Tuesday, February 19, 2002


"The cemetery really isn't a place to make a statement."

- Mary Elizabeth Baker

Ms. Baker made this statement about a tombstone in Concord, MA located near those of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau which read "Who the hell is Sheila Shea," so her remarks may or may not be entirely germane to the issue that is now troubling me, but I had to start somewhere, folks.

Our cemetery board asked me and my fellow town council members tonight to use our cemetery to make a statement of sorts, you see, and it's one that I'm not entirely comfortable with, namely that preventing vandalism is more important than allowing the public to have access to a treasured and emotionally important facility.

Now, I can understand the Saratoga Cemetery Board's point of view, I really can. A lot of work and money has been put into making our cemetery a beautiful and thoughtful place; the pavilion built there has lent dignity to many a memorial – and Memorial Day – service, the grounds are well-kept, and in general it's a place of which we can be very proud. Even visitors to our town have noticed how nice this place is, and have remarked to me and to others on how much that says about our town (to those who judge a town by the condition of its cemetery, anyway).

And yeah, it's terrible that kids or whoever go in there after dark sometimes in the summer and make a mess. It's disrespectful and winds up costing money and may cause much alarm to people visiting the cemetery legitimately. And yes, I'd really rather it didn't happen.

And yes, there are ways of dealing with the problem, but instead of first asking for tougher enforcement of our existing 10 p.m. curfew for kids under 16, a curfew that precludes their having much time between sunset and our police sending them home in which to work much mischief and one which it should be much easier to enforce this coming summer now that our police department has five officers instead of two and a very dynamic new police chief, the cemetery board's solution has been to ask the town council to consider drafting and passing an ordinance prohibiting entering the cemetery between the hours of dusk and dawn.

And we voted tonight to draft such an ordinance. It will probably be ready sometime next month, and then it will go through the required three readings, and if it passes all three readings it will become law.

BUT... will it actually solve the problem? Or will it just be another curtailment of everyone's liberties in order to prevent a few people from behaving badly?

Think for a moment about those people who have legitimate business in the cemetery. Is such a measure fair at all to them? Sure, they're free to come during daylight, but what if for whatever reason – their schedules, their emotional needs (I remember well what it's like the first year after losing someone special, that awakening in the middle of the night or the turn after something amazing has happend when you want to see if your companion saw it too only he's not there. And I've felt the need to go to sit with him at his place in the ground in the middle of the night, and was damned glad to be able to do so. Oh yes), a wish for privacy – they are only able, or only need to visit after dark?

So the question I'm posing to all of you is, which is more important: freedom to visit the cemetery when you can and want and need to, or protecting some structures from vandalism?

Me, I value freedom over protection or prevention any day, and am sure this is a surprise to none of you. And if I don't hear some pretty compelling arguments to the contrary during the course of our debates on this ordinance proposal, I'm going to vote against this thing.

But what do YOU want?

Monday, February 18, 2002


As frequent readers of this webpage know, I've begun a quixotic enterprise: tangling with the almighty U.S. Census Bureau. They came a-knockin' unannounced about two weeks ago and I chased the Bureau's two representatives away with all due alacrity, since the survey they were peddling was one of which I have never heard, I had not received the alleged letter the Bureau had sent me in the mail, I didn't know either of the two rude women who were standing at my door, and I was sick and tired.

Still feeling snarky and more than a little wigged out about the whole enterprise, I called the police on them for good measure, since the more I thought about it (and discussed it with my admittedly slightly paranoid ex-cop father) the less legitimate my surprise visit seemed.

Update time!

Our fair berg's single lady cop devoted much time and energy trying to contact the Bureau over the next few days to find out if this survey was actually the real thing and if it was being done here. After running into lots of disconnected Bureau numbers and interviewing lots of disconnected Bureau employees and spending even more time than I did on the Bureau's stunningly uninformative website, she concluded that my nighttime visitors had contacted me on legitimate business.

Interestingly enough, the Bureau still hasn't made any contact with the Town of Saratoga or any of its agencies to tell us that they're doing something here, what they're doing here, etc. The only contact the Bureau has had with us, in fact, has been with the lady cop!

But, they're still hot on my tail. One of the ladies came by and caught me as I was heading back to work from my lunch break and again asked for 30 minutes of my time and I again told her no. She left me with an envelope containing a cringingly polite letter apologizing for making me mad, demanding my phone number and name, and asking me for "a few minutes of my time" so she can "explain what this new survey is all about."

She also left me an entertainingly vague but very slickly produced brochure purporting to explain what the American Community Survey is all about, but the "Questions and Answers" contained therein are all just about whether or not we are required by law to respond to the survey. Touchingly, close to half of the questions presuppose that the pamphlet reader really really wants to spill his or her guts to the Bureau but is handicapped or uncertain about his or her ability to help, and the answers offer helpful solutions to such people, solutions like "the respondent may designate another person to help complete the questionnaire" (OK, I want Linda Lay to help me).

But that's not all!

The darling lady also provided me with a copy of Title 13, the much-mentioned part of the U.S. Code governing required participation in Census stuff. The paper she gave me lists, I guess, only the most germane portions of the title, including §222, Giving suggestions or information with intent to cause inaccurate enumeration of population, §223, Refusal, by owners, proprietors, etc. to assist census employees, and §224, Failure to answer questions affecting companies, businesses, religious bodies and other organizations; false answers.

Now, §222 can't apply to me because I gave out no false information the first time they came around: I informed them truthfully that there is one person living in my apartment, and that I am she.

Nor can §223 apply to me, though at first glance it would appear to (and I'm sure they're counting on this). Once again, though, the devil is in those pesky details. From §223:

Whoever, being the owner, proprietor, manager, superintendent, or agent of any hotel, apartment house, boarding or lodging house, tenement or other building, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary or by any other officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof, acting under the instructions of the Secretary, to furnish the names of the occupants of such premises, or to give free ingress thereto and egress therefrom to any duly accredited representative of such Department or bureau or agency thereof, so as to permit the collection of statistics with respect... blah blah blah I won't bother you with the rest of it, because it's those words I put in boldface that actually matter.

I am neither an owner, proprietor, manager, superintendent or agent of this apartment building. I am a tenant. I did not prevent the Secretary or any other Department of Commerce employee from entering or leaving this building, which features direct street entrances. True, I did not furnish my name or any other tenant's, but then again, since I am neither an owner, proprietor, manager, superintendent or agent, I am not required to.

Nor does §224 apply to this matter, since these people were not asking me about (quoting Title 13 again) any "company, business, institution, establishment, religious body or organization of any nature whatsoever"; they wanted to know about me personally.

Look, I'd not be making a big deal of this if this jackass agency had made any effort at all to tell me, either as a person or as a town council member, that they were coming. The fact that now they have singled me out for frequent propaganda bombs, even resorting to Fed Exing me yet another copy of Title 13 and a letter trying to convince me that these sections of Title 13 with which we have just frolicked somehow compels my compliance makes me less, not more in helping them out.

Yeah, I'm being needlessly stubborn. But they are being needlessly idiotic, discourteous, and now threatening, so someone has to be.

I'll share a final tidbit, from the letter Fed Exed to me over the weekend, before calling it a night:

"Your federal, state and local government depend on your answers to tell them where to build schools, hospitals, roads and community centers." (emphasis mine, of course)

Well gee, that convinced me!
OK, OK...

As a certain wag who will go nameless pointed out to me this morning, if that Chris Witty person can win a gold medal with mono, I can certainly write a column, so I guess I'm back, folks... if anyone is still looking in. It seems like it's been months since last I posted here.

And yes, I have been idle! Nothing like a virus for which one's doctor's prescribed remedy is somewhat sizeable doses of liquid opium (OK, OK, codiene cough syrup) and instructions to spend the week "drinking lots of fluids and lolling around in narcotic heaven" (the two aren't quite mutually exclusive, though there are certain consequences to increased fluid intake that make prolonged episodes of lolling somewhat uncomfortable, if not messy) to keep one flat on one's back and thinking about nuthin', which is actually pretty nice. Chariot races? Poof! What chariot races? Septic tank ordinance? Poof! What septic tank ordinance? Fishing derby and winter carnival paperwork? Poof! What paperwork? Joint Powers Board meeting? Poof! What meeting? Etc.

Never in my life has it been so easy to dismiss so much, at least not since it stopped being really fun to take long train rides. I can almost see why some people get addicted to that stuff.

But of course, the problem with making everything go poof! is that it all really only goes poof! inside one's own little head. Meanwhile, the outside world keeps on turning and deadlines keep approaching whether I'm paying attention to these facts or not.

And while I'm back at work more or less full time and while I'm back to coaching starting tomorrow and while I'm heading off to the Wyoming Association of Municipalities' annual Elected Officials Workshop (which I really could have used last year as a newly elected official, but which I wound up missing because I had the flu - Eliot was wrong when he said April is the cruelest month. No way. That would be February), still I feel like someone snuck up on me while I was sleeping, popped open my battery case and slipped in a few spent AAAs in place of the monstrous truck battery on which I am accustomed to running.

On the other hand, I sleep very well, and probably do so for longer and more often than I ever have.

I'll bet you that Witty chick crashed and burned HARD last night after all that skating.

Of course, she's a month ahead of me on the disease thing.

I sure hope I can skate like that when I get over mono!