Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A tchotchke for Side readers


Four of us just got back from a performance of Fiddler on the Roof put on by MSMT on the Bowdoin Campus.

The musical, if you’re not familiar with it, is one of the all time great shows to begin with.  And this MSMT production is spectacularly good!  Broadway quality in every sense of the term.

If you aren’t currently planning to see it, by all means try.  Not sure if they have many seats left, but the show is an absolute winner and will warm your heart and dazzle your senses.

As an added bonus, here’s a link to a Yiddish/Yinglish glossary:


Reading it should give you a barrel of laughs, and coincidentally would be useful homework if you do go to see the show, which is about Jewish people and their traditions.  No yiddish words we can think of appear in the show, but the Jewish style of humor and language usage is on full display.

Enjoy the show in good health!

Of black holes and other anomalies: Whither goest Brunswick’s Race and Gender Task Force?

Do you remember this post from December last year?



It contained the above image, along with a letter from Council Chair Sarah Brayman describing her intent to form a Brunswick “Race and Gender Task Force” to address worrisome events in town over the prior months.  We warned that doing so would likely place a monkey on the Council’s back; they would have to DO SOMETHING, DO ANYTHING, even if no systemic issues were uncovered.

We also noted that the general phenomenon of campus unrest on such issues appeared to be an organized movement nationwide, rather than a serendipitous unfolding of concerns unique to Brunswick, America’s perfect little town.  We could be wrong, but it seems to us the story has lost some of its legs locally, given that as best we know, there has been an amazing decline in reports of the kind of incidents that sparked the interest of ‘town leaders’ in the first place.

We followed up with another post: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2015/12/brunswick-bowdoin-race-gender-rape.html

As things unfolded, one member of the council suggested that the Task Force be redesignated a “Human Rights Task Force,” elevating Brunswick, it would seem, to an adjunct of the United Nations.  This reaffirmed our conviction that Brunswick is rife with social justice warriors always ready to bog down municipal government with issues of global politics; issues that are none of their legitimate business in the context of Town Council responsibilities.  (Don’t worry; I’ll get over the bleeding tongue in a day or two.)

A report on the meeting that made disposition of the Task Force plan is here:


Note the public posturing by the usual suspects. A few interesting passages from the article are these:

“I don’t know how much control any (legislative body) has over bonehead-ism,” Councilor Suzan Wilson said.

Councilor Jane Millet, who had originally supported the task force, said she found the direction the motion had taken “bizarre.”

“It’s tough to fix stupid with groups like this (task force),” Councilor Steve Walker said. “But the task force is … an opportunity to learn what tools are out there.”

The task force will report back to the council in June 2016.

Our concern, irrelevant as it is in such matters, is that ‘human rights’ has become a catch-all term for the march to socialism, and justice warriors include such things as these in the mix:

The right not to be responsible for your own support and that of your ‘family.’

Expecting a ‘village’ to raise your child responsibly rather than making that your obligation.

The right to ‘socially construct’ your gender, your biological species, your race, and your sexual experiences.

The right to a free college education, even if you aren’t qualified for college work.

The right to have ‘someone else’ provide whatever it is you’d like to have to live a comfortable middle class existence.

The right to earn a wage well beyond your value to your employer.

The right to be excused from a vast array of criminal behaviors because society made you do it.

The right to have others provide your health care in all forms.

The right to have others pay for your ‘reproductive rights.’

etc, etc, etc…

A few months back we attended one of the Task Force meetings; the discussion focused mostly on the needs of local foodbanks, etc, which seemed well outside the ‘race and gender’ sphere.  Our worst fears were confirmed.  The Task Force had quickly moved beyond its reason for creation, and its charter, and become an open-ended charitable discussion group.

We subsequently inquired when we could exect a wrap-up and report on the group’s work.  Recall the original plan to “report back to the Council” in June.  The answer we got was that reporting out was TBD, and that the group was seeking input from area clergy and others to further explore “community needs.”

We expect any suggestion that they complete their work and report back to the town will be seen as hard-hearted and mean-spirited.  We suggest, therefore, that the easiest way out for those who began the process is to avoid the issue by any means necessary.


All very noble of the principles of course, except for the fact that this has nothing to do with why the group was formed.  We’ll likely be scolded for a lack of compassion, and so be it.

We look for our Town Council to manage the enterprise of Municipal Government, and nothing else.  Their example here does not build confidence in how they manage budgets, town staff, and other pressing issues of town administration.

On the other hand, in most cases we can think of these days, government has become the dominant charity organization at all levels, so why should we expect anything less from our local betters? 

Doing good with OPM can be so satisfying to the soul.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

School construction costs increasing! Quick…get the smelling salts!!!



We’re admttedly pretty cynical when it comes to watching school bureaucracy plans evolve in Brunswick.  Particularly when it comes to their cost and impact upon taxpayers.

That shouldn’t surprise you, because the only domain in which the school bureaucracy operates, for the most part, is in spending and its impact upon taxpayers.  When’s the last time you saw them push a concerted campaign for improving the teaching of the basics (dare we say the 3 R’s?), and for improving ‘the children’s’ mastery of the very basics it takes to navigate a life in today’s complex world? 

When’s the last time you heard anyone in the inner circle talk about increasing, or strengthening expectations, rather than relaxing them to account for various social maladies of our day?

Or when’s the last time you heard someone in the bureaucracy publicly apologize for allowing student bathrooms to fall into disrepair, or for allowing roofs to collapse for lack of having snow removed in time?  Or for ventilation systems becoming plagued with mold?  Or for that matter, those responsible being fired, or at the very least, disciplined?

The reality is that you haven’t, just as you haven’t seen or heard much about the reliably generous increases in teacher salaries independent of any performance measures.

But eventually, you do hear, whether you want to or not, about the need to spend tens of millions to remediate the incompetent stewardship of our publicly funded physical assets.  At least according to PDT and Lyndon Keck, who seem to have a monopoly on school facility planning in Brunswick, Topsham, and who knows where else.

Which brings us to the heart of this post:


“BRUNSWICK — The cost of building a new school could be at least $25.8 million, higher than initial estimates, according to a new projection.  The estimate was announced at a meeting of the School Board Facilities Committee Wednesday, June 29, by PDT Architects, the firm that has been designing a potential new school building for the site of the former Jordan Acres Elementary School.”

As often happens in such coverage, the really ‘juicy’ parts of the story are buried several paragraphs further down, where those who just skim the paper might very easily miss them.

“Yet even with shaving about 11,000 square feet from an earlier design, the new estimate is higher than the $24.5 million previously presented to the board. That’s because the earlier number came from a 2014 building analysis, and was informally adjusted for inflation, according to Keck.”

So even though the size of the building was reduced by 12% plus, inflation on the smaller building still drove the project estimate up by 5%.  If you do the math, you could argue that inflation is nearly 20% since that 2014 estimate.  But hold on; there’s more good news:

“The board and PDT, however, still have work to do. Not included in the $25.8 million estimate are premiums for geothermal energy, playgrounds, and interior furnishings, along with inflation. Premiums included, the new school could cost about $27.8 million.”

Board members discussed bringing in furniture from Coffin Elementary School, and possibly excluding geothermal development – a savings of $700,000 – as ways to cut costs.  

Can you hear the mommy mafia, the board, and the other usual suspects furiously arguing that to do so would be ‘penny wise and pound foolish, unfair to the children, and something town taxpayers don’t support?’  We sure can.

Let’s get to cranking up your steam pressure:

“Outgoing Facilities Director Paul Caron presented the pros and cons of geothermal energy, which heats and cools Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary. “It was good in the beginning,” Caron said, but with future maintenance costs, and the low price of oil and gas, the investment looks less attractive for the future.”

If we didn’t know better, we’d say that sounds like ‘pig in a poke’ language, similar to how the ‘open classroom’ design of Jordan Acres quickly became an orphan child, with no one held accountable.  But wait; there may be even better news coming, in the form of a surprise:

“There may be “big capital assets we never budgeted for,” he said.”

As the article winds down, a glimpse into reality begins to appear:

“The amount of the bond remains to be seen: if the money for a new school is combined with approximately $6 million needed to repair the aging Brunswick Junior High School, voters could be asked to approve more than $30 million.”

You can see how a careless reader might conclude the cost to taxpayers was going up by a million to $25.8 million, when in fact, ‘more than $30 million’ is clearly the talking level of the moment, and the new baseline for further discussions, since you’ve now been nudged that far along on the yellow brick road to our new utopian school plant.

We inquired of the Town Finance Director just how much of an impact the bond issue will have on our property taxes.  She quickly responded with a detailed briefing on the subject she had given in March of this year.  We’ve posted it here for you to read, absorb, and estimate the impact on your taxes:


It may be far more detailed than most readers want to see or are willing to muddle through.  Still, it has the stamp of official analysis to give it credibility.  Except as to the total amount that will finally come before us for a vote.

Given the way things work around here, you might want to think in terms of $33 to $35 million, which is a far more likely amount.  Or, if you look at page 2, and conclude the eventual outcome will be to go for the whole magillah, with the various escalators that will sneak in, more like $40 million.


Needless to say, it looks like we may have to call LT Dover, Benjamin back into duty to help us get into shape for what’s coming.


He should be enough to help the fragile and malleable amongst us come to terms with our tax outlook for the next several decades.  Once the final number is decided upon, we expect the School Board to break it to us gently, and encourage us to accept the figure as one we can all adapt to.


All of this on top of revaluation may make it extremely confusing and difficult for some, however, and especially those who try to get to the bottom of things.

Resistance, however, is futile; there are ways, you know, of turning us around.             

The Sum of All Pork, on its way to ME


Back when the Food Network first came on the air, Chef Emeril Legasse was it’s charismatic ‘star,’ with a fun cooking show on for an hour every weekday.  Foodies that we are, it was appointment TV for us.  Born in Fall River, MA, Emeril quickly made his way to New Orleans, a foodie mecca if there ever was one.

In the late 90’s, business frquently took us there, and we were fortunate to dine at Emeril’s eponymous restaurant.  We still consider that meal to be the best we’ve ever had in a restaurant, and can give you the details of each course even now, 20 years later.  Including how superb the classic Martini was.

Two months ago, Mr. and Mrs. Side traveled to ‘Nawlins’ with good friends, and the four of us dined at that restaurant, still going strong, and one of his other places in town.  All meals were spectacular, but especially memorable were the exceptional service and general ambience of both.


On his cooking shows, one of Emeril’s axioms has always been ‘pork fat rules.’  We never suspected it referred to anything but cooking; all you have to do is think of bacon to get your taste buds on full alert.


But he might as well have been talking about politics as well, because in this day and age, nothing says ‘who you gonna love, baby?’ like a big juicy, fatty load of pork, fresh from the Washington D.C. meat locker.


‘Bringing home the bacon,’ wrapped around various and sundry other forms of pork, is something all elected federal officials quickly learn in the hot kitchens of congressional budget manipulation.

Debt Clock July 12 2008

Which is why the federal debt has grown from $10.4 Trillion eight years ago on this date to nearly twice that today:


In our view, it’s because Washington’s fiscal policy can be thought of as The Sum of All Pork.  It’s really that simple.  The nation’s capitol is one giant pork processing and packing plant.  Even if they first get to Washington with plans not to do so, each and every one of our elected ruling class, and the monstrous shadow government that surrounds them in the form of lobbyists and tens of thousands of others, quickly discovers that the most fun you can have, and the way to your constituents hearts, is by keeping their bellies full of pork.

Occasional outrage may be expressed by a loose cannon or two from time to time, but eventually, all learn to leave others’ pork shipment alone if they’ll leave yours alone.  Which is why we end up with “The Sum of All Pork,” from snout to tail.  And why 40% or so of every dollar being spent is borrowed or printed.

A recent news item exemplifies the concept:

Thursday, July 7, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and Senator Angus King, announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded a total of $7,151,182 in funding to two airports in Maine.  The funding is awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration, an agency within the DOT.

“Maine’s airports are vital pieces of our state’s transportation system that bolster our economy and connect our communities,” Senators Collins and King said in a joint statement. “This funding will strengthen our transportation infrastructure and help ensure these airports can continue to support the regions they serve.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle will receive $4,698,682 to fund the reconstruction of approximately 3,950 feet of the existing taxiway pavement that has reached the end of its use.
  • Brunswick Executive Airport will receive $2,452,500 to fund the rehabilitation of Hanger 4 to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act and code compliance requirements.


Above is Hangar 4, nicely accompanied by two sleek looking private jets.  Oh, they may show up from time to time, but based on our eyeball experience drving by the facility, and our eardrum experience hearing them, it ain’t very typical.  On our visits, we’ve typically seen 2 or 3 small single engine aircraft tied down, and no moving personnel or aircraft.

While we’re not experts in such matters, we normally think of “ADA compliance” as referring to handicapped accessible rest rooms and entry and exit doors that are wheel-chair or equivalent compatible.  We’d be shocked if those weren’t in the existing baseline, but even if they’re not, how much can it cost to provide them?  Oops…..sorry; I forgot this is the government we’re talking about.

So, let’s say $100,000 in round numbers for the doors and restrooms, which leaves $2,352,500 for ‘code compliance.’  You know what we think?  We think this is a total boondoggle, and that ‘code compliance’ is a euphemism for a make work program with no details and no real need.  But there’ll be some happy local contractors getting $2 million plus in business without even trying, and with virtually no oversight or accountability or competitive bidding or justification in the first place.

In other words, this project is the essence of pork, and it’s a ‘prime cut.’  Oh sure;  ‘it’s important to our economy;’ at least the economy of a few contractors anyway.

We don’t know squat about the Presque Isle airport, but we’d be willing to bet that unless you’re a direct stake holder, nearly $5 million for less than a mile of ‘taxiway’ won’t pass muster.  But that’s the nice thing about pork; passing muster is not part of the equation.

Compare this sum to the pittance Brunswick spends on road resurfacing annually in our little town of Perfect.  And ask yourself how the same thing happening everywhere in this country can result in anything but a runaway debt clock as shown above?  If you were asked, would you vote yea or nay on spending $2.3 million for ‘code compliance’ on an insignificant building in Brunswick, Maine?

We’re going to see if we can have that “Pork Cuts” graphic just above revised so the bottom line says “ASK YOUR SENATORS – THEY’RE THE EXPERTS.’'

In the meantime, please make sure to pay all your taxes on time, so there’s plenty of swill to slop the pigs with.


You know the old saying: “if you don’t feed the pigs, you won’t be eatin’ no bacon!’

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hoodies for Hope; or is it Home-Rooms?


Regular readers know we harbor chronic objections to the behavior of the Brunswick School bureaucracy, specifically the School Board and Department administrators. 

They systematically employ the successful strategy that more money is always needed, and always the solution, no matter what other realities, such as declining enrollment, may dominate the factual basis.  And if you don’t agree with them, you ‘don’t care about THE CHILDREN.’

Nothing else is worthy of public airing or debate as to school policy.  We wouldn’t say it, but we wouldn’t take offense if others concluded they really don’t know how to evaluate and improve school department performance by any other measure than how much they spend.

Unless you include the need to replace assets where due attention to basic maintenance has been ignored until such time as demolition and new construction is the ONLY realistic option.  Don’t even get us started on PDT’s Svengali in such matters.

Nor on discussions of bathroom administration or school ‘climate’ evaluation.  If we can find our lost muse, we hope to address these things in future posts.

Studying history is always informative, especially as it records the innovation of Super P – Department Superintendent Paul Perzanoski.  How long has he been here?  Seems like it must be 10 years or so by now.  Our cherished memories of Jim Ashe seem at least that old.

Some years back….2010….to be specific, Super P put forth a public plan to place loose change jars around town in various business establishments so that guilt-ridden local taxpayers could empty their pockets of loose change to help lift the Department out of its constant state of abject underfunding.  Read the first few posts at the link below to refresh your memory.  (Be mindful of the reality that town leaders discourage such glimpses into recent history.  They don’t help current efforts to increase taxes no matter what.)


We recall that at the time we submitted an op-ed to The Ostrich suggesting that such pan-handling on the part of a town department was unseemly, at the very least.  And we made the same point in a brief radio spot on MPBN.  All to no avail; though the effort ended.  It would be presumptuous of us to think we had anything do do with that, but you’ve got to take your amusement where you can find it when it comes to fighting city hall.




Now comes word that Super P has evolved his thinking on innovative fund raising approaches to support government schools, which as you know, are always having their budgets cut.  You do know that, don’t you?  You’ve been told over and over that it’s true, so it must be, right?  Here’s a snippet from the BSD web site:

Fund-Raising Project – Support Public Education

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski has announced a fund-raising project for the Brunswick School Department. In an effort to raise funds for the development of summer programs for students, the School Department is selling hooded sweatshirts, long-sleeve t-shirts, and t-shirts with the … Continue reading →

Posted on January 14, 2016

Back many, many years ago, we sometimes bought hooded sweat shirts because they protected us against chills in the air on morning jogs and such.

For more than two decades now, hooded sweat shirts, commonly called ‘hoodies,’ have evolved towards a completely different purpose: to hide one’s identity, or at the very least, create the image of one not to be messed with.  Weather has nothing to do with it. 

Don’t believe us?  Be more attentive as you drive around town, and you’ll quickly notice there is a ‘hoodie demographic’ in our midst, and we doubt you’ll react positively to their ‘image.’  They are, to say the least, ‘all weather gear.’

For those living on an island, in both the literal and figurative sense, Hoodies may not evoke such reactions.   So using them as a fund raising mechanism for government schools and ‘the children’ is entirely an innocent pursuit.  Even if it does convey a certain cluelessness towards contemporary social practices.

But then, cluelessness is a standard part of school budget discussion, for the reasons we mentioned earlier and various others.  The town council regularly stands on round heels in the deliberations, as they demonstrated in folding like cheap suits in the recent back and forth over a drop in the bucket.  They fell for the same old con they always do.  Or maybe they’re in on the game; only the shadow knows.

After years of watching entirely predictable behavior, cloaked in the rhetoric of ‘tough decisions’ and ‘concern about tax rates,’ we conclude that the majority are more interested in keeping their positions as masters of the local domain, and being beloved of the mommy mafia, than they are in managing the economic sustainability of the town enterprise, and guarding the interests of taxpayers overall.

A review of school spending shows their budget has increased by more than $4 million since the change jar idea hit the streets.  And enrollment is down by more than 300 (over 10%) in the same time frame.  We’re sure, however, that Rich ‘Numbers’ Ellis can demonstrate through slight of spreadsheet that these numbers portray a stark reduction in ‘school spending.’


We think Rich and the School Board’s time could be spent by coming up with more creative ‘back door’ approaches to squeezing discretionary dollars from local taxpayers above and beyond their always increasing tax levies.  Why not pass an offering plate around the official table at the start of each council and school board meeting, for instance, as a symbolic way of ‘modeling’ the desired generosity on the part of the citizenry?

We’ll gladly count the take from each meeting, under the watchful eye of local constables, and report the results here.

And one of these days, maybe the board could try to figure out just what it means to measure school system performance, and that of the teaching corps, and use the results as a launch point from which to improve things.

Instead of using dollars as their only yardstick, and their only tool.

Doing so might demonstrate a commitment to ‘the children’ in a tangible way, and actually foster a culture of improvement. 

Instead of a culture of more spending, which is all we can see from our vantage point.