Thursday, July 31, 2008

July 31, 2008--The Elephant Not In The Room

I was a model builder as a boy. We didn’t have much money to underwrite my hobby so basic materials included cardboard that the laundry inserted in my father’s dress shirts to keep them neat and wrinkle-free; wooden matches; ice cream pop sticks; and, for special purposes, the cellophane that I stealthily purloined from packs of my dad’s Camel cigarettes. The latter, because of its transparency could, in car and boat models, be transformed into windshield glass.

The cellophane was my favorite, not because of the purposes to which I put it but because it seemed to my young and very undeveloped mind a miracle of science and manufacturing—in effect, it appeared to be a form of transparent paper. All other paper was white and brown and decidedly opaque.

If I couldn’t figure all that out I could hardly have been expected to be capable of thinking about the molecular differences between, say, writing paper and cellophane and how somehow that might be related to their different physical properties. That I earned much later. And though I did think to compare the cellophane to glass—though soft and hard both transparent substances, I could get no further than merely noting these superficial similarities (1).

But a few years later when I spent after-school time running errands for the neighborhood glazer, Mr. Perly, I thought more about the nature of glass--another mysterious substance when you think about it. The best I could come up with was to compare it with frozen water in that H2O can be transparent in both its liquid (water) and solid (ice) states.

So you have no idea how pleased I was with myself the other day when in the Science section of the New York Times, their lead story, “Anything But Clear,” concludes that though glass in various forms has been around for thousands of years, scientists still do not have anything resembling a full understanding of what it is.

Not only do they not know, but many who are involved in trying to solve the what-is-glass puzzle are hardly working cooperatively much less with the objective respect for each other that we expect of scientists searching for the Truth. In fact, one glass theorist is so convinced that he has solved the mystery, when confronted with other’s skepticism, says that he ”disagrees violently with them,” with such an emphasis on the “violently” part that others with different views claim that he is in the business of “selling us a used car.” (See article linked below.)

Using the most powerful instruments (electron microscopes) and advanced computer simulations there is at least some agreement that in its molecular structure glass is more like a nearly solidified liquid than a solid. Like a liquid, the arrangement of glass’ molecules, unlike a solid, does not conform to an “organized stacking.” Rather, though as hard as a solid, glass’ liquid-like inner structure is made up of molecules that are jumbled randomly. In a familiar liquid, this random jumbling also includes seemingly-random, perceivable movement. Thus, in a pot or from a tap or in a stream, water is seen to slosh around or flow. When it becomes ice, like other solids, again examined closely with the right instrument, one would see ice’s organized, crystalline molecular stacking.

But not with glass. It appears to have a liquid structure but, unlike water, has a flow rate so pathetically slow that it seems to us to be a solid. Get it?

To give you an indication why Nobel prizes await whomever can make sense of this confusion and these paradoxes, one researcher hot on the trail reveals that things are even more complex and perplexing—there is more than glass to figure out, there are glasses. Plural. According to Peter Harrowell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney, glasses are defined not by a common characteristic they possess but rather by one that they lack—order. As he puts it, “If I showed you a room without an elephant in it, the question, ‘Why is there not an elephant in the room?’ is not a well-posed question.”

That’s glass for you.

But for me, though I do understand why Nobels await whomever solves this one--because of the answer’s implications for other fields: medicine for example (if they could figure glass out they might also be able to structure many critical medications so that they would dissolve quickly and not thus have to be administered by injection); still for that little-boy-model-builder in me, what I await is not the solution to the liquid-solid conundrum but rather why glass and my old cellophane are so magically crystal clear and transparent.

Sorry, I know, I know—they’re not crystals. But glass at least is a liquid. I get it. I really do.

(1) For the curious, cellophane was invented in 1908 by Jacques E. Brandenberger, a Swiss textiles engineer. After witnessing a wine spill on a restaurant tablecloth, Brandenberger initially had the idea to develop a clear coating for cloth to make it waterproof. He experimented, and came up with a way to apply liquid cellulose viscose to cloth, but found the resultant combination of cloth and viscose film too stiff to be of use. However, the clear film easily separated from the backing cloth, and he abandoned his original idea as the possibilities of the new material became apparent. Cellophane's low permeability to air, grease and bacteria made it useful for food packaging—and of course to keep Camel cigarettes fresh.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 30, 2008: Day Off

Back tomorrow if I can manage to connect to the Internet. If so, a meditation about glass.

Friday, July 25, 2008

July 25, 2008--Obama's Walls

I was planning to write something about Iraq. About the current wonky debate about the “surge.” Who was for it (McCain); who was against it (Obama); whether or not it fueled or followed the so-called “Anbar Awakening—where Sunni leaders joined together to get after al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (sort of both); and if McCain had the foresight to urge this unpopular policy and it has contributed to some increased stability in Iraq, shouldn’t he get credit for that from even folks such as me who support Obama?

I was going to tip my hat to McCain; but following that I was thinking about making the further point that these improvements on the ground in Iraq, partly the result of McCain’s leadership, are now ironically playing right into Obama’s hand—how his plan to extract troops from Iraq over 16 months and deploy more of them to Afghanistan where they are sorely needed reflects his ability to see things in global perspective and lends credibility to Iraq’s prime minister Maliki essentially endorsing the Obama plan, which in turn enhances Obama’s foreign-policy-Commander-in-Chief chops.

(See linked NY Times article that makes these points much better than I would have if I had chosen to write about this.)

But my own blog plans lurched off track yesterday afternoon as I watched and listened to Obama’s speech in Berlin. Prior to it there was carping that it was presumptuous for him, for someone not yet even a nominee to speak there at a public event, perhaps attempting not-so-subliminally to wrap himself in the lingering glow of JFK’s stirring Ich bein ein Berliner and Reagan’s memorable Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall speeches.

And though those complaints will continue as some will relentlessly attack him as calculating and elitist and effetely Eurocentric, and much worse, if you can put those concerns aside if you have them, if you weren’t able to witness the speech directly, I urge you to check the video of it on Barack Obama’s Website because it is perhaps the best political speech on 21st century geopolitics that we’ve yet had.

His ability to view and understand the implications, challenges, and opportunities that result from the interconnectivity of seemingly disparate events and movements is remarkable. And to think, he actually wrote the speech himself.

Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite for more:

As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.

Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris. The poppies in Afghanistan become the heroin in Berlin. The poverty and violence in Somalia breeds the terror of tomorrow. The genocide in Darfur shames the conscience of us all. . . .

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.

The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

We know they have fallen before. After centuries of strife, the people of Europe have formed a Union of promise and prosperity. Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace. Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid.

So history reminds us that walls can be torn down.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

July 24, 2008--Reading In the Rain

Though it is only 6:00 a.m. and the rain is subsiding, my bones tell me that we're in for an all-day soaker.

So I’ve already stacked kindling and a few logs in the fireplace, fluffed the pillows on the sofa, and set aside Joseph O’Neill’s recent novel, Netherland. It’s been extravagantly promoted and reviewed, (compared already, can you believe it, to The Great Gatsby); and though that sort of attention tends to lures me to buy it, it also makes me suspect that the author is being hyped as the latest sensation and I am thus prepared both to find it rapturous or to give in to schadenfreudian glee at its shortcomings.

In other words, no mater what happens with the weather or Netherland, I’m prepared to have a wonderful day.

Just think how much less I’d have to look forward to if I had bought myself that new Kindle gizmo that Amazon has just put out. I don’t have all the details but it’s supposed to be something like an oxymoronic “wireless book.” Since I buy some of my books from Amazon they sent me an electronic ad for it, which in part said that Kindle’s:

• Revolutionary electronic-paper display provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that looks and reads like real paper.

• Simple to use: no computer, no cables, no syncing.

• Wireless connectivity enables you to shop the Kindle Store directly from your Kindle—whether you’re in the back of a taxi, at the airport, or in bed.

• Buy a book and it is auto-delivered wirelessly in less than one minute.

• More than 140,000 books available, including more than 98 of 112 current New York Times® Best Sellers.

I can’t restrain myself from doing a little deconstructing—

“Electronic-paper display . . . that looks and reads like real paper”? Putting aside how this saves trees, it takes a lot of marketing chutzpah to compare whatever even a high-definition screen can produce to real paper. And besides, when it comes to book pages, it’s not as much about looks as it is about feel; and I suspect that even Amazon is years away from developing the capacity of what they call “electronic-paper” to simulate that tactile reality.

“No syncing”? I admit I’m old and conservative about these kinds of matters and basically illiterate--if that’s the correct word--when talking about anything having to do with electronics or computers. I’m clueless when it comes to know what to do with my cell phone other than making and receiving calls, or what I would do with a Blackberry if I had one, or what else to do with my Apple laptop other than use it for writing and accessing the Internet; so to tell me I would not have to do any “syncing” if I were so foolish as to spend $359 for a Kindle, is not really very comforting or likely to cause me to rush to the landline or cell phone. Sorry, I of course should have said, to buy one on-line.

Nor do I want to order a “book” while in “the back of a taxi.” If you think the idea of doing that is attractive, I suspect you haven’t recently been careened around in one in New York City.

Nor am I enticed by having access, that’s the word, right, to “98 of 112 current New York Times Best Sellers.” I’m such a book snob that I wouldn’t be caught buying any of the 98 much less the full 112. On the other hand, if one of them could be discretely delivered to me in only one minute in the privacy of a taxi . . . who knows what I’d do.

But give me a real, tactile, creaky book to curl up with by the fire. One where I can hear the pages as I turn them. (I suspect that a Kindle beeps.) Give me something to read that has heft so that when I soon stretch out on the couch and rest it on my chest I can feel it literally attaching itself to me. Give me something that when I open it I am enveloped by the sweet, woodsy smell of real paper.

And, most important, when I as quickly as possible drift toward sleep and let what I’m reading slip to my chest I want to know that the warmth it generates to secure my dreams is from an organic thing—a book—and not from an electronic thing--a Kindle screen--which, for all I know, might be emitting something while I surreptitiously devour Danielle Steel’s Best Seller that will surely give me cancer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

July 23, 2008--Summer Reading

You don’t have to be religious to love this Bible—the Codex Sinaiticus.

It is the oldest complete version of the New Testament and several books of the Old. Tomorrow, the NY Times reports (linked), a digital copy of it will be available for close viewing on the miraculous Internet.

But if you can’t wait until then, rush, as I did, to the Website ( for a preview. There you will find an astonishing full-folio page of the end of the Book of Jeremiah and the beginning of Lamentations. By using the little magnifying glass icon you can zoom in on it to contemplate virtually every one of the Greek letters that make up this more than 1,600 year-old Bible.

The Codex Sinaiticus is a translation from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into an all-Greek bible. It is believed that it may be one of 50 original bibles that the Emperor Constantine commissioned after converting the Eastern Roman Empire to Christianity. It was discovered at the Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, Egypt, which was built on what is traditionally believed to be the site of Moses' burning bush.

Although most of the Old Testament portion of the Codex has been destroyed, the New Testament text has survived and is in general agreement with the text used to establish the King James Version of the Bible.

The story of its discovery in 1844 by the intrepid German Biblical scholar Constantin von Tishendorf reads like a novel. Here, from Wikipedia, is part of the saga:

In 1844, during his first visit to Monastery of Saint Catherine, Tischendorf saw some leaves of parchment in a wastebasket. They were "rubbish which was to be destroyed by burning it in the ovens of the monastery". After examination he realized that they were part of the Septuagint, written in an early Greek script. He retrieved from the basket 129 leaves in Greek which he identified as coming from a manuscript of the Septuagint. [The oldest Greek version of the Hebrew Bible translated between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC in Alexandria, Egypt.]

He asked if he might keep them, but at this point the attitude of the monks changed, they realized how valuable these old leaves were, and Tischendorf was permitted to take only one-third of the whole, 43 leaves. These leaves contained portions of 1 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and Esther. After his return to Germany they were deposited in the University Library at Leipzig, where they still remain.

The full codex is now split into four unequal portions: 347 leaves in the British Library in London, 12 leaves and 14 fragments in St. Catherine's Monastery of Sinai, 43 leaves in the Leipzig University Library, and fragments of 3 leaves in the Russian National Library in Saint Petersburg

Though the Leipzig section contains “only” 43 leaves, savoring them should keep you busy for at least the rest of the day.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

July 22, 2008--Among the Georges' Herefords

I’ll get back to this in a minute. How every morning I’ve been studying these seven Herefords grazing in the Riverview Hayfields Preserve, a natural pasture set aside by the Georges River Land Trust. An impressive pasture that descends in verdant waves down to the bank of the river where it is transformed into a tidal estuary. And very impressive cows in a British-countryside kind of way.

But we are headed to town. Thomaston. To the Café for breakfast.

I am worrying about us. Our inclination to settle quickly, perhaps too quickly into routines. Breakfasting is a case in point.

Wherever we are for more than a few days we try to find a place nearby for morning coffee; and depending on what might be going on in the kitchen, assuming there is one (we are often in remote places), for eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, local specialties, whatever; which if available makes things even better.

Mornings for me are vulnerable times, the time wedged between the oblivion of sleep and the threats that linger in half-forgotten dreams, and wakefulness, that time when I need to reassemble those fractured psychic pieces I depend upon to get me through even a non-demanding day.

Thus favorite morning places are those where local folks gather, where their lifelong familiarities exude a warmth and security that nurtures, along with the caffeine, a return to consciousness. There, there is nothing to protect, nothing to defend. Let the aromas and banter blend, seep in, glance around to pick up a few encouraging smiles, perhaps exchange some chat about last night’s weather and the price of gas, and thereby get ready for what will surely occur.

I do not have much of a problem with any of this. The night demons that require exorcising and what they demand of me, what I need to do to prepare for the day is what it is. My worrying has more to do with concern about slipping so automatically into everyday patterns, routines that though they offer comfort may at the same time dull me to the excitement and lessons of the new and unexpected. Isn’t it true, all of which are essential to a life rich in stimulation, association, and understanding.

To put it simply, am I not stuck in a series of ruts, which I know too well I have the capacity to rationalize (the need to deal with demons, half-consciousness, tremors, and such); or is there something else, perhaps additional going on here?

Back, then, to the Herefords.

Heading north to town each morning along the River Road as the ground fog lifts its curtain along the Georges their hayfield reveals itself as if from behind a slowly rising scrim. The road dips as it approaches the railroad tracks and I, without thought, still half in sleep, slow down to avoid a rude jolt. The meadow is on the left.

On the third morning I began to notice something that previously hadn’t even registered—the cows, as we headed toward coffee, clustered in a small herd, like us seemed to gravitate each day toward the same familiar spot quite close to the river almost precisely centered in the field.

So precisely centered that if they had been grazing every morning at the same time in the same open spot, the same but asymmetrically positioned within the field’s boundaries, I would not have even noticed much less taken note of them. It was as if, knowing my need for order when my inner life is still astir, to catch my attention they had triangulated their way into the literal center of my emerging awareness.

After an hour and many coffees, now fully awake, with me calming, we turn south back toward our place on Spruce Point. And in that meadow I began to see that the Herefords at about the same time each day had drifted up the hill, closer to the road and closer still to the three conifers under which they would settle later in the day (that particular sameness confirmed by yet another early afternoon drive to Thomaston for our daily half-pint of sweet crab meat and two-for-a-dollar ears of lunch corn), seeking shade from the midday sun cast coolly by a small stand of ancient conifers.

The very same, even precise route, it would appear, each day. Now, I do not pretend to know much about cattle much less their inner lives; but I do know more than I ideally would want about mine and what these routines I so easily establish do for me. But I am wondering now as much about the biology of this as I have thought for years about its psychology.

Are there some mammalian creature linkages being revealed here? What bends these Herefords’ dreams? What must they do to gain control of their daily time? What imperatives guide them as they perhaps like me grope expectantly toward some calm place? Is some instinct at work within them, as within me, that directs our animal movements?

I can deal with that. In fact, if true, and of course there is no way of knowing, which I can also deal with, if true this brings me additional comfort. So I will assume it’s true. For them as well as for me.

They, I, we trace these daily patterns, I am now more convinced, not just to ritualistically banish threats often associated with surprise and newness but rather to gather the quiet capacities required to take in what comes our way, especially from the almost imperceptible. In my case, I feel, to absorb the layers of meaning from even the smallest gestures and motes of experience. That, I’ve learned about myself is the best that I can expect and achieve.

For them? Who knows. But there they are each day seemingly having figured out something that gets them nurtured, keeps them protected, and brings them association. Pretty much like me.

What they take from that, build upon it, if anything more, I can never know; but I do know that all that I still need to learn, the happiness that I continue to pursue, whatever I might have to say or contribute begin in the healthful cut of these daily circles.

Monday, July 21, 2008

July 21, 2008--Nice Work If You Can Get It . . .

In Andrew Fleming’s very funny 1999 movie, Dick, two ditzy teenagers, Betsy and Arlene, played perfectly by Kirstin Dunst and Michelle Williams, inadvertently contribute to the unraveling of the Watergate break in and cover up. Arlene, who lives in the Watergate spots G. Gordon Liddy there on that fateful night and the next day, on a tour of the White House, she and Betsy spy him lurking there.

Alerted by Liddy, J. R. Halderman interrogates them and then in order to keep them quiet, with Nixon’s approval, gets them appointed “officlal White House dog walkers.” Their job is to take care of the very-famous Checkers. Later, after many hilarious encounters with Nixon, the perfect Dan Hedaya, as things begin to unravel around him and he becomes more isolated, especially from young people, Nixon names them to be his “youth advisors.”

In case you haven’t seen Dick, I will say no more. Just go out and rent the DVD.

But as we know, truth often imitates fiction. Often even farce imitates truth.

This brings me to Blake Gottesman, George Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Blake is responsible for overseeing day-to-day White House operations and earns a cool $172,000 a year. This represents a big step up for him because not too many months ago, this 28 year-old’s chief responsibility was taking care of Barney. You know Barney. He’s the cute Scottish terrier you see racing across the White House lawn whenever Bush alights from Marine Chopper Number One.

To be fair to Mr. Gottesman his job description involved more than tending to Barney. It also involved opening doors for President Bush (as we know this can be a tricky affair); keeping him well supplied with Sharpies for signing autographs; and to kill germs after presidential handshakes, making sure to have handy a spritz-bottle of Purell.

OK, so maybe he got his “body-man” job—that’s what these assignments are called (and to be fair Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama have their versions--though Hillary’s, Huma Abedin, is a “body woman”) because during high school he dated Jenna Bush; but to be doubly fair, after handling the Sharpies for years he took time off to complete an MBA at Bush’s alma mater, Harvard, which is impressive since he never graduated from college; and it was only after that that he was hired to serve his country and president in his current Chief of Staff role. (See NY Times article linked below.)

Still some might say this is a pretty thin resume for someone to be elevated to such a lofty and responsible position in the White House. Especially considering the talent that’s available out there now that the Bush administration has ruined the economy and so many highly qualified folks are desperately seeking jobs.

I’ll bet you could even get a former Fortune 500 senior vice president to take over the Barney job. Why, what’s Brownie doing these days after he finished rebuilding New Orleans? He’d be perfect.

On the other hand, back to Dick, like Arlene and Betsy what might old Blake Gottesman know about what went on behind the scenes while he was walking the dog? Who really leaked Valerie Plame’s CIA identity? What actually happened to Karl Rove’s emails? What did the president know and when did he know it in regard to invading Iraq? And is Dick Cheney really our president?

Come on Blake. You’re out of a job come January 20th. You really think you’ll find anything else out there that’ll pay you anything like $172K a year?

But big bucks await you in Hollywood. So start typing.

Friday, July 18, 2008

July 18, 2008--EXTRA! EXTRA! Read All About It

The headline in Wednesday's New York Times barked:

Poll Finds Obama Isn’t Closing Divide on Race

Americans are sharply divided by race heading into the first election in which an African-American will be a major-party presidential nominee, with blacks and whites holding vastly different views of Senator Barack Obama, the state of race relations and how black Americans are treated by society.

What the poll actually showed are the current inclinations of black and white voters in regard to Obama’s candidacy. (Check the full article linked below.)

The data the Times reported on favorability indicate that at the moment 31 percent of whites are favorably disposed toward Obama, 37 not favorable, while 31 percent say they haven’t as yet heard enough. The percentages for African Americans are 83, 14, 2.

This does not mean that “Americans are sharply divided by race.” That’s a whole other matter. This means that more blacks than whites favor Obama, and that an equal percentage are open minded, wanting to hear more. The data also show that among whites only 9 percentage points more whites are not favorably disposed toward Obama than toward McCain—37 to 28 percent.

Maybe that should have been the headline. Or how open-minded folks are. Or how the vast majority of both whites and blacks say America is ready to elect a black president—70 percent of whites and 65 percent of African Americans.

The larger issue is that though we may still be divided by race what does that have to do with Obama? And, politically more important—since that is what the story purports to discuss—in what ways is Obama either responsible for whatever divide persists and why, as the Times implies in its headline and the story itself, why should Obama be expected to be the one close that divide?

He’s running for president, after all, not miracle worker.

Is he supposed to single-handedly as either the Democratic candidate or as president close the divide? Does any sane person who knows anything about American history really expect him to overcome centuries of slavery, segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, and just plan old racism? Only in our dreams.

Yes, his candidacy, and if he were to be elected, especially if he turned out to be an effective president and did something to help repair our relations with the rest of the world, began to deal comprehensively with our energy addiction, worked to fix our wounded economy and chip away at inequality, if he were able to do some of these things, than I suspect some Americans who are inclined toward racist thoughts would come around and say, at the least, “Some of my best presidents are black.”

Still smarting about the Times headline, I can’t resist finding additional fault with the paper of record for not running the following headlines:

McCain Fails to Close Age Divide

George W. Bush Unable to Narrow Vision Gap

JFK Unable to Narrow Divide on Fidelity

Bill Clinton . . . Ditto

George H. W. Bush Isn’t Closing IQ Divide

Thursday, July 17, 2008

July 17, 2008--William (Bill) Buckminster of Owls Head

Not far is Owls Head. No apostrophe. Just “Owls.” That’s what the Abenaki Indians called it. In their language of course. They could see an owl’s head etched into the granite that plunged into the bay.

We were up there the other day visiting the lighthouse but couldn’t see it at all. If there were any Indians nearby I guess we could have asked them; but the were driven out by the English settlers a couple hundred years ago. Pretty much all that remains of them are some pottery shards, arrowheads, and many place names. Most transliterations of what they named things. Like Piscataquis (Branch of the River) and Damariscotta (River of Little Fish). Also, a high-stakes casino on the Penobscot Reservation.

From walking up to the lighthouse, which offers stirring views back into Rockland Harbor, we had worked up an appetite. Rona remembered seeing a general store before the turnoff, right by the Owls Head post office, so we headed back there. We had been in this part of Maine long enough to suspect that they would have something good to eat.

Which they did. Lobster rolls of course but also hot soups and an assortment of sandwiches. And, if you ever find yourself there—which isn’t a bad idea at all—they have some fine homemade chocolate donuts. Needless to say we shared one with our coffee.

We sat with our food at a long communal table, something else we have come to expect to find at these places. This always makes for good conversation. That day we learned a lot about the local lobster industry. Not good at all. Though lobsters are plentiful in the Bay, like everywhere else the price of things was killing business. With marine gasoline well above $4.00 a gallon it costs at least $150 a day for a lobsterman to run his boat so he can work his traps. This pushes up the price to pound of their catch and since people who might be coming here for vacations are staying closer to home and folks in restaurants are watching their money--a lobster dinner at these inflated prices can easily add up to $50 a head, no one is feeling good or feeling optimistic. But still, around that table, no one was whining and the funny stories and gossip flowed as fast as the coffee refills.

One piece of gossip we picked up was about Bill Buckminster, who owns about eleven acres right opposite the general store and the “Garden Club” ladies who are hassling him again.

He’s about 91, we learned, and on every inch of his property, which is right along the main road that leads to the fancy part of town, he has for more than 60 years been piling up what those good ladies call “junk.” Lots of it. Not only do they claim it’s a fire hazard but, aesthetics aside, with property values also way down these women are complaining that his “mess” is not helping with that. Actually, quite the contrary—with about everything for sale, including some of their homes, who’s going to buy a place anywhere near his.

To work off the lobster rolls and donut, we thought to walk over to take a look for ourselves. It’s pretty much just across from the general store.

And yes it is a sight to behold. Perhaps even enough of a sight worth a drive over to see. “Lots” of junk, or stuff, is a vast understatement. “Mountains” would better describe what he has spent a lifetime gathering. A pile of discarded window frames at least ten feet high is right out there between two of his decaying buildings, on one of which over soon-to-be-fully caved-in entrance door is half-hanging a weathered Antiques sign. Is this evidence of his sense of humor? What looks like thousands of crumbling wooden lobster buoys forms another mountain. There is a huge pile of coiled copper wire. Another of varying lengths of discarded aluminum leaders and gutters. Still another hill of ruined metal lawn furniture. And a vast pile of broken clocks, all with missing hands so there no way to even intimate when all this began or ended. Assuming, at his advanced age, he has stopped whatever he did to amass all of this.

On all the many trees there were glaring NO TRESPASSING signs, but since no one seemed to be around and we didn’t hear any snarling dogs we did take a few tentative steps onto the property to get a closer look.

As in many rural places, Buckminster’s had a lineup of abandoned and rusting cars. From at least back to the early 1950s. And, not entirely surprising, all of the cars were filled with stuff, as we could see through the shattered windows were the barn and building with the Antiques sign. From wall to wall and floor to ceiling in the case of the buildings and from floorboards almost up to the roof in the case of the cars.

After twenty minutes or so, beginning to feel more respectful than trespassing, we started to calm down enough so that we were able to take a closer look at things. A sense of order began to make itself felt—not just clocks with other clocks and copper wire with copper wire, that was most evident—but first, especially within the cars, there appeared to be much more method than dismissive madness at work.

In an old Dodge Buckminster had placed—and “placed” seemed like the right way to think about this—were a series of layers of books and fabrics, stacked in a manner, tiered, so that, if he chose to, he would be able to find whatever it might be that he wanted to put his hands on. And gently on top of what we now thought to be a careful arrangement—again, “arrangement” seemed the right way to describe what we were observing, yes “observing,” was a dried sheaf of what looked like rye or oats.

The larger yards then of abandoned ladders and cooking kettles and rubber tubing and baskets and steam irons and moldy books and keys and doctors’ satchels and grocery scales and broom heads and telephone receivers and wooden kegs and hat forms and garden shears and bicycle wheels and hubcaps and license plates and linked chains and iron stoves and harnesses and chair parts and croquet balls and toilet-bowl floats and birdhouses and electric fans and bricks and shotgun shells and tin stove pipes and sports trophies and flashlights and . . . all of this then suggested either a collector’s mania or an inner logic still unfathomable to us. Perhaps, always to be unfathomable.

Overwhelmed by these literally hundreds of thousands of pieces and what they might mean we did understand what the Garden Club ladies might be feeling about what their neighbor had done to their village—a driveby by a perspective home owner or tourist would undoubtedly cause most to press harder on the accelerator. But we also understood that we had visited an extraordinary collection— there could be no doubt that we had visited was a significant “collection”—and so we made our way back to the general store to see what we could learn.

The owner was eager to talk about him and the ladies. “Oh, he’s been doin’ that for years,” she said with a smile and affectionate wave of her hand, “No harm to anyone, far as I can see. I don’t know what all the fuss’s about. Those women always with their pants in a bunch. Why he’s been here, his family’s been here before theirs even got off the boat. Now, mind you, they’re good people. They just don’t understand him. To tell you the truth, neither do I. Most days, that is. I say live and let live. Isn’t that we’re s’possed to be about? I mean all this hollerin’ and shoutin’. I’m getting too old to want to listen to it any more. If we out here on the Head can’t figure how to live with each other and tolerate each other than I don’t know who can.”

But before we might misinterpret her, that she was feeling pessimistic about things, she quickly added, with an even more glowing smile, “But just ‘tween us, most of those ladies are still mad with him because back a few years some of them were sweet on him, but all he cared about were his things. But they’re really all right about him. I don’t think any of them would really like to see anything of his touched. They just like to make a little noise once in a while. No real harm in that. Basically we do get along fine. Pretty fine for the most part.

“And Bill did marry. His wife was a wonder. Died a few years back. Almost killed him. But he’s all right now. Battling cancer so they say, but he claims he’s fine. That’s him. He doesn’t do any collecting any more. Gave that up when Helen died. She’s buried right there up that little road right by Bill’s place. You should walk over if you didn’t and take a look. Right by a pond that the fellas in the firehouse next door tap into to fill up their pumper. Bill hates them doing that. Claims that pond’s on his property and what they’re doing is not nature’s way.”

She paused to think about that. “You did walk over there to take a look? Someth’ isn’t it? It makes me feel I live somewhere special. Don’t know exactly why I say that. But people who know about him do come by to visit. To look at what he’s accomplished. Even some famous people. Some artists and actors. Zero Mostel had a place near here and he used to come by to fool around with Bill. Always had a plastic water pistol with him which he stuck in Bill’s ribs and said ‘This is a stick up,’ as if Bill had anything worth stealing. And Andrew Wyeth bought some of his stuff. Maybe even used it in his paintings. I should ask him the next time he comes by. Yes he does. Most summers. Much nicer, I’ll tell you, than his son. That Jamie. But ‘nough said about that though.”

Customers were lining up so we let her go. But as we were about to leave she said, “You might want to take a look at that book.” She pointed to a small shelf below where she displayed the local newspapers. “It’s by some Boston woman who wrote it about Bill. People say it’s not bad. I need to get around to reading it one of these days. Who knows what she might be sayin’.” At that she laughed to herself.

* * *

We did get the book. It’s Owls Head (again no apostrophe) by a Cambridge-based artist, Rosamond Purcell, who befriended Buckminster and over twenty years bought things from him. Tens of thousands by her count, and in the book, a little disappointing to me, she spends most of her time writing about what he and his life’s work came to mean to her. And how she transmuted what she acquired from him into her own work, which is quite interesting.

She’s an excellent writer and the book is worth reading and pondering. It’s largely a meditation about the meaning and beauty of decay—Purcell has been called the “doyenne of decay.”

But I was hoping to learn even more than is there about him. No disrespect to her, but the owner of the general store got it right-- he’s the one who’s really special.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

July 16, 2008--On the Water

That's the plan for the morning. But come back tomorrow to meet William (Bill) Buckminster of Owls Head.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July 15, 2008--No Apes In Gitmo

As I seek to simplify some things, others keep getting more complicated.

Case in point—in Spain where we happily spend part of each year, the Parliament is about to pass a law that would grant limited rights to great apes. Rights that will go considerably beyond preventing cruelty to animals and even further than those advocated by the good folks from PETA.

Spanish legislators contend that since great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) share at least 95 percent of our DNA as well as many of our human qualities—the ability to feel happiness and fear, make and use tools, have language capabilities, and appear to be able to plan for the future as well as recall the past—for these reasons the law should protect their rights in much the same way that it protects children.

It will soon be illegal to kill apes except in self defense; they will no longer be subject to arbitrary imprisonment (though when the law is passed Spain has no plans to release the 300 apes currently in their zoos); and apes will be excluded from medical experiments, which are considered to be torture, including for AIDS research, because they are not considered to be capable of offering informed consent. (See NY Times article linked below.)

There is opposition. Most of it from Spain’s Catholic bishops who have seen their authority seriously eroded since the demise of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. They see this in theological terms: the new law would upset any notion, to them critical, that humans were by God placed separate and above all animals in His kingdom. To them, the prospect of granting quasi-human status to apes is almost like elevating the place in the divine hierarchy of women. If we do this for apes, they are virtually saying, the next thing you know they will want to become priests and bishops and cardinals.

But not to worry too much the legislators say—the law will not only not require apes to be released from their cages but it also we will not require them to go to school, own guns, or obtain drivers licenses. I’m relieved.

But Human Rights Watch is not impressed. They say there is no “blurry middle” that they’re concerned about between humans and great apes. A spokesman said, “Human rights are so woefully protected that we’re going to keep our focus there.” Like on what the U.S. continues to be up to with “detainees” in Guantånamo.

Monday, July 14, 2008

July 14, 2008--Anna Christina's Skin

He said:

The shadow of her head against a door has a ghostly quality, eerie, fateful, a symbol of New England people in the past—as they really were. There’s everything about her—her hand pushing a pie plate toward you, or purring wood in a stove. There’s a feeling that, yes, you’re seeing something that’s happening momentarily, but is also a symbol f what’s always happening in Maine. The eternity of a moment

When you get to something as mammoth as she is, all the dirt and grime and slight things evaporate and you se before you the power of the queen of Sweden sitting there, looking at you. Our measly minds pick up a speck of dirt on her leg or bare thigh and we’re clouded by that. She puts things in proper position. All the feelings of ourselves and our little delicacies disappear. Knocks me right in the teeth.

On another occasion, when he noticed she was soiled by a kitten that had eaten too many mice, he said:

I’d better wash you face. And she would answer, ‘All right.’

As he moved the cloth across her heavy, wrinkled face, he said:

‘You have the most marvelous end to your nose, a little delicate thing that happens.’ Touching that head was a terrific experience. I was in awe of it. She was just like blueberries to me.

Then, 30 years later, at the end, just before she died, sitting by the open kitchen door, itself transformed into a canvas of gray from the light of the fog that had persisted for a week, he said:

The fog crept into all the tonalities of her skin. . . . It brought out the intensity of her eyes, the light pinks around her eyelids, her mouth. . . . Every now and then she would look up at the clock which was up above and she had the strangest expression. . . . A powerful face with a great deal of fortitude. . . . Terrific power in her strong neck. And there she was without any affectation.

She is, was Anna Christina Olson, who he recalled first seeing “crawling like a crab” across the mown hill upon which the bay-weathered Olson house still stands, she is obviously the Christina of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic Christina’s World. And the house in which she lived with her parents and after they died with her brother Alvaro, it is just across the St. George River from us, out on Hathorne Point. Just up the road from where Andrew and Betsy Wyeth lived.

In spite of the proximity, which we knew about before arriving, and the easy opportunity to step literally into her and his world, it took us a while to get there since, I confess, art-snob that I am, I have always thought of the painting as, at its best, a piece of heart-tugging illustration. Not that far removed from the other intoxicating sentimentalities of the work of that other most-famous New England artist, Norman Rockwell.

But, but, after visiting the Olson house late last week and after that reading through Richard Meryman’s serviceable biography of Wyeth (Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life), having these words directly from the artist and experiencing through them his lifelong rapturous appreciation and respect for the outer and inner beauty of the very crippled and conventionally ugly Christina, has forced me to take another look at the work and at Wyeth himself.

His work for me has been too much about dryness. This could be a consequence of his basic choice of medium—pre-Renaissance egg tempera on panel. But perhaps for Christina, crippled from the waist down since adolescence, the world that Christina inhabited sereness is appropriate.

Here from Meryman the actual Christina and a glimpse of her life—recording Wyeth’s first visit:

Entering the kitchen, Wyeth was cordial but courtly—respectful of the dignity of Christina’s witchlike looks. Her right eye looked at Wyeth. Her left eye, a small brown pupil in a murky white ball, stared off toward some invisible spot. A single tooth like a post in her mouth. Her arms were skeletal, her hands contorted back at the wrists. She lived marooned on her straight-backed cockeyed kitchen chair; its rear leg worn short from hitching across the rutted linoleum floor between the table and the stove. On the seat of the chair were layers of newspaper to absorb the urine.

A few years later when Wyeth brought the actor Robert Montgomery to meet Christina, after a few minutes he ran from the kitchen and once outside vomited.

Though others might see a ruin, about the house he said:

The world of New England is in that house—spidery, like crackling skeletons rotting in the attic—dry bones. It’s like a tombstone to sailors lost at sea, the Olson ancestor who fell from the yardarm of a square-rigger and was never found. It’s the doorway to the sea for me.

Artists traditionally are shameless exploiters of their sources of inspiration—use it up, move on, and hope to find more. But in Wyeth’s case, Christina served more than just as an unexpectedly beloved muse—there was clearly a chaste romance animating them (the cloth he moved upon her prematurely wrinkled face), there was between them a lifetime of friendship and respect.

So when this week, after visiting the house and reading bits of Meryman, when I looked again at Christina’s World, this time closer than ever before—with the acknowledgment that my own much more limited imagination was fired by sitting at my own fog-enchanted kitchen door, which this morning is rising from up toward the neck of Wheeler Bay—I am finding in it and its medium both the life and simultaneous decay that were so much a part of Wyeth’s World. And for the first time truly understanding them and his and its deep appeal.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 10, 2008--Tomorrow . . .

Busy today but, with enough time to type, tomorrow, from Maine, The Woman Who Talks to Cows.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

July 9, 2008--John & Barack's Summer Reading

Presidents and presidential candidates have been known to tote around books as a way to show the public that they are literate and as a clue to some of the things they are thinking about or what they turn to as a way to alleviate the pressures of high office.

John Kennedy, as a famous example, lost himself in Ian Fleming novels about James Bond, which also should have also been a clue about what he did to relieve tension with the rest of his spare time.

Bill Clinton got himself in trouble when he got caught following JFK’s tension-reduction strategy, but he was a real reader, primarily of history.

George Bush is also a reader. Or so his people claim. Recall that back in 2006 White House aides leaked word that, in spite of how he appears, he’s really a bookworm. And that he and Karl Rove (otherwise known as Bush’s Brain) were in a contest to see who could read more books in a year. This was August and Bush was already ahead 60 to 50!

In fact, his staffers were so eager to talk about his reading habits that, while some were leaking Valerie Plame’s name, others leaked a list of some of the books he had already finished. Mind you this was only August. Here’s a sample. (I swear I’m not making this up.)

Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky
American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin (a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, an inventor of the atomic bomb)
Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero by David Maraniss
Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power by Richard Carwardine
Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural by Ronald C. White Jr.
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks
Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky
The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville
The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
The Stranger by Albert Camus

I especially like his choice of The Stranger. I can’t wait to hear what Bush the existentialist has to say about that one.

Well, our two candidates are also trotting out some books. McCain has been seen with Robert Kagan’s The Return of History and the End of Dreams and Obama with Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. The New York Times which picked this up, noted that Barack Obama’s had a bookmark in his, suggesting that he was doing more than parading around with it. (See article linked below.)

Even a quick look at each of these books suggests who we might want to elect.

Kagan was a close advisor to Bush and was one of the leading academic neo-cons who provided the “intellectual” fodder for invading Iraq. As the world’s only remaining superpower, he wrote earlier, we should use that power to bring down totalitarian states so that democracy can flourish. We know now how that’s working out.

Perhaps, then, his recent The Return of History might be the same kind of recanting of this kind of crusading macho that another Iraq invasion promulgator, Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History, offered in his 2006, After the Neo Cons: Where the Right Went Wrong.

Well no; and that’s why McCain’s reading, or waving Kagan’s latest work (he is now also a McCain advisor) is so disturbing. Kagan’s worldview continues to be deeply pessimistic. He still sees the world in Manichean ways with the forces of autocracy (China and Russia) aligned against those states that are democratic; and he calls for the establishment of a League of Democracies to protect themselves and the rest of the world from these bullies. Another Coalition of the Willing? McCain’s interest in Kagan thus provides his version of intellectual cover to justify remaining in Iraq indefinitely.

Sorry, I stand corrected, for just another 100 years.

The Zakaria book, on the other hand, Obama’s bedtime reading, is far from blithely optimistic but it sees the rise of Russia and China as economic superpowers to be a great opportunity for America. Whatever you think of the excesses and unintended consequences of globalization, U.S. businesses have already seized this opportunity. He asserts that America also has much to gain because of the power of our higher education system (“America’s best industry” according to him) and technologies; while immigration, which many of the right demagogue, gives us other decisive advantages.

While Kagan fears global competition, Zakaria is concerned about how “we have managed to spook ourselves in a time of worldwide peace and prosperity.” Among other things, we fear Islam, rogue nations, foreign companies, immigrants, and international organizations. Thus he sees our need to avoid the trap of “grand crusades” and reap the benefits that will accrue by figuring out how to compromise appropriately and conduct “à la carte multilateralism.”

Keep reading Barack.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

July 8, 2008--Thinking Green

Up here in Maine it’s hard not to think green. Pretty much everything’s green from the pine-packed islands to the naturalized roadside borders. And when the sun’s just right, even the water in Penobscot Bay appears to be green.

Then in the house in which we are staying, there are green reminders in almost every room: Pretty much all light bulbs are of the fluorescent type; there are at least four trash can among which one is reminded by little stick-on labels to separate garbage for recycling; and there is a compost pile onto which we have tossed our kitchen scraps. We have already begun to learn to distinguish between which of these we should put there and which to put in the receptacle with the “Trash Only” sign. Lobster shells we still have questions about—they feel as if they should by moral imperative compost. I would be disappointed to learn that they weren’t. Until we figure it out we have stashed some in the refrigerator inside a plastic bag, which we will be sure to wash and use again.

And there are notes all around about toilet paper. If we run out, there are strict instructions about which brands to buy and which to avoid. In bold in her book of house notes, in bold red type, she writes, “Please use only Scott. Our septic tank is very sensitive. Very sensitive!

There is also what appears to be the highest-tech of high-tech woodstoves standing majestically in the living room on a base of granite stones. It feels as though if we were ever able to figure out how to use it (I think it has three dampers with are operated by handles that have to be aligned in three very precise directions in order to make it work and avoid burning the place to the ground), if we were to take a change to fire it up it is so engineered that one log properly situated and ignited in the built-in cradle would keep the entire house toasty warm through all of December.

That’s how green this place is.

But then again so is Lafayette Street in downtown Manhattan.

The day before heading for Maine, after coffee at Balthazar, we were walking north on Lafayette back to our comparatively not-green apartment. At the corner of Bleecker Street there is a small hardware store and in the window there was one of those large circular outdoor thermometers. It was not a particularly hot morning—I’d estimate that it was about 75 degrees—but the arrow on the thermometer registered110 degrees. I thought it must be defective: how could it be at least 35 degrees hotter inside the window than on the street?

But then of course it came to me—the morning sun was striking the window and because of glass’s ability to produce a greenhouse effect the objects and air inside the window were a version of super-heated.

The sunlight passing through the glass heats the solid objects which in turn heat the air and since it is trapped in a confined space this effect continues to warm it to a point way beyond the air on the outside which is not confined.

This is the so-called “real greenhouse effect”—the one that heats gardener’s greenhouses--as opposed to the misnamed Greenhouse Effect the entire earth is experiencing due to the proliferation of man-generated gases in the atmosphere that block the amount of radiation back into space that is required to maintain earth’s healthy environment. Thus global warming.

I untutored thought that while waiting for all sorts of new, renewable sources of energy to come on line why not figure out how to use the heat generated as in that Bleecker Street hardware store. I do know that some homes in cooler climates are designed to benefit by being aligned to capture the heat generated by morning and afternoon sunlight and others in warmer places are situated so as not to have that many windows facing south so as to avoid overheating. But what, I thought, about wider applications? Like using heat produced this way to contribute to generating steam that in turn might be used to produce electricity in steam-driven turbines?

But since I know relatively little about this, yet still feeling good about myself for at least attempting to help solve our global problems, I quickly abandoned these ruminations and turned back to thinking about what to pack for our month in Maine. Since we were driving there (in a rented fuel-efficient car) it was quite a long list of hiking boots and fleeces and trousers and shorts and shirts and sweaters of all weights since we suspected it would be both hot and cold there. And of course I reminded myself to take a case of Chablis which Rona thought would go very well with lobster.

Back in the apartment, as is my morning custom, I read through the New York Times and was struck to read about some of the things Japan has been doing to run its energy-frugal economy. Struck because, among other things, they have grown their economy substantially since 1970 without increasing the amount of energy they consume. (Article linked below.)

One technique they have employed sounded to me a little like what I had been thinking about on Lafayette Street.

Japan is the world’s second largest producer of steel—China is first. That industry requires tremendous amounts of energy. To keep use to a minimum, as one example, the JFE Steel’s Keihin Mill on Tokyo Bay has constructed a maze of steel ducts to surround the blast furnaces in order to capture the heat and gases that had previously been released into the atmosphere. And with this heat and those previously waste gases JFE now recycles them to power generators which supply 90 percent of the plant’s electricity.

This seems both basic and hopeful.

Thus inspired, it’s time for me to get back to looking up what to do with those lobster shells.

Monday, July 07, 2008

July 7, 2008--Monday's In Maine: Lobsta (sic) Rolls

Sharon said, when you get to Maine, be sure to look for those hidden-away lobster shacks. You’ll find them in most harbors in unexpected places. Not the fancy versions for tourists passing through or just there for a weekend, but the places the locals go to during the summer. To get away from the tourists.

That turned out to be good advice since this was the first time we were taking up residence in Maine, albeit for just three weeks, but we certainly didn’t want to either act like or look like tourists. In fact, even before settling in in the house we rented on Clark Island, not far from Thomaston, we drove around looking for the place the locals were likely to go to in the morning for coffee, a place not far from the lobster boats in the Thomaston and Rockland harbors which opened at 6:00 a.m., a sure sign, even though we would not be up and out at anything like that hour, that there we would be not be mixed in with the latte and cappuccino set.

We did in fact find what we thought was such a breakfast place but wouldn’t you know it that when we went there at 8:00 a.m. the next morning we wound up sitting at a table right next to Brian Lamb, C-SPAN’s founder and host of “Booknotes.” So instead of listening in on how the lobsters were running this summer (if this is the correct way to put it), I couldn’t resist pushing my way into his conversation about the future of books. What, he was wondering, would be their fate now that Amazon has come out with Kindle, its version of an online electronic book.

I thought I was being quite clever when I said Kindle might be a convenience when traveling in that you wouldn’t have to schlep along a bag of books (though I didn’t use schlep with Brain—I was trying to blend in) without real books how would it be to take a nap with a Kindle on your chest. His wife quipped that the battery would run out. A bookbinder friend of his said that without walls of books insulating one’s house heating bills up here would double.

So you see, we quickly have found a version of a place for us to fit into. Until I meet some real fishermen, Brian Lamb will just have to do.

But back to the advice Sharon gave us: how to find the freshest, most authentically prepared and served lobsters.

It seems this will turn out not to be so difficult. This whole coast is of course lined with rock-bound bays and coves and harbors. It is Maine after all and that’s what the coast of Maine is all about. No such fishing harbors, no Maine. And yes situated in literally every one of them there are lobster shacks and places called Fishermen’s Co-Ops where local lobstermen bring their catch and I presume the women members of their families boil them up and serve them on paper plates on weather-battered picnic tables. They do include melted butter for dipping the delectable meat but no nutcrackers to shatter the shells. In their place, we discovered by observing a couple of regulars at the next table at Millers, they provide a rock. A hunk of Maine granite to smash the claws.

With the lobster juice dripping out of our mouths and through the seams in the cobbled-together table and onto our pants, who cares? It doesn’t get any better than this. And the sunset over Norton Island quickly wipes out memories of the endless eight-hour drive from New York.

* * *

By the next day we quickly noticed that travelers who want the true Maine experience, the culinary part of which of course centers around lobsters, do not have to look far. Yes, getting off the main roads, such as they are, leads one to Millers here on Clark Island or Cod’s End on the wharf in Tenants Harbor or the Dip Net in Port Clyde, but if while inching your way up Route 1, the same one that passes near us down south in Delray Beach, Florida, you can get your lobster, usually in the form of lobster rolls, almost anywhere and in the most unexpected places.

For example, in almost any convenience store. Or, no kidding, in the place where you have your hair done. For that matter, the sign at a nearby wine shop advertises a good deal on Maine wines, there are quite a few wineries here, and also for $11.95 lobster rolls. And if you are willing to shell out $4,19 for regular gas at the local Exxon station, you can get lobsta (sic) rolls there for only $10.99.

As a kid I always wondered why on its license plates the state of Idaho emblazoned Famous Potatoes. That is until I finally got there. Or why Florida, the Sunshine State, had an orange on its. But now, after just three days here, I know about the Vacationland state and why on its a lobster is so prominently embossed.

Friday, July 04, 2008

July 4, 2008--Heading North

We're off to visit friends and then on to Maine. Blogging resumes on Monday.

Enjoy the holiday. Have a blast. Or at least do some sparkling.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

July 3, 2008--The Anatomy of a Rumor

The pundits with not much to do during the political slow season have been reading the tea leaves to see how far Barack Obama is tacking to the center in order to reposition himself for the general election:

What’s up with his recent support for the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that not only allows non-court ordered wiretapping but also limits the liability of mega-communications companies who too easily caved in to government requests for phone taps; did he the other day say he would maintain a version of George Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative, in the process blurring the line between church and state; and was that the “liberal” Barack Obama agreeing with the Supreme Court when they struck down Washington, D.C.’s ban on guns while disagreeing with them about their decision not to allow the execution of child rapists?

And, yes, we already know he is now wearing a flag pin in his lapel. Presumably to demonstrate that in spite of his middle name and a few misstatements by his wife he is (almost) as patriotic as John McCain. If this keeps up, some cynics might speculate, he may even arrange to have his campaign jet shot at so he can eject himself and parachute to safety.

But the ongoing flap about his inclination to fist-bump is going too far. Recall, on the evening when he clinched the nomination he very publicly exchanged one with Michelle Obama. The critics immediately got their pants in a bunch. Was he being too cool for a potential President of the United States, thereby exposing his youth and inexperience? Worse, according to some on Fox News, was he sending out a signal to “fellow terrorists” that he and thus they were one giant step closer to non-metaphorically capturing the White House?

Though as preposterous and discredited as this latter slander was, did this criticism nonetheless cause Obama to forego more such fist bumps as one more attempt to demonstrate to voters still getting to know him that he is a proud, mainstream American and they do not have to worry that he is taking orders from Osama bin Laden?

As evidence that this might be the case look what happened on Tuesday when he was visiting an elementary school in Ohio, a key swing state.

On the soundless videotape of the event that made the rounds on most cable news shows and many blogs, Obama was shown seemingly refusing to fist bump with a young boy. What, the political deconstructionists, asked was going on. Was this another sign of the new principleless Obama? Just another politician willing to do anything to get elected?

Well, yesterday, we heard the audio from his visit to that classroom.

Here from the New York Times is the full transcript of that encounter:

Boy: Can you sign my hand?

Obama: If I start that . . . Plus your mother might not be happy when she comes home. She’d be like ‘What is the dirt on your hand . . . See you . . .

Boy: Can you sign it in pen so it will come off?

Apparently Obama noticed that the pen the kid had contained indelible ink. So instead, in crayon, he autographed one of the child’s drawings. (Article linked below.)

A couple of lessons—

It’s time for the press and media to get a life.

And which of our two candidates has better family values? The one not wanting the kid to get in trouble with his mom or . . . ?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

July 2, 2008--Mother-In-Law Visit

We're set this morning for a long, pre-holiday drive to southern NJ. Let's hope the traffic is forgiving and we find her doing well.

Typing resumes tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

July 1, 2008--The Gang That Can't Shoot Straight

On Saturday we learned that the army’s official historian is about to issue the second volume of its account of the war in Iraq. The army does this sort of thing routinely so they can learn from their experience. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The first volume covered the invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein and concluded that, regardless of what one thinks about the war, it went well.

The second volume is about the ugly. How the Bush administration did not have a Plan B beyond they-will-welcome-us-as-liberators-and-immediately-become a-Western-style-democracy.

It is a tale of miscalculation after miscalculation with blame enough to share between the President and Vice President, the then Secretary of Defense, the generals on the ground, the diplomats, private contractors, and the civilian administrators.

Then on Sunday there was an extensive New York Times report about our failure to develop and execute an effective plan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and dismantle al Qaeda. This was because there was squabbling between and amongst all parts of the Bush administration—the CIA, the Pentagon, the National Security staff and again the generals and civilians on the ground in Afghanistan. (Article below.)

In this postmortem there is evidence that the war in Iraq sapped and diluted the strength and numbers of our Special Operations forces, the troops whose job it would have been to track down Bin Laden and mop up the rest of al Qaeda after they were effectively driven out of their Tora Bora stronghold.

There is also the conclusion that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was so shook up by his strategic blunders in Iraq that he was afraid to repeat them on an even more dangerous scale by approving an operation in Afghanistan-Pakistan that would perhaps turn out to be another Bay of Pigs. So much for his self-vaunted testosterone-ladened strutting.

Then in a metaphorically-related story, the Times today reports that the work to rebuild the World Trade Center site is hopelessly behind schedule. (Also linked below.)

The memorial to the people who were killed will now not be completed by the tenth anniversary of the attack. The $2.5 billion PATH subway station is behind schedule and way over budget. The final design, almost seven years after the assault, is not yet completed! Also, the demolition of the condemned Deutsche Bank where a number of firemen were killed in a fire recently because the contractors working on the site shut off the water supply to the hydrants, the work to tear down the building is at least 14 months behind schedule.

And worst of all, the aching wound that still marks the devastation, loss of life, and our national humiliation is still open and festering.

Rebuilding was first delayed by squabbling over the design, then by the greed of the site owner, Larry Silverstein, who saw this as an opportunity to make hundreds of millions for himself, the so-called Freedom Tower is also way behind schedule and over budget. There are already so many overruns that it is estimated the original $15 billion price tag for all the projects is likely to add up to many billions more.

During the depths of the Great Depression, in 1930, a decision was made to erect the world’s tallest building—the Empire State Building. Drawings for the construction took two weeks, yes weeks, to complete; and the entire job took just 17 months from ground breaking to ribbon cutting. This at a time when all rivets were “hot” and for a building that was faced with granite.

We’re not talking a quick-and-dirty job. It is quite an architectural and construction masterpiece. In fact, when a B-25 bomber accidentally crashed into its 79th floor in 1945 the building hardly shook on its foundation.

Thus, all of this contemporary incompetence and loss of will make me crazy. Where, how did we lose our way?