Friday, June 27, 2008

Political Gas

Recent talk about suspending taxes on gasoline can be pumped for instruction on modes of poor reasoning. Suitable material has come from advocates of a summer-long suspension of taxes on motor fuel, as well as from at least one critic of the proposed vacation from tax. GreeneLand’s State Senator, James L. Seward, advocated “rolling back the tax on gas to relieve some of the pressure on motorists’ wallets.” He joined his Republican colleagues and some Democrats in May in passing a bill that would have suspended the State’s gasoline tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. With passage of that measure, Mr Seward declared on his web site and in a news release, buyers “would save approximately 33 cents per gallon.” And if Federal and local taxes also were eliminated, buyers “would save 65 cents per gallon at the pump.” This price cut, moreover, would pave the way for reductions in the prices of other things, to the extent that transportation costs experienced by manufacturers and distributors would decrease.

That is about all that Mr Seward said in support of the gas tax ‘holiday.’ It is about all that his senatorial colleagues presented in the way of argumentation as they passed, by a margin of 46 to 15, Senate bill 7594, which was opposed by Governor David Paterson and buried in the State Assembly. It is about all that U.S. Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton, along with U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, said on behalf of rolling back the Federal tax on gasoline.

Conspicuous in the argumentation of the advocates were two modes of flimsy reasoning: HASTY CONCLUSION. Mr Seward evidently assumed that every cent of State gasoline tax reduction would yield an equal reduction in cost per gallon to consumers. That version of the outcome, however, is by no means self-evident. The retail price of gasoline is shaped by the wholesale price, which is shaped by supply, by demand, and by competition as well as by taxation. Mr Seward could scarely be unaware that the steep rise in the retail price of gasoline in the past two years has been triggered chiefly by the steep rise in wholesale prices, which have risen because the volume of consumption (especially from China’s and India’s burgeoning economies) has jumped by a big margin. Mr Seward made no attempt, in what he said in public, to substantiate his ‘promise’ that a drop in tax on gasoline would trigger a proportional drop in the pump price. TUNNEL VISION. Moreover, Mr Seward grounded his case for a gasoline tax holiday solely on the expectation (ill-supported) that consumers would save money. Implicit in that act of selection--of rhetorical framing—are two value judgments: that short-term fuel cost reduction is desirable and that no other consequences need be pondered. We are deterred, accordingly, from noticing that tax holiday would produce a drop in previously anticipated State revenue, a reduction which must have debt-generating and program-implementing consequences. We are deterred from speculating that IF the tax holiday generates a reduction in pump prices, then consumption of gasoline would likely increase, or at least would not decrease, so that the scarcity that has driven prices up would persist. We are deterred from wondering whether the tax break would dampen incentives to economize on gasoline consumption. We are deterred, in short, from thinking about collateral damage.

In response specifically to Senator Seward’s call for a gas tax holiday, a constituent, Andrew Mason of Jefferson, distributed to district newspapers a six-paragraph denunciation. Mr Mason’s stinging attack on the tax rollback proposal, and on Senator Seward as sponsor, offers instruction aplenty on modes of sophistry. Here is the full text:

Why does Sen. James Seward want to take even more money out of our pockets and give it to the big oil companies? This would be the effect of his ill-advised scheme for a state gas tax “holiday” this summer. There is no doubt that the oil giants would just raise the price of gas to take away any savings for motorists. After all, they have done it before: When the state capped the sales tax on gasoline in 2005, prices dropped only briefly before returning to then-record highs and continuing to go up. The only beneficiaries were Exxon, Mobil, Shell, etc. Even conservatives pan this idea. Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute calls lowering gas taxes “…a holiday from reality. What would happen more likely than not is gas taxes would be cut, but pump prices wouldn’t go down, service stations would just continue charging what they are charging.” There are a number of proposals in the state legislature that would provide true energy savings to New Yorkers. Among these is expansion of net electricity monitoring; allowing siting of new, clean power plants; and increasing lighting efficiency. Unfortunately, Seward and his Republican colleagues have killed them at the request of utilities and energy companies .It’s no surprise that Seward favors Big Oil over his constituents. During his tenure as Senate Energy Committee chairman, he oversaw huge cost increases for electricity and other energy in the state. He has one of the worst records in the legislature on environmental and energy issues at a time when they are critical to the future of New York. Seward's "plan" is pure political posturing. We need leadership, not silly games that will damage upstate's already weak economy, and cost us even more when we fill up.

Those words deliver a rich variety of rhetorical blather. Thus: LEADING QUESTION. Mr Mason opens his critique interrogatively: “Why does Sen James Seward want to take even more money out of our pockets and give it to the big oil companies?” By that form of words, Mr Mason imbeds an accusatory characterization (of Seward’s intention) within a call for (or a promise to supply) explanatory information. He makes the characterization appear to be common knowledge; the interesting matter then seems to be only the question of motivation.

PRESUMPTUOUSNESS. In posing a question about why Senator Seward wants to bring about a cited result, Mr Mason pretends to be a mind-reader. That conceit is repeated later (paragraph 5) in the statement that Mr Seward regularly “favors Big Oil over his constituents.” That assertion goes beyond the claim that Seward regularly does favors for Big Oil at the expense of constituents. It imputes to Seward the intention of doing just that.

COP-OUT. Mr Mason’s second sentence does not address, much less answer, the question he poses in the first. Neither does it address, much less support, his characterization of Senator Seward. Instead, it voices a causal proposition: “This [redistribution of money from us to Them] would be the effect of [Seward’s] ill-advised scheme for a state gas tax ‘holiday’ this summer.” That claim is extraneous to Mr Mason’s announced quest to account for Mr Seward’s alleged craving to shift money to Big Oil.

LOADED WORDS. In Mr Mason’s usage, Senator Seward’s proposal (and that of many other public figures) is not a proposal or a plan; it is a “’plan’”; it is an insidious “scheme.”

SPURIOUS CERTAINTY. Mr Mason bolsters his characterization of Senator Seward’s “scheme” by saying “There is no doubt that the oil giants would just raise the price of gas to take away any savings for motorists.” That phrasing serves to deepen (without substantiating) Mr Mason’s motivational claim; since the redistributional effect of the “scheme” is obvious, it must be just what the sponsor intends. Meanwhile, Mr Mason’s phrasing deters readers from wondering whether the cited effect would indeed eventuate. We are deterred from entertaining the possibility that instead of leaping collusively on a prospective increase in profit margins, oil companies would reach for greater market share by NOT raising prices. We are deterred, again, from thinking about the connection between retail price and wholesale price. We are urged to believe that there “is no doubt” regarding a matter that surely is open to doubt.

VAGUE PRECEDENT. Mr Mason makes two gestures in the way of substantiating his judgment that “the oil giants would just raise the price of gas to [sic] take away any savings for motorists.” One gesture is to cite experience. When the state capped the taxes back in 2005, Mr Mason recalls, prices dropped momentarily, only to bounce up again and go even higher than before. That experience eminently deserves further discussion. Does it represent similar trials? Are the circumstances that shaped the previous result akin to present circumstances?

TESTIMONIAL DEVICE. Mr Mason’s other gesture in the way of supporting his attack on the Seward (and McCain and Gillibrand…) “scheme” consists of saying that “even conservatives” recognize the folly. On behalf of that generalization Mr Mason quotes one putative conservative. The cited testimonial and the ostensible experience of 2005 do lend some support to Mr Mason’s claim that the tax rollback would not produce a price rollback. They do nothing for his thesis concerning Senator Seward’s motivation.

DIGRESSION. Succinct as it is, Mr Mason’s discourse goes a-wandering. Its fourth paragraph says “There are a number [sic]of proposals…that would provide true energy savings to New Yorkers,” and briefly names some. That excursion does nothing to buttress Mr Mason’s attack on the tax-suspension scheme, his characterization of Senator Seward, or his motivational explanation for Mr Seward’s support for an allegedly bad policy.

SPURIOUS CONCLUSION. Having posed a question that he does not answer, Mr Mason ends his letter not with a conclusion or summing-up but rather with a new line of thought. Instead of saying why Mr Seward wants to filch money from “our pockets” and give it to the big oil companies, he asserts that “Seward’s ‘plan’ is pure political pandering.” He suggests, accordingly, that Mr Seward’s proposal is actuated not by a desire to rob the common people but rather by a desire to seduce them.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Sprinkle

BOYS HAVE BRAINS! That’s the hot news that can be extracted (at a stretch) from the facts about this year’s Catskill High School graduates. Seven of the top ten seniors, led by valedictorian Ivi Demi (headed for Cornell University) and salutatorian Vasyl Hereha (Union College) are guys. That ratio marks a big change from recent years, and a contrast with other schools. Ivi Demi is CHS's first male valedictorian since 2001. In the past 11 years, eight CHS valedictorians and seven salutatorians have been female. This year's result is all the more remarkable in light of the numerical superiority, by a margin of about 3 to 2, of girls in the graduating class. In general, near and far, boys out-number girls in bonehead English classes, in Special Education, in drop-out rates. In the realm of higher education, 58 per cent of degrees go to females. (Some of the foregoing information was inserted 6/21, thanks to information supplied by Supt Kathleen Farrell's office).

TOP CATTER. The “Kenny Rich” who fashioned five first-class fiberglass felines that were sponsored for the Cat’n Around featival—COPurr, Country Farm Cat, Blue Jean Cat, Kit-Cat, Star CafĂ©--is Kenneth Richards of Catskill, ace air-brush artist (e-mail address is ), former Long Islander, avid drummer, and owner of the ’55 Chevy pickup which is covered in denim. Coating that material, along with Mr Richards’s cats (and those of Cynthia Mulvaney, another Cat ‘n Around superstar) is a water-based material put out by Paverpol North America. For excellent pictures of Catskill’s cats, with brief profiles of the makers:

BETTER YET: attend the Cat Show at the Catskill Community Center, on Saturday (6/21) from 6pm, to see original cat figure designs, a photographic history by Rob Shannon of the making of 'Katzenjammer Kittens,' Flat Cats fashioned by Catskill students, ceramic Kittis designed by youngsters and fired by Imagine That! proprietor Lillian Johnson....

BRIDGE COMMUTER. Peter Markou, elected last spring as Catskill Town Supervisor, has accepted appointment to serve, on a part-time basis, as executive director of Hudson’s Development Corporation and of its Community Development and Planning Agency. He confronted and pondered the possibility of a conflict of interest, and ruled it out. He is returning to a job previously held, happily, under Mayor Rick Scalera.

IN PROSPECT for the mid-Hudson region is restoration, for pedestrian use, of a river-spanning bridge that once was the world’s longest. First opened in 1888, the 1.25-mile bridge connected Poughkeepsie (Dutchess County) to Lloyd (Ulster County). Rechristened “Walkway Over the Hudson,” the restored span, having been closed for many years, will open (all being well) in late 2009, in conjunction with the Quadricentennial celebrations. It will then be the world’s longest elevated park. For more details, click or (better yet) a comprehensive, illustrated account, click and then click News and scroll down. (Steering you to The Daily Green is the best thing we’ve done this week).

DOCENTS who guide visitors around the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill include a lawyer who also is a historian, a magazine columnist who too is a historian, a psychological test designer, a free-lance writer, professional painters (especially of landscapes), an art historian, , interpreters at other historic sites, a historical episode re-enactor, retired teachers and college students. Among these volunteers, the newest ones underwent a two-month training program of lectures and workshops, followed by partnerings with experienced docents. Final step in the process consists of conducting Education Coordinator Gregory Rosenthal on a tour of the site

HONORED recently, with a Medal of Merit bestowed by New York State Commissioner of Corrections, in recognition of her determination in rescuing passengers who had been trapped inside a vehicle that was involved in a crash on the Thruway: Jody Slater, a guard at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility.

AND SPEAKING of that institution, doe anybody know the whereabouts of Denise Robin-Hawkins? Her husband, Michael Charles Hawkins, now of Georgetown SC, would like to know, and he bought a small display advertisement in a Sunday New York Times to broadcast that query. He wants a divorce. The couple were married on April 25, 1987, at Coxsackie Correctional Facility. No information is given about where the couple spent their honeymoon.

UNSUITED. A State Supreme Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Jared Paul Stern, a part-time Oak Hill resident, against Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and other defendants. Mr Stern, a former supplier of gossip to The New York Post, accused the Clintons, The Daily News, supermarket mogul Ronald Burkle and other people of conspiring to ruin his reputation. As reported in The New York Times (6/18) Judge Walter B. Tolub dismissed Mr Stern’s complaint in sharp terms, characterizing it as a “political diatribe” which failed to specify the defendants’ the allegedly defamatory deeds. The case’s origins go back to events that gave rise to the accusation that Mr Stern tried to extract a bribe in return for keeping nasty stuff about Mr Burkle, a major Clinton supporter, out of the Post’s gossip columns.

AMONG HOSTS greeting participants in the Greene County Historical Society’s recent organized tour of choice places in Palenville--each one a treat--was Maira Kalman, who is one of New York’s, and hence the world’s, foremost illustrators. Covers on The New Yorker and other magazines. A dozen vividly illustrated books for children. Set designs, handbag designs. Deft, understated illustrations for the pre-eminent book on good writing: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B.White.

DAILY MAUL DEPT. “Nothing gets the old heart pumping like the thoughts of a large, scaly Denison of the deep waters leaping into the air trying in vain to shake my hook…. Then, reality rears it’s ugly head and I remember that most of the fish I catch don’t jump out of the water, their mother’s won’t allow them to….” “There is a $5 suggested donation fee for all classes….” “Alumni duers of $5 are also due at this time which helps to support expenses and alumni mailings.” “The Catskill Town Board has proposed an amendment…which they hope will allow better enforcement of violations.” “Pedal to the mettle.” “In about seven months…it will be the 500th anniversary—the quadricentennial—of Henry Hudson’s 1609 discovery and exploration of the river.” “…Judge George L. Pulver Jr. sentenced Maceo Jones to three and a half to seven years in state prison Tuesday after being convicted of robbery….”

THE WEEKEND. For a rich assortment of choices among activities, click, and/or and You’ll find a farmers’ market or two, a “Cat Show,” a Bavarian summerfest, dogs on trial, a play, movies, gallery exhibits, a watercolor painting class, a talk about photography as art. Moreover, bass fishing season opens on Saturday, and so does a new branch (in Coxsackie) of GNH Lumber.

QUERY: Has a code enforcement officer for a GreeneLand town been suspended without pay?

QUEERIES (via Frank Rush). Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets? Can you cry under water? Why do you have to "put your two cents in" when it's only a "penny for your thoughts"? Once you're in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity? What disease did cured ham actually have? Why is it that people say they "slept like a baby" when babies wake up like every two hours? If a deaf person has to go to court, is the session still a hearing? Why is "bra" singular and while "panties" is (sic) plural? Can a hearse carrying a corpse be driven in the carpool lane? If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Dull Greene

GreeneLand is semi-rural, below average in per capita income, above average in resident geezers, devoid of higher education, pocked with crumbling moribund tourist resorts, culturally backward. Right?

Well, not altogether.

*Too numerous to name, one at a time, are the GreeneLand-based painters and landscape photographers who sustain, and transcend, the venerable Hudson School of Art tradition.

*For a thrilling esthetic jolt, or a series of jolts, click . Be sure to get a full-screen look at every object.

*In addition to conducting the Windham String Orchestra, Robert Manno is making an opera. His opus-in-progress depicts the life, and the strife, of Dylan Thomas, the bibulous Welsh poet, and his battling wife, Caitlin. An excerpt won selection for concert performance by the New York City Opera Company’s orchestra and soloists. “It is one of ten pieces they chose to showcase out of eighty submitted to them” in a yearly VOX competition, Mr Manno told Seeing Greene. “Three or four of the showcased pieces have gone on to full-fledged productions in opera companies around the county….” Many of the lyrics in “Dylan and Caitlin” come straight from the poems. Think of a melodious rendition of “In my craft or sullen art/Exercised in the still night/When only the moon rages/And the lovers lie abed/With all their griefs in their arms,/I labour by singing light/Not for ambition or bread/Or the strut and trade of charms/On the ivory stages/But for the common wages/Of their most secret heart….”

*Also on Mr Manno’s to-do list is a musical setting of a Thomas Cole poem.

*Among contributions to next year’s observances of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s cruise up the river that now bears his name will be a new book, River of Dreams, by GreeneLand writer-illustrator Hudson [sic.] Talbott. Meanwhile, Mr Talbott’s just-published United Tweets of America went into a second printing even before its official launch.

*Having completed his nationwide tour in “I Love a Piano,” GreeneLand thespian Johnnie Moore will do a run of “The Sound of Music” with the Mac-Haydn company in Columbia County, as part of that company’s 40th birthday celebrations.

*Jewelry-makng is alive and well in GreeneLand. Some baubles that bedeck “Cat House Cat,” fronting Functional Tiles & Sculpture on Main Street, Catskill, are the work of Pat Feinman (whose website was fashioned by Pat’s son Luke Litman).

*Performance Histories (PAJ Publications) is GreeneLander Bonnie Marranca’s latest publication. It is a collection of “conversations” with contemporary artists and of essays on art as spiritual practice, ethical aspects of performance, the theatre of food, and visual art performance. Ms Marranca, editor of PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art and professor at the New School’s Eugene Lang College for Liberal Arts, has been a Catskillian since 1979.

*Of special local interest is Ms Marranca’s Hudson Valley Lives (Overlook Press, 1991), a richly illuminating, judiciously edited collection of writings, early and late, about this region. “In local knowledge,” she says in the Preface, “begins self-knowledge. Here is the starting point for what used to be thought of as worldliness, now transformed into global consciousness.” The Hudson Valley “is a topography of the spirit”; it “embraces a heritage that has fed every tributary of American enlightenment.” Here’s hoping that copies of Hudson Valley Lives are available, in plenty, during the quadricentennial celebrations of 2009.

*The penultimate item in Hudson Valley Lives is the text of a talk given by Thomas Cole, back in 1841, to the (ahem) Catskill Lyceum. Cole’s final sentence, expressing environmental fear and hope--“We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and fear”—is the basis of a symposium to be held tomorrow at GreeneLand’s Thomas Cole National Historic Site ( The speakers are eminent scholars. Their topic, ideas about the healing power of nature, is an esoteric one. Judging from experience with similar events over the past two years, it will be a sellout. (Later in the afternoon, Educational Director Gregory Rosenthal will meet with people who are interested in training to be docents at the Cole Site).

*Tomorrow’s talk will come on the heels, so to speak, of today’s walk. In keeping with National Trails Day, and sponsored by GreeneLand’s Mountain Top Historical Society (, three ace naturalists—Bob Titus, Larry Tompkins, Bob Gildersleeve—will conduct a two-hour hike to Sunset Rock, which is Site 7 on the recently-demarcated Hudson River Art Trail.

*Meanwhile, at the North-South Lake campground, a new outdoor exhibit will be unveiled; it is composed of reproductions of field sketches made from that spot, 170 years ago, by Thomas Cole.

*Thespian Casey Biggs has contracted to play a major role in “The Beholders,” an independent film. He’ll be away from his GreeneLand home during part of August-September for that job, as well as during weekends this summer for appearances at “Star Trek” conventions. In the meantime, he is busily pitching ideas here about arts-related approaches to our quadricentennial celebrations. Come mid-September, moreover, he’ll start directing a New School for Drama production of “Love’s Labors Lost.” About that project he reasons as follows: “since the language in the play is a veritable tango I feel inspired to set it in Buenos Aires and make it a literal tango as well.”

*Clay is the material on which GreeneLander Dina Bursztyn works not only with her hands but also with her mind. Her imagination yields, in addition to ceramic objects of art, an evidently profound sense of ancestral connection. Dina conveys this sensibility in a poem, “Collaboration,” as published in the “I Love You Greene” section (Doreen Perrine’s bailiwick) of the May issue of Arts Alive.

Touching clay feeling the memory of rivers whispering streams carrying leaves pebbles twinkling in the water

Touching clay finding fingerprints of people who lived long ago those who shaped the first vessels the first images of the human soul

Listening to the slight breath of a seed or an egg unraveling the gaze of an old spirit

In reverence I welcome the beginning of a lip

Touching the skin of the earth fingers wet with the sap of time dancing, haunting, hunting for a new existence slowly blooming from memories and rivers stones and stars sacred rituals and the history of human hands.