Saturday, October 27, 2007

Your Referendumb Guide, Part 2

Back in June I delivered important insights and a compelling new perspective on those controversial spring referendum questions… whatever they were.

This Tuesday’s referendum vote will be just as memorable, I suspect, so brace yourselves as I show these tough issues who’s boss.

Question 1: Would you like Canadians to visit Calais and deposit large sums of money into the local economy, with the possible drawback of shady gangster-types suddenly roaming the woods of Washington County looking for new places to dump bodies?

I sense most Mainers are willing to go along with the Passamaquoddy racino plan, provided the corpses involved are not likely to be their own.

No, no. I’m only kidding. There is no reason to suspect the presence of a gambling operation will result in lots and lots of organized crime.

The bigger problem will be all those extra Canadian coins suddenly circulating with the rest of our money.

You know how frustrating it is to try to buy a little baggie of Andy Capp Hot Fries, only to realize one of the quarters you were depending on won’t work because it has a picture of some wild, furry beast on one side of it, and a moose on the other? Imagine that happening to you, like, two-hundred times as often as it does now.

And while I don’t mind the idea of Canadians losing all their life savings and all their possessions in Calais, forcing them to migrate back across the border naked and starving, this will mean fewer of them making it as far as Bangor or points south to spend their vacation dollars.

Hold on a sec… fewer Canadian tourists driving around the rest of Maine? Never mind. Vote yes. Please.

Questions 2-4: These involve borrowing money for colleges to build swanky new buildings, and for setting aside land for preservation and recreation and all that good stuff.

Super. And with all that money coming in from the 410 casinos soon to be spreading around the state like a poison ivy rash, we should be able to afford the payments without a problem.

Question 5: Do you favor increasing legislative term limits in order to reduce the number of mental hospital escapees who end up holding public office?

I’m all in favor of term limits, but not for the citizen legislators who basically volunteer their time to travel to August and are directly accountable to voters.

Since the enactment of legislative term limits in 1993, the executive branch of our state government has thrown its weight around a lot more, pushing through inane, short-sighted regulations while inexperienced legislators are still trying to figure out where the state house bathrooms are.

The result? School consolidation, skewed budget priorities, and just one measly national championship for the UMaine hockey team.

I would rather see term limits for out-of-touch bureaucrats:

- Commissioner of Agriculture: One year term.

- Secretary of State: Two years.

- Anyone who works for the Maine Turnpike Authority: One month.

- D.O.T. Commissioner: One term equal to the amount of time the average driver in Piscataquis County spends between potholes.

- Commissioner of Education: Fifteen minutes and change.

So be sure to cast five “yes” votes on Nov. 6. Then run screaming from the booth and set up camp in the woods somewhere until everything gets back to normal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Okay, You Two... Out of the Car

I’m probably not the first person to make this point; even so, it bears repeating, with all the recent media hooplah surrounding the situation at that middle school in Portland.

Abstinence-only education works.

Why? Because the only 100% effective way to prevent yourself from getting injured in an auto accident is to avoid cars altogether.

That, my friends, is an indisputable fact.

For far too long the political elite have ignored the public health costs and the lives ruined by automobile accidents.

They claim seat belts and air bags reduce the risk of injury or death dramatically, but in my eyes, these devices only dupe people into thinking driving can be “safe,” thus encouraging them to ride around in cars.

Driver education? The last thing we should do is provide more people with information about cars, traffic laws, and “safe” driving.

As anyone who has worked with young people knows, the best way to make them subversively curious and willing to experiment with something is to drown them with information about it ahead of time.

So I’ll be lobbying our legislature to outlaw seat belts and driver education programs, and to increase funding in school districts that pledge to only use anti-vehicle curricula.

I can hear you liberal namby-pambies huffing and puffing about how there are so many cars hanging around (“the equipment is readily available,” as they say) that people will try to use them, whether you teach “safe” practices or not.

This same misguided argument comes up when hippie beatnik losers want to give our kids contraceptives and educate them about sex. They point to recent studies described in The Economist (Sept. 22) and in USA Today (July 30) proving abstinence-only sex education programs were useless in preventing teen pregnancy.

Meanwhile, other studies have repeatedly shown that condoms are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy when used properly.

Bah... Who cares?

Okay, you forced it out of me. I'll admit it: this is not about getting measurable results.

The point is not to reduce teen pregnancy or car accidents. The point is to promote a certain ideology. (Promoting ideology is what the government does best, by the way.)

Having sex before marriage is ethically wrong. Therefore, regardless of the public health benefits or drawbacks, we must send the message to kids that abstinence is the only way to go.

Obviously, the best way to be sure people will make informed, responsible decisions is to brainwash them into thinking they have only one option.

Driving is also morally wrong. Period. It is morally wrong because... well… because I said so.

That is why I did not personally go to Portland to investigate this story about the school board voting to make expanded contraceptive options available to middle-schoolers.

Instead, I had to rely on media reports, the sensationalism in which seemed to envision grinning principals heaving fistfuls of condoms into crowds of lust-crazed, screaming kids, who then began to fornicate uncontrollably on the spot.

What is our world coming to? How can thoughtful, informed citizens allow this disgrace to continue?

Anyway, tune in next week, when I discuss the need to outlaw other harmful initiatives that give people a false sense of security, like football helmets, life jackets, and the use of ropes during rock-climbing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Acceptance Speech, If I Had Been Asked to Give One

Okay, so I won this award. I don’t want to dwell on it, or blow it up into some big deal. But I can’t help imagining… what if they had asked me to give a speech…

* * *

Thank you, thank you.

Really, you’re too kind.

Okay, enough already.

It is an honor to stand in a room full of established professional journalists and accept this Maine Press Association award for opinion writing. There is really only one thing I can say, and that is:

Nyah, nyah, nyah.

That’s right, I thumb my nose at you! I wish you nothing but foul luck and agonizing health problems.

May a newly-mutated species of bacteria turn your intestines into its own amusement park!

If thousands of crazed muskrats charged into this room immediately and clawed your eyeballs into unrecognizable lumps of bloody pulp, it would not be soon enough!

Oops… wait. That part got mixed in from some other remarks I’m working on for my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Sorry about that.

I admit I haven’t technically won the Nobel Peace Prize just yet, but I figure it won’t take long.

Now that I’ve received this award for opinion writing, international recognition for my efforts toward global disarmament and political harmony must be right around the corner.

In the meantime, there’s no reason I can’t use my Maine Press Association award as a platform to start promoting awareness of an important cause of some kind.

What cause should I choose? Climate change is taken. How about domestic violence, since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month?

Suits me. Listen, we should all become more aware of domestic violence, because… oh, hang on. It turns out October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I just made the mistake of doing an Internet search on the month of October, and I found a government website that lists all the health-related observances for this month.

We’re also in the middle of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Lupus Awareness Month, Healthy Lung Month, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month, Massage Therapy Awareness Month, and (just my luck) Eye Injury Prevention Month.

And that’s just the health-related ones. Never mind Cyber Security Awareness Month, Jazz Awareness Month, and Pants That Are Too Small For You But You Wear Them Anyway Awareness Month.

Whew! Anyway, now that the world is listening to me, take a moment to become aware of all these great causes.

Personally, I plan to divide up my prize money between all of them (there is no prize money, but again, please indulge my imagination).

Of course, there is one cause in particular that you and I should care about most, one that you should probably contact your legislators about immediately:

National Humor Columnist Awareness Month.

This critically important observance seeks to ensure that all underpaid, fly-by-night humor columnists out there get the recognition they deserve, in the form of becoming syndicated in thousands upon thousands of newspapers around the world.

So all you editors and publishers out there take a moment to become aware of the critical need to support individual creativity and the entertainment viability of newspapers by sending people like me hundreds of dollars a week.

Trust me. This is something you want and need to do. Do not make me bring in the muskrats.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thank You Captain Obvious, King of the Already Known

Every day I visit the website of the Bangor Daily News, where I am constantly treated to insightful, thoroughly-researched news reporting, introduced with heart-stopping headlines like this one:

“Leaf Peeper Alert: There's Color in Those Hills” (Oct. 4).

The lead paragraph sucked me even deeper into this fascinating story: “The Latest Report from Maine's Department of Conservation says the best fall colors are in the Western lakes and mountain region.”

This practical tip saved me a lot of time, because I had been expecting to find breathtaking foliage under the passenger seat of my car during its annual pre-winter cleaning. Thank you, Department of Conservation, for issuing this critically-important report at taxpayer expense!

The practice of covering obvious events has overtaken journalism, even in big-time national news organizations:

“Government Accountability Office Finds $146 Million in Excess Travel Costs” (Boston Globe/Associated Press, Oct. 3).

Okay, this headline actually represents an impressive piece of investigative reporting. The AP had to go through the painstaking process of reading a government-issued report about government waste.

(You know investigative journalism has climbed into the proverbial hand-basket when the government is now doing it for us.)

They went to all that effort to let us know that rich guys in suits like to travel First Class at taxpayer expense, even when they're not supposed to.

Duh. I had already assumed 15% of my tax bill was going to unauthorized senatorial foot massages and the like.

I wouldn't want my selfless public servants to slave away without obnoxiously lavish perks. What do they think I pay taxes for? So impoverished children can get medical care? Pffft.

Sure, I’ll admit, it is compelling to think that extra $146 million could have bought thousands of uninsured Americans a year's worth of health insurance, or, even more importantly, bought us... (let's see, where's my calculator)... approximately five more hours in Iraq.

But we can't forget that without those illegal perks, many politicians would not have the mental or physical strength to continue their arduous public service. And without those politicians, we wouldn't have an Iraq War, so...

What was my point?

Oh, yeah. Journalists are doing a bang-up job of keeping the public on alert about important issues. If you're still not convinced, here's another example:

“Oil Price Volatility is Here to Stay” (CNN Money/PR Newswire, Oct. 5).

Gee, I thought we were right on the doorstep of solving that problem. What a letdown.

This article makes it clear up front that unpredictable oil prices create problems “not only for the global economy but also for several industrial sectors that are heavily reliant on crude and refined [petroleum] products,” such as airlines and freight transport companies.

No ship, Sherlock.

Look, maybe this has something to do with corporate ownership slashing newsroom budgets, expecting to pay less and get more.

For example, it doesn't take very much to run a story about how it snowed nine inches today. Just mention how some cars slid into ditches and road crews have put in long hours, then show pictures of kids building snowmen or sliding on their day off from school, and voila! You've got the same story that appears in every newspaper or newscast in Maine roughly six times a year.

No wonder more and more people adopt hypnotic zombie stares anytime someone mentions the word “news” or “journalism.”

Do you suppose this has any effect on our participatory democracy?

Ah, never mind. Just look at the pretty leaves.