Keeping Tabs, Through Google Maps

Privacy advocates seem to hate Google Maps.  They think the photos of buildings and houses and people going about their daily business are intrusive.

As a parent, though, I think Google Maps is a very useful resource.

Here’s what I mean.  Russell is moving to his third apartment in Brooklyn.  We can’t go there to see what it looks like.  But, using Google Maps, we can see that his new place is above the JR’s Furniture on Broadway in Brooklyn, next door to what looks like a very intriguing meat market — literally, the Broadway Meat Market, which features “lamb, pork, poultry, dairy products, deli” — as well as Angel Fish and a discount store.  Elevated train tracks run down the avenue at the second story level, and across the street is a Chinese restaurant, a pawn shop, and another deli.  In short, it seems to be a classic urban Brooklyn neighborhood.

I haven’t seen Russell’s new digs, and probably won’t for a while.  But thanks to Google Maps, I feel like a have a better sense of where he is and what he is likely doing — and a parent, that’s what I really want.

You Get What You Pay For

Kish wisely says there are some things you don’t scrimp on.  Shoes, for one.  Toilet paper, for another.  And, presumably, restoring damaged church frescoes painted by long dead artists.

The latter rule was confirmed by a horrifying yet hilarious BBC story.  A Spanish church was trying to figure out what to do with a more than 100-year-old fresco of Christ created by Elias Garcia Martinez that had been visibly harmed by moisture.  A well-intentioned, 80-year-old parishioner decided to take matters, and a paintbrush, into her own hands.  Her inept restoration attempt resulted in a restoration gone terribly wrong — a painting that, in the words of a BBC correspondence, looks like “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.”  And, based on a comparison of the original painting and the “restoration,” that description is apt.

Now the church will have to decide whether the damage can be repaired, and if so, how.  In the meantime, the rest of us should remember:  if you want something done right, hire an expert!

Patton Put-On

You have to hand it to federal employees — they may be mindless bureaucratic drones in their jobs, but when it comes to spending tax dollars, they’ve got more creativity than Pablo Picasso.

The latest evidence of this phenomenon comes from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which ponied up $5 million for two week-long training sessions for human resources personnel at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida — apparently the world’s largest convention hotel.  The $5 million included $52,000 spent to create a parody of the opening scene of the film Patton, as well as $84,000 for promotional items like highlighters and hand sanitizers.  (A story about the contents of the video, with a link to the video itself, is here.)  In all, 1,800 people attended the conferences, at a cost of $2,734 per person.

The VA has an important function, of course, but spending $5 million so HR personnel can be trained at a glitzy conference center — as opposed to spending the funds to better help veterans with their health care, job training and placement, and social reintegration needs — doesn’t seem like a wise use of tax dollars.

Credit should be given to the House of Representatives committee that is investigating this incident, as well as the possibility that the VA officials deciding where to hold the conference may have received improper gifts.  Congress has an important role to play in examining federal funding and shining a spotlight on waste.  The current oversight work recalls the watchdog efforts of prior legislators, such as former Democratic Senator William Proxmire and his “Golden Fleece” awards given to agencies that engaged in frivolous spending.  Ferreting out and ending wasteful federal spending shouldn’t be a partisan issue.