Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Give 'Em Hell, Harry!*

Harry S. Truman was President of the United States from April 12, 1945, when he was sworn in following the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, until January 20, 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated to succeed him. He was the 33rd president and it was during his term of office that the Baby Boom generation came into being. It can fairly be said that the Boomers' parents, and so by extension the Boomers themselves, were affected by the policies, politics and principles of Harry S. Truman. If George Washington was the "Father of Our Country" it can safely be said that Harry Truman was the "Father of the Baby Boom".

Mr. Truman was noted as much for the type of politician he was as for his politics. He was, in a phrase, "plain-spoken", known for telling it like it is, especially when speaking about Republicans and their policies - hence the phrase, "Give 'em hell, Harry!", about which he was reported to say, "I never give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think that it is hell".  Unlike most politicians, Mr. Truman didn't waffle on issues or hesitate to take a stand - "I never sit on a fence. I am either on one side or another". When a decision was necessary he made it, and he never backed away from responsibility for the consequences, most famously the decision to use the Atomic Bomb to bring an end to World War II. "It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. But the President cannot duck hard problems - he cannot pass the buck." So let's call him forthright, decisive,  and willing to take responsibility - we should never settle for less in anyone who aspires to the high office of president.

As to his politics, Harry Truman was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat who believed in the core principles of the party. "Every man should have the right to a decent home, the right to an education, the right to adequate medical care, the right to a worth-while job, the right to an equal share in the making of public decisions through the ballot and the right to a fair trial in a fair court." (July 6, 1947) As to the role of government in securing these rights, this excerpt from his State of the Union address on January 7, 1948, sums up his view: " We do believe that governments are created to serve the people and that economic systems exist to minister to their wants. We have a profound devotion to the welfare and rights of the individual as a human being."  He was passionate that the Democratic party was the right party for America, as he stated at a rally Chicago in September, 1953: "It is our duty to win if we can - for the simple reason that the principles and programs of the Democratic party are what's best for the United States.

All of that was more than 65 years ago; we Baby Boomers have grown old and been replaced by Gen- Xers and they in turn are giving way to the Millenials, with Generation Z (still waiting for a catchy new name) waiting in the wings for its turn. How would a man like Harry S. Truman fare in politics today, and how would his principles and policies apply to the political issues facing the nation in the second decade of the twenty-first century?  Those are the questions that I hope to explore in advance of the upcoming mid-term elections, perhaps with the hope of nudging some folks around to see that what was good for the country in the mid-twentieth century is still good for the country today.

To that end I have created a facebook page (because "social media" seems to be where it's at these days and fb is the only one I know how to use) where I will share posts and articles on current events from various sources and then discuss them in terms of what Harry S. Truman had to say on similar issues back in his day. It should be an interesting exercise to see how well his political philosophy and principles apply to the challenges faced by modern-day America. I hope you'll join me and participate in the discussion.

*The title and all of the quotes included in this post were obtained from "Give 'Em Hell Harry", edited by Mark Goodman (copyright 1974 by Universal-Award House, Inc.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Additional thoughts on having a swimming pool

Last Fall as I was preparing to close the pool for the season I opined here whether having a pool was worth the time and effort it took to open, maintain and close it in light of the limited season and opportunity for use. Well, it's a new season  and I'm happy to say that all of my doubts as to the wisdom of pool ownership have disappeared and my enthusiasm has been restored.

This Spring none of the circumstances that delayed opening the pool were present and I was intent on getting the cover off and the water cleared up before the local amphibian community showed up to claim it as their breeding ground.  Alex and I got the cover off in late May and I was pleasantly shocked to discover that the water was mostly clear - I could actually see the bottom o,f the pool which has never been the case before! This development encouraged me to get the pump and filter operational as soon as possible and that process, too, went more smoothly than I had hoped and by the first of June I had the whole system up and running without a sign of any leaks or other complications.

I only had to shock and vacuum the pool twice to get the water to a crystal clear state and the chemicals adjusted to proper levels and by the weekend I was able to declare the pool open and ready for use. The first weekend in June has always been my target date but this is the first year I ever made it! The early  June weather, always a questionable variable around here, cooperated and soon the water temperature had reached 75 degrees and the air temperature topped 80 - that's all the reason I need to get naked and jump into the pool! It's the middle of June and I've already  probably been in the water more times than I was all last Summer.

There's been just one small complication to my uninhibited enjoyment of my time on the pool deck or in the pool - it seems a couple of gray tree frogs also claimed squatting (or whatever they do) rights to the territory. I first spotted them sitting on top of the rail as I was working to get the pool open but they seemed harmless enough so I let them be. Soon after I got the filter running I discovered the two of them in the skimmer - sadly, one had not survived the ordeal. I put the remaining frog back on the rail where I had first seen him and wished him well, but I was sad that he had lost his mate.

A few days went by and I had not seen Mr. Frog although I could hear his cohorts calling in the woods around the pool. Yesterday as I drifted around on my float I spotted something peeking out from under one of the corner covers on the deck; closer inspection revealed it to be Mr. Frog himself. Apparently he has established residency there and before long I heard him calling to his brethren, presumably in search of a mate. This afternoon, Alex and I spotted him sticking his head out from under the corner cap again, and before long he started to issue the distinctive "Braaack" call unique to his species - sadly, there was no reply and I feared he had lost his opportunity to find a mate. I needn't have been so pessimistic. Tree frogs are nocturnal creatures so all he needed to do to get a response was wait until nightfall.

Tonight the air is filled with the calls of love-sick tree frogs and I'm hopeful that Mr. Frog will find his true love. I just hope he doesn't plan on raising his brood in my pool, because that's just not going to happen - I know of a nearby frog pond that I could recommend to him.

But having a pool - oh yeah, it's worth it!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

It's all about "community"

I've lived in Freeport for more than 40 years. I wasn't born here so I can't claim to be a native but I think my longevity here gives me some standing as a citizen and, more important, as a member of the community. It's the community that I want to talk about.

I've lived practically my entire adult life here; I've paid taxes, gone to PTA meetings, attended town council sessions, helped establish the youth football program, supported the local Boy Scouts and Little League, worked in the local hardware store, supported local businesses, and tried to be a good neighbor. There have been lots of changes in the town since I moved here in 1971 but there is one thing that has not changed: the "Freeport community" has always encompassed the neighboring towns of Pownal and Durham. Three separate towns, yes, but one "community".

Freeport Community Services is a wonderful organization that enriches the lives and provides assisatance to the residents of all three towns; likewise the Freeport Community Library is a wonderful resource that serves residents of Durham and Pownal as well as Freeport; there is even a local newspaper, the Tri-Town Weekly, devoted to providing coverage of news and events in the three towns that comprise the "Freeport community". My sons attended Freeport schools and had friends and classmates from Pownal and Durham. The residents of Durham and Pownal work in Freeport and shop in Freeport. Freeport, Pownal and Durham are three separate entities in terms of municipality but I would argue that they are one in terms of community. Which brings us to the movement afoot for Freeport to withdraw from RSU-5 and go it alone in the education of our children.

Some background is needed here. Freeport has always maintained a school system to provide education from kindergarten through high school. My sons went to Holbrook Street School for their early education, attended Mast Landing and Freeport Middle School during their formative years, and graduated from Freeport High School. Their experience was enriched by the presence of classmates from Durham and Pownal as part of the Freeport School System community. This "community" was formalized when the State mandated that local communities consolidate their educational resources to form "Regional School Units" as an efficiency measure, and RSU-5 was born.

RSU-5 resulted from the formal consolidation of the school systems of Freeport, Pownal and Durham into one entity which incorporated the facilities of the three towns into one entity devoted to the education of students from all three towns. The objective was to ensure that all students from the three separate towns enjoyed access to a quality education, and that the citizens of the three towns would have a voice in how that education was funded. The experiment got off to a pretty good start but recently it has foundered because of budget issues; the citizens of Pownal and Durham balked at approving expenses favored by many citizens of Freeport and all of a sudden the wheels started coming off.

A group of Freeport citizens who were incensed that they had not gotten their way in the budget vote organized a movement to have Freeport withdraw from RSU-5, which is their right. They are well organized and well financed, so their efforts led to an initial vote to have the town "explore" withdrawal. State law mandates several steps to be negotiated prior to a second vote to complete the process for a town to withdraw from an RSU, and the committees negotiating the process are apparently hung up on one critical issue: if Freeport withdraws from the RSU, will it be the "school of record" for students from Pownal and Durham? Incredibly, the withdrawal committee is balking at answering "yes" to this question!

Which gets us back to the concept of "community".  It seems strange to me that we would turn our backs on the children of our neighboring towns and say "sorry, there's no room for you here". It seems even stranger that we would deprive Freeport students of the diversity and richness of experience that derives from broadening the student base beyond the town boundaries. The folks favoring withdrawal from the RSU may very well have compelling arguments in their favor but I can't believe that "we don't have room for students from Pownal and Durham" is one of them.

So I say this to my fellow Freeporters: withdraw from RSU-5 if you feel you must (I will vote against it) but please don't turn your backs on any of the children of the "Freeport Community", which includes students from Durham and Pownal. Freeport must be the "school of record" for our neighbors because if we abandon our "community" what are we teaching our children?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Slow and steady

"So I'm on a mission: to occupy the syndicated space of RPDTNYTCP by appearing daily to comment on the puzzle and to offer a peek into the early days of the blog. My hope is that just as the "prime-time" blog has grown and evolved the syndicated segment can, too. "We're more than one-half, we're more than one-half!" Well, maybe I need to come up with a better chant but you get the idea. If you do the NYT crossword puzzle, even if you only TRY to do it, get over to RPDTNYTCP and leave a comment, dammit!"

That's the concluding paragraph of a piece I posted here over two years ago (My "Occupy" Movement, 10/20/2011 http://dirigonzo.blogspot.com/2011/10/my-occupy-movement.html)  and it seemed like this would be a good time to revisit the topic for an update on the status of events and happenings  surrounding the syndicated segment of Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle. And I'm happy to report there have been some very positive changes over the last couple of years.

I've maintained my pledge to show up every day (with very few exceptions) and add my comments to the blog, if only to be a constant (and sometimes lonely) presence just to establish that the comment line is still open five weeks later, and maybe encourage other potential contributors to join in. Whether this has been helpful to the cause or detrimental is hard to say, but over time some commenters who had contributed occasionally began to show up with more frequency, and some new names emerged as "regulars" who came to join the party frequently, if not daily. And so a small but burgeoning, active community has arisen where once there was only a ghost town.

A community, even a virtual one, needs a name and we have tried out several over time. My own favorite was "Syn-City" and I still use it on occasion, but the most regularly used moniker for our little chunk of cyber-space is "Syndi-Land" and its denizens are "Syndi-Landers" or just "Syndies".  Recently I've noticed both terms being used with a certain amount of pride attached as the community has developed a character which is quite different from that of the main body of Rexites ("kinder, gentler" is a phrase that comes up quite often) and I think most regard the difference as a good thing.

If Rexville is a hustling, bustling metropolis populated by a cosmopolitan assemblage of erudite contributors all rushing to be to be among first to the finish the puzzle and the earliest to comment, then Syndi-Land is the laid-back exurb where those of us who wish to avoid the stress of the "rat race" can join together and share our more relaxed approach to life in general and puzzle solving in particular. In many respects our little group resembles a retirement community where folks can discuss, critique (but seldom "criticize"), share and compare experiences, views and ideas on any number of topics sometimes even including the puzzle. The one thing we all have in common is that we solve (or try to - a "Did Not Finish" is not considered a failure among our group) the puzzle and come together to discuss it in our own time and at our own pace.  The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that reading Rex's write-up and the comments, and participating in the blog community improves our puzzle-solving skills and makes the experience more fun.

The defining characteristic of a Syndie is that each of us solves the puzzle in our local newspaper, using a pen or pencil (or crayon or whatever) to fill in the actual grid published in the paper - we do NOT solve on-line as do most of the other Rexites. Any one of us could subscribe to the NY Times crossword puzzle on line and solve the puzzle on the day it comes out instead of five weeks later; I think that we choose not to do that is the defining characteristic of a Syndi-Lander. Our reasons may vary but the bottom line is the same: we are content where we are. 

I'm hopeful that other syndi-lurkers will see the commentary going on among the Syndies and feel compelled to join us.  There may even be a "prime-timer" or two who are ready to quit the hectic competition among the early contributors, and they would most certainly be welcomed into our little enclave. "Slow and steady" seems to be a good motto for Syndi-Land - it's how we solve our puzzles and it's how we grow our community.

As I said at the outset, I take no credit for what's happening in Syndi-Land, but I am very proud and glad to be a part of it.

If I can wait five weeks for a puzzle, certainly "MaƱana is good enough for me". Here's what you get when you type it as it might appear in a crossword grid:

With the tilde (a word I learned from doing crosswords) in place, you might get this:

P.S. - A former syndi-lander turned prime-timer commented a while back that she sometimes yearned to rejoin the "bird-watching, star-gazing, cold-enduring" folks in syndi-land. I can't think of a better way to describe our little community!

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Peacock Family Tragedy

I live in a small town and because I work in the local hardware store, where almost everyone winds up at one time or another in search of some needed item, I know most of the citizens by face if not by name. So when I see a news account of a local family who has suffered a loss I take interest and wonder how I can help them out.

And so it was when I read of a fire that had destroyed the home of Richard and Diane Peacock - Diane is a regular customer whom I know by both face and name and I knew at once that I wanted to help. Freeport is a caring community that looks out for its own and by the time I learned of the need someone had already established a fund at the local credit union to receive contributions on behalf of the victims, so providing some financial aid was easy. Still, I hoped to do more. And of course Providence intervened to make that possible.

Rick and Diane came into the store while I happened to be working - they had been in previously to purchase a very small item for the home that a neighbor vacationing in Florida had offered for their use until their home could be replaced. As it turns out, they got the wrong part and needed to exchange it and I happily offered to help them.

We found the part they needed without difficulty and they were glad to have it, but as they looked around the store they found several other items that they needed in their new, temporary home (they lost everything in the fire) and by the time we arrived back at the register they had quite an armload of goodies and I allowed as how some special pricing was in order. OK, here comes Providence.

My boss, the new owner of the store, was near the register so I introduced him to the Peacocks and briefly told them their story. By sheer coincidence (for lack of a better term) he had JUST received an email from his wife who had just read a news account of the fire and wanted to do something to help the victims. Call it Karma, kismet, fate or whatever, but Woody (he's the owner) had just learned of the loss from his wife, who was spending the holidays in a far-away state, and now he was standing face-to-face with the victims - needless to say, he was in a very generous mood!

When Rick and Diane left the store they had the right part to replace the one they had purchased earlier, plus the items they added on the way back to the register, plus a few things that Woody felt would be helpful - all free, because the forces of the universe all combined to make such a thing happen. You may call it luck, and maybe that's all it is - I don't have any better explanation for why things worked out that way, but I do have my suspicions. Whatever you call it, I'm glad for the minor role I was able to play in helping, in a small way, some good folks get back on their feet after a tragic loss.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thanks, Sis - I found the puzzle you left for me!

Every week I do the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, which appears in the local Sunday paper, and then I post an entry about the puzzle and my experience solving it on a blog I have for just that purpose. I enjoy doing this and the process has become an important part of my weekend routine (and we all know how much I love "routine".  I do other crosswords as well and for the most part I enjoy sharing the experience with whoever happens to be around to participate, but I really like to do the Longo puzzle as a solitary exercise so I can focus on what I like or don't like about the puzzle and can analyze my own reactions to it without being distracted by anyone else. It's my way of carving out an hour or two of "me time" without outside distraction or influence, and I like it.

Last week, delivery of the paper was delayed by the arrival of a major snow storm - the motor-carrier who delivers my daily paper plus the Sunday Telegram is super efficient but he's not crazy so he wisely chose to delay delivery until the roads had been cleared and made safe by the very excellent Public Works employees who take care of these things during and after a storm. By the time the paper arrived I was already busy clearing my own yard so the puzzle had to wait. It was still undone by the time I retired for the night so I planned to take the puzzle page with me the next morning to work on while I waited for the veterans whom I drove to the VA facility to be ready for the return trip, so no problem.

But, as Robert Burns famously wrote in his poem "To a Mouse, On Turning Up Her Nest With The Plough", "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry] " (robertburns.org), and my plan did just that. I had not counted on an insomniac house-guest completing the puzzle while I slept but that's just what she did, so I arose in the morning to find a completed grid along with a note proudly announcing that she had completed the puzzle without any help! Good for her, bad for me, but I quickly developed a "plan B". 

The route I take in the van takes me right past a local convenience store and I surmised that, due to the storm, they might very well have Sunday papers left over when I went by early Monday morning - I would simply pick one up, chuck the rest of the paper which I had already read, and do the puzzle while I waited at Togus. Genius! So here's where things get weird.

I went directly to the paper rack in the store only to discover that there were no Sunday papers left - I was disappointed but it wasn't the end of the world so I started to leave when I spotted a single paper on top of the ice-cream freezer near the from door, obviously left there just for me! I picked up my trophy and took it to the cashier who very helpfully pointed out that it was "yesterday's paper" but I assured her it was just what I wanted and she happily took my money, saying that I had saved her the trouble of throwing the paper out, which somebody was supposed to have done before her shift began just a little earlier. So I got a paper that wasn't even supposed to be there to begin with, but that's just lucky! Then things got even more weird.

The paper had the appearance of having been read and put back together, which didn't bother me because I just wanted the puzzle section anyway. But when I finally had a chance to search for that section I couldn't find it - of all the sections and inserts in the paper it looked like the section that contained the puzzle was missing! Panic started to set in. But I'm a determined individual not given to quitting easily so I started to go through the entire paper piece by piece in search of Section G, where the puzzle resides. That's when the situation went from weird to just plain spooky.

In the center of the paper, amid all the ads and inserts that abound during the holiday shopping season, I spotted a torn page kind of crumpled up and jammed down into the crease of the center fold - it looked more like a scrap than anything useful but I pulled it out anyway. It was the top half of a single newspaper sheet which had been torn roughly in two, probably by some mechanical processing error, and as I extracted it and uncrumpled it I discover that I had found the Premier Crossword with the whole grid and all of the clues intact. With a little more careful unfolding and application of some Scotch tape to hold the whole thing together, I had my puzzle!
I've written in this space before that I truly believe there are forces which we do not understand at work in this universe and that not everything that happens can be chalked up to random chance, pure luck, fate, or whatever you call it when something entirely unexpected happens like that. I could be wrong but I don't think it was pure accident that placed that one vital piece of a destroyed section in my paper. Or maybe it was - I don't expect to ever know the answer in this lifetime but if I learn the answer in whatever comes next, I'll try to let you know.

Until I get an answer, if I ever do, whenever something unexpected and good like that happens I like to think of my departed parents and sister and wonder if just maybe one or all of them is still keeping an eye on things back here and helping whenever they can. Probably not, but I still take comfort in the thought - because, really, I need all the help I can get.

Speaking of angels (which I was, without using the word) here's a seasonal song on the topic which enjoyed and I hope you do, too:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wicked Woman*

Today's (syndicated) New York Times crossword puzzle included the following clue: 45 & 46 (Down) - Quite bad; the corresponding answers were PRETTY AWFUL.  This entry generated some commentary from the regular contributors to a blog devoted to the puzzle, including this from @Z: "PRETTY AWFUL is an interesting construction to consider (how did 'pretty' become a word that adds emphasis? 'Awful' as in god-like or as in terrible? Maybe Hera would be the embodiment of PRETTY AWFUL? It's just kind of weird)."

All of which started me to thinking about emphatic words and phrases that I use or hear regularly but which might strike anyone "from away" as weird or non-sensical. So in the interest of helping visitors to Maine understand the level of emphasis imparted by figures of speech which locals may use when describing something, here is a primer of terms that may be employed to specify the degree of a particular description:

- "Pretty" may indicate a higher or lower level of degree depending on the context. Something said to be "pretty good" is OK but not up to the highest standards, and something that's "pretty bad" is worse than just bad.  "It's pretty cold out" probably means the weather is not too severe, whereas "It's pretty cold out there, I'll tell ya" indicates more extreme conditions.

- "Plenty" on the other hand is unequivocally higher in degree. "It's plenty cold out there" means it's not just cold, it's really cold. Go outside only if you have to.

- "Some" or "some-ol'" also indicate a higher degree of intensity, so "It's some friggin' cold out" and "It's some-ol' friggin' cold there, Mr. man" both mean you should probably stay inside under any circumstances. "She's some pretty" and "She's some-ol' pretty" are both high compliments to the lady in question. But if her cooking is "some awful" or "some-ol' awful" you should make reservations at a good restaurant.

- "Awful" raises the level of intensity to a whole new level - "I'm sorry" may be a sincere apology but "Hey, I'm awful sorry" conveys real regret. "She's an awful good-lookin' woman" means she's drop-dead gorgeous, and "I didn't pay an awful lot for it" means it was pretty cheap.

- "Wicked" is the superlative of modifiers. When none of the others quite convey the extreme condition you wish to impart "wicked" is the word you want. "It's wicked cold out there" means don't even think about going outside. Anything that's "big" is exponentially larger if it's "wicked big", and so on. anytime you're looking for the right word to express something in superlative terms, good or bad, "wicked" is the way to go. Here are a couple of guys who totally get the usefulness of the term and have put it to good use to ensure highway safety:

All of the above terms can be used to great effect in conjunction with the word "massive", but that's a topic for another post.

So "pretty awful" might mean quite bad but "awful pretty" is a whole other story - funny how that works, isn't it?