Thursday, April 26, 2012

I stink at political punditry

Less than three months ago I wrote this in a piece I posted here:  "Governor LePage seems not to understand, or not to care, that gaining support of 38% of the electorate does not give him a mandate to do as he pleases and that he is the governor, not a democratically elected dictator."  Well, it turns out I was wrong.

Recent events have demonstrated that apparently Governor LePage CAN do as he pleases, because legislators, at least Republican legislators, do not possess the political will to oppose him.  The Governator has vetoed numerous bills passed by the legislature, some by margins that were far larger then would be required to override a veto, and yet just one was actually enacted over his veto. The latest, and most egregious to my mind, example of this involves the recent budget bill which was passed by huge margins in both the House and the Senate, despite much blustering and threatening by Mr. LePage.  The bill was, by all accounts, a reasonable resolution to the State's budget crisis which was passed by a large majority, including a majority in LePage's own party.  Final enactment was all but assured even if a veto was forthcoming.

Governor LePage didn't veto the entire bill but he did use his line-item veto authority, something NO governor of Maine has ever done before despite the authority being on the books for years, to veto specific provisions pertaining to the funding of welfare services.  The provisions he vetoed were fully considered and debated in the legislature, and what resulted was a bi-partisan plan that most agreed was fair and reasonable in all respects.  Had the legislature voted on the line-item vetoes they would have easily been overridden as only a simple majority is required and the whole budget passed by a far greater margin.

But the legislature did NOT vote on the line item vetoes.  They were in recess at the time the vetoes were issued and the Republican leadership declined to call them back into session to consider the matter.  So the vetoes stand and crucial provisions for funding welfare services go down the drain because - well, to be honest I don't know why.  But apparently Governor LePage CAN do as he pleases because the legislative leadership has abdicated their responsibility to stand up to a chief executive who clearly does not represent the interests of a majority of Maine voters.

It is an election year after all, and I suspect that the Republican leadership did not want to alienate their (38%) base by taking a public vote in opposition to the governor - apparently they were for the budget before they were against it.  Democratic legislators are understandably upset to see key provisions of the budget they helped pass get thrown out by executive fiat, without even being given the chance to vote on an override.

So my earlier prediction of bi-partisan governance in defiance of the unpopular and extreme policies of Governor LePage were wrong.  Apparently political bullying works when legislators are more concerned about their own re-election prospects than what is truly in the interest of the people of Maine.  Now that really is a sad state of affairs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I made the call

I used to be a faithful and frequent blood donor, or more accurately, platelet donor.  Donating platelets instead of whole blood means you don't have to wait 8 weeks between donations, so I used to go in at least once a month while I was still working and for a while after I retired I was donating every two weeks.  But then my doctor put a stop to my donations while he figured out why I was having occasional bouts of low iron.

Well a few years have passed and the reason for my iron deficiency was never discovered, despite my having  been subjected to every invasive procedure available to modern medical science, so my doctor finally relented to my repeated requests to start donating platelets again.  He did this at my last appointment a few weeks ago but until today I hadn't done anything to make my return to donating a reality, despite my good intentions to get back into the program.

So yesterday evening when caller ID showed it was the Red Cross calling it seemed rather serendipitous, and I answered (I don't usually answer obvious telemarketer calls).  A very pleasant-sounding young woman asked for me and then said that she was looking at my prior blood donation history and my total number of donations (234, or something like that) was the highest she had ever seen.  Clearly she was flattering me as an enticement to encourage me to sign up to make a donation for whatever blood drive she was representing.

I interrupted her obviously well-prepared pitch to tell her that first, my donation history pales in comparison to many other devoted long-time platelet donors, some of whom have double the number of donations (or more) that I have, and second, that I had already resolved to call the Red Cross to make an appointment for my next visit with them, and because her call was just the incentive I needed I promised to make the call the very next day - and she said that she believed what I said (I'm sure lots of folks say anything just to get her off the line).

So this afternoon I made the call, and when Renee answered the phone and I told her who was calling, it was like I had never been away. She said of course she remembered me - I'm "family".   She pulled up my record and made an appointment for the day and time I requested, made sure I remembered the restrictions to observe before donating (no aspirin for 48 hours and a diet low in fat the day before the appointment), and said she was looking forward to seeing me - and I think she really meant it!

It feels good to be back.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I have, or more accurately Guy Mainer has, a facebook page.  And so it was with interest that I read a column in the local free weekly paper wherein the writer attempted to catergorize the facebook users in her experience.  She broke them down into types - photo posters, fitness updaters, lurkers, likers, gamers and kid promoters.  Most of these types are obvious with the possible exception of "fitness updaters". and her description of them was pretty humorous; I suppose if you are one or know one, you know what she's talking about.

Guy Mainer is, at least in the realm of facebook society, a "lurker" and an occasional "liker".  The page was never intended for "social networking", which of course is what the whole concept of fb is about, but just a way to check in from time to time on a couple of pages of interest.  When Guy and I have something I wish to say to our "friends", email is the preferred method if a computer has to be involved at all.  It's quick, easy and, most importantly, private (well, unless you count Google, and maybe the NSA, reading every email that is sent). Facebook is quick and easy for sure, but by no means private.

Here's the thing about facebook:  apparently it thinks nobody has enough "friends" and moreover that the friends that you do have want and need to know everything that you do on facebook.  So when Guy logs on to fb the first thing that confronts him is a "newsfeed" that alerts him to everything that his "friends" have posted on their own wall. OK, that's fair enough as he might actually be interested in what someone he knows  has posted so he can "like" it or add a comment if it seems appropriate. 

But the "newsfeed" also reports other "friend" activity, including what games they have played (including their highest score), what videos they watched and what articles they read.  Really, who wants to share all of those things with everybody?  And who but your closest friends cares about those things, anyway? 

Here's the thing:  all of those nifty free games, videos and other "free" features offered by fb come at a price - when you use them you give fb permission to share your information in any way they want to.  Guy "almost" watched a video that one of his "friends" had watched but stopped short upon reading the disclaimer that the "app" would have access to his "basic information" and email address, and furthermore, "This app may post on your behalf, including videos you watched, people you followed and more."  Seriously, Guy does not want an app to have this information or to post on his behalf.  Too bad, because it looked like a fun video.

Facebook is not your friend, it is a big business that profits from advertisers who target you for ads based on the personal information they harvest from your fb profile and activity.  And don't even get me started about the evil "lurkers" who cruise fb looking for private information about you that they can use to advance their own criminal activities.  Cybercrime schemes and even old fashioned "B and E" crimes are greatly simplified by the information that users foolishly post on facebook in the interest of "social networking". 

It's enough to make Guy rethink the wisdom of being on fb at all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

God's Own Drunk

OK, you'll need 15 minutes of spare time and a glass of bourbon (or whatever) to fully appreciate this piece.  One of My favorite Jimmy Buffett songs is "God's Own Drunk" - I won't go into all the details but let's just say I know what the phrase "commode huggin' drunk" means.  And I knew that there had been some legal issues back in the '80s involving his rendition of the song but frankly I didn't pay much attention - I like the song, so I listen to it whenever I am in the mood.

But recently I stumbled on the original version of the song by Lord Buckley, and now I think I understand the controversy.  Here are both versions, with Jimmy's remake first:

And here's the original Lord Buckley rendition:


I think I see why his estate might have been upset. I'm not trying to reopen any controversies here, I just want to give credit where credit is due - Jimmy is a great song-writer, but this song is all Lord Buckley's (except maybe the cool guitar melody). 

So pour another drink, relax,  and listen to both versions again - for no reason other than they are both wonderful to listen to.

But don't you agree that it's a classic story and a really great song?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Living life in Margaritaville

I'm the same age as Jimmy Buffett - well, I'm one month and 3 days older, if you want to be precise - but that's pretty much where any similarity in our lives ends. But I still identify in a big way with his music; almost every song he has written makes me feel a sense of connection in some way. I suspect it's our shared kinship with the sea that draws me to his music and makes me feel that somehow his songs are about the things that are important to me. It's like his songs provide the soundtrack to the movie that is my life. And the theme song would have to be "Margaritaville". Take a listen so you'll know what I'm talking about:

Well it's not a literal description of my life, but as metaphors go it's a pretty good one. "Don't know the reason..." for lots of things, and there are lots of things about which I "...don't have a clue...". But most importantly, even though I would like to blame a woman, or maybe even more than one, I have known for a long time that whatever it is that brought me to my current situation (which is not all that bad, by the way), "It's my own damn fault".

So while I don't play the six-string and I'm more likely to grill a steak than boil some shrimp, I still feel pretty much like that guy lost in Margaritiville, except that I'm already back home (I never left) and it's bourbon that "helps me hang on" (but I do love a Margarita every now and then) so I don't have to look for the salt (which I'm supposed to avoid anyway). Maybe I should get a tattoo, though - I'll have to think about that. Maybe I should learn to play the guitar, too.  (Not to worry, I'll never do either one.)

Here's another difference between me and Jimmy Buffett: I have more hair left. Petty, I know, but it's all I got - I take my victories where I find them.

OK, now play the video again - it's the only reason I posted this piece but it makes it worthwhile, don't you think?

Bonus feature:  Here's another video of the song, including the "lost verse".  If this doesn't leave leave you smiling, well I probably wouldn't like you anyway.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's really very simple

I occasionally rant here about the state of the economy in general and the unfairness of our current economic policies, which greatly favor the rich over the rest of us, in particular. I've offered my personal opinion as to why we have arrived at this junction and I've even offered up a conspiracy theory or two. But I haven't offered any constructive ideas for how to get out of the mess we are in - I'd like to correct that oversight with this post.

I think the solution to our economic woes is very simple, because the cause of the problem is very simple. I'm no economist but Robert Reich is, and the explanation he provides is so simple that even I can understand it - and it even has visual aids!

That short video elucidates exactly my thoughts on the economy, the cause of the crisis, and what we can do to fix it. The middle class, and that certainly includes me and probably you too, is the heart of the economic engine that drives the economy, so to move the economy forward we have to restore the the health of the middle class, and the way to do that is to elect officials at all levels who support the interests of the middle class over those of the ultra-wealthy. If we elect representatives who will pass legislation to restore the middle class, and install chief executives who will sign it, the economic recovery will be assured.

So starting with the upcoming presidential election, decide who will advance ideas and support legislation that will restore the middle class, and vote accordingly. If you are having trouble deciding on a candidate, let me offer one helpful hint: anyone who has taken a "no tax increase on anyone, ever" pledge is not a part of the solution - they are a part of the problem.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The days of the "Wild West" are over...

...and the answer to reducing violent crime in America is NOT to have every citizen strap on a Colt .44 to be ready to respond whenever evil-doers are afoot. In fact that is a formula to increase violent crime (assuming that your definition of the term includes the death of innocent civilians when the pistol-packing vigilante acts rashly). So why is the NRA, aided and abetted by ALEC (if you don't know who they are, google it because you need to know), still promoting laws that permit unfettered access to firearms without any reasonable restrictions to prevent tragic situations like the recent death of Trayvon Martin?

OK, I'll tell you why, and it has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, although that adds a nice appearance of legitimacy to the movement, or a "well-regulated militia", or the need for citizens to "not be a victim" when confronted by someone who may do them harm, or to prevent a crime before it happens. No, it's none of those or any other possibly legitimate reason, it's for one reason and one reason only: PROFITS.

Guns and ammunition are big, big money makers. Of course the serious players are in the international gun-trade business arming nations to conduct war against one another (or against their own citizens) but the money to be made from domestic gun sales is nothing to be sneezed at. And the gun makers have created a lucrative domestic market by convincing millions of Americans that the only way to be safe in today's world is to own a gun, or several guns, and lots of ammunition. And they've organized an extremely effective lobbying campaign to enact legislation, at the state and federal levels, to eliminate reasonable and necessary restrictions on who can own a gun or the type of weapon or ammunition that is available to them. To my way of thinking, this is insane.

John Wayne is dead (Good rest his soul) and the last thing this country needs is a bunch of wannabes packing heat so they can be ready to shoot when they happen upon a perceived "bad guy". That's not justice, that's vigilantism and we don't need to return to that as the system of justice in our country.

I'm not opposed to gun ownership, in fact I have a couple myself, but advocating for unrestricted access to unlimited types of weapons and ammunition is just wrong, no matter how rich it makes a few manufacturers and their minions. And promoting legislation that removes any liability from the unnecessary use of deadly force with a firearm, as in the "stand your ground" laws written by ALEC, promoted by the NRA and passed by many state legislatures, is totally insane. It has to stop!

There's something terribly wrong with a culture that allows an industry to garner huge profits at a cost of the deaths of hundreds or thousands of innocent victims every year. And yet the march toward unfettered, unrestricted and uncontrolled gun ownership continues to be promoted in legislation, in the courts and in the press by an unholy alliance of special interests groups, capitalist cronies and outright lunatics, none of whom give a damn about what is right for the nation and all of it's citizens. From their point of view, the "wild west" where everyone packed a pistol on their hip and justice was determined by who could draw the fastest seems to be the ideal civic state. (Except maybe we shouldn't let Muslims have guns - that would be dangerous; oh, and maybe Hispanics and blacks couldn't be trusted with them either. I'm sure there are others, but you get the idea.)

The carnage will continue, and get worse, if the special interests continue to have their way in matters of gun control.

"God is good,...

...God is great, thank you God for this food on our plate."

I was not accustomed to saying Grace before meals while growing up (or since, for that matter) so that little ditty, probably learned at a Boy Scout camp or some such place, is about all I have to offer if somebody is unwise enough to ask me to lead the table in saying a prayer of grace.

I've been thinking a lot about God lately, perhaps because I am at that stage of life where our meeting is imminent (I'm thinking not more than 40 years or so from now, maybe 50, tops). But God is a controversial figure and not easily understood; wars have been fought (maybe still are being fought?) in the name of God! A local theologian recently wrote a column in the paper which included this: "I do not know who or what God is. Nor do I know what God purposes in giving us being." So that's the thing - NOBODY knows who or what God is! Some would say, and they may be right, that there is NO God. So I have a suggestion to resolve all of the controversy and uncertainty about God: we simply add an "o" so "God" becomes, literally, "Good".

Think about it - who doesn't like Good? Every religion has prescriptions for doing "Good works", and even atheists, as far as I know, want to do good deeds. So let's just replace "God" with "Good" and live our lives accordingly. "One nation under Good" works very nicely, I think. The whole "God versus the Devil" thing reduces down very nicely to "Good versus evil", where Good is always the right choice. How about, "In Good we trust" - that has a nice ring to it, don't you think? "Praise Good!" - I definitely think that I am on to something here.

So there you have it - if we all start doing things "in the name of Good" the world could be a better, happier place. Now if we can all just agree on the definition of "Good" (let's start with this - it's not all about me, or you)...

"For the love of Good" - see, it works in any phrase where God is invoked. We disagree on who God is or if there even is one, but we all agree on Good, don't we?

I'd like to buy a vowel please, Alex - an "o" to add to "God".

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Sunday Paper

It's Sunday so I started the day as I always do, with a pot of coffee and the Maine Sunday Telegram. I came across a few items of interest that I would like to share.

I always start with the comics because my brain needs to be stimulated by a considerable amount of caffeine before I am up to the task of comprehending any news items. The penultimate panel of "Pearls Before Swine" contained this gawd-awful pun: "THERE'S NO PEZNESS LIKE CHO PEZNESS!" What happened in the last panel made me laugh out loud. Stephan Pastis, the cartoonist, is one sick puppy - I like that in a cartoonist.

The international news included an item about a young man in China who had sold a kidney to raise money so he could purchase an iPhone and an iPad. Now I know that women (mostly) and men have "sold there bodies" in a euphemistic sense from the beginning of civilization, but to literally sell a body part in order to obtain the latest technological toys is troubling on many levels. Commenting on this and numerous other similar cases in China, an editorial in the official Communist Party newspaper in the region said, "In the choice between their bodies and materialism, they resolutely chose the latter". Are young people in the US any different, I wonder? Ironically, the advertisement that appeared directly under the article proclaimed, Good News! Attention Motivated Sellers - I represent an "all cash" client..." Presumably the ad was soliciting real estate offers, but do you suppose there was some subliminal messaging going on?

The "Insight" section included an item offering helpful tips for getting along with relatives at holiday dinners. The last suggestion I think could be helpful to keep in mind in many situations beyond holiday dining: "Remember that you will never change anybody's mind about the following topics: politics, contraception, foreign vs. domestic automobiles, country music, global warming, cats vs. dogs, boxing, evolution, high-protein diets, texting, unions, Julia Roberts (What! Somebody doesn't love Julia Roberts?),religion, Jay Leno vs. Conan O'Brien vs. David Letterman, jeggings (I didn't even know what this was until I looked it up), public education, ghosts and primogeniture." This is good advice which I will undoubtedly have forgotten when I next engage in conversation with a relative or anyone else, or write a post here - but hey, you don't have to read it if you don't want to know what I think.

And my favorite local columnist, Bill Nemitz (who often inspires either love or hate among his readers, depending on which side of the issue they are on), wrote a piece titled, "So why did Paul Violette violate our trust?" You may or may not know the story behind the question but you certainly know of far too many like it - a man from a privileged family had everything most of us could ever hope for, but for him it wasn't enough so he embezzled public funds. Nothing new in that is there? Nemitz goes on at some length to answer his own editorial question, but he really says all that needs to be said in his last few words: "For Paul Elmer was always good. It just wasn't good enough." It never is for people who have it all, is it?

Now I have to go do the crossword puzzle.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stood up, let down and left broken hearted

Ok, I won't go into all the pathetic details but the title phrase, in addition to being a really cool suggestion for a song title (Jimmy Buffett, take notice), pretty much sums up the results of my search for a "meaningful relationship" over the last couple of years. Maybe, as another song title suggests, I'm "looking for love in all the wrong places".

Just to be clear, I am not looking for another wife (I have already had more than enough, thank you) or even a "long term relationship" in the usual sense of that term. I already have a life that fills most of my needs - I have my own home, enough outside interests to occupy my spare time, and a bunch of pets who love me and need me. What's missing is a similarly situated woman who has a life of her own but who understands that these things are complemented and enhanced by the inclusion of someone - a "soul mate", if you will - to share the joy of a good life. Someone who knows that time spent together and time spent apart are both necessary components of a good life.

"Friend with benefits" doesn't quite capture what I am looking for only because that description seems a little too casual. I want a committed, exclusive relationship (and yes, we are definitely talking about sex here) but not a "24/7" one that a lot of women seem to expect. I'm looking for more of a "let's get together when it's good for both of us" kind of situation. Your place, my place, someplace in between - it depends on the circumstances. Unusual I know, but I'm sure there is a woman out there who wants the same thing.

So there it is. If this sounds like a post on an on-line dating website, well maybe it is - if you happen to be someone, or know someone, who is looking to get involved with a 65 year old guy, subject to the qualifications cited, then please contact me. But remember, I have already been "stood up, let down and left broken hearted", so if you can't do any better than that, please don't reply.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

T. rex was warm and fuzzy?

OK, here's the latest scoop on Tyrannosaurus Rex (according to the AP, anyway): a new tyrannosaur species that lived 60 million years before T. rex has been unearthed in northeastern China (of course), but here's the thing - it was apparently covered in fluffy down. The freakin' thing had feathers! They have named the critter "Yutyrannus huali", a blend of Latin and Mandarin which translates to "beautiful feathered tyrant".

The thinking is, since T. rex is related to this new found feathery species, chances are good that T. rex was feathered as well. So if this new theory is correct it means that T. rex was not the scaly skinned monster as depicted in "Jurassic Park" and countless other sci-fi movies that sought to scare the bejeezus out of us with "realistic" images of prehistoric creatures. But the scientists who claim to know about these things assure us that the possibility of T. rex having feathers "doesn't make it less threatening or less fearsome".

But still, doesn't a fuzzy T. rex sound almost cuddly? Even one of the scientists who announced the discovery said it would be like touching "long, thick fur". Doesn't that sound like a pet you might name "Fluffy"?

I think they should remake "Jurassic Park" to reflect this new discovery and correct the image of T.rex as a scary, scaly monster and update the imagery to depict this new warmer, fuzzier critter.

I'm not sure how this affects our perception of Godzilla - I'm still having a hard time picturing him with feathers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


(Click on image to enlarge.)The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has repeatedly and derisively been referred to as "Obamacare". Recently the President adopted the term as his own, saying something like, "If "Obamacare" means I care, well I do" - good for him. Whatever you choose to call it, I think the PPACA is a good thing - not a perfect thing, but a good one. If it were up to me, "Obamacare" would have gone much further to provide affordable, high quality medical care (which I view as a basic right, part of "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness") to every citizen. To my way of thinking, a "Single Payer" system is the way to go, but "Obamacare" is what we have (at least for the time being) so let's make the most of it.

Republicans, of course, have a contrary point of view (they have a contrary point of view about everything Obama supports, even when it was their idea, which "Obamacare" was) - they would repeal "Obamacare" in it's entirety since the current system seems to work perfectly fine for them. (Full disclosure: as a federal retiree I have access to the same health insurance benefits as members of Congress enjoy, so it works fine for me, too.) The reality that many citizens can't afford any medical care at all, let alone check-ups and preventative care that would actually reduce costs, seems lost on them. You need medical treatment and don't have insurance - Well that's what emergency rooms (the MOST expensive medical treatment) are for, isn't it?

Republicans also like to sign pledges, at least as far as taxes are concerned. So here's my proposal to resolve the current dilemma regarding "Obamacare": Republicans, not just in Congress but ALL republicans, and anyone else who would do away with "Obamacare", can sign the "Nobamacare Pledge" - I've included it above (without any permission whatsoever from Matson (the Cartoonist) or Then the "health care insurance" mandate which you find so offensive to your personal liberty (but which was originated by Republicans)can be amended to exclude anyone who signs the pledge, and you can leave the rest of us who need the PPACA alone. Problem solved.

And if the Supreme Court in their "wisdom" should strike the entire Act down, well that's what we call an opportunity, since they have already suggested that a "single-payer" system would be constitutional. Be careful what you wish for.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Basic Training

I enlisted in the Army on June 17, 1968 - I've detailed the circumstances of my enlistment in an earlier post so let me just say here that my principal motive was to secure a job (Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS, in Army-speak) that would keep me, if not out of Vietnam, at least out of a direct combat role there. I wasn't sure what to expect upon arriving at Ft. Dix, New Jersey for my basic training, but the reality of what I encountered was totally beyond anything in my experience.

My training brigade was made up entirely of new recruits who came from one of two groups: about half were men like myself, recent college graduates whose draft deferments were up and who enlisted to get a non-combat job (draftees only had to serve two years compared to our three year enlistment period, but they were pretty much guaranteed to serve at least one of those years in combat). We were all from the Northeast and we were all white. The other half were all Louisiana National Guard recruits who had signed up for the same reason - to avoid going to Vietnam (National Guard units didn't "deploy" to foreign wars backs then, unlike units today that often face multiple deployments of a year or more). None of them were college graduates, and none of them were white. We came from wildly different backgrounds but we had a common purpose, which was to avoid combat if possible.

Everybody refers to the Army's initial eight week training session that all new recruits attend as "Basic Training", but it's formal name is longer. It's full nomenclature is "Basic Combat Infantry Training", so the irony of the situation was that the Drill Sergeants, who didn't care where we were from or what color we were, had one job to do, and that was to prepare us for a role that each and every one of us was trying to avoid. Their job was to make combat infantrymen, "grunts", out of us ("I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!"). The Army expects everybody to know how to fight, whether it's their primary occupation or not. We, all of us, black, white, college grad or Louisiana farm worker, had a common goal: get through it and move on with our lives.

And so it was that I spent eight weeks with the most diverse group of men that I had ever encountered up until that time in my young life. All in all I would have to say that it was a good experience, perhaps a turning point in my understanding of the racial and cultural diversity which our nation comprises. And despite our differences we managed to get along just fine, perhaps aided by our shared purpose of avoiding becoming what the Army was training us to be. I won't tell you that I made any life-long friends during the experience, because I didn't, but I didn't form any life-long prejudices either. And more importantly it gave me some much needed experience by which I could judge bigoted remarks in the future - something that until then I had been sorely lacking.

So it was that my "Basic Training" was about more than just how to be a combat infantryman. It was about life, and about being a citizen in our great nation. It's something that every young person should experience, not "Basic Combat Infantry Training" necessarily, but something like it to bring them together from different backgrounds and cultures to learn a common lesson: how to get along to become better citizens. How can we make this possible?


I grew up in a community that was devoid of racism and this was for a very obvious reason - there was only one race. It's very hard to form hateful opinions of people in the total absence of any examples of those you are supposed to hate. There was one family whose skin was remarkably darker than that of everybody else in town, but they hastened to point out that were "Haitian" which seemed to be a satisfactory enough explanation for the color of their skin, if anybody needed an explanation. But they were nice enough folks and didn't give anyone any reason to hate them, so we all got along just fine. It's true that my high school did produce an annual review that included a minstrel act, complete with student-actors in black-face, and I now recognize the overt racism in that but it was done with such a total lack of malice that at the time it was hard to see it as wrong. It seemed like innocent fun, but of course it wasn't as innocent as we thought it to be.

So I grew up in the absence of conscious racism but that produced in me a total and profound ignorance of racism, and I think that may be just as bad as being racist. I didn't have any opinions on racism because I was completely ignorant of its causes and its effects, or even its existence! Thus when I went away to college (still in Maine and still pretty isolated from any racial diversity) and heard talk among other students "from away" who seemed to know about such things I listened but had nothing to add and certainly no basis to reject or dispute anything they said.

I'm sure it was during those college years that I first heard a reference to "NQW" - Not Quite White, which I now recognize as an obvious racial slur but at the time I don't recall finding it objectionable. I'm certain there were some more offensive terms used, too, but I don't need to repeat them here to make my point which is this: in my youth I tolerated racist speech, I laughed at racist jokes, and I probably liked some people who held openly racist views. None of this bothered me at the time, because I was ignorant - so I might as well have been racist myself. With racism as with many harmful situations, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

I won't go into detail about the events that finally opened my eyes to the existence and extent of racism in America, and I certainly won't make any claims that I am any kind of expert, or even to be moderately well-informed. But I know that it exists and I know that it is wrong on every level of morality. And I know it when I see it.

I'm telling you all of this because we have a president who is, you know - NQW. This is an issue for some people, and I have some opinions of my own about those people and I may feel compelled to express some of those opinions in this space from time to time. So before you read any of those tirades I just wanted to establish my credentials for writing them. There may be times when "ignorance is bliss", but this is not one of them. And as in matters of law, "ignorance" is no excuse for tolerating racism in any form. I won't and neither should you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The need for speed

To my mind a good crossword puzzle is like a fine wine - it is something to be savored so you can enjoy its bouquet, appreciate its complexity and nuance, and experience the full range of its pleasures. So I don't understand why anyone would want to finish it as fast a possible, or "swill it down" to stick to my metaphor. A finely crafted puzzle, like a rare vintage wine, is something to be enjoyed slowly and fully.

I was thinking of this today as I tackled the New York Times (syndicated) Sunday crossword puzzle while sitting in the sunshine on my back deck. The puzzle itself was not too terribly difficult and I could probably have completed it in an hour or so ("speed-solvers" take a matter of minutes). but the sun was warm and I wanted to prolong the enjoyment so I took the time to appreciate the cleverness of the puzzle's theme and to marvel at the answers that taught me words that I did not know; case in point, "___ oneself (share private thoughts)" produced UNBOSOM, a beautiful word that means exactly what the clue suggests, and which I probably should have known before. Speed-solvers, I should note, would likely have filled this word in entirely from the crosses, which were fairly easy, and may not have even seen the clue for this lovely word. It's their loss, and that's what you get for guzzling when you should be sipping.

So one hour in the sun turned into three (I moved on to the Jumble and the Cryptoquote after completing the crossword, to prolong the experience) and by the time the high clouds moved in and it became too cool to sit outside any longer I had spent some enjoyable time in the sun (and had gotten a pretty good start on my tan base) - why would I want to rush through that experience?

My philosophy is, to each his (or her) own. If you feel the need for speed, then go for it. As for me, I've always enjoyed life in the slow lane. Is that why I live in Maine, or is that because I live in Maine, I wonder? I'll have to give that some more thought.