the school establishment is heading smartly towards tearing down the other existing assets as well.  With the help, of course, of ‘professional advice.’

Other Side has asked, more than once, who was getting fired for letting Jordan Acres collapse under the snow load, and allowing the other schools to deteriorate so badly.  (Or are broken toilets the standard of care in our school system?)

Now Side staff is coming to understand just how misguided these questions have been.  Because in the grander scheme of things, we can see that those responsible were enablers of the grand administration plan.  Rather than get fired, they’ve probably received bonuses.  Their ‘benign neglect,’ or whatever else you wish to call it, has provided the preconditions and the impetus for whipping the public into a ‘tear ‘em down and replace ‘em’ frenzy.  A compelling case was needed, and the public servants in charge of the physical assets willingly provided it.

Still, in keeping with our theory, the article cited completely ignores the renovation iceberg in our path.

The School Superintendent is proposing a budget that is $2.1 million higher than the current school year’s.  In round numbers, it’s $35.6 million, compared to $33.5 million for the year coming to an end.

While we don’t yet have the April ‘13 enrolment figures submitted to the Maine DOE.  But if recent trends continue, it will be in the range of 2,300, compared to 2,414 a year ago, a decline of nearly 5%.  This would escalate the spending per student for the coming year to $15,500, as compared to $14,300 from the figures of a year ago.  That’s an 8% year over year increase, and that does not include any of the renovation plans or other capital expenses.

These figures are well above the statewide average, and Maine’s average is well above national figures.  So whining about how little we spend, and signs demanding that we “Imagine and Invest” might best be viewed as propaganda from the professional and semi-professional demagogues who haunt our civic discourse.

You might notice that the Superintendent is renting his garments over the loss of 18 students to the new Charter School in Harpswell.  While it remains to be seen whether the forces of the teachers union (MEA) can manage to have the place shut down before it ever opens, you’d think the School Board would be doing some soul-searching to ask why these students would prefer to attend that school over Brunswick’s.

No matter, the loss should be viewed as a financial boon to Brunswick.  We’re going to spend more than $15,000 per student year, but we only have to send about $11,000 per student to the new school.  Sounds like a net plus to us for BSD, unless you use school administration math.

Adding to the confusion is a report that only 15 of the projected 18 Harpswell students from Brunswick are currently in our school system; the other 3 are home-schooled.

Now we see a report that the School Board has voted for a budget higher than the Superintendent originally proposed.  You can read about it here.  And when you do, try to keep your head from spinning around as you read the words of the usual suspects, who try to convince us that up is down and black is white.  There go 14 more of those shoes we told you about.  Note the subtle passing around of the black hat, almost always worn by the big guy in the room.  More diversions, just like ignoring the renovation bill.

The Board Chair’s statement is particularly non-sensical, and numbers guy Rich Ellis recited his lines perfectly.  And we trust these people with the keys to our children’s education?

2.1 million budget increase?  Without any consideration for revenue losses, capital projects, etc, that’s a 7% increase in your property taxes right there.  And you thought we were nuts when we mentioned a 25% increase being within our grasp?

And don’t forget the police station!  And the McClellan building!  And College Street!  And let’s see; what else?

Reminds us of an old jingle….’and away go troubles, down the drain.’  Unless the drain is broken, that is.

But look on the bright side;  you know you can count on the Town Council to put on their hard hats and lead from the corner.


So how’s your budget looking now?  You know we’re all being counted on to boost the local economy by opening up our wallets; it’s time for us to spread our “wealth” around. 

The President says so.  Our town leaders say so. 

How can you resist?

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Other Side Receives Federal Grant; Will Open New Restaurant in Maine Street Station


(Ed Note:  Two days ago, a budding young journalist, whimsically named Mellow Yellow Bryck-Rode by her parents, knocked on our office door and asked for a tryout.  She had just been terminated by The Bowdoin Orient for mentioning she knows a conservative.  We decided to give her this assignment to see if she can make her bones with us. Let us know what you think. Note as well the quote of the day: “Just think what a dull world it would be if everyone was sensible.”)

The Glamorous Pig: Coming Soon

by Mellow Yellow Bryck-Rode, Other Side Intern

P. C. Poppycock, Editor of The Other Side, and local developer and entrepreneur, has issued a press release announcing he will open a new restaurant at Maine Street Station in Brunswick.  Plans call for the restaurant to be named “The Glamorous Pig,” and Poppycock says “it will be a barrel themed establishment.  Pork barrels, beer barrels, you name it; we’ll have it all.”

“We’re looking for a Polish Band for Wednesday nights so everyone can dance to The Pork Barrel Polka,” he noted.

Poppycock said his staff is trying to decide on an iconic image to symbolize the restaurant, and has not yet been able to agree on a choice.  The two finalists at this point are these:



Asked what spurred the idea, Poppycock said he was contacted about a year ago by Porkbarrel Planning Developers, Inc (PPDI), a Portland consulting firm specializing in ferreting out government cash that can be leveraged to boost local economies.  “They told me about resources available under the American Silliness, Speculation, and Subsidies Act (ASSS Act), and it seemed the perfect opportunity to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”

“PPDI convinced me they had the juice to secure the funding for a project that could never advance and survive on its own merits. They said merit in such matters is passe, and added they know how to grease the rails in town offices as well.”

“It’s all part of the President’s plan to ‘spread the pork around’ so everybody gets a fair shot, they told me, and the pork might as well land in my restaurant,” Poppycock said.

Drawing on the theme made famous by TV Celebrity Chef Emeril Legassey,


the new restaurant will emphasize that ‘pork fat rules,’ a variation on the Washington axiom ‘pork rules.’  As any serious foodie knows, it’s not nice to mess with Chef Emeril.

Poppycock went on to say that he was inspired by the lusty aromas arising from the pig farms that dominated his growing up years in Secaucus, New Jersey in the middle decades of the past century.  Not to mention “the joyful 24-7 squealing of the porkers as they waded in their slop, only to be transported a few months later to the nearby bacon-makin’ plant.”

He explained that the farms were located there because of the ample affordable local food supplies from New York City restaurants and hotels, and various food processors in the area, including Pepperidge Farm bakeries, a Life Saver plant, and numerous other specialties beloved by the porcine critters.

“It’s where I learned my marksmanship skills, plinking away at rats on the mountains of gently aging food supplies. That’s not easy while your eyes are watering, you’re holding your nose, and you’re gagging from time to time.”

“I want to bring those sounds, those smells, and those experiences here to Brunswick, where farm to table is a quasi-religion to devoted locavores.  We’re drawing our inspiration from them, and will maintain our livestock in a pasture adjacent to the restaurant, so that patrons can be sure that the pork is locally sourced.”

When asked whether other nearby businesses and residences might be negatively effected by the sounds and smells, Poppycock responded that they were simply the sounds of nature, and that he is returning a fair share of the station property to the traditional uses of the past.  He expects no problems with local authorities, who have shown little interest in restricting noise and fumes in the town.  And he reminds us that those emanating from the pasture are fully organic.  When told that residents in the area might complain, he said they should have thought about what the future might hold before they bought their property. 

I reminded him that Brunswick already has a number of popular and viable dining options in the Station area, and Poppycock responded with a shrug, and said “well, Government is in the business of picking winners and losers. It’s what they do, and this time, I win.  Buses, other restaurants – you roll the dice and the Government calls it as they see it.”

The Glamorous Pig will advertise a plate-to-farm-to-plate cycle of food supply, taking sustainability to a previously unknown level.  “Think of the food chain as a circle,”  he said.

“We’ll be collecting food waste from our neighbor restaurants and feeding it to our herd,” Poppycock said.  “And when they’re fattened up real good, we’ll butcher them up for the restaurant.  Leftovers and plate scrapings will get recycled right back into their food supply.  Recycling, sustainability, organic sourcing, you name it.  We’ve got it all right here, baby.”

The Glamorous Pig will also market by-products of the livestock operation.  The first ones to be offered will be buckets of lard, and for the gourmands in the area, lardons.  The lard will also be used for a new type of artisanal Gelato the restaurant will sell. 

Poppycock says “you haven’t had Gelato until you’ve had lard based Gelato.  It renders butter-fat content so ‘yesterday.’  And thinly sliced lardon is like fine prosciutto, but without the salty ham taste to distract from the silkiness.”

He plans to market bulk lard to nearby bakeries.  “We’ll find out just how wild those bakers at Wild Oats are; imagine the increase in their pie sales once the public gets wind of the source for that tender and flaky crust.”

The developer also has plans to sell Pork Pie hats and Pork Pie wedding cakes.  It’s time Brunswick shows it’s pride in Pork, he believes.



I inquired about what the menu will look like.  Poppycock said he had just begun to lay that out.  “Our signature item will be a sandwich we’ll call the Amtrak; stuffed with pulled pork” he snickered. 

“We’ll also have a BBLT; the Brunswick Bacon, Lard, and Tomato sandwich.  We don’t need no stinkin’ lettuce on this; we’ll give it to the pigs instead, and you can get your greens that way.”  The sandwich will come on multi-grain bread that has been spread with lard and then gently grilled on the flat-top, and stuffed with nearly a half pound of chef-butchered bacon. It’ll be so fresh you might hear a squeal when you take the first bite,” he grinned.

We asked how much the items would cost, and he said they’d each sell for $3.00, including a generous side of pork fat fries.  Or $4.00 with a bottomless pint of beer.  His prices are targeted at working and non-working families in the area, and Bowdoin Students will get a dollar discount on each item.

Incredulous, we asked Poppycock to explain how his business model would allow him to sell his offerings so far below fair market value.

“Business model? Who needs that? The whole idea of the ASSS Act is that everyone benefits when someone gets a fair shot. I get my fair shot when the rest of you pay all of the costs of creating and sustaining our restaurant.  Think of it as pork two ways.”

Poppycock explained that the initial ASSS allocation includes all the funds necessary to take this investment in Brunswick economic development to completion.  More importantly, ASSS guarantees annual subsidies in perpetuity so The Glamorous Pig can always offer lower prices than other restaurants in town.  “Competition is good for everybody” he added.

Not only that, he said the town has agreed to waive property taxes on the restaurant in perpetuity because of the traffic it will bring to the area.  And the state is waiving the drinking age restriction so The Glamorous Pig can be a ‘home away from home’ for the students who attend the nearby College.  “We’ll have a complete supply of first aid items on hand, in case anyone should cut their finger while eating a pickle, or stab themselves in the nose with their fork.”

As an added benefit to the state’s economy, the ASSS Act requires that at least half of our employees must be from the Portland area.  To encourage this, the feds have also promised to pay for local livery expenses to taxi employees from Portland back and forth to work.  “This is spreading the pork around in the finest sense,” the owner said.

Poppycock told us that after the Glamorous Pig opens, he’ll start planning a large refrigerated abattoir and indoor breeding facility.  He’s hoping to use the eminent domain process to get access to a sizable plot of land in the Potter Street area, so that processing is convenient to the restaurant kitchens.

In order to facilitate that process, Poppycock said he’ll be asking Rep. Matthea Elisabeth Daughtry to propose legislation creating a quasi-governmental agency known as the Northern New England Artificially Priced Pork Restaurant Authority to oversee the constant flow of funds from the feds, to obtain the necessary regulatory waivers, and to provide another dozen or so jobs, or ‘pork by-products,’ as he called them.

I asked if Sen. Stan Gerzofsky was involved at all.  Poppycock said his position is “me like pork, and the bigger and cheaper it is, the more I support it.”  He promised to have his fellow Harley riders stop by on a regular basis, especially since we have unlimited coupons for half price ‘Amtraks.’  He also promises to order a special pair of Tony Lama’s for cavorting with ALL his new constituents in their digs.  “And out of respect for them, I’ll make sure they’re not made of pigskin,” he added.

Poppycock told us another key supporter in this project has been Pork Pullers Northeast, and he wanted to make sure they know they’ll always find a welcome at The Glamorous Pig.

As I ended the interview, Poppycock said “don’t forget to tell the readers that our tag line is when you eat with us, you’ll be happy as a pig in slop!”



Monday, April 15, 2013

The Maine Wire: Legislative Exclusion from “Truth in Packaging”

A passage:

Our subject today is the titling of proposed and enacted laws, and how this often bizarre packaging and labeling unfairly and deceptively characterizes the actual contents of the law.

And some examples:

  • An Act to Add Yet Another Law to the Hundreds Already on The Books Addressing the Same Subject, Because Passing Laws is Easy, but Enforcing Laws is Hard and Requires Real Leadership
  • An Act to Compromise the Privacy Rights of The Innocent While Strengthening the Privacy Rights of The Guilty
  • An Act Clearly Misnamed to Escape Public Notice
  • An Act to Eliminate the Consequences of Personal Irresponsibility
  • An Act to Encourage Unemployment as a Desirable Lifestyle Choice

Read the entire column here:

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Ummmm….Just the Facts


There isn’t much exciting to pass along from the past week’s Security Report in The Bowdoin Orient.

So we’ll give you just a few quick highlights.

The first one is that in comparison to prior listings, they identified a local hospital as Parkview Adventist Medical Center.  We’re glad to see they finally looked up the name and quoted it accurately.

The second one is this:

An officer escorted an Appleton Hall student to the Mid-Coast Walk-In Clinic after he cut his finger while slicing a banana.

We hope the officer’s injury heals quickly, and that he’ll be more careful the next time he wants some fresh fruit.  Or was it that the student cut his finger (or did he cut the officer’s?), and the officer was slicing a banana during the transport?

Back in the day we took English Composition, this would have resulted in a red-pencil comment saying “ambiguous; reword for clarity.”

Regardless, it looks like campus authorities should schedule a knife safety course soon.  If not confiscate all real knives on campus, and replace them with harmless plastic ones that can slice a banana and other soft fruits safely.  On the other hand, they could add a fruit cutting service to the Security Department job description.  Students who do not hold a fruit cutting credential could contact Security, who would then dispatch a certified banana slicer.

As one more idea, campus activists could advocate for safe banana slicing, and place bowls of these devices everywhere on campus:


The slicers would be available at any time night or day, whenever the urge to engage in ‘cutting-up’ arises.  As long as it’s consensual.

If we don’t put safety first in such matters, how are we going to keep a lid on skyrocketing health care costs?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Sounds of Suction: The Great Train Fantasy (Part 1)

A little more than 2 months ago, we posted  an item about the trains of Brunswick, referring to "the sounds of silence."  You can revisit that post here.  It included a video of the train idling on tracks just behind a house on Bouchard Drive.

Last week, we went further.  We went trackside, just east of Church Road, where the train was idling away, apparently unmanned.  This location is roughly 100 feet from where we had an office for 6 years.

Our visit gave us a chance to enjoy the sensory delights of the Portland to Brunswick train, and based on this experience, we hereby declare that the 'sounds of silence' should more appropriately be called 'the sounds of suction.'  Before we explain, you can watch the video that was taken while we stood there.  Make sure you have your audio turned up high enough to appreciate the full spectrum of sounds.


The sounds of suction we referred to above are these: discretionary funds of area residents being sucked south as the train transports them to more exciting locales; funds being sucked unnoticed from taxpayer pockets to pay for the up-front speculation on train infrastructure and then train operating subsidy in perpetuity; and last, train fumes, vibrations, and sounds being sucked into oral and nasal passages and lungs, and otherwise leaving its mark on the five senses.

We advise you to experience this yourself so you can truly appreciate the objections being raised by residents of affected neighborhoods.  We asked our town councilor, who also happens to be the Council Chair, to join us in doing so, but she wanted no part of the experience, for reasons we can't explain.  We could be wrong, but we're guessing that the town has sunk so much political capital and tax money into the promise of the train that any glimpse into reality would be horrifying, and even worse, embarrassing.  Fantasies and dreams die hard; Santa Claus, in the local imagination, arrives on a train from Portland.

You can find the train by turning east in the driveway with the "Church Road Crossing" sign just south of the track crossing on Church Road.  It's across the street from the BIW office facility.  The train is there from about 12:30 to 5:30 pm, idling away, and making all sorts of curious noises.  There's a chance they may move it a block or two east just to keep things confused, but you should have no trouble finding it.

On our visit, we spent about 5 minutes outside soaking up the experience, and then moved inside to an adjacent office facility, where windows were closed, and we spent another 30 minutes or so.  Within minutes of our visit, and before we headed home, we were tasting and smelling the fumes on our lips, in our throat, and in our nose, and feeling the smog-like effects in our eyes.  Trust us when we tell you that it took 24 hours, including a shower and several teeth-brushings, for the effects to dissipate.

Later in the day, we took Mrs. Poppycock by the location, and she smelled and tasted the fumes immediately.  We have no doubt that the children and staff in the nearby day care center are doing the same, but hey, don't let that bother you.  This is all about the common good and Mainer's concerns for the environment and carbon footprint, right?

There are many aspects to this set of circumstances, and if you'll bear with us, we plan to address several of them.

Government Help: A Solution Looking for a Problem

As President Reagan famously said, 'the scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."'  Simply put, the plan to revive passenger trains as a desirable mode of travel stem from government too big for its britches, wildly printing dollars and borrowing even more, coupled with state and local governments stomping all over each other to grab buckets of 'free money.'  

Virtually everyone involved has no real expertise in business or economics; if they did, it would take all the fun out of political pandering and pork-dispensing.  All of them are aided and abetted by parasitic consulting firms that can 'show you the money' and how to get your hands on it with their help.  They are all too eager to tell you whatever you want to hear as the pretext for getting their fair share.

So in our case, passenger trains and Amtrak are the solution, and at least in the latest version, Portland to Brunswick is the problem they've chosen.  Let's be honest; anyone with a bit of common sense knows that passenger trains went out of business for a very good reason.  They were no longer economically viable.  Why?  Start with personal autos, buses, and airplanes.  And a culture based on mobility and getting your own car in high school.  

Oh sure, some very limited and selective Amtrak corridors experience high passenger volume, like the line running from New York to Washington, DC, which we often rode on business travel ourselves.  We even had Joey "Plugs" Biden on board for one trip.  But best we know, even that route requires federal subsidy.

Freight trains are a different story because of their very nature.  They don't need scheduled operations, and you don't need to build 'stations' with heated ramps, parking lots, and staffed ticket offices.

So our assertion is that underneath it all, running trains from Portland to Brunswick makes no sense at all.  Unless you are the government, because then you don't worry about making sense.  If the underlying premise is flawed, then everything built on that foundation is flawed as well.

NNEPRA's Flawed Premise

We told you earlier that in spite of it's name, The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is a creation of Maine State Government, and is akin to the Maine State Housing Authority, the Maine Turnpike Authority, and MRRA in how it operates and is overseen.

We have a copy of an application that was submitted by NNEPRA in August of last year to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), seeking a Categorical Exclusion from the National Environmental Policy Act.  Below are excerpts from the worksheet (emphasis ours.)

Through this project, the NNEPRA seeks to enhance mobility, reduce congestion and improve safety.
Downeaster Portland North Expansion Project – The I-295 corridor has experienced substantial growth in traffic volume since the 1950s, and there is a growing need to reduce congestion and enhance safety in this area.  Chronic congestion and delays occur due to inadequate roadway capacity.  Furthermore, the increase in traffic volume has created an increase in traffic accidents, which creates hazards by temporarily reducing highway capacity and producing lengthy backups.  The growth in traffic volume is projected to increase in the future; approximately 50,000 vehicles per day currently travel north of Portland on I-295, and traffic is expected to increase 20% by 2030.  Further expansion of the I-295 corridor is unlikely due to the extremely high cost and significant environmental impacts including the potential for a large number of displacements of businesses and residences.
Anyone who thinks this train will serve as a legitimate means of traveling to and from work in the Portland area, as an alternative to I-295 travel, needs to rethink that view.  The train makes two stops once leaving Portland: Freeport & Brunswick.  It has limited schedules, terrible options for getting from the station to a work location and vice versa, and simply can't compete with the personal auto on virtually any basis.  Notwithstanding the pronouncements of NNEPRA and their consultants, both of whom make their livings on government largesse, and will craft their story to keep it coming, no matter how unsound the arguments.

We don't know about you, but we've failed to observe 'chronic congestion and delays' due to inadequate capacity.  Further, the statement that 50,000 vehicles per day currently travel north of Portland on I-295 is hopelessly ambiguous; we can think of at least three different ways to interpret it.

So we found an I-295 Corridor Study from 2010.  You can read it here.  The first thing you notice is that travel volume from Portland south is much more of a problem than from Portland north.  Lumping them together is not helpful.  Secondly, if you look at the numbers, you could easily surmise that the bulk of the travelers are coming from and heading back to points north of Brunswick, which makes perfect sense.  

So the train would be of little use to them.  Third, average daily traffic on the stretch from Portland to Brunswick is in the range of 22,000 - 28,000 in each direction, depending on which segment you pick.  And in most cases, you can figure that the same vehicle is counted twice: once heading southbound, and once heading northbound on the reverse leg.

While traffic doesn't distribute itself evenly over the 24 hours in a day, this averages out to about 1,000 per hour, or 16 vehicles per minute.  That's one every 4 seconds or so.  If you think this even comes close to 'congestion' and capacity problems, you've never lived in a metropolitan area with real traffic issues.  When we first moved to Maine, we quickly  noticed that there were no traffic reports on radio or TV; no 'eyes in the sky.'  I never once remember heading to PWM and thinking I better allow an extra 10 or 15 minutes because of traffic.

A Pause in the Story

We are forced to admit that we have lots more to say about this subject, and if we don't post until we're done, the essays will be so long as to annoy our readers, which we're quite adept at.  So in the interest of us both, we've decided to break this treatise into 'parts,' so we can move on in measured steps.

Stay tuned for what follows.

You won't be disappointed.  Unless you believe Santa Claus arrives at 7:30 am on an Amtrak train.