Friday, October 31, 2008

Boothbay Harbor Tidal Surge Mystifies Meteorologists

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Tuesday the tide went wacky in Boothbay Harbor. I heard about it on our local public radio station that day and took note because I live about 13 miles up the Sheepscot River from where it empties into the harbor. From my house, the river loops around in away that I have to cross it to get pretty much anywhere, whether at scenic Sheepscot Village, North Whitefield or Wiscasset. The reporter Tuesday attributed the changes to a storm offshore. I thought, the few times I went across the bridge that day, the river seemed awfully high for a long time, and have seen the river looking high for a moon in mid-cycle a couple times since.

What MPBN failed to report was that the tide was high, then low, then high, etc. and continued switching "six or seven times" according to reports given to the Boston Globe. This recent article says meteorologists have no clear explanation for this kooky tidal activity.

What's equally kooky to me is that none of the local papers seems to have heard about this story. I mean, do they not listen to public radio or take a Globe newsfeed at their desks? Or perhaps even take the occasional walk, in the case of the Boothbay Register, down to the harbor? [Edit: I was wrong. The Lincoln County News paper edition does have a seven inch story on page 11. For some reason the powers that be at the LCN think it prudent to run different editions on paper and in cyberspace. I think it's confusing.]

This is when I wish my readers were mad on commenting. So I'll simply beg. Please, if anyone knows anyone who lives in Boothbay (otherwise known 'round here as "the harbor") and can offer any insight into this phenomenon, not necessarily the cause, rather how it was manifest, I would be grateful if you would forward this story to him or her in hopes of a comment or two.

Commenters who denigrate some harbor denizens' relative blood alcohol level and consequent unreliability in the realm of strange phenomenon can expect flogging.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Support Your Local Post Office

And now a word about the federal government:

My Alna P.O. is teeny, with less floor space in the lobby than my horse’s stall. Mike’s Walpole P.O. is about the same size. Granted, I rarely mail anything anymore and may have an OCD issue with opening mail—I don’t, if I can possibly avoid it. That doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the personal and tactile experience of receiving and sending cards and letters. Eli’s boxes of goodies from his Florida grandfather create a excitement like little else around here. [n.b.--the image is Alna's Meeting House. About four Alna Post Offices would fit inside it. Incidentally, I am recently of the opinion that Alna was named for a Norwegian town on the outskirts of Oslo.]

Mike has more to say about the USPS.

The handwritten scrawl of a person you know, love, or perhaps despise lies before you, like an uninvited guest or a birthday present. Your name on the oblong square of an envelope, you rip open the glued flap, stopping on your way to glance at W. E. B. DuBois, Ida Tarbell, Superman or other icon of civilized life framed neatly in the world of a stamp. Inside, in uneven curls and crosses, words flow across the page you are about to unfold. With the ongoing surge in electronic communication, the United States Postal Service could become a relic sooner than we think.

This week the Washington Post reported that the USPS could be in its death throes.

The warning comes from William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, addressed to Postmaster General John Potter. Given a projected 9 billion drop in pieces of mail delivered in fiscal year 2008, Burrus said unless something dramatic happens, the postal service faces its “demise” on Potter’s watch.

Among the factors accounting for the drop in traffic – ten times the 902 million drop in pieces of mail handled during the previous fiscal year – are a surge in the use of email replacing letters, and a drop in real estate and financial market advertising.

Handwritten words, like body language, communicate something about the sender. I remember the hastily penciled letters a friend showed me, written by his father from behind French hedgerows in World War Two. I see also in mind’s eye my grandmother’s shaky handwritten notes before she was diagnosed with dementia, the drunken loops of a father reporting golf statistics on the occasion of having golfed more than 188 times during the year, and the all seeing eyes and smiley faces my mother sometimes draws at the bottom of her letters, usually before some personal hurricane rips across the landscape of her life.

Instant messages, on the other hand, sentences marshaled in straight lines, text charged with cyber slang, lack the tangibles of a handwritten letter. And by it, something familiar slips out of this world.

According to Wikipedia, the USPS is the third largest employer after the Department of Defense and Wal-Mart. While cruise missiles and cheap Chinese shirts might serve a purpose, however dubious, I submit that handwritten letters would better guarantee the peace and the economy.

Founded in 1775 by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia following the Second Continental Congress, the post office has been a staple of American life, as empowered by Article One of the Constitution. These days, with unwarranted wiretaps, unlawful searches and seizures and the establishment of a private militia on American soil (Blackwater), the constitution appears to be no guarantee.

Take a few minutes to set pen to paper this week. For 42 cents a handwritten letter would not only to encourage a friend, it might also preserve a venerable institution.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Yo Thomaston P.D.! You've Got Crime

Dear Thomaston Police Department:

When are you planning to stop the crime against our free speech occurring on the median strip at the intersection of Routes 1 and 131?

According to a sign there now, five Obama-Biden signs have been stolen from this public space. As a member of the public I ask you to put up a camera in the vicinity and keep the peace on this little political island.

I am certain you are busy with other mischief. Stealing political signs is not mischief; it is criminal. The thief (thieves?) of free speech has five times operated with impunity in your town. Are you not embarrassed?

With Election Day just over a week away emotions have grown strong. The fearmongering and inciting perpetrated by the McCain-Palin camp have pushed otherwise good people to conduct themselves shamefully.

You have the power to limit this behavior. Please do so. Want to borrow my video camera?

Yours truly,

Leola Roberts
(with family in Tenants Harbor)

Friday, October 24, 2008

An Open Letter to AM Radio Programmers

Dear Mr. Jeff Wade:

As program manager you must have some say over who you hand your airwaves to every day. As a devoted radio fan who grew up with Wolfman Jack and KRLA and, because my dad was stationed in the U.K. briefly, matured to the BBC, I have despaired of American radio for the last 20 years, ever since Limbaugh first went national. Talk radio had real potential before hate mongers and propagandists like Limbaugh were given free rein. Now it is nothing more than a draining sewer.

Is this national election and the economic disaster not enough for you to see that Limbaugh and his ilk are King Wrong in the Land of the Wrong People? It has been a national travesty that your station and others like it have not had the anatomy to stand up to the lying liars who lie at the helm of this ideological nightmare that has become public media policy in this country.

Time is now officially up. With the Dow in free fall, Milton Friedmanesque economists heading for the hills in disrepute, Republicans afraid to admit they ever voted for any Bush ever, and the best investment in the Maine economy likely to be canning jars, you, yes you, Mr. Wade, must make a decision. Do you want your radio station to circle the drain with the rest of the sewer dwellers? Do you want to continue to supply disinformation to your unsuspecting, deluded and duped listeners? Stop it. If you say you have no control over the programming and are of the Nuremberg breed, quit and join the thousands of those unemployed because of the venal tax polices supported by Limbaugh and his followers.

We are going to need real information in these next months and years, facts, economic education, advice and above all compassion. Not propaganda from greedy, self-interested bloviators.

With hope for the future of radio,

Lee Roberts
Mike Colbert

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vote Barack a la Venga Productions

The pair who brought us the living room tune about Sarah Palin has a high energy and amusing vid encouraging us to Vote Barack. Hat tip to local Democratic state senate candidate Peter Drum.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Horse Barn of a Different Color

So, I am painting my horse barn purple. Well, actually, according to the California Historic Paints Collection chip chart, it’s Muted Mulberry.
There are no other purple barns on my road. Red or white barns figure highly in the decorating schemes of most of the farmers on the Alna Road, otherwise known as Route 218, that slices north from Wiscasset, the “Prettiest Village in Maine,” along the Sheepscot River to its source in Palermo. Maybe I’ve never seen a purple barn until now. [I'll upload a photo once I get a couple sides finished.]

When my bemused, far-more-artistic-than-I, somewhat conservative sweetheart asked me what the color connoted to me, I answered, “Fall, shadow, history, depth, desert flowers…” and something else I cannot now remember. When he arrived, on his way to his bagpipe class—yes, one can learn bagpiping in Newcastle, Maine—for inspection, I’d already painted most of one side. He tilted his ball cap at a decided angle trying to see what I see, to no apparent avail.

After six hours of painting, the pigment had lost its blue and red hue to me, and took on a rich, deep grey and charcoal look. To Mike, it looked like some hippies’ d├ęcor choice for their basement apartment in the mid-1970s, replete with blacklights and Peter Max posters.

This new barn, put up in the fall of 2007, had no paint on it until the painting and snowboarding savant Cody Drever climbed his extension ladder this summer and painted the peaks a flaming orange stain. I’d asked him to get the peaks since I had no ladder that would reach, and I left the color to him since I was too distracted at the time to care. By what, I cannot now recall, but when I saw the orange stain, I blanched.

Cody is one of the kindest, most generous young men I have ever met. A gifted, even a little famous, snowboarder, he comes to Saddleback with me and my son, now seven, and snowboards with him virtually all day. Cody won’t take more than a lift ticket and maybe lunch in payment. The thought of rejecting our friend’s stain choice made me blanch again.

I tried to reach him and tell him that the color made me a little crazy and that I didn’t know what to do next, but only managed to get his voicemail. We’ve not spoken since and I pray that he is generous enough to forgive my caprice.

So, with both peaks stained orange and the rest of the barn awaiting color, I went yesterday to the paint store. The mom of one of my high school students helped me consider colors. She had also put up some wallpaper for me years ago and knew my neighborhood. She told me about the colors she, another horse woman, was using and they sounded familiar and interesting.

Long story short, I liked Standish Blue until it started to look like too grey like dull maritime deck paint.I liked the buttery yellows and the adobe pinks.And I loved the purples. All of them. As I watched Mike try to untilt his ball cap, I said, offering what comfort I could muster, “Hey, I could have gone with Concord Grape or Beauport Aubergine."

The barn’s metal roof is a muted green that I also love. It reminds of the sagebrush and other dusty desert plants I grew up with in California.

Despite a degree in dance, I lack confidence in the visual and painterly arts. Give me a studio and some bodies and I can weave some understanding. A canvas or the side of a barn? Not so much. I understand almost any other kind of metaphor better than color, and have always sought copious counsel or left it to another to choose, so this decision is a radical leap.

Maybe this leap is a sign that I am coming to terms with my rapidly receding extremely advanced youth and putting weight on the foot destined to hold me up through the middle years. What more can I hope for than, rich color, depth, desert flowers and an understanding of my shadow?

I can’t wait to see what it looks like in the snow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And Now a Word or Two From Billie Holiday

Remember to love.

If this were a truly groovy blog, our myriad readers could talk amongst themselves and treat this as an Open Thread. Ah well, Billie Holiday's more than enough.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Would Frances Perkins Do? Who?

Working Americans in recent weeks awakened to the reality of a devastated American economy suffering damage wrought by decades of policies aimed at enriching the rich. Today, Paul Krugman, the most widely read American economist, and an unabashed supporter of a “new New Deal,” was made a Nobel Laureate for Economics. Franklin Roosevelt’s reinvention under similar circumstances of this country’s economy and society suddenly looms large.

While we remember those who have gone before us with similar economic and political woes, how many remember accurately who actually devised the New Deal? Here’s a hint: it was not FDR. Rather, it was his Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, an introverted, religious, de facto single mother, and scholar who became, according to Kirstin Downey, Perkins’ biographer, FDR’s “moral conscience.” This Sunday in Newcastle, Maine, near the Perkins’ family homestead, a steering committee met to begin the process of turning her family home and grounds into a think tank policy center with an eye toward continuing her legacy and attending to her unfinished agenda. This followed Saturday’s slide show with a cappella accompaniment by Annie Valliere of Woolwich, and a talk by Downey about her soon-to-be-published book and Perkins’ legacy. [n.b. One of the most emotional moments of what may come to be known locally as the Frances Perkins Weekend was when Saturday’s crowd of some 160 mostly grey-headed attendees joined Valliere in “Solidarity Forever” and “The Union Maid.” Strong voices pealed out, “Oh you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union, I’m sticking to the union…”]

Perkins, born in 1880, was the visionary who created Social Security, unemployment insurance and a wide variety of worker protection laws a reality. Given Wall Street’s current economic meltdown, 47 million Americans without health care coverage and decades of trickle-up tax policies, the challenge to continue Frances Perkins’ work could not be more timely. Universal health care coverage was one of the few visions Perkins failed to reify during her years in office. Health care for all could catalyze scholars and policy makers to carry on her vision. [Obama policy wonks, are you out there?]

In 1932, Frances Perkins might have preferred to be at home monogramming towels. This chemistry ad physics scholar had found herself the family breadwinner due to her husband’s mental illness. Galvanized to workers’ causes and social justice when she witnessed the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City where 146 young women died, Perkins eventually became the Commissioner of Labor under then New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Shortly after his election to the presidency, he asked her to head the nation’s Labor Department. This intensely private woman agreed, then went home and sobbed so loudly her teenaged daughter Susannah grew alarmed. Perkins knew that her life would no longer be her own, especially as she was about to be named America’s first female cabinet member.

Her name is not one that readily rolls off the lips of school children reciting names of public figures who shaped the destiny of our nation. Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton, found her portrait in the back of a housekeeping closet. He restored it to a place of honor, on the wall behind his desk. According to Downey, Reich wrote that when he had difficult decisions to make, he closed the door of his office and referred to “Saint” Frances.

In addition to major social changes that became part of the New Deal under President Roosevelt, Perkins’ work is visible in hundreds of everyday ways. The fact that trash is routinely removed from work premises is a result of Perkins insistence on fire safety measures protecting workers. In 1933, her first act as Labor Secretary was to desegregate the cafeteria where she and other cabinet members took their lunch.

Her influence extended well beyond Washington. According to Downey, Perkins’ modus operandi was always to work on three levels at once – state, federal and international. Her theory apparently that when one thread in the braid frayed, the other two would hold the weight. Her international influence started early. In 1933, moments after FDR’s inauguration, in a time of 30 percent unemployment intense anti-immigration phobia bordering on xenophobia, she was able to massage immigration laws enough to save academics, artists, Jews and others at risk from Nazi Germany’s persecution and allow them into the U.S.

Besides seeing necessary change and visionary potential politically, her gift operated on a personal level as well. Among her finds was a red haired gawky writer whom she encouraged to press forward. That man, Upton Sinclair, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. An advocate for social justice in his own right, Sinclair wrote The Jungle and published over 90 books during his lifetime,

Frances Perkins’ family homesteaded in the 1740s on the west side of the Damariscotta River in Newcastle Maine, where her grandson Tomlin Coggeshall lives still. Coggeshall has recently chosen to devote the rest of his life and the considerable acreage and buildings on the homestead to his grandmother’s memory and legacy. He hopes the Frances Perkins Center, to be located in the Perkins family home, will eventually serve to honor her work and help policy makers and scholars move the nation forward along the visionary lines drawn by his grandmother. [n.b. The center is in the first phase of fund raising, with Maine Initiatives acting as interim not-for-profit umbrella. I encourage those interested in Perkins' legacy to click on the center's "Donate" link and forward a check.]

Kirstin Downey, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on the Virginia Tech shooting, reported for the Washington Post for 20 years. She recently left her job there to finish and promote her biography of Perkins. The Woman Behind the New Deal comes out in March 2009 and is available for pre-order now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

DRA Harvests Historic Habits

Given the economy’s downward spiral as financial markets screeched to another halt at the sound of the bell last night, we all might take a lesson from Bill Grogan. Thanks to the Damariscotta River Association and Grogan’s handcrafted scythe, centuries past live in Midcoast Maine. In Alna at the corner of Rte. 218 and Cross Road Tuesday Grogan, who lives in Pemaquid and works at the Carpenters Boat Shop, cut the specially planted canary grass with a steady sweep, an arced blade taking the legs out from under the grass with a ringing ticking sound familiar to our forefathers and utterly foreign to our modern ears. [In the video the ring is all but drowned out by one of the ubiquitous gravel trucks roaring south from the Crooker gravel pit.]

A gray haired man in a beard and ponytail from another era, Grogan moves deliberately through the waist high green. Shorter than last year’s grass for reasons he couldn't explain, it is still long enough for school children to use it to thatch the roofs of the Damariscotta River Association's Native American village exhibit along the Damariscotta River in Damariscotta.

Grogan built the scythe he wields. The snath, the long straight wooden shaft is made of alder, while the smooth worn handles are made from apple. The blade, called an Austrian blade, differs from the typical European blade because it is pounded and forged by a blacksmith, then sharpened with a whetstone. Other blades are stamped by machinery and sharpened with a file. "American" scythe snaths curve around the body.

“[Scything]’s incredible exercise,” says Grogan taking a break to chat with passersby. He describes the organic rhythm of scything, noting that as the swath is cut and the blade dulls, the scyther fatigues and perhaps gets thirsty. “So I stop and get a drink and sharpen the blade,” he says.

Apparently the trick is to only take a little at a time, though it seemed only a matter of moments before Grogan and his blade had cut several square yards of reed.
The scythe subculture in Maine centers in Perry and can be found, anachronistically enough, at Grogan rattled off several people he knows who scythe and said he himself has given workshops in the skill.

Canary grass, actually a reed, is far from the only medium used as thatch. Grogan said Norfolk reed is more usually grown for this purpose in this country.

Keeping alive the skills of our forefathers could represent more than a quaint touch in the current economic meltdown. As people along the Maine coast ready in time-honored ways for this historically uncertain winter, cutting wood and canning garden produce, it’s hard not to want to revive some other tenets of our forefathers upon which the country was founded.

Ben Thompson of Damar-iscotta and Bill Bellows of Newcastle pause for a photo after loading the canary grass thatch into a trailer. They then carted it to a site alongside the Damariscotta, where local school children will roof the Native American Village with it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Maine's Electoral Votes May Be Split; Note to 2nd Dist. Dems: Volunteer

Thanks to a Lewiston Sun Journal article today, I am reminded that though Maine may well go Blue in the presidential race, only Maine and Nebraska are allowed to split their electoral votes according to district. Two of our four will go to the winner and there's never been any real doubt that, barring epic disaster, Obama will take those two. The other two are can be awarded according to the votes in each of our two congressional districts.

The Sun Journal's Rebekah Metzler writes that as of Thursday [the day McCain decided to bail in Michigan] resources are available to solidify McCain voters in places like our Second District. So, I am appealing to my Second District friends, please give some time, take a pizza, make some phone calls or knock on some neighbors' doors for the local Dem office and/or the Obama office.

n.b.: I was contacted tonight at 8:15 by the Obama campaign in Farmington, a Western Maine town a solid 65 miles away from my little coastal plain hamlet. Some young whippersnapper called and asked me to volunteer. I told him I was already giving two to six hours per week at the Lincoln County office. Nonplussed, he suggested I call the Waterville, yes Virginia Waterville, office to get my marching orders. When I suggested that Brunswick was much closer, he didn't have the phone number. Hmmmmm.

Also when I told him he had awakened my son, young Obama operative "Ian" never so much as said, "I'm sorry." When I politely suggested that 8:15 in the evening was too late to be calling people in rural Maine, again I got crickets.

So when I suggest, my Northern Tier friends, that you volunteer for Obama, I mean it. They need some people with a few Maine-centric people skills in those offices as soon as possible.

Thanks in advance. Let's keep that fourth electoral vote for Barack Obama.

Contact your town or county committee and someone should be able to direct you to some work that needs doing. Penobscot County Dems; Maine County Committees;

News You Can Use; Gratuitous Palin Vid

First, some local information for those in the Midcoast that will put some jingle in your jeans. The Citgo station on Route 1 in Warren was selling regular gasoline yesterday for $3.39. Anyone seen it cheaper? I'm wearing a Jetta-sized groove in Route 1 from Rockland to Wiscasset and haven't seen a better price. Anyone? Anyone?

Next. If you think the winking nincompoop version of Sarah Palin is irritating, try the defensive, excuse-ridden, sanctimonious Sarah Palin:

I hope someone asks her where the Economist is published sometime.