Sacred Cods and Holy Mackerals

Stop wasting the Legislature’s time!
December 31, 2008, 7:41 am
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South Shore Pragmatist is not opposed to cynicism. In fact, cynicism is an important part of who I am, as the following equation demonstrates:  Pragmatism – cynicism = idealism.

Cynicism is also a crucial ingredient found in snark, my favorite type of humor. I believe the official recipe for snark involves equal parts sarcasm and cynicism, with a dash of irreverence for flavoring.

Anyway, cynicism is a useful tool for anyone who works in or follows politics. It keeps you on your toes, and keeps your BS detector working. A healthy dose of cynicism should allow you to sniff out, for example, if you’ve invested millions of dollars into a giant Ponzi scheme. (Here’s a helpful hint, when your investment manager refuses to disclose exactly wht he’s investing your money in, there may be a problem.)

 But there is such a thing as being too cynical. Case in point: the Boston Herald’s Dave Wedge in this past Sunday’s Pols & Politics column.

Now no one would blame the public for being cynical when it comes to the dealings of the Legislature, especially considering the FBI has spent so much time in the State House in recent months they should just set up a temporary field office in Sen. Wilkerson’s old office.  And God knows the Boston Herald is not afraid to hire cynics. But Wedge’s cynicism is so deep he is unable to see what a yahoo he sounds like suggesting that a bill protecting nursing mothers from being charged with indecent exposure is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

Since the link will come down soon, here’s the full text:   

Among the hot topics lawmakers will take up: a bill to protect mothers breastfeeding in public from being charged with indecent exposure or lewd acts, a bill that would create a panel that would designate the 1,000 greatest places in Massachusetts and a bill based on a months-long study commission led by former House Speaker George Keverian that would require all public and private K-12 schools to sterilize musical wind instruments passed on from one student to another. Your tax dollars at work in ’09, ladies and gentlemen….Meanwhile, the old session went out not with a bang, but with a whimper. With just two senators on hand, the Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to, among others, a bill affecting discrimination against physical therapists, a bill on cemeteries and burials, and one regarding the always controversy-free matter of additional alcoholic beverage licenses. No doubt all this was entirely in the public’s best interest.

You got that parents of children who got sick because their schools are too lazy to properly steralize musical instruments in between classes? Or local officials trying to resolve a municipal issue? Or nursing mothers who want to be able to feed their baby without fear of being kicked out of a store, or even arrested? Stop wasting our taxdollars! Come back when you’ve got something that’s important!

Seriously, I could understand Wedge’s point if the only bills on the legislative calendar involved something as mundane as declaringthe official state polka. But then again, I’m apparently not appropriately cynical.


The Big Red Machine
December 28, 2008, 12:12 pm
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“Put the skillet away, dear,  and get the kids, we’re going Outback tonight!” I told my wife upon returning home recently.
“But why? You know that we’re trying to save money. And it’s healthier to cook in,” she responded.
“This is all true,” I said, easing the cast-iron Faberware skillet from her disappointed hand.  “But we have to celebrate. The MBTA actually had a good idea!”
“Did they finally listen to your idea about powering trains using magnets and not electricity?”
“No,” I responded, unable to hide my disappointment. ” But I did get to ride in their new Big Red train today. And it was great!”
“The Big Red train? Isn’t that where the MBTA sadistically tries to stuff as many people as they can into a single car regardless of the riders’ health and well-being?” she said. And then she suddenly became very worried. “Oh no, are you OK, sweetie? You’re not hurt are you? Oh God, I should have known that’s why you want to go out tonight. You’re now afraid of small confined places like our kitchen!”
“No, I’m fine! In fact I’m better than fine! The ride was great!”
“But the TV news said people should hate it. I mean, how can commuters be expected to stand the whole way? That’s just terrible!”
“Honey, I always stand on the Red Line.” 
“You do?”
“Sure. Maybe once a month I get to sit down.”
“You mean there aren’t any open seats on the Red Line during the rush hour commute?”
“As strange as it may sound, no. And even if there is, I usually don’t sit, unless I want dirty looks from the other riders. The fact is that men end up standing on the Red Line about 95% of the time.”
“Oh, you poor thing!” 
“It’s not that bad. Except when you’re standing in the aisle, you’re usually asscheek-to-asscheek with some Dude behind you. Or you have to put up with some clueless jackass smashing you as he turns with his 45-pound backpack.”
“Oh yea. Plus you have to feel bad for all the women who sit there with some stranger’s crotch right in their grill. That can’t be pleasant.’
My wife wrinkled her nose. “I wouldn’t think so.”
“So that’s why I think the Big Red trains are great. Particularly if you’re a guy. You never get to sit anyway, so by removing the seats it just creates a whole bunch of elbow room. You can now fit five across no problem. You can lean up against the side of the train. It was great!”
“But weren’t the trains more packed then usual?”
“Heck no. It’s not like the MBTA was turning away people from stuffing themselves into cars in the first place.”
“So it was a good experience?”
“I thought so. The only people who are probably going to complain are the ones who always get seats and may now have to stand. But for the majority of people I think it’s going to be a good thing.”
“Well since you’re in such a good mood, can we get a Bloomin’ Onion tonight?”

Merry Christmas!
December 24, 2008, 11:14 pm
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Remember the reason for the season: our patriotic duty to buy as much retail as possible in order to keep our corporate overlords in $1,500 Bill Blass suits.

Rep. Walsh brings it
December 18, 2008, 7:15 am
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For those of you who didn’t attend today’s hearing, you missed a tour de force performance by Rep. Stephen Walsh, of Lynn. He was in to testify on behalf of his proposal to freeze Turnpike and tunnel tolls…and…he…killed. Logical. Passionate. Eloquent. When he finished speaking, he should have just dropped the mic and walked out the door.

He even outshone the dude who showed up at the end wearing a chicken suit as a “commentary” on the Patrick Administration’s “courage” to deal with the turnpike/toll issue in a more responsible way. As chance would have it, the committee ran out of time just before Chicken Man was slated to testify.

Unfortunately, my odds from this morning’s post were a bit off. The phrase du jour was “one bite at the apple” as in if the Legislature votes  in January to raise the gas tax 5 cents to pay off the Big Dig bonds, it won’t be able to come back in March and raise the gas tax again, when the MBTA needs its bailout.  It’s one reason why Sen. Baddour, apparantly, is done waiting for Patrick to unveil his MassTrans plan and is in the process of drafting his own reform plan.

PS: Adam, over at Universal Hub, has a more in-depth report on the Chicken Man.

Weekly Wednesday hearing
December 17, 2008, 6:08 pm
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Today is the third and final Transportation Committee hearing on possible reforms. And not a moment to soon. I had almost started to forget what it was like to sit in an arid hearing room for 5 straight hours.

Ah, but I shouldn’t complain. At least I still have a professional reason to sit in such a hearing.

Today’s topic should at least be somewhat interesting: raising the gas tax.

Heck even Howie Carr last night said it should be done in place of a toll hike. I almost drove my minivan into a tree when I heard that. I thought maybe “All Things Considered” had started simulcasting on WRKO.

Anyway, what better way to celebrate the democratic process by doing some gambling along the way?

Here are some current odds:

Number of committee members who show up at least 15 minutes late: Over/under 3

Number of times Connecticut and it’s 43-cent-per-gallon gas tax is mentioned: over/under 7

Number of times the phrase “We can’t reform our way out of this problem”, or some variation of this theme, is uttered: over/under 8

Number of times James Aloisi’s name is brought up by someone not named Bob Hedlund or Mark Montigny: over/under 0.5

Number of times James Aloisi’s name is brought up by someone named Bob Hedlund or Mark Montigny: OFF THE BOARD

Monday evening links
December 16, 2008, 8:26 am
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1) Confirming what I’ve been telling ya, the Boston Globe reported Sunday that “MBTA” and “bankruptcy” are two terms that will be used in the same sentence alot in the coming weeks and months. This pending disaster is and isn’t the MBTA’s fault, if that makes sense. On one hand, under forward funding, the sales tax was expected to increase on average of about 3 percent. That hasn’t happened. The Globe story estimates is the sales tax had hit its estimates, the MBTA would have collected an extra $200 million over the past 8 years. The MBTA was also forced to eat about $4 billion in pre-existing debt, which put it seriously behind the 8-ball on the first day. HOWEVER. The MBTA has not exactly been scrimping their pennies. Despite the growing debt load and slow revenue growth, spending has increased on average more than 5% annually. MBTA officials have not pushed back when it’s come to either the generous employee packages the employee unions have negotiated or the $4 billion in Big Dig mitigation projects it has been required to absorb. All four of these points need to be addressed for the MBTA to remain solvent in the long run.

2) Ah sweet, sweet irony. How delicious your nectar is!  Brett over at Universal Hub took legislator Brian Downing to task for getting a bill passed that prohibits school buses from idling more than 5 minutes. (Ignore the fact that the DEP program Brett mentions had no teeth). Brett then ratchets up the snarky factor by telling “Benjamin” that he should have fired up the high-speed Intranets that the state had required Verizon to install out Pittsfield way, and done some reseach on the issue. “State rep doesn’t do homework” screams Brett’s headline. The only problem is that Benjamin Downing isn’t a state rep. He’s a senator. Ohhhhh, snap! Now who needs to do some homework! Posterized! 

3) And finally, I’m convinced that Deval Patrick is trying to make Howie Carr and Bob Hedlund’s heads asplode.  I mean, sure, Jim Aloisi is well liked among legislators. And maybe technically he isn’t directly responsible for the Big Dig mess or the looming toll hikes. But if the guy was too radioactive to hire two years ago, what has happened over the past 23 months to essentially absolve him? Isn’t any reform plan he conjures up automatically going to be consideed suspect by a large portion of the public?

We’re not number 1!
December 12, 2008, 9:30 pm
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Despite what many, many posters on the Boston Herald comments page insist, Massachusetts is NOT the most corrupt state in the nation — in fact it may be far from it. We’re not even in the Top 20!

According to a USA Today analysis of federal public corruption convictions between ’98 and ’07, Massachusetts ranks 22nd in the number of public officials convicted of coruption. The federal government since 1998 has won 188 corruption convictions against Massachusetts residents, or 2.9 convictions per every 100,000 residents. North Dakota came in first with 8.3 convictions per every 100,000 residents.

This is, of course, not to say that all is well within Massachusetts politics. The numbers could mean that North Dakota is just better at rooting out corruption than Massachusetts. The numbers also don’t reflect the number of convictions on the state level, and there have been a few.

But it’s silly to think that we’d all automatically be better off if we lived in some other state.