Mar 30, 2007

Keeping It Positive [LINK]

I recently learned that Governor Deval Patrick, fresh from several minor public relations "mis-steps" that has distracted citizens away from his worthy agenda, has now unveiled a website that he set up with campaign funds. Already it is being criticized by cynics who say it is a sop to his netroots base. The site is designed so that it's easy for you, the citizen, to propose innovative new policy ideas, as if you're at a local Town Hall meeting. You set up a new idea and try to attract "votes." Unfortunately, since the only way to comment on these ideas is to vote in favor of them (unlike actual democracy), that has led to a lot of spurious "votes" used to heap abuse on them. And I'm ashamed to admit I found it hard to resist that temptation myself.

For example, there was one proposal to label genetically modified food, and out of sheer habit (I guess from frequenting blogs) I found myself voting for it just to have to opportunity to characterize it as "daft" and wonder whether we should label nectarines, too. Another discussion about mass transit led to ever-widening demands for rail service into Boston, including one man who lived in Barnstable on Cape Cod, a whopping 70 mile commute from Boston. Voting "for" the measure, I asked him to please have some mercy and maybe move closer to town, otherwise would he at least be willing to settle for Fung Wah? (For non-locals, Fung Wah -- literally, "great wind" -- is a discount bus line run by Chinese Americans that shuttles between New York and Boston for about $15. The bus drivers have acquired a bit of a reputation for reckless driving, and the buses themselves have been known to roll over, catch fire, and have trouble fitting through toll booths.)

After I made these comments, I felt a bit guilty. After all, this is a positive forum, and there's no need to poison the well. As for the many inappropriate postings claiming the Bush Administration demolished the World Trade Center in order to make war in the Middle East, just ignore them and don't make it worse by making it seem they earned their votes. The best approach is to create a new, positive issue, and not just complain all the time. I thought for a while, and here's my first substantial policy proposal. Please tell me what you think:

While everybody agrees that curbside recycling is a good policy, there's something else we can do to reduce our waste stream and, literally, lessen our footprint upon the earth. I would like to see more citizens of the Commonwealth separating out their compost. Doing so has dramatically reduced the amount of curbside trash I produce, has provided a generous source of gardening fertilizer, and has even led to fewer incursions into my trash can from raccoons.

By "compost," I mean any kind of plant matter: anything from the outdoor leaves and grass clippings we already collect to non-meat/non-dairy kitchen scraps, which, shamefully, many people currently send down their garbage disposals, letting it mix with raw sewage! All that is necessary is a small, airtight bucket kept in your kitchen. These could be emptied at curbside along with other recycled matter, or people can keep their own composter(s). While compost "heaps" are relatively difficult to aerate and may attract scavenging animals and other vermin, a preferable approach is to modify a capped metal barrel (55 gallon drums work well), punching a few airholes and cutting a small door for input, then mounting it on casters so that it can be turned and watered periodically. For urban dwellers, these composters could easily be kept in basements of apartment complexes and condominiums. The resulting fertilizer could be provided for free to our region's struggling family farms.

While this may seem like an audacious proposal that imposes unfamiliar burdens, note that people have already positively embraced bottle surcharges, and recycling has become very popular, especially among school-age children. Keeping meat scraps separate from fruit-, vegetable-, and nut matter is certainly no more difficult than (let's face it) looking for a little number on a piece of plastic to see if it can be recycled. There is even reason to believe the practice may lead to positive health benefits among those not already on sewer lines due to the effects of suburban sprawl. If they see their trash bills go down or don't need to travel to the dump so often, they may be encouraged to eat more vegetables, further benefitting local farmers. They may likewise be encouraged to eat more stir-frys (whose leftovers are easy to separate) and fewer casseroles that are held together with large amounts of artery-clogging cheese.

Please join me in supporting a compost-friendly Commonwealth.

P.S.: egg shells are okay.

We'll see how well that does, and if it attracts much comment perhaps I'll post another idea, originally proposed by Ernest van Der Haag as part of a debate, but which I can't help but think would work: death penalty for murders committed on even days, and life imprisonment for those committed on odd days. His idea was to quantify whether there was a deterrent effect once and for all, but I figure it would also serve as a useful compromise, considering the roughly 50/50 split for and against that controversial issue.

And I'll be sure to post my own issue demanding that genetically modified food be labeled, but only if it can be proven less safe than organic food, which of course has bugs in it.

Anyway, browsing Governor Patrick's website has given me a lot of interesting ideas, and I'm eager to share them! They're certainly no crazier than those of the 9/11 Truth crowd.

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