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    SLOW: stimulus area ahead

    The newspaper of my Lehigh Valley hometown in Pennsylvania reports that PennDOT, the commonweath’s version of the DMV (as beloved as those of most other states, if not less; when it comes to service, New York’s is like TGI Friday’s by comparison), is spending $60,000 of its stimulus money on signs to advertise projects intended as stimuli:

    PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said Pennsylvania elected to take a ”middle-of-the-road” approach to the federal government’s strong encouragement that the signs be put at every project site around the state, choosing only those that were most visible to the public. The stimulus package is pumping $1 billion into the state for hundreds of road and bridge repairs.

    PennDOT’s not alone in touting the stimulus package. The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority requires all contractors to post the act’s logo on construction sites. ”The logo must be at least six inches in diameter and displayed in a prominent place,” reads a line in the agency’s Recovery Act requirements.

    The state also is paying political strategist and media consultant Ken Snyder $9,090 a month to help with publicity relating to the stimulus package.

    ”Obviously it is important to educate the public about where the recovery dollars are working in the commonwealth,” PennDOT’s Chizmar said. ”The public deserves and has a right to know.”

    I’m not entirely sure this is worth getting exercised over. Depending on the kind of installation, sign crews do dangerous work outdoors no matter how crappy the weather, and their industry’s been hit hard by the recession; so I find it hard to complain that some extra work’s been thrown their way. And PennDOT seems to have forgone the opportunity to put signs up at every last project site. Given Washington’s current spending practices, $60,000 hardly seems worth remarking on.

    The part I find irritating is the flagrantly cynical spin put on the thing by PennDOT’s mouthpiece. The public does, indeed, have a right to know how the tax dollars that happen to wander back here after making their U-turn through sticky-fingered Washington are being apportioned out, but surely that right could be satisfied with a webpage or downloadable PDF file. (Surely not, my experience a few years ago with PennDOT’s online presence suggests, but I’m talking hypothetically.) The idea that the signs in question are about transparency—rather than about conveying a message along the lines of “See, citizens? We’re Getting Something Done!”—is balderdash.

    Regarding the publicist, my main question is whether he’s being asked to work without pay like those on the regular old state payroll. (And yes, I know that the money paid to Snyder probably comes directly out of the stimulus fund and not from the general budget in Harrisburg. The contrast is still a droll one.)

    My parents are hosting a family reunion on my mother’s side tomorrow. A few dozen relatives will descend on Shimerville, and there are now enough sausages cooked in beer, deviled eggs, potato salad, and beef barbecue for all. An uncle is bringing the (handmade) pierogies. My father ventured to ask what those who wanted a vegetable should do. My mother looked at him as if he’d just landed from Mars. “There are peppers in with the sausage. And I think someone’s bringing a vegetable tray.” Talk of a salad surfaced briefly a few weeks ago, then retreated to the dark-green, leafy depths* and has not, to my knowledge, been raised again.

    My job…well, okay, I sort of volunteered…was to attend to the booze list. It would be disrespectful not to have enough whiskey on hand for Ciocia H’s highballs, after all. How frequently I’ll be offering to freshen her drink as a cover for topping my own will depend on how successfully the rest of the family keeps a lid on the passive-aggressive grudge-working. (My mother’s side of the family is Polish Catholic.)

    * Actually, now that I think of it, that’s misleading, since salad in this family refers to a quarter-head of iceberg lettuce covered, Vesuvius-destroying-Pompeii-like, in hot bacon dressing.

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