Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Evening of Reverie

It was pure a happenstance by which I came into possession of a cassette recording of "The Vagina Monologues" yesterday. The performance is something that I have heard about and had an interest in attending for many years, but the opportunity just never presented itself. So when I spied the plastic case containing two audio cassettes of the work as read by the author, Eve Ensler, on the rack of free books I snatched (no pun intended - get your mind out of the gutter) it up immediately and brought it home.

So it was that after dinner last night I put an extra log in the wood stove, poured myself a generous glass of bourbon, turned on my multi-color fiber-optic tree for ambiance and fired up the old twin deck cassette player. And then I sat down on the couch with the dogs piled around me, closed my eyes and listened. If you have ever attended a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" then you know it is at times serious, sometimes funny, remarkably enlightening (to me, anyway) and always entertaining.

There I sat, about as relaxed and happy as a man can be by himself (the dogs don't count), when, a little more than half way through the performance I think, I heard the words that at once grabbed my attention and made me think of something, someone actually, totally unrelated to the topic at hand. The phrase was, "I have always been obsessed with naming things", and upon hearing it my mind went immediately to a friend from whom I have not heard in some time. I won't embarrass her by identifying her and thereby forever associate her name with this piece, but she loves to name things; she has a company whose business in naming things; she makes her living naming things, for chrissake! So my thoughts immediately and naturally turned to her - in a totally nonsalacious way I hasten to add. The moment, as they say, was over.

I did eventually lapse back into a more relaxed state but I suspect that this time it was due more to the bourbon than to the total tranquility and contentment that had been my prior condition; my reverie was over for the night. I finished the tapes but I had lost my passion for the performance; nirvana once lost is difficult to regain.

I believe I'll listen to "The Vagina Monologues" again sometime - possibly soon. Maybe I'll invite a friend.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Religious freedom

I'm not a religious man - spiritual maybe, as I do believe there are forces that we do not understand at work in the Universe. Still, I understand a lot of people are religious and that's OK with me - Baptist, Buddhist, Rastafarian or Druid, whatever belief you subscribe to is none of my business. But lately there have been some news items about religion that concern me and I have some thoughts to share.

The first item started like this: "AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage and other top Republicans called on Mainers to pray Tuesday as they announced the formation of the Maine Legislative Prayer Caucus." According to the report, "The prayer caucus meets once a week and does not discuss policy or bills. The goal is to be nonpartisan; the group prays for fellow legislators and other state and national leaders..."

Now this is all well and fine; anything that will bring our law-makers together to work cooperatively on solving our economic woes is fine with me, but praying and legislating are two very different activities. If one helps them do the other, that's a good thing; but as to the praying part, "not on my dime and not on my time" (which is a phrase I may or may not have just coined here). If the caucus meets once a week to pray "for fellow legislators and other state and national leaders", they had better do it on their own time and at their own expense - I want my legislators legislating, dammit! And I'm pretty sure that's covered under that "separation of church and state" thingy, anyway.

The second report that caught my attention was this: "YORK — A Maine man serving 30 years for murder is asking a federal judge to force the Maine State Prison to let him practice Satanism with other inmates.

In a complaint in U.S. District Court in Portland, Joshua Cookson says he's allowed to practice Satanism in his cell, but that he wants to do so in the activities building where group practices of other religions take place.

Prison officials have denied his requests, saying Satanism espouses violence."

OK, I admit I don't know much about Satanism and I suspect there is much about it with which I would disagree, but that's true of every organized religion (yes, even Christianity - sorry). So does "freedom of religion" apply to them all, or just to the "good" (i.e., non-Satanic) ones. To me, it's like freedom of speech - even the hateful stuff is protected, because that's what "freedom" means.

So should this guy be allowed to practice Satanism with others, or not - I don't know and I'll be interested to see how the court rules. But here's something to think about while you're deciding for yourself: Some people say that Islam espouses violence, too.

Hey, maybe the Governor could invite this guy to one of his prayer meetings!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Capitalism at its best

"What's the point of having a business that's not doing anything for the community?" That question was asked by Dale Partridge, Chief World Changer (that's his title, really) at a company called Sevenly, which he co-founded with Aaron Chavez. I think it's a really good question.

The reason behind the company name is fascinating in itself and you can read all about it the business section of the Maine Sunday Telegram (1/29/2012), but I want to focus on their business model. They manufacture and sell
T-shirts and hoodies, certainly not a unique enterprise for two young men going into business, but their fiscal philosophy sets them apart from most traditional enterprises: for every item sold they donate a portion (nearly 30 percent) of the proceeds to one of various causes they have identified as ones they want to support. That in itself is a remarkable thing for a for-profit business to do, but there's more.

Once a charity is identified, the company's designers create T-shirts and hoodies with images and slogans that promote the charity's cause, so they benefit not only monetarily from the donated proceeds but have their message publicized on the product as well - a two for one benefit so to speak, as they raise both money and awareness for the cause. Still that's not the end of how this business model benefits both the company and the causes it supports.

Sevenly sells it products exclusively on its website. Sales are promoted via the company's social media outlets, but they also ask the causes to promote the campaigns through their presence on social media platforms. So there are people who learn about the causes by "liking" Sevenly and customers who find the company by following the causes' media outlets - that's what we used to call a "win-win" situation.

Like any capitalist venture, Sevenly hopes to grow, but not so big that it would mean losing hands-on control in designing their products or working with nonprofits. "We'd like to stay small and efficient. That way we can make the most impact." That's the kind of capitalism I can live with and I hope this business model catches on. Apparently it could because, "It's cool to be socially good today," according to a professor who studies these things.

Did I mention that Partridge and Chavez are 26 and 19 years old, respectively? If young people like them can replace the greed-driven philosophy that dominates our economy today with a model that has a social conscience, there may be hope for us yet. God bless the "younger generation" - they are our future, and our only hope.

(Credit where credit is due department: The information in this post was derived from a piece written by Ricardo Lopez for the McClatchey Newspapers and published in the Maine Sunday Telegram. The opinions and editorial comments are all mine.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Guardian Angel or Just Lucky?

Today a young man came into the hardware store where I work needing a single screw to fix his hockey helmet. He didn't know what size the screw had to be, the thread pitch, or even if it was SAE or metric. But he had the helmet with him so I was confident that we could find the right fastener by trial and error, and we headed over to the fastener aisle where there are literally hundreds of products from which to choose.

I examined the threaded hole the screw would need to fit and went to the section of the department where I felt I would find the exact product we needed. While I was perusing the the drawers looking for a likely place to start my search, the customer spied a lone screw lying on the shelf - an orphan that someone had taken out and not returned to its proper place. He picked it up, screwed it into the helmet, and it fit! It was the right size, the right length, the right thread and the right head - it was perfect! Thirty seconds after we arrived in the aisle he had the screw he needed and the repair was completed (no thanks to me, I might add).

So here's my question for you - was he just really, really lucky (I told him to buy a lottery ticket on his way home) or did he have some "help" in the process? I've seen this type of thing happen often enough to convince me that there has to be something more than just blind luck in action. I'm not ready to tell you that it was a Guardian Angel who provided the assist, but really - do you have a better explanation?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Elizabeth Warren appears on The Daily Show

I've often said (not very originally, I'm afraid) that I get my news from Comedy Central and my comedy from Fox News. Actually, this is only half true - I don't watch Fox News. The first part, though, is accurate in that I often watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to get his (usually hilarious) take on current events, especially politics.

Recently Elizabeth Warren was the guest on The Daily Show and did an extended interview with Jon that went right to the heart of one of the most vexing problem of our times, the screwed up priorities of our financial system and the damage it has done to the middle class. Her clarity on the topic makes it apparent why the financial industry does not want her in any position where she would have regulatory authority over them, and her knowledge of the issue and what needs to be done to fix it is why we need her, or someone like her, in just such a position. Watch the interview (in two parts) and see for yourself how knowledgeable, articulate and passionate she is about the problem and what needs to be done to fix it. Here is the link (I hope):


Watch the videos and tell me, doesn't she make more sense than all those who say lowering taxes and reducing government regulation is the only way to financial salvation (for some, anyway, but not for you and me). Don't you think we need someone like her on our side for a change?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Boats I have known

I grew up in coastal Maine so boats have always been a big part of my life. My first boat (although it was really my dad's of course, I just thought of it as "mine") was a 13 foot Boston Whaler with a 25HP Gale outboard. It was pretty basic by any yachting standard but damn, was it fun. It was fast enough for water-skiing on Swan Lake and stable enough for a run to the islands in Penobscot Bay. I'm pretty sure I would not have survived some of the things I did with that Whaler in any other boat. But damn, that boat was a lot of fun. Throughout my high school and college years my summer social life revolved around boating - some of my fondest memories of that period involve being on the water. Good times.

So I guess it's only natural that as a newly married young man fresh out of the Army and starting a new career, one of the first things I did was get a boat. Since I was newly settled in a town on the shores of Casco Bay it seemed reasonable to select a craft that was suitable for coastal cruising, and sail seemed preferable to power (this was in the early '70s, a time of gas shortages and sky-rocketing fuel prices). After some research and a lot of scouting the market, I settled on a Cape Dory Typhoon, a 19 foot sloop with a full-keel and accommodations for a short cruise. "C-Lark", as she was named, was the perfect boat for a neophyte sailor - stable, easy to handle and , most importantly, forgiving. Her only drawback was that in a chop, a frequent condition on Casco Bay, she was wet - the spray generated by the bow hitting the waves blew straight back into the cockpit, soaking the crew. I loved everything about the boat except being wet and cold at the end of a day on the water - clearly what I needed was the same boat, only bigger.

I was in Bermuda when I first saw a Pearson Commander, a 26 foot weekender designed by Carl Alberg, who also designed the Typhoon. To say it was love at first sight would not be an exaggeration since here was a boat that was exactly what I was looking for: a design like "C-Lark" but bigger to reduce the spray problem, with a huge cockpit to accommodate a large crew and enough cabin space to enable a couple to go on a short cruise. This, I knew, would be my next boat and so it was; after a short search I found a Commander for sale in New Hampshire and "Deja Blue" became my new vessel. The sail from Great Bay on the Piscataqua River to her new home port on Casco Bay was the first of many memorable adventures that we would take together. She was a part of my life throughout all of my marriages - that has to count for something! But nothing lasts forever.

As my extended family grew there were so many competing activities that sailing became less important in the grand scheme of things. So I installed a swimming pool (who doesn't love a pool?) and sold the boat. I regretted this decision almost immediately and began to consider ways to reconcile my family's total disinterest with sailing and my need to go boating. And that is how I, a sailor of 30+ years, wound up back in the ranks of power boaters (stinkpotters). I spent a short time visiting local boat yards and "kicking keels" before I found a boat that had the "salty" lines that I was looking for and was reasonably priced (i.e., "cheap"). So after a short negotiation "Pursuit of Happiness" (as she came to be named) was my newest watercraft. The kids have grown up, the wife has moved away, but I still have the boat.

So here's my dilemma - last summer I went boating exactly zero times. Despite launching earlier than I ever had before I never went out on the water - not once. I spent the whole summer sunning by the pool. So what should I do? As I see it, my options are: give up boating and sit by the pool; sell "Pursuit of Happiness" and go back to sail; or (for about the same money) repower "POH" (to save on fuel cost), refurbish her, and maintain the status quo.

I'm open to suggestions but right now my thinking is to go with option "C" - there's nothing wrong with the status quo.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where have all the women in my life gone?

I have been told in all earnestness that I need a woman in my life. I'm sure there are any number of reasons that a friend might make such a comment but this particular bit of advice was inspired by a quick look at my housekeeping habits. I won't go into details but I live with three dogs and two cats so let's just say that I have a high tolerance for dust bunnies and rolling clumps of pet hair. I think my friend's advice was based on the presumption that no self-respecting woman would tolerate such conditions and so I would be motivated to clean up my act (or at least my house). I do not deny the validity of this line of reasoning but perhaps the assertion should not be that I need a woman for this reason, but that I need a housekeeper. I think I'll take that under advisement.

But the comment did lead me to reflect on the women who have been in my life and I have come to a realization of sorts: they have all moved away from me. I'm not talking about the women I have married, because I can understand how someone who has lived with me for a while might want to get as far away as possible - as Willy Nelson famously said, "I have come to understand that I am not easy to live with." The phenomenon I am describing involves women who have been in my life in less intimate ways.

Most recently, the massage therapist I started seeing only a few months ago and with whom I was extremely satisfied, sent me an email saying she's closing her practice and moving to Arizona. That reminded me of the woman who was my physician many years ago who suddenly relocated all the way to California - her (male) partner is still here and still my doctor - he never told me why she left. Hair stylists that I really liked (Gina, I'm looking at you) have all moved on to greener, far-away pastures. And the day-care provider that I relied on when my sons were young - you guessed it, she closed with short notice and moved away with her new husband (that had a tragic ending which still makes me sad). Even my sons' grandmother who was so supportive of us when their mother left us eventually abandoned Maine for a new home in Tennessee. And so it goes.

I haven't fared any better with social acquaintances since I've been single again, either. A couple of years ago I met and became friendly with a woman who had recently returned from living in Nicaragua (where she did some amazing charitable work on behalf of families who lived, literally, in the dump) - we hit it off quite nicely and a friendship seemed to be burgeoning when she quite suddenly and unexpectedly moved to Massachusetts. That's not as far as some of the others went but still far enough to put a crimp in a budding friendship. More recently, I met yet another woman who seemed to have serious friendship potential - we met for dinner, exchanged emails and seemed to be hitting it off when she disappeared. And when she reappeared some months later, she was in Georgia! Go figure. (For the record, we maintain an email friendship and if she returns to Maine this Spring as she wants to I am hopeful that we can explore the possibilities for sharing more of our shared interests, which seem to be many.)

So what's up with that, I wonder? I'm pretty sure I'm not responsible for the exodus of so many women from Maine but still I wonder, why do so many women of my acquaintance move out of state? I don't know the answer, but I think my next massage therapist is going to be a man - they seem to stick around longer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Great Soccer Complex Conspiracy

There has been a proposal, perhaps "scheme" would be a better word, afoot in my town for the last several months whereby the town would give(!) 12 acres of publicly owned property to the local soccer club, a private organization, for the purpose of developing a soccer complex, including the construction of an indoor facility. In exchange for their largess the town would receive some use of the facility during "non-peak" usage times. I have been publicly angry about this cockamamie idea for some time. But why do I apply the label of "conspiracy" to the plan? Well let's examine the situation more closely.

First, a conspiracy requires an agreement between two or more parties to commit an act that is illegal or nefarious. I would include in that definition an act that subverts the public will or the public good. Here we have a proposal to develop a facility on a lot that is located in a planning zone that specifically PROHIBITS such a structure. So at the outset, to move forward with the project would require either a change to the zoning requirements or a plan to circumvent them. Clearly the parties knew or SHOULD HAVE KNOWN about the restrictions when the plan was conceived; that they chose to move forward on the plan anyway suggests something other than an "arm's length transaction" was afoot. This dark side to the plan was exposed when residents of the affected neighborhood and elsewhere began asking questions about the proposal in view of the zoning prohibition; it was then that one or another of the principal parties to the deal suggested that the arrangement could be revised to allow the town to retain legal title to the property and lease it to the soccer club, thereby transforming the deal as if by magic into an allowable "municipal" use of the property. Hey, why let pesky regulations get in the way of a good (for the soccer club anyway) deal, right? Happily the public outcry over this ill-conceived brainchild led to its early demise, although I have been told that the suggestion was not rejected out of hand, as it should have been, but was "withdrawn" while they explored other options. So, "illegal or nefarious"? - in my humble opinion, most certainly.

Next, a conspiracy requires a "meeting of the minds" to commit the act; do we have that here and if so, who are the parties to it? On the one hand we have the soccer club and its representatives. most visibly its president, a local attorney (maybe retired, I'm not sure). We have the Town Council and its individual members, all of whom are elected officials charged with planning and enacting policies and procedures to advance the (public) interests of the town. And we have the Town Manager, a long-time appointed bureaucrat whose job is to manage the day-to-day business affairs of the town. Honestly, I do not know who first contrived this plan and I certainly do not understand how he or she or they convinced the others that it was a good idea, but apparently in the end all of the players (possibly excepting one or more Councilors) apparently bought into the idea. But here's the thing: it can only be seen as a good idea in light of some belief or expectation that the zoning restrictions would not ultimately bar the development. In other words, somebody must have given some kind of assurance to the others that the zoning would not be a problem - without such assurance the proposal makes absolutely no sense from a business or any other point of view. So the question is, who gave that assurance, and what was the basis for it? Council members have professed ignorance of the of the zoning prohibition, and two ex-councilors said they asked the Town Manager about it and were either given no answer or a misleading answer, depending on whom you ask. I think it's safe to say that the president of the club, an attorney, would be more than familiar with the "due diligence" requirements of entering into such a deal so he must have been led to believe that there was a reasonable prospect that the development could move forward; or maybe the prospect of all that free land just falling into his lap caused a momentary lapse in judgment - I just don't know.

Planning to do something illegal or nefarious (or immoral or fattening) is just so much talk until there is an act in furtherance of the plan, at which point it becomes a conspiracy. So what has been done to advance this plan to date? Well, there's this as related to me in an email from one of the Councilors: "The Town negotiated a P&S agreement with (the soccer club) in which they would obtain ownership of the parcel in exchange for use of the fields by (town) residents." That's an overt act, I'd say. Then there's something more subtle but maybe more telling of the nature of the "deal", an act undertaken by yet another developer, the one who proposed that the town spend $2.3million of "surplus funds" to buy to buy and develop property adjacent to the one at issue, and build yet more fields and trails for town use. This deal was actually approved by the Council (without a public vote) and the project has been completed. But here's where it intersects with the Soccer Club proposal, again quoting from the Councilor's email to me: "This development group entered into discussions with (the soccer club) about relocating a portion of their facility onto the (adjacent) parcel thereby allowing (the soccer club) to redesign their project to avoid most of the natural resources impacted in their original design. With this redesign the... project gained new life and began to look into what zoning issues needed to be addressed to move the project forward." So one private interest group redesigns its project to facilitate development by another group, ALL WHILE THE PROJECT IS SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED BY ZONING REGULATIONS. And on the topic of the zoning issue, the town Planning Board weighed in on that issue in November with a recommendation "that the council reject zoning changes needed to build the soccer complex in a rural residential district." (Portland Press Herald, 1/11/2012)

The saga may yet have a happy, non-conspiratorial ending. According to the same news paper account, "The council had planned to hold a workshop next Tuesday with (soccer club) representatives, but the meeting has been postponed to give them more time to consider alternative sites..."

(For the record, I am not alleging that a criminal conspiracy exists or that any of the parties to the "deal" have engaged in any criminal acts. But sometimes something that's not a crime nevertheless stinks so bad that you have to take a stand against it as a matter of principle, and the residents of my town took a firm stand; I do believe the Town Council may have heard them (but we'll see - this may not yet be over.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Years Resolution 2012

My one and only resolution for the new year: "I will not be deterred".

And honestly, I hope you won't be deterred either.

(With apologies to Darby Conley, creator and copyright holder of the "Get Fuzzy" comic strip, from which this image was purloined.)