Friday, December 18, 2009

Free Money

The Monroe County School District is pondering whether or not to take one point five million dollars offered by Florida in the Race to the Top program. The idea is that the district will get the money to reward teachers who are best and better as a way to encourage excellence. Board member Steve Pribamsky is the only loud voice in favor, and rumor has it he may be leaving soon to inflict himself on St Lucie county in some, no doubt divisive, capacity. The sooner the better, if true. Everybody else is asking to see the small print and wondering what the State will demand in return for the handout. Of course there are time constraints and everything needs to be rushed. Union lawyers are leading the opposition at the moment because they fear Florida, the "right-too-work" state par excellence is looking to use this particular race to dole out money to weaken the teacher's union. And so it all becomes political.

This sort of thing may show us the way ahead. The Government hands out billions in untrammeled money to supporters and lobbyists and doles out with great parsimony and attention to detail the crumbs to the people who could make the best social use of the cash. I don't really see much in the way of social improvement across the US as a return on investment for the tax dollars handed over to banks. I feel the money could have done a lot more good if thrown away in different directions, directions that cannot pay lobbyists to encourage government support. As it is banks are not writing down their weak assets, and in claiming profitability are paying back portions of the Government relief money to free up their bonus schemes from oversight. However their profits are fake, their books are cooked, and the fundamental flaws in the economy are not being addressed. Still, the state is going to make sure it keeps a microscopic watch on the paltry millions it doles out to schools for use as bribes to break the unions. Get rid of the unions and thus get rid of job security, affordable health care and you help to create a yet weaker and more compliant workforce. It's not exactly Henry Ford's principle of paying workers enough to buy the products they build.

I have been reading about the Next Big Scare which is Sovereign Debt Default which is a fancy way of asking what happens when entire countries default on their debts, with the overriding fear of what happens when the US or China call it a day. Consider this: the industrialized country with the lowest deficit to GDP ratio is Canada at 79%. That's right, Canada with its single payer health care system, its government controlled drug prices, it's tightly regulated financial system is doing far better than the US (and Britain) at 95% or Japan at 275%. Australia, another socialist state (in the Tea bagger's scale of atrocious government practices) never even went into recession during the recent crisis. Does anyone think that regulating banks, controlling health care costs and offering workers a modicum of security makes for a weak economy?

One last thought: I found out, in reading about Japanese irritation over the US base on Okinawa, that the US has 47,000 military based in Japan. My question is simply: Why?

Cuban Coffee Queen

There is a new coffee shop in Key West, the 927th variation on well-worn theme; it so happens I rather like it. Location is the guarantor of success we are told by people who study good business practices, and the Cuban Coffee Queen is in a good location, between Waterfront Market and Turtle Kraals, in just the right, almost-waterfront place, to serve boaters and strollers of whom there are lots in this area.There is a little known illness in Key West that tends to afflict people after only a little while in town; travel becomes a chore. Imagine this: Fausto's grocery store has two outlets, one serving Old Town a block off Duval and another a whole mile away on White Street serving the rest of the metropolis. If they closed the White Street location no-one from New Town would bother to scoot five extra minutes to the Old Town location. People who live near Duval routinely decline to go to New Town based on it's distance (the whole island remember is four miles/six kilometers long...) and Stock Island (Mile Marker 5) is in the outer darkness of Deep Space. Thus it is that having a coffee shop and an inconvenience store (those little places with inconveniently high prices) every three blocks is a source of relief for travel-impaired Key Westers.
The Cuban Coffee Queen is more of a concept than a person as far as I can tell. He (clearly not a queen, quite masculine actually) made my coffee quickly and efficiently, while the woman is Hungarian(as I once overheard her telling a patron), which was no impediment to her pulling together a vast and delicious sandwich for me with equal attention to detail. They don't just make coffee either:
And for people confused by buchis (Cuban espresso shots), coladas (several buchis in a large cup to share in thimble sized cups usually) and con leches (liquid candy bars with lots of hot milk, drenching a buchi with sugar to taste) there is a handy, weatherproof explanation of the Cuban Coffee Queen's version: Not content with a sandwich list as long as your arm there is also the all-American blackboard:(I should have tried the mac and cheese now I think about it), and the other all-American invention is the voluntary tax deduction. The top dollar was the one I put in. If you can't afford the tip you can't afford the meal is a good rule to live by in expensive Key West.
They have a scooter for deliveries, this is just a piece of artwork, I'm pretty sure:The rooster is not real happily, though the large con leche is.
There are a couple of benches alongside the coffee shop, but what you see is what you get. All the food and drink comes out of here:The benches did not seem terribly appealing to me, as the food was large and deserved a table if I was to eat it cleanly. An uncharacteristic summer-type thunderstorm had blown over and the sun was shining again.
This was my six dollar sandwich, Cuban roast pork, a slice of ham, a slice of cheese, tomato, lettuce and fried onions. It was enough for two and it did not come in an un-ecological Styrofoam container for a change. My only problem was figuring out where to sit and eat this monster. I thought about Rest Beach, a long way away ( I suffer the travel disease too sometimes...) or possibly a bench alongside the harbor master's office at the nearby Key West Bight. Any sandwich would taste good overlooking the water.I ended up eating half and took the chips and candy cane with the other half to my wife in her classroom on my way out of town. She enjoyed it as much as I did.
That is, in fact half a sandwich!

Diagonally across the parking lot there is the convenience store called Caroline Street Market, but known informally locally as the Ay-rab Store(they are Bangladeshis that run it, but who's counting?) and they make their version of Cuban coffee:Close by there is Harpoon Harry's diner where you can get coffee with the infliction of TV whether you like that or not, and down the street a little further there is the Coffee Plantation that is rather more up market than a roadside hut. Lots of choices so one need never stagger too far to get a cup of coffee, whatever you end up calling it.