Monday, February 26, 2007

Howard Zinn and people-powered democracy

It’s always a challenge to find anything meaningful to watch each morning as I do my time on the LifeCycle (purchased used, btw). While I enjoy my morning weather report from WCSH’s Kevin Mannix and even can tolerate the banter between Lee Nelson and Sharon Rose, the infotainment, now masquerading as most of my morning news, makes it harder and harder to watch.

Fortunately for me, this morning, C-Span2’s Book TV was just wrapping up its weekend non-fiction book marathon with a broadcast of Howard Zinn, speaking to an audience, at Brandeis University. Zinn has just released another book, in a long line of titles that this champion of the common man has written (or edited) over the past 50 years, or so.

I would be hard-pressed to name another book that I’ve read over the past 20 years that has had more of an influence on me than Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Zinn, who is now 85, doesn’t seem to have lost a step, or any of his passion for true, people-powered democracy. One of the things that I’ve appreciated the most from Zinn’s writing, is his ability to strip away the mythology that so often accompanies (and muddies) any discussion of history in the U.S. From a review that I read, his latest work, A Power Governments Can’t Suppress, is a series of short essays, in which Zinn talks about some historical figures, like Eugene V. Debs, who inspire him, as well as placing the Iraq War in its proper historical context.

It’s exactly this type of contextualization that seasoned, yet passionate writers/activists like Zinn bring to history that is so obviously lacking in any of the sound bite journalism that makes up for what passes for today’s so-called news coverage. That and the fact that no one dares to buck the corporate owners who pay the salaries. Yet, nothing quiets much of the jingoistic chest-thumping emanating from right-wingers better than a healthy dose of context, whether we’re talking about our not-so-heroic Founding Fathers (who were more concerned with preserving their slave-holding and economic status quo than creating democracy for all members of the new republic), or the history of the U.S. and its policy of selectively supporting democracy when it serves the economic interests of the elite and toppling democratically-elected leaders when it doesn’t. How else does one explain the litany of democratic governments that the U.S. has subverted?

Another benefit of an honest rendering of history—it helps Americans focus on those all-too-brief periods in our own history, when the masses got fed up with being handed sloppy seconds from our leaders, took matters into their own hands and actually created a few initiatives that benefited the majority, not just a handful of the most wealthy and well-connected. Democracy is a lot more than pulling a lever on election day—sometimes its down and dirty and often, people get clubbed, beaten, shot and more times than not, arrested. For all our talk about cyber marches and e-campaigning, real change comes when the people take to the streets, or sit down in the square and gum up the wheels of commerce. Nothing gets the attention of those in power and faster than when something keeps them from making more money!

In his talk, Zinn spoke about the period, during the 1930s, when U.S. workers, committed various acts of civil disobedience, primarily through a wave of sit-down strikes, where workers took over and occupied factories and workplaces across the country. This direct action shook the corridors of power and forced the corporate bosses and their political lackeys to take notice and even give something back. This also resulted in the formation of unions, where workers, for the first time, began to share in some of the spoils that had always gone to the owners, previously. We have social security today because these workers decided to disobey laws that they considered unjust or harmful for them and their families.

Many of these actions led to the unprecedented economic growth experienced by most Americans, from 1947, until 1973. This period saw very few recessions and stability in the business cycle unlike any other time in our nations history.

But, as Zinn also pointed out, while those in power give back a few rights from time to time and the pendulum tips towards democracy, just as soon as they are able, the power elite take back these rights and attempt to enact tighter controls on the hoi polloi.

While many Americans have grown comfortable over the past 30 years or so, we’ve experienced a gradual erosion of many of our rights. Workers have grown fearful, rather than brazen and corporations, embracing the tenets of global capitalism, have placed profits above and beyond any concern for they have for their workers. The Republican Party, particularly during the dark years of Reagan, sought to defang the union movement and defraud American workers. When he fired the PATCO workers, in 1980 and brought in replacement workers, this was an unprecedented action in post-WWII North America. That was a watershed event and established our present “labor as a commodity” mentality that pervades labor culture in the U.S. today.

Zinn also spoke about the civil disobedience and mass protests that characterized the civil rights movement, as well as the actions of student demonstrators and others that led to an eventual end to the war in Vietnam. As Zinn so aptly pointed out in his talk, merely holding an election doesn’t necessarily equal freedom and democracy. Our current administration loves to wax poetic (as poetic someone as ineloquent as Bush, anyways) about democracy, but at every opportunity, either domestically, or abroad, run roughshod over it.

What I came away with from my 45 minutes, or so, listening to Zinn’s talk, is that democracy, in order to remain vibrant, requires a much greater commitment from all of its citizens, including me. Being obedient sheep and grateful beggars for scraps from the wealthiest in charge won’t lead us where we need to go. Only putting our American experience into its proper context and demanding that those in charge hear our demands will get the job done. Unfortunately that might take more than passing on emails and voting Democrat.

Civil disobedience seems to have gone out of favor in the video age and in the land of reality TV. This is where we find the conundrum—do we have the wherewithal to resist those who are willing to turn their wrath upon us, by unleashing their well-armed and tasered storm troopers (financed by our tax dollars), tossing us in jail and subverting all forms of justice that we ignorantly think apply to us?

While I’ve taken part in a number of protest marches over the past few years to protest the war in Iraq, maybe I need to take it to a new level? Just last week, a group of protesters sat down in Tom Allen’s office and were subsequently arrested. Am I willing to get arrested to stop the death machine from rolling on? Many of the people that I work with on a regular basis are seeing necessary benefits and services slashed all because we have an administration that cares more for corporations than it does for common people. These are tough questions and the kind that all of us need to start considering.

And as Mr. Zinn so eloquently stated, it’s the only real way to achieve the type of democracy that benefits the greatest number of folks, not just the elite in charge.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I (heart) The White Heart: Friday night rockin', Portland-style

[On the way to the show--do you think it might be cold?]
[A festive White Heart crowd eagerly awaiting some rock]
[Jose showing off his bass skills]
[The talented Doug Cowan and Bullyclub]
[Doug and Jose sharing vocals]

Sometimes, in the midst of a time when its easy to be cynical, over worse, depressed by many of the events of the world (and I'm not just talkin' about the death of Anna Nicole and Britney's troubles), it's necessary to get out and live a little and connect with one's fellow humans.

Friday night, I was off to the bright lights and big city of Portland, to catch one of my favorite musicians (and people), Jose Ayerve, sharing the bill with another talented musician with Portland roots, Doug Cowan and his band, Bullyclub. They were playing at one of the city's top spots to hangout on a Friday (or Saturday), The White Heart on Congress Street.

It's becoming a rarity in the Bush dystopia, to go out and see multi-generational gatherings and mixing of the classes, races and even sexual orientations, but The White Heart is truly one of those types of places. Get out and experience it, before you miss it.

As Bruce Cockburn once said, "You gotta' kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight," from "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." Friday night, I kicked the darkness hard.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The time to leave Iraq is now!

My heart goes out to the family of Staff Sergeant, Eric Ross, the young Maine soldier, tragically killed in Iraq, February 9, during combat operations in Baquba. Ross’ death is just one more obvious reason why the U.S. should begin an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, ending U.S. involvement in a conflict that we shouldn’t have been in at all.

According to this morning’s Portland Press Herald, in a story bylined to David Hench, Senator Snowe is now calling for an investigation into the death of Ross and is questioning whether U.S. forces are stabilizing a fledgling government or are mired in sectarian rivalries with no clear idea of can be trusted.

Without stating the obvious, I’d say that, yes, Senator, we are mired in a quagmire, fueled by sectarian forces—in a nutshell—this is a civil war at best and a prototypical clusterfuck (a common military term, btw) at its worst.

While many Republicans and Democrats are now taking political cover by suddenly questioning President Bush's strategy to send an additional 21,000 U.S. soldiers into this quagmire in Iraq, the fact remains that senators such as Snowe and Collins voted to support the Iraq war resolution back in 2002. Now, after apparently having a “Damascus Road” experience of some kind, they are suddenly opposed to escalating the conflict that has resulted in 3,148 deaths of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of others slated to return home, with injuries that will require care and follow up that is apparently lacking, at least according to reports like this one.

I want to reiterate, as I did at the beginning of this post. My issue with politicians in no way seeks to invalidate the life of Eric Ross. When I was 26, my biggest concern was making a comeback as a semi-pro pitcher and building a house—not dodging roadside bombs and trying to figure out if that person on the other side of the street was going to try to kill me. That’s a reality that no person of 26 (or any age) should ever have to face and I cannot fathom the grief his family is trying to cope with right now.

I have been opposed to this war from the beginning and have been vocal about my opposition. I am fed up with politicians, like Senator Snowe, who by-and-large have supported their party’s hawkish policies, only recently parting ways, now that most Americans have finally decided that the conflict in Iraq is a mistake. Back in November, 2002, long before the senator had her change of heart, 500 Mainers, marched through the rain in Augusta and registered our opposition. I remember clearly, crossing Western Avenue with my anti-war placard and having a driver swerve and nearly hit me while yelling “if you hate America so much, why don’t you get the fuck out!” That’s the kind of reaction that opposing the president got you, back when everyone was plastering their SUV’s with yellow ribbons and American flags. Or, how about listening to some redneck in a bar rant at the TV when Tim Robbins was being interviewed by a talking head and saying he was opposed to what was going on in Iraq and nearly coming to blows with the patron when I kindly pointed out the error of his opinion in blindly supporting our president? In 2002 and 2003, being anti-war meant you ran the risk of getting your ass kicked, or worse.

In a related story, Dexter Kamilewicz, who ran unsuccessfully last fall, against Congressman Tom Allen, was one of a small group of protestors to stage a sit-in at Allen’s Portland office on Thursday. The group entered Allen's Exchange Street office Wednesday afternoon and sat on the floors for hours, reading aloud the names of deceased Iraqis and U.S. soldiers. Members of the group said they planned to stay until the 1st District Democrat addressed their concerns or police arrested them. They got the latter, as Portland police arrested 13 on trespassing charges, Thursday night.

[Note: Don't neglect to read the comments following the PPH story, particularly republican's stumbling attempt at intelligent commentary.]

The protesters were part of a national campaign, called The Occupation Project, aimed at pressuring Democrats in Congress to cut funding for the Iraq war.

Talk is cheap and while Allen insists that he’s opposed to the war in Iraq, he keeps voting to fund the debacle.

Kamilewicz was one of the 13 arrested and had this to say about his former opponent. “I believe he wants to be a good senator more than he wants to be a good congressman," making reference to Allen's possible run against Susan Collins, for her Senate seat in 2008.

With the U.S. having spent nearly $370 billion ($370,000,000,000!!!) in Iraq and Afghanistan, is it any wonder why we have little money to address our domestic issues here at home? Still, politicians of both parties (Demicans and Republicrats) continue to talk out of both corners of their mouths, saying they’re opposed to the war, but continuing to fund it and enable the war profiteers. Take a very good look at where your tax dollars are going—nearly 1/3 of the federal budget now goes to defense.

As if that wasn’t reason enough, reports coming from Britain indicate that British troops will begin a major withdrawal from Iraq in May, which could cause a domino effect and leave the U.S. without any members left in its “coalition of the willing.” Already, Japan is considering pulling its 500 troops, as are Denmark and Lithuania. While the trio’s numbers are small, it’s symbolic of how other nations view the current state of what’s happening on the ground in Iraq. While other nations are seeking to turn over security concerns to Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military, at the behest of the administration, are ramping up troop levels.

We need an immediate exit from Iraq, not continued hand wringing, political posturing and maintenance of the party status quo. The families of U.S. soldiers deserve much better. Bring them home now!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Waging war on the American poor

Even Start is a program that was designed to help break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy for low-income families in the U.S., by integrating early childhood education, adult literacy, and parenting education into a unified family literacy program.

The participants in the Even Start program come from some of the most disadvantaged families in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 90 percent of Even Start families had an income below the federal poverty level with nearly half of all parents having incomes below $6000. Even Start parents are far more educationally disadvantaged than families served by other programs. Only 15 percent of parents had a high school diploma or GED when they enrolled in Even Start, compared with over 70 percent of Head Start parents. Even Start families are four times less likely to be employed than Head Start families when they join Even Start. A significant body of research exists showing that children who grow up in high-risk environments face considerable challenges as they enter school.

First authorized, back in 1988, with an appropriation of nearly $15 million, the results and outcomes from across the country have been encouraging:

  • In Florida, more than 80 percent of the children who participated in Even Start were deemed "Ready for School" by the state's pre-Kindergarten screening compared to a statewide average of 75 percent.
  • In New York State, 80 percent of preschool children enter Even Start with literacy scores below the 50th percentile on the Preschool Language Scale-a well-regarded and rigorous assessment. Yet, over 75 percent of those children make more than a one year gain in language development during a year of Even Start preschool—including the children whose native language is not English and children with disabilities. The achievement gap for young children in New York is narrowing.
  • In Georgia, over 85 percent of the Even Start children read on grade level by the end of the primary grades - nearly double the statewide average of 41 percent.
  • In North Carolina, over 75 percent of the pre-k children participating in Even Start programs displayed at least a 1.5 month gain for each month they were enrolled in the program on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.; and 83 percent of children in grades K -2 were reading at or above grade level. Illinois reports that an average of 97 percent of their children in kindergarten through grade 3, are reading at or above grade level.
  • A study of 450 Even Start families in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Texas, 69 percent of Even Start children exceeded expected levels in Academic Performance.

Yet, despite the obvious success that this program has had in lifting families out of poverty and addressing core literacy issues, which dramatically affect employment capability—if you can read, you probably don’t have much opportunity, particularly in the 21st century working world, which demands much more complex skills than ever before—Even Start is one of several programs originally intended to help bridge the income divide in America looking to be deep-sixed in the Bush Administration’s 2008 budget. While the administration justifies the 1 percent, across the board cut for many similar, education-based programs, citing poor performance, in the case of Even Start, it appears that it was one small program ($111 million) actually making a difference.

While the president’s “war on terrah’” continues to receive prime billing on the pages of our daily papers and on the six o’clock news every night (as more of our young military men arrive stateside in body bags), what continues to rage, with nary a peep from most sources of mainstream news is the administration’s unprecedented attack on the poor, through the gutting of important domestic programs.

With no "shock and awe” displays, no massing of the troops and no nightly commentaries, this attack on the poor is camouflaged in "minor" regulatory changes, routine reauthorizations, "voluntary" block grants, budgetary complexities and other arcana, almost as if our eyes were supposed to glaze over before we really understood. Place the many pieces on the table together, however, and the breadth and the depth of the attack become startling.
The administration’s intentions are quite plain, when the cuts are examined by category:

Elementary, secondary and vocational education—

The proposed cuts include funding for K-12 education, vocational and adult education, and special education. It includes funding for the No Child Left Behind initiatives, including Title I funding that provides schools with additional resources for disadvantaged children, as well as special education funding. The President’s budget would cut overall funding for these education programs by $9.9 billion over the next five years, relative to the expected fiscal year 2007 funding level adjusted for inflation. In 2012, funding for these programs would be reduced $2.8 billion, or 6.8 percent. As shown in Figure 3, these cuts would largely roll back the expansions in these education programs that enacted earlier this decade.

Health care—

Discretionary programs in the budget known as “health care services,” which include community health centers, HIV/AIDS programs (for U.S. residents), maternal and child health programs, the Indian Health Service, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and domestic bioterrorism efforts would be slated for $4.1 billion in cuts over the next five years, relative to the expected fiscal year 2007 funding level adjusted for inflation. The cuts would reach $1.2 billion, or 5.6 percent, in 2012.

Hospital and Medical Care for Veterans—

The President proposes to increase funding for these programs by nearly $1.4 billion (or 4 percent) in 2008. The increase, however would only be temporary. After an increase sought for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing rapidly — by more than 10 percent in many years — White House budget documents assume consecutive cutbacks in 2009 and 2010 and a freeze thereafter.

An administration, which loves to be seen, draped in the red, white and blue of patriotism, when sending its young off to war, in reality, cares very little about these brave soldiers, many of them who knew little behind their mission, but did as they were directed to do. Instead, when they come home, wounded and maimed, are then neglected by the very same men in charge, who are responsible for their shattered lives and shattered limbs.

Employment and Training Services—

The Bush budget would cut the inflation-adjusted funding for “employment and training services,” which includes funding for programs under the Workforce Investment Act (such as one-stop career centers, training for dislocated workers, employment programs for youth, and the employment service), by $1.2 billion in 2008 and $5.8 billion over the next five years. The cut would reach 17 percent in 2012. These proposed cuts would come on top of the already deep cuts imposed since 2001.Say what you want about state and federally-sponsored training programs, the reality that comes with these cuts is that most of what we currently know as workforce training in Maine and elsewhere will be eliminated. What makes this particularly galling for a state like Maine, is that our workforce requires greater investments in training, skills development and access to innovative programs, in order to acquire the skills required for becoming competitive in a global economy.

I could go on, but my point is this. Never in our country’s history have we attempted to wage war on the scale that we are presently engaged, while granting tax cuts, in this case, to the wealthiest among us. And the group that is bearing the full brunt of this cost—the poorest among us, or as Jesus said, “the least of these.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

"Sorry" makes it ok

The parties responsible for the People'sChoice Credit Union's "Fee Bandit" ad gathered on Friday, to say "sorry" and claim they just didn't realize what they did was wrong.

Per usual, the offending parties all come together, hear from the Jewish community why this was offensive, act contrite, say the right things and everyone goes back to their own way of operating. It reminds me of being back in school and being pulled into the principal's office for breaking one of the rules of the school, or violating some statute in the student conduct code—you knew what you were supposed to say and how to act—then you went back and laughed about it with your friends.

I found a bit more on the incident over the weekend. Catalyst News Network, brought to you by the same people behind PunkVoter and Militaryfreezone, weigh in on Friday's "summit," as does Dan Kennedy, at Media Nation.

Incidents like this always produce a certain amount of hand-wringing and vows not to let it happen again, but the damage has already been done. The ad is out there and the image and the stereotype has been perpetuated, not to mention that thousands, if not tens of thousands of readers are now familiar with the image, which clearly is that of a Hasidic Jew.

So, when I hear that everyone's apologized and all parties are satisfied, I'm not so sure that anything's changed. Let me be as clear as I can here. This wasn't a case that "Some people felt the photo resembled a Hasidic Jew and drew on painful stereotypes," as David Hench's article in the Press Herald reported on Friday. The obvious intention of this ad was to "plug in" to and draw upon reader stereotypes, associated with Jewish people, stereotypes that portray them as lenders and bankers, with a propensity to get the better of any transaction. How the hell else would the ad have worked?

In 2007, to claim that you didn't know better in choosing to clearly draw upon a centuries-old image that would clearly "grab" the reader, in my opinion, was not some accident, or mistake, but a clearly well-thought out means to a creative end.

For all our posturing and insistence that we are an enlightened state, Maine still has pockets of ugliness and ignorance and I think they're much larger than many care to think about. How else do you explain most of these comments? Yeah, right folks—this whole fiasco is just another case of political correctness run amok. Good lord—evolve cretins!!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Maine's largest newspaper's anti-semetic leanings

The Portland Press Herald once was Maine’s “newspaper of record,” back when newspapers were the primary source of news for Mainers. With the advent of alternative news sources, particularly blogs, podcasts and other online news sites, newspaper circulation numbers continue their sharp, southward decline. Newspapers, like the Press Herald, continue to try to adapt, but appears to have totally lost their way. With declining circulation, comes declining ad revenue. The loss of revenue means that you lay off quality people and as a result, your staff, trying to put out news with too few staff and too many young graduates just out of journalism school, lacks maturity and even competence to warrant its former place of prominence.

Current executive editor, Jeanine Guttman, a woman with a documented history of not understanding journalism's role, continues to regale readers with her regular Sunday column, where she continually acts as apologist for her paper’s policies and tries to justify their move to dumbed-down content, masquerading as news and their latest embrace of the journalistic flavor of the month.

Apparently, their newest schtick as a paper is to become the state’s anti-Semitic source of news. On Wednesday, Maine’s largest newspaper ran an ad for PeoplesChoice Credit Union of Biddeford, which was designed to simulate the Old West “wanted” posters from the 19th century. Included in the “poster” was a photo of a man with a striking resemblance to what critics have characterized as having stereotypical features, which evoke the image of Jews as usurers and unethical money lenders.

Interestingly, the ad refers to the man as “The Fee Bandit” and describes him as “charming and polite,” and someone who “smiles as he takes your money in ways big and small.” (see the link for The Forcaster, to view the ad.)

Several national Jewish groups, including Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center have criticized the paper’s second blatent ad, with its obvious anti-Jewish overtones. The fact that this has now happend twice within the past month, has obviously become a cause for alarm. Stating that the ad, which was designed by Kimberly McCall Advertising, of Freeport, is “overtly anti-Semitic” in content, the group calls into question the newspaper’s intent. Is this the new policy of the paper—to regularly insult Jews in Maine?

This second anti-Jewish ad follows on the heels of a February 3rd advertisement, which ran in the Religion and Values section of the paper and announced a sermon by a South Portland Baptist minister titled, “The Only Way to Destroy the Jewish Race.” This ad drew immediate criticism from the local Jewish community and resulted in written apologies from the offending minister, as well as the advertising director, Rob Blethen, who amazingly, as far as I know, still has a job. While I'm not certain, I would surmise that Blethen is some relation to the family that now owns the Blethen Maine Newspapers. Ah, the sweet smell of nepotism—a wonderful way to ensure competence and quality. While the paper insisted that safeguards were now in place to prevent another incident, they obviously still aren't stringent enough.

Instead, along comes arguably, an even more offensive ad, which should cause any thinking person to incredulous shake their head, upon actually seeing it. As Rabbi Alice Dubinsky of Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland was quoted as saying, “One time is a mistake,” she said, “Two times is a policy.” I would have to agree. To publish two ads that anyone with any ethnic and cultural sensibility should have caught, exposes the gross incompetence at the highest levels of this newspaper.

Rabbi Hillel Katzir, of Auburn, is quoted in Friday’s Sun Journal side article on the incident. Hillel says that the ad has “clear stereotypes associated with Jews in a negative way.”

Hillel adds insight into why the add is so offensive when he says, “Given the fact that most people don’t read all the fine print in newspaper ads, what many readers will come away with is an impression of a money-grubbing Jew as the bad guy,” he said.

While Hillel absolved the advertiser of any intent towards malice, I’m not so inclined to be so kind to both the paper and the ad creator.

Kimberly McCall, of Kimberly McCall Advertising, bills herself as the “The Marketing Angel.” At one time, she had a regular column in Mainebiz, where her insights on marketing were offered to Maine’s business leaders, who read the state’s only statewide business publication. She’s also had a regular gig with Entrepreneur Magazine and had articles published in Women’sWallStreet to name a few other publications that have been charmed by her articles on how to market your product or service. Obviously, she’s no neophyte when it comes to advertising and marketing and as such, should have had the professional acumen and savvy to recognize why “The Fee Bandit” ad would be perceived as offensive—unfortunately, she did not.

In the interest of full disclosure, this isn’t the first “bone to pick” I’ve had with Ms. McCall, as I took her to task for her treatment of a young entrepreneur, who I though she was being unduly harsh towards, when McCall was still writing for Mainebiz. At the time, I thought she exhibited a “nasty” side in her trashing of a young woman who was offering some neat t-shirts, with catchy slogans, utilizing a t-shirt company with a good reputation for being anti-sweatshop and donating her proceeds to community causes, like Habitat for Humanity.

At that time, I was probably a bit “over-the-top” in my characterizations of McCall on a former blog site and she called me on it. I did issue her an email apology and offered to buy her a cup of coffee and chat, as a gesture of good will. She accepted the apology, but declined to meet and I lost the opportunity to glean some sense of her as a person. This time, however, I don’t see any real excuse for being critical—the criticism being lodged by members of the Jewish community, in my opinion, is warranted. If you are going to engage in self-promotion and trumpet your expertise, then it seems to me that you should be able to recognize when your creativity crosses the line of good taste and becomes offensive to a group of people who deserve much better. This isn’t 1950, when stereotypical advertising and being able to have fun at the expense of certain ethnic groups was accepted. As an “expert” in your profession, you should know better.

While the story has received prominent coverage in the Lewiston Sun Journal, Friday's story, actually originated with the paper’s sister publication, The Forcaster and was bylined to Kate Bucklin, a longtime staffwriter for the solid community-based weekly. I am also not unaware of the fact that the Sun Journal is a major competitor of the Press Herald. Still, having some fun at a competitor’s expense, or not, the implications ought to be talked about, particularly in a state with very little objective journalism being practiced.

When publications like The Casco Bay Weekly went away and prior to their heyday, the muckraking Maine Times found it impossible to stay afloat, Maine no longer has a repository of hardline, “get them in our sites and blast ‘em” investigative sources of journalism. Because of that, businesses like the Blethen Maine Newspapers, corporate bad guys and political cronyism tends to receive free passes, or a few haphazard articles here and there and are allowed to do as they please in a state that in some ways, even with its few cosmopolitan flashes and semblance of entering the 21st century, still mirrors the rural backwater that was Maine for much of its history.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

School Consolidation Sham Endangers Rural Schools

It’s amazing what happens to politicians when they no longer have to worry about being re-elected—they throw caution to the wind and become downright visionary.

Take our governor—no longer constrained by having to worry about another run for the Blaine House, he has an opportunity to portray himself as fiscally responsible and determined to give the people what they want, in this case, lower taxes, or rather, he can talk about his plan to lower the costs associated with educating tomorrow’s workers.

You see, since all he has left is legacy building, now is the time for our governor to throw caution to the wind, put his cards on the table and get creative. Or, maybe its now the right time to roll forward with one of his favorite canards—Maine’s education costs are too high because we have too many school districts and consequently, too many school administrators. If we shrink the number of school administrative districts from 152 to 26 regional school districts, this will apparently save the state $250 million in the first three years of implementation. If it were only that simple. I don't know what math he's using to come up with that number. If you take the salaries of all of Maine's superintendents, that figure is only $13 million. For the life of me, I don't know where the other $207 million is coming from.

Consolidation has been trotted out as the solution to all our education maladies for over 100 years. Any time educators (or politicians) are at a loss of what to do, they begin closing rural (community-based) schools, in favor of centralized fortresses that resemble the modern, urban school, with all its inherent dysfunction.

I found a critique of a book titled, Leadership for Rural Schools: Lessons for All Educators (Scarecrow Education, 2002), where several educators from across the country, presented issues encountered by rural schools.

I found the following, which apparently comes from the book’s third chapter, interestingly making an ode to Yogi Berra that great school reformer, himself. From the chapter called, “It's Deja Vu All Over Again': The Rural School Problem Revisited,” Penny Smith provides a detailed and comprehensive review of the criticisms that have been made of rural schooling since the nineteenth century. She notes, the list of ways in which rural schools have failed their students [according to their critics] has remained remarkably unchanged over most of the last two centuries" (p. 27). The solution to "the rural school problem" has also remained unchanged: Close and consolidate smaller community schools so that rural schools can more nearly approximate larger urban schools. Smith's historical review of rural educational reform is both scholarly and accessible. She notes that the rural school problem was "discovered" in the late nineteenth century when educational reformers started to view "the rural components of their state school systems as defective and were arguing that one reason for those defects was the rural environment in which they operated"(p. 30).

While Governor Baldacci is being lauded by those who would cheer anything a fellow Democrat does, he also has quieted some of his critics on the other side of the aisle. Certainly, one must give credit where credit’s due—he hasn’t found much to unite the state’s political forces, but school consolidation might be the only thing that leaves him with a legacy that curries favor with those in the state with short memories (or lack of historical perspective). However, for those willing to do a bit of research, or who have some sense of perspective, the Sinclair Act might be an area worth revisiting.

In 1957, some 50 years ago, the state began a systematic consolidation of rural schools under this particular piece of legislation. The primary onus for this push, was—you guessed it—efficiency Drawing on the industrial model, the idea behind consolidation was (and still is) that bigger “factories” can turn out product at less cost per unit. While some might argue that the Sinclair Act helped address some of the quality issues, at least initially, it certainly did nothing to alleviate annual increases in school spending, which have been trending upward (when adjusted for inflation) for five decades. (See Barbara Merrill's solution from her book, the section on community schools and the graph on school spending)

While the justification for the Baldacci plan continues to fly the flag of tax savings as its modus operandi, there are numerous critics around the state, primarily from the rural areas, who insist this is nothing but a “power grab,” and another example of government usurping local control.

From the February 8th issue of The Capital Weekly, came this assessment from Mike Cormier, representing MSAD 9, from the Farmington area, who said that “…the details of the governor’s plan are not flushed out and there are no models to show what the impact will be. He said that the property-tax burden would likely be shifted from the state to local level.”

John Nutting (D-Leeds), a political veteran and senator with the same affiliation as the governor, urged the Maine Small Schools Coalition to become better organized and characterized the Baldacci plan as a “draconian” plan for rural Maine.

In many of Maine's rural communities, the only anchor left is the local school. Contrary to the opinions of most bureaucrats, who rarely leave their political ivory towers, many of these schools do a great job, while operating efficiently and consistently score well in comparison to the larger education "factories" that came from Maine's first wave of consolidation in the 60s and 70s.

While there are ways to consolidate some of the basic services, closing rural schools and bussing students two hours to school isn't in the best interest of the students, the communities, or the future workforce they represent.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

In Boston, winning no longer matters

The older you get, the more you become aware of shifts, some glaringly obvious, some more subtle and some that you are aware of, but can’t pinpoint when they occurred. The world of sports is definitely one of those places where changes of seismic proportions have occurred.

When I began adopting teams to bequeath my affection upon, many of these were local. I mostly knew the players and never for the life of me did I ever pour my heart and energy into these surrogates, wishing they would lose. Later, when I started to follow professional sports, I never recall rushing to the kitchen table to scan the previous night’s results in search of the boxscore of my favorite team and I know I never felt joy and happiness wash over me when I saw that they were on the losing end of the tilt with their opponent.

Apparently, however, not only has the world of sports been turned on its head by the large amounts of cashish showered on even marginal talents, but fans no longer grasp that following a team means that you harbor hope (even when it's not reasonable from a mere intellectual standpoint) that they’ll come away with a victory.

While this winter’s version of Boston’s pro basketball team is one of the worst in recent memory, rather than pine for a victory to break a losing string stretching back to just after New Year’s Day, fans, writers and analysts are almost giddy with each mounting loss. I’m sitting here, listening to the drivel that passes as sports talk and even, dare I say, sports journalism and I’m scratching my head—when did it suddenly become fashionable to hope that your team would be a loser? When was the big “L” etched on your forehead a badge of honor and not some equivalent to sport’s scarlet letter?

The sports community, at least in places like Boston and Memphis are no longer interested in seeing elite players named Gasol, or Pierce, carry their teams to victory. They’re not even interested that burgeoning talents like Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Rajon Rondo, or even Rudy Gay, learn what it takes to win in the world’s elite basketball league, which by the way, is much more intense and difficult than even the top Division I ball played at the college level. Dominating the competition in the Big Ten, or Big 12 doesn’t automatically translate into being able to stop a Shaq, or Koby, or Agent Zero.

Hoping your team will lose, or that your multi-million dollar superstar doesn’t play, so some ping pong ball comes up Celtics' Green is absolutely stupid. I do recognize that some people who follow sports aren’t terribly bright and even some in the sports media also are lacking in intellectual acumen, but enough is enough!

In Boston, at least, Danny Ainge needs to have a strategy beyond accumulating youthful chips with potential and start assembling a team that can compete. The Eastern Conference is weak and a general manager worth his salary would have had a team in place by now that was able to compete and even win 55, or 60 percent of its games in a very weak conference. Instead, we have to witness a debacle like last night’s (which due to FSNE’s ineptness, I missed large portions of, which isn’t the first time—more to follow) loss to a team that was ripe for the picking and should have resulted in being the end to the Celtics’ losing streak. Instead, players were standing around, missing assignments and relying on Paul Pierce, playing his first game in nearly two months. Was Ainge at the game? Is he so inept a general manager, like he was a professional baseball player that he can’t see that he doesn’t have anyone that can carry this team past even weak NBA opponents?

Maybe Boston’s recent championship success has changed the sports landscape in a town that used to hunger for wins. I guess getting off the snide in baseball, as well as the Patriots’ three Super Bowl titles has made losing easier to take. When the media trumpets Boston’s sports pedigree and superior knowledge about whatever sport is being featured, apparently they are just blowing smoke, or relying on a community that no longer exists—that being a cavalcade of knowledgeable sports fans.

Personally, I'm sick of hearing that Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers and the rest of the Celtic brain trust deserve a free pass. While the Celtics have had a significantly large number of injuries of late, injuries are part of sports and championship caliber teams don’t allow themselves a "get out of jail free" card on this front. They make deals, sign players off the waiver wire and use creativity to get their teams over the hump. The Celtics, in my opinion, have more than their fair share of young players that have been slower than expected to develop and play key roles. Ainge's strategy of going with youth has failed miserably. He needs to stop this foolish charade. He is an inept GM, in my opinion—a good role player who continues to ride what little sheen is left from the luster of the 80s Celtics' dynasty.

I know I’m in the minority, but I’m glad that Pierce is coming back. While last night’s re-entry was oh-so-painful to see, as "The Truth" was obviously sucking wind and had no legs under him, which explains the 4-16 night shooting the rock. Here’s a superstar, who obviously is hungry to play, when he could easily collect his cake, while holing up in his high-end Boston pad and no one would think less of him. To me, it’s refreshing that Boston has a player who cares and is thinking in terms of his team and finding a way to help them. As today’s article in The Herald indicates, reporting on last night’s game, Paul's decision to play is part of a strategy, one that should be lauded, but instead, will only draw even more criticism from the hacks that make up most of Boston’s sports scribes.

“I decided (to return yesterday) morning,” said Pierce, who felt good at the team’s shoot around. “I wasn’t going to go until (tomorrow against the Timberwolves in Minneapolis), but I just got anxious. I just have to use these games to get back into shape, because the practices are so few with the All-Star break and the West Coast trip coming up. I thought these last three games (before the break) would be good for me to start getting a rhythm before we go out west.”

Rather than merely being content to count his cash, catalog his bling, or run with his posse, here’s a superstar who actually has a focus for the future—it's Pierce indicating to Celtic Nation that "I’m paid to play and I want to get ready and see if I can help my club turn it around and maybe build for the next year."

Oden or Durant aren’t guaranteed, lottery odds, or not. Even if they were locks, there is no assurance that having one of them will mean a season that’s better than a .500 finish and another one-and-out playoff appearance.

I know that whatever I write will have little influence on the mindset that now values ping pong balls and lottery slots over the heart of a lion. The fact that the Celtic brass aren’t doing anything to counter that, by coming out and publicly stating in no uncertain terms that they are going to do their best to win as many of the remaining games as they can, is beginning to make me wish that maybe Pierce could be dealt to a place where heart and winning is all important, so this worthy superstar can win the championship ring he deserves.


For what has become a regular feature of FSNE’s Celtics’ coverage, problems with the feed resulted in large blacked-out portions of last night’s game with New Jersey. This has occurred during every game for the past two weeks, where segments of the game went black, apparently caused by problems with the live feed. What made it even worse for me was the lack availability of the Celtics' radio broadcast, as neither WJAB (Pirates’ hockey games supercede the Celtics), or WRKO, was carrying the game.

Professional sports coverage used to assure that broadcast integrity could be counted on—apparently, even that is becoming a thing of the past.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Show some leadership, or just shut up!

See Nancy—leader of the party that should have been an opposition, but instead, acted as water-carriers for the war party. Now Nancy, in a seat of power, says her airplane is too small and abuses power, because we all know that power corrupts, but in your case, you were already corrupted.

For years, your party should have spoken truth to power, but instead, just acquiesced. Duped liberal lemmings think somehow that your party, derived from Jefferson and Jackson, can really make a difference? Not a dime’s worth of difference, because when your party should have been speaking truth to power, you just acquiesced. Still you insist that your privileged queen somehow is wronged by false reports. Shame on you!!

Now, talking out both sides of your mouth, you say that the war is unjustified, although you’ve voted to support it and send billions to another land, when we have needs unmet, here at home.

Don’t talk to me about two-party systems and save your pseudo-journalistic breath with your liberal vs. conservative BS—I’m not buying no mo’.

Liberal spin-machine soft-pedals and justifies what they demonize for their foes--just politics as usual inside the beltway.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Things about me, part V (Myers-Briggs me)

This is my final day of navel gazing. While I was somewhat dubious about this whole process of revealing five things about myself, I actually had fun doing it and despite being less than 100 percent physically, I sucked it up and tried to give it the ole’ college try.

Hopefully readers found something worthwhile in checking out things that were more personal and probably not terribly relevant to most of what passes for life in the cultural fast lane.

Without much further ado, here is my final revelation.

#5 I am an INTP

When I took the Myers-Briggs, I was working at Unum-Provident, hating every minute of my 9-5 gig. I had taken this job, hoping I could put in four or five years, at least get my son through college and then maybe, bail.

I was deluding myself on this one, as I was barely six months into this job when I knew I had made a terrible mistake. For one thing, the “mentor” that I was assigned for training was a narcissistic 50-year-old woman, who was going through some type of mid-life crisis and more interested in looking at herself in her mirror she kept at her desk, than making sure I knew how to perform my stupid-ass job, screwing policyholders out of their benefits. She was receiving Botox treatments and was much too self-absorbed to be any use at all to me.

Long-story short—I realized quickly that I needed to do some serious work on myself if I wasn’t going to keep repeating this scenario, over and over again.

At the time, I was taking extended lunches and driving across town in Portland and spending an hour plus at one of the branches of Maine’s best library system. I began delving into the self-help section, in hopes that I might re-invent myself and possibly short-circuit my own personal “Ground Hog’s Day.”

In the process of reading several books, some good, some very good and a few excellent, like Gregg LeVoy’s Callings, I began doing a self-assessment and hence, I took the Myers-Briggs.

While I’m borderline between introverted/extroverted, with periods when I’m definitely gregarious and an “E,” while at other times, I prefer solitude and people just plain irritate the hell out of me, which I guess is my “I” phase.

INTP’s are “providers of clarity” and we always feel the need to provide understanding about issues and the news of the day—obviously why I’ve blogged for as long as I have.

While INTP’s run the risk of being over-critical, aloof and arrogant, on the whole, real arrogance is rare for us.

INTP’s enjoy independence—we don’t enjoy being just like everyone else. We don’t enjoy being pushed to do anything and will often resist when push comes to shove.

One thing about this particular profile is that INTP’s spend a great deal of time second-guessing themselves, due to an impending sense of failure.

Some famous INTP’s—Socrates, Descartes and Pascal. Bob Newhart was an INTP, as is Rick Moranis and former president Gerald Ford.

So, five things that I’ve revealed about myself—do you think you know me a bit better? I hope so.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Things about me, part IV (Music is life)

#4. Music gives my life meaning

If you’ve been a regular, or semi-regular reader, you’ll know that I have a passion for music. In fact, music is a thread that has continually informed my life and has served as an accompaniment to more than life's share of disappointments, missed opportunities, as well as joyful moments and important happenings, for as long as I can remember--I still often think of certain times in my life by a song, or a particular artist/band.

Over the years, I’ve acquired a solid understanding of popular music’s history, particularly as it pertains to the rock genre. While I’ve gravitated to rock, I’ve also dabbled around the edges of jazz, blues, folk and gospel. Granted, I'm not as well-versed in the history of the latter four, but one thing that has always brought a nod of recognition from me has been the presence of melody in the music I’ve come to enjoy and endeavor to listen to.

Since a lot of what I’ve written about the past two days speaks to formative structures and a rooted-ness of who I am, music fits well with that theme. I remember being around six, or seven-years-old and present at weekend parties at my uncle’s house. My uncle, at least when he was younger, was a lover of a good time. He had gatherings that brought together uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents, as well as assorted friends. The liquor would flow and there was always music booming from my uncle’s console stereo. A lot of the music was country, but I recall polkas, German beer hall songs and other forms, blasting forth on those sunny weekend afternoons.

It was at these parties that I experienced my first live music, as one of my cousins, along with a friend, would pull out the acoustic guitars and play Johnny Cash tunes and other country standards. I remember enjoying sitting nearby and hearing the rich sounds emanating from those instruments and thinking how much fun it must be to be able to provide enjoyment by playing music.

One of the best gifts I ever received was my first clock radio, which had both AM and FM. While as a pre-teen, I gravitated to the AM side of the dial and the top-forty tunes of the era, occasionally, I’d flick the switch and received my first taste of the free-form radio that ruled FM radio in the early 1970s.

When I first started buying music, they were 45’s of songs I’d heard on my local AM station, WPNO, out of Auburn. My mother would always pick up PNO’s top-15 hitlist every Friday, which I’d eagerly scan for my favorite songs, as well as the two or three up-and-coming tunes that often were “adds” later.

By the time I hit 8th grade, I was fully into the free-form, album-oriented music of the 70s. Because my best friend’s father owned apartments, we often had first dibs on album collections that tenants who skipped out on the rent, left behind. Obviously, many of these folks must have been influenced by the “Summer of Love” and the Haight-Ashbury scene, in San Francisco, as my friend and I got turned on to bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, The Seeds and Country Joe and the Fish.

Later, I went through my KISS phase, as their Alive record rarely left my turntable in the latter half of eighth grade.

While most of our classmates were into the sounds of Molly Hatchet, Journey, Foreigner and the other big acts of the late 70s, I had moved beyond the meandering jams of the 60s and began checking out the short two and three minute bursts of anger coming out of the burgeoning punk movement.

On one of my Friday night excursions with my friends to Manassas Ltd., in Brunswick, for their Friday Night Record Massacre, I picked up The Dead Kennedy’s, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. My musical tastes were forever altered, not to mention my political understanding, also.

This was an exciting time for rock music, as the punk artists of that time were reacting to the over-produced, corporately-packaged, concept music that had taken over the mainstream music channels of 1979-80. Actually, my first exposure to punk had been a review of The Ramones first S/T record, which came out in 1976, via our local stellar arts paper, Sweet Potato.

As my friends and I shifted our focus to a more raw version of the rock that we had cut our collective teeth on, we began seeking out some of the seminal artists that influenced punk, bands like the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges (which I first heard in my neighbor’s bedroom, with his speakers feeding back and howling).

Another band that I got totally “lost” in was Thin Lizzy. This Irish outfit, fronted by bassist and lead singer, Phil Lynott, drew my attention for Lynott’s literate lyrics, rooted in the imagery of Irish history, love and the slice-of-life portraits of working class anti-heroes. Just as an aside, when I listen to former Lifter Puller and current The Hold Steady frontman, Craig Finn, I can’t help but hear strains of the late Lynott, in his lyricism and even vocal delivery.

Over my adult years, when so many people find more important things to focus on, I’ve maintained my passion for music and staying somewhat current on what’s “new” in rock music circles, particularly on the indie rock side.

I won’t bother to list my favorites—if interested, you can read the partial list on my own MySpace page. Some bands, however, have held a special meaning for a variety of reasons, bands like Silkworm, Guided by Voices, The Tragically Hip, Uncle Tupelo and Yo La Tengo, to name a few.

Even now, often when I’m putting together a post for Words Matter, I’ll be listening to music of some type. Recently, I’ve come to rely more and more on streaming radio stations such as WFMU and KEXP to stay current and also to supplement my own music collection.

As I grow older, I don’t get out to see live music as much as I used, or even would like to. Part of it is that I don’t have the patience to wait around for bands to go on late and play until the wee hours of the morning. Also, most times I attend shows, I’m one of the older people in attendance, if not the oldest and I’m not into the vibe coming from the “kids” in the audience.

Still, I’ll occasionally venture out, even now, to see a handful of bands and performers, like my trip into Boston in November to catch one of my new fave bands, Centro-matic.

While rock music was once the domain of youth, as the boomers and even Gen-X grow older, music is no longer limited by age, as it once was. Who knows, maybe when I’m old and residing in some assisted living center somewhere, I’ll be booking guitar-driven rock for Saturday afternoon mixers for my fellow geriatrics.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Things about me, part III (A gambler I'm not)

#3. I suck as a card player

Ok, so you’re getting a bonus here—two revelations in one day—yahoooooo!! Actually, while my nose is running like a sieve and the Sudafed’s made me jumpier than a night watchman at a morgue, I’m feeling somewhat better and my head doesn’t feel like it’s being squeezed in a vice (see earlier post about my annual cold—ok, so I’m also a big baby, alright, already!).

Since we are living in the era of celebrity poker and card games seem to be ubiquitous no matter what time of day you channel surf, I’m one of probably three people who absolutely suck at cards.

I don’t mean I’m a poor player and lose regularly—I can’t even fucking shuffle the deck and deal with any proficiency. A card shark I am not!!

As I was watching the Bruins game out of desperation (and my eyes can't take anymore reading), as the Celtics are off, there are no NBA games on and the only basketball is some college games by two schools I don’t give two shits about, there was this commercial for Foxwoods Casino.

There are four or five guys sitting around a table—I think they’re firemen. The guy dealing is trying to shuffle and the only way to describe his acuity is by saying he is “hamfisted.” He can’t shuffle, he’s awkwardly shuffling like no one you’ve ever seen (except me) and when he tries to do the fancy shuffle, the cards fly everywhere. The premise—head to Foxwoods instead.

I’m not a fan of legalized gambling and I think these casinos are just another form of regressive taxation, but damn, it was a funny commercial and so captured my own inabilities as a card player.

My point? Don’t expect to catch see me at an all night poker party any time soon.

Things about me, part II (Know Thy Class)

#2. I have a working class chip on my shoulder

Like my experiences in the Midwest having a lot to do with who I am today, even more of an influence on how I see the world and particularly, what I reflect on when I write, is due to being a child of the working class.

Class, for all intents and purposes, is the 500 pound elephant in the room that no one dares to talk about, or if they do, purse the topic in muffled tones and whispers. Regardless of whether it gets talked about, or not, it is more important than race, ethnicity and gender in how the affairs are carried out and the spoils get divvied out, in America.

I think politicians and probably more important, the elite who really control the economy of the U.S., if not the world, want us to keep our focus off class, because if we ever really understood the issue, it might piss us off enough to get up off the sofa and actually do something to change the way things are. So, how are things? Well, try this on for size—this study shows that whatever class we are born into, which for me is the working class (a term that has been subjugated by the more “egalitarian” middle class, btw), is the class we’ll die in, with little, or no variation of that. Only the UK has less social upward mobility than the US.

Granted, there was a brief window, particularly just after WWII, when, due to the explosive growth in unions during the Great Depression, as well as reformist policies, courtesy of the Roosevelt administration, introduced some upward mobility in the US. That window has closed, however. With current moves to dismantle most if not all of FDR’s legacy and New Deal policies, income polarization, between the super-rich and the very poor is returning to early 20th century levels. But I digress.

I was raised in a home where my dad, a high school graduate, was able to work in a paper mill and make decent wages, with benefits, which included dental insurance. Growing up in the 60s and early 70s, my mom, like many women of the time didn’t need to work and among many working class families, didn’t feel the need to have a career, or if she did, the societal emphasis was away from that. I tell you this, not to trumpet the “family values” of that era, but to say that this was the last time that non-college graduates could secure employment that didn’t necessitate two incomes.

My grandparents, on both my mother and father’s side of the family were first generation immigrants. My Nana and Opa (my father’s parents) were German immigrants, fleeing the post WWI economic collapse in Europe and my Mémiere and Pépé settled in Lewiston, a vibrant textile mill town, where thousands of Canadians, like my grandparents, came to claim abundant mill jobs in factories nestled along the banks of the Androscoggin River.

One of the lessons I learned at an early age was that good people worked hard. At a young age (eight, or nine), I was taken into the woods on weekends with my Opa, my father and my uncle, where I learned about cutting wood and that work had merit. I can’t say I enjoyed these mandatory work outings, which also included potato picking and haying, but I certainly knew what physical labor was about. These older men seemed to actually enjoy this, while I merely tolerated it.

Later, I was able to transfer this ethic, to sports, where I trained harder and pushed myself further than most of my teammates and my opponents. On the baseball diamond, this led to a lot of success. On the basketball court, mostly frustration because, while I worked hard, I wasn’t as physically talented on the hardwood—we also had bad teams and since I hated to lose, so I often found myself being overly aggressive, which led to a host of other problems, including a couple of ejections, a few fights and the reputation of a hot head.

I was proud of the town I grew up in. As I got older, I began to understand the differences between a mill town, like Lisbon Falls and a community like Cape Elizabeth. While the high school I went to didn’t have many kids with money, occasionally, through sports, or other social activities, I came face-to-face with people who had money and liked to flaunt it.

Later, at the University of Maine, I began to understand class in a way I never had before. I read Marx and other books that helped to put class into a context I had never been privy to. Later, I’d add Chomsky, Zinn, and others to my understanding of who I was and the importance of understanding class, rather than trying to disavow it.

So like religion, my understanding of class and self-identification as a member of the working-class, have contributed to who I am and how I see the world.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Things about me, part I (The Fundamentalist Years)

One of my favorite blogs and one of my longtime stop off points when I’m cruising about the blogosphere, is Delfina’s fine blog, Living on Less. One of the things that make me want to take the time to read her writing is her transparency and ability to cut through so much of the surface BS that most Americans assign importance to. She also manages to come off human and not elitist and I think this has to do with her ability to just be herself when she writes and not create some alter ego for the net.

Recently, she shared five things about herself, after being “tagged” by Durrutti, from Love and Rage. Called a meme, these types of posts are not uncommon on various blogs. Being a sucker for people’s stories and with an insatiable urge to understand what makes interesting people tick, I eagerly read her post, finding out at the very end that she had “tagged” me to share my own items of interest that most people probably don’t know about, at least people that I have a casual relationship with.

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of these types of things, but because of the respect I have for her, I decided, albeit belatedly, to take her charge to heart and work up five things about myself that I’d be willing to share with readers.

Partly because I want to be different, partly because I want to drag this out and get maximum mileage out of it and partly because I’m suffering from my annual winter cold that inevitably leads to the “walking pneumonia” and then, eventually, “the boogie-woogie blues,” my energy level is at its lowest ebb. This week, I’ve been relegated to basically dragging myself out of bed, willing myself through a particularly busy week (involving two presentations to employer groups, including one in Farmington, yesterday that I had to leave the house for at 5:30 am), so while my desire to blog has been there, the energy and follow-through to carry it out has been absent. BTW, anyone with any good homeopathic, naturopathic, or old mother's remedies for colds and dealing with congestions, I'm open to advice.

Since she tagged me last week, on Wednesday (my birthday, coincidentally) and I didn’t begin feeling ill until Tuesday night, while at a nighttime meeting in Skowhegan of all places, you can blame me for procrastinating, which has me feeling oh so sheepish that more than a week has passed on this.

Without any further ado, here are the first of five things that I hope to roll out over the next few days that I’m sure readers can hardly wait to read. Drum roll please….

#1. I once attended Bible College in Indiana:

In 1982, my wife and I packed up our belongings in the back of a U-Haul and headed to Crown Point, Indiana, where I would enroll at Hyles-Anderson College in the fall.

Hyles-Anderson, a fundamentalist school, with a strong Baptist orientation, was where I’d spend nearly 2 ½ years trying to follow the straight and narrow ways of the cult-like teachings and messianic ravings of Jack Hyles, before figuring out that maybe the worldview of he and his deluded followers weren’t as “Christ-like” as I had been led to believe by others, 1,500 miles to the east.

In what would be an eye-opening and really, life-changing experience for two young 20-somethings, our time in northwest Indiana provided my wife and I with an urban experience that we never would have gained back in rural Maine. While I think both of us look back on that time, nearly 25 years ago and shake our heads, wondering how we could have been so “narrow” in our thinking at the time, it also provided some formative experiences for both of us over the five plus years we were there that helped shape the people that we are now.

For me, having grown up in the whitest of the white places in the U.S., being one of only a handful of whites working at an Indiana correctional facility (Westville Correctional Center) allowed me to have an awareness of what minorities experience daily back here in Maine and elsewhere. I still cringe when I think back of how naïve I was and how patient most of these new African-American co-workers were with me, when they could have been much less supportive of a hayseed from Maine. Some even took me under their wings and taught me the ropes. How the heck do you think I learned about BBQ, chitlins and grits? It sure wasn’t growing up in Lisbon Falls, chummy.

The interesting thing about the whole experience in northwest Indiana (which was about 45 miles from Chicago) is that it gave me an entirely different perspective on the U.S. While the country has become increasingly homogenized, there are still distinctive regional differences and I’m glad I got to experience my time in this part of the country.

While I went to Indiana to get closer to God, ironically, the entire experience left me doubting his existence and I’d have to say that while I came back to Maine a lapsed Xian, I eventually began calling myself an agnostic and developed the term “post-Xian” to describe my religious state. I did make one brief foray back towards organized religion a few years ago, but like many organizational structures heavy on authority, it wasn’t a good fit and I ultimately began butting heads with those in power. This time, it was over the war in Iraq and after a number of unpleasant confrontations with both the leaders of the church and the folks in my small group Bible study, I just decided to forego the organized religious path for good. My revolutionary take on the gospels and my non-literal reading of most scripture makes me a pariah in most conservative congregations. Certainly, there are more liberal churches dotting the landscape and my wife and I have actually visited some, but at least in this area, there is something lacking for my taste—too sedate and respectful of the status quo, I think.

So, back in Maine, a practicing post-Xian, I find my life pregnant with meaning. I didn’t have calamity visit me, as Jack Hyles used to insist would happen, if we ever “left the path of God.” In fact, I’ve discovered the late Brother Hyles (as students referred to him), or “Bubba” Hyles, as I began calling him after I left the school, had his own share of “skeletons” dancing in his own closet. Like so many “men of God,” he fell off his high moral horse and yet, the mega church he presided over, as well as the school he founded continues on, as if nothing ever happened, with his former followers turning a blind eye to the same indiscretions that they would criticize in “lesser” mortals. In fact, when I look down the lineup of supreme potentates now in charge, most were there while I was a student, which in light of what I know about Hyles, speaks volumes about who they are.

Well, that’s revelation #1—I’m not even sure what I’ll roll out for my next four, but definitely stay tuned.