Friday, March 28, 2008

This is not a baseball blog: Former Wheaton stars playing for new teams

You won’t find baseball making its way into many Words Matter posts, over the next eight months that constitute prime time for the former national pastime. Part of the reason is that for as long as possible (can you say June?), I hope to be busy following the Celtics run for an NBA title. Given my current self-imposed deadline for my book project, I can only deal with one sport (if that) at a time.

However, since baseball has officially opened its season with the Red Sox traveling across time zones, to play two games at breakfast time, I have two brief baseball-related items to share, both connected with Wheaton College and former players who once donned the Lyon’s uniform.

Chris Denorfia, Wheaton class of 2002, had an RBI single for Oakland, in their 5-1 victory over the Sox, Wednesday

Denorfia, the only Wheaton player to play in the major leagues, was acquired by Oakland on April 27th. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2007 season, after injuring it during the waning days of spring training last year. Denorfia had been slotted to be Cincinnati’s fourth outfielder, after a breakout season in 2006 for the Reds’ AAA affiliate, in Lousville. Denorfia was the only Reds farmhand to represent the club in the 2006 AAA all-star game in July. He was voted top defensive outfielder in the International League, by Baseball America.

Denorfia should get an opportunity to play regularly in Oakland, as the A’s are young and retooling.

Former Wheaton star, Pat O’Connor, one of Wheaton’s key players during their magical 2006 ride to the Division III College World Series, when they finished 2nd in the country in their first ever World Series appearance, is playing at Divison II Bryant University, leading the Bulldongs in hitting.

O’Connor, who battled injuries to both shoulders during 2006, hit one of the more dramatic home runs this writer has witnessed in his varied baseball life. Trailing Chapman University of California, 3-1, going into the bottom of the seventh, the gutsy O’Connor launched a towering drive over the wall in left, sending the Wheaton faithful into delirium, and Wheaton on to the finals against Marietta College (Ohio).

Not many people knew that O’Connor's shoulders were so bad that he was lucky to have one good swing per at bat. Following the 2006 season, he underwent surgery and missed the 2007 season.

It’s nice to see this young man resurface and apparently healthy again and putting the hurt on pitchers in the Northeast-10 conference. This DII conference finds Bryant battling perennial power, Franklin Pierce and O’Connor will undoubtedly play a key role in their success. Through 19 games, O’Connor is leading his club offensively, batting .397, with 4 homers and 12 RBI. The Northeast-10 is one of the few college conferences that use wooden bats.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Manufacturing nothing

The financial downturn, or recession (there, I said it!) has multiple causes. Here's just one, courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, via The Economist.

U.S. corporate profits no longer come from what Americans produce, or make with their hands, i.e. manufacturing. What Americans do, at least those of the wealthy variety, is to manipulate financial instruments (financial gaming), via computer keystrokes.

The American financial-services industry's share of total corporate profits rose
from 10% in the early 1980s to 40% at its peak last year. Its share of stock
market value grew fr om 6% to 19%. These proportions look all the more
striking—even unsustainable—when you note that financial services account for
only 15% of corporate America's gross value added and a mere 5% of
private-sector jobs.

So 5 percent of the U.S. workforce made 40 percent of the total corporate profits from playing around with risky, hard-to-understand paper.

To drop a 1984 Dire Strait's reference on you, that's "money for nothing."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Best-selling author receives gift of Moxie

[Best-selling author, Tess Gerritsen, at LPL; the six-pack of Moxie is sitting in the plastic bag to her right.]

Tess Gerritsen is a wildly successful writer. While her genre of medical thrillers isn’t my given choice of reading, I thought I’d take advantage of her appearance in Lewiston and see if I could ascertain what differentiates the Tess Gerritsens of the writing world, from the rest of us run-of-the-mill types. The woman’s one of America's most popular novelists, for gawd’s sake, having sold around 15 million books that have apparently been translated into 31 languages. Now that’s popular, chummy!

Gerritsen, who lives in Camden, was speaking at Lewiston Public Library’s Great Falls Forum, at noon on Thursday. She’s spoken in the area on other occasions and I’ve always missed her appearances. This time, I managed to get away from work for a bit, grabbed a sandwich and a six-pack of Moxie (more about that later) and headed downtown to the library.

The topic of her talk, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book! (Or Do I?…),” brought out a number of the types that come to hear writers like Gerritsen, hoping that they’ll receive something by osmosis that might get them off the snide and into print. I actually sat next to a couple of folks who are at the talking stage of writing a book. What’s the “talking stage” of a book? It’s the “I have an idea for a book, but I can’t find the time to write it,” or, worse, “I know I have a book in me, but I’m not sure what it is.” WTF?

Now I’m no Tess Gerritsen, but the only way that I know to move a book from talk to finality, is to write. Profound, eh? I hesitate to offer writing advice, seeing that I’ve got exactly one book to my name, with another on the way, but really, I’m weary of hearing so-called writers whine about their lack of production and excuses why they can’t finish what they start out working on. Shut off the television; write after work, or early in the morning before work. Just get it done, my friend.

I found Gerritsen’s talk interesting. She’s obviously an exceptionally bright woman and a voracious researcher. She shared a number of humorous stories and anecdotes about how some of her books have developed. I enjoyed her story about her Chinese immigrant mother, who had an appetite for horror movies, taking young Tess to a wealth of 60s era films. That “bump in the chest” that she felt during these films is what she aims to evoke to her readers with her books.

Gerritsen spends a wealth of time researching material for her books, so she obviously is able to create authenticity of subject matter. Speaking of authenticity, I’ve emailed her several times. About a year ago, I inquired about possibly endorsing a book I was working on for another author. She emailed me back, and while she didn’t commit, she seemed sincere enough. Unlike some other well-known writers who live in Maine, with their coterie of handlers, shielding them from the public, Gerritsen seems to relish keeping in touch with fans. The fact that she blogs and shares some interesting stuff impresses me.

Recently, I emailed her again about whether she might be interested in contributing a Moxie story/anecdote for a chapter in the new book. Once again, she responded and told me that she had never tried Moxie. She wasn’t even sure where to find it. I jokingly wrote back that she’s been in Maine long enough and that it’s about time she took the plunge.

Deciding to have some fun with this, I was able to score a six-pack of mini-cans of Moxie, the drink invented by Maine native, Augustin Thompson, back in 1884. With its cult-following and niche popularity, Moxie is part of the culture of the Pine Tree State.

As soon as Ms. Gerritsen finished her talk, I quickly made my way to the table where she would be signing books. I introduced myself and she saw my paper bag. She asked me, “that’s not Moxie is it?” I presented my gift, she laughed, I shook her hand and that was my Thursday brush with writing royalty. I should have had someone snap my picture, but I didn’t think of that ahead of time. (did get one of her signing books, afterwards)

I enjoyed Gerritsen’s talk, but I sensed that some in the crowd of about 75 were disappointed because they weren't given that “silver bullet” of a book idea.

Note: The crowd makeup was interesting; predominantly over 55 and female. In fact, there were only 10-12 males in the room. Also, there didn't appear to be anyone under 30 present. I wondered if this is the demographic for Gerritsen's books?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Maine's news sources dry up

[I’ve been told that no one reads blog posts longer than 300-400 words. My site stats bear this out, but I don’t really care. If you can’t handle anything heavier than that, you know the drill—JB (note: photo is of Henry Louis Mencken) ]

What happened to my morning newspaper?

On Monday morning, our daily Portland Press Herald arrived in an emaciated state. Per usual, I made my daily 300 foot, 5:00 am trek up our driveway and across the busy road bordering our property. Upon retrieval of the newspaper from the delivery tube, I sensed the paper was thin, but it wasn’t until I was back in the light of my lighted kitchen did I know the story behind the paper’s paucity.

The nominally worthwhile, four-section Monday edition, had shrunk to only two. One of the sections I enjoyed, iHerald, a jazzed-up nod to twenty-somethings (who study after study show, don’t read newspapers), had been deep-sixed (or remaindered, online). The iHerald’s Favorites feature was one I actually looked for it each and every Monday, curious to see what local “celebrity” was featured. For the uninitiated, this section highligths someone with ties to greater-Portland, usually involved in some kind of creative endeavor (writing, making music, entrepreneurial business), but not always (local 20-something activist, cool community group) with a brief bio/explanation of what they do and their favorite web links. RiverVision Press and my writing/publishing actually graced the slot twice during 2006-2007. Given the paper’s reduction and lack of girth, as well as the loss of my favorite section, my wife heard me utter a familiar rhetorical question in our household, “why do we continue to subscribe to this piece-of-sh*t paper?”

Apparently, Jeannine Guttmann, in her semi-regular column, had provided an explanation for the source of my frustration, in Sunday’s Maine Sunday Telegram, the day before. Since Guttmann is a hit-or-miss proposition for me, I happened to miss that one, so Monday’s brief explanation took me by surprise.
In accessing the piece online, I found Guttmann to be in her typically lame, condescending writing mode, once more shilling for corporate ubiquity. Ms. Guttmann laid out her case for her paper’s shrinking content, with this opening.

If you're reading this column, you're probably a loyal reader of this newspaper. And when I write this column, I imagine that I'm speaking to you.

You are a member of that coveted group we call our "core readers." Demographically, you tend to be 44 years of age or older; you own your home; you are married or in a two-adult household; you have a college education; you have a higher income level than the Maine market average.

Many of you work in professional or technical careers, are self-employed or retired. Many of you are empty-nesters. You tend to be older Gen-Xers, boomers or the parents of boomers. You represent a huge cohort of people with sizable amounts of disposable income. And you love to read newspapers.

But let's go back to the age data again. Our core audience is solidly middle-aged or older. What about the younger folks?

Of course, let’s get back to the data!!

She goes on to tell us things that most of already know and have read elsewhere, written more convincingly, and interestingly, I might add.

Lamenting that here in Maine, ...our state’s been, buffeted by the dramatic waves of media transformation hitting the country. Some have called it a tsunami. With the rise of the Web and the loss of advertising that was once the exclusive domain of newspapers – think about all those classified and recruitment ads you've bought and read over the years – papers across the nation have to adjust.

"Adjust" means a smaller work force and a different product. Last week, our newspaper cut 27 staff positions, 15 of which were occupied. From the newsroom, with a staff of 103 full-time positions, we cut seven posts – five of which were occupied.

It is very difficult to say goodbye to colleagues and friends. It is very difficult to realize an end to one era is under way.

Of course, Ms. Guttmann assured those of us “core readers,” which according to her demographics, would be me that the content will not suffer. Yeah, right! Heard that line many before, coming from the mouth of similar corporate mouthpieces. Actually, heard something similar coming from her paper back in 2004.
I’m sure running a newspaper is tough, just like running any business is during difficult economic times. I’m not sure, given the data coming from other newspapers, with their dwindling circulations that dumbing down content for people who don’t (or can’t) read newspapers and cutting staff is going to stem the freefall in readership. That’s, just my opinion.

Give me some hard-hitting content

In my geographic area of the state, I’m in that newspaper “tweener” netherworld where subscribing to the Portland Newspapers’ product (Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram), with their maddening multi-edition way of publishing, means I get the Coastal Edition, which comes out of the Brunswick/Midcoast distribution area. This edition goes to print first, meaning I get no late sports scores; if the Sox play a game that goes to extra-innings, or starts later than 8:00 pm, I won’t get a result. I also miss late-ending local sports. Additionally, I rarely, if ever get any sports north, or west of Brunswick.

On the news side, their business section has some decent coverage of statewide issues and they actually do a decent job on workforce (my daytime job) and economic development-related stories with a statewide arc.

My other option, which I’ve gone with before (but currently am not) is to subscribe to two newspapers, including the Lewiston Sun Journal. This paper tends to have a more local orientation and is devoted to news north (north of Durham, but south of Augusta) and west of me. Even this paper, which I have a long and varied history with (I once delivered their afternoon Journal as a youngster, back in the day and was briefly employed as a regional circulation manager with the company during the 90s) has given me cause for concern. The content began to get “cuter” about two years ago and when they added their own “stupid” section for 20-somethings who need pictures and graphics to get the story (their “legendary” b-section), I quit the paper in a huff.

So, where the hell do I get my local news?

There are several weekly pubs circulating in our area. Turner Publications mails out a variety of community newspapers that are filled with advertorials, press release fare and business boosterism, but very little that I’d call “real news.” Ditto the Twin City Times and even The Forecaster newspapers, since taken over by the Sun Journal, seem to have cut out anything resembling investigative reporting.

One of the last local sources for actual hard news and capable reporting, the afternoon Brunswick Times Record has been bought by an out of state corporate entity. The Central Maine Newspapers are owned by The Blethen family, which owns and is selling The Portland Newspapers and the Bangor Daily News isn’t even an option for me, other than occasionally scanning articles online.

Interestingly, news still happens and sometimes that news isn’t always best served in a business/advertising-friendly format. The problem with running a newspaper entirely by financials and revenue sheets means that some of the hard-hitting journalism that used to find its way to the pages of Maine’s newspapers, has no print outlet.

For instance, those of you that have been stopping by Words Matter know that I grew up in Lisbon Falls, or as I am want to call it now, Moxietown. This town will always hold a special place in my heart and I’m who I am, for good, or for bad, because of the roots that are still planted deep in its rocky soil.

Over the past few months, I’ve become aware of matters that seemed a bit odd, even to an outsider. I’ve heard “whispers” about things, but nothing easily verified. Like when the town hired their new town manager, Steve Eldridge, who had left behind a somewhat checkered history in his former stint as town manager, in Rumford. In landing the job, he received a tidy compensation package from the community, which according to the Brunswick Times-Record, was set at $80,000/year.
Shortly after Eldridge took office, the town’s Economic and Community Development Director, Jennifer Stowell Norris resigned after five months on the job. I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Norris at the Growsmart Conference, back in the fall. Seeing her Lisbon name tag upon entering the day’s best breakout session, which featured one of my fave community-based writers, Stacy Mitchell of Big Box Swindle fame, I made a point of introducing myself to Jennifer at the end of the breakout.

I found out she had been hired by Lisbon and her passion and energy for my former hometown was evident. We had a 10-15 minute conversation, exchanged business cards and I told her I would follow-up with her, as I wanted to brief her on some of the workforce development projects I was working on that might benefit residents of her the municipality she was now serving. My belief is that workforce and economic development go hand-in-hand, and Jennifer agreed to meet.

When I met with her in late November, she informed me that she might be resigning. She couldn’t give me many of the details (at the time), but in February, I read an article by Michael Reagan, in the Brunswick Times Record about a possible fraudulent loan that Daniel Feeney, who was Ms. Norris’ predecessor, had made to a “non-existent business.”
Reagan, who no longer writes for the newspaper, is the only local reporter that I know of that has filed anything smacking of journalism on the town in recent memory. Until now that is.

In my job, I’m responsible for a five county region. I’ve already detailed the paucity of viable print news sources in our state. Being creative and fortunate to have acquired an education during an era when they actually taught students how to do research, I’m pretty good at ferreting out information. It also helps that I’ve actually done something resembling journalism, both as a freelancer and as a member of a collective practicing “direct action journalism” that once published that muckraking, spit-in-your-eye monthly, Portland Pigeon for two years, back in 2004/2005. In fact, I still maintain to this day that I’ve written the last “honest” article on a Maine-based professional sports team, with In Hadlock’s Shadow. I mention that to let you know that I appreciate journalism that has some connection to the history and tradition of news of the muckraking variety. I’ll even go a bit further. I think the problem with journalism today is that it often lacks credibility because of its obsession with ideological purity, over truth, or it caters to the corporate suite and doesn’t serve the needs of the people. Having said all that to say this, one source of news that I’ve utilized in the past, to find out what’s going on in remote areas of Oxford County, like Rumford, was an online entity called The River Valley Reporter, maintained by someone named Kevin Saisi.

For far too long, and for a variety of reasons, there has been too much misinformation and half-truths written and reported about Rumford, or the River Valley Region. Mr. Saisi tried to counter that and for that, I give him credit and acknowledge his efforts.

One issue that plagues the River Valley, is its geographic isolation from the trendiness of Portland and the pseudo-policymaking in Augusta. Additionally, it’s been an economically-depressed, rural region, with a heritage of working class values. In Maine and much of America, those qualities will always find you left out in the cold, or portrayed inaccurately when the big boys come calling.

When I visited Mr. Saisi’s site on Friday morning, to inquire about posting a press release (which I’ve done before), I immediately noticed a change. The former banner of The River Valley Reporter now read, The Rumford Reporter. I immediately checked my URL and knew I was at the correct site. Scrolling down the page, I stopped when I reached the headline reading, “Doar & Eldridge maintain close ties,” bylined by the initials, JSN. Reading down through a rather interesting piece, tying together the towns of Rumford and Lisbon, I discovered that JSN was, Jennifer Stowell Norris. Well I’ll be damned. Jennifer had landed back in Rumford and was bringing her passion for small towns to bear on this issue of “truthiness” (Stephen Colbert reference, not a typo) and the obvious lack thereof in the area’s print media. [The former small town newspaper in Rumford, the veritable Rumford Falls Times, has been bought by The Sun Journal—enough said there.]

I don’t know where all of this is going to lead. I know I learned some things about Rumford and my beloved Lisbon that I didn’t know. It certainly raised my awareness about the possibility that something is going on in Lisbon that I think taxpayers may want to be aware of. I also think it raises the issue of the public’s ability to get news.

Should the average citizen on the street require an internet connection, as well as some sleuthing ability to find out information that used to get reported by our area newspapers? Is the public served by an environment where officials who serve at the pleasure of the taxpayers and citizens of the town, can operate under the cover of darkness, or at least, the level of scrutiny that once existed when daily newspapers were more vibrant and arguably, practice a more hard-hitting version of news reporting?

I think these questions fit nicely with much of what I’ve written here in the past, tied to people in small communities, where my heart lies. I think they also fit well with some of the media criticism that I’ve done in this space. I’m hoping to hear more about the Rumford/Lisbon situation from The Rumford Reporter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Boycotts build character

[I rip professional athletes on occasion; when they step up and act with integrity that deserves mention. Here's a case where the Red Sox showed character, particularly their veteran players, including Captain, Jason Varitek--JB]

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP)—The Boston Red Sox ended a threatened boycott Wednesday of their final spring training game in Florida, resolving a dispute over paying coaches for the season-opening trip to Japan.

The televised game against Toronto started an hour late when players voted unanimously not to play the exhibition or to board Wednesday’s scheduled flight to Tokyo for the two-game series against Oakland on March 25 and 26.

Boston players insisted their coaches receive $40,000 appearances fees for the Japan trip, matching the deal negotiated for players by their union. After a few hours of talks among players from the Red Sox and Athletics, Major League Baseball, the clubs and the players’ association, the sides said the dispute had been resolved.

“We felt we had to make a stand, and being on ESPN didn’t hurt,” Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said.

Major League Baseball agreed to pay the managers, coaches and trainers on the trip $20,000 each from management’s proceeds, a person familiar with the agreement said, speaking on condition of anonymity because details weren’t announced. The Red Sox agreed to make up the difference to make the amount equal, and to pay some of the other team personnel making the trip, the person said.

“The players just stepped up and they did what I think was right,” Boston bench coach Brad Mills said.

It had not yet between determined whether Oakland would make additional payments to its staff.

“Everyone connected with the trip will be fairly compensated,” baseball spokesman Rich Levin said.

Managers and coaches were included in the players’ pool payments for baseball’s two previous opening trips to Japan—the New York Mets played the Chicago Cubs in 2000 and the Yankees played Tampa Bay in 2004. But there was no such provision this time in the agreement between MLB and the players’ association.

In Phoenix, A’s players watched coverage of Boston’s dispute on television, called a team meeting and didn’t take batting practice before their game against a Los Angeles Angels’ split squad.

A’s player representative Huston Street emerged from the meeting and said the exhibition game would be played and Oakland players would make the trip.

“You have to stay firm in your belief, and I believe we’ve done that. Results have happened. That’s why we’re taking the field now. We wouldn’t be taking the field now if we didn’t firmly believe that the right thing was going to get done,” he said. “The right thing is going to get done. We’re going to play in Japan, and it’s going to be an incredible series that everybody has been looking forward to.”

Read the rest here.

Will rhetoric save the day?

The JWright/BObama incident and the presidential hopeful’s subsequent speech have something to say to America, but it will probably be lost on most of the voting public. Over the course of the past few days, we’ve all watched clips of Reverend Wright’s fiery oratory and prophetic pronouncements. While Wright’s opinions don’t necessarily represent the monolithic views of the black pastorate, I think they do represent a strain of theology that isn’t uncommon in many African-American churches.

Not surprisingly, media from across the spectrum have gotten the story wrong. If there’s one subject that media types know next to nothing about, it is theology and ecclesiastical polity. In fact, they wear their ignorance like a badge of honor. Add to the mix fiery rhetoric and a preaching style that few of the predominantly white media community have ever witnessed firsthand and you have the perfect storm required for getting everything wrong about this story. What makes this particularly galling is that many Americans, despite their carping about the MSM, will rely entirely on these misinformed, religious bigots, to interpret this story.

One of the better commentaries I’ve read is an essay by Tim Wise that ran yesterday, at Counterpunch. Do yourself a favor and read it from start to finish, even if it makes you squirm a bit. Wise writes, But here we are, in 2008, fuming at the words of Pastor Jeremiah Wright, of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago--occasionally Barack Obama's pastor, and the man whom Obama credits with having brought him to Christianity--for merely reminding us of those evils about which we have remained so quiet, so dismissive, so unconcerned. It is not the crime that bothers us, but the remembrance of it, the unwillingness to let it go--these last words being the first ones uttered by most whites it seems whenever anyone, least of all an "angry black man" like Jeremiah Wright, foists upon us the bill of particulars for several centuries of white supremacy.

But our collective indignation, no matter how loudly we announce it, cannot drown out the truth. And as much as white America may not be able to hear it (and as much as politics may require Obama to condemn it) let us be clear, Jeremiah Wright fundamentally told the truth

Barack Obama may be as deft as any politician I’ve encountered in my lifetime. Forced to walk a tightrope between a theology that he may in fact hold, at least in parts, and the need to comfort affluent white, well-educated liberals that overwhelmingly support him, Obama was able to hold Wright at arm’s length, without entirely tossing him under the bus of media backlash and right-wing outcry. His performance should also keep the elite types in his corner.

I don’t know exactly what Barack Obama holds to be true. Only a few people, privileged enough to be part of his inner circle do. I honestly hope that at his core, where values should reside that the prophetic teachings that he’s learned, sitting under his fiery pastor, will help guide him, if elected, to represent all Americans, not just the top one percent, or the corporate interests, or even the liberal elite, who get whisked out of the urban areas, by drivers, to their gated suburban enclaves.

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve allowed myself to depart from my original intent—to report on the horses in the horserace—but over the past couple of weeks, I find myself moving back to my original position that I held during the early days of the derby.

Despite Obama’s abundant rhetorical talent, I still have concerns that there is little difference between the two major corporately-controlled wings of American politics. Because of this, there’s probably very little that he can do to radically change the political crash course we’ll remain on.

In my opinion, Obama too often has appeared to appeal to people who are too busy, or too cool, or too “whatever,” to be bothered by politics.

As Ted Rall wrote, back in January, Obama can tell you that “there is something happening in America!” he just can’t tell you what it is." His speech yesterday helped lend a bit more definition to his political persona. Still, a part of me wonders why he didn’t give this speech earlier, when his motives would have been clearer, instead of because expediency required him to.

Speech, or no speech, I think David Walsh comes as close as anyone to “nailing” Obama for me. Sadly, the World Socialist Website isn’t a regular stop for most American’s when web surfing.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Education for the real world

I had an Op-Ed that ran in yesterday's Central Maine Newspapers (Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel) on a subject that I think needs to be addressed with the same passion that tax-cutting currently is being bantered about in our state. I've posted on my workforce blog.

While I was pleased that the newspaper finally ran my opinion piece, I was equally pleased to have it run alongside an equally pertinent piece, by Waterville High School teacher, Alan Haley. His opinion is that the Maine Learning Results are an absolute failure. He also addresses the state's Department of Education and its monolithic stranglehold on education.

Personally, I think the model of education that the state should be looking at is Career and Technical Education. This model is committed to developing technical and academic skills, as well as promoting the student attitudes and achievements that best prepare students for further education and careers in the 21st Century. The were formerly Maine's vocational high schools, but if you think that the only thing they do is teach kids to pound nails and tune engines, you are mistaken.

I urge anyone that cares about the education in our state and elsewhere, to contact your local CTE program and arrange a tour. You'll be amazed by the diversity of subjects and the rigorous preparation for the real world that the students receive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book news, part I

Did I tell you I'm writing a book? Oh yeah, I guess I did. That's why the posts have been and will probably continue to be less frequent, at least for awhile.

I know some of my readers have books and may be working on one at the moment. They'll appreciate the process and the difficulty of that "birthing" process." (forgive the analogy, particularly from a white male, without any childbirth experience). This is my second time round and it doesn't get easier with practice.

I have a draft excerpt and a tentative title (which will change), but that's what's been occupying my free time of late.

Friday, March 07, 2008

It's the economy, stupid!

[For those who follow these things, John Miller's article on the U.S. economy is worth considering, seeing that it is an election year, and all-JB]

Stormier Weather

It's not only radical economists and cyberspace Cassandras uttering the "r"-word nowadays. Just what are we to make of it when Harvard economists, The Economist magazine, and Morgan Stanley followed by Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch say the economy is headed toward, or already in, a recession?

You can bet the house, whatever its current value, that hard times are on the way—more layoffs, fewer new jobs, lower wages, tighter family budgets, more debt, and higher poverty levels. This year will see rising economic hardship even if the U.S. economy scrapes by without sinking into an official recession, usually defined as two straight quarters of declining output.

How do I know this? Hard times have been the hallmark of the U.S. economy during this decade, even as the economy expanded. We will be in for more of the same, but worse, as the economy slows and the inevitable downturn in the business cycle exacerbates the economic injuries many people have already sustained thanks to long-term shifts in the U.S. economic system.

To read more.....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Some libraries are better than others

[File photo of Waterville Public Library]

Libraries are one of my favorite places to visit—sometimes. Other times, I find them irritating, loud and nearly impossible to work in.

When I was researching When Towns Had Teams, some of my best periods of research were performed at the temporary location of the Auburn Public Library. At the time (2004-2005), their historic building on Court and Spring Streets was undergoing a major renovation and upgrade. As a temporary solution to vacating their building, they relocated to the Auburn Mall. Now books and malls seem counterintuitive, but for whatever reason, this location seemed to work. Actually, it probably had more to do with Director Rosemary Waltos and her staff, like reference librarian, Sally Holt, that made my trips there memorable.

Today, I’m on my way to Skowhegan, for an evening meeting with business leaders and educators. Our hope is that dialogue can be established and possible avenues for partnership developed that might open initial discussions about education’s role in preparing students for careers and the requisite skills required for today’s workforce.

I am out of an afternoon meeting and since I’ll be working late into the evening, I decided to bring my laptop and try to get some work done during some downtime.

Since most libraries across Maine now offer Wi-Fi access and I’m passing through Waterville, I thought I’d spend time at their public library.

Pulling up to the library building on Elm Street, I immediately recognized that with the snow banks, I wouldn’t be parking in front of the building. I drove around back to what I thought was a parking lot for library patrons and saw signs indicating that the lot was restricted to employees of a neighboring business. Fortunately, the road behind the library offered curbside parking and I made my way up the poorly sanded back stairway and ramp.

Library circulation desks are usually a reasonable place to orient yourself during an initial visit. Most of Maine’s better libraries have signage that directs you to Wi-Fi hotspots, or other areas. I couldn’t find any, so I chose to stand in line waiting for an available staff person. The WPL staff didn’t seem in any kind of hurry to wait on patrons (or visitors). I was fourth in line and it became apparent that after five minutes, I was on my own. I could have chosen to wait, but my arm was tiring from my briefcase and my shoulder was aching from the laptop strap, so I did the next best thing; I followed a small, homemade sign pointing upstairs to the Teen Room and the Maine History Room. This was fortuitous for me, as neither room was occupied. I had an outlet and I was able to access the library’s network and I was now in business. If you think about it, if you are one of those odd people who cherish the quiet and privacy that once was synonymous with libraries, then an area specializing in Maine history would probably be a place of solitude (except at Lewiston Public Library, which will be a story for a later post).

Long story short, I have a perfunctory perch to work for the next hour and then, it’s off to Skowhegan for tonight’s meeting.

Buying bread takes more "bread"

[Baking bread at Big Sky--Portland Press Herald Photo]

There has been little in the way of positive economic news for weeks now. The biggest issue on most American voter’s minds right now, is the health of the U.S. economy.

Just this morning, the Business Tuesday section of the Portland Press Herald had three stories highlighting the rising cost of fuel, food and fears of inflation.

Bakers of bread, pizza makers and others that rely on flour for their livelihood are facing escalating prices, as wheat stockpiles worldwide are at 60-year lows. This is in part due to droughts in Australia, a major world producer of wheat, as well as burgeoning demand for wheat and wheat products in the world’s two most populous countries, China and India.

Owner Andrew Siegel, of When Pigs Fly, a York-based bakery that churns out wonderfully unique breads, is quoted as saying, “It’s kind of a scary time right now.” The scary time he’s referring to is bakeries seeing their flour costs tripling over the past year.
Portland-based Big Sky Bread Company has also seen costs nearly triple from a year ago, with recent prices up 50 percent since the beginning of January.

Martha Elkus, owner of Big Sky Bread says that a 50-pound bag of flour cost about $11 in February 2007, and is now about $30. At about 60 bags per week, that means her weekly flour bill has jumped from less than $700 a year ago to about $1,800 now.

“The person delivering her flour recently joked that he might need an armed guard,” Elkus said.

With flour and wheat products tripling in price and the price of oil at an all-time high, the three remaining presidential contenders will have their hands full with just the U.S. economy, let alone geo-political concerns abroad.

In this context, I’ll leave you the sometimes misogynistic and always-"sunny" Jim Kunstler, with a portion of his take (from Monday’s Clusterfuck Nation).

Whoever wins on November 5 will wake up to preside over a different America than the schematic one he was debating about during the primaries and the election. The long campaign will beat a path straight into the long emergency. The new president will inherit a wrecked banking system, an economy in freefall, a wobbling world oil market, and an American public extremely ticked off by its startling, sudden impoverishment. (This is apart from whatever melodramas spool out on the geopolitical scene.)

The president-elect will quickly realize that the number one problem is not that Americans can't afford health care -- it's that they can't afford anything, because their income is evaporating in terms of both lost jobs and a dollar that is racing toward worthlessness. They'll be hard put to pay for food and gasoline, nevermind Grandma's emphysema treatments. They will be walking away from home ownership -- or yanked kicking and screaming by default-and-repo -- and any government scheme devised to abridge their mortgage contracts will only undermine basic contract law that has made mortgage lending a credible thing in the first place. And that too, of course, would redound straight to a real estate sector already in price free-fall, with no one willing or able to think about buying a house.

One more section from Kunstler to hammer home some reality, in a campaign season filled with delusion and I assign blame widely, both right, left, and to the loopy. Say what you want about Jimbo (and he gets my hackles up on a regular basis), there are few, in my opinion that root the energy/peak oil issue as succinctly and firmly in a reality-based paradigm as he does.

Whoever wakes up as the next president on November 5 will have to preside over the comprehensive reorganization of American life. The big question is whether he can persuade the public to let go of its sunk costs, and all the sheer stuff that represents, and move ahead in a unified way that doesn't end up tearing the nation apart. The danger is that the public will want to mount a kind of last stand effort to defend a way of life that has no future under any circumstances, and they will ask the president to lead that last stand.

To avoid that deadly outcome, the new president will have to be equipped with a realistic vision of what this society can actually do to survive the discontinuities that circumstances present. This will require him to confront the prevailing delusion that the US can become "energy independent" in the sense that we can run WalMart on something other than oil from foreign lands. The new president would have to carefully restate American expectations and goals -- for instance, not to keep all the cars running at all costs, but to get us living in places where driving is not mandatory. I'm concerned that the American people will hate the new president if he tells them the truth: that an old way of life is over and a new one has to begin now. We're about to find out how much "change" the public can really stand.

Happy bread baking!