Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day anti-musings

I had a relaxed holiday and I hope everyone else did, also. I don't care to comment on Veteran's Day. It's a day for inflated rhetoric, melodrama and flag-waving, none of which I'm particularly fond of participating in, especially the last one. As Zinn is quoted as saying regarding the flag, "there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people". That's my take on Vet's Day. You're entitled to yours.

Well, I visited Arianna Huffington's newest creation, The Huffington Post.

Since I've written about the problems I see with her blog in another post, I won't go into much detail. I will say however that her blogroll is just another excuse for promoting more tripe from the rich and the famous. I mean, give me a break! Mark Cuban? Andrew Sullivan? Dave Barry? Plus the usual stars of the new media crowd such as The Daily Kos, Atrios, TalkLeft, etc; they of the proper "liberal" persuasion, just left-leaning enough to be hip, but god forbid that you skewer any of their sacred cows. Then, they unleash a fury upon you just as hate-filled and vitriolic as any Freeper or other fascist from the right.

Can you tell I'm weary of jumping through hoops and toeing the line, even if it's the so-called "right (or left)" side of the line?

On an upbeat note. While it's pretty low-key around the keyboard tonight, this writer just put the last few lines to bed on When Towns Had Teams. Clocking in at around 80,000 words and still in need of an intro and epilogue (pieces of cake, dude), the hardest part is done. My goal was to have a manuscript done by the end of May, and I'm pretty much on schedule. Now comes the next challenge--getting the book out to an audience by Christmas (A year later than intended). I'm relieved and feeling good in that I accomplished what I initially set out to do, which was to write a book about town team baseball. I'll have an announcement about something definite in the works over the next three or four weeks, so stay tuned. I guess I'll toast it with a cold Bud Light.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

In a state of denial

Lo and behold, while perusing today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I was greeted on the front page of the Business Sunday section by the following article, titled, "Beginning of the end for oil?", by Matt Crenson of the AP.

About a year ago, I first blogged about Peak Oil and I have continued to follow the subject with considerable interest. Periodically, the topic is broached in the media. Increasingly, it now shows up in the most mainstream of places.

It's a subject that will become increasingly important, but like most issues, won't be given much credance by the average Joe (and Josephine), content to tune out events of consequence in order to live in their world of pseudo-reality television programming.

Caring for the planet

Rarely, if ever do you find a so-called evangelical Xians straying from the ideology of the party of God, the Republicans. Despite obvious problems marrying the application of scripture to the Neo-Conservative juggernaut of the Bush administration, being a “good” Xian and being a loyal Republican are usually seen as one and the same for those on the right side of the religious spectrum—just ask James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Chuck Colson.

Interestingly, I saw a story on New England Cable News last weekend while at my hotel on the Cape, about students and faculty at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who were protesting the appearance of George Bush at their commencement. The fact that a group that self-identifies as evangelical, daring to voice an opinion contrary to the Fuhrer made me sit up and take notice, if only because it so goes against the grain of much of American evangelicalism.

This morning, in my local Sunday paper, there is an article about the events at Calvin College, written by Paul Nussbaum. Nussbaum’s article, carried by Knight Ridder, is titled, Preaching the gospel of green (No, it isn't about a naked embrace of capitalism). The general premise of the piece is about a growing evangelical movement in places like Calvin College and other places, concerned about protecting the environment and using scripture as its motivation.

During my waning days of involvement with any formal affiliation with Xianity, I found it particularly difficult to find any writing or other commentary coming from the evangelical community that gave any credence to being good stewards of the earth. Other than a tiny book written by a Reformed theologian named Francis Schaeffer, known more for his pro-life advocacy of his latter years than anything else, there was little or nothing coming from any leaders of the evangelical community that varied from the “pave it over” mindset driving much of our national debate on the environment. Schaeffer’s book, Pollution and the Death of Man: A Christian View of Ecology, must have caused considerable ripples in conservative theological circles when it was released originally in 1972. From the book comes the following passage, showing Schaeffer’s divergence from much of what passes for stewardship then and most certainly today; “...the hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too... More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture - modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class - is poor in its sensitivity to nature... As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man's concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side.”

According to Nussbaum’s article, some evangelicals are seeking to find common ground with members of other faiths in the formation of a “Noah’s Alliance”. This grouping would seek to protect endangered species. According to their draft statement being circulated among Xian and Jewish scientists, “Ours is a time for a concert of religious voices to proclaim our privilege and responsibility for not allowing the great lineages of God’s living creatures to be broken.”

While my thinking and worldview tends more towards a postmodern approach, relying less on the spiritual realm and more on my own wits and intellect, I applaud any group that seeks to embrace a philosophy of concern and care for the earth and its diversity of species. This religious concern for the earth isn’t a new one, as Native spirituality, as well as many pagan groups such as Wiccans have long embraced an approach the values the planet and doesn’t place profit above stewardship.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ending bipartisanship

With the refusal to end debate on U.N. ambassador John Bolton by Senate Democrats, the happy, happy, joy, joy, “let’s just all get along” mood of the Senate evaporated quickly. With Bolton’s history of abusing authority and manipulating intelligence, his lack of regard for official U.S. policy and the tendency to promote his own ideology, it appears this guy was tainted from the start. But to President Bush and his hard line followers, they aren’t going to let it concern them in the least.

“The honeymoon is over,” said Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) after senators voted 56-42 to end debate on Bolton’s nomination. This fell four votes short of the required 60 needed to end the filibuster and move the vote for confirmation. The vote for confirmation would require only a simple majority of votes.

For me, the fact that the Democrats are still providing some opposition to the fascists in control is a good thing. I don’t buy into this whole bi-partisanship myth about it being necessary for government to function. The less smoothly the government operates, the better, in my opinion. I’m with Thoreau on this one in “that government is best which governs least.” If there is an inability for both parties to come together, in my opinion, this ‘ain’t a bad thing at all.

Why would you want to work together with people who desire to dismantle what remains of a social safety net that’s worked well for over 50 years? Why would you help a crew that has a mentality that in many cases wants to send us back to the Salem Witch Trials? The Republican Party, at least it’s hard-right proponents, favor shutting down dissent via the Patriot Act, waging unending war and have us committed to Iraq for the next decade or more, plus gives us a failed system of education reform in No Child Left Behind? On top of that, they favor despoiling our environment, as well as extending tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens, at the expense of the working class stuck holding the bag (robbing the workers and giving it to the rulers). I think it’s high time the Democrats stopped going along, if the few of us who still hold progressive or non-theocratic ideals have any hope for the future. If you have any ethics and a shred of dignity left as a Democrat, how can you side with criminals?

The Republican Party is under the control of theocratic thugs and xian fundamentalists—fiscal radicals who are keen on dismantling government and don’t care how high the deficit goes. Unfortunately, the Democrat Party has shifted rightward, so now, the average member of that party is the equivalent of yesterday’s moderate Republicans. Thankfully, Democrats still are holding the ground (barely) on issues of tolerance—gay rights, rights for women, minorities and the disabled—in these areas, they are still attempting to expand democracy outward. But by doing this, they’ve paid dearly, particularly with the media being complicit with the Republican’s ability to spin the truth on the issues. Unfortunately, people most likely to be hurt by these policies are the ones marching blissfully towards the cliff.

I don’t care about bipartisanship one iota and I hope that Democrats dig in their heels and stop siding with crooks and criminals and men who have no compunction at all about violating the rule of law. I hope blocking the Bolton nomination emboldens Democrats and that they continue to piss off Republicans. By doing this, they’re doing what an opposition party should be doing.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Lacking optimism

[Warning--the following is a rant. If rants are not your cup-o-tea, then do us both a favor and avert your eyes]

I’m not feeling particularly optimistic today. After waking up to my fourth consecutive day of rain, much of it running into my basement via my leaky window on the rear of my house, needless to say, I’m not in a great frame of mind.

On top of the dreadfully gloomy weather, my summer baseball season, the one that as president of the league, I’m supposed to be looking forward to, is already giving me headaches galore.

--After spending the past three weeks on the phone, calling potential sponsors, writing press releases and articles promoting the league, I find out last night that my new uniforms, as well as the uniforms ordered for our new Lewiston/Auburn team won’t be coming in for Sunday’s game. At least my players will be able to wear last year’s uniforms. The new L/A team will be adorned in a patchwork of who-knows-what, this after our local paper runs a big article urging fans to come out and see the new team. Oh, and did I tell you that they also don’t have any catcher’s gear? On top of all of that, last night, I drive to Portland to a quick league get together where each manager got his game baseballs, score sheets for the scorebooks and lineup cards—a regular preseason ritual that takes place before the season. Our commissioner, a good man who has been involved in keeping local baseball alive for over 30 years, is droning on to the other coaches about staying organized. As I looked around at the other coaches, young men in their early to mid-20’s, I realized that not one thing that our commissioner was telling them would be embraced by them. They’ll go out and be the same disorganized ball clubs they were last year, scrambling to make sure that they have nine guys to field a team, not calling games in, failing to turn stat sheets in—the kind of things that make it increasingly difficult for me to do what I do—basically promote the league as a place for college kids to play in the summer. I on the other hand, will obsessively tend to every detail, throw batting practice, hit fungoes and work 30 hour weeks making sure that the summer experience helps them become better players (and maybe people) And what will I receive for my efforts? I’ll listen to college kids bitch at me because I didn’t put enough ice in the cooler, missed a base hit on the stat sheet, or failed to make sure that they were pampered enough. Parents will yell at me for not waving runners in from third, or for a pitching change I make late in the game. So why can't we get more guys like myself to take a summer team--men that know the game and no longer care to play, but have what it takes to manage a team--gee, I wonder!

--While spending much of the past three weeks trying to organize this train wreck of a summer league, so that talented college kids from Maine have a place to play summer baseball in their home state, my book has been pushed aside, just two chapters from completion. Happily, I can report that I completed my next to last chapter, so all that remains is my last chapter and an epilogue. You would think that I’d be happy with this and anxious for it to be completed, yet, because I’ve decided to go the independent publishing route, I have a whole new bevy of tasks that I must complete just to make sure that this year-long labor of love sees the light of day.

On top of all of this, I have mothers (yes, mothers!) calling me to find out why their 21-year-old sons haven’t been called about playing on a team. One particular mother was rather rude and snotty on the phone, after she called me while I was in the middle of rush hour traffic. I was polite and told her that I didn’t have a spot because my roster was full. Should I have been brutally honest and told her that the reason her son hasn’t been picked is because he throws straight fastballs that resemble batting practice tosses and that no one wants him? Or should I have said to her, “Lady, don’t you think it’s time you cut the cord and let Junior fend for himself?” Good lord!! I feel like a G’ damn babysitter to a bunch of three- year-olds most of the fucking time!

I’ve not been able to focus too much on the goings-on of politics and the congressional squabbles. While my little corner of the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the bigger things taking place in the world, my fixation on the immediate has narrowed my vision to a narcissistic pinpoint.

So what am I to do? Quit on baseball? Burn my manuscript? Pack up my car and drive off into the sunset? I don’t know. I do know that the chaos of last season’s Twilight League and the headaches of just managing a team led me to figure out how we got to the place we are concerning local baseball. I’m not sure what this season’s Chinese fire drill of a season will produce. I just hope that things quiet down some and I can just fall into the peaceful routine of coaching and the comforting activities that the games bring.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Diffusing a nuclear bomb

On Monday, a group of Senators, in a bipartisan act, headed off a showdown over the so-called “nuclear option”, which would have radically changed the rules of the Senate concerning the filibuster process. While the two sides reached a compromise, I still think the Democrats should have held out, although I can see why they struck the deal that they did.

Being a minority party in Washington during these days of bullying from the hard right and the Puritan’s peanut gallery (occupied by the likes of James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell) is not an easy position to inhabit.

While these religious zealots issued much blather and bluster post-compromise, not all the dissension was reserved for the side of our current day Elmer Gantrys. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold issued a statement in which he said that this compromise “is not a good deal for the U.S. Senate or for the American people.” I would concur with the Senator from Wisconsin.

It’s nakedly apparent how drunk with power the majority party is, in particular leaders of the Republican Party such as Bill Frist, Tom Delay, and it runs upwards all the way to the oval office. This recent tactic, filled with gall and hubris shows that they desire only to run roughshod over the traditions and institutions of government that have worked well for over 200 years.

While the filibuster might be unwieldy and certainly causes government to grind to a halt, it is a necessary and even essential part of maintaining our proud tradition of opposition in our country. Personally, I’d like to see the Democrats become even more of an obstructionist party, but I know that won’t happen. For Independents like myself, there really is very little to be happy with concerning our current state of governance.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The end of the line

The 2005 Wheaton College baseball season came to an end, with a 6-4 loss to the Trinity Bantams. Trinity won their record 35th game of the season, as they go to Appleton, Wisconsin and the Division Three World Series, with a 35-7 overall record. The Lyons finish with a 33-12 mark, their second most wins in a season.

For my son, it’s been quite a year. As a junior, he became an everyday player for the first time in his college career and finished with a batting average of .340, with nine homers and 49 RBI. He also was named to the All-New England All-Star team as the first team DH.

While the season was a successful one in so many ways for my 21-year-old son, he made the final out of the season, as Wheaton had one last opportunity to win it in the bottom of the ninth.

I spoke to him briefly on the phone earlier in the evening. I had received a detailed account of the game from a fellow parent at the game. I called him to just let him know I was thinking about him and to see how he was doing. Having played a lot of baseball, I know how tough it is to deal with failure. But dealing with failure is a big part of sports and ultimately, life. I could tell by the sound of his voice he was a little down in the dumps.

As Rabbi Harry Sky says, one of the keys to life and living a life that’s meaningful is “learning to sit through our troubles. Suffering is a part of life,” says Rabbi Sky. “You become its master, or it becomes yours.”

My son has achieved more in baseball than I was able to—playing for the opportunity to go to a College World Series—yet, he’s also faced with new adversities different than some of my own. He’ll get over this and learn from the experience. Just like my own failures in the game I’ve come to love (and at times, hate), this lesson will help make him the person he is to become.

He’ll be home tomorrow after his end-of-the-year meeting with his coach. Then, he and I will have possibly our last summer to spend together. I’ll be coaching him as his dad, one last time. He’ll also have the opportunity to play ball again with some of his former buddies and high school teammates. Despite all the hassles and headaches for me of being involved with local baseball, that opportunity will be priceless.

Baseball on the Cape

After last evening's 7 pm game was over around 10 pm, I drove 3 1/2 hours home from Harwich, Mass. on the Cape, in order to try to start my week with some measure of order. With a son playing college baseball, the last month has been topsy-turvy, trying to get to conference playoff games and then, this weekend's regional tournament on Cape Cod. Needless to say, my book, just two chapters from completion, has been rudely batted aside by travel, my son's schedule, as well as trying to serve multiple roles in my summer commitment as coach and now, president, of our local college summer league, the Twilight League.

Having never been to the Cape, I was looking forward to seeing what it is that makes it such a popular destination point, particularly during the short New England summers. When I arrived Thursday afternoon at the hotel in Yarmouthport, the weather was sunny and warm and I enjoyed some time with my fellow Wheaton parents on the back lawn of an older motel overlooking the ocean. Being offseason, the motel was virtually deserted other than about 8-10 Wheaton College families.

Friday night's weather was quite cool and then, a northeaster moved in for Saturday, with winds and lots of rain. Needless to say, there was no baseball. My wife and I made the best of it and actually had a nice visit with friends of my parents, who have a condo in Brewster. My parents, not known for their willingness to travel, had made the trip down also for the tournament on Friday. My parents are neo-Luddites, but to my mother's credit, they've purchased a pre-paid cell phone which made contact and direction-giving so much easier. It was rather humorous at times trying to guide them to places via the cell phone, but things worked out well due to the presence of some modern communication tools.

My wife and I were able to see my son's team win two straight games to open the tournament, including the 3-0 Friday night win in which Mark drove in the winning runs. They lost yesterday at noon to Trinity, 8-2 and then came back and won a nail-biter last night, 3-2. At this stage, Wheaton must win two games today in the double-elimination tourney. Trinity College, currently undeafeated, must be beaten twice today by Wheaton, if the Lyons and my son are going to make it to the World Series in Wisconsin.

I'll be anxiously awaiting the call from a fellow parent to find out how they do in today's noontime game in Harwich.

My thoughts on the Cape? I liked it. Being from Maine and only about 30 minutes from our own coast, it’s not as exciting as it probably is for those who live in Boston, or other urban environments. I liked that the Cape oozes with history, with the town like Yarmouthport where we stayed, being incorporated in 1639. Most of the surrounding towns of Dennis, Dennisport, Harwich and Hyannis have similar dates of incorporation. Some of the old homes were gorgeous and most of the towns have an abundance of small locally-owned businesses, versus the ubiquitous Wal-Marts and box stores of the mainland.

I don’t think I’d enjoy the tourist crush, which is right around the corner. This time of the year is slower and much easier to navigate. My wife and I talked about going back in the fall, after the tourists clear out, and possibly spending a long weekend.

In closing, there is a fascinating book about Cape Cod League baseball, covering one summer in the life of this summer brand of baseball. Played by some of the best college players in the country, in the tourist communities that comprise this area of Massachusetts, Jim Collins' The Last Best League, chronicles baseball on Cape Cod.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mass. bound mix tape

Music has always been a big part of my life. Baseball, riding bikes and around the age of 8, discovering rock 'n roll via my cheap transistor radio and WPNO (AM-1590). For today's post-modern travelers, AM and rock 'n roll are like oil and water. However, for someone of my advanced age, growing up in the late 1960's/early 1970's, hearing Blue Cheer's version of "Summertime Blues" on our local AM rock station was not uncommon.

One of the cool things about WPNO was their weekly top ten list that you could pick up at some of the local retailers like Sparks Department Store, or Kresge's in Lewiston. My mother, who always drove to Lewiston on Friday to grocery shop, received a weekly request to pick up the latest 'PNO offering. For an eight or nine-year-old, first embracing the medium of rock, I had a sense of empowerment--I thought I could influence the DJ's and place my favorite songs on the list. For instance, when Grand Funk did a cover of Little Eva's "Locomotion", I called the station multiple times for a week and sure enough, the "hot track of the week" was none other than my fave song. Was it coincidence? I think not!

My love and fascination of rock has not dampened over the years. Even though I'm in the process of doing a million things in order to get myself out the door and off to the Cape, one of my priorities is a mix tape for the drive south. In this day of high tech devices, Ipods, satellite radio and other gadgets, my '98 Taurus wagon is equipped appropriately, with a tape deck. Hence, if I want to listen to something other than bad FM rock via the stations south of here (personally, I don't find the Boston stations any better than Maine--just more bad choices available), I have to provide my own selections via a mix tape.

Having become a regular traveler south on those 2 3/4 hour trips to Wheaton and other ball fields, certain bands have been frequent fellow passengers. Swervedriver, a British band with an affinity for books and effects pedals, has been a favorite soundtrack for the past three years. Their Rave Down LP, with songs like "Son of a Mustang Ford", "Pile-Up" and "Sandblasted" seem to be the perfect music to navigate the crazy traffic in and around Boston. At 85+ mph and drivers who have no understanding of lane management, I often feel like a stock car driver at Darlington or Daytona.

On this trip, I'll also have Matthew Sweet, Idlewild (the perfect post-modern group of blokes, literate and possessing the caustic wit of all great UK bands), as well as a truly great and typically under-appreciate U.S. band, Swearing at Motorists (how appropriate, seeing that I'll be fender-to-fender with some of the craziest drivers around).

Gotta' go and get Bernie (my trusty Sheltie companion) to his weekend lodgings, finish the mix tape and throw some clothes in the travel bag.

Please send some positive energy my way and towards the Wheaton Lyons. Let's hope they can play up to their abilities and that the seniors, as well as big #24 stays hot. If that happens, I may be reporting from Wisconsin next weekend! Peace out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Some baseball R & R

The past two weeks have been absolutely crazy. I often forget how much work there is to getting a Twilight League season off the ground. Usually, it's just my own team and the administrative details of putting a competitive squad together. Added to that this year is my role as league president and the work that's gone into getting the new Lewiston/Auburn team off the ground.

On top of all of that, I've been trying to finish my book. I'm so close--just two chapters left. Actually, less than that, as I've written about half of one of the remaining two chapters.

I'm planning on spending a few days away from the blog altogether. I'm headed to Cape Cod to watch my son's team, the Wheaton Lyons, as the play in the Division Three baseball regional in Harwich, Massachusetts. My son has had a stellar year and was recently voted to the All-New England Team, as the First Team Designated Hitter. Needless to say, his Dad (as well as his Mom) are very proud.

I'm planning on enjoying the ballgames and will probably have some pictures to post over at the other site, next week.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Filling the tank for democracy

All of us who drive cars have to buy gas. It's actually very painful at present to fill up the tank with prices well over $2.00/gallon. Here's a way to alleviate some of the pain if you are not a fan of The Fuhrer.

Apparently, Citgo is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Money you pay to Citgo goes primarily to Venezuela -- not Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. What better way to protest the Bush foreign policy than to gas up at your local Citgo. You can find a station here.

According to Jeff Cohen over at Common Dreams, "By buying your gasoline at Citgo, you are contributing to the billions of dollars that Venezuela's democratic government is using to provide health care, literacy and education, and subsidized food for the majority of Venezuelans. "

"Instead of using government to help the rich and the corporate, as Bush does, Chavez is using the resources and oil revenue of his government to help the poor in Venezuela. A country with so much oil wealth shouldn't have 60 percent of its people living in poverty, earning less than $2 per day. With a mass movement behind him, Chavez is confronting poverty in Venezuela. That's why large majorities have consistently backed him in democratic elections. And why the Bush administration supported an attempted military coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez."

What a novel concept--using the wealth of one's country to alleviate the suffering and eliminate the poverty of its people. Good lord, that's downright revolutionary!

For me, it's easy, as I usually hit the Citgo in Yarmouth on my way south. It's convenient, as it's on the southbound side of Route 1, just off from I-95.

If you have a Citgo in your area, drop your $20-25 and support some democracy for a change.

This is the anti-boycott in support of the anti-Bush.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Losing another icon

With the arrival of the interstates and America’s embrace of the automobile came the need for roadside diners and lodging along the country’s byways. With its bright orange roof, Howard Johnson’s loomed as a beacon for tired and hungry travelers, becoming a stopover of choice (and often necessity) for those on the move.

Like so many things linked to our nostalgic glances backwards, Howard Johnson’s is slowly fading away, as the chain that once had 800 restaurants stretching across the fruited plane, is now down to eight. According to Walter Mann of North Haven, Connecticut, the decline of the chain began 25 years ago, after the company was acquired by a British conglomerate. Mann, who runs a website devoted to the venerable roadside chain, indicates that the company has been sold two more times since and now sits in the hands of Franchise Associates, Inc.

My experience with Howard Johnson’s is limited to a couple of stops over the years in Springfield, Massachusetts, traveling westward on the Mass Pike. One could usually get a burger--fat and greasy like it was meant to be--not dry like cardboard as many of the processed fast food versions are. Granted, with the arrival of the food Nazis and all the health warnings against any of life’s guilty pleasures, fat and greasy hamburgers are the food equivalent to cigarettes--items guaranteed to get you listed as a “leper” and shunned, if caught using

I also recall a song by the New England band NRBQ. I’m not sure what the song title was, but they sang a song with the words, “Howard Johnson’s got his HoJo working, HoJo working on me.”

Mrs. Words tells of a childhood memory of bowling and burgers at the local Howard Johnson’s in Falmouth. Her friend, from the ritzy side of town, that being Cumberland Foreside, used to have a birthday party which meant bowling and then a post-lanes shindig at the orange-roofed eatery on Route 1. The Mrs. recalls it being her first (and only) birthday party where she went to a restaurant.

“It was fun to be able to choose anything off the menu,” said Mrs. W.

Interestingly, the former HoJo's in Falmouth became a well-known local eatery for several years, with this writer logging a season of discontent waiting tables there. During my winter of desperation in 1997, while between my series of dead-end corporate gigs, I worked for the eatery slinging hash and regaling diners with my sharp wit and caustic sense-of-humor. Fortunately for me, a falling-out with my boss made my stay there relatively brief--I wasn't much of a waiter.

Mrs. Words, who travels about the state and occasionally southern New England, recently stayed at one of the remaining eight HoJo’s while working in Bangor. She recalls the waitresses being very friendly, but that the cleanliness of the hotel wasn’t up to par with competitors such as the Ramada, Days Inns, or Holiday Inns that she’s stayed at.

With Bangor being one of the few left, I hope I’ll have the opportunity over the next few months to stop in, chat with the friendly staff and have one of their 16 flavors of ice cream (they used to have 28) before they shutter the place and tear it down.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Have you heard of Phantom Buffalo?

This week has been an odd week. I've had very little time to write and focus on the book. One book-related event was my Wednesday evening talk that went very well. It's a bit intimidating to speak in your former home town, in front of family, friends and those who remember all the stupid things you did as an angst-ridden adolsescent. All told, the turnout and reaction to "Local Baseball Made Me Do It" was very positive.

I also spent some time driving in the car running errands locally. This allowed me the guilty pleasure of listening to some local college rock via WBOR and WRBC. On Thursday, while off to see my friend Marina become an American citizen, I heard this incredible track by Phantom Buffalo on WBOR. If anyone has never heard of them, they are this virtually unknown (at least locally) band of former art students (?) who were formerly called The Ponys. Apparently, some midwestern band already had rights to the name, so the band formerly known as The Ponys are now, Phantom Buffalo. I do remember this band having a killer track on a previous GFAC 207 CD. I also caught part of their set at the 2003 WERU Full Circle Fair.

Lest you think that my gushings about them are merely the product and perspective of a holed-up writer with tunnel vision, I found these reviews. Curiously, these are from across the pond, from both the BBC, as well as No Wax. Maybe these guys are gods in the UK?

As crazy as I've been with my baseball organizational chores this week, I've enjoyed the paucity of time I've spent focused on politics. Remarkably, my outlook has been amazingly close to what some might call optimism. Maybe there is some inverse correlation between music, happiness and sick fixations regarding political corruption.

Blogging as business

It always amazes me that there are people who still don’t know about blogging. Inevitably, when I ask someone, “are you familiar with blogging”, at least 75 percent of the time I’m met with an odd look of confusion. I guess I should understand that there will always be people behind the technological curve—I mean there are those who are still using rotary dial phones and can’t program a VCR. Yet, with the discovery of blogging by the mainstream and everyone from talk show hosts, to corporate CEO’s now maintaining their own blogs, blogging has acquired a certain portent, even with establishment types.

What I find most interesting about the amount of ink and discussion given to blogging, is how lame much of the analysis and even the uses of the platform are. I don’t necessarily think that blogging and staid corporate communication are necessarily a partnership worth undertaking.

In my own area, a Friday column by business writer Eric Blom in the Portland Press Herald on the future of blogging and the continuous emails for seminars by a local entrepreneur indicate to me that blogging is here to stay—at least for awhile longer.

Interestingly, in the same way that traditional media and business communication tends to make conversation boring and misses the real issues, so does blogging done by those who are interested only in how much commerce it can bring their way. A CEO who uses a blog to continue to communicate in his traditional dysfunctional way—hiding behind a veil of power and control with the object being to manipulate and even intimidate—will achieve nothing from maintaining a blog.

Media personalities such as Arianna Huffington and her cast of elites at Huffington Post are betraying the true intention of what makes blogging unique. Given the democratic nature of the platform and the freeform (and even open source) connotations inherent in it, I don’t think it’s a tool that will work unless traditional models of communication are thrown out the window. I’m not talking about discarding grammatical constructs or basic spelling, but I am talking about using blogging to spin lies and obfuscation more favorably. I despise those who use their blog as just another tool to market and manipulate.

A perfect local example of how traditional techniques and staid business practices are beginning to invade the blogosphere involved a local entrepreneur who I’ve written favorably about. She had a profile done on her product that one could argue was unfavorable and even unfair. Some communication passed back and forth amongst several parties and I weighed in on the matter. This entrepreneur posted about it on her blog and then, about a week later, the original post, as well as comments I had posted had mysteriously disappeard. She had obviously taken the original entry down and I surmise that our local blogging “guru” and web design pro (the guy conducting the business seminars, who also btw designed her blog) advised her to not use her blog and engage in “controversy”.

Personally, I don’t care what anyone does with their blogs. I’m a perfect example of someone who uses both of mine to do things that I wouldn’t expect anyone else to embrace. I mean posting material that is sure to inflame, incense, and generally piss off half of your potential readers (and possible customers) isn’t necessarily a model for business success. At the same time, I want to be seen as a writer who is willing to take risks, look at issues with a perspective markedly different than mainstream journalists and others seeking to perpetuate the same old tired status quo, and generally position myself away from the pack. Interestingly, for all the material I write that might put people off, I’ve also written articles and features for mainstream publications that falls within the parameters of mainstream journalism.

For good or for bad, I’ve used my blogs to build some type of (dare I say it?) branding. If you are looking for polite takes and knee-jerk responses to the news, politics, culture, music and sports, then this ain’t the place to be getting your material. But if you want some analysis that’s thoughtful, researched, even if it isn’t always easy to digest, then I think I can help you out in that area.

Blogging gives voice to many (like me) that don’t always have easy access to the controls of communication. I hope that this domain doesn’t become polluted by those who have no intention of utilizing it for anything other than their latest advertising strategy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Can you say "fascist"?

I know that the little matter of free speech is no big deal to many, particularly younger folks, but some of us still think it matters, if just a bit.

Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT) puts the Bush administration's clampdown on dissent in context and ends by saying, "It is in this context of an overall attack on dissenting opinions that the effort to censor cable and satellite TV becomes truly frightening. This is not simply about cleaning up offensive content; it is about the extreme right wing pushing to limit the free exchange of ideas. The time has come for all Americans who love freedom to let the government know that they don’t want Uncle Sam turning into Big Brother. "

I urge you to read the entire article.

From Common Dreams, via In These Times:

Remote Control
by Bernie Sanders

In his 2004 inaugural address, President Bush spoke repeatedly about the need to bring freedom and liberty to the world. In fact, he was so focused on the concept that he referenced the word “freedom” a whopping 27 times during the 21-minute speech. I’m happy the president is embracing the concept of freedom. Now if we could only get him to start practicing what he preaches.

Since his inauguration address, President Bush and his right-wing colleagues in Congress have launched a full-scale effort to limit and control the programming Americans are able to see and hear over the airwaves and the Internet. In short, they’re going after your computer, your radio and your remote control.

In March, the House passed legislation to dramatically raise “indecency” fines for broadcast television imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to $500,000. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, heralded the high fines, saying, “This legislation makes great strides in making it safe for families to come back into their living room.”

Emboldened by this success, conservative leaders like Barton and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) are threatening to go even further. For the first time, they want to apply indecency standards to cable, to satellite and even to the Internet.

“We put restrictions on the over-the-air signals,” Stevens, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in March, while speaking to the National Association of Broadcasters annual state leadership conference. “Cable is a greater violator in the indecency arena. … I think we can put restrictions on cable itself. At least I intend to do my best to push that.”

And Barton told reporters, “In the foreseeable future, you are going to see a convergence [of standards]. I stand by that. … The impact [of indecency programming] is going to be the same in the home. It’s irrelevant what the ownership or the origination of it is.”

If Stevens and Barton have their way, it means goodbye to “The Sopranos,” goodbye to Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” goodbye to the boys of “South Park,” goodbye to “Deadwood,” goodbye to Dave Chappelle and goodbye to many other shows enjoyed by millions. Faced with strict FCC censorship rules, all of these programs will be removed from television altogether, substantially rewritten, or banished to late night. Let’s keep in mind that these are not shows broadcast on public airwaves but rather on cable programs that consumers select and pay for. Apparently the right-wing ideologues believe they know best what programs Americans should be allowed to purchase and view. If these regulations are imposed on paid cable and satellite networks, it will have a chilling impact on freedom of expression in America. Today, they are going after Howard Stern and Tony Soprano. Tomorrow, who will be their target? Will it become “indecent” to criticize the president?

These effects have already been seen on broadcast television. Given the looser rules governing cable and satellite, the change to paid programming will be even more drastic under FCC oversight. Controversial or cutting-edge shows will become increasingly rare as programmers become more and more limited in the types of topics they are willing to explore and the kinds of guests they will invite.

Sadly, this is not the only effort currently under way by the right to determine what material is appropriate for the American public to see, hear and read. The effort to censor cable becomes even more ominous when viewed as part of the larger attempt by the Bush administration and its allies to limit public discussion of minority opinions.

In recent years, the Republican leadership has used unprecedented measures to crush dissent in Congress. During the recent passage of the Bankruptcy Bill, for example, no opposition amendments were allowed on the floor of the House—effectively silencing public debate of the bill.

Perhaps the most blatant example of intolerance for dissenting viewpoints, however, comes from Bush himself, who is currently traveling the country holding “town meetings” on his Social Security privatization plan. Despite the fact that these ostensibly public meetings are paid for by taxpayers, American citizens who disagree with Bush are not allowed to attend.

It is in this context of an overall attack on dissenting opinions that the effort to censor cable and satellite TV becomes truly frightening. This is not simply about cleaning up offensive content; it is about the extreme right wing pushing to limit the free exchange of ideas. The time has come for all Americans who love freedom to let the government know that they don’t want Uncle Sam turning into Big Brother.

The path of least resistance

Modern life has a way of taking the starch out of us, particularly if we try to do things that go against the grain, or we dare to swim backwards upstream. We are socialized to sit down, shut up and basically, face the front of the room. We receive our marching orders from parents, teachers, preachers and presidents, and any time we decide to vary from their advice, the masses swarm in and beat us silly until we rejoin the bleating herd.

Whether one decides that he won’t shop at Wal-Mart, writes honestly on a blog, attempts to represent rural life in a book, or keep alive a local baseball league for non-professionals, there is the constant reminder to stay in line, embrace the commonplace and do not vary from the company manual.

I understand why most people adopt a comfortable life. The 9-5 schedule is reassuring, as you always know where you’ll be and at what time. The paychecks are steady, and while you always make considerably less than the head honcho, you don’t have to wait for the check in the mail, or harangue editors for payment for that article that you laboriously researched and slaved to write. Voting Republican (or Democrat, for that matter) gives one the comfortable feeling that one is doing something meaningful. The real rebels get a tattoo.

Volunteerism is on the wane and I think one of the reasons is the bureaucratic maze and mumbo-jumbo that one is put through any time they try to do something that benefits the community. Navigating phone grids, facing the rudeness of gatekeepers (the true sand in the gearbox of most forward movement), and generally bucking the status quo of others boring work-a-day existence brings frustration and a questioning of one’s sanity for even attempting to vary from the teeming masses of followers.

When the local professional team has an upside-down lease that has the city basically subsidizing a private business and the local baseball league pays through the nose for use of dilapidated or inadequately maintained (and lighted) fields, then its obvious that the good of the community no longer matters to those in control. In community after community, the lifeblood of place is drained by economic development mafias, dictating to the overburdened taxpayer what’s best. Then, after footing the bill for the well-heeled, Joe Q. Public finds that he’s been denied access to the party, left through a hole in the fence.

Occasionally, shards of light break through the darkness. A friend's kind word of encouragement, a local businessman who "gets it" concerning community, an administrator willing to go the extra mile for you, and a family member who is behind your project, all these keep you in the game for a bit longer, bringing the tape at the finish line into view.

Obviously, there are more important things than whether I publish my book, or the Twilight League makes it through another season. We have young soldiers (most predominantly poor) dying in Iraq in a war that we were told was won. Our so-called representatives cut backroom deals with credit card companies, rolling back the clock to the days of debtor prisons and poorhouses. Homeless people roam the streets lacking shelter, healthy food and proper medical care in Portland, Maine. Yes, there are bigger issues in the world than my little penny-ante pissing.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Another blip on blogging

The buzz of blogs continues to gain the attention of media types, particularly those in the mainstream. Rarely does a week go by without another member of the establishment press jumping on the blogging bandwagon. If not onboard, then members of the mainstream media are finding new ways to dismiss or diminish this member of the new media.

This morning’s daily drop to my email mailbox brought me the latest salvo coming from the establishment press.’s Editor-in-chief Elizabeth Spiers weighs in on a column written yesterday by the NY Times’ Adam Cohen.

Spiers takes Cohen’s arguments apart and shows the false dichotomy that writers like Cohen often set up when discussing the blogosphere. Cohen goes to great lengths attempting to de-legitimize bloggers for their apparent lack of standards and ethics. Setting up a straw man with statements such as this one:

But more bloggers, and blog readers, are starting to ask whether at least the most prominent blogs with the highest traffic shouldn't hold themselves to the same high standards to which they hold other media.

As Spiers correctly asks the question, “who are these high-traffic bloggers who fail so miserably to meet journalistic standards?”

If Cohen has been paying any attention to the smell coming from his own profession, that of the “mainstream press”, they aren’t exactly awash in truth-telling and integrity themselves.

If you are interested in blogging and the debate that’s heating up regarding legitimacy of this forum as a communications tool, I’d recommend reading Spiers article. While not earth-shattering, it’s a decent take on the issue. It’s also another example of how out-of-touch mainstream writers like Cohen continue to be.

I'll also put in a plug for, as a helpful website for anyone involved in the writing profession. I've found the site helpful, from its informative columns, how-to's on pitching stories and other pieces to magazines, newspapers, as well as offering help on writing proposals and pitching literary agents.

The home stretch

When I came up with the idea of writing a book about local baseball last July, I never envisioned it growing into the project it has become. Since that first interview last summer, I’ve conducted an additional 32 more and have created my own personal oral history archive on town team and semi-pro baseball in Maine.

When you are new to any process, you inevitably make mistakes. In my enthusiasm for the subject at hand, I probably got ahead of myself at times. Being new the publishing game, there was a certain naiveté that permeated my process. With nonfiction books, rather than risk writing an entire book, only to find out you can’t sell it, the recommendation is to shop a couple of sample chapters as part of a proposal. While I put together a proposal back in early January, I also continued to write, hoping for a favorable response. My hope has been for a regional publisher to take a gander on the book and that I might have found a publisher at this point in the process. Instead, I’ve received rejection letters, some personal, most others of the form letter variety. One very nice personal note from a publisher said, “…thank you for you patience while we hemmed and hawed over what to do with your book…we have gone back and forth several times in editorial discussions and, while everyone agrees the book definitely has engaging possibilities, ultimately we just didn’t think we could market it as effectively as we’d like, so we are going to have to decline your offer.”

At the suggestion of a writing acquaintance, I sought out an agent that might be able to place a niche book of the sort that When Towns Had Teams is, so I sent off a number of proposals to book agents—meanwhile still hammering away at my manuscript. That brought replies like this one; “Many thanks for your submission. You have an interesting idea for a book, and there's a lot to like about your approach. I'm afraid that in the end I just didn't come away from it quite fully convinced it was something I'd be able to represent successfully. I'm sorry not to be more enthusiastic, but I do wish you luck in placing this with the right person.”

So, as I prepare to add the final two chapters to my manuscript, an ode to the players, as well as the towns and teams that made small town Maine special, I am faced with a dilemma. I have one small publisher who is interested in reading the manuscript. If they read it, like it enough to want to publish it, then they’ll obviously suggest changes and if I’m lucky, I’ll have a book out on baseball at some point in 2006, but it could end up being 2007! For the prestige of putting it out on someone else’s imprint, I turn over control of my product, get paid a very small advance and will be lucky to come away with much of a profit at all.

More and more, I’m looking towards going the independent publication route, where I take on the initial risk for the book, but retain control of the product and can market it to the niche audience that I believe exists for it. There is an enthusiastic group of people who will buy a book like this one. This audience consists of the former players who played town team and semi-pro baseball and many of their family members. In addition, I think there are those who enjoy reading about history and culture from the past. The problem I have at present is waiting around to get the book out and seeing the enthusiasm cool from many of the people I have interviewed and spoken with over the past few months.

Sometimes when I look back over the process, I question if I have gone about it the right way. I suppose if this book was something other than what it is—primarily a labor of love and a paean to small town America and the men that I grew up idolizing—then maybe there would have been another way to do things. If I had stopped with the sample chapters, I never would have put together this far-from-perfect manuscript. While certainly flawed, I get a sense that for those who will read it however, there will be a nostalgic quality and hearkening back to a time that has long since disappeared. Whatever one has to say about the limited market for a book like this, I’m happy to at least have been the one to write a book that captured a part of Maine that no one else has bothered with. Publishers and agents be damned! Sometimes, you’ve got to just follow your heart and suffer the consequences.

I probably won’t make much money at all on the finished project, although I’m hopeful that if I can sell 2,000 to 3,000 copies, I’ll have done well for a first-timer. It will at least keep me in the game and I’ll be so much wiser for the experiences of book #1. Then again, I can end up being an abject failure like many others who tackled projects that are out of the mainstream. That fraternity is certainly large enough to welcome another member to its club.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Never too old to rock

Back in ‘93, after being a regular listener to the nearby Bowdoin College radio station since returning to the Pine Tree State in 1987, I decided I’d try my hand as a community DJ. Every semester, WBOR allotted a certain number of slots to folks like me—non-students from the surrounding communities—allowing them to produce a weekly programming slot of two to three hours. I’d never done radio before, but knew my way around the independent/college rock landscape, so I figured I could at least approximate some of the shows I enjoyed listening to each week.

Interestingly, when I first showed up for the informational meeting, I sensed an attitude of “why is he here” from a few of the “look at me, I’m so cutting-edge” types with their certain style of dress, or way of wearing their hair. Stereotypes are interesting things and I’ve derived a certain satisfaction in knocking down a few in my lifetime, particularly involving my love of music. Despite the apparent doubts that some of these students had about me, I put on a capable weekly radio show at ‘BOR for three semesters. With show names like “Swimming Upstream” and “Against the Grain”, I played my own unique weekly blend of independent/college rock. At the time, I had an affinity for the lo-fi bands such as Sebadoh, Guided by Voices, East River Pipe and others. I also mixed in some alt-country (Uncle Tupelo, Ditchwitch, Vic Chestnutt), plus adding a good deal of angular guitar-rock.

The time I spent doing these weekly shows brought me into contact with a group of fellow DJ’s, which is where I met Jose Ayerve. At the time, Jose, along with the members of Car—Colin Decker, Alec Thibodeau and Ryan Topper—were playing great music on campus, plus scoring some gigs off campus in Portland. I have fond memories of rockin’ out at Car shows at the old Pub at Bowdoin, as well as some of the shows they did in the basements of the former frat houses (since closed down by the school). Additionally, it helped me to develop friendships with a few of them including Ayerve.

Jose is still playing music, nearly 10 years later, both solo and with his fine band, Spouse. I try to catch a Spouse show, or a solo set, whenever Jose and mates are in town. Last night, it was a Spouse gig at Jack McGee’s Pub on the Bowdoin campus.

It was great to see Jose and catch up on his life and the recent tour he’s been on. What’s nice about friends like Jose is the ease at which we can segue back into conversation and pick up topics from a previous meeting, as if we had talked the week before. Often, we might not talk for months, other than occasional emails.

The show didn’t get rolling until after 11, which was a late night for a geezer like me. I got to meet Jose’s bandmates, Kevin O’Rourke (who also plays in Mark Schwaber’s band, Lo Fine) and J.J. O’Connell. With my afternoon power nap priming me for a night of music, I was eagerly anticipating hearing singer/songwriter Carter Little, who was opening the show. I met Carter and found out that like Jose (Bowdoin ’94), he was also a Bowdoin alumnus (class of 1998).

Little had the unenviable task of starting the Thursday evening’s entertainment card. Like many liberal arts campuses tucked away in non-urban environs, there isn’t much to do on campus (or off) on a Thursday night. After a week of lectures, studying for tests, and living the usual dull life of a college student, Thursday night traditionally kicks off the weekend of drinking and partying.

This night’s crowd had a head start when Little hit the stage at 11:10pm, fueled by cheap beer, courtesy of the “Jacque for President” campaign. Presidential candidate Jacque has learned the important lesson of American life and particularly politics—rather than issues, voters (followers?) can be bought, sometimes as easily as a 50 cent cup of beer!

Little, the troubadour that he is worked his way through an acoustic set of tunes from his new disc, Dare to Be Small. It is a fitting title, as the alcohol-fueled crowd wasn’t about to give Little the attention that a literate, singer/songwriter requires and certainly deserves. I was impressed with his ability to pour his energy into his songs in a less-than-perfect setting. I’m looking forward to seeing him in a more intimate setting at some point. Pick up the CD, as it is excellent and I’m really enjoying it presently, playing on my CD player as I write. (you can preview several tracks at his website)

Spouse hit the stage running and didn’t stop for their 60 minute plus set. I don’t know if Jose possibly altered the set list a bit (I forgot to ask him), but the band ripped through their faster songs with gusto and resolve. Jose’s guitar playing gets better every time I see him play. Playing guitar in a trio puts a heavy burden on the guitarist, but Jose was more than up to the task. O’Connell’s athletic drumming and O’Roarke’s rock-steady groove had Spouse at their rocking best. This was the best I’ve seen the band perform—they were tight, energetic and obviously having fun—playing in front of a couple of hundred sweaty college kids (plus a few older folks). Thinking it couldn’t get any better, Spouse encored with Pavement’s “Cut My Hair”, a favorite song from a band I was very much into a decade ago.

While others were about the important task of providing crack analysis of the British election for Prime Minister, I was involved in a little Thursday night escapism, courtesy of Carter Little and Spouse.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

How would I vote?

For those of you jonesing for some election coverage with a distinctly British feel, my blogging brother Wisdom Weasel weighs in on the election for Prime Minister. This former citizen of the UK will tell you all you need to know about all things Liberal Democrat, Labour, and yes, Tory. Reading the Weasel's recent election-based posts, I realize how little I know about British politics, like so many of my fellow smug Americans.

If you can't get enough of the analysis of the election across the pond, check out erudite election analysis from Walter Mondale.

One of my all-time fave musicians and political agitators, Billy Bragg, is brokering votes via his website. Here's another article on the subject.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Go-Betweens

The Go-Betweens are the songwriting tandem of Grant McLennan and Robert Forster. These two blokes from Australia make timeless, guitar-based pop that’s got a romantic beauty that most modern music seems to lack.

Forster and McLennan have been putting out records together since 1981. Like many immensely talented singer/songwriters, their discography has been criminally neglected by the masses. While so many lesser lights receive the lions share of acclaim and accolades, bands like the Go-Betweens keep putting out music that dwarfs the flotsam and jetsam of much of the modern marketplace.

I first learned about the band during the mid-1990's, while doing my best imitation of a college radio DJ. At the time, I was doing a once-a-week gig as a community person on WBOR, the Bowdoin College radio station. I heard a song by another Aussie band, Smudge, called "Don't Wanna' Be Grant McLennan". This led me to find out who the hell Grant McLennan was. This led me to his music and happily, the Go-Betweens.

Both songwriters are intelligent, literate and possess a wonderful pop sensibility. That might very well be part of their problem. If they wrote crass, commercial pabulum, I’m sure they’d have become household names.

Irene Trudel had them live on her program on WFMU. They play music from their latest release and Irene hosts a couple of great interview segments. The show is archived, so check it out when you get the chance. The live segment begins at around the 1:01:49 mark of the archived program.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Let's start taxing the true culprits

--Here's an Op-Ed I penned after hearing about the Justice Sunday event that occurred a week ago last Sunday. The Religious Right continue to get under my skin more often than I care to think about. The fact that there was so little coverage and commentary about the event is probably why my editor friends passed on my two cents worth.

I think it raised a very good question worth asking--why should tax-exempt groups such as Focus on the Family, or The Family Research Council continue to warrant this tax-free status when they are nothing but fronts for political action committees?

Taxing the True Culprits

This past Sunday, an event occurred that illustrates for me what a sham organized religion has become in America. This recent political rally, dressed up as a church service, clearly and succinctly reveals that what passes for Christianity—here in the land of the free and the home of the knave—is nothing more than an arm of the party in power.

Justice Sunday—Stopping the Filibuster Against the People of Faith, was hosted by the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family Action. The event, conducted in churches across the nation via live simulcast, was held to rally the right-wing base of the Republican Party and put an end to the filibuster that is preventing the nomination of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

If ever an event occurred that lends support for an end to the tax exemption extended to religious organizations in the U.S., then this would be it. This right-wing Sanhedrin whipped its mob of followers into an orgasmic frenzy on Sunday. With statements like the following by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, it is crystal clear where this religious huckster’s political loyalties lie:

"What we have witnessed these last three years is an unprecedented manhandling of Senate tradition," said Dr. James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus Action. "Never before in 216 years has the Senate employed a filibuster against judicial nominees who clearly have enough support to be confirmed. Senate Democrats are not just filibustering these nominees—they are filibustering democracy itself."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had his visage beamed via satellite into the church sanctuaries across this land, using his influence to sway his religious constituency on this issue. In auditorium after auditorium across the fruited plain, built by tax-free dollars, Frist was given a pulpit to speak to these right-wing lynch mobs, clearly violating Thomas Jefferson’s edict against the Federal Government falling under the sway of a religious majority.

Once again, these religious groups are using their tax-exempt powers-of-the-pulpit to lobby members of congregations in clear violation of the church/state separation intended by the Constitution. This political pandering conducted with the sanction of the U.S. government’s gift of tax-free status, rubs salt in the wounds of all Americans who don’t subscribe to this Elmer Gantry-like portrayal of Jesus Christ.

With groups like Focus on the Family targeting 20 Senators with their campaign of intimidation and the use of political strong-arming, so-called Christian groups like these have long ago tipped their hand as to what their agenda and ideology is about.

Using donations from church members and other religious devotees that have been funneled through the tax-free maze of these pseudo-religious political action committees, these groups continue to flaunt clear boundaries of the U.S. Constitution. With a clear pass given to them by their political acolytes in Washington, these groups are allowed to continue their religious jihad against Americans who don’t subscribe to their agenda of hate, dressed in the garb of religious piety.

With the an ever-increasing burden being born by the middle class to fund an unjust war, tax breaks being written to absolve corporate entities like Haliburton and a government moving towards its theocratic intentions in steady increments, I say the time has come for those who want their democracy back to call upon their representatives to enact new tax legislation. These new laws would be designed to tax groups like Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as organizations run by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Since these groups clearly flaunt their political advocacy without any concern about their tax-exempt status, the time has come to remove this free pass and shift some of the burden from those of us who are no longer able, or want to fund our government of religious conservatives.
If we begin taxing these groups the same way we do any other profit-making business, just think of the revenue-generating capacity that we’d have at our disposal. This could bankroll the military, schools, social security and any other program that has found it increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary funding.

Rarely does a problem in Washington have such an easy solution as this one. After a brief period of paying taxes through the nose, then maybe these religious imposters might understand why many Americans have come to resent them so much. Whether they wakeup to reality or not, we’d certainly have enough revenue for the president to give some tax breaks to the people who deserve them—the middle class—who bear the lion’s share of tax burden in this country.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Thoughts on class

I had the opportunity to get together on Friday with someone whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years. We met at a local eating establishment and talked for almost three hours. This person happens to have governmental ties and I found much of what he said interesting and it certainly validated many of the fears that I have about the direction of our country. I think much of our ability to pick up a conversation after a quarter of a century stems from having similar socio-economic sensibilities. Neither one of us sees our salvation in materialism and the size of the house we own, or the model of car that we drive. While this person has done well for himself in the field of journalism, his passion for truth and honesty and journalistic integrity haven't appeared to have wavered from when I first met him.

Interestingly, Friday was one of those days that I spent a lot of time thinking about my heritage and where I grew up. This line of thought continued throughout the weekend, when I spent Saturday and Sunday watching my son play baseball at a school where status is very evident.

It all began on Friday morning when I drove to the river that separates the town where I currently live, and the town where I grew up. The Androscoggin River passes between Durham and Lisbon Falls and due to the rains of the past week, the water level was much higher than normal. I took some pictures and actually had some fun with some of the shots that I ended up with. The one of the mills in the distance captures the town where I grew up.

Lisbon Falls, like many former mill towns, is characterized by a certain grittiness that has its roots in the place of the past that were planted by the mill workers from a previous time. Back before textile manufacturing became the first of the manufacturing jobs to be outsourced to cheaper labor markets, towns like Lisbon Falls existed all over Maine and other parts of the U.S.

Growing up in Lisbon Falls probably influences my thinking and my writing as much as anything. Coming from working-class stock and coming of age in a place where community was a reality, have given me a perspective that is never too far from what I write.

I’ve heard it said that class is the elephant in the room that no one talks about. Interestingly, one hears little mention of the term “working-class” in our mainstream media, or any forms of media for that matter. It’s convenient to talk about “the middle-class”, of which everyone thinks they are part of. Yet, the very act of glossing over and ignoring class acts to the detriment of most Americans, in my most humble opinion.

Politicians used to be much more conscious of class and in particular, the Democratic Party, which proudly wore the label of being for the working-class. Over the past 30 years, class-consciousness has all but disappeared from our political discussions. Currently, both parties (some would argue there is only one party in Washington) work to create policies that continue to destroy opportunities for working people and systematically hollow out the remaining middle-class. Whether you want to use middle-class, or working-class as your label, the income gap between the wealthy and all others continues to widen. The current administration continues the pro-business and pro-wealthy policies that Republican administrations have always championed. These types of policies have always benefited the members of the ruling-class to the detriment of the rest of us. What’s remarkably different now however, is that the Democratic Party that gave us the middle-class “miracle” that lasted for nearly 30 years after World War II, has sold its soul and joined forces with the free market crowd. There is no champion of the working-class any longer. As a result, the gains that came out of the FDR era are slowly-but-surely being reversed and we are sinking backwards into a time reminiscent of feudalism.