Friday, November 30, 2007

Oh Rudi

I don't agree with the commentary here, but you have to love the Rudy caricature.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Doubly Nauseating Proposition

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where Fiscal Discipline Is a Pipe Dream

In a Boston Globe op-ed, Lovett C. Peters, the founding chairman of the Pioneer Institute (what the Boston Globe would refer to as "a conservative think tank"), offers up a clear-eyed assessment of the Commonwealth's fiscal health and what measures are necessary to restore it. In many other locations of this country his suggestions would be regarded seriously. Here in Massachusetts, however, Peters' recommendations will receive as much consideration as any other idea coming out of a "conservative think tank:" None. I herein examine his observations and offer my own more jaded view of the status quo.
First, Peters sets the table nicely by ticking off the baseline facts to support the imposition of fiscal discipline:
Getting vertigo yet?
(Can we just save some time and cross off the biotech and commuter rail numbers? Please? The hottest venture capital sector in the country hardly needs taxpayer support; and the MBTA is in no shape to be larding another $21 million to its annual operating deficit.)
Then, in what has to be one of the singularly greatest uses of irony ever to appear on the Boston Globe editorial page (which is saying a lot), Peters quotes Sal DiMasi saying to a business group, "I like to say, 'What about efficiencies and cutting costs?'"
That Sal, what a card. Funny, the only thing I've known him to say is "you're away." So let's just kill that baby in its crib right now. Sal DiMasi's appetite for "cutting costs" could be measured at 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
But let's humor ourselves a bit longer while we examine Mr. Peters's eminently sensible recommendations:
1. Get public employee benefits under control.
Excellent idea. Elsewhere the idea that a person can collect his pension before his retirement age is a quaint notion. Here it is firmly embedded in state collective bargaining agreements. Ridiculous. Elsewhere, public employees pay at least 25% of their health insurance costs. Here it's 15% (up from 10%!).
This idea has about as much chance of being taken seriously as Dennis Kucinich's UFO claims. In fact, I'll bet there are some people who read Mr. Peters'editorial this morning and asked themselves, "what planet is he from?"
The bottom line is inescapable and irremediable: the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a wholly owned subsidiary of the public employee unions. Without a hostile takeover, they'll be telling Sal DiMasi what to do before he gets to the second tee.

2. Eliminate mandatory union contracts in public construction.

See above. Peters tells us that only 20% of Massachusetts construction workers choose to join a union, even though 100% of public construction projects are done at the (euphemistically named) prevailing wage. The cost is about $120 million for every $1 billion spent. Wow, that adds up fast!
Where are the cities and towns who have to pay this tab? They're sitting over there in the corner with their hands in their pockets, waiting for more local aid. Where is Sal DiMasi? Putting out on two.
3. Eliminate Police traffic details.
Question: If such a vast majority of citizens in this state understand what a ridiculous waste of money this is, why does eliminating it never get past first base? See above. When you get that telephone call from the Police Benevolent Association, tell them you already gave, and gave, and gave.
Riddle: What do Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick have in common? They both publicly proposed eliminating police details and then ran and hid.
4. Privatize the Mass Pike.
This idea is far too cutting edge for us. Heck, Chicago only got $1.8 billion for its toll highway, that's not even real money. Besides, there isn't any way that Sal is going to give away all those "jobs." And given the insidious Pacheco Law (imagine how fatuous and vain you have to be to want your name attached to a law that squanders your constituents' money), a law that privatizes the second biggest public trough in the state would be tied up in court until the Segway becomes an accepted mode of urban transportation in Boston.
5. Privatize the Lottery.
The third biggest public trough? Next thing, you're going to want to take over the MBTA! Another Pacheco nightmare, too.
I admire and respect Mr. Lovett C. Peters, and I am thankful that the Pioneer Institute does the work that it does. That it has so few adherents in positions of power is lamentable -- in fact downright disgusting. But this is Massachusetts, after all, which stands before the nation as the paradigm of entrenched one-party rule.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Things Are That Bad

I received another excellent tidbit of amusement in my in-box this morning. As best I can determine (based upon the exercise of reasonable diligence in seeking the source), this diagram was created by one Dick Costolo, Co-founder and CEO of a techie firm called Feedburner. Nice work Dick!!

I think this pretty much sums up the entire Universe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When You Have to Wonder

Sometimes you see something that makes you have to wonder.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Frank Zappa, Soldiers' Porn and Vilnius

My friends at Wizbang recent posted a piece about the effort of one censorious individual to deny American soldiers their Penthouses. The post's author, Jay Tea, mischievously entitled the post "Insert Frank Zappa Song Title Here," and being a dedicated fan of the man that Andres Segovia called "the greatest composer of the 20th century," I immediately deduced that the correct answer to Jay's clever riddle was "Titties 'N' Beer," (from Baby Snakes, 1983). But I got carried away in my comment when I could not resist the temptation to comb the Zappa discography for other Zappa songs that aptly applied to contemporary matters.

My comment was followed by yet another riddle from one "epador," asking the location of the only city park dedicated to the man.

"Must be Palmdale," I reflexively thought. Palmdale, of course, is the Los Angeles exurb on the edge of the Mojave Desert where Zappa spent his teen years, during which the Doo-Wop music of the day infused his early musical genius. His affection for the community inspired the 1974 number Village of the Sun (Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974), a song that suggests his fondest memories of the city are the ubiquity of turkey farmers and the blistering sandstorms that "take the paint off your car and wreck your windshield too."

But I was wrong! Frank Zappa's hometown, in fact, pay no homage whasoever to the man. Feh.

Being the Zappophile that I am, my curiosity led me to the correct answer to epador's quiz.
There is, in fact, a bronze statue of Frank Zappa located in a private park in Vilnius, Lithuania. And its origin is a story demonstrably worthy of the man.

In 2002, Rolling Stone Magazine told the story:

It goes like this: In the early Nineties, a determined group of Zappa-admiring friends gathered regularly in a local cafe to swap records. Communist rule, which suppressed American culture, had recently collapsed, opening the doors for Lithuanian music lovers to get their hands on previously inaccessible Western albums.

Paukstys, thirty-seven, and his friends sought to spread their love of Zappa, who was all but unknown to Lithuania's 3 million citizens. But with no personal connection to the American legend, the club resorted to bluffing its way into the limelight by creating two bogus Zappa exhibits at a local art gallery. The first featured letters supposedly written by Zappa to his Lithuanian admirers. Widespread reaction in Vilnius inspired a second exhibit titled "Memorial Objects of Frank Zappa," featuring clocks, knives, pens and clothes claimed to have been owned by Zappa. But none of the items had traveled further than Paukstys' apartment.

The made-up exhibitions were a massive hit with the Lithuanian public, most of whom -- due to the political situation -- readily embraced anything American. When local journalists inquired about the exhibitions, Paukstys promptly fabricated his widely published story about his brush with Zappa.

"We just needed a story," says dry-humored, mild-mannered Paukstys. "We never saw Zappa, but nobody ever saw God, and they still go to church," says partner-in-crime Vytautas Kernagis, a respected Lithuania musician. "Lithuania is a nation of mythology, legends and fairy tales. Everything is mystified. People believe really quickly, and one of the myths is that independence is good for everyone, with no exceptions. That's why, in such an environment, the Zappa seeds were so successfully planted."

Paukstys tested the phenomenon's limits by proposing a Vilnius-based Zappa statue to the city council. He accumulated more than 300 signatures from bandwagon Zappa fans and offered to privately finance the project. The cash-strapped state deemed it absurd, but nonetheless approved the measure.

To many, the Zappa project symbolized a chance for Lithuania to distance itself from Russia while boasting its Western aspirations. Thanks to concerts and donated art works sold for cash, the Club raised nearly $3,000. Konstantinas Bogdanas, the most renowned Lithuanian sculptor who made his living casting portraits of Vladimir Lenin, donated his skills. The owner of a big business construction company installed the 4.2-meter high bronze bust in exchange for a bottle of liquor.

The only detour came when the original plan to plant the monument near a city art school incited outrage from school administrators, who feared a statue of Zappa, known for his anti-establishment lyrics, would corrupt its students. So Paukstys proposed a new site, and today a somber, pony-tailed Zappa rests in a peaceful park, just a thirty-second walk from one of the city's main drags. Thanks to a French art club, a Zappa portrait looks on the statue from an the adjacent wall.

Zappa surely would have appreciated the irony of the statue's opening ceremony, when a military orchestra played his tunes. The company that owns the rights to Zappa's songs in the country donated the entire oeuvre and heaps of books on the skilled guitarist to the fan club. All of this authentic paraphernalia was housed in an art gallery, but since some collectibles soon disappeared, Paukstys now stores the materials at home.

Today, the statue is mainly a tourist attraction and a site for radio stations to do remote broadcasts. "It was a bluff and it turned into an art," says Kernagis.

Thank you, epador, for providing me with this most edifying Sunday morning divergence.

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