Musings essential & frivolous

A Modest Proposal

By Dave Badtke

Published on 10/19/2010 by Benicia.Patch.com

You're probably thinking that I stole the title fromJonathan Swift, the Anglican priest and dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin who wrote "A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of the Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to Their Public." And you'd be right except you can see for yourselves that I know when to end a title. I mean, really, his subtitle is almost as long as his essay.

 I also know what the word "modest" means. While I'm not sure Swift's proposal was acted upon, it clearly wasn't modest to suggest that Irish famine could be addressed by making young Irish children a culinary treat for the wealthy, thus providing breeding and slaughter work for the poor while controlling their population. I'm thinking "An Innovative Proposal," or "An Industrious Proposal," or even "A Poverty Cure" would have been much better though I have to admit I'm not all that familiar with what people were thinking in 1729.

Nonetheless, even if I did steal the title, my proposal to solve Benicia's financial woes truly is modest and completely -- might I suggest decidedly and inarguably? -- in line with the new American movement to return power to the people and reverence to our Constitution: Dissolve city government, the police and fire departments and the schools.

Before you begin questioning my modest proposal, take a deep breath and think about the economics. Removing all these workers from our payrolls would return almost $60 million to Benicians, that's $37 million for the teachers as well as the $23 million that the Ichster told us about. Since there are roughly 28,000 of us, this would put roughly $2,100 in the pockets of every man, woman and child in the city.

You see. Now, I have your attention.

If your family is the average size of 3.14 adults and kids, this according to the U.S. census, you'd receive almost $7,000 per annum, money you could use to pay off your mortgage faster or go to the movies more often or subscribe to more cable channels or buy more video games for your kids or eat as much steak and kidney pie as your heart desires, if Jonathan Swift food is your thing. (As I write this, I'm thinking that maybe this fractional family idea might have started with Swift since he was thinking of kids as food. As soon as you adjust your attitude to the possibilities, a partial kid, like a quarter or half of a chicken, starts to make a lot of sense.)

But, you may be thinking, we Benicians would be losing services. How could we possibly replace them?

First, I'd like to remind you that these people are unconstitutional. Nowhere do police officers or firefighters show up in our Constitution. Can you find a single mention of school teachers or city employees? Look as hard as you want, comb through our Constitution as you would hermeneuticallyexamine the Bible. You won't find them.

Second, think about the number of times you call the police or firefighters during the year. You probably didn't do it unless your house burned down or someone tried to rob you. And really, how often does that happen? Sure, my wife and I had to call 911 just a couple weeks back when we drove past a man who was attacking his 11-year-old daughter on the sidewalk for everyone to see. But that didn't happen here. That happened somewhere else. So, as far as I'm concerned, that's their problem.

Anyway, there are obvious ways we can replace these services. When I was a kid and there was a fire, volunteers would rush from their businesses and homes to fight the fire. This activity alone probably would result in some of us losing weight as a result of running to jump on fire trucks. And wouldn't it be more fun to fight a fire in real life than to watch it on TV? Driving the truck to a fire at high speed, racing through intersections with your siren screaming probably would be the most fun you've ever had.

Now, since you're getting the idea, you're probably already thinking what I'm thinking: Replace police services by requiring a gun in every house and in every pocket. To make sure that this isn't a Dr. Strangelove doomsday weapon that nobody knows about, we'd also have to post Neighborhood Watch signs everywhere warning interlopers: "We Shoot to Kill."

You'd be right to worry that many of us can't shoot straight, especially the kids, but this can be addressed through marksmanship classes. We could set up ranges in our parks. Like you, I'm thinking that the pocket parks along the Strait would be particularly good because we could shoot at things floating in the water. Can you imagine how great it would be after dinner, after watching our recordings of "Fox News" and Glenn Beck, to walk down to the park as a family and fire off a few rounds?

Now, you may be saying to yourself, replacing police and firefighters is relatively easy, but how do we replace teachers. Here I encourage you to think, like Bill and Melinda Gates, outside the box. Their foundation is  offering money for innovative technological solutions to our educational problems. Since we all have Internet and have the ability to set up cameras everywhere in our homes, it seems quite reasonable to believe that our kids, with our supervision while we're at work, could get all the knowledge they need in the new America from the Internet. They can Google any topic they need to research. They can copy and paste anything they need to write. Really, when you think about it, aren't schools and teachers already obsolete?

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned services provided by the city manager or by the planning department or by parks and community services. Clearly these services are easily addressed through a Libertarian, laissez-faire philosophy and a single sign posted in front of City Hall: "If It Feels Right, Do It!" If you don't like your trees, go ahead and cut them down. If you want to remodel, go for it.

There'd still be the problem of parks and street maintenance, but this could be easily addressed with illegal workers who could cut the grass and trim the trees and fill potholes for a fraction of the cost. For -- and we need to be completely honest with one another for these cost-saving measures to work -- while we believe in the sacredness of our Constitution, money is our true god: The more we have in our pockets, the more righteous we become.

So, I ask you as fellow Benicians concerned about our American values and our individual bottom lines to think carefully about my modest proposal. And just remember, in case you forgot, that Benicia has two motorcycles. Can you see yourself dressed from toe to neck in leather, your helmet gleaming red in the setting sun, your visor down, guns at the ready, racing to a fire or chasing after an evil doer?

Dave Badtke, who teaches English at Solano College and Astronomy at College of Alameda, can be contacted at Dave@Badtke.com. Find his blog at Badtke.com and copies of this and older columns at QCounty.com.