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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Hive Mind Awakes!

Your Life, as it has been, it is over. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

The Borg are a fictional race of cyborgs in the Star Trek universe. They are characterized by relentless pursuit of targets for assimilation, their collective conscience that enables rapid adaptability to almost any defense, and the ability to continue functioning properly despite seemingly devastating blows. They have become a powerful symbol in popular culture for any juggernaut against which "resistance is futile".

In the Mass. Legislature, The Great Borg Hive Mind is just beginning to come alive. They will debate until 2 am for no reason, hours of inactivity punctuated with spurts of horse-trading, all headed for that final 12 o'clock gong on the last night at the end of this week. Then leadership gives Academy Award-like speeches. One year, Tom Finneran cried at the fine job House Ways & Means Chair John Rogers had done (some of the ‘audience’ comprised of legislators was in tears, too, but it may not have been for the same reason). The Collective Mind of the House Membership has come together to debate their sundry amendments to the Budget, and to reach a collective decision.

There are 1,488 amendments to the House Budget this year - Porcupine’s favorite pork containers are the budget lines for the Mass Office of Travel and Tourism - Line 7007-0900, and a close second in Economic Development - 7004-0099. Call up Ch. 139, last year's budget, and plug these numbers into Find. And read away. And those are the ones that are EASY to find.

First – as the cry goes out to eliminate earmarks, it’s important to realize that those funds are ALREADY in the agency responsible; they don’t change how much is appropriated overall. As we 'speak', agency liaisons are in legislator's offices, begging them to pretty please withdraw the amendment, and they'll DO the project/enhancement/whatever, but they just don't want their hands tied, dontchaknow. REALLY. (This is the time of year when legislators and staff can remind them of all the phone calls they couldn't be bothered to return when called with a request or question from a constituent). That is the theory of all the agencies - that they HAVE priorities, they KNOW what projects need doing, and getting money earmarked for a dance pavilion at the end of a road fallen into disrepair is just foolish. Legislators want more glamour, and don't want to be known as Mr. Pot Hole, but Mr. Pavilion. It's a natural tension (my favorite TV show of all time is 'Yes, Minister', a Brit-Com about the tension between elected and appointed officials). Both sides are right, and both are wrong.

This was not always the case. In the Finneran era, the House budget was often subject to a mechanism called the Holland Amendment - that is, if you had a cash earmark, you had to show WHERE in the budget that money would come from and what line would be decreased, and you would increase the line where you added the earmark commensurately. THAT was fun. (Well, actually, it WAS fun - you'd search for one time capital expenditures in the prior year budget, and suggest THEY be cut this year - like a statue or senior center upgrade – and use that dollar amount in the current budget). The Holland Amendment is not in force this year, so all earmarks are consequence-free. Another Tommy Taxes Trick was to insist on matching funds - East Overshoe would get $50,000 for a $100,000 project, for instance.

Yet this is only the first stage. Next month, the Senate budget will be similarly debated, and then the two versions will be conferenced under the guidance of the most powerful influence in that Collective Universe - The Borg Queen – Former Senate Ways & Means Chair, and now Senate President Therese Murray.

In Human terms, a Borg Queen could be characterized as ruthless. She would do anything to protect the Borg Collective. When necessary she would employ psychological tactics, like extortion or plain intimidation to get what she wanted.

Gov. Patrick may attempt to use his veto pen, but he will meet the fate of others who have tried to flout the Collective. He will be assimilated, or he will be destroyed. The choice will be his.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Ever Happened To CFC's?

Since we will no doubt hear many dire prediections about global warming and overall ecological Armeggedon today, Porcupine has decided to celebrate Earth Day by looking at some successes that the environmental movement has enjoyed, just as a bit of contrast.

Remember when we were an Aerosol Nation? Everything from hairspray to cooking oil was a spray. Chlorofluorocarbons, which had been invented in the 1920's, were used for air conditioning, paint, deoderant, and dozens of everyday uses. So warnings about CFC's and their effect on the atmosphere, and calls for a ban beginning in the late 1960's, were a genuine crisis in the national retail economy. Porcupine's favorite story about why the ban would be a disaster was the theat that asthma inhalers would no longer work properly. But, in 1974, the ban was passed, and lo and behold, substitues were discovered for most uses, either through pump sprays or alternative propellants. It is widely regarded as the most successful of such international agreements, and has been effective in slowing ozone depletion. Still, Porcupine is bound to admit that Aqua Net never really recoved and the CFC ban may have been responsible for the demise of Big Hair, except in Revere and New Jersey.

Porcupine mentons this because it is evidence, well within the memory of most people, that we we can change our conduct and act responsibly for enviornmental reasons. Porcupine well rembers the 1950's, when throwing a bottle or butt out the window of a moving car was routine, until Lady Bird Johnson turned a generation of children into small litter enforcers, and every family station wagon began to sport little trash bags on the window cranks (this is before windows had buttons). Motor oil was dumped into the ground, or into a city storm drain, if you were citified. Septic systems on Cape Cod had huge outfalls into what Jacques Cousteau so charmingly calls 'the Universal Sewer' of the sea.

Now, these activities have not only ceased, they seem barbaric. Much of the frenzied style of ecological warnings were developed in these days, and sometimes the continued stridency seems forced. For instance, those who talk about Global Warming are shooting themselves in the foot, to a certain extent, as Climate Change would be more appropriate. However, climate change has happened before as it is happening now, and implies that there is a natural as well as human made reason for these swings. So, it remains, even if it's snowing on Easter, and profound scepticism ensues. To be sure, human activity is a factor in , but it may not even be the trigger for a natural cycle. There is also the ceaseless escalation of threats; now, we areeiong wrned that Wi-Fi damages children's health with 'electronic smog' as documented

Sixty years have passed since then. We now have in place the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. There is debate about how to accomplish these goals, but no debate that they are desirable. At the turn of the last century, Pres. Teddy Roosevelt created the National Parks Service, a mechanism to set aside land for conservation and preservation, enhanced by the Wilderness Act of 1964. There is debate about which lands outght to be protected, but none that conservation is a desirable goal. Humans have accepted the basic premises of the environmental movement, and have amended their behaviour for decades, only to be greeted with some fresh hell at every change and turn.

Porcupine is fully aware of problems like developing countries, rampant pollution is areas like China, bovine methane production, and all the litany of ills. Still, our greatest renewable natural resource is human ingenuity, and Porcupine is certain that we will once again be able to triumph of adversity and continue our journey back to .

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Political Gossip

Both gossip and joking are intrinsically valuable activities.
Aaron Ben-Ze’Ev, Israeli philosopher.

In what must be a disappointing development for them, the New York Times reports that the major Republican candidates who appeared together for the first time in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 GOP activists at the annual Des Moines Lincoln Day dinner behaved in obedience of the 11th Commandment - 'G.O.P. Candidates Lay Into Democrats, Not One Another ' (see entire story HERE). The GOP is also far advanced in terms of organization, as the first major debate has been scheduled for May 3rd, with The Politico web site accepting email questions for the ten participating candidates.

There's a joke going around which Porcupine heard from a Democrat friend. The bad news - John Kerry has intentions of running again in 2008. The good news? He'll hire Bob Shrum again, and keep him the hell away from the other Democrat candidates! Personally, Porcupine thinks Kerry will choose Don Imus as his media consultant - there's no other way to explain his weird defense of Imus' crude language. You can only HAVE but so many 'botched jokes'.

Porcupine recently came across two excellent widgets for the politically astute. First, from the excellent Mystery Pollster, comes the analysis of how pollsters choose Likely Voters - knowledge which can temper your opinion of the validity of poll numbers. That said, Porcupine still adheres to the doctrine that the only poll that matters is held every two years in November, and that anyone who votes to be 'in with the in crowd' is worse than a fool.

Another fine widget is courtesy of Porcupine's good cyber-friend, Mr. Ogre (who has pointed out that Rudy Guiliani is scheduled to participate in a Leadership Conference in Raleigh, NC at the same time he is scheduled to participate in the New England Isssues Conference in Boston - we wait to see how he will do both without a transporter beam, and who he will blow off; WHAT did we do before the Internet?). This is a fairly complete issues test - non-partisan - which matches you up with a candidate based upon not only your answers to questions, but how strongly you feel about those issues. Porcupine matched up with a high score of 84% with Mitt Romney (no big surprise there), but is puzzled that Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, John McCain and Rudy Guiliani all tied for second at 73%. Ogre, a Tancredo man himself, think that Porcupine broke the test. At least Porcupine didn't have any Democrat break 50%, although Bill Richardson did get 48%.

But - take the poll for yourself HERE - and post your scores in the comments, if you'd like.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Now You Have Blood On Your Hands That Will Never Come Off

Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior majoring in English at Virginia , has completed his transformation from Clark Kent to, well, Rambo. Having killed and maimed over thirty people, in a calculated and merciless way, he has shown another facet of evil and pain to the world. Alone, bitter, unhappy and insane, his sad story reverberates on several levels.

Is it better to have stricter gun control, or have more guns in the hands of law abiding people to protect themselves? Have privacy laws and rights for the mentaly disabled gone too far, or should involuntary committment for treatment be easier to order? Has community and the support of family been destroyed by the cheapening of our culture, or has the stigma of needing help become so great that those most in need shun it?

There were heros at Virgina Tech - Professor Lucinda Roy, who tried so hard to get Mr. Cho the help he so badly needed; another Professor, Liviu Librescu, a 76 year old Holocaust survivor who gave his life offering his body as a shield for his students; during the aftermath the poet, Nikki Giovanni, leading students in a cheer to affirm that they will survive and be stronger - 'We are HOKIES!'.

But there is one party who will not be a hero during all this, and that is the National Broadcasting Company news organization. After Mr. shot his first two victims in his dormitory, he made a rambling videotape with his jeremiad on debauched rich students and how they had driven him to this action, shortly before he entered a classroom, chained the doors shut and killed thirty more people. This insane person took the time to film and mail his video between murders, and chose to make it public.

Poor Dylan Klebold -he never thought of making videos before killing his classmates at Columbine High School. Now, Mr. Cho has created a new item in the iconography of mass murder, one that we will surely see again. We have come a long way from the days when shooting Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster was a ticket to fifteen minutes of fame and becoming an answer on a Trivial Pursuit card. Now we present a news network with 27 videos, 43 photographs and an 1,800-word narration described as "multimedia manifesto" from a "uniquely sick mind." NBC was quick to turn the package over to the FBI, right after making copies for itself.

Mr. Cho could be speaking to NBC when he observes, "You had 100 billion chances and ways to have avoided today, but you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now, you have blood on your hands that will never wash off." By choosing to give this presentation the validation of a platform, NBC has sent our nation and our heritage just one more step down a dank and violent road.

Update: From 'Below the Beltway', an informative tribute by Doug Mataconis about rof. Liviu Librescu

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Sea Change

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809)

Porcupine had always intended to mark Patriot's Day, a holiday unique to Massachusetts and Maine. Originally, Porcupine had planned a post about how the patriotic can also be misguided; perhaps a comparison of Nancy Pelosi visiting Syria with Neville Chamberlain visiting Germany, each genuinely patriotic, each desperate for Peace in Our Time, and each entirely misguided.

But Porupine's post was swept away in the Great Patriot's Day Storm, which caused him to notice another sort of patriot entirely.

Porcupine had left for Maine on Friday for the Patriot's Day Weekend, and was able to get through the snow to spend Friday and Saturday nights at his hut in Jefferson. However, by Sunday, reports of the coming storm were growing increasingly grim, and Porcupine was weary of spitting wood for the fire, and had discovered a frozen bear paw print near his domicile. All things considered, it seemed wise to spend Sunday night in Rockland, and indeed, it was a lucky choice, as the raging winds and rain were fierce. More than once during the night, Porcupine was awakened by mysterious thuds on the outer wall, and eventually drew aside the curtain to investigate. It was seagulls, caught by the wind and pelted against the building, coming down with a thud on the small wooden balcony, and sitting there dazed for a moment before heading back to their roost.

This morning, Patriot’s Day, Porcupine began the long drive down the coast. Caution seemed the order of the day, as Porcupine had never attempted to drive some 600 miles in a hurricane before. Keeping to Route 1 at first, Porcupine saw everywhere the hard work and discipline of the fire and police as they helped cope with the storm. In Waldoboro, he saw a policeman calmly standing in the highway, winding up the electric cable from a set of traffic lights about to break their slender tether and come down. The Minehata Fire Dept. came rushing out to cope with a downed power line. Even on I-95, where the oceans and rivers had flooded the interstate in Biddeford, the police kept the traffic moving, albeit carefully. Even as fifty M.P.H. gusts caused vehicles to sway and swerve on the rain-pelted highways, these public servants were out in force, serving and protecting.

Yes, these are indeed no Sunshine Patriots, but the best sort of patriot - doing their freely chosen duty and protecting their community and country. When disaster happens, there will be there, and let us all thank them for their hard work and support.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Second Blogoversary!

When you are writing before there is an audience anything written is as important as any other thing and you cherish anything and everything that you have written.
Gertrude Stein (1874–1946)

One year year ago, Porcupine celebrated his First Blogoversary with this post - HERE . While renewing his thanks to Walter Brooks, and once again recommending his blog friends, Porcupine realizes that many newer readers - especially on Blue Mass Group - perhaps have not seen his earlier posts. So, these are the ones of which Porcupine is particularly proud.

Town Meeting Time celebrates that most essential of New England institutions, and is especially appropriate for this time of year.

A Pamet Divorce is about the possible future ramifications of wastewater and taxes on the radically different Upper and Outer Cape, and a possible solution.

Where You Eat, As The Saying Goes offers a solution to red tide, the potable water crisis and MWRA exploitation of Cape Cod.

While many posts center upon Cape Cod, Porcupine also ventures further afield, as in this post about Nation Building. This post, dealing with Ewing's Sarcoma and medical research remains as the top post written, still receiving hits after almost two years.

And, as we head into Election Season, Porcupine meditates upon the nature of a successful President.

And last - Cheers to the bloggers of BlueMass Group, of Red Mass Group, of the Wide Awakes, and every other soul who bravely offers Unpoliced Conversation!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monday, Monday.....

Porcupine was happy to sip his morning coffee and open his local paper this Easter Monday. He had attended services the day before, and two of the three hymns he regards as an essential part of an Easter celebration had been used by the Minister. 'He Lives!', a nice peppy tune was missing (...Awake, Awake, Ye Christian, Lift Up your Voice and Sing!..), but 'Up From the Grave He Arose' was the Prelude (even if we didn't get to sing it), and the essential 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today!' by Charles Wesley was sung with great spirit. As a bonus, the congregation got to mangle the 'Hallelujah Chorus' after the sermon, and a young member with a trumpet enhanced the efforts of the organist and pianist. Young children were there in their Easter attire, along with their twenty-something parents, and were clean and well dressed. One young lady even sported a hat.

However, as Porcupine snapped the paper open in the morning sun, he was startled to read that he was not only wasting his Sabbath morning, he was also contributing to the demise of Western civilization. In a column by Gwynne Dyer (formerly of the UK's Guardian, and now a free-lance moonbat) he read - "Now, to be fair, only one of the eighteen countries examined (Japan) was not Christian or "post-Christian," so maybe this just shows that high levels of Christian belief correlate with a variety of social ills." And this - "I never thought that religion really made people behave any better, but apart from the occasional pogrom or religious war it hadn't occurred to me that it would actually make them behave worse. But there may be a clue in the fact that the more religious a country is, the smaller the resources that it puts into social spending, perhaps on the assumption that God will provide." A link to the entire article is HERE. The residue is equally charged with condescenscion and malice towards people of faith, oblivious to the works of charity and compassion that churches perform every day.

Porcupine had intended to comment upon the poor taste of the Cape Cod Times in making such offensive assertions on an Easter Monday, and during Passover, and had assumed that this was Mr. Dyer's regular column. But with other syndicated material they choose to publish, they do not post it on their web site, so Porucpine went searching for Mr. Dyer's badly timed column from his web site, only to discover that Porcupine was doing Mr. Dyer an injustice. He had written the column on March 19; it was the Cape Cod Times that had deliberately delayed publication for three weeks to the Holy Season. Imagine that.

It seems that along with white males and smokers, the religious can now be insulted with impunity, even in an organ as delicate in its political correctness as the Cape Cod Times. Perhaps they will feel badly about insulting Jews during Passover, but Porcupine is bound to admit that the bulk of the column is directed against Christianity in the guise of a study about religion.

Still, it is Easter Monday. So, forgive your enemies. And never forget their names.

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