Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dead Reckoning

None of my boats have ever had electronic navigation equipment so my coastal navigation relies on a tried and true method known as dead reckoning.  The theory is simple: simply draw a line on the chart from where you are to where you want to go (given the geography of the Maine coast, this usually requires several "legs" to avoid obstructions), determine the compass heading and distance of the line, and away you go.  With a reliable compass to keep you on the correct heading, a watch to keep track of elapsed time and some means of measuring (or estimating) your speed, you can pretty much determine where you are at any given time and how long it will take to arrive at your destination.  Of course there are some variables to be taken into account, most notably wind and tide, but basically that's all there is to it.  And when you can see where you are going it's really pretty easy; navigating in dense fog, however, is another matter.

I was reminded of this when the topic of sailing in the fog came up in a recent conversation, and I was reminded of a sailing trip many years ago when my dead reckoning skills were challenged and it took a little bit of good luck to get us to our destination.

The trip from South Freeport to Damariscove Island, where we intended to spend the night, is an easy day's sail.  The first leg is due south for 7 miles or so to clear Eagle Island and Harpswell Neck, then East for about 10 miles to the northern tip of Sequin Island, and Northeast for another 5 or 6 miles to the Gong that marks the entrance to the long, narrow cove on the southern end of Damariscove, where we intended to anchor for the night. It was a trip I had made several times previously so my anxiety level was zero.

The first leg was uneventful as we sailed among the islands that are typical of this part of Casco Bay, but as we approached Eagle Island, which is at the end of the island chain and marks the beginning of open sea, I noticed a haze which reduced visibility to seaward, but it was otherwise still a beautiful sunny day and we proceeded without a care in the world.  And then, as we cleared Eagle and turned to the East, the fog developed - it didn't creep in from offshore as it sometimes does, it just materialized all around us and all of a sudden we couldn't see a freakin' thing.  Bobby, who was sailing with me, became concerned but I assured him there was nothing to worry about as my dead reckoning skills would get us to Damariscove, only 15 miles or so away, with no problems.

Good navigator that I am, I had already calculated the heading and distance to our next waypoint,  Seguin Island, so I just put the tiller over to put us on the proper compass heading, noted the time, and sat back to enjoy the sail on what was still a pretty sunny day - the fog limiting our visibility was strictly at sea level with clear skies overhead.  Seguin rises straight up out of the water with bluff shores, and it showed up just about when I expected it to, although we couldn't see it until we were almost on top of it.  But we were on course and where we were supposed to be, so I turned to the northeast on a course to put us at the entrance to the harbor at Damariscove.  In a couple of hours we would be at anchor and toasting the day with a cocktail.

We sailed on, unable to see a blessed thing, for about what I thought was the right time for the journey and I was still fairly unconcerned, but Bobby, who is a heck of a nice guy but not much of a sailor, was getting pretty anxious about our inability to see more than 100 feet or so, and he started to fret about our situation - he began to worry that we might be "lost" at sea.  Which of sourse we were, but I couldn't let him know that.

Happily, the entrance to the harbor on Damariscove is marked by a gong, which is always a welcome navigational aid when one is navigating in the fog (or at night). So we started listening for the buoy as I knew (hoped) we should be close enough to hear it, and sure enough after a short while a sound from not too far away came through the fog and I pointed the bow toward it.  Bobby was greatly relieved.

When the NavAid came into view I checked the chart to determine the heading to the harbor entrance, when I noticed something was amiss - there were waves breaking behind the buoy and according to the chart they should not have been there.  Bobby's apprehension returned and to be honest I was a little concerned, too.  A quick inspection of the chart sorted things out - we had not arrived at the gong marking the entrance to the harbor but at a bell which marks a ledge a couple of miles south of where we wanted to be.  Apparently the tide ebbing out of Sheepscot's Bay had set us further to the south than I had anticipated.  So no problem, draw a line from where we are to where we want to be, determine the compass heading and distance, and away we go - piece of cake.  Bobby did the only thing he could do under the circumstances - he went to the rail and puked into the water.

The sea breeze out of the south propelled us along and I'm sure we were an impressive sight to those already at anchor as we materialized out of the fog and came into the harbor under full sail. I sent Bobby to the foredeck to get the anchor ready and threaded my way through the crowded harbor - when I can see where I am going, I'm a damned good sailor!  I went up the inlet as far as I dared (it shoals up quickly at the end), came about smartly and headed to an open spot in the anchorage; we coasted to a stop, I told Bobby to put the anchor over, and I dropped the sails.   All's well that ends well.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Burdening our grandchildren with debt

"Conservatives" are fond of saying that social welfare programs, including Social Security and Medicare, impose an undue financial burden on future generations and must be cut, or better yet, eliminated, to protect the financial well-being of our children and grandchildren.  Well, I have an alternative suggestion for them - - how about we just stop sending our young men and women in the military off to fight unnecessary wars and use the resulting savings to fund programs that improve the lives or out most vulnerable citizens, including the disabled and elderly?

War is expensive business but of course it makes a few people very rich, so we seem to keep starting them in order to keep the cash flowing to those companies that make billions from supplying the munitions and supplies that fighting a war requires.  But here's my point, the cost of fighting the war is only a small fraction of the total cost of the war, because all of those wounded, damaged and broken soldiers that come home from the battle field need extensive, and expensive, medical care, probably for the rest of their young lives.  And guess who has to pay for that care - not the corporations that profited from their sacrifice certainly; no, that cost is borne by the taxpayers of the nation that so callously sent them in harm's way.  And so it should be.

Today's news featured a report that 45% - NEARLY ONE-HALF - of the veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking compensation for service-related injuries.  The report calls that figure "staggering" and it is.  Disability claims are coming in faster than the government can handle them.  As a spokesman for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) (an organization with which I am affiliated) said, "You just can't keep sending people into war five, six, or seven times and expect that they're going to come home just fine".

The cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later - estimates for the health care and disability of the recent (unnecessary) wars range from $600-$900 BILLION. The report suggests that, "it's very plausible many people will feel we can't afford these benefits we overpromised".  Well, that would just be a crime, to my way of thinking.

So here's my suggestion to "Conservatives" - how about we stop sending young men and women to fight unnecessary wars and use the resulting savings to fund Social Security, Medicare and other programs that support those in need?

Today is Memorial Day, when we remember and honor those who gave their all for their country. Ironically, they are our cheapest veterans - it's the ones who survived but came home injured that need our continuing support.  Their benefits were not "overpromised", they were earned and we can best honor the service of those who died by taking care of those who survived, and by not sending any more into harm's way just to benefit those who profit from their sacrifice.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Lido Beach Hotel incident

Back in the 1970s, when I was just starting my career with the IRS, the Treasury Department had a regional training facility at Hofstra University on Long Island, NY.  It was there that new employees from all Treasury agencies in the Northeast received their initial training for a career in public service.  Lodging for these employees was provided at the Lido Beach Hotel, which the Department had leased for its exclusive use as a training residence.

The hotel was at the time well past it's prime.  It had formerly been an exclusive beach resort for wealthy Jews from the New York area, but the years had taken their toll and the old lady was in pretty decrepit condition when she was taken over by the Feds.  The rooms were pretty primitive and the dining room had been closed, but a cafeteria remained open to feed the new occupants (all on a government budget).  One thing had not changed, though - The Lido Beach Hotel still sat directly on the edge of the beach bordering the Long Island south shore.  It was, from a purely geographic perspective, heavenly.

My first five week stay was largely unremarkable; there were several of us from Maine in a class of maybe 25, and we made the best of our stay.  While some others groused about the lack of amenities or the remote location, we Mainers enjoyed the natural beauty of the area, took long walks on the beach, which seemed to go on forever, and had weekend cookouts, when the cafeteria was closed, that featured grilled-on-the-beach food and lots of beer.  Life at the Lido Beach Hotel was not too bad for those of us who knew how to have a good time outside of the big city.

A short while after we had settled in to our routine, a new group arrived at the hotel - they were newly appointed Customs Agents who were also training at Hofstra.  They were in different classes and their schedule was different from ours, but still we ran into each other occasionally at the hotel.  I don't remember the details of our first encounter, but one of the Customs group was a young woman with whom I became friendly.  I don't remember her name or very much about her, other than I think she was going to work on the Canadian border in Vermont and she had eyes of two different colors - one blue, one green.

Her class was shorter than mine, two or three weeks maybe, so out time together was brief, but we seemed to have a mutual attraction and became quite close in our  brief time together.  Mostly, we took long walks on the shore and talked.  My sense was that had we met in another time and under different circumstances, our friendship might have progressed to a whole new level but as it happened we were together only for a short time, and we were both married. 

And so it was that on her last night at the hotel I joined her in the bar where she and her classmates were celebrating their "graduation", and we talked about the good times we had shared and what was ahead in life for both of us - we talked about everything except what was in the forefront of both of our minds, that we desperately wanted to jump into bed together.  The hour grew late and I was a little drunk and very tired so I knew it was time to call it a night.  The bar had a juke box and I put some money in and selected "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin.  Then I kissed her goodbye, wished her a good life, and walked out to go back to my room.

I'm not sure how much later it was that the knock on my door came - I was sound asleep and had a hard time regaining enough consciousness to get out of bed and answer the door, and when I finally did, there was no one there.  But I know it was her, and I know that if I had been in time to let her in something wonderful would have happened.  What hurts most is that she worked up the courage to come to me, and I let her down. 

That's what happened (or didn't happen) at the Lido Beach Hotel, and that's the memory that "Me and Bobby McGee" evokes every time I hear it - I've been listening to it a lot lately.

Memorial Day 2012

Tomorrow is Memorial Day and I hope you will take a moment out to remember and honor all of the men and women who have fallen in military service to the nation.  One excellent way to honor their sacrifice would be to do one small thing in service to those who served and sacrificed but survived.  Gary Trudeau frames the need very nicely in today's "Doonesbury" comic strip:

You can make coffee or change a light bulb, can't you?

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 25, 2012


So this incredibly attractive young woman came into the store recently; I spotted her when she was almost to the back of the store obviously looking for something, so I did what any customer-service oriented hardware clerk would do - I approached her and asked if I could help her find anything.  And as it turns out, I could.

She was looking for two items:  screw-eyes and key chains, both of which we carry.  We were standing just around the corner from the screw-eyes so I took her there first and showed her the selection - we have individual items and packages in various sizes and quantities.  She looked at them briefly and then said she was looking for a LOT of screw-eyes to make gifts for a wedding party (she's the bride)- she thought she needed 300, or so.  Well by retail standards, that's a lot of screw-eyes so I began to think in terms of what I could order for her and what kind of pricing I could give her on a bulk order.  I was pessimistic that I would be able to find a sufficient quantity at an affordable price, but we set about finding out what size screw-eye she would want, and that's when things got weird.

We rummaged around in the drawers with the individual screw-eyes and found one that she thought would be perfect for her project - they cost 23 cents each and were not available in bulk - at least that's what I thought.  I don't know why I pulled the drawer all the way out to see if there was any overstock in the back, as there never is, but I did anyway.  And there were three boxes there, each containing 100 screw-eyes of the exact size she had picked out - that cannot be just a coincidence.

Buoyed by this stroke of good luck (?) with the screw-eyes, we walked back to the key chain section to look for split-rings of a suitable size to go with the screw-eyes.  We sell a number of sizes ranging from pretty small to pretty big, and none of them are available in bulk quantities; but as we stood there looking at the selection I spied the inventory of "freebies" that we give away when we cut new keys for customers - we buy them in quantities of 1000 and of course they were a perfect match for the screw-eyes Michelle had already picked out.  So it seemed we had stumbled upon exactly the products she needed and they were available in the store in the quantities she desired.  I would have said that this was "mission impossible" but somehow it happened.

Michelle took a sample screw-eye and key chain home to see how they would work for her project, and today she came in to show me the results - of course, they were perfect!  I had known they would be, so I already had packaged everything up (at a very affordable price), and when I rang up the sale I told her that I hoped this would be a very good omen for her marriage, as she surely has someone looking out for her.  She was very gracious and even invited me to her golden wedding anniversary, but I'm pretty sure that even my guardian angel is not that good - but I promised that I'll be there for her silver anniversary!

Now if I can just get this ear-worm to go away:"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I was born in 1946, and as of  8:10 PM tonight that's how many "pageviews" my blog has had.  That has to count for something, doesn't it?

"Homeless Vet - Will Work for Food or Cash"

You've seen them on street corners or standing on the traffic island at stop lights, hoping to catch your attention to maybe offer them an odd job or perhaps throw a couple of bucks to them out of pity.  You probably just ignore them, trying not to make eye contact until the light turns green and you can be on your way.  A very few drivers will roll their window down and beckon the individual over and pass them a little cash and maybe offer them a word of encouragement; fewer still will actually make an offer of  doing some work in exchange for a reasonable cash payment or even a decent meal.  Most people, I think, don't like seeing these men with their signs as they go about their lives - they make them feel uncomfortable.  Well you know what - I don't think the men with the signs are very happy about being there, either.

But of course they have to be there, because they have no other place to go to and they have no other way of trying to make a buck, so they stand there with their signs and hope for some kindness.  But what they are more likely to get is busted by the local cops for illegally "advertising" for work.  So they get a summons to court for their infraction, and if they show up they get a fine, which of course they can't pay because, you know, they don't have any money, so they go to jail.  Or they ignore the summons in which case an arrest warrant is issued for "failure to appear" and they go to jail with no hope for making bail, because, yes that's right, they have no money.

So they may be off the streets for a while, courtesy of the county jail, but after a while they are back again with their signs because, as I said before, they have no other place to be and no other way of making a "living" (if you can call it that).  And so the cycle goes. 

This is just one of the ways that our society systematically screws the disadvantaged - don't even get me started about the banks, credit card companies and "pay day lenders" that prey on the "down and out" segment of society.  I read a statement in a column recently that says it all: "Before we can "do something" for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them".  Amen.

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's the DAV - Open the door, and keep your hands in sight!

I've written here before about my weekly trips to take disabled veterans to the VA Medical Facility, but today's run produced an event that I think is worthy of a post of its own, if only because it's the first time this volunteer job reminded me of my old occupation as an Internal Revenue Officer.

Every Friday I get a list of names of vets that I am to take to the VAMC on the following Monday, and as soon as I have it I call the veterans to confirm the pick-up time; this usually produces no problems.  However, the list for today's trip included a vet whose phone is not in service so I could not call him ahead of time to tell him when I would be by to pick him up.  This is unusual, but he called for a ride so I was determined that he would get one - I am a pretty determined driver.

If I have a valid address, I can find someone, and I had an address for my vet so I went there this morning to pick him up.  There was no one out front waiting for a ride when I pulled up, so I tried the phone number one more time and it was still "not in service".  So I did what any dedicated driver would do, I went to the door and rang the bell.  And when that brought no response, I rang the bell again but this time I added a loud rap on the door (hey, the bell could be out of order).  This brought a response.

The window in door was covered with a heavy shade, which the occupant pushed aside to see who was on the other side.  The sun was already bright so I was wearing sunglasses, and the DAV emblem on my shirt and the ID badge hanging around my neck are not remarkably different, at a glance, from the IRS logo and badge that I used to carry as a Revenue Officer, and in retrospect the GPS case that was visible on my belt is about the size of  the holster for a compact 9mm pistol, so I guess I can understand the concern in the eyes of the young man who opened the door, and the relief he showed when I told him who I was and why I was there.

But for just a brief moment, his reaction took me back to a time when I knocked on doors for a much less welcome purpose, from the "knockee's" perspective anyway, and it gave me a little bit of an adrenaline rush just like the "old days".  It's good to know that although I'm retired from law enforcement and only doing volunteer work in service to veterans, I can still "get my man" when I need to. 

Next time I'll leave the GPS in the van - I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be any help if the guy really is running from the law.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


The mind works in funny ways - well my mind works in funny ways, anyway.  I may have trouble remembering why I walked in to a particular room at any given moment, but then a memory of an event from many years ago will appear as if it happened yesterday.  Today as I sat on the deck reading the Sunday paper two different articles triggered memories from long, long ago.

First a piece in Parade Magazine by Colin Powell, whom I respect as an honest and principled man, titled "Kindness Works"  caught my attention.  The basic message was, "you can never err by treating everyone...with respect, thoughtfulness, and a kind word".  That's a great message, but what really caught my attention was the highlighted quote, "Ask any veteran the name of his drill sergeant and he will know it".  I was prepared to dismiss the statement as untrue when the memory of Staff Sergeant Davis, the drill sergeant of my Basic Combat Infantry Training Company at Fort Dix, N.J., back in 1968, came flooding back.  SSG was a wiry little guy who had a funny walk due to combat injuries he sustained in Viet Nam, and he was determined to turn his trainees into competent combat infantrymen, a status that we, to a man, were determined to avoid. But just as Gen. Powell says in his article, SSG Davis was with us, "every step of the way, teaching, cajoling, enforcing, bringing out the strength and confidence they didn't know they had".  So yes, I remember SSG Davis and I thank him for what he taught me about combat, and about myself.

The second memory was actually evoked by a combination of an article in the paper and a song on the radio - kind of a "multimedia memory" as it were.  The article was a restaurant review of Dysart's Diner on I-95 in Bangor; the song was "The Letter" by the Boxtops, from 1967 or so.  So here's the deal:

In the summer of 1967 I was driving a 1965 GTO, a babe-magnet if ever there was one.  And one of the babes that was attracted was a delectable young woman named Debbie, who just happened to be the daughter of the family that owned Dysart's way back then, and still does.  And one sultry summer night Debbie and I rode out to a secluded spot on the shores of Swan Lake to listen to some music on the car radio and, you know, do what young people do in these situations.  I couldn't tell you the name of one other song that played on the radio that night, but I remember "The Letter" vividly, just like I remember what we were doing while it played.  The review of Dysart's was really good - maybe I'll cruise up there to see if  Debbie is still around.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ACME Fan Club (Syndicated chapter) Update

It's been a while since I devoted a post to the woman I love from 5 weeks back and 3000 miles away, Andrea Carla Michaels (nee Eisenberg) - ACME.  I would like to correct this oversight by reproducing here a comment she made on today's (in syndicated time) New York Times crossword puzzle; it will give you some indication as to why I love this woman so much:
acme 7:38 PM

After many many many years of therapy and studying psychology for a time, I feel like I can attest to the fact that we totally view the world through our own take and color it and project it to match our individual "personalities" regardless of the environment we've been brought up in.
We can, however, modify, adapt, learn strategies to cope, surfacely change to ward off ill-consequences, etc. but i'm in the camp to think we are pretty hardwired and everyone filters whatever thru whatever prism.

So, @Tobias, don't mean to break your heart...I am not against sports, never have been...I'm against all-male clubs, assumptions about what is knowledge, obscurities where enlightenment exists, exclusion, and having to bump up against others' undealt with issues on a daily basis!

I applaud people like @foodie trying to understand the very root of cognitive processes so self-destructive or depressive behavior can be lessened...and suffering alleviated.

Having studied with BF Skinner, who unfortunately used his little time left on earth to chase me and other female students around a desk, (causing me to abandon thoughts of graduate school and graduate without honors in my department), I'm more Jungian than Freudian, and more Lennonesque than McCartneyed...
"Love love love, love is all you need...(and a puzzle with a nice theme!)"
How can you not love someone who can bring that much insight into the human condition to a discussion about a crossword puzzle?! And lest you think I am the only one who feels this way, please consider this comment from @foodie (who describes herself as "a neuroscientist who studies how the brain encodes and controls emotions and moods.":

"foodie 10:03 PM

@andrea said "everyone filters whatever thru whatever prism." I like this. I have not used the prism concept but it's really a good way to put it.

Yes, that Skinner story is pretty upsetting. I'm glad such behavior has become clearly unacceptable, though I wonder how many lives it has changed.

Still, Andrea, I definitely see how you use your native intelligence and perceptiveness coupled with your training in psychology in so many ways... from your sense of what is funny, to writing critiques that are substantive and thought-provoking yet kind, constructive and hilarious, to your creativity in naming. I watched you help my daughter in a naming challenge, and that was actually quite amazing to witness. You elicit so much by asking strategic questions and being both engaged and yet not controlling! You allow people to make their own discoveries. To me, that's the ultimate in generosity."

So you see, I'm not the only one smitten by Andrea's charm, and this is just one of many comments I could pluck from the posts on any given day.  I ask again, how can you not love this woman?

"Indonesia denies permit to Lady Gaga"

The news item thus headlined went on to say, "Lady Gaga will have to cancel her sold-out show in Indonesia following protests by Islamic hard-liners and conservative lawmakers, who said her sexy clothes and dance moves will corrupt young people...Although [Indonesia] is secular and has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years. Worried they could not guarantee security, local police recommended the permit for the show be denied."

When I read the paper this morning this piece in the "People & Entertainment" section troubled me so I set it aside for further consideration after work.  And now that I have read it again and thought about it for a while, I think I know why it struck a nerve.

I've written here that I think Lady Gaga is an intelligent young performer with an important message to spread through her music, and it's a message of love and inclusiveness.  It's a message that "hard-liners" of any ilk, be they Islamic, Jew or Christian, abhor; it's a message that "conservative lawmakers", wherever they sit, would legislate out of existence in favor of laws that deny rights to any who do not conform to their standards or who are, by birth or by choice, different in any way.

What really troubles me about this item is not that a concert was cancelled in Indonesia, but that I think we as a society are headed in a direction whereby the same type of thing could happen here.  Consider this sentence from the article, with one minor change: " Although [the U.S.] is secular and has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years."  I think this statement is already true, with  the "extremist fringe" coming from the ranks of social and religious conservatives who seem to have combined forces, financed by wealthy industrialists who have their own motives, to gain new political clout.

"Hard-liners" of any religion and conservative lawmakers of any patriotic persuasion are threatened by messages of love and inclusiveness and enlightenment, no matter who is spreading them (just ask Jesus) - it wasn't Lady Gaga's clothes or dance moves that got her banned, it was her message.  And if we don't stand up to our own "fringe element", the same thing could happen here, and our "long history of religious tolerance" will be just that - history.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Armed Forces Day

This Saturday, May 19. is Armed Forces Day, a day set aside to honor the men and women serving in our military services to defend our nation and protect our freedom. I hope you will take a minute out of your day to find a way to say "thank you" to these brave souls - it's the least you can do.

"You've got mail"

Last night I exchanged emails with someone with an address, and that made me realize I hadn't thought about America on Line (AOL) in a long time, in fact I wasn't even sure they were still around.  That's surprising considering how essential AOL used to be to me.

It's hard to imagine now but there was a time not too long ago when the only way to access the Internet was through Internet Service Providers offering dial-up service, chief among them being AOL.  (Actually, there was a time not much longer ago when there wasn't any Internet to access, but then Al Gore came along and fixed that.)   One of AOL's chief claims to fame was the email service it offered subscribers, and the nicest feature of that was the ubiquitous "you've got mail" sound that chimed every time a new message arrived.  That sound became an iconic symbol of the era - there was even a movie (a romantic comedy, I think) based on the "you've got mail" sound. It was really very addictive - until it became obnoxious. I think that's about when AOL's fortunes tanked and they started the long slide into Internet oblivion, made obsolete by high speed Internet access available from the local cable provider and even the telephone company (talk about irony...)  Dial-up modems just couldn't keep up (literally) and AOL's dominance as an ISP faded into history. Obsolescence happens fast in the digital age.

I suppose it's possible, but not very likely, that if I were childless I might never have switched to a high-speed Internet Provider - I was actually content with my dial-up experience but of course it was totally inadequate for the things my sons wanted to do on the computer.  Their need for speed was, understandably, much greater than mine and so I made the call to the cable company and had them install the service that I still use today (although they have upgraded the speed of the connection a few times). 

Technology has, of course, continued to advance and now as I sit here typing on my desk top computer, connected to the Internet by cable, my sons are somewhere else (they can be anywhere, apparently) connected to the Internet via their smart phones communicating at speeds that far outstrip what my connection is capable of.  And truth be told, I have been considering changing the way I access the Internet, too - the question is, should I go to 3G/4G wireless through Verizon, or should I go back to AOL?  I'll have to ponder that.

I wonder if that "you've got mail" chime is still in use?  That could be the deciding factor for me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"When it comes to gay marriage, a mother knows that love is love"

I've known for a long time, without ever having been told,  that my older son is gay.  I think any parent, at least any attentive parent who is not in denial, can sense these things in their children.  Close listening and careful observation over a period of time can give a parent a pretty good idea of their offspring's preferences in any number of areas: theater or sports, adventure or security, rough and tumble or refined, Disney World or hiking the Appalachian Trail, and, yes heterosexual or same-sex love. In all of these areas, and especially the last one, I don't think the child is making a choice, but instead is learning who and what they are, who it is that they were born to be.  And as the child learn these things they will be apparent to a loving parent as well - because we have to learn along with our children who they uniquely are in this world, and love them for whoever that is.

So when my son called out of the blue recently and said, "I don't know if you know this, but I am gay and I'm getting married", I didn't know which fact should make me happier - that he finally felt secure enough in my love for him that it was safe to tell me about his orientation, or that he has found someone that he loves so completely as to want to be married to him.  I practically cried for joy on both counts,  and I hope that whatever I said to him in response to his announcement conveyed the happiness and love that I felt for him at that moment.

The title that I chose for this piece was the headline on a Reflections column written by Susan Lebel Young for the Portland Press Herald. It appeared shortly after the call from my son, so you can imagine I read it with some interest. Ms. Young writes from the perspective of being the  mother of a gay son but what she wants for her son is no different than what any parent wants for their child - read her final paragraphs reproduced here and tell me what part of it any parent would disagree with:

"...So when it comes to gay marriage, a mom knows that love is love, whether it's her daughter becoming engaged to Thomas, or her son crying over a break-up with Scott. Moms ache for fairness, crave stability for all children.We know that all of us share our common humanity more than our differences.

"When a mom hears the words "democratic society of equals," she feels the pain of the subordinated, dismissed,disenfranchised, pathologized and marginalized, especially if non-equality hurts her son whose homosexual brain structure and gay genetic code are his truth, like his inherited deep brown eyes and ruddy freckles, all genuine aspects of who he is.

"As we vote again on gay marriage, let's stop, take that smart and sacred pause, and tap into what is also hard-wired into our brains: the inborn instincts we have for compassion, empathy, justice and equal opportunity.  I know I'm not alone; like most moms, my biggest fears and largest hopes are for my children, your children, and our children of this world which sorely needs our soft hearts, open minds and growing souls. I hope you want for my child what I want for yours."

If I could have said it better myself, I would have.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Living "in the moment" (or not)

We've all experienced it - forgetting where we put things, wondering why we came into a room, having difficulty recalling familiar facts like our childrens' names.  The phenomenon has a variety of names: forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, having a "senior moment", not "living in the moment" are a few examples.  It happens to me more often than I would like although so far all of my lapses have been relatively minor and inconsequential.  But recently I heard from someone who put the topic in a whole new perspective for me.

I had sent an email to a cross-word puzzle acquaintance in which I gently chided her for being in such a rush to complete a puzzle that she hadn't  even read all of the clues, and that elicited this reply:

"Ha!  No one who knows me well would be surprised to know I'd missed my favorite word in a puzzle, and believe me it has diddly to do with haste.  I am - and have always been - a very absent-minded sort of person whose mind flits from one thing to another and I often miss what's right in front of my nose.  The best illustrative examples of that:  Sitting next to my sister one Christmas evening and suddenly panicking and asking when was the last time she'd seen my then-three year old (the other kids were in sight).  She looked at me like I'd lost my mind and dead-panned "Debbie, he's in your lap."  Fast-forward to roughly eight years later when my daughter was two-ish and the family was heading into the mall and I suddenly panicked when I didn't see her.  You guessed it; she was in my arms. 

So, I miss shit.  I miss a LOT of shit..."

Of course I emailed her back and apologized for jumping to conclusions, but man - she really DOES miss a lot of shit!  And the next time I'm looking for my reading glasses only to discover that I am wearing them (this has really happened) I will worry less about what it might mean - having a "senior moment" doesn't have to mean I'm getting old, does it?

The reply from the American Legion

A few days ago I posted a letter that I had sent to the National Commander of the American Legion, and I have received a reply:

"Mr. Clark:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding eligibility for membership in The American Legion.
Hopefully, the following explanation will give you a clearer understanding to the reasons for The American Legion's apparent resistance to "open up" membership to a wider base of veterans.
The American Legion was chartered in 1919 as a WARTIME veterans organization.  Our only criteria is honorable service during a wartime period.  These are established by Congress and can only be modified by that elected body, although, as you will see, the Legion can and does submit changes to these periods.  Also, our eligibility requirements closely parallel those of the Department of Veterans Affairs for wartime veterans' benefits.
At National Conventions of The American Legion, operating through the "resolutions" process, this organization has addressed the eligibility question many times since we were originally chartered, and has asked Congress to change the eligibility dates in our charter several times to recognize subsequent periods of national crisis.  One of the most recent was November 5, 1991, when a bill was passed granting eligibility to those who served on active duty during the Persian Gulf War.  This period began on August 2, 1990 and will remain open until Congress declares an end to hostilities.
Also, another change that came about in the past couple of years was the bill enacted to move back the opening eligibility date of the Vietnam War from December 22, 1961 to February 28, 1961.  This became public law in November of 1997.
There have been other calls by our members, and others, to change our eligibility dates to include those who served in the military from 1946, the end of World War II, to the present.  However, those movements have yet to gain sufficient support to pass a resolution at an American Legion National Convention.
Did you know that there are approximately 22,000,000 - 25,000,000 American veterans living today and are survivors of the 20th & 21st Century armed conflicts?  Of this number, less than 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 are NOT considered to be wartime veterans.  We draw our membership from the pool of eligible wartime veterans, and of that pool, we have only about 11-12% of the total.  Some states have a much higher percentage signed up, but nation-wide, it remains at a little over one-tenth of the potential.
If the Legion were to change its eligibility dates and open them up to all veterans, how many more of those 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 could be expected to join?  Based on the 11 - 12% factor, this MIGHT translate to about 350,000 to 600,000 new members.  The American Legion believes that even though this is a sizable number, this is not enough of an increase to jeopardize over 90 years of tradition.
You would think that everyone would flock to an organization that opens up membership to everyone, but this certainly is not the case.  The AMVETs, a very fine veteran service organization, is a good example of this.  They have different membership standards than The American Legion (any honorably discharged veteran that has served after September 15, 1940 may join them), but only about 200,000 have chosen their group over others.
As a wartime veteran's service organization, The American Legion has enjoyed a status over the years with the United States Congress, and other government agencies, that provides us respect, as well as a relationship that is likened to preferential treatment.  As a special interest group, the Congress, and others, feel The American Legion is the leading advocate for veterans rights and benefits, and it is because of the standards that have been set; we may have restrictions on membership, but we also look after the best interest of ALL of America's veterans.
The explanation I've offered is not personal opinion, but that of those who make changes to The American Legion National Constitution and By-Laws, including the philosophy upon which we stand; that is, the convention delegate members of the organization.  To date, they are steadfast in keeping eligibility standards where they are; however, this does not preclude the possibility of future changes.  As I've pointed out earlier, the membership dates have been changed a few times, and it may happen again, but the matter can only be addressed at such time a proper resolution is presented for consideration.
The American Legion sincerely appreciates the service given by all its veterans; those who have or are currently serving during a hostile period, as well as those who have served during peacetime, but we must also follow and abide by the rules and regulations that have been established.
Michele Steinmetz, Assistant Director
Internal Affairs & Membership
"The mission of The American Legion is to provide service to veterans, their families and their communities.""

So at least they recognize the issue. but obviously there is much work to be done before any change will be forthcoming.  But my buddy Dave is on the case, and he's pissed off so he's a force to be reckoned with - I wouldn't bet against him getting a grassroots movement going to bring the issue up at the next Legion convention.  I'll help any way I can.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I miss Marcia

Today I went back to the Red Cross Blood Center to donate platelets for the first time since 2009.  I used to go there once or twice a month and I had gotten to know the staff pretty well, so when I had to take a break from my regular visits for reasons beyond my control, it made me sad.  But today I was back.

As soon as I walked in the front door (which is in the back of the building) I felt like I was in a welcoming place - everybody I saw, even those I had never seen before smiled and said hello, and those whom I knew from my prior visits all recognized me and seemed genuinely glad to see me again.  It was a little like a "homecoming" for me, and it felt good to be there.

And so after all the formal intake procedures (the Red Cross is all about "procedures")  when I was all hooked up (i.e., had needles in both arms) and settled in on my reclining chair for the two-hour (for me, most donors are faster) procedure that Laura came over to talk for a while and catch me up on events since I was last there.  The most significant development was that sometime in the interim since my last visit, they had "lost" Marcia; Laura made it clear that by "lost" she didn't mean through retirement, but that Marcia had gone to a better place, although I didn't really need the clarification to understand what she meant.

I replied with what I hope was an appropriate expression of sympathy but honestly, I couldn't for the life of me remember exactly who Marcia was even though I wracked my brain for some recollection that would tie the name to a face. The conversation moved on to more pleasant topics, but I was left with the question, who exactly was Marcia?  And it vexed me, but I knew eventually the answer would come to me.

And so tonight as I relaxed on the couch, surrounded by my dogs, listening to Jimmy Buffet on Radio Margaritaville, and sipping a glass of bourbon. I was very glad but not at all surprised when the recollections of Marcia came flooding back,  She was a woman younger than me (aren't they all?) who lived in a house near the beach with her husband and their dog, and she truly enjoyed her life and was looking forward to retirement so she could spend more time doing the things she loved.  When I realized this I understood why Laura had felt such a deep sense of loss because Marcia was a special woman who loved life and was loved by those who knew her. 

So with that recollection in place, I miss Marcia too.  But I'm glad that I knew her and I'm more glad that I remembered her for the special person she was.  I'm pretty sure that she would have been glad to see me back, too, and I know I would have enjoyed talking to her and catching up on dog news. Life goes on.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cause for hope?

I've always felt that Republicans had a political advantage over Democrats due to the simple fact that they always seemed to have their act together.  No matter how morally bankrupt their platform was or how inept their candidates were, they still managed to out-maneuver the Democrats politically by being organized, staying on script with their message, and defining the issues in ways to their own benefit while demonizing their opponents.  It was a tried and true formula that was often successful - the election (with the help of the Supreme Court) and reelection of George W. is evidence of the success that can be attained with shrewd planning and disciplined execution.

Recent events make me wonder if the Republican Party has lost its mojo, and thus its advantage in elections where the electorate is sharply divided.  At the national level, the all but concluded presidential primary process was a debacle of the first order, with Republican candidates inflicting more damage upon one another than any Democrat could have hoped for, and it has produced a presumptive nominee that no Republicans seem to really like - that's how desperate they are to attract the elusive moderate "swing-voters" who apparently will decide the general election.

And here in Maine the political plight of the Republican Party is even more bizarre, with the party in disarray and squabbling going on between the "mainstream" leadership and various factions within the party.  The last two Republican State Conventions have been hi-jacked by radical groups, with the Tea Party taking charge of the convention two years ago and writing a platform that showcased all of their favorite talking points; this year it was Ron Paul supporters that took over by outmaneuvering the party leadership to elect one of their own as chairman.  The Paul supporters then proceeded to elect delegates who support Paul over Romney, which is not the result  the "leadership" had intended for the convention to produce.  Confusion, acrimony, accusations and name-calling reign.

So my question is, can the Democrats get their act together enough, just this once, to take advantage of the situation and maybe actually win some elections that they should win anyway (if they could just convince voters to act in their own self-interest).  If Obama were reelected together with a Democratic Congress, it's just possible we might be able to get some things done to restore economic fairness and social justice to America. Is that too much to hope for?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lap Dogs

I share my life and my house with three dogs - 2 Labrador Retrievers and a Cocker Spaniel - and none of them is what you would call a "lap dog" in the usual sense of the term.  But that doesn't keep them from trying to be one.

Most evenings when it's time to kick back and relax before bed-time will find the four of us pig-piled on the couch, which is just large enough to accommodate all of us if we arrange ourselves strategically, listening to Janis Joplin or the like.  With the three of them jockeying to get into a position to get a belly rub or a head scratch it can take a while for everybody to find a spot but we always manage to work things out.  Given the limited space available the final arrangement invariably involves some part of a dog, and sometimes all of the Cocker Spaniel, on my lap.  And generally everybody is quite content with their spot (until Thor the cat who thinks he's a dog shows up and wants a spot, but we can usually fit him in, too).

Last night, though, things took a strange turn of events which surprised me although things eventually worked out.  Lance, the 90 pound male lab was the first dog on the couch (I was already sitting in my spot on the end); he sat down right beside me, leaned his full weight into me and just collapsed onto my legs, which were stretched out on a chair in front of me.  So there he was with most of his considerable body directly on my lap, and he seemed intent on staying there.  Of course this maneuver left a huge expanse of the couch open so the other two were able to sprawl out, with room left over for the cat.

There we sat, everybody as content as could be - Lance went sound asleep having secured what he apparently thought was prime territory for the evening and the other two seemed glad to have the extra room to spread out, so life was good.  Until I simultaneously finished my glass of bourbon and lost all feeling in my legs - then it was time to get up and go to bed.  But it really was nice while it lasted.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Letter to the National Commander of the American Legion

To the National Commander:  Dear Commander, I am writing to suggest that the time has come, and in fact is way past due, to change the eligibility requirements of the Legion to permit all of those who have served in the "all volunteer" armed forces to join, even if their service did not fall within the dates currently specified in your by-laws.  These men and women stepped up and joined the armed forces on their own accord, without any threat of being drafted.  They have served in the highest traditions of the military, following orders and going wherever they were needed; had they been ordered into battle they would have gone without complaint because that was their job - it's what they signed up to do.  So to disrespect the service of these brave and loyal men and women just because the time of their service did not coincide with some specified time of war is wrong.  The American Legion cannot claim to represent all veterans if it excludes those who volunteered to serve in a time of peace but stood ready to serve in a time of war. The all-voluntary military forces that have defended our country since the end of the draft could not have stood up without them, and they are brothers and sisters in arms in every possible respect, and they fully deserve the opportunity to join the Legion and continue their comradeship with fellow veterans from other eras.  Will you honor these brave men and women by changing your eligibility requirements to permit them to join, or will you continue to regard them as “second-class” veterans because their time of service happened to correspond with a brief period in our history when we were not at war with someone?
United States Army, 6/17/1968 - 6/07/1971

I wrote this due to the recent experience of a friend of mine who was in the  "peace time" Army during the late 1970s.  He recently applied for membership at the local Legion hall and discovered he is not eligible for membership.  To say that he was upset - and pissed off - would be a gross understatement.  This is a man who volunteered to serve his country; he was in the Military Police and served in Germany, which at the time was probably a far more dangerous place for GIs then it was when I was there 10 years earlier - and I'm certain that his job was a lot more dangerous than mine was.  But I'm eligible to join the Legion and he's not?  That's just ridiculous.

And don't get me started about benefits from the VA (but come to think of it, I haven't written to our Congressional delegation in a while).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Here's something I don't understand

Any nation* that allowed its officials to engage in widespread sexual abuse of minors and then took every possible action to conceal the crimes or to protect the perpetrators would be instantly condemned by the international community, with the USA leading the chorus.

Any nation* that restricted  the rights of women to participate in its government at the highest levels and limited their ability to have any say its national policies would be decried in the United Nations, and I'm sure the USA would introduce a resolution condemning the human rights violations and imposing sanctions until they stop.

Any nation* that dictates to its citizens what birth control they can, or more accurately cannot, use, how to think on issues like gay rights, and what services they can (or again, cannot) obtain from their health care provider would be denounced as a suppressive regime and the USA would at least withhold all foreign aid until the suppression stopped.

Any nation* that punished a segment of its society for "worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage" (to quote from a recent column by Nicholas Kristoff who writes for the New York Times) would surely draw disdain from more enlightened societies around the world, most assuredly including the USA.

So why, I wonder, is it OK when a Papacy does all of these things?

*Excluding members of OPEC