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An Image of Rhode Island

Isn’t that just so Rhode Island… the minute you finish building something, the blue sign with political promotion appears.

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I guess I have to put up with it out of gratitude that the town and state governments still allow me to build small structures on my own property.

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Budget Season: Opportunity for Articulating a Vision for Rhode Island

Every year, this time of year, the budget for the State of Rhode Island comes out and, accompanied with surrounding legislation (much of it premised, one can infer, on quid pro quo for budget votes) shows the vision of the insiders who run our state.  Every year, life in Rhode Island becomes more restrictive, business becomes harder, government budgets go up.

Earlier in this legislative season, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity put out a pair of “Hey, Dude!” radio ads illustrating the point from the perspective of somebody who wants more freebies and somebody who sees the opportunities inherent in a society out from under government’s thumb.

For a little fun, here’s a pair that I’ve put together.

Open post for audio.

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Responding to Matthew Arnold, Tide Still Going Out

[As mentioned (and read) in my latest Last Impressions podcast, Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” had such an effect on my that I couldn’t stop myself from writing the following response.]

 

What if the tide is going out? So what?
It ebbs and flows and comes and goes and shows
then only girdle, but soon only gut.

And that soft skin the tide of cloth exposed,
should I see it as vulgar truth displayed
or as my loved one bare, from nose to toes?

Matthew, a younger man than I, though staid,
when he wrote of Dover’s retiring din,
mistook mere hours’ light for life useless — grayed.

Young sir, my elder!

There’s beauty going out as coming in.
The tide’s a tiff, each sally to rebut.
The end o’erwhelmes where you or I begin.

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Katz’s Kitchen Sink: #WeKnowBetterRI

As part of its 100-year anniversary self-promotion, the Rhode Island Foundation has been spreading around a video by Nail Communications that is slap-in-the-face offensive.  It begins by putting swear words in the mouths of children reading statements from (quote) actual Rhode Islanders; it tells Rhode Islanders to (quote) stop complaining and if they don’t have anything nice to say, well, be quiet.

Let’s be blunt, here.  Given Rhode Island’s parade of corrupt officials and its stagnant economy, we would be shirking our responsibility as citizens if we didn’t complain.  Now, if Nail Communications were to make another video about the view of Rhode Island’s insiders, it might go something like this.

[Advisory: In keeping with the original Nail Communications/RI Foundation video, the following contains bleeped swears.]

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Rhode Island… Not the Place to Be for Economics or a Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve long found the notion of a zombie apocalypse to be a useful metaphor when discussing the condition of Rhode Island. In 2013, for example, I suggested the following:

The American economy is not being kept alive by unnatural forces (stimulus and quantitative easing); that’s the talking-point dogma of Obama zealots in whose view the president can never fail because it will always be possible to close their eyes and believe that things would have been worse without him.

Rather, it is being held back by those unnatural forces and others (most notably over regulation). Look to Rhode Island for the test case — with a General Assembly that has now concluded its session proud to have made it more difficult to live and do business in their state. In light of Woodhill’s analogy, I’m inclined to see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ map showing New England unemployment as a sort of infection map for the zombie apocalypse.

So, of course I clicked on the link when RIPR’s Ian Donnis tweeted out that Rhode Island has been judged the 49th best (i.e., 2nd worst) state in which to live in order to survive a zombie pandemic.  As usual with such rankings, it takes bad performance by most measures to land at the end of the list.

Rhode Islanders are about average when it comes to being physically active, so we’ve got an OK chance of running away from individual zombies when necessary, and we’re out of the bottom quarter when it comes to leaving our dead uncremated, reducing the ranks of the monsters from among the already dead.  But our state is the second most densely populated by the living and has the fourth lowest gun ownership.  We’re also in the bottom 10 when it comes to the preparation of watching zombie movies.

Perhaps the worst news for Rhode Island, though, isn’t captured by this list.  Judging by our apathetic response to the destruction of our state and the impositions on our lives perpetrated regularly by politicians and bureaucrats, one might reasonably expect Rhode Islanders to be slower to react to the obvious signs of a civilization-ending catastrophe.

On the other hand, the number of former Rhode Islanders proves the willingness and ability of our population to flee to healthier environs.

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Katz’s Kitchen Sink: But Bountiful Parody Song

As the fiscal year comes to a close for the State of Rhode Island and most municipalities in June, it’s ever more clear that civic life in Rhode Island revolves around government budgets.  For insiders, town, city, and state budgets represent their hopes and dreams — often their livelihoods.  For everybody else, though, they can be a time of dread, as the impossibility of real change is affirmed, cherished programs are threatened (if you’re on that side of the ledger), or more money is confiscated from your bank account (if you’re on the other side of the ledger).

Herewith, a parody song to the tune of “But Beautiful,” inaugurating a somewhat regular new video series, “Katz’s Kitchen Sink,” which will feature whatever sort of content I think might be useful to throw at the problems of the Ocean State — songs, short skits, commentary, or whatever.

Download an mp3 file of this song.

But Bountiful

A budget’s taxes, or it’s pay
Handouts are credits or giveaways
We’re investing, or we save
But bountiful

Bountiful, our industry’s bureaucracies we run
It’s a budget you have no choice but to fund

A budget appropriates, or it steals
Votes are traded in backroom deals
Nobody’s sure just what’s real
But bountiful

And I’m thinking if I had chips, I’d cash them in for gold
And take them to a more bountiful abode

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Newest Addition to State’s … Er, News Scene: “The Rhode Island Cooler and Warmer”

Rhode Island has a new … um, newspaper (in the loosest sense of the word): “The Rhode Island Cooler and Warmer”. From the publication’s “About” section on their Facebook page.

The Rhode Island Cooler and Warmer is a satirical news publication. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy.

Not only does the publication exist only on Facebook and Twitter, but some of its articles are not even complete, ending at what appears to be the middle of the article with a seeming traditional newspaper pointer “Cont’d on Page 4″ … but no Page 4 (or whatever) to turn or click to.

This is the only slightly discombobulating aspect of an otherwise well-informed, fun and definitely welcome addition to Rhode Island’s … um, newspaper scene. To give you a flavor of the newspaper, the headline of one of my favorite “articles” (screenshot only, so no way to copy and paste an excerpt here) is “Governor Gina Raimondo Briefly Visits Rhode Island”.

In its second issue, Cooler Warmer “covers” a news item inexplicably missed by WPRI’s indefatigable Providence news hound Dan McGowan.

City of Providence files legal claim as common law wife of former Mayor Vincent Cianci: City seeks millions from Buddy’s estate

and also gets the dirt on the real method utilized by Brown University to conduct a poll.

Check it all out, including their latest issue released just in time for Independence Day, here.

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DeSimone Hurts Providence Budget

Uh-oh. Looks like the structural deficit of the City of Providence is about to get worse:

“I know it’s probably not a good business answer, but I make one [property tax] payment at the end of the year and it works. It’s always worked for me … . Other than that, I really don’t have a good answer,” he said. “It’s not a financial issue. Obviously I am paying more by doing it that way [because of fees and interest].”

But DeSimone said he “got hell from my wife” after The Providence Journal ran a story this week about the latest tax-sale threat, and the story “made me think … I really shouldn’t do it that way especially if you want to be the majority leader.

No word, yet, on why DeSimone thinks Providence Journal political reporter Katherine Gregg “want[s] to be the majority leader” or why she would be hampered by DeSimone’s tax-paying practices in that effort.

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Good Riddance to 2015 (With Trepidation)

For (probably) my last post of the year, I’ll direct your attention to two articles on NRO.  George Will grabs a long list of lowlights from 2015:

We learned that a dismal threshold has been passed. The value of property that police departments seized through civil-asset forfeiture — usually without accusing, let alone convicting, the property owners of a crime — exceeded the value of property stolen by nongovernment burglars. The attorney general of New York, which reaps billions from gambling — casinos, off-track betting, the state lottery — moved to extinguish (competition from) fantasy football because it is gambling. Florida police raided a mahjong game played by four women aged between 87 and 95 because their game’s stakes allegedly exceeded the $10 limit set by state law. A Michigan woman was fingerprinted, had her mug shot taken, and was jailed until released on bond because she was late in renewing the $10 license for her dog. New Jersey police arrested a 72-year-old retired teacher, chained his hands and feet to a bench, and charged him with illegally carrying a firearm — a 300-year-old flintlock pistol (with no powder, flint, or ball) he purchased from an antique dealer.

And on it goes.  Then there’s Stephen Miller’s humorous recollections and foreshadowing for President Barack Obama’s final year in office, written as if it’s a TV show titled SOTU:

The television show SOTU premiered a teaser promo on Twitter Tuesday night, hoping to get viewers who have fallen off over the course of recent seasons excited for the long-overdue final season’s premiere on January 12. The season will conclude with a series finale in January 2017.

Not much is revealed about the plot of the upcoming season, but the promo does feature the smirking president (played by Barack Obama) adjusting his white-tie tuxedo, an upbeat image in stark contrast to how last season ended: the country he presides over suffering another devastating terror attack in California, as well as one in Paris, with our hero rushing away to Hawaii.

In the (deliberately) labored preface of my novel, A Whispering Through the Branches, I questioned the significance of a clock turning the gears from one year to another, even when it turns the number for a millennium.  This year, I suspect we’ll simply graduate from the foolishness of 2015 to a 2016 that will either be so ridiculous it’s painful or so painful it’s ridiculous.

For the country, 2016’s saving grace may be that the major consequences of the Obama presidency won’t be experienced so soon, just as the major consequences of the Clinton presidency weren’t felt until September 2001 and the recession of the late ’00s.  Maybe in our stumbling or our wisdom we’ll choose well in the election, although the odds seem to be against us.

When it comes to Rhode Island, well, not much can be expected.  Our governor still has some momentum for her experiment in choosing the wrong direction, but maybe it will be the year the people and the news media start to catch on.

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Calling All Late-Night-Show Hosts Interested in Lincoln Chafee: Governor Battles Administration “Pocket Calls”

For my money, two-time candidate for governor (once as a Moderate and once as a Republican) Ken Block has spotted the best tidbit in the dump of documents related to the case of Curt Schilling’s failed 38 Studios video game company and its $75 million worth of support from Rhode Island taxpayers.  On Twitter, Block highlighted an anecdote in the deposition of former director of the state’s Economic Development Corporation Keith Stokes.

In the midst of all the 38 Studios stuff, Stokes mentions another “crisis” that gripped the administration of then-Governor Lincoln Chafee, who’s now the rear-runner of the Democrat race for president.  The crisis?  A senior staff member of the Chafee administration was having drinks with then-Treasurer-now-Governor Gina Raimondo and accidentally “pocket called” the governor just as she and Raimondo were badmouthing him.

The punchline:  He listened for twenty minutes, and the matter “occupied” Director Stokes and his agency’s lawyer for “three or four days,” somehow having to do with a “confidentiality agreement.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Rhode Island in an anecdote.

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New Local Taxpayer Newsletter for Tiverton

Over on Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve put up a post announcing that the Tiverton Taxpayers Association Web site now has a PDF of the group’s first newsletter.  It’s got a couple of articles, some activity introductions and updates, and a local crossword puzzle.

The puzzle is on local matters, but the answers are printed upside down underneath, if folks get stuck.

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Friday Fun: “PolitiFact Can”

I was named in Sunday’s Providence Journal, in a PolitiFact article finding a tweet from my organization, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, “Mostly False.”  PolitiFact turned to the research director of the left-wing Economic Progress Institute (formerly the Poverty Institute) for help proving the Tweet something other than “True,” and I’m included by name because I pointed out that the EPI research director’s statement was simply false.  (Yes, the only plainly false statement in the whole thing was from the reporter’s go-to source for contrary evidence.)

How can one respond to such absurdity except with a parody song?  Herewith, Justin Katz and His Out-of-Tune Piano with “PolitiFact Can” (to the tune of “The Candy Man,” by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley,” from the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory).

PolitiFact Can

Who could take a true thing
Sprinkle it with spin
Cover it with context ’till the truth is wearing thin?

PolitiFact.  PolitiFact can.
PolitiFact can because they write it like it’s news
And make the bias sound good.

Who can take a fact check
Put it to a vote
Help out politicians who are rowing the same boat?

PolitiFact.  PolitiFact can.
PolitiFact can because they write it like it’s news
And make the bias sound good.

Those reporters pick ev’ry little trick
From pedantry to omission
You could say it’s just their mission
We all know they’re really always out there fishin’

Who can troll on Twitter
For Sunday’s front-page spread,
Make you think their beat is building talking points instead?

PolitiFact.  PolitiFact can.
PolitiFact can because they write it like it’s news
And make the bias sound good,
And the bias sounds good because the media thinks it should.

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Citizen Block Has a Message for Citizen Cianci


Ken Block, who spoke briefly yesterday at the Rhode Island Taxpayers‘ summer meeting (in the role of past president), has a reminder for former WPRO afternoon talk show host Buddy Cianci (who you may have heard has moved on to other endeavors), about a bet that’s awaiting payoff…

The keynote at yesterday’s meeting was delivered by Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who addressed a range of substantive policy areas. I’ll have a post (or posts) up tomorrow, covering the agenda for Rhode Island that was discussed by the Speaker and by the other small-s speakers who participated in the event.

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St. Augustine, Protoblogger


From St. Augustine’s De Trinitate, written at the beginning of the 5th century, as translated by Edmund Hill…

Accordingly, dear reader, whenever you are as certain about something as I am, go forward with me; whenever you stick equally fast, stick with me; whenever you notice that you have gone wrong, come back to me; or that I have, call me back to you…

What he said.

(There are a few more passages, after the jump).

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$5,000 – or .000022 – Worth of Sunday Morning Grins & Giggles Courtesy PolitiFact RI

On a personal note, I’d like to sincerely thank PolitiFact RI for starting my day with a big smile this morning, though perhaps they would not be altogether pleased at the reason.

In today’s Providence Journal, they’ve rated a statement by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity (hereinafter “the Center”) pertaining to the $224.5 million in wasteful spending identified by the Center in the governor’s proposed 2015 budget. PolitiFact is not questioning that the state gave away the $5,000 example offered by the Center of an expenditure item in the Governor’s Workforce Board from a prior year. PolitiFact is only saying that the Center did not fully explain what the $5,000 in hard earned taxpayer dollars was spent on.

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Summarizing the Start of the 2014 Rhode Island General Assembly Session


As the 2014 legislative session begins, Rhode Islanders once again need remind themselves that self-government only works when the people make it work. We must find within ourselves the greatness and virtue needed to keep liberty alive, and not wait passively wait for those quantities to be delivered to us, because Roger Williams is not walking through that door. Stephen Hopkins is not walking through that door. Thomas is not walking through that Dorr.

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A Christmas Auld Lang Syne


My favorite “pop” Christmas song of all time may be Bobby Darin’s Christmas Auld Lang Syne.

It starts off with the schmaltzy* imagery of “mistletoe and tinsel glow” — but just as such symbolism can and should, uses it to move to something more meaningful…

…first to how the surface stuff reminds us that it’s the time of year to return to family and friends, “back home I go to those I know”…

…and then even further, to what’s at the heart of the celebration, in the season of singing “in sweet accord to thank the Lord”.

Trust me, the actual music is better than my description of it. And as Mr. Darin himself says, Merry Christmas, everybody!


*Ian Donnis‘ word of the week.

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Wouldn’t we all like to pick our titles?

Via law professor and uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds comes this gem, which is the legal response that a Tennessee defense attorney filed when the prosecutors for the State of Tennessee filed a motion seeking to bar him or his client from referring to them as “the government.” After arguing that the government’s request should not be approved on the basis of the law, the aptly named attorney, Drew Justice, writes:

Should this Court disagree, and feel inclined to let the parties basically pick their own designations and ban words, then the defense has a few additional suggestions for amending the speech code. First, the Defendant no longer wants to be called “the Defendant.” This rather archaic term of art, obviously has a fairly negative connotation. It unfairly demeans, and dehumanizes Mr. Donald Powell. The word “defendant” should be banned. At trial, Mr. Powell hereby demands be addressed only by his full name, preceded by the title “Mister.” Alternatively, he may be called simply “the Citizen Accused.” This latter title sounds more respectable than the criminal “Defendant.” The designation “That innocent man” would also be acceptable.

It’s worth reading the whole thing to see how Justice progresses from there to his conclusion, which begins: “WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the Court deny the State’s motion, as lacking legal basis.”

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What Jonah Goldberg Misses About Indiana Jones

Jonah Goldberg writes that his most recent email-based G-File column sparked some conversation about theology in the Indiana Jones movies. He makes a good point, but I think he misses something important about Indy’s cultural significance (and that of the superficial, modernist culture of which he’s a part):

My dad — who loved the movie — always laughed at the idea that the Nazis would be able to use the ark for their dastardly purposes. The idea that God would be like, “Darn, it’s out of my hands. I guess I have no choice but to lend you my awesome powers for your evil deeds,” is pretty ridiculous. They even returned to this idea in the third movie, when the Nazis tried to get their hands on the Holy Grail — because, you know, Jesus would totally say, “Nazis!? Rats. There’s nothing I can do. It’s life everlasting for the SS!”

In keeping with the secularization of our era, the assumption of Spielberg’s movies is that, while there may be magic and ghosts, there needn’t be a God, or even gods. Finding the end goal in every story involves a minefield of puzzles, booby traps, and tricks, and Indy overcomes them with knowledge and agility, not divine intervention or prayer.

So, when finally the Ark or Holy Grail is found, the appearance of the supernatural isn’t an affirmation of divinity, but a mysterious technology. Chanting “you betrayed Sheba” may be the magic words to make the rocks hot in Temple of Doom, but Kali (the evil god) doesn’t have the power to stop Indy from taking them from her temple in the first place.

This is why, as much as it may have crossed into the realm of overdone camp, the final movie could introduce aliens as the mystical force, rather than spirituality.

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