September 28, 2008
Taxes and Evils
Although it has gotten VERY little publicity, Massachusetts has an initiative on the November ballot to repeal the state income tax. Yes - repeal the state income tax. Many peoples' gut reaction is bound to be -- wow, wouldn't that be great? More money in my pocket and less to evil government. An article in this morning's New York Times said that passage of this initiative would eliminate 45% of the state budget. It also said that some people are planning to vote "yes" just to express their dissatisfaction with government in general.
However, this kind of reasoning suggests to me that we need a major reframing of the meaning of taxes in this country. We need to help people understand what their taxes buy. Did you drive to work on a road? Did you, by any chance, cross over a bridge? Did you receive a payment from Social Security? the VA? Medicare? Did you (or your child, or your grandchild) attend a public school? Did the fire department come when your house was burning down?
Of course, there is waste in government -- and there may be government expenditures we object to (like that $12B/month item on the other side of the world) -- but we don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Now, of course, I may be a little sensitive to this issue since I am employed by a major state university, which gets some of its money from ... you guessed it, taxes. (State universities are now wont to call themselves "state-assisted" rather than "state-supported" for good reason - but that's a topic for another post.)
Where is our sense of the common good? Well - I guess that's the whole tension in the U.S. now between the lean-government-let-the-market-reign-conservatives and the government-as-provider-of-common-goods-liberals. it fascinates me that the country is split right down the middle over this meta-issue. My European friends just shake their heads. But of course, their governments aren't perfect either. We seem to move ahead by lurching from right to left and back again. Is that progress? At the moment, it doesn't seem that way to me.
For me, when I flinch at the bottom line on that tax return, I will try to remember that I have just bought a share of that road, that bridge, that VA payment, and yes, that major state university. And I will surely be voting in that November election and urging others to do so too.
September 21, 2008
Todo, We're not in Amherst any more.
That was my first reaction when I stepped off the train at Penn Station. I'm here for a conference for a few days and have been looking forward to it. I have not been in NYC for probably 20 years or more.
I decided to walk from Penn Station to the hotel on 49th St -- about 1.5 miles. It has been a warmish, pleasant late summer afternoon, so it wasn't a bad hike, despite dragging suitcase and computer bag behind me. (The key is traveling LIGHT -- even lighter than you think is possible.)
The hotel was not allowing guests into their rooms until 3:00, and I got here around 12:30, so I left my bags and proceeded to explore. What a great day for it! 8th Avenue was closed from 42nd to 57th St. for an open air market and fair. All kinds of foods, music, trinkets, touristy things -- but a LOT of people out just having a good time. Very festive, and unexpected. On my walk, I stumbled into Schubert Alley, where the Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS flea market was underway. There were tables and tables of theater memorabilia -- old (very) Playbills, posters, autographed photos, records (as in vinyl), trinkets, and other souvenirs. I rested a few minutes and watched an auction going on -- all kinds of memorabilia. Some things went in excess of $1000. All for a good cause. Again, a very festive atmosphere with lots of good will.
For me, the most enjoyable aspects of traveling are the serendipitous happenings that you couldn't have planned in a million years. (See some of my older posts in the Travel category.) Two come to mind immediately: running into a live broadcast of Porgy and Bess on the Washington Mall while on the way to experience Carmina Burana ... and hearing a choir rehearse behind a closed door at Kings College Cambridge. Not being able to see the choirsters just reinforced the other-worldliness of it all.
BTW - this is my 250th post to this blog. I don't expect balloons or noisemakers, but it's probably worth marking the event in some understated way.
September 18, 2008
This kind of mouse??
No, this kind of mouse....
I have never lived in a house with mice, but there's a first time for everything. Technically, the mice are in the garage, not in the house, but one got into the kitchen last night. Would you believe these sweet things are good mousers?
Last night, Chloe saw a mouse run under the refrigerator. She worked really hard to get it with her paw or her mouth ... no luck. When I went to bed, she stayed on the watch. This morning when I went down for breakfast, she was STILL THERE waiting for that mouse!
She apparently waited until mid-day, when the mouse finally appeared ... and she GOT IT! Three cheers for Chloe.
She and Dylan are enjoying time outside, individually and together. Tonight they were rolling around on the driveway under the car. That's one way the tribes are keeping the peace a bit -- the NM cats spend some time outside, and the MN cats are indoor beasts. I thought things were calming down a bit until last night. Chloe was curled up on my desk. When Sadie spotted her, her tail exploded to 5 times its normal size and the hissing began. She chased Chloe all over my study until I finally separated them. She kept trying to egg Chloe on, but she wouldn't take the bait.
The other day, Dylan lost a fight with Sadie. And then he went and beat up on Pookie! Kind of like the boss yells at you at work, and then you come home and kick the dog. So it goes in the animal kingdom.
September 13, 2008
Yesterday was faculty convocation - an opportunity to meet colleagues and to hear the new chancellor. The event began with a faculty procession all the way across the center of campus, with a carillon concert as we marched. Here we were:
led by the banners of each college
The Chancellor's talk was quite good, I thought. Click here to go to the text of the talk.
He was complimentary about many features of the university - especially the faculty, the students, and the staff. But he also enumerated areas where greater strength was needed. In his words, "Thus I come to areas in which I believe we must make progress, sometimes substantial progress, if we are going to assume our place as one of the premier public institutions of higher education in the country."
The list was familiar and made me feel right at home.
**more interdisciplinary work
**clearer communications strategy
**more attention to graduate education
**opportunities for freshmen to take small seminars
**improving the quality and state of repair of existing space
**identifying areas for national centers of excellence.
After some years of inattention from the legislature, it seems that the university is in a better position now than it has been in recent years. New faculty positions, new buildings, and better qualified freshmen are good indicators. And so it begins...
September 8, 2008
Things New and Old
6 THINGS I'M LIKING
**Being able to park the car once in the morning and walk anywhere I need to on campus during the day.
**Having a computer file-sharing service (U-Drive) that permits collaboration with others who do not have university IDs.
**Hearing the marching band rehearse outside my window - go drums!
**New friends and students.
**Having a fairly flexible schedule for the first time in years. (I know it won't last.)
6 THINGS I'M MISSING
**The comings and goings in the mail / coffee room.
**Old friends and students.
**My hot tub.
**A convenient airport.