Thursday, July 30, 2009

Promotablog: Science Thursday

My sweetie's best friend, besides me, is Hannah Holmes, a smart writer and researcher with a great blog. Though she and I have yet to meet, I already love her writing. The blog topics alone are enough to keep my science-groupie mind busy for eternity, and her writing is sharp, self-effacing and engaging.

[Update: 3.Aug.09 -- Funny, I forgot to say Holmes is really funny, too. And in the "only eleven people in the world" vein, turns out my dear friend Wendy Caton Reed, originally from Edgecomb, used to babysit for Hannah and her siblings.]

Have a look at Human. Nature.

TPM Reader Calls Out Beck

With the goofiness surrounding beer brands, picnic tables and the importance of the President, the Professor and the Policeman swigging a brew this evening, let us not ignore the irresponsible commentary Glenn Beck offered up on Fox News recently.

TalkingPointsMemo reader MA offers an excellent analysis including:
This is not Kanye West saying Bush doesn't care about white people, or Michael Moore saying something provocative while a guest on CNN (though I challenge anyone to find Moore saying anything this ugly on anyone's program). This is Rupert's prized employee appearing on his channel, and doing the equivalent of shouting "fire" in a crowded movie house. This is the sort of comment that I might expect to read about in some SPLC missive concerning neo-Nazi websites, or the like. But as uttered by the paid employee of Fox News, on one of the network's shows?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Click Here For Unmitigated Joy

My public radio friend Elena See put this clip up on her Facebook page. After a Saturday afternoon spent dancing--for the first time in an age--this video made me weep with joy. At about four minutes I checked to be sure it wasn't going to end right away and was relieved to see that there would be another minute. Hope you love it.

I do not know who Jill and Kevin are, but they put on a heck of a wedding.

UPDATE: 29.July--A New York Magazine analysis and appreciation of Jill, Kevin, their friends, and what may turn out to be the best musical theater most of us will see.

A Request for Facts

Swamphog, a commenter over at the BDN, writes this about the Matinicus situation:

Instead of coddling the islanders, tell them this, "1. Stop taking the law into your own hands by overt or underhanded means."

"2. If you cannot police yourselves tactfully and within the law, alternative measures will be taken."

Alternative measures? Turn all waters surrounding Matinicus into a marine sanctuary with zero fishing.

Though I agree with this writer's assessments, commenters tend to hang behind the cloak of anonymity, making writing a news story or even a reliable blog post pretty tough. Anyone with actual facts about the latest mini-drama from Matinicus want to step up and talk with this reporter/blogger?

BTW, I am an experienced reporter and editor, have been blogging for five years and am a huge believer in crowdsourcing for research and fact-finding. If anonymity is an issue, only your initials need appear in the blog as long as I know how to reach you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

One Man's View of Matinicus

Just tried to call the only photographer type named Kevin Bennett I could find in Maine. He works at the BDN. I'd hoped to confirm that he is the videographer. I found the clip on a blog called Lobsters on the Fly, run by Debby, an Orrs Island lobsterman's wife.

UPDATE: 28.JULY.09--Mr. Bennett called me back. He did indeed make the video and yes, he is a photographer at the BDN. Yay.

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I believe this lobsterman's incredulity at the likelihood of things getting out of hand, but not the claim that things had been going smoothly lately.

Mass. Media Distributor Eschews Uncle Henry's

Thanks to early-adopter internetty journalist Jill Lang, I see that because of the Maine swap catalogue's inclusion of private gun sales, the Boston Herald distributors have taken Uncle Henry's off the shelves in stores the Herald serves.

According to the article, guns bought through Uncle Henry's have turned up in Boston area crimes.

Is anyone surprised?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Matinicus Fishermen Get Their Way [Again]

A judge, trying to protect the lobstermen from themselves after a recent shooting, ordered a two-week holiday from lobstering in the waters off Matinicus.

Matinicus lobsterman Joe Bray, who was thick in the last shooting incident a couple years ago--at least that anyone knows about--went to court today and got the two week holiday reduced to a weekend.

The link that shows Bray's involvement in the last drama is to a blog with clips from a Christian Science Monitor article.

The piece of information, or missed information really, I particularly enjoyed reading was Tad (Ira) Miller's concern about Victor Ames (the 2006 shooter) coming close to Miller's boat Mallory Sky. What the CSM reporter failed to mention--probably because no one else did--is that Victor Ames is Miller's father-in-law and the only reason Tad is free to, more years than not, make the most money of any lobstermen in Maine (and therefore the world) is that he married Victor Ames daughter Julie and lives, during the summer and fall, in a Matinicus island house Victor Ames built.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Matinicus Lobstermen Go Postal [Again]

If you have ever imagined you should live on a Maine island for some peace and serenity, think again. At least pick one where the ferry runs more than once a month.

On Matinicus it seems many of your potential neighbors have limited coping skills and worse self-control. They shoot each other over lobsters. Lobsters. Like sneakers and sunglasses only in more picturesque venues.

A perpetual feud over who is allowed to mine the mother lode lobster grounds around Matincus Island boiled over again yesterday when 68 year-old (not 77, BDN) Vance Bunker shot Chris Young in the neck.

Read the comments for a taste of the bitterness and anger.

A Marine Patrol Officer who went out after the fact chalks it up to signs of the times. Money is tight everywhere and these fishermen are facing a winter of living on something less than their usual half-million dollars. Waaaah.

Update, 21.July.09.2106: According to a pretty comprehensive AP article, there will be no lobster fishing for two weeks in Matinicus waters. Hard to tell whether this is good news or bad. Especially since lobstermen have been threatening to "tie up" for weeks now anyway because they say the prices are too low. Maybe there'll be a statewide sympathy "tie up" for those wild Matinicus renegades.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

RSU 12, Sheepscot Valley Budget Adoption Meeting Liveblog

RSU 12 budget meeting started @ 10 a.m. I arrived late, just as the first article, Regular Instruction, comes up for approval. Article One asks residents to approve $12,889,329. The combined school total for 08-09 is $12,549,249.

A Wiscasset resident wants to know why the k-2 line item is rising $249,721. Greg Potter allowed that the difference is due to the need for estimate combinations of schools. Whitefield rep says the difference comes at least in part from a half-time ed tech in the Wiscasset elementary position.

Still on article one Contingency fund is being questioned by a Windsor resident. At least part of it will go to Alternative Education and make up for the fact that Jefferson will not be part of the RSU and its contribution to an Alt. Ed. program will not be available.

11:58--Resident of ??? wonders why the teachers are getting a "premium plan" for teachers when "people in this room don't have any insurance at all." She's a middle aged woman who looks seriously aggrieved. She's complaining about the hypothetical situation of a 20-student second grade that might be split into two ten-student classes. She asks how many teachers in the whole system? 127. How many ed techs? Need to look it up. Why don't we have a line item? She wants to know how much each teacher gets paid. "You have it," she says.

12:03--Westport Island resident wonders about how the fiscal year will adjust to fit the new contractual year.

12:09--Attempt to finish debate. Fails.

12:09--Steve Smith, Whitefield, asks about teacher salaries. How will negotiations take place? Are there plans to equalize or raise to highest plane? Potter says, "It will be process."

12:11--Looking for some controls, "consensus of the group" to limit questions to three with a maximum of three minutes. Overwhelmingly and loudly approved.

12:14--Donald Barrett from Palermo, speaks briefly against limiting debate. Wants us to vote the whole thing down. "We should be voting zero for this whole thing...we won't have things crammed down our throat." He says as a Palermo school board member he was "coerced" into voting for consolidation. "We don't have to do this."

12:17--Barrett still talking. "Is there any indication that the quality of education will improve is we spend more money?"

12:17--Andrea Lani speaks regarding class size. "To quibble over class size is a waste of time." Lani describes the previous grumpy woman's complaint about approving health insurance as "cruel," adding that the teachers are "heroes...and members of our community." Big hand for Andrea.

12:21--Grumpy woman, Ms. Larrabee, "We're not downing the's not personal against the teachers or the kids." She gets a smattering of applause.

12:22--Using the yellow card method--Article 1 passes.

12:25--Article 2, Special Education. Ms. Larrabee asks about what Gifted and Talented is.

12:27--Wiscasset residence, questions new director of Special Services and increase in secretary's salary.

12:31--Numbers, 2100 students; 300 special services; 84 gifted and talented.

12:32--Donald Barrett, Palermo. Farmer who asked voters to reject the whole plan, asks what the increase will be in the next two years. Potter: the projection has not been completed yet. Barret: "If I was running a business that would be poor planning." Ugh! What a pill. Time! Vote zero is his only message.

12:36--Windsor resident with an autistic son, speaks in passionate favor of his child's teachers. "It's not just a job to them."

12:27--Question moved.

12:28--Article 2 passed.

12:39--Article 3 $191,025 Career and Technical Education passes with only the smattering of naysayers, zero-funders. No discussion.

12:40--Article 4 $370,111 Other Instruction, including co-curricular stipends, drama, math team and teacher leader etc.

12:41--Student and Staff Support $1,523,866 Guidance, health, instructional tech, improvement of instruction.

12:48--Amendment to excise $52,028 from item, taking it back to simple total of school system past expenditure.

12:58--Amendment to excise $23,866 from the item. Vote unclear, needs counting. Three board members want it reduced. Second motion to reduce fails.

1:05--System Administration $845,740. K(C)urt Downer of Westport proposes $150,000 for a consultant who can make sense of the consolidation.

1:11--Reasonable man says it's not a bad idea, even suggested looking at other states who have been through similar straits.

1:13--Downer defends his idea. Seems like one that should have been decided, oh, say, a year ago. Amendment fails miserably.

1:15--Pleasant, reasonable woman asks how many administrators were in the systems before consolidation; what building and maintenance costs have been reduced by closing. One building been closed, sold. Wiscasset superintendent building is closed; it is now owned by the Town of Wiscasset.

1:18--School Administration $1,282,988; small increase in benefits equals including families in health insurance in the Wiscasset schools.

1:21--Betty Larrabee again. "How can you negotiate contracts when you don't know how much money you will have?"

1:29--Teachers Karen McCormick of Whitefield and Deb Pooler of Wiscasset question the volunteer coordinator's salary of $9,000. Pooler wants to know about the ed tech numbers, and suggests using the staff that's in place.

1:33--Amendment made to reduce article by $25,000. Amendment fails.

1:35--A Wiscasset school nurse asks whether the $9,000 will be one or two positions. No one on the board seems to know.

[Getting hungry. I'm also irritated at the property tax-centric nutjobs.]

1:39--Article 8 Transportation and Buses $1,464,451
Rep. Lisa Miller of Somerville says she is a legislator and voted for this in part because of transportation savings. She wants to know what savings could be found. Board member says the State will be providing software to simplify the Byzantine bus schedules.

1:44--Windsor resident wants to know how many buses? Over 50 is the answer. He suggests using "magnetic signs" rather than paint since "this going to be voted down in November."

1:46--Art. 8 passed.

1:47--Article 9 Facilities and Maintenance $2,68,628 passed.

1:48--Article 10 Debt Service and other Commitments $743,756 passed.

1:49--Article 11 All Other Expenditures Inc. Lunch (Ick) $223,489 passed.

1:52--Article 12 To see what funds towns will have to raise $8,369,603.05 passed.

1:53--Article 13 Debt Service for non-state-funded portions of school construction projects and minor capital projects. Board recommends $76,715. Passed.

1:56--Article 14 Direct motion to change suggested amount from $4,846,581.55.

1:59--I said it's not about taxes. Got hissed and booed.

2:07--Good ol' boy just reminded us of the cost of prison.

2:08--Kristin (missed her last name) has a lien on her house and is a school employee, her lien is due to the economy. "This is how it is everywhere, cutting the knees off the education" is not going to help.

2:10--Blather about the mechanics of "carry over."

2:15--Woman says, "It's real easy to cut the kids," and not so easy to cut town services.

2:21--Motion to increase to amount given is approved. Voting by secret ballot on original motion.

2:31--Article 14 passed by secret ballot.

2:34--Articles 15/16, housekeeping articles, pass without discussion.

2:35--Article 17 passes.

Adjourned at 2:35.

Alna Voters Pick Peace Over Informed Consent

Like a family fatigued by anger, distrust and blame, some 100 of Alna's 600 or so citizens voted Wednesday night to give a piece of town-owned property to the not-for-profit fire department.

Weeks of accusation and finger pointing followed decades of occasional eruptions of rancor between fire fighters and the town's representatives. Stretching back to the 1970s, Alna townspeople and rescue volunteers have struggled with consensus.

The presumed villain in this latest mini-drama chapter, an epic production devoted to the internecine struggles familiar to any student of small town dynamics, was played by the newest selectman, Tom Smith. Smith is a politically conservative computer expert originally from Boothbay. The new selectman came upon a document--the backstory on his discovery could prove interesting, or not--that showed a March town meeting warrant to be in error.

After years of wrangling over how much the town would put up for a new fire station, this past March voters approved almost unanimously an article to provide the funds for a scaled down version of the station and allow the use of an anonymous donor's funds. This article also said that the fire department would "maintain ownership" of the property.

Herein lay the problem, since the document Smith turned up, the most recent deed describing the fire station property, clearly showed that the town, not the fire department, owned the property.

Now in a world with no hurt feelings, no pettiness and no passive aggression, representatives of the fire department and the town might have met to sort out the paperwork. Smith's contention that the town might be better off keeping the property, though ostensibly moot since the town had acceded to the fire department's wishes early in the year, might have gotten a fair hearing. Documents supporting the fire department's desire to own the property--as opposed to the emotional and fiscally inconsequential reasons given at Wednesday's meeting--might have received a fair review by citizens, attorneys and officials alike.

Frankly, it is the dearth of documents that ought to irk citizens in this chapter of As Alna Turns. The voters deserve to see whether or not either party's claims about insurance expense have any paper trail at all.

Voters also need to parse the origin of both parties' information. Knowing whether legal information comes from a trial lawyer, the Maine Municipal Association or a more neutral and perhaps experienced party makes a difference.

This story is far from over. The simmering mistrust was palpable even at the Alna Store Thursday morning. Owners Mike and Amy Preston said there were neighbors who failed to even acknowledge each other while they nursed their coffee and eggs.

Like a sulky family after a big blowout, townspeople will probably pout for a bit. Even while the peacemakers hold sway, though, the tension will build until another catalyst causes us to revisit the matter of how to govern ourselves in a small town. Let us hope that next time we patiently wait for the real problem to emerge, gaze squarely at the elephant in the room and address its grey, wrinkled skin, zooey smell, reluctance to move and potential to really wreck the place, before we turn away and agree that the curtains could use updating.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Could the Public Option Help Keep Us From Eating to Extinction?

According to this Salon article, it may easily be that last night's tuna steak dinner and the haddock in recent weeks consisted of commercially extinct fish. Damnation.

In an articulate comment to the article, the writer says that half the fresh water in the world goes to quenching the thirst of livestock.

Like Laura Rogers at HuffPo, I noticed the ads in the Washington Metro reminding us that 70 percent of our antibiotics are used on livestock that is not sick. Ick.

These are but a few public policy issues that might have more weight in the public discourse if their implementation mattered in a tangible way. Making the "Public Option" available in pending health care reform could close the loop of the federal government's responsibility, so that what producers and harvesters do to our food might show up in our collective health care system as opposed to the disparate private insurance companies' responsibility.