Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Out.

I tried to make a .gif out of the pictures, but I couldn't get the image to move. 

We have a chalkboard in our kitchen/dining room (whatever that combination room is called).  Every year, on March 1st, I like to draw a Lion and change it slightly every other day or so until it turns into a Lamb. 

Like all good traditions, it seems to have taken on a life of its own.  This year we added our little flat friend in one of the pictures.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The tragic case of bullying leading to the suicide of a 15 year-old girl in South Hadley, MA has been in the papers for a while, now.  Yesterday, charges were filed against nine of the bullies.

I’m not sure what to make of “bullying” as a criminal offense.  It is obviously malevolent behavior, but does the impact on the victim dictate where it crosses into a criminally punishable act? Apparently this is the case, as the nine bullies have been charged with a “violation of civil rights, with bodily harm resulting.” I’m not sure if the public programs that include role playing, colorful signs, and a No Bullying Policy really address the problem or make it a joke. Isn’t “bullying” a rather cutesy way to describe the already illegal acts of assault, bodily threat, and intimidation?

And while my heart truly aches for the unimaginable agony the parents of the teen who committed suicide must now face, who, other than the girl herself, is truly responsible for it? For their bullying actions, which seem quite clearly to have contributed to the girl’s serious distress, I am still undecided upon what form justice might take for the nine who stand accused, beyond punishment under existing laws against assault and making plausible threats of imminent harm toward someone.

Adding to the tragedy, the following lines conclude a story in yesterday’s Boston Globe regarding the arrest of nine bullies whose behavior led to the girl’s final tragic action.

Ashley Dunn, 16, a sophomore, said she recently told school officials she had been bullied, and that they had found a way to solve the problem.

“I felt small, and I cried every night,’’ she said. “It didn’t get to the point where I thought about suicide, but it was pretty bad. It was handled very well. The school did counseling and mediation.’’ Now, she said, she and the bully “are on better terms.’’


Does compromise between the aggressor and his victim seem to be the best way to treat these situations? 

I may be uncertain about the just treatment of these bullies, but I am certain about the destructive nature of the unprincipled efforts of school administrators who suggest that the kids should just get along without regard to the situation.  I have some firsthand experience with that attitude.

Last year, while in class, another sophomore student proclaimed to my daughter that she was a cunt, loudly enough so that several kids around them commented to him about the inappropriateness of his behavior. This kind of language may not shock anyone other than me – in fact, at first, it didn’t seem to even bother her much, except that she took an ever-so-slightly-protracted time in telling me about it.  Sheepishly. 

I understand that as a parent, I was partially lucky with regards to having a child who would even share this incident with me. 

Despite my instantaneous imagining of myself as having claws, fangs, and huge, powerful jaws to accommodate those fangs, as a low-crouching, growling she-wolf, prepared to lunge straight for the boy’s jugular, I discussed the situation with her calmly, with only a little extra lachrymal fluid to belie my matter-of-fact calmness.  (At least I had no dripping saliva.)  After understanding how she felt about the incident, her behavior leading up to and after his proclamation, and any of her remaining concerns, we concluded that she could use some help with handling the situation. (Her offense which prompted the outburst? She didn’t find his antics amusing.)

I started by looking in the school’s Code of Conduct. 

If your child goes to public school, you know that the school’s Code of Conduct is among the rush of brightly colored papers your kid brings home on the first day of school.  It’s usually accompanied by another sheet you have to sign stating that you read and understand it and that your child has read and understands it.  I’m the kind of parent who actually does read and understand these documents before she signs her name to that effect.  (My thoroughness with this particular task drives my daughter nuts.)  While all schools must have Codes of Conduct, there is something so perfunctory about the public school’s code, delivery, and required testimonials, I doubt it is often read, let alone taken seriously.

So armed with chapter and verse of the Code which the boy violated by his actions, I called the school.   The vice-principal, apparently the person in charge of discipline, called me back.

I wish I had recorded our conversation, but I remember his salient points: You have to understand, kids just talk like that now. It’s not the same as when we were in school.  I suggest that they both come to my office for mediation - together. Seriously. That’s how he wanted to address the issue, by having this student, who is well known to the students and faculty as being a smart-ass, constantly disrupting the classroom, frequently crossing the line into behavior supposedly not allowed in school, meet face to face with my daughter whom he attempted to disparage in a vulgar public declaration – in class – the day before? 

Fuck you.  

Well, that’s what I thought. What I said was that she would not participate in any such mediation and I emailed him the appropriate section of the Code of Conduct.

Students are expected to treat every member of our learning community with respect.  Words – written and verbal – gestures, and actions that are perceived as inappropriate, disrespectful or offensive will result in disciplinary consequences.

Minimum consequence: One day of detention for failure to show civility to all members of our learning community.

While I see the ironic juxtaposition of my unspoken vulgar dismissal of the administrator’s suggestion followed by the citation of the Civility section of the Code of Conduct, it in no way reduces my charge.  I emailed the learned educator/administrator the section of the Code which the student had violated and the consequence according to the Code of Conduct that I certified earlier in the year to have read and understood.  Apparently, as the party charged with enforcing the Code, he was less inclined to read and understand it than I was.

Admittedly, I used the Code to make a point, but I understand now that the entire document is simply a Cover Your Ass piece of legalese.  No one cares what’s in it.  Worse, no one seems to care about right and wrong. Everyone knows that the kids act like they’re there to socialize rather than to learn, and the teachers act like they’re doing the kids a favor rather than their jobs – which, I often remind my daughter, nowhere includes expounding upon their political points of view.  So long as the goals and ideals of the educational environment are all in black and white (or whatever color they choose to make it look important) somewhere, no one need be concerned with the practicability or achievement of those goals.  That they have been written down and sound good is all that matters.

In a statement made today by Elizabeth Scheibel, the Northwestern District Attorney who is in charge of the bullying case, she claims the following:

“. . .Phoebe’s harassment was common knowledge to most of the South Hadley High School student body.  The Investigation has revealed that certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of Phoebe Prince before her death.”

 “A lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships seems to have been prevalent at South Hadley High School.  That, in turn, brought about an inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the school’s Code of Conduct when incidents were observed and reported.”

In case there is any confusion, let me state clearly that I do not think my daughter was bullied, nor harassed. But when a clear violation of the Code of Conduct was pointed out to the administrator in charge of enforcing that Code, rather than abide by the written policy, he fell back on the putrescent idea that getting along was more important than enforcing the written Code of Conduct.

I would be remiss at this point if I failed to mention that as a child, I had some excellent educational experiences, including many wonderful teachers who were absolutely passionate about teaching their students and held each of us accountable for our work and behavior – in public school!  The good kids (a simplification of “those who want to learn”) flourished and the bad kids (again, simplification of “those who want to be anywhere but there”) had to put up or get out; as a result, most of them flourished as well.

I know there are still devoted teachers and these kinds of public schools may even still exist. . . somewhere.

However, as a parent, my experiences with public schools have been overwhelmingly limited to their functioning as sheepfolds of institutionalized apologies for the baaaad behavior of faculty and students alike.  

I contend that as part of promoting a better learning environment, any individual whose repeated behavior runs contrary to the standards established in the school’s documents should be culled from the environment.  (And the bad kids should be kicked out too.) 

It’s a universal truth.  When getting along is a primary, it creates an environment where determining right and wrong is subjugated to mob rule, where compromise has been raised above the actual standards under which that environment was originally established, and where the requirements, once conceived and constructed to support the now merely nominal goal, serve only as a painful reminder of the inability of its leaders to think in principles.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pants Don’t Lie

A recent tweet from a bloggy friend, reminded me of just how empowering new pants can be – given, of course, that those new pants are purchased in celebration of reaching weight-loss goals. As a measurement of “You Go Girl!” enthusiasm, there is little that beats the need- to-buy-smaller pants-metric.

But the pants-metric is a fickle friend – it’s a bitch really.  It doesn’t allow cheaters. It’s as ruthless and reality based as . . . well, reality.  Sure, you can buy a new cut of jeans that favor your best assets, but let’s face it, unless those jeans are smaller than the ones you currently own, it’s basically a cop-out – a way to infuse a jaunty new look into a tired, demoralizing wardrobe. 

Being reduced to wearing your “fat pants” is just that bad. I ought to know.  I’ve been wearing my “fat pants” since January.

I have some follow-up questions on the brutal truth of pants. 

How many pairs should I own for how many sets of circumstances?  Do I need to keep pants in stock (i.e. in drawers) that cover all the potential forms my lower half might take in the upcoming decades (insert SNL “Mom Jeans” skit here)?

As soon as I hit my goal weight (as determined by the combination of scale and need-to-buy-smaller pant-metric), should I throw out the old “fat pants” so any weight gain will be coupled with a financial disincentive?   Or, in a fit of economic conservatism, save the old “fat pants” knowing my tendency to play Chinese jump-rope with the pants-metric?

I’m not sure how to best proceed with my pants wearing, gathering, and hoarding, but I do know that pants don’t lie.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Getting Juiced

After a rough week of writing, emailing, and calling our federal leaders, all in a vain attempt to head-off the historic expansion of government which nonetheless occurred on Sunday night, it’s time to sit back, relax, recuperate, and revive the soul.

To that end, we’ve decided to get juiced.

This is not another cocktail fact finding mission leading us down the wayward path toward dipsomania despite the similarity of the lovely book filled with pages of caressable pictures of delicious looking concoctions. This is about extracting the liquidy goodness out of vegetables (and occasionally fruits) and drinking it. Yum.

This is Eve (yes, we do name our small appliances), our Breville Juice Fountain (juicer). It’s quiet and strong, and able to extract 16 oz. of creamy goodness out of three carrots, three celery sticks, and bunch of parsley. The book gives over 400 juice recipes to try out. We’re going to concentrate on the vegetable juice recipes for now.

It simply amazes me how much liquid these few veggies and herbs make! While I’m not a big fan of carrots, they certainly add a sweet creaminess to the juice.

Here is the Chlorophyll Crunch juice we made last night (nothing goes without garnish at Chez Bourque). 

I’ve been interested in getting more leafy greens into my diet for a while now. By all accounts I’ve read and heard, kale is a superfood, but I just haven’t found a method of cooking it that agrees with my palate. The incessant mastication of most of the raw leafy greens turns me off as well. But drinking it? Depending on the juice base, drinking it is better than painless – it can be downright delightful. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with the green juices and finding just the right combination of flavors. Juicing is not meant to substitute for eating whole veggies, but is a great way to get more good stuff in. 

Of course, as Stephen points out, now we can make the fresh juices for cocktails as well.

If you have any favorite vegetable juice recipes, let me know, and I’ll update on any favorites that arise from our experimentation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Here. Yeah.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Reeducation

I’m excited.

Now that Congress and the Administration have institutionalized the idea that rights are government granted and that one’s rights cannot be discriminated against because of pre­-existing conditions, I’m going to Harvard!

My reasoning, which follows that of the majority of our Congressmen, is that in this country, education, much like health care, is considered a right granted to us by the government: a right to the products and efforts of other men’s minds, rather than a freedom to act in one’s best interest.

Although my GPA, test scores, and transcript may reveal academic achievement below current Harvard standards, it could be beyond my control. These liabilities notwithstanding, in dismissing my claim that I have a right to the education it offers, Harvard would be discriminating against my pre-existing conditions.  Harvard must therefore be forced to accept my application for admission under all circumstances.  Anything less than full matriculation is a grave social injustice. Attending Harvard is not a value for me to earn, but a simple matter of my right to an education.

More importantly, because I can’t possibly afford to pay for Harvard, I am excited to discover that the government will not only force Harvard to accept me, but also force everyone to pay for me through government subsidized loans.  Don’t worry – you’ll only have to pay a tiny bit each.  You won’t even feel it.  Harvard is rich – they certainly won’t feel it. 

Be forewarned, however; should you choose to not subsidize my education, there are 10,000 new IRS agents waiting to make certain that you participate in this right of mine. This is notably fewer IRS agents than those necessary to provide health care coverage, because I’m convinced you’ll want to do the right thing and support my right to an education.

I am certain of this because I am currently so stupid as to actually think that by forcing private companies and individuals to provide goods and services to all at prices set by the government, rather within the free market, accessibility to and quality of health care services will diminish for all. 

I am so ignorant as to believe that rights are limited to the freedom of action - to believe that along with the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence recognized the rights of individuals to be free to pursue one’s values, not the right to values gained by others. 

I am so uneducated as to understand the historic importance of the Health Care Act of 2010 is not as a bold step toward dignity for all Americans, but rather an enormous expansion of the federal government and an egregious attack on individual rights, the protection of which is the very purpose of the founding of the American government, and the respect for which is the very foundation on which the tremendous wealth and progress of this country was built.

Clearly, I need to be reeducated.

Monday, March 22, 2010

3 Good Things (pinched nerve edition)

1. Mmmm. Motrin. 300 mg, 3 times a day.
2. Ahhhhh. Heating pad.
3. Zzzzzzz. Skelaxin. Seriously - that's the name of a muscle relaxer. I wish I had come up with that name. I wonder who gets to name the drugs in a drug company.  That would be an awesome job.  Sadly, I'm not taking Skelaxin, but the name of my generic muscle relaxer isn't nearly as cool.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think of the sister before her wedding in Sixteen Candles when they hear "muscle relaxers"?

In a "don't look for zebras" response to my question about spinal compression, my doctor prescribed some muscle spasm treatment for a few days to see if the range of motion in my neck improves and the throbbing ache in my shoulder and arm subside any.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Poetry in Music

These are videos of two of the song that we are singing in our intergenerational homeschool chorus this year. Sadly, they are nothing much to watch, but they were the best video/audio performances I could find of the particular arrangements we are singing. Both songs are vocally interesting (to me, an untrained singer, this means it takes a while to learn how to hit the correct notes), but the poetry into song aspect is lovely. Happily, whilst I have been chagrined by other matters, I have been going around singing these lovely tunes with my daughter.

Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Complete Poems. 1924.

Part Two: Nature


WILL there really be a morning?
Is there such a thing as day?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like water-lilies?
Has it feathers like a bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh, some scholar! Oh, some sailor!
Oh, some wise man from the skies!
Please to tell a little pilgrim
Where the place called morning lies!


William Blake. 1757–1827

489. The Tiger

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The President’s Pekingese

I know that President Obama has a Portuguese Water Dog, and that he’s done all right by Bo in not giving him the pants-less look so popular on those poor dogs.  The dogs I’m talking about, however, are the lap dogs his political stardom has attracted in Congress:  the ones who would not only sit on his lap, but betray their sworn oaths and the Constitution in order to sit at his feet. (Warning: the linked video is very distasteful.  In it we see a fully grown woman whose lap dog status refers more to the noun form of to lick rather than the comfy spot made for a small dog when its owner sits down.)

Why am I picking on Pelosi?

As the videos show, she is the self-appointed congressional champion of Obamacare legislation, and as such, has been whipped into a trance-like state, willing to do whatever it takes to pass the bill – except understand it.

But we shouldn’t worry too much about the unprecedented expansion of the federal government, its control over our choices, or its Marxist redistribution of our individual wealth.  According to another of Obama’s lap dogs, taxes are voluntary.

The worst part is that unlike real lap dogs which provide comfort to their owners, these congressional mongrels, along with their unprincipled Republican counterparts, have been allowed – by our consent –  to do real damage to the spirit and intent of our American government.

You Know What Thursday Brings

Find it at The Little Things.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Can't I Write Like That?

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

Thomas Jefferson regarding King George III as written in The Declaration of Independence

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Taxes: A Love Story

Once upon a time, a man and a woman decided that the time was right, so they picked a date and hunkered down to do their taxes.  Because each of them disdained the sheer burden of collecting, figuring, and understanding the endless forms associated with the process, the man and woman both knew that the evening was no longer theirs, but belonged to that unpleasant task. 

After a significant amount of confusion, they were finally able to determine that last year’s tax return software – originally purchased because their previously long-term paid tax preparer had not filed their returns until August two years before despite his repeated claims that the paperwork had been submitted – did not work for this year’s returns. Relying on that old adage, they read the instructions, s l o w l y, and were verily, if not merrily, on their way.

Were you to listen in that night, here’s what you may have heard: “W-2s, income: check.”  “Well, what the hell is that piece of paper leftover?”  “What’s a 1099-B?” “If we go back, will it undo everything we’ve spent the last hour entering?” “Hit ‘No’!” “Hit ‘No’!”  “What is the cost basis for this number?  Better still, what is a cost basis?” “Who authorized that?”  “When did we buy those?” “What are dates on the charity pick ups?” “What do they mean by ‘other taxes’?” “Is that tax-deductible?” “Don’t we get something for the kids?” “Just click ‘Continue’ and let’s get on with it.”

For the most part, they viewed it simply as a distasteful necessity.

Then it hit: Screen after screen.  Green tax breaks? Presidential campaign donation? Cash for Clunkers? Stimulus Information Center? Proof of acceptable health insurance??

In case you can’t read this picture of the
screen, allow me to print its greeting here. 

Good news.  Based on the health insurance information you provided, you don’t have to worry about any tax penalties for Stephen.  Your 2009 tax return will not be affected by the state’s law requiring health insurance because Stephen had health insurance all year.  [Are you ready for that the rest of you non-Massachusetts Americans?]

Based on experience, the couple knew the frustration, the compounding anger that was in store for them.  Nothing, however, could have prepared the wife for the husband’s slow, but steady transformation from a well-mannered, good-natured intelligent man into a raving, cussin’ malcontent gesticulating wildly at each new screen!  The persistence of his unexpected descent into untoward behavior made her laugh.  It made him laugh.  While they shared a very real disdain for what they were required to do, his ridiculously misplaced rails against an inanimate software program designed to make their lives easier – and, really, it did make things easier – were a welcomed relief.

More importantly, they understood that it was not the loss of earned money, but the loss of principle exhibited by the ever-expanding state that fomented their anger. They knew that they had at their disposal better ways to fight this immoral growth of government and that they were using them. They recognized and appreciated that while the best accounting practices were not among either of their skill sets, it needn’t have been.  Together they shared the ideas and ideals that made life wonderful.

And then, after three hours, he hit “submit” and the evening's unpleasant task was over – which is ironic given that they returned to their pleasant evening with a newly-steeled determination to never submit.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Other Kind of Men

How sharp the look of leverage may seem,
With narrowed eyes belying wisdom won,
And tightly drawn, a smile whose act would deem,
To speak content, his will on others – done.

How large this victor bears his confidence,
How brief this staged event until it’s learned,
His stolen gains’ required consequence –
Their use destroyed as they could not be earned.

No pretense, envy, nor excuse conceived
Production which is far beyond that ken;
Yet driven to live, ideas from whom achieved
The known, this world – the other kind of men.

And thus, by those, who this will understand,
Is shared the name, the glory, that is Man.

“Francisco, where are they now – the other kind of men?”
“Now they’re not wanted.”
“I want them. Oh God, how I want them!”
“When you do, you’ll find them.”
Dagny and Francisco in Atlas Shrugged

Sunday, March 14, 2010

No Sector Left Behind

At least he has a clear agenda.

Yesterday, the President Obama called for a much needed overhaul in public education.  While the No Child Left Behind Act, sprung from an unlikely alliance between former President George W. Bush and the late Senator Kennedy, left behind much to be desired regarding the improvement of government education, President Obama's proposal is not so much of an overhaul as a deeper disintegration of the failing educational system.

The administration would replace the law’s pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students’ academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate.

You read that right. Pupil attendance and “learning climate” are proposed to be part of evaluating school success. That seems pretty clear to me: show up and we’ll keep throwing taxpayer money at the guard-like activities directors (formerly known as teachers).

In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.

Clear as day. The President indicates that proficiency in reading and math is not related to, let alone necessary for, success in college or a career, and that social utilitarianism, not the ability to think critically, is the goal of education.  

Whatever you think about this Administration’s unprincipled mess of foggy social notions and utopian fiscal fantasies supporting its serious lack of moral, legal, and economic understanding of its proposals, you have to give them this: its clarity in doggedly pursuing to increase the role of government control over every aspect of our lives by any and every means possible is crystal clear. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Irish Movie Craic

If y’are a holiday and movie hound, such as meself, you may be wantin’ to catch up on some Irish films this weekend (I’m done trying to sound Irish now – you’re welcome). Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe offers his choices, and here are my favorites. Oddly, they are all from the 90s.
The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) – Beautifully filmed story of a little girl who explores her connection to a Celtic fairy tale (could be a little disconcerting and magically confusing to children).  I enjoyed the movie for the independence and strength exhibited by the little girl and the observations on and scenes regarding a life so dependent on the ocean.  One of my favorites, John Lynch, plays a small role.
Into the West (1992) – More children taking control of their own destinies. The movie is part American boys’ adventure, part Irish fairy tale, and part life triumphs over tragedy love story.  The youngest boy is particularly engaging while Gabriel Byrne plays the drunken father horribly well. I really like this movie.
The Snapper (1993) – I may have to watch this one again, because I am shocked to recall how much I could enjoy a movie about an unwanted pregnancy due to a drunken sexual/forced(?) encounter. Yet, somehow, it manages to be downright hilarious (or at least to be remembered that way).  Note well:  you either need your ears tuned to an Irish dialect, or English subtitles to catch most of this one.
The Commitments  (1991) - This movie is an excellent way to get your Irish ears on.  Shortly after it came out (and was wildly popular), I attended a wedding in Ireland during which we danced no fewer than three times to the live band’s never-ending rendition of Mustang Sally.  What good craic that was!  Later we walked around the area in Northern Dublin where the movie was filmed and where the brother and sister-in-law of the groom both taught school.
Waking Ned Devine (1998) - Funny story about death, fraud, and the adage “it takes a village.”  I can scarcely believe it myself, but it was funny and good. I remember liking the fight left in the old guys and the plot twist.  David Kelly, also in Into the West, is a terrific old guy in this one too.
About Adam (2000) – If you can’t stand Kate Hudson, this is not the movie for you.  It’s not so much about being Irish, or having anything to do with Ireland, but it’s an entertaining movie about a philandering man and three very different Irish sisters.  Frances O’Connor is terrific as a steam pot of sexual repression.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Short and Sweet

Practice Tweet

TDC has this week’s ORU. Go there ASAP. ‘K?
Clearly, using Twitter to its fullest advantage is a skill I haven’t yet developed.

No Defeat

After many years reveling in my upper body strength, I discovered during my last workout that I have been reduced to doing girly push-ups.  This is a serious blow to my ego and will not stand long I tell you!

Balance Sheet

There’s no more putting it off.  It’s as inevitable as death and taxes.   Oh wait – it is taxes.  

And on that blue note, I wish my readers a very productive (and relatively painless) weekend.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Perversion of Government


I’m trying to understand exactly what congressional earmarks are.  I found this definition from the Executive Office of Management and Budget:

The Administration defines "earmarks" as "funds provided by the Congress for projects, programs, or grants where the purported congressional direction (whether in statutory text, report language, or other communication) circumvents otherwise applicable merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the executive branch to manage its statutory and constitutional responsibilities pertaining to the funds allocation process." [bold mine]

This definition implies that earmarks are unethical at best, illegal at worst.  If this is so, how can they knowingly exist at all? Why is cutting them to a certain level or of interest to Congress and the President?

Neither the members of Congress nor the President can agree on what actually constitutes an earmark.  I have seen them alternatively referred to as “pet spending projects,” “pork,” and even mere “doughnut holes” by the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (who, in a surprising reversal of that earlier dismissal, called attention to his personal victory in the fight against them yesterday).  Those are pretty silly names for what at first glance seems to be a violation of the Constitution.

In all cases, it seems there is general agreement that earmarks, like declaring war without congressional approval, scavenging dormant House bills to which the Senate adds revenue raising provisions so they may legally pass them, and reconciliation, are a rather dirty business.  Earmarks are enough of a problem to be addressed by the then new President Obama a year ago today, when he said:

Now, let me be clear: Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination. And I also find it ironic that some of those who rail most loudly against this bill because of earmarks actually inserted earmarks of their own –- and will tout them in their own states and their own districts.

But the fact is that on occasion, earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste, and fraud, and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the 11th hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest. There are times where earmarks may be good on their own, but in the context of a tight budget might not be our highest priority. So these practices hit their peak in the middle of this decade, when the number of earmarks had ballooned to more than 16,000, and played a part in a series of corruption cases.

Without merit? Without a review? May be good on their own? How can this be so? As it turns out, earmarks are dirty enough to be banned outright by the House of Representatives as reported in the New York Times today.

The ban is the most forceful step yet in a three-year effort in Congress to curb abuses in the use of earmarks, which allow individual lawmakers to award financing for pet projects to groups and businesses, many of them campaign donors. [emphasis mine]

So how can something which is at best a circumvention of the Constitution be further banned? And when I say “banned” I mean only for for-profit businesses. 

“The political reality right now is that the public has lost some confidence in this institution, and one of the reasons is the past abuses of the earmark process,” Mr. Obey said. Earmarks for profit-making companies are “the most vulnerable place” for abuse in the system, he added. [emphasis mine]

Is there anything wrong with this chain of reasoning?  Rent-seeking politicians, who should be readily identifiable, add last-minute inappropriate appropriations of federally expropriated funds for their constituents or financial backers, cause an abuse of a legislative vehicle which is already a circumvention of the Constitution – and all for-profit companies are discredited in the matter? 

Where is the outrage?

This reasoning concludes that earmarks remain to be seen as important to the legislative process, but only when given to nonprofits. Why? It would seem that working for the “public good” is virtuous whereas working for personal profit is a sin.

I found this opinion piece written by Amity Shlaes last year, when President Obama literally dumped on the economy of Nevada, appropriate to two of these points.

Nevada has no income tax, and it takes two-thirds of the vote in the state legislature for any new tax to become law. For a long time, such business-friendly policies produced fabulous growth. In 1970, some 6.8 million visitors came to Vegas; in 2007 that figure was 39 million. Population grew 25 percent in this decade alone.

While the state’s racier businesses serve as a draw, a big share of Nevada’s job creation comes from booze, food and hotel rooms. Nevada’s prosperity also has enabled it to help the rest of the nation. According to the Tax Foundation, Nevada gets back from the federal government far less than it sends to Washington in federal taxes -- unlike, say, virtuous Utah, which has, historically, been a net taker.
The point here is as obvious as a neon sign: Government pork tends to produce junk gross domestic product, because even really smart government doesn’t allocate capital optimally. To dismiss what GDP Nevada generates as junkier than what Washington might generate is misguided, since Nevadans most of the time probably know better what investments make sense.

So let me see if I’ve got this right. While the politicians who have sworn to uphold the Constitution subsequently abuse the already compromised system, but are not held responsible for their own unethical or illegal actions, and the nonprofits which have written into their missions statement that they operate for the “greater good” and are therefore assumed to be beyond reproach and are not taxed for their profits, it is only the businessman – the for profit businessman, the man who aspires to and subsequently works for his own benefit – whose profits and businesses are taxed for his efforts, upon whose productivity, whose earnings, whose back the entire weight of this political graft rests. 

The Right to Work

Another perversion the government is trying to foist on us has been succinctly expressed in John Stossel’s latest op-ed in the Atlasphere.  As I pointed out in December, more people, with the help of the Institute of Justice, are beginning to fight back for their own right to work!  Who needs a jobs bill?  Just get government out of the way!

It’s a Jungle Out There

How about this for perverted?  The government passes a law which makes it prohibitively expensive for you to do business.  And when you close your doors, the government and its PR firm, the main stream media, blames you for betraying your customers!

An outrageous perversion of justice you say? 

Sadly, it’s what just happened to and its Affiliates program in Colorado.  Read some good analysis of the situation here and here.

Let’s Get ‘er Done!

As a final rant, I needed to highlight a few phrases I discovered today that pass for the promotion of good legislation.

Representative Obey on the House passage of the HIRE act.

Getting “bogged down” over the issue is a lot like getting confused by the facts, no? 

“This ban will ensure good stewardship of taxpayer dollars by the federal government across all agencies,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. Huh?  How so?  Will it prevent the congressmen from acting unethically or illegally?   Or will it just throttle the productive sector of the economy until there is no more money over which the power-brokers can pretend to be good stewards?

I can’t begin to address the lack of principles in the politicians pleas for healthcare reform – I can handle only one big perversion at a time, thanks.

In addition to getting a little fired up, I’m left wondering: what will it take for more of us to understand that government is supposed to work for us in protecting our individual rights, not give us stuff, control our lives, or as we live in a constitutional republic, bend to the will of the majority – all of which violates our rights.

The American government is supposed to work for us – not the other way around. 

I may not know much more about legality or historic slide into acceptance of earmarks than when I started to research them this morning.  Somewhere along the way, though, I deepened my understanding of the perverting power of the institutionalized altruistic slime running through the hands of this pragmatic Administration and its leftist minions. 

Philosophy: Who Needs It?

A musical composition by Chuck Butler inspired by Ayn Rand's 1974 address to West Point graduates.

Philosophy: Who Needs It? 

(via HBL)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Virgin No More

I’ve been meaning to post on our experience seeing Ann Hampton Callaway perform in New York City. 
She was wonderful.
She has an incredibly smooth and sultry deep voice and she scats. I hate scat!  But for some reason, I liked the sound of it when she did it.  It could have been the atmosphere, the intimate swanky lounge with the skyline of Manhattan across Central Park (as viewed from the 5th floor of the Time-Warner building on Columbus Circle) behind her, or it could have been the cozy company of my most favorite person in the entire world outside of – well, let’s face it – sometimes even including myself, or it could have actually been her tremendously cool dulcet tones.  Most likely, it was a combination of all three.
Accompanied by Pete Washington on bass, Willie Jones III on drums, and “the fabulous” Ted Rosenthal on piano, she sang old standards, new ballads, and some songs she had written – each one seemingly more thrilling than the last. Don’t ask because I can’t remember a single title even though she sang one standard whose words I would really like to revisit and possibly learn to sing.
I do know that the entire time she was on stage, I was smiling like an idiot. While I didn’t actually see myself, I was completely enthralled with her voice.  Further evidence comes from a picture my husband took of me and Ann back backstage after the show (yes, we’re on a first name basis now) in which I looked not only dopey, but dazed as well. “Callaway virgin no more” she wrote on my Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola brochure as I gushed about how happy I was to hear her sing and how much I loved her and that is was my first time seeing her perform and . . .   So much for grace.

Here is a little video of Ann and the various skills she has displayed over the years (sorry if you can’t stand Rosie O’Donnell).

She is both a talented singer and songwriter.  Apparently, as evidenced in this video and as I experienced in person, part of her act is to take around eight random words from the audience and improvise a song. Her words, the evening we saw her, were:
Delicious Cookies
and three more I can’t remember.  (I contributed one and it wasn’t martini!)
Given the disparate elements, she ended up singing quite a melodic, humorous, and mostly coherent song.   Sure, that part reminded me a little of the Mac Davis show, but I enjoyed the entire experience immensely.
I will definitely go back for more live Ann Hampton Callaway – and I'll take notes next time! In the meantime, I will enjoy her recorded music (check out #11: the very lovely On My Way to You).