MAD DOG: An Immodest Proposal

Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones. When confronted with how to keep your pants up, how to fasten two pieces of paper together, and how to maintain your sanity and your radio's safety when Dr. Laura's show comes on, we've developed such simple solutions as the button, the paper clip, and the 'off' switch.Contrast this with our government, which when confronted with problems like "How do we raise money?," "How do we best spend that money?," and "How can we, your duly elected representatives, profit most from all this?" comes up with answers like the I.R.S., the B-2 Stealth Bomber and deferring term limits in Congress. Is it any wonder the public has more confidence in lawyers, used car salesmen and Mafia hit men than it does in politicians?Lately one of the major problems confronting lawmakers is where to put prisoners, and we're not just talking about their former colleagues. The latest projections are that the prison population in the United will grow by more than 600,000 over the next 10 years. To put this in perspective, that's nearly the same number of new Starbucks stores expected to open during the same time period.The question is, where will we put them all? Not the Starbucks -- Lord knows there are more than enough malls being built to accommodate them -- but rather where are we going to house the new prisoners?So far the answers have been rather short on elegance. Some prisoners are being forced to take on additional roommates. Others are being shipped out of state. And still others are being executed. None of these are viable long-term solutions.New prison beds cost money, money that has to come from somewhere. As any taxpayer knows, even though money can be both created and destroyed, it will always come out of your pocket. We're being told that it could cost upwards of $37 billion to keep up with prison needs over the next ten years. That's a lot of money. Almost as much as Microsoft will make during your lunch hour. That's why governors everywhere have been fighting so hard to cut costs. Not to help Microsoft make money, but rather to give up-and-coming criminals a dry bed and a warm meal. Thus the constant battle over cutting government money for education, housing and the arts. This, as expected, causes a very loud outcry. Educators say they won't be able to buy enough books, housing authorities claim people will be sleeping on the street, and museum officials swear they will have to cut back their hours. While I can't vouch for the lack of books or the increase of street people, I did get a firsthand view of the effect budget cuts can have on museums.The last time I was in New York City I wanted to counterbalance my shopping, eating, drinking and panhandler dodging with a visit to a museum. Due to budget cuts the Museum of Modern Art wasn't opening until 1:00. For the same reason the Guggenheim didn't even open on Thursdays. Luckily the Metropolitan Museum of Art was open, though they close galleries on a rotating schedule to save money.So how do we reconcile our need to house the ever increasing number of prisoners without further sacrificing the arts? The answer is simple: move the prisoners into the museums.Face it, museums are underutilized. Since most of their art is hanging on the walls, they have lots of unused floor space. Why not fill it with prisoners? Any museum worth a line item in a state budget already has a full compliment of guards, surveillance cameras in every corner, and a security system even the Impossible Mission Force would find daunting. And since they're already closing galleries on a rotating schedule, they could keep the prisoners in the closed-off sections during the day, eliminating the chance that anyone will confuse a mass murderer for a Duane Hanson sculpture.But that's not all. This plan would also allow:- Increased convenience for prisoners' families, since museums are open longer hours than conventional prisons.- More enriching discussions between prisoners and visitors. "Look at the hooters on that babe in the Rubens painting" will replace "So tell me where you hid the freakin' money, already."- Violent criminals could be housed in the impressionist gallery, where the soft, pastel colors would have a calming effect.- It would put an end to all those unsightly Sports Illustrated Swimsuit calendars prisoners love to put on the walls. Who needs supermodels when they can have Degas, Matisse and Picasso? Prisoners who wouldn't be caught dead stealing a DeKooning will actually have the opportunity to room with one.- And finally, prisoners could start making license plates with a marked post-expressionist influence, a pleasant change from the super realism of the current ones.Best of all, once these problems are taken care of we can direct our energies towards other challenges facing our country. Like the pothole problem. Now suppose we were to build rubber roads and drive on concrete tires. Then when the roads expanded and contracted.......

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