Sturbridge Selectman Election Debate

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Providing Information, SteveG's Posts

On April 4, 2014, I attended the debate between two candidates for the one year term for the  Sturbridge Town Board of Selectmen.  There is one issue that I found indicative of an aspect of the debate that I will cover in this post.

The issue was about the wisdom of going ahead with the Sturbridge Commercial Tourist District Improvement Plan. There was a presentation of the plan at  Community Meeting Three on December 4, 2013.

At the debate there was doubt expressed about the feasibility of upgrading one section of the downtown to fit two 8 foot sidewalks, two bike lanes, two automobile lanes, and a median. I went back to the Meeting Three document linked above to get a better understanding.

I found that the section with 8 foot sidewalks did not include a median. This is a drawing of how the street would be laid out.

Planned Street Layout

The issue was how all this was going to be crammed into the space that was there. Obviously there was going to be a lot of land taken from the existing businesses.

Well, let’s look at how obvious this is. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise by displaying the answers until you had a chance to think about the question. Clicking on the items below, will end the suspense, and show you what I was able to find.

If you open up the picture of the street as it is, do you think there is an obvious problem?

View of Existing Street

Google Street ViewExisting street Layout

Well, it looks like it might fit in what is already there.

Rather than going to the location and trying to pace off the distance from the outer edge of one sidewalk to the outer edge of the other sidewalk, I tried to find some kind of diagram where I could make an approximate measurement.

Existing Plot Plan with approximate street width measurement

GIS Street Measurement

I used the measurement tool of the application that gave me the plot plan for this section of Sturbridge. You will see a line drawn across Main Street between Hinman Street and Arnold Rd. It says 49.97 feet. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I vaguely recall that at the meeting’s Q & A session, it was explained that the plan was laid out on the existing street dimensions. So my measurements seem to me to be plausible.

I found this issue to be indicative of the attitudes of some in the audience and one of the candidates. The assumption is that if the current people involved in government would only study these issues, they would make better judgments. In the cases where I knew anything about it, it turns out that the people currently active in local government had already studied the issues in great detail. The results of the studies have been presented to all the citizens who could spare the time to attend the meetings that were held for them. As I have shown here, the material is available on-line (perhaps the town could do a better job of making it easier to find. I found it because I had a pretty good idea what I was looking for, but it did take some effort to find it.)

There will always be people who assume the information is hidden even though they have not made any effort to find the information. (I know first hand, because I do that myself sometimes.) The people who make the information available get frustrated with how much effort they put out to make the information available and yet people still complain.

I have tried to act as the go-between. I present the information that people think is unavailable by putting it on my blog as many times as I can. I tell the people who try to get the information out, that they should put their feelings aside when people still don’t know about their efforts. The information providers should use every opportunity to tell people the things that the providers think they have gone out of their way to provide.

There is no better time to tell something to someone than when they want to hear it.

There are hurt feelings on both sides, but it would be good if at least one side could ignore all this and keep trying – no matter how demeaning it appears to be from their own point of view. (These feelings on both sides are not limited to Sturbridge. I find instances of it in many places. I experienced it in my professional career. Does RTFM ring a bell? As a provider of many an FM, I knew that RTFM was a completely silly attitude.)

April 7, 2014

I asked for some input on this post, and I got some good feedback.

The link to the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Plan is on the Town Of Sturbridge home page in the current issues section.

Link On Town Home Page

My problem is that I had forgotten the name of the project. Since I use searches to find things, it took me a while to figure out the proper phrase to search for.

On the Sturbridge Commercial Tourism District web site they have an overlay map that shows the concept plan within the limits of what is existing.

Overlay map

I was not clear on what I inartfully described as hurt feelings on the part of the proponents of the plan. I commented to one proponent at the meeting that we had missed an opportunity to tell people at the debate that there was a plan that they could look at to see if the criticisms heard at the debate were merited or not. This was not meant to be an attack on the people who favored the proposal, but only a suggestion that despite what the opposition does we should just treat every public occasion where the topic comes up as an opportunity to make sure people know that there is a well documented answer to all the questions. The feedback I got on this blog post is that I should be positive about the plan and not say negative things about the proponents of the plan. I try my best, but sometimes my best is not good enough.

The people who are against the revitalization plan (and I don’t know how many there are) may have their reasons which I probably don’t fully understand. All that I ask is that people look at the plan itself, and factor this information into your decision. Don’t just assume that people who are proposing we take action to solve a problem have not thought through their proposal with great care and effort. You can be skeptical, but please don’t be dismissive.

What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Counterproductive Behavior

Consortium News has the story What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.  Robert Parry lays out a picture of what is going on that even the most devious amateur politician may not have thought of.

Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.

Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.

If you are not a professional politician, you might have trouble conceiving of how devious politics can be. My recent experience in local politics has shown me what a rank amateur I am.  I am pretty sure I have been had, but I can’t figure out by whom.  It is probably because of Greenberg’s Law of Counterproductive Behavior which states -

If you see a behavior that seems to you to be counterproduct…you have misunderstood what the actor was trying to produce.

In the case of the Robert Parry article, I think he is trying to straighten out my misunderstanding about what various players are trying to produce.  I suspected some of the players he mentioned, but I was surprised by some others that he mentioned.

Are Democrats who Propose Cuts to Social Security “Stupid” or Just Doing Risk-Analysis?

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Counterproductive Behavior, SteveG's Posts

Naked Capitalism has the story Gaius Publius: Are Democrats who Propose Cuts to Social Security “Stupid” or Just Doing Risk-Analysis? It’s not a pretty story.

I’ll give you the finish to whet your appetite for reading the article.

Naturally there’s a risk with this strategy. Consider the 2012 presidential election. That 4% popular vote differential was not much of a margin, and if Romney hadn’t become “Mr. 47%” in most people’s eyes, it’s conceivable he could have pulled closer. But there’s just no way the Rubins and the hedgies and all their minions are going to allow an anti-billionaire “Warren populist” into the general election. They have to stick with a free-market type.

So the very best they can hope for is a newbie who can lie, pretend to be something he’s not, a man or woman without a track record. (Remind you of someone? Obama in 2008, Kid “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”?) That brings out the Hopeful and swells the numbers. Otherwise they just have to go with what’s available and roll the dice. By 2012 no one was Hoping, certainly not in great numbers, not after four years of Grand Bargains and promises betrayed (do click; it’s a stunning list). Many were just voting not-Romney, those who voted at all.

So yes, there’s some risk to this neoliberal calculation and strategy. In 2012 they took the risk and it paid off, in a 4% popular vote victory. Could the strategy still lose occasionally? Yes, but again, given the demographics and with appropriate pushback in the states, it’s increasingly less likely.

And even if it does produce a loss, consider the alternative from the Rubin side of things. What do you do? (1) Put a real FDR in the White House and let him challenge the whole billionaire system, or (2) risk having to count your money in electoral exile for a just few years, then try again?

I don’t see the Rubins of the world ever making the first choice. And I do think they’ve really thought this through. To return to where we started, very few of these men and women are stupid.

Side thought — Keep the above in mind when scoping out the 2016 race. We have a neoliberal front-runner with a track record and an unwillingness to speak on most issues. Where’s the turnout going to come from?

I should add that it is always dangerous to attribute motives to people when you have not asked them for an explanation of their motives.  However, if you want to figure out if their behavior is counterproductive or not, you do have to try to figure out what they intend to produce.

Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Reverence


53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.
56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

I must admit I haven’t read all 288 pages yet, but having the link here will make it easier to read more of what the Pope has to say.  I am sure that there will be many misinterpretations of his words that will be published in the faux news media in the future.  To check if they are true to his intentions or not, you can always come back here to read the words yourself.

Perhaps this exhortation has given President Obama courage to say what is reported in my previous post Obama Gets Real.

I have classified this post under Greenberg’s Law of Reverence so that you know why I think this exhortation is important. Hover over the previous link to see the law.

Paul Krugman | Alan Greenspan, Doing His Best to Make Things Worse

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Reverence

Truthout has republished The New York Times article Paul Krugman | Alan Greenspan, Doing His Best to Make Things Worse.

But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them, there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot – and there are no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.

Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background. One of the great things about the Internet is that it has made it possible for a number of people meeting that second condition to gain an audience. I don’t care whether they’re Ph.D.’s, professors, or just guys running blogs – it’s the work that matters.

I have already coined Greenberg’s Law Of Reverence to cover this situation.  Also, when I publish statements from people like Paul Krugman, I usually try to avoid mentioning the awards that they have won, unless to disparage the award.  Readers like RichardH will know what award in particular that I am not mentioning.

Fruits of Republican Folly

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Counterproductive Behavior, SteveG's Posts

The American Prospect has the article Fruits of Republican Folly by Robert Kuttner.

Since Barack Obama took office, the two Republican factions have complemented each other in a successful “good cop, bad cop” effort to ratchet down public spending. Wall Street creates one sort of crisis; the Tea Party creates another; government takes the hit. Except for the short-lived stimulus of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, this is the first prolonged slump of the postwar era in which government cut rather than expanded public spending.
With everything else having been cut, the pressure has shifted to the big social-insurance programs—so-called entitlements—that have thus far been protected. Once again, the corporate right and Tea Party right have called for a grand bargain targeting Social Security and Medicare.

Can anyone please explain why President Obama is so hell bent on cutting the throats of the Democratic Party and its elected Congress People?

Can he  really be so ignorant of what every postwar President of either party has known about how to deal with a slump?

To brag on his “accomplishment” as shown in my previous post What So Proudly We Hail, shows that he is either completely ignorant, smoking something that is not Federally permitted, being held hostage, or some other explanation.

Notice that I have placed this post in the category of Greenberg’s Law of Counterproductive Behavior.  Which translates to, please explain to me what Barack Obama is trying to accomplish.  I am pretty sure, I no longer know.

Mindless Budget Reporting: Fooling Some of the People All of the Time

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media

The PBS story,  Mindless Budget Reporting: Fooling Some of the People All of the Time by Dean Baker talks about an example of Greenberg’s Law of The Media. Baker is castigating a report in The New York Times.

“A plan by House leaders to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program — twice the amount of cuts proposed in a House bill that failed in June — threatens to derail efforts by the House and Senate to work together to complete a farm bill before agriculture programs expire on Sept. 30.”

The problem with this description of the Republican plan is that the proposed cut of $40 billion is supposed to be over a 10-year budget window, not a single year. (The Republicans want to cut the food stamp budget by 5 percent, not 50 percent.) This information is not reported anywhere in the article. As a result, even a very intelligent and extremely knowledgeable person like Krugman could read through the piece and be off by a factor of 10 in his understanding of the size of the proposed cuts.

One of the ways Greenberg’s Law is demonstrated is to give us a number out of context. You are obviously supposed to infer that the number illustrates some point that the reporter is implying, but you are never given the context to judge whether the desired inference is correct.  It is unlikely that the reporter knows whether the desired inference is correct.

Baker is correct that all you know is that it is a large number.  If you don’t know whether it is over 1 year or 10, or what fraction it is of the budget, or how this government spending compares to the spending of the corporate sector under similar circumstances, then you have no idea if the number is too large, too small, or just about right.  However, your thinking about the matter has been prejudiced by the report.  Because of this, you might come away from reading or hearing the story with less knowledge than you started with.

Sort of like all of Faux Noise, the more you watch, the less you know.

Charter schools in Boston score higher on key tests

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media, SteveG's Posts

The Boston Globe has the article Charter schools in Boston score higher on key tests.  If you are not a Globe subscriber, the only text you get to see is:

Boston charter schools outperform other public schools on three popular barometers of achievement — the MCAS, the SAT, and the Advanced Placement exams — but tend to have lower four-year graduation rates, according to a study being released Wednesday.

If you read the newspaper or have full access to the site, you will see the following about half way through the article:

In Boston, there are 25 charter schools.

The study examined 3,400 students who sought admission to one of the six charter high schools in Boston between fall 2002 and 2008. (The study excluded two charter high schools that closed during that period because of low performance.)

I commented on the article which reported on a study done at MIT.

If there had been more room, the headline might have said “Charter schools score higher on key tests except for the ones that don’t”  It is convenient how two schools that would have lowered the averages for the Charter schools were taken out of the study.  Perhaps the people conducting the study and doing the statistical analysis could have excluded a similar proportion of low performing public schools from the study.

With MIT accepting huge amounts of funds to build buildings named after the infamous Koch brothers and then this story, perhaps it is  true that MIT is selling its soul to the devil in order to raise funds.  Now when MIT calls me for an alumnus donation, I just tell them to put it on the Koch brothers’ tab.

State Fails To Measure Effect Of Voter ID Law

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media

The Boston Globe story State reports few problems with voter ID law is a good example of Greenberg’s Law of the Media.

The overwhelming majority of voters who cast ballots this year in Rhode Island had no problems complying with a new voter identification law. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis’s office reported Friday that of 560,000 ballots cast in this year’s elections fewer than 190 provisional ballots were submitted because the voter failed to present a driver’s license, bus pass, or other form of ID. Lawmakers passed the law last year to prevent voter fraud.

This proves that 190 people who had no ID still attempted to vote despite the law.  It does not tell you how many people decided not to vote because they did not have the required ID.  If these people without ID who did not vote were otherwise legally eligible to vote, then I would say that these were problems.  We have no idea of how many such people there were.  So while the story appears to be true that the state reported few problems, that does not mean that there were only a few problems.  In fact there is no report of the state trying to measure how many problems there were.  It is very likely that you will not find what you do not seek.

I predict that the “information” published in this article will be used as a means to justify the continuation of the voter ID law. Perhaps a better headline would be the one I used for this article.

More Wisdom from the Guy Who Brought You “Rape Can’t Get You Pregnant”

Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media

The New Republic has the article More Wisdom from the Guy Who Brought You “Rape Can’t Get You Pregnant”.

It’s fine for magazines to debunk the pseudo-science of people in the news, but they shouldn’t use pseudo-science in one of their arguments.

In the section  titled “Legalizing abortion didn’t make abortion safer” they quoted Dr. Willke  as saying:

“If, in fact, the elimination of illegal abortion eliminated back alleys, there should have been a perceptible drop in the number of women dying. That didn’t happen. The line didn’t even blip from 1967 to 1973 and 1974. … It just kept going down at the same slow rate. There was no evidence of a decline in mortality from legalization.”

Then to disprove what he said the article posits:

In any event, evidence that his claim was totally bunk was readily available by 1989. In March of 1987, the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a study which read, in part, “Between 1972 and 1982 … [t]he overall death rate resulting from legal abortion dropped nearly fivefold, from 4.1 per 100,000 abortions in 1972 to 0.8 in 1982.”

In one case, Dr. Willke talks about the number of women dying.  In the other case they quote the death rate per 100,000 abortions.  Now if the death rate went down, but the number of abortions went up, then it is quite possible that the total number of deaths of women did not go down.

I am not saying that this is true.  I am just saying that people should not use arguments that are so easily ripped apart.  The New Republic is trying to show that Dr. Willke doesn’t know science, but they don’t show a great grasp of science themselves, or at least not statistics, math, or even numbers.

Chalk up another example of Greenberg’s Law of the Media – “If a news item has a number in it, then it is probably misleading.

You might find the rest of the article more enlightening.  Too bad they had to spoil it with this blunder.