Friday, June 23, 2017

A Proposal for Brunswick’s Human Rights Task Force….and the Public Works Dept.

This post, quite the spur of the moment, is occasioned by the “intersection” of two local phenomena.  Intersection; don’t you just love that word?  It’s become extremely popular in the current day lexicon of the victimization class cum social justice junkies.


The first phenomenon is the creation of Brunswick’s Human Rights Task Force (HRTF).  We believe this group is now an eternal fixture of Brunswick governance, because there is no politically feasible/correct exit strategy from it, and we can think of no elected town employee who would willingly invite the slings and arrows of outraged locals, snowflakes, and other parties aggrieved by all the injustices, slights, and other assorted affronts to personal safety.  Besides, the very nature of such a group is to evoke a continuous supply of new violations calling for their speedy and decisive action.  It is, in a word, self-perpetuating.


The second phenomenon came to top of mind because summer, or what passes for it in these parts, has suddenly arrived in our perfect little town, though we have no idea for how long.  We’ve noticed for years that various and sundry individuals, whether local or otherwise, consider Maine Street (in particular) to be prime jay-walking territory, regardless of the numerous crosswalks created for their safety, including the relatively recent “raised” street crossings.  Or as we think of them, the Maine Street Moguls. 

It’s almost sport to some, as they often seem to be launching from  invisible starting blocks on their mad dash through the Subarus, Priuses, pickups, SUVs, and logging trucks of Brunswick downtown traffic.   Like the old Seinfeld episode, they act like Frogger characters picking their way through multiple lanes of traffic.

You can tell when most schools and colleges are out, and tourists and locals both turn to downtown for recreational and commercial purposes.  Jay-crossing Maine St. becomes more attractive, and far more common than in the off-season.

As we pondered this “intersection,” it occurred to us that being able to cross a street wherever and whenever you want may well need to be viewed as a fundamental “human right,” and therefore, fertile matter for consideration by the devoted members of our Human Rights Task Force.


If the esteemed members of the HRTF aren’t in agreement that freedom to cross whenever and wherever is a fundamental human right, we have a back up plan.  In keeping with this era’s habit of turning every behavioral ‘eccentricity’ into a recognized malady, we suggest that Bowdoin’s Psychology Department identify and document the specifics of CRUD: Crosswalk Recognition and Use Disorder.

Either way, we submit that the downtown streetscape needs to be modified prominently to avoid transgressing upon the rights of random crossers, no matter what causes their behavior.

Here’s what we have in mind.  See those alternating white stripes defining the crosswalks in the photo just above?  We propose that they be extended to cover the entire Maine Street crossing area, roughly from just north of Mason Street (across from entrances to the Fort Andross parking area) to the crossing at the Northwest corner of the Bowdoin Campus, just canddywampus to First Parish Church.

Imagine those 15 or so white “dashes” becoming lines parallel to Maine Street lane markings, running continuously from one end of the prime jay-walking area to the other end.  The  length of each white line would be something like 3,300 ft. 

Brunswick “leaders” are always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves and “put us on the map.”  Recent examples of such triumphes, besides the moguls, include the short-lived back in parking method, and the Amtrak Downeaster.  You remember the last one; it’s the OPM “investment” for which the operating authority, NNEPRA, could not come up with a single thought on economic and community benefits after a year of study.

We suggest that wide striping of Maine Street to turn the whole of Maine Street into a crosswalk could be a unique tourist attraction, and remind visitors and residents alike that Brunswick is always ready to be on the bleeding edge of community planning and ‘place-making.’

And its certainly time that local jay-walkers, whether suffering from CRUD or just plain old “I don’t care,” are spared the stigma of being considered different.  We don’t see how the HRTF could ignore this crisis of discrimination and ‘othering.’


No doubt the group will want to put their own stamp on things, so here’s a variation.  Instead of striping the entire 3,300 foot length, the current crosswalks could be changed to unstriped, so that the jay-walking challenged among us could have some hint of the ‘road less taken.’

Seems like a win-win, doesn’t it?

We may even have to submit an invoice for consulting services.  This town can surely afford it.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rich Ellis’ hissy fit didn’t work….this time

First, let’s say a big thank you to our readers for setting an all time record for visits to our journal.  The posts made on 14 and 15 May resulted in a visit count more than 30% higher than our previous record.  The subject posts had to do with School Department “salary justice,” and a new school “Kool-Aid Kegger.”

The previous record was set when we caught Jim McCarthy, at the time Managing Editor of The Ostrich, telling us bald-faced lies about having “vetted” two op-eds they published.  Turns out we had personal knowledge of the subject areas, and found the columns incredulous.  Nosey as we are, we contacted Jim and asked if he had verified the veracity of the published items.  He told us he had spoken to each of the authors personally to do so.

Call us a doubting Poppy, but we decided to contact each of the authors to see if Jim had told us the truth.  Each told us that they had not been contacted by him, and so we told the story here:


Let’s get back on point. Even though it can be so constraining.


                           Related image

You know what Poppy says:  never mess with the schoolies, and never mess with the bookies.  It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing: all it does is waste your time, and it irritates the pig.


Rich Ellis is a schoolie, and once a schoolie, always a schoolie.  Rich fancies himself a financial savant, and believes he can come up with any answer desired from any underlying set of numbers.  If he can’t dazzle you with facts and logic, he’ll baffle you with spread sheets unending.  He can always find some metric that supports his belief that it’s impossible to spend too much on schools.


Poor Rich.  He hasn’t learned some important facts.  Including these:


* When spending increases, tax revenues must increase, one way or another.

* Government cannot spend anything it doesn’t first take from taxpayers.

Image result for free lunch

* There is no such thing as a free lunch….even in our schools.

None-the-less, Rich “it’s never enough” Ellis decided he wanted to send the BSD Budget referendum down to defeat, not because it was too high, but because it was too low.         


He announced his plan to advocate for defeating the proposed budget, and went so far as to create a Facebook page to publicize his position.


Which reminds us, where would we be without Facebook in our lives?  But why digress into reveries of futility?

So what Rich brought to us was right out of Bizarro World.  He wanted a “no” vote on the school budget referendum this year, even though his reputation is as a defender of prior budgets,  no matter how unreasonably and unjustifiably they might increase.  He always managed to twist EPS formulas and related abstractions in school funding to prove that Brunswick Schools, at least in his telling, were obscenely underfunded.  In so many words, he suggested that we should all be ashamed for not sending in a check for $1,000 more than our property tax obligation because “it was the right thing to do.”

Which raises the question of just how much he’s paid above and beyond his property tax levy.  Each and every year since first joining the School Board some years ago.  As such scolds like to say, we need to “model” the behavior we expect and seek from others, so Rich can send us his record for overpayment, and we we’ll publish it here.

Funny thing is, in a higher than average turnout, the budget got approved, rather than rejected, as Rich had hoped and argued for. 

So while from the usual perspective, the School Department “won,” Rich Ellis, the heart and soul and voice of the schoolies, “lost.”

We’re not really sure how to interpret that outcome.  Other than to say that Rich, in order to put his money where his mouth is, needs to increase his ‘above and beyond’ voluntary property tax payment well beyond the $0 figure it’s been all these years.


Or live with being called “Big Hat, No Cattle.”  In the budgetary sense, that is.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Downeaster Economic Benefits …. and other fantasies in choo-choo land…


Do you know what hyperbole is?  No….it’s not this conic section:


Hyperbole is wild exaggeration, generally speaking, and is common among those who love choo-choos and all things train-related.  It’s use is common among Transit Oriented Consultants hired to sell the idea of massive capital investments with other people’s money to benefit a select few at the expense of the many.  You might even say the Downeaster evolution provides plenty of examples of this common “figure of speech.”  Government related activities are especially fond of its use, as those involved work themselves into a dither to convince us they are doing wondrous things for us.


In the last decade or so, such efforts have caused great happiness for some, though they have a penchant for embarrassing themselves in public.  Witness this recent promotional video issuing from the offices of the Amtrak bureaucracy:


You can find it here:

Those who have any knowledge of Downeaster realities will pick up on a number of erroneous statements in the video, but hey, when you’re the Government, you’re not held to any standards.  You might even pick up on an inference from Patricia Quinn that the Downeaster creates economic suction that draws dollars from locales north of Boston and deposits them in that metropolitan area.

        Field of Dreams

There are all kinds of hyperbole, as you well know, including “build it and they will come.”  Another version might be “build it, and the sun will come up in the morning.”  Or, if you’re an incorrigible cynic who equates correlation with causation, “build it and overdose deaths will increase to frightening levels.”  

You may recall that Side did a rather detailed analysis of the Downeaster’s economic benefits to the Brunswick area, which you can review here:  The premise for the development were the wildly exaggerated economic growth figures supplied by agenda driven consultants that have never been held to account for their incredibly faulty predictions, using their “widely accepted models.”


We also fervently suggested to the Brunswick town council that it would be useful to do a survey of economic benefits experienced by town merchants as a result of the Downeaster, but they steadfastly declined to even discuss the subject.  Hmmm; what’s wrong with that picture?

Well, as Chance would have it, we recently came across a related item on the NNEPRA web site that reads thus:

“Identify and Promote Economic and Public Benefits associated with the Downeaster.”

It appears in their “FY 2017 Draft Action Plan”, which you can read on page 2 of the packet you’ll find here:

Given that 11 months of the fiscal year have gone by, you’d think some results would have been achieved for the goal, especially since the economic and public benefits are so plentiful and so obvious.

Thinking back on our own attempts to get somewhere on this subject, we decided to inquire of NNEPRA what they had in the way of results toward accomplishing this goal.  So we sent off a formal request that read:

“Please forward any and all materials produced in response to this action plan item.”


We got our answer this week:

Dear Mr. Schaeffer:

This is in response to your electronic request to the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority dated­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ May 31, 2017 requesting documents pursuant to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, 1 M.R.S.A. § 400 et seq.

Any and all materials produced in response to the FY17 Draft Action Plan item to “Identify and Promote Economic and Public Benefits associated with the Downeaster”.

“There are no documents responsive to this request.”

How’s that for an outcome?  The very organization that operates the Downeaster, pursuing the goal for 11 months, could not come up with any constructive benefits to share with us.


Looking on the bright side, at least they didn’t send us one of their promotional posters.


(which is an acronym for “In Case You Missed It”)

This weeks Forecaster carries a lengthy article on the Brunswick School Budget kerfuffle, featuring Jean Powers prominently.  Jean deserves the coverage.  We just met her in the last year, but she has been a tireless trooper, bird-dogging the School Board and the Superintendent week after week on all the underlying details, and speaking up every chance she gets.

Your correspondent gets a mention in the article as well; we spent 3 hours plus in two sessions talking with Callie, the reporter, and loaded her up with lots of collected historical budget data.


Here are the opening words…..

BRUNSWICK — Retired farmer Jean Powers spent the afternoon of May 18 sitting at the dining-room table of her Redwood Lane home, studying the town budget.

Back when they were farmers, Jean’s husband, Dick, who sat in an armchair nearby, would brag that few people could harvest chicken eggs as fast as Jean. That afternoon, he bragged that no one is as meticulous or motivated as his wife, who hadn’t missed a public meeting on the budget since meetings began last winter.

Powers, 71, is a fixture at town government meetings. She is one of the most visible and regular critics of town spending – specifically, on matters involving the school system, which her two grandchildren attend. She regularly sends email about spending to a list of more than 60 people.

She isn’t alone.

The School Board has faced criticism for years, at meetings and online – notably from conservative former defense contract engineer Pem Schaeffer. He authors The Other Side of Town blog and, in 2007, sued to compel the State Board of Education to shrink funding for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, after learning that the closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station would reduce the student body.

The case was never heard, although the state reduced the funding – something Councilor Sarah Brayman attributes to Schaeffer’s pressure.

The reference to the law suit in 2007 is imprecise; we sued to have the funding decision reversed, not to have the amount reduced.  Our point was that the decision was defective because the information on which it was based was outdated and erroneous.  No matter, the State  AG’s office crushed us like a bug before the case could ever be heard.

Whether or not the funding and school size was reduced because of our submission is unknown to us, because no one at the state level gave us no such insight or information.  Brayman may in fact be right; we just have no way of connecting the dots with hard data.

Given all the data we gave the reporter, we’re not going to chide her for the error in interpretation, especially since the issue is moot at this point.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

PSA: Cholesterol drug side effects

Every now and then Side has a personal experience we feel is worthy of passing along to our readers.  We’ve had one of real significance recently, and we want you to know about it. 

Rather than blather (we’re poets!) on about the background, suffice it to say we had sufficient cause to look into the side effects of the statin drugs so commonly prescribed these days.  We’ve been on one for five years, prescribed not because we had high cholesterol, but because we reached the age of 70.  That’s the current “guidance” in the doctoring world.

Over the last ‘several’ years, we began to notice stiffness and aching, especially in our legs, and have been very unhappy about it.  It never dawned on us that this could be a drug side-effect; we simply assumed it was a consequence of growing old and being vertical.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the email we sent to friends and family on the subject.  At the very least, we suggest you do your own thinking and follow up research if you or someone you know is taking these drugs.  If nothing else, we are extremely disappointed that we haven’t come across numerous articles over the years publicizing this information, which is so easily accessible on the internet.

I was at my Doctor's office yesterday to talk about side-effects of statins, etc.  BTW, I'm just short of 3 weeks since discontinuing use, and my improvement continues in general mobility and reduction in aching muscles.

It's clear there is much controversy over the use of the drugs and when indicated, especially for us older types.  He talked about the side effects "window" overlapping the "therapeutic window," etc.  He also mentioned a new study he had just received.  I think there is a constant flow of such ‘new information.’

The plan is for me to go without for 6 weeks total, and then have blood drawn to see where we are; then we'll talk.

I mentioned the situation to another close friend and got this response:

"I suspect that you are late to the party. I ran into this about 8 years ago after taking Lipitor for 18 months. Muscles all over ached and I felt worse than my father who was then 99.  Intervening years have tried about 5 other statins. As soon as I stopped taking, aches went away.  I have been on one for almost 3 years that I can tolerate but statin-believing doctors say it isn't as good as some of the others I can't tolerate.  There is a raging debate on whether statins do one bit of good, and if they are even harmful.. Some believe that the rise in dementia is due to wide consumption of statins because the brain is made up of fat and needs fat."

This friend's husband has been a patient at the Cleveland Clinic for a number of years following a cardiac arrest incident.  A few hours after the reply above she added this:

"The people (even Cardiologists at Cleveland Clinic) we see are such believers in statins that it would be hard to shake them from it.  I just hope that statins aren't causing anything more than a burden on the pocketbook and aches. It would be awful if they are causing dementia too!"

Our daughter added this comment:

My chiro neighbor, who obviously doesn't believe in meds (the pharma industry is evil), has said cholesterol is needed! The rise in Alzheimer's he believes, is a direct cause of the no cholesterol movement we saw decades ago.

Keep doing your research. If your levels are not sky high, but can be maintained in decent range with watching food intake, that should be an option ( course it means really watching your animal fat intake!)

It goes without saying (what a dumb ass phrase!) that we are not medically trained.  But it seems to us that Alzheimers and/or dementia rates have been climbing in recent decades, at more or less the same time use of statin drugs has become far more common.  We remind you that we were prescribed their use simply because of our age.  Correlation is not causation; but it should be reason to evaluate the possibilities.

So please take this not as advice or guidance in any respect, but as the suggestion of a friend to look into your own situation if any of this applies, as well as that of family members and friends if it may be of relevance to them.  To repeat, the lack of such information in everyday media astonishes us, and that needs to change.


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The Paris Climate Accord: it’s Greek to us!

Cynics that we are, we have no trouble presuming that the Paris Climate Accord, recently exited by President Trump, is supported whole-heartedly, if not whole-mindedly, by the vast majority of Brunswick and Maine residents.  Since there are so many supporters out there, we’re hoping one or more will help us understand what’s involved in the agreement.

A friend passed along this key passage from the document:

The following appears in Article 7, paragraph 5 of a document agreed to by 174 countries:

“Parties acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.”

We’re struggling a bit with “gender-responsive” terminology appearing in a climate accord document.  Sure, Mrs. Side feels the chill in the house before we do, but we’re hoping they have more in mind than personal sensitivities to thermostat settings.

The rest of it, however leaves us beyond struggling, and trying to count how many enviromental attorneys we’d need to hire to fathom just WTF the rest of the language is really trying to say, how it would legally bind any of the parties to the agreement, and finally, how it would resolve climate problems.  Even if we don’t have any clear understanding of just what those problems are, and unambiguous proof that they need to be remedied.

This calls to mind all the old saws about “committees.”  Just imagine – 174 countries coming to agreement on word salad double speak like this.  And how many languages they must have been writing and negotiating in.

As for us?  We’ll draw upon the old quip that “it’s all Greek to me” to summarize our view.  And shake our heads at the trouble the “Global Community” can stir up when they decide to solve the world’s problems.

So have at the language and let us know what you come up with in plain English, you zealots. 

If the language is too duplicitous and sanctimonious and bureaucratic for you to discern, perhaps you can help decode the agreement from this graphic presentation:


You know the old saying about pictures and words.

Now we can add hand-waving and posturing and jetting all over the world to the list.  Thank goodness we have such capable, pure, and noble souls to lead us in such matters, and impose their wills upon us all, even if we have no idea what their will is, and neither do they.