Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 2011--Three People, Six Jobs, No Health Insurance

We have close friends here in Florida who, like many, are struggling to stay above water.

The parents are in their mid to late 30s and their daughter recently turned 20. Between them they work six jobs, all versions of part-time, and therefore have no employee-paid-for health insurance.

If they qualified for private insurance, they couldn't afford it; but because of various insurance-company sleights of hand they are all deemed to have pre-existing conditions. To help maintain their privacy I won't go into the reasons. Suffice it to say that A___ had a benign tumor removed from her chest many years ago and this disqualifies her for anything but the most expensive coverage--it would cost $14,000 a year.

So they are rolling the dice with their health and risk bankruptcy if one of them gets unlucky.

This may in fact be underway--their daughter has a serious condition and is right now in the hospital. They have no idea how they will be able to pay for her treatment and expect to be sued for the charges she is running up.

We were having coffee together yesterday morning and A___ overheard another customer talking about health care. Actually, ranting about Obamacare and how it is ruining the economy. Especially small businesses.

A___ whispered to me, "Isn't it true that required coverage isn't scheduled to take effect until 2014?" I indicated that my understanding is that that is true.

"And isn't it true that most small businesses will not in fact be fined if they don't provide coverage?" Again, I said that is my understanding.

"And isn't it true that for me and my family, since our taxable income in total is only about $20,000 a year, that we will get a significant subsidy to pay for the health insurance we will be required to purchase."

"Yes, i said, "I think you will qualify for that."

"And for us, most important, we will not be denied coverage because of pre-exisiting conditions?"

"Again, true."

"So what is she saying at the top of her voice? She doesn't know what she's talking about. She's spending too much time listening to talk radio. Bottom line, she hates anything Obama stands for or has been able to accomplish. Maybe with the exception of killing Bin laden. Though I suspect if you pressed her she'd say George Bush should get the credit for that."

"Again, I think you're right."

"Well, I tell you, a lot of people will be feeling differently about things come 2014. I'll bet they'll be saying, 'That Obamacare isn't so bad after all.' That is, after they voted for his opponent."

"You're probably right about that too," I said.

"I'm not all that liberal to tell you the truth, I voted for McCain; but people like us not being able to afford health care is not fair. It's not American."

"Again, . . ."

"Look at her," A___ nodded in the direction of the other woman, "She doesn't need any help. She and her husband have good jobs, which I don't begrudge them. But she could be a little more sympathetic toward those of us who work hard but still need some help. Minimally to make things fair. I would hate to see her son lying in the hospital needing treatment while she and her husband face bankruptcy because they didn't have coverage. I'll bet she'd be singing a different tune."

I shrugged my shoulders, feeling helpless. There with nothing I could think of to say that would help or make her feel better.

"But listen to me," she said, "I sound resentful. I hate that. But this is what's happening to me."

"I hope that . . ."

"On top of this," she continued, rescuing me from my stammering, "my mother, who worked for a bank for 26 years, just got laid off and lost her insurance. She has a spot on her lung that we're all worried about. Including how to pay for whatever care she may need. I'm turning into an angry person. I don't want to be an angry person but my daughter may be dying and we can't afford to get her the help she needs."

All I could pathetically think to say was, "I understand."

A___ smiled wearily and when she got up to leave blew me a kiss.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011--My Favorite Peter Falk Story

Peter Falk, AKA Lieutenant Colombo, died last week at the age of 83.

Among other things, he was famous for having a glass eye. When he was 3, his eye became cancerous and it had to be removed. This in turn caused his classic quizzical squint.

But he also put his glass eye to good use in other ways.

He grew up in Ossining, N.Y. and in spite of missing an eye was a fine high school athlete. He excelled especially at baseball. In one story he liked to tell, after being called out in a close play at third base, he popped out his prosthetic eye and handed it to the umpire.

"You'll do better with this," he said.

That was Peter Falk.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28, 2011--My Mother At 103

Today is her birthday and I am taking the day off to celebrate and think about her remarkable life.

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011--VIN

VIN is not vin. Not French for wine but for Vehicle Identification Number. Every car has one as every Frenchman has un cave stocked with du vin.

I thought about this Thursday night in the Delray Beach Hospital ER.

We were there to have Rona's left ankle X-rayed. She twisted it badly at the end of dinner at the Silver Pond Restaurant, our favorite Florida place for Chinese food close by my mother's. We had just finished salt-baked shrimp, pi pa bean curd, and . . .

But why am I focusing on the food? This is supposed to be about our ER experience. Avoidance I suppose.

Though it turned out to be a good story.

She has "just" a severe strain, not the torn ligaments and/or broken bones that all the swelling and discoloration of her foot had us fearing.

And it's a great ER. Spacious, immaculate and well-run with a responsive and expert staff.

And they are fully computerized.

Unfortunately we aren't. Computerized, I mean.

Nor are most Americans. There is no national medical-records database where Rona's information is stored and can be called up as quickly as one can find out about fireflies via Google (as we did the other day since our place in Maine is currently illuminated by them). Or how via the Internet in a millisecond you can learn about Michele Bachmann's 23 foster children or who the president was in 1907, the year my mother was born (Teddy Roosevelt); but it took a full half hour for the Delray folks to find out about Rona's allergies (only to Amoxicillin), the name of her internist, her history of operations (fortunately, none), and of course what medical insurance we have.

I know that Obama's health care bill calls for the development of such a database, mainly as a cost-savings measure. But from our recent experience, if it existed, it would also have enhanced the quality of medical care. What happens to someone brought to the ER while intoxicated who can't tell anyone what he is allergic to or to someone too old to recall all the meds she uses?

Of course, if Rona had been alone and unconscious, they would have treated her immediately But still they would know nothing about her underlying conditions (fortunately, very few). Crucial information would have been missing that might have put her life at risk.

On the other hand, while in Maine recently, we needed to replace one of the taillights on our car. We took it to the VW folks and they popped a new one right in. But first, to see exactly what part was needed, they entered the car's VIN number in the computer and in less than a second out poured more information about our car than anyone could have thought existed. Every single one of the parts and special features were listed and printed out--from the fact that we have satellite radio (this of course we knew) to information about our fog lights, which we didn't know we have and are very useful on many misty mornings along the coast of Maine.

Why, I wondered the other night as the ER tech asked Rona about her family's medical history, do we at the click of a mouse have all this information available about our cars but not about our people?

I couldn't help but conclude that this revealed more than I was wanting to contemplate about our mixed-up priorities.

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24, 2011--Ladies of Forest Trace: More Than Two Lifetimes

Even before we could get to Logan Airport to catch our flight to Ft. Lauderdale to celebrate my mother’s 103rd birthday, she was calling my cell phone.

This was unusual. Like many of her generation, my mother is not comfortable using anything electronic and so I was concerned. “Is everything all right?”

“So where are you already?” she said with a touch of annoyance.

“Near the airport,” I said.

“How many minutes away?”

This seemed like a strange question. But she has been more agitated than usual about almost anything straying from her routines. Understandable, we thought, because 103 is a big number, and she has been expressing anxiety about how many more years are left to her.

“I don’t know, mom, we’re not used to driving from Maine to the airport in Boston. Maybe another . . .”

She interrupted, “Maine? Boston? You told me you’d be in Florida by now.”

How to tell her she was mistaken, that just two days ago I told her our flight schedule and that we wouldn’t be arriving until late afternoon. Maybe even too late to stop by for a brief visit. I didn’t want to remind her of that for fear that she would take it as yet more evidence of the aging process.

So I said, “Sorry, I forgot to give you all the details of our plans. We’ve been so busy getting settled in our summer house that I can’t remember things from one day to the next.”

She chuckled at that, “So you too know what happens to you when you get older. I also sometimes forget things.”

“Not as much as you think,” I said to reassure her.

“You always say things to try to make me feel better. Even made-up things.”

“No, mom, I always tell you the truth,” I lied, “You know that.”

“But that’s not why I called.”

“I thought you called to find out how close we were to Forest Trace?”

“That was only an excuse. I know you’re on the way to the airport.” Now it was her turn not to tell the truth.

“Well good, now we both know where we are and when we’ll get to Florida.”

“I heard something on the TV that disturbed me.”

This was always happening. Every time there was a flood or a tsunami or violence in the Middle East she would sit glued to CNN, watching the Breaking News over and over again, to the point that the tragedy was endlessly magnified.

“Before we left I didn’t hear about any disasters.” The traffic was heavy and I wanted to try to preempt a detailed accounting of whatever happened in Syria overnight or about the latest tornado in the Midwest. There would be enough time for that when we saw her.

“Wolf was talking about Social Security.” Wolf Blitzer is one of her favorites.

“I can imagine. What with all the talk about the deficit.”

“I was surprised to hear that the A& P came out in favor of cutting some benefits. I can’t wait to hear what the ladies will have to say tonight at dinner. I assume you’ll be here in time to join the girls and me.”

“I’m not sure about that mom. We hope to be able to stop by for a brief visit, but then we have to go to Delray to settle into our condo.”

“They have a good menu tonight. Chicken, which is always delicious, and I think they also have stuffed cabbage. I know how Rona loves stuffed cabbage. It comes with a nice tomato sauce.”

“We’ll try, mom. But let’s see if the plane is on time—it’s very foggy and could easily be delayed and that may mean we won’t . . .”

“I know what it means. That I won’t see you until tomorrow or Sunday.”

Trying to change the subject, I asked, “So what did Wolf say about the AARP and Social Security?”

“Right, the AARP, not the A&P. I always mix them up.” She chuckled at her propensity to make malaprops. “He said that they said that since there is such a terrible deficit and people are living so long—even to 103—it may be necessary to do some cutting. Of course all the seniors here are up in arms, worried about their Coca Colas,” she frequently mixes up COLAs, cost of living adjustments, with the soft drink, “and I feel sure that the AAA will change their minds. But if you want my opinion, and don’t say you don’t, I agree that some of our benefits will have to be reduced. For those of us fortunate enough to afford to get less from the government. Actually, from your generation since that’s how Social Security works.”

“Right, because there is no fund of money to pay us. It comes from current workers’ taxes. Remember, I too am old enough to collect.”

It began to rain and I was feeling certain our flight would be delayed; and though dislike being on the cell phone when driving I thought I’d stay on a while longer so we could have a version of a visit.

“One of Wolf’s guests said that when Social Security began—and I remembered when it happened; it was during the Depression--people lucky enough to reach 65 were expected to live only until 70, which would mean that they would collect for only five years. Look at me and the girls. I’m about to be 103 and have been collecting for nearly 40 years. Not five. With the other ladies, who are no quite as old as me but are older than 70 (though half of them would deny it), we’re living so long that we’re personally bankrupting the system. Which means there will be nothing left for anyone’s grandchildren.”

“Now, mom, as usual you’re putting too much responsibility on yourself. Yes, you’ve been getting Social Security for many, many years; but you’re not personally causing the problems we have.”

“Of course I know that. I was just trying to make a point. What I am saying is still true. There have to be changes, though if the Republicans manage to eliminate Medicare people will start to die sooner and the problem may be ‘solved’ that way.”

“That will never happen, mom, the Democrats and the seniors who vote in huge numbers, will fight them all along the way.”

“I’ve seen worse things happen in my lifetime and wouldn’t be surprised to see health care cut way back if we have a double recession.”


“Yes, that. Or worse, if we have another depression. I wouldn’t be surprised by what the Republicans would do.”

“I worry about that too,”

“But what we really need,” she quickly added, again her more characteristically optimistic self, “is not less for those who need help, especially for those who worked so hard all their lives to earn their benefits. Their so-called ‘entitlements.’ What we need is even more generosity for those who are struggling. That’s what a good government should do—be there for those for whom all else has failed and to be sure to preserve and protect what people earned. Not to take things away from them and call them ‘undeserving.’”

Again trying to get her to move on to other, less upsetting subjects, I asked, “So how does it feel to be about to celebrate another birthday?”

“As I always tell you, every day is my birthday. If I feel good, which in general I do. And if I still have most of my mind.” Again she chuckled.

“Much more than most,” I assured her, this time not even needing to fib.

“In the past, when I was born in 1907, life expectancy was about 50. So thus far I’ve lived more than two lifetimes.”

“And as a result, because of all the wonderful and generous things you did and continue to do for all of us, and for all your friends, perhaps you will feel that it is all right that you collected more from your pension than was originally calculated. And remember,” I took the risk to say, not wanting her to begin again to think about mortality, “many aren’t as fortunate as you and do not manage to live long enough to collect anything. From an actuarial perspective . . .”

“Since you brought up the subject . . .”

Regretting that I brought us back to the subject of mortality, I said, “It’s starting to rain hard, mom, and I should probably hang up. After all we hope to see you in a few hours.”

“Drive carefully, darling, but listen to one more story. A nice one.” I was wondering how could there be a nice story about death.

“You know Mayor Bloomingdale?” For a moment I was confused. She sensed that, “From New York.” I knew of course who she meant. “Did you hear all the way up there in Maine—you do have a TV, don’t you—that his mother died last week at 102. Like me she was fine until near the end.”

“You’re not near . . .”

Ignoring me, she pressed on. “He called her every day. He was such a good son. Just like you and your brother and my daughters-in-law.”

“I did hear about her.”

“Did you hear the story he loved to tell about her?”

“I’m not sure I did. Which one? And then I have to get off the phone it’s . . .”

“About when something falls on the floor. Under the table.”

“No, I haven’t heard that one.”

“We’ll, whenever it happened and he bent down to pick it up—a fork or a napkin--she would say, ‘While you’re down there see if there’s anything else you can do.’”

“I love that!”

“Think about him bending down to pick up a spoon. With all his money.”

“About $18 billion.”

“So there must have been a lot more to do down there under the table. That’s what I call a smart mother.”

And with that, and a hearty laugh, she hung up.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23, 2011--Jon Huntsman: Taste the Dirt

I've been waiting for a serious GOP candidate to emerge. Maybe even one I could seriously think about considering. Someone who, minimally, might give Obama a run for his money.

This does not include Sarah and Newt and Rick Santorum.

Then, Ron Paul, though his foreign policy views and true Libertarianism are attractive, is, frankly, beginning to seem over the hill.

Some came and went--The Donald. Remember him? He had his week.

Then last week it was Michele Bachmann's turn.

Of the "serious" ones? Mitt? No chance.

Pawlenty? As the least compromised he might somehow manage to slip through and get nominated but would have no chance of winning the presidency.

Looming in the background? Chris Christie? Jeb Bush? Both are too smart to run now. 2016 looks better for them. But could either beat Hillary?

So that left me thinking about Jon Huntsman. He announced his candidacy on Tuesday in front of the Statue of Liberty, emulating (as best he could) Ronald Reagan of 30 years ago. All the choice of location did was to expose how pale a copy he is. A copy in his own mind.

Call up the picture of Reagan that day. In rolled-up shirt sleeves, all buff, Hollywood hair blowing in the wind off the harbor. While Huntsman was all suited-up, with extra padding in his jacket shoulders to make him look pumped and a plausable commander in chief.

But then there is that disturbing video running on his Website to introduce him to the public. Necessary since only 3 percent of Americans know who he is. Obama's ambassador to China no less. So he obviously feels the need to finesse all the nice things he said about Obama that got him appointed in the first place.

I've linked that campaign video below. It's titled Different. And that it certainly is. You need to check it out. It's not only different but wierd. Which is not a bad thing in itself. But is it presidential?

The image is of a Jon Huntsman look-alike on a off-road motorcycle ripping through his adopted Utah desert. (Adopted since he's from California.)

The Ronald-Reagan-sounding narrator intones quasi-poetic sentence fragments such as--

The world needs new.

America needs fresh.

New perspective.

As seen from 10,000 miles away.

Never raises his voice.

But seldom takes "no" for an answer.

Not in it for the balloons.

The past didn't work.

We don't need that.

Knows business.

Built things.

Took on the tough.

To never flip.

To never flop.

Not in it for the winning.

Taste the dirt.

No drama.


This guy's different.

And with that, this different guy heads into the sun.

If you're trying to deconstruct this Beatnik-style text, here's a little help--

The flip-flop thing is obviously a poke at Romney who is more famous for his flip=flopping than anything else. He makes Al Gore look consistent. He was for his version of Obamacare before he was against it and was for a woman's right to choose before he also was against it. Etc.

The "no drama" reference is for certain a poke at his former boss, No-Drama-Obama.

All the new and fresh stuff, I suspect, is to link him again to the Ronald Reagan of "morning in America."

The video, though, doesn't tell you that unlike Reagan, who was truly self-invented, our Jon Huntsman, Jr. is the son of Jon Huntsman, Sr., a gazillionare who founded Huntsman Corporation, a global chemical company with over 12,000 employees. In 2010, revenues were over $9 billion. So Jon Junior "knows business" directly from his daddy.

And the not being in it for the balloons must mean he doesn't want just to be nominated and buried in falling balloons at the GOP convention; but rather, to quote an American Idol judge, he's in it to win it.

But "taste the dirt"?

I was a Lit-Crit major in college but this one alludes me. Maybe you can help me out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011--Packing

We are heading to Florida to celebrate my mother's 103rd birthday (yes, 103) and thus have much to do to prepare. I will be back at this spot tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21, 2011--Knowing Nothing

I've been catching up with my American history and in recent years have learned enough to test almost as well as a typical American 12th grader.

One question, for example, from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, stumped all but 34 percent of these teenagers. But, I am proud to say, I got (or guessed) the right answer.

See how you do; and if you require more humbling, click on the New York Times link below for eight other knowledge teasers.

One of the central ideas of George Washington's foreign policy [you know who he is?] was the the United States should

A) play an active role in European affairs

B) expand its influence throughout the Americas

C) support democracies and oppose monarchies

D) avoid permanent a;;iances with other countries

The answer is . . . D.

Now that you're warmed up, here's another one for you. About the Know Nothing Party. No, not the Tea Party, but the Know Nothings of the mid 19th century. They were--from Wikipedia:

The Know Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon Protestant values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. Membership was limited to Protestant males of British lineage over the age of twenty-one. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and entirely Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery.

The movement originated in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party. It spread to other states as the Native American Party and became a national party in 1845. In 1855 it renamed itself the American Party. The origin of the "Know Nothing" term was in the semi-secret organization of the party. When a member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, "I know nothing."

Come to think of it, what is it that they say about history repeating itself?

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 2011--Planting

Planting on Sunday followed Tuesday's weeding.

I don't know about Rona yet--she's still sleeping it off--but I am riddled with aches and pains and can barely type. So this will be brief.

It is satisfying work, but isn't getting any easier as time accumulates.

We planted Cambridge Scarlet Bee Balm; Purple Cornflower; Munstead English Lavender; Kent Beauty Origanum; Pink Saucer Windflower (we have lots of wind by the bay); Georgia Blue Speedwell; and many Nanho Purple Butterfly Bushes, which should make the Monarchs of late summer very happy.

Fifty-seven in all. I dug the holes and Rona did the planting. Is it any wonder that I can barely walk? As I said, we'll see about Rona in an hour or so. But in her sleep, she is smiling.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17, 2011--Gov. Rick Perry: God's Plan

As Republican Party leaders scramble to convince other, more potent candidates to enter the presidential sweepstakes, the focus has turned to two governors--Chris Christie of New Jersey, the straight-talking, take-no-prisoners scourge of the state's teachers; and Rick Perry of Texas. who is recently famous for attempts to organize an anti-gay conclave of governors and religious leaders.

While hanging around in an empty hall waiting for his fellow governors to arrive--only arch-conservative Sam Brownback of Kansas showed up--Perry shared some of his thoughts about the current economic crisis.

Perry says he sees a silver lining to the recession that has cost millions of families their jobs, homes, and livelihoods: it will return America to “Biblical principles” and free us from the slavery of big government:

He said:

I think in America from time to time we have to go through some difficult times--and I think we’re going through those difficult economic times for a purpose, to bring us back to those Biblical principles of you know, you don’t spend all the money. You work hard for those six years and you put up that seventh year in the warehouse to take you through the hard times. And not spending all of our money. Not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks because at the end of the day, it’s slavery. We become slaves to government.

I don't know about you, but from my perspective, I've finally found a candidate to get excited about. Where do I send money?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16, 2011--Taking the Gloves Off

Just as the New York Times in an editorial on Tuesday prodded Barack Obama that it's "time to take off the gloves," in the Senate, Barbara Boxer did just that.

During a debate in which Senator Rand Paul was talking piously about why Congress should not agree to any more spending on unemployment insurance until the Democrats agree to massive spending cuts--and presumably no increase in the nation's debt ceiling--on the Senate floor Boxer said:

Senator Boxer: Now we're going through a time where we have to cut spending, and I love when the Republicans lecture Democrats about it! Watch, wait till you hear what goes on here. Guess the only party to ever balance the budget and create a surplus? The Democrats, under Bill Clinton, in recent memory. So don't lecture us about how to balance budgets, we know how to do it, and guess what, we knew how to do it while creating 23 million jobs, so I don't need to hear the lectures, because they're misplaced. Talk to yourselves. You're the ones who didn't say a word when George Bush gave a tax cut to billionaires and put it all on the credit card, and now you still want to extend those tax cuts and bleed the revenues.

Senate President: Will you yield for a question?

Senator Boxer: I will not yield until I'm finished. I've stated that before. But thank you for asking.

Under Bill Clinton, the Democrats balanced the budget, created the surpluses and 23 million jobs. George Bush came over, he held a press conference. He said, "We don't need surpluses. This money belongs to the American people." and he didn't say what he meant, he meant it belongs to rich people, super rich people who earn over a billion and a million dollars, he gave away the store, then he went to war, two wars, and he put it on the credit card, and my friends on the other side never once said "Gee, I can't raise the debt ceiling to pay the debts." They all voted to pay, almost to a person, raise the debt ceiling, when it was doubled from Bill Clinton.

But now, after George Bush left a mess, a god awful mess in the debt and the deficit, he handed President Obama a 1.2 trillion dollar deficit, and all of a sudden they blame President Obama for all of this. The American people get it, they don't buy it, they understand it. They're not happy where we are, and they shouldn't be, but they know where the problem started. Do you know why? Cause you can't rewrite history! Well, you could try. But those deficits and those debts, those numbers, they're in the books, and unless you erase them they'll remain in the books. I don't care whether it's talking about Paul Revere's ride or the deficits, that's history. So I'll show you the deficits we had when we were in control, we got it down to zero, and we got surpluses and 23 million jobs, and that all was erased, and then we entered a situation, the last couple of years of the Bush Administration, where jobs were bleeding at 800,000 a month, 700,000 a month, credit was frozen, the automobile industry was in the tank, and President Obama took action.

And this recovery is tough, the worst recession since the Great Depression. So this is what I know we can do if we work together, dare I say it, we can adopt a framework that understands billionaires and millionaires don't need their tax cuts now, we can get some more revenues in here, and cut the fat, and cut the duplication, and go after the people who don't pay the taxes they owe, and end the war in Afghanistan and save a trillion over ten years. I can come up with 4 trillion dollars pretty easily! Allow Medicare to negotiate with the drug companies for lower prices! How's that? 200 Billion!

All we need now is to hear something similar from the president. He may be holding back, waiting for the presidential campaign to really get underway; but I am not sure that the rest of us have the luxury of waiting while he maneuvers to get his political ducks in a row. As the Times urged--it's time for leadership, not just reelection strategizing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 15, 2011--Maynard L. Hill

Maynard Hill didn't do this to get listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, though his feat should be included among others such as--

The largest mince pie--baked in England of course, it weighed 2,260 pounds.

Or, the most participants in a game of musical chairs--which took place in Singapore and involved 8,238 players.

Or, funkier ones such as--the longest distance covered keeping a table lifted with one's teeth--in Spain some dentally-gifted soul carried one weighing 26 pounds an amazing 38 feet.

Or, the largest condom--of course leave it to the French to get that job done: they made one 72 feet long and, to celebrate World AIDS Day in a version of style, fitted it over the obelisque in Place de la Concorde.

Or, the French again, something I can relate to , the most times jumping in and out of pair of underpants in one minute--the record: 27 times.

Maynard Hill, who died the other day at 85, in 2003 was the first to construct and fly a model airplane non-stop across the Atlantic. The 11 pound model, guided by a mini in-flight computer, flew the 1,882 miles in just under 39 hours. Echoing Charles Lindbergh who, in 1927, flew a plane with him in it non-stop from Roosevelt Field on Long Island to Le Bourget Airfield just outside of Paris in 33.5 hours.

Mr. Hill was no seeker of gimmicky records--what he accomplished was no gimmick but rather a remarkable achievement that included a powerful career.

The son of a blacksmith and a mill worker, after serving in World War II, via the G.I. Bill, he studied metallurgy at Penn State and then went to work helping to design military drones as a metallurgist at Johns Hopkins University.

But he had been obsessed with model planes from at least age 9. So much so that after just three days on his honeymoon, he confessed that he snuck out to the store to buy balsa wood and airplane glue.

It took him years of building and testing models before he felt confident enough to trek from Baltimore to Newfoundland to attempt a transatlantic flight. But it wasn't until he got to version 29 that he had his dreamed-of success. But he could barely see his plane take off since for years he had been legally blind because of macular degeneration; nor, since he was almost totally deaf, could he hear the plane's engine or the shouts of joy when word reached him that his plane had safely landed in Stone Bog, Ireland.

You can read more about him in the linked obituary from the New York Times and see there a wonderful picture of him with one of his models in his suburban backyard.

Let's hope that there are lots more Maynard Hills tinkering around in their garages. Not just making music, but also dreaming, and realizing, impossible flights of imagination.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14, 2011--Weeding

During a pause in the rain showers I overdid the weeding and thus have a slight back strain. This makes it difficult to sit and type. I will return tomorrow.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13, 2011--Midcoast: Shades of Gray

Rona asked, "How many grays are there?"

We were at Poole Brothers in Damariscotta looking for paint for our deck. It had taken a beating during the winter and we wanted to get it sealed and protected.

"Benjamin Moore makes at least a hundred," the young man at the paint counter said with a bemused shrug.

"It looks like there are many more than that," Rona said, "How does one ever make up one's mind with so many choices?"

"It does take some people hours to make a decision," he said, "And even when they do they often come back for a different shade. I had one women the other day who said she didn't like the color she selected after spending the whole morning here. 'We tried it and it looked fine in the afternoon light,' she said, 'but then in the morning, with the sun just rising, I didn't like the way it looked.' So she came in to pick another one. I wouldn't be surprised if she won't like that one either."

"I believe it," I said.

He told the story without attitude. Not what one always encounters at some small-town places that depend on and at the same time resent the "summer people."

"I find that with so many choices," Rona said while flipping through the dozens of swatches of gray, "that it makes things worse, not better. I'd be happy if there was just three grays--light, medium, and dark gray." We looked at her skepically. "I'm serious." She held up two samples to show us. "Who can tell the difference between Sparrow Gray and Iron Gate Gray? To me they look exactly the same. So if I had to choose between them maybe I'd be like the woman you mentioned, I'd buy the Sparrow one, look at in in afternoon and morning light, and then come back to try Iron Gate."

"Take a look at this," I said. I had found the full listing of Benjamin Moore's grays. You can have your Coastal Fog Gray; your Cromwell Gray--I suppose that one's named after Oliver Cromwell who beheaded King Charles 1. That was quite a gray day for him. Or there is your Secret Gray--I sort of like the idea of that one; or Pilgrim Gray, which sounds kind of dour; or Kitty Gray. And then there's Gull Wing Gray--that one I can sort of visualize; but then there's also Sweatshirt Gray, which doesn't work for me. What about for you guys? Sweatshirts are grungy. Not a color I'd want to paint my house. If someone said they liked it and asked what color it was I don't think I'd feel that good saying 'Sweatshirt.'"

Rona and the salesman looked at each other and rolled their eyes as in a mutual attempt to ignore me.

"And there are a few more that I love--River Reflections is sort of poetic as are Stormy Monday, Dash of Pepper, and Sweet Innocence."

"Enough," Rona said fully exasperated, "You're making it impossible for me to make a choice. I like this Autumn Haze. What do you think?"

"I'm fine with that. But what about Himalayan Trek? I think it's worth considering. Or Dior Gray? Very couture." I was being playful. I'm color blind and pretty much all the grays looked the same to me.

"And can you believe it," the salesman, Bill, said, "Every four months Benjamin Moore sends us a whole bunch of new color choices, as if the current 3,400 aren't enough."

"3,400? You've got to be kidding," I said.

"I'm not. It's the truth."

"And in fact how many grays are there?"

"I can check in the computer. Let me see," he was poking away at the keyboard. "It says here 197."

"One-ninety-seven? That's incredible," I said. "What a waste of time to come up with all these indistinguishable shades and names."

"And who makes up the names?" Bill wondered. "I'll bet the ones who do get the big bucks. At least $50,000 a year."

"They probably hire unemployed English and history majors and pay them $10 an hour," Rona said. "Who else would know about the pilgrims and Cromwell?"

"I'll bet we could come up with some good ones," I said. "For example, how about Flannel Suit Gray?"

"Or," Rona suggested, "Tombstone Gray?"

"Or," the salesman offered, "Battleship Gray? There are a lot of retired navy folks in the area and I bet that would be a big seller for their dens."

"I could see Gray Goose Gray," I said," for guys with finished basements that have wet bars in them."

"How about Old Gray Mare Gray?" Rona proposed with a playful smile.

"Or," I proposed, "for history buffs, Confederate Gray?"

"What about Jailhouse Gray?" Bill by then was fully into it.

"You see, Bill, you're ready for one of those big-bucks name-the-paint-chip jobs."

"Or again for lit majors, Dorian Gray" Rona was still coming up with possibilities.

"Enough," I said, "there's a line behind us so we should make our decision and let these people get their paint."

And so we settled on Autumn Haze Gray and hopefully it will look good in both morning and afternoon light.

"And if it doesn't," I said with a wink, "we can always come back and get Coastal Fog Gray. Though that we already have quite a lot of that at our house."

Friday, June 10, 2011

June 10, 2011--Tax Bill

In the mail was a tax bill for our house in Maine. IRS mail, or mail from any tax authority always gives me palpitations so I said to Rona, "Let's go into town and have a drink before looking at it."

Thus fortified, we proceeded to open the envelope and extracted the bill millimeter by millimeter. Before Rona unfolded the letter, I excused myself, pretending I needed to visit the men's room. "Vermouth always acts as a diuretic," I fibbed and raced away.

When I returned Rona was all smiles, "It's good news."

"A refund?" I eagerly asked.

"No silly. The good news is that they didn't raise our taxes for this year. They billed us for the same amount as in 2010."

"That's great! Let's splurge and order a dozen Damariscotta oysters. I love them. And of course you." I was clearly feeling euphoric and it was Rona's birthday.

"Good idea. But also, take a look at this." She extended the bill to me.

"It looks like a normal real estate tax bill. I don't see anything special except the bottom line, which looks to m like last year's."

"Look more closely. Near the bottom." She slid off her stool to stand behind me. "There." Rona said, tapping on a list of numbers and percentages,

"Let me get my reading glasses."

"See what I mean?"

"I do now. Fascinating. I don't ever recall seeing anything like this on a tax bill."

"I wonder what taxpayers would think if all tax bills were like this one from the town."

"It would probably get a lot of people even more riled up about taxes."

"But maybe some," Rona added, "would feel better about how much they have to pay."

What we had noticed was a section of the bill called "Current Billing Distribution." And it provided just that--to the penny how much we were paying in county tax, how much in municipal taxes, and then how much for "School/Education." Then to make things even more explicit the bill broke this down in percentage terms--20% was going to the county (presumably to pay for roads and other forms of infrastructure); 18% was to be allocated to the Town of Bristol itself (for services such as the police and fire departments); and then the remaining 62%--62%--was for schools and the education of the town's children.

"I'm shocked, aren't you," I asked, "by how much goes to the schools."

"I am," Rona said. "That's much more than I would have thought. That represents some commitment on the part of the people here to the education of their and other people's children."

"And I am sure it makes some childless couples and some retired folks wonder if so much should be spent that way. Especially with almost everyone hurting financially they way they are."

"You know what I'm thinking?" Rona asked with a sly smile.

"I think I do."

"What would happen, politically I mean, if every city--like our New York City--and every state and of course the federal government would provide this much information on their tax bills?"

"Excellent point. How much and what percent goes for Medicare, for Social Security, for the Pentagon, for . . ."

"The interest on the national debt, for foreign aid, for running the federal government itself . . ."

"For veterans, for each of our wars, and of course for education."

"For schooling it would be a tiny portion of the total bill."

"Even less for foreign aid as well as for the cost of running all the federal departments."

"People who follow these things closely sort of know how the government-spending pie chart looks. But most don't. Surely not with so much specificity."

"Us included," I said, "if our surprise at the town tax bill is any indication of what we don't know."

"It would be pretty stark to have that much transparency and information from the IRS."

"In dollar-for-dollar terms right there on all our tax bills."

"I don't know what it would lead to," Rona said, "Again politically. But I guarantee it would have a profound effect on the debate we're currently having about taxes, spending, and the national debt."

"Profound I'm not so sure about because with the media enjoying the food fight the Republicans and Democrats are having I suspect everyone would use that information to agitate people even more."

"You're probably right, but I vote for more not less information."

"And I vote for another drink," I said.

"And maybe another dozen oysters," Rona added.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

June 9, 2011--Hannity's Question. My Answer

I know I shouldn't do this to myself, but I did. I tuned into the Sean Hannity Show on Fox News. I like to keep up with conspiracy theorists.

After the usual ranting about Obama, he posed, for him, a fair question--

He asked, "What has the government ever done for you?"

I immediately began to make a list:

At its top--the government, through the Constitution and Bill of Rights, unlike in most other countries, allows, actually protects someone like him from suppression so he can have his TV show, say whatever he likes no matter how silly or seditious, and all the while make tens-of-millions a year. And on those millions, the government he despises enacted tax laws that allow him to keep almost all of it through a low marginal rate of only 35 percent for millionaires and various loopholes that were also governmentally legislated and signed into law by both Republican and Democrat presidents, including the current occupant of the White House.

Also, the government runs the world's best military. As well he should, service-dodger Hannity never misses an opportunity to praise our brave troops; but he fails to note that soldiers are in fact government workers. Federal employees whose job it is to keep us safe.

And then there are the government paid for police and firefighters who are ready 24/7 to respond to Hannity's 911 calls.

Also, without federally-guaranteed student loans, many of his listeners' children would not be able to pay their college tuition. Tuition, incidentally, to mainly public (i.e., government-run) colleges where the vast majority of college students are enrolled.

The government takes at least decent care of all our veterans, including still many thousands from the Greatest Generation who fought fascism, under the government's direction, during the Second World War.

The government also gave us the National Park system, including Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier, and dozens of others.

And the government, without firing a shot, more than doubled the size of the United States when it in 1803 it purchased the more than 825,000 square-mile Louisiana Territory from France; and in 1867 bought the nearly 600,000 square-mile Alaska Territory from Russia, both for literally pennies an acre.

The government-run Coast Guard keeps our ocean borders secure and the government operated TSA, far from perfect, has managed to prevent another 9/11. Even FEMA under Barack Obama is doing a decent job in the tornado-ravaged mid-West.

The FDA, with the "F" standing for "Federal," does a rather good job of testing potential prescription drugs to assure that they will perform as intended; while another of the FDA's responsibilities is to monitor the safety of our food supply. I assume that when Hannity sits down to dine he wants his steaks to be free of e coli, and when he doses up on his meds he wants to feel that he will not experience any unexpected side effects.

Then there are the government-administered Medicare and Social Security programs. I know Hannity with his millions doesn't need either of these, but I suspect his parents do and like them very much. Even at Tea-Party-disrupted town hall meetings, when Democratic members of Congress were verbally assaulted for spending too much taxpayer money and were thereby leading the country down the path to socialism, these same folks demanded that Congress keep its hands off "my Medicare." In other words, don't interfere with my socialized health care, which is in fact what Medicare is.

I could go on. But you get my point.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

June 8, 2011--Anthony Is A Weiner

Sorry for the cheap joke, but isn't he? It's almost enough to make me think the Tea Party makes sense and we should throw out all the bums.

I'm taking the day off to think about MEN. Isn't it always men?

One thing:

Human nature--if that's what this sorry mess is about, it's fully bipartisan.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

June 7, 2011--Running Sarah Running

Enough speculation. She is definitely running.

She has two choices--if she doesn't run, as soon as the GOP nomination campaign hits high gear, she fades to irrelevance. And that means no more Fox TV show, no more $100,000 a shot "lecture" fees, and no more multi-million dollar book deals. She again becomes Sarah from Alaska, or rather Sarah from Scottsdale. Or wherever.

If she does run, she has an excellent chance of winning the nomination. She is the only GOP hopeful who has a base of hyper-enthusiastic supporters. In other words, primary caucusers (as in Iowa) and voters (as in South Carolina).

If you think this scenario is far fetched, that she is just a one-trick joke, imagine her lined up on stage next to Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Newt, or even poor Ron Paul. OK, there's a Sarah-clone in Michele Bachmann; but who wants the Memorex when you can have the real thing? Who does the camera love? Who has the mojo?

Chances are, you say, that she would lose the general election--even the Obama people are drooling at the prospect of running against her. Can you imagine Sarah debating Barack? Imagine Katie Couric as one of the questioners--"Tell me governor, what's the capital of France?' Election over even if unemployment is at 10 percent, which it easily could be.

And if she lost to Obama she would still win. She would be the first female major party nominee and her speaking fees would soar to half a million for sure. Her campaign autobiography would get her at least a $20 million advance and with that much in the bank it would be easy to get a stable of ghost writers to write it for her. For that kind of money even Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow would make themselves available.

So she's running. Vanity and greed are the drivers as they have been since John McCain, or rather his people, plucked her out of almost literal nowhere.

A friend, Lynn, was in Washington, DC over the Memorial Day weekend and ran into the beginning of Sarah's Rolling Thunder Tour. She was talking with a policeman who told her that Palin's people had specifically asked for there to be no official security. Presumably so as not to have the government spend any money on her. The Alaskan Bridge to Nowhere was enough.

Gesturing toward the phalanx of leather boys, with admiration, the cop said to Lynne, "She doesn't need us. They'll take care of her."

And for certain they did until she got to New York for a slice of pizza with Donald Trump (where neither one of them knew what to do with it--they poked at it with plastic knives and forks); until she got to Ellis Island for a predictable rant about illegal immigrants; and until she got to the site of the real Tea Party and got all mixed up about what Paul Revere was doing on his iconic ride--not warning the British that the British were coming as she insisted on asserting and reasserting.

My God, she needs history lessons from Michele Bachmann!

But don't underestimate her--she knows her crowd and they love Harley chicks, haven't a clue or a care about American history (probably never even heard of Paul Revere), and more than cling to their Second Amendment rights.

You may think Barack Obama looks cool in just his Hawaiian swim trunks, but please take a moment to check out the linked photo of Sarah on her bike. That's what I call a star. Now that's what I call presidential.

Monday, June 06, 2011

June 6, 2011--Midcoast: Stories

To begin with, it wasn't that good a story. Judge for yourself--here's how we told it the other morning at the Bristol Diner:

"You remember that big storm on Monday?" Doug [co-owner and chef] had noticed it was about to rain. "Real hard," he said. "Look at those clouds." He pointed out the window up toward Damariscotta where the clouds were indeed gathering and looking threatening. "Rod," he said to one of the customers with whom we were sitting over coffee, "I suggest you either plan to leave now or be prepared to wait an hour until it passes through."

Rod was with his daughter Constance, in visiting from Seattle, and was needing a wheelchair that morning to get around. He said, "I'm ready. I've had about as much coffee as I can handle." Constance began to get up to help him to the car.

Rona asked, "Need any help? We're also ready to go."

Constance said, "Help is always welcome," and with that Rona and I began to stir. By then we could hear the first raindrops drumming on the roof of the diner. "We can use the side door," Constance said, "It's close to where I parked the car."

"I'll get an umbrella," Rona said.

"And I'll help push the chair," I offered. Constance and Rod were OK with that. So with Crystal holding the door open, Constance and I got Rod out to the car and with a bit of effort out of the chair and into his seat. Rona helped with his seat belt. The rain was getting heavy and it was good to have him safe and dry.

"Follow me," Constance said, "It's only a couple of miles, and in the direction where you live." And with that, to get Rod home before it really began to storm, Constance hit the accelerator and it was not easy keeping up with her. But after about ten minutes we pulled up at Rod's house on Harrington Meetinghouse Road. By then not only was the rain coming down in sheets but there was also lots of lightening and thunder. Some of it close by. Rod's place is up on a hill and I was not feeling good about being out and about in the storm, especially since Rod's car couldn't be pulled into the shelter of the garage--the doors on it, Constance told us, were not working properly.

"We'll be OK," Rona said, half standing under an eave. Opening Rod's door a crack, she assured him, "Don't you worry, we'll get you inside nice and dry," I could see this was not true for her. By then Rona was looking pretty soaked through. "Why don't you sit in the car with Rod," Rona said to me. "Keep him company while we wait for the rain to abate." So I raced around to the drivers side and jumped in.

A nice piece by Aaron Copland was playing on the radio and I said to Rod, who was looking a bit concerned, "With music this beautiful it'll make us forget the rain." He turned to smile at me and I knew he was all right.

With that, I saw Rona dart from undercover toward where I had parked our car. I wondered what was going on and then noticed that the rear hatch was wide open. Attempting to avoid getting any wetter, she ran bent half over and quickly pressed the button to close it. It laborious lowered and I heard it, between thunder claps, thud shut. Again she ran for cover.

I turned back to Ron and said, "I think maybe the rain's letting up a bit. If this keeps up, pretty soon we'll be able to get you into the house."

"I'd rather wait for the lightening to stop," he said with a wry smile, "With me in this steel chair, if I get struck by lightening it will be like getting electrocuted in San Quentin." At that we both got a good laugh.

Out of the corner of my eye I again saw Rona heading for our car. This time the hatch door was half open. Getting drenched further, she was fiddling with the button, first to get the door fully up, then to push it again to close it. Hopefully, this time securely. I was fearing that we might have some sort of serious problem that would cost us $250 to fix at Volkswagen.

As she raced back toward the shelter of the house, dripping with rainwater, she shrugged and mouthed to me above the sound of the thunder, "What is going on?" Without a clue as to what, I shrugged back at her. We'll help Rod, I thought, and then worry about the car.

I turned again to say something to Rod but out of the corner of my eye saw the hatch again begin to open. This time, as Rona, totally exasperated, begin to run to close it for the third time, I waved her off and jumped out of Rod's car. It takes a man, I shamelessly said to myself, to fix these kinds of mechanical things.

Getting wet myself--though the rain had begun to abate--I gave the button a firm push and when the door slammed shut pushed down hard on it, thinking that would get the job done. Maybe it's all the electricity in the air, I thought. I had been a good physics student in high school and college, maybe that's what's causing the problem.

But as I slid back into the seat next to Rod, with no lightening in the air, wouldn't you know it--the door inexorably begin slowly to open.

The rain by then had pretty much stopped; and Rona, as if she had read my sexist thoughts about static electricity and high school physics, came sauntering out. She signaled for me to lower Rod's window, the Copland piece was reaching its own thundering conclusion, and said, "Can you please turn that thing down?"

"It's almost over, I said sheepishly. "Rod seems to be really enjoying it and . . ."

"And nothing, let's help get Rod out of the car and into the house."

"But what about the hatch?" I stammered.

"We'll worry about that later. Let's help Rod.

"You're right," I said, "Of course."

"And while you're at it, Mr. Handyman, where's your car key?"

"Right here in my pocket." I tapped on my back pants pocket.

"And it has on it, doesn't it, buttons to lock and unlock the doors?"

"Yes, it has those. By why are you asking me about them now? We have to help Rod and since the rain's let up we should do that before it begins again."

"Because with your sittin' on those keys, with all the twistin' and squirmin' you've been doin' sittin' in the car with Rod listenin' to that music, while I've been runnin' back and forth gettin' myself soaked to the skin, you've been pushin' the hatch release button, and who knows what else, with your big rear end."

Embarrassed that she was right, I muttered, "It's not that big."

"But big enough," Rod said, "to open that hatch and get Rona all drenched.' He paused for emphasis and added, "It's like butt-dialing a cell phone." At which we all got quite a good laugh.

That's pretty much the story. Not that great a one, I'm sure you'll agree. But one of the other customers at the Bristol Diner had obviously been listening in and as he got up to pay his bill said to Rona and me, "That's a real good story. You should take it on the road and charge people to hear it." Roaring with laughter he headed out to his car.

But here's the good part.

A couple of days later we were over at Reilly's Market in New Harbor to get some of their delicious home-baked chocolate chip cookies, one of our seasonal guilty pleasures. As we were about to pay, the customer ahead of us who looked vaguely familiar said to the cashier, "You should ask them to tell you the story about the rainstorm and their car." I recognized him then--he was in the diner with us the other morning. "It's about as funny a story as you'll ever hear."

After he left the cashier asked us to tell it to him. "It's not really that funny," Rona said.

"I'd still like to hear it he said. "It's quiet in here now."

"How 'bout we tell you the short version," she said.

"That'll be fine," he said looking around at the relatively empty store, "I have all the time in the world."

And so this time Rona told it, leaving out lots of details, though being sure to make it clear from the start that all that transpired was my fault. When she got to the part about Rod making a joke about getting electrocuted--Rona though set the electrocution at Sing Sing--the cashier was slapping his thigh and rocking back and forth with laughter.

"That's a good one," he said, gasping for breath. "Rod really said that about Sing Sing? I love that guy. He's quite a card."

But here's the really best part. A couple of days after that, we were in Damariscotta at Reny's to get some fresh batteries for our emergency flashlights. The lightening from that storm last Monday had knocked out the power. We've gotten to know the manager fairly well since Reny's is a great place to rummage for almost anything you need from towels and sheets to cookware to gardening implements to shoes and drugstore items. Pretty much anything. All at amazing prices.

As we were poking around among the dishes and drinking glasses, he sidled over to us. "You know Matt over at Reilly's?" We nodded. He's the cashier. "Well he told me you were in there the other day and had this great story about getting caught in the storm over at Rod Swank's and how it was all about getting executed at Alcatraz.

We were amazed to hear how our story had been making the rounds and how it was being transformed in the retelling. "That's not exactly how it went," Rona said. She at times likes to make things literal, even if it means risking stepping on the punch line. It's one of the few things that we spat about--I'm quite an exaggerator and it can make her crazy when I stretch things for a cheap effect. "It was Sing Sing and not Alcatraz."

"Actually, it was San Quentin,' I interjected, "which of course is also in California." I thought I'd playfully give Rona a little of her own literalist medicine.

"Can you tell it to me?" the manager asked. "As you can see it's quiet in here at the moment. I have the time. I love a good story."

"It's not that good," I disabusively said. But he was eager to hear it anyway, as he put it, "straight from the horse's mouth"; and so this time I told a brief version of it, making sure to set Rod's self-imagined electrocution in its proper setting.

When I finished, and again the manager like the cashier got quite a few laughs--his favorite part was Rod's comparing my sitting on the car keys to butt-dialing a cell phone--"I didn't know old Rod, who everyone in town loves, knows from butt-dialing." As he said that he shook with deep, rumbling laughter; and was joined in it by a couple of his colleagues who he had invited to come over to hear the hatch-door story.

"This kills me," he said, also slapping his thigh.

Rona moved closer to him and asked in not much more than a whisper, "We're glad you seem to enjoy the story so much," he was nodding, "but, though it seems it's a good story it's not really a great one, so can I ask you why you seemed to enjoy it so much and why it appears to be making its way 'round town?"

"Oh, that's an easy one," he said.

"I'm listening," Rona said.

"Things can be hard here," he said, "We just came out of a very harsh winter. More snow than even the old-timers can remember and the economy is still terrible. Hardly anyone has work and gas costs, what, $4.00 a gallon. So we need stories to help us get through hard times."

"Actually," one of his coworkers said, We need them to help get through life."

Friday, June 03, 2011

June 3, 2011--Day Off . . .

. . . to catch up with chores. I will be back on Monday.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

June 2, 2011--Rod's 3/4 Mile

I had coffee yesterday morning with my friend Rod. He's a retired school superintendent from Ohio who has been living here full time for at least the past 25 years. It is one of my deepest pleasures when returning to the Mid Coast to reconnect with him after a long winter's separation.

After the usual catch-up about family and health, our conversation turned to sports. He was telling me that back in the day some of the most effective educators he knew were his coaches. "You know, the coach of my district's high school track team had an almost perfect graduation rate. Sure he had his kids studying hard to stay eligible, but it was more than just that. He worked a lot of lessons into the mix about life and how team sports prepared people for it. He used to say, 'Make sure you stay in school so you can remain on the track team because from it you can learn how to be successful in life.'"

"I had a basketball coach like that," I said, "back in elementary school--Burt Ludwig was his name--and he was always drawing life lessons from ideas about how to play the game. I remember him teaching us to be competitive, to keep our eye on winning--though not at any price--and not to forget to make sure every member of the team participated and had a hand in how we did. 'Win, lose, or draw,' he used to say, 'let's make sure we do it together. Because we'll be stronger that way.' He was quite a guy. I learned a lot from him."

"I used to run the mile on my high school track team," Ron remembered, "There was a guy who was my fiercest competitor. He was state champ and I always came in second. I used to run the best three laps, the first three-quarters of a mile at every meet. But then on the fourth lap he would shoot right by me like I was standing still. It was very frustrating."

"I can only imagine," I said.

"But when we were both seniors, at the last meet of the year, after he beat me again, he took me aside and said to me--'Rod, you'll never get anywhere in life by being the best at three-quarters of the job. I think I'd still beat you, but if you paced yourself a little, had a long-term plan, you'd do much better. Maybe even once in a while you'd manage to hold me off and win a race.'

"Sounds like good advice to me," I said.

"It was. We met up once or twice when we competed for our college teams. At that level he was no longer the best, but by following his advice one time I did manage to hold him off and finished fourth while he finished fifth. That was very satisfying and I tried to live that way the rest of my life. I did pretty well with my work and it stood me in good stead at times with my wife and family. I concentrated on being there all along the way."

From what I know about him, I feel certain he succeeded at that to.

I then told him about my father who played high school soccer. His school didn't have a football team since a boy had died playing football a few years before my father enrolled so instead they had a soccer team. My father was a good athlete and excelled at it. When I was about 12 he took me to a soccer game. It was the first time I had seen it played and I found it boring. I knew baseball and football and especially basketball. I loved all the action, especially all the scoring. I think the soccer game he took me to wound up with a final score of 3-1, just like at last week's Champions League final."

"I watched some of that on TV," Rod said, "That Barcelona team was quite something. But I know what you mean about the lack of scoring."

"That was my father's point. The lesson he wanted to instill. In soccer you run around for 90 minutes trying to kick the ball in the net; but at the end, typically, only a handful of shots are successful. Some games end up 1-nil. He told me that was all right. Actually better than all right because in the rest of life it is often the persistent who wind up doing well."

"Which," Rod said, "is another way of stating the lesson I learned from running the mile. It's not only about trying and being persistent but also about having a good plan for the final lap. Things of course don't always work out; but if you follow these lessons that we both learned from sports at an early age, at least you're in the game--pun intended--and have a chance."

He's right, and it reminded me how much I love that Rod.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

June 1, 2011--My 3 Governors

We were in Maine for less than 24 hours and looking forward to weeks and months of tranquility, renewed friendships, and the encouragement to lead a more earth-friendly life.

We immediately resumed measures to send as little as possible into our septic system, had already taken to being careful about turning off unnecessary lights, and began to stock up on locally produced products. Another pleasure is re-immerseing ourselves in the local paper, The Lincoln County News. Even before getting to our house, Rona ran into Dee's Variety to pick up this week's edition.

And then a couple of hours later, after unloading the car and doing some unpacking, I collapsed in my favorite chair to see what has been going on the the county.

The lead story in the LCN had the following headline--"LePage On Bypass: People Pay Taxes, Eagles Don't."

"What in God's name is this about?"

"Now don't get yourself aggravated," Rona urged, "Remember, we're here for peace and tranquility, not to be made crazy by bad news."

"Listen to this one," I beckoned her over from her unpacking, "Remember, just as we were leaving last year, there was a gubernatorial election and the Tea Party candidate won--Paul LePage." Rona nodded while continuing to fold a stack of shirts. "He was thought of a blow-hard bully by our liberal friends."

"I remember that," Rona said, "When the NAACP invited him to their fall convention in Portland, isn't he the one who said, 'They can kiss my ass?'"

"He's the one. Now listen to this. You know the plans to build a highway bypass around Wiscasset? To reduce traffic there on US 1? They apparently had a town meeting about it that LePage attended. It seems that to build the bypass, which he apparently favors, they would have to remove an eagle's nest. Environmentalists are of course up in arms. According to the paper, at the meeting which 225 attended, he said, to quote him, 'I believe the federal government should put people ahead of eagles.' He went on to say, 'that society has reached a point where humans don't count,' and he boasted that he was, and I'm quoting him again, he's 'a big believer in the fact that people pay taxes and eagles don't.' Can you believe this?"

"Yes I can," Rona said, not missing a beat in her unpacking, "He's doing exactly what he told voters he'd do if elected. Just like our other governor, Rick Scott in Florida. Scott said he'd cut the budget drastically even it meant he'd have to lay off state and municipal workers--and he has; he said he'd take on public employee unions--and he has; he said he'd return all the federal stimulus money his predecessor accepted, for example for high-speed rail--and he has refused any more federal money; he said he'd reduce environmental regulations--and he has and as a result the Everglades will continue to be polluted; he told voters he'd cut health care benefits that the state has to pay for--and he has; and he told developers he'd end most governmental oversight of their building plans--and he did that too. He delivered on all his campaign promises."

"And where is his approval rating?" I asked.

"Didn't you tell me the other day that it's the lowest in the country?"

"Yes, he has a 29 percent favorability rating in the latest polls."

"And how is LePage doing?"

"Almost as badly. He's down below 40 percent."

"And Christie in New Jersey?

"Same story--about 40 percent."

"Scott Walker in Wisconsin?"

"Less than 40 percent."

"Kasich in Ohio?"

"Hovering around 30 percent."

"So what does this tell you?" By then Rona had emptied two suitcases.

"That it's easier to get elected than to govern."


"And these guys got elected because everyone was fed up with incumbents and were so angry and frustrated that they thought what these Tea Party Republicans were pitching was what was needed. And they were popular right up to the point that they actually started doing what they promised."

"And when people saw their rights being taken away; their children's classrooms becoming overcrowded; police and fire departments shrinking; and their health benefits being threatened--which for many was the last straw--what happened then?"

"These tough-talking but mean-spirited governors saw their approval ratings hit rock-bottom."

"It's ironic," Rona said, "Obama gets criticized and falls in the polls for not delivering on all his campaign promises while these governors get in trouble for delivering on theirs."

"And in New York," I then realized, "the third state in which we spend time, we elected Andrew Cuomo, and he's turing out to be a version of a Republican in Democrat clothing."

"So what should we do?" Rona asked.

"I think head over to the Pemaquid Fisherman's Coop and get us a couple of twin lobster dinners."

"I'll bring the wine," Rona said, setting aside the last of our suitcases.

"And I'll start the car.