Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama and small town America

Mr. Obama is an amazing orator. Listening to him, it's easy to get swept away by the cascade and cadence of words and rhetoric that flow from his lips.

What's more troubling to some is when we examine facts that lie behind the oratory facade.

Here's a couple of points to ponder:

From the Chicago Daily Observer, a daily from Mr. Obama's hometown, there's this quote from Bill Burton, a spokesperson for Obama, on the John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his vice-president.

"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency."

What does the Obama campaign have against small towns? Does Mr. Obama and the sycophantic media that hangs on his every word recognize that the majority of Americans live in small towns? Probably not. Elitists know very little about life in America, outside of the the urban power centers where they spend most of their time. Oh, they occasionally meet small town folk while out slumming on the campaign trail, but they don't have any real perspective about life outside of the media spotlight.

This isn't the first slight of small town Americans. In Pennsylvania, while going toe-to-toe with Mrs. Clinton in April, Mr. Obama let slip his true thoughts about working-class, small town Americans, when he said, "...voters in Pennsylvania clung to 'guns and religion' out of bitterness." If it were as simple as you think.

As Tom Skype notes, "Sen. Obama just doesn’t understand true American values. We don’t all shop at Whole Foods and we don’t care what the price arugula is."

Beyond not understanding the life of everyday Americans, there's the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

The personal appeal of local politics

I love following politics. Always have, and probably always will. There's something about the horse race that hooks me and keeps me interested. Certainly the national presidential race, despite two less than stellar candidates, IMHO, has had me hooked since the field was full of kooks, wannabes, and also-rans.

National politics tends to grab the lion's share of attention and interest, even among those who self-identify as junkies. Sadly, too many of these same folks ignore paying attention to local and state matters, which I think are more important, and affect voters more directly. There's an adage which says that "all politics is local." I'll go one step further and offer that rather than just local, "all politics is personal." Many people don't plug into local and state matters until they touch their lives in some way.

In the community where I live, we're served by Maine House District 105. Our incumbent, Mike Vaughan, is a staunch conservative, and will be running for his fourth term. That, in and of itself, ought to be reason to take notice. Three terms in Augusta is more than enough time to learn the ropes (term 1), and get something done. The second term, and a third, are more than enough time to have some tangible items of accomplishment. To my way of thinking, Mr. Vaughan has accomplished very little, other than towing the party line, and mimicking everything that troubles me about conservatism as it stands in 2008.

Vaughn is being opposed by a gentleman named David Van Wie, who hails from New Gloucester, which is one of the towns making up District 105 (the others being Durham, and parts of Lisbon). I don't know Van Wie, but he did stop by on Sunday, as he was out knocking on doors. Unfortunately, I was out back doing yard work and didn't hear him drive in. I did find his pamphlet tucked into our front door, with a note saying he had stopped by. Mr. Vaughan has never knocked on my door, asking for my vote. Part of the reason may be that I know Mr. Vaughan from my days of being a member of the Androscoggin County Republicans. When I left the party, he and I had a long discussion. I'm sure that he knows that his efforts to stop by would result in a discussion where he wouldn't find an agreeable, compliant constituent, so for him, it's not worth the effort. Legislators like Mr. Vaughan like to spend their time with people that agree with them, like most of the crowd over at As Maine Goes. He seems to enjoy regaling his fellow conservatives with his witty repartee, which consists of the usual Maine conservative blather about cutting taxes, making Maine more business friendly, blaming Governor Baldacci and Democrats for all that's wrong with Maine, etc. I actually find AMG worthwhile, at times, and a good source of Maine news, since we no longer have a statewide paper that serves that purpose.

In addition to not asking for my vote, Mr. Vaughan also hasn't responded to any emails I've sent him over the past six years, relative to issues and votes, as well as thoughts and opinions I've shared with him. Obviously, he is all-knowing, and doesn't need constituent input to get in the way of his right-wing agenda.

In my workforce position, I've had cause to contact him in a professional capacity. Last March, while attempting to raise awareness about the importance of middle-skills for Mainers, I set out to contact a good portion of Maine's house and senate delegation. I sent a well-written email to him, as part of my effort at building support for an important initiative that will move Mainers forward. Once again, Mr. Vaughan could not extend the courtesy, as a fellow professional, of acknowledging my email and ideas. Even worse, he once again ignored one of his constituents, which seems to be his modus operandi. Since he thinks so little of me, and my thoughts, opinions, and ideas, should he be getting my vote? [In all fairness to Mr. Vaughan, out of 75 communiques that I sent out to key legislators, community leaders, and other influential Mainers, I received one response, from a legislator from Auburn, Mark Paul Samson (D-Auburn)-JB]

His opponent, Mr. Van Wie, had a guest column in Sunday's Lewiston Sun Journal (Aug. 24), talking about Maine needing an energy strategy. I concur with that. In fact, I've been writing quite a bit about energy at my workforce blog, opining that Maine has an opportunity to get out in front on the energy issue. This post, and my post from yesterday, are examples of issues I've been highlighting, which I think our legislature ought to be thinking about.

Mr. Van Wie had some good points in his column, including the following;

"...we need to support investments in energy efficiency, wind power and in-state renewable energy, so we can keep our dollars working in the Maine economy. Our state must support small businesses and entrepreneurs in Maine who can help make it happen."

There were some points in his column that concerned me. Since I take issue with Mr. Vaughan's party line adherence, I'll also say that some of Van Wie's points seemed like so much of what's being spouted by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, "Dingy" Harry Reid, and other Democrat comrades. Still, Van Wie's private sector experience, as well as having served under one of Maine's best governors, Angus King, make him a candidate worthy of consideration.

Simply, what I'm looking for in a local representative is someone who has a mind of his/her own, understands the issues affecting Mainers, and is the kind of representative that is responsive to constituents, especially constituents that are knowledgeable about issues affecting the Pine Tree State.

I'll probably contact Mr. Van Wie to raise some of my concerns, and find out a bit more about him and his thoughts on representing the good people of our district. As a voter, I refuse to be ignored any longer. I also refuse to support candidates that are so filled with hubris that they think they know more than their constituents.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Carrying water from the sidelines

It would be hard to find a more vilified public figure than Hillary Clinton. Few current political figures elicit such strong responses of either adulation, and yes, respect, to downright hatred crossing into misogyny.

The Wall Street Journal, one of the last places where traditional American journalism is still practiced, has one of the best pieces on Mrs. Clinton that I've read since the commencement of our current presidential horserace.

The Journal's editiorial writer accurately captures the strength of Mrs. Clinton's appeal in traditional blue-collar locales, such as Youngstown, Ohio, Scranton, Pennsylvania (where Hillary's father, Hugh Rodham, was born and raised) and other places where lattes are not the drink of choice, and where an Ivy League diploma doesn't hold much sway.

The writer opines, "Lower-middle-class women especially saw her as a pathbreaker, refuting the notion that her symbolic candidacy was limited to upscale professional women. She earned 18 million votes. Joe Biden won something like 9,000. She was on a roll by June, but the Hillary surge began too late. She lost by the brutal math of her party's own making."

The Clintons are far from being perfect, and a casual listen to AM talk radio will help understand why this former first family is so often mischaracterized.

If you visit PUMA sights like this one, you'll find many former Hillary supporters still pissed off, and not ready to laud Mr. Obama, and knight him as their presidential choice. I can identify with some of their sentiments.

It's interesting to me how almost every representative of the mainstream media misses out on why many working-class people held out hope for Hillary to be their representative to do their bidding as president. Having read her biography, Living History, I realize that Hillary never really got over being a Nixon Republican, just like her dad. For those of us who still have some grasp of history (certainly no one younger than 50 will get this reference, unless they're one of maybe five Americans that still read U.S. history books, or possibly are a fan of the late Hunter S. Thompson), there are worse things than being Nixonian, particularly in these halcyon days of party bastardization--like a Pelosi Democrat.

I'm not sure how Mrs. Clinton will come off tonight, when she gives Tuesday nights Democratic Convention keynote. She'll certainly put on a good show, but I'm sure that a part of her will be thinking about what might have been.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Coming to terms with one's faith

The twists, turns, and rocky trail of my spiritual past occasionally have made their way into my postings here at Words Matter.

I’ve written about the fundamentalist years in Indiana, and my return to Maine, as an avowed post-Xian (which is the label I’m still most comfortable with). While I’ve written some about my former spiritual mentor Jack Hyles, and derogatorily about the likes of James Dobson, Falwell, Robertson and the others in the pack of Gantry, I’ve only made one brief reference to the late Francis Schaeffer.

When I was first testing the waters of my newfound born-again faith, as my baseball career unraveled at the University of Maine, I discovered the writings of Schaeffer. For the uninitiated, he was a Calvinist theologian and philosopher, whose trilogy of books, The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent formed the basis for what later became my own personal apologetics.

I won’t go into too much more detail about Schaeffer, as non-Xians and those for whom religion is a mystery will end up being lost. What I want to emphasize about Schaeffer is that he was no mental lightweight. Say what you want about religion, but the Calvinists, particularly the Van Til, Dooyeweerd brand of apologetics where Schaeffer cut his teeth, learning to argue for the Xian faith, forced followers to think, and give a reasoned defense for their belief in God.

Schaeffer’s books, and in particular, his approach at reaching the unconverted through his unorthodox approach at L’Abri (compared to the American brand of “churchianity”) was of interest to me. Schaeffer himself had much to say about the failure of American Xianity.

After a decade and a half away from organized religion, I made brief foray back into the orthodox fold, post 9-11. While I had discarded most of my previous religious materials, for some reason, I kept Schaeffer’s books packed away in one particular box I never threw out. In early 2002, I reread much of the trilogy, as well as his book, A Christian Manifesto that ratcheted up his popularity with what we now define as the religious right, and made him a rock star for God.

Throughout the 80s, Schaeffer became a hero to people like Randall Terry, of Operation Rescue, and others of the Christian Dominionist movement. Along with his son, Franky (who now goes by Frank), and wife Edith, the Schaeffers helped fuel the yoking of politics and faith in America, helping to propel the movement that is now headed by Dobson, Gary Bauer, and others into the mainstream. See how faith is mentioned at the drop of the hat in this year’s horserace.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally come across a reference to Schaeffer. Several years back, prior to having access to the internet (s), I tried to find information on what had become of his son Franky. I didn’t have much luck. Recently, however, I’ve run across a wealth of material, including this interesting post he penned for Huffington Post.

It’s ironic that Schaeffer, who was so instrumental at one time, promoting the militant pro-life movement, believes that the fate of the unborn is better with an Obama presidency, than a McCain one.

Schaeffer, who still self-identifies as pro-life, believes that the right have “milked the abortion issue, as have the Evangelical and Roman Catholic leadership, for every dime it's worth for fundraising, votes, power and empire-building, without changing much if anything.”

A year ago, Schaeffer came out with a memoir, CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back that I’m eager to read, since I was such a big fan of his father, and hung on much of what he wrote about the faith I held at the time.

Schaeffer has some things to say about the right, power, and the wealth that holding certain positions visits on acolytes of the right.

As he writes, “…for the record: my annual income was a lot bigger and more secure within the Evangelical fold than without. The big bucks in America are all about selling God, as Rick Warren, James Dobson or Joel Osteen can tell you, not earned blogging for lefty sites such as Huffington Post or writing novels as I do now.”

I have no trouble believing what he says, as I saw firsthand how so-called servants of God, the leaders, lived regally, while me and my Bible school chums lived poor as church mice, back in the day, when I was a student at Hyles-Anderson College.

I urge you to read Schaeffer’s piece. In a day when so much passing for journalism is just a rehashing of the same old meme, Schaeffer offers some things worth considering, unless you’re so wedded to your ideology that you no longer use the brain that God gave you.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

McCains can't remember much

[Ap photo]

The fact that John McCain is the GOP nominee still surprises the heck out of me. With all the AM bandwidth, Fox News, WorldNetDaily and other media outlets devoted to all matters right, you would think the almighty conservative nation could have raised a better example of their transcendant values than John McCain.

Actually, it's rather interesting of late to see the pretzel logic employed by various radio hosts and others, as they try to twist McCain into an image that they can use to get another Republican elected as supreme potentate. These same ideologues couldn't find one good thing to say about McCain back during primary season. Now, they see this pseudo-Maverick as heir apparent to the Reagan legacy, and the only thing standing between a Marxist takeover of the country. What a freakin' joke.

When McCain sat down with Rick Warren and didn't drool on himself, answering the pastor's questions, the right-wing noise machine was nearly orgasmic. Then came this week's positive polling numbers, showing the McCain had narrowed the gap, making the McCain/Obama battle a near dead heat.

I haven't paid attention to how its being spun, but two interesting stories this week have done nothing to convince me that Mr. McCain is going to make dime's worth of difference, over the election of the anointed one, Barack Obama.

Cindy (I wanna' be sedated) McCain describes herself as an only child. The only problem with that is she has a half-sister that she obviously knows about. In fact, her half-sister is Kathleen Hensley Portalski, now 65 reveals that she saw Cindy regularly, while growing up. I'm sure she knows about her now, she just prefers to block it out, like all other unpleasant things that come to poor Cindy's eternally, sunshiney mind.

Apparently, documents indicate that she was born to Jim (Cindy's dad) and Mary Jeanne Hensley on 23 February 1943. While still married, Mr Hensley was sent to West Virginia to recuperate from war wounds. There he met Marguerite Smith whom he married in 1945. Cindy was born nine years later.

Even better, in my opinion, is how Cindy ended up with nearly all of her father's beer distribution wealth, while Ms. Portalski received a paltry $10,000. A'int wealth grand?

Ms. Portalski and her son have recently spoken publicly about their anger and hurt of being conveniently air-brushed out existence by Ms. McCain, potential future first lady.

According to Nicholas Portalski, Kathleen's son,

"The fact that we've never been recognised, and then Cindy has to put such a fine point on it by saying something that's not true," he told National Public Radio, which broadcast a profile on Mrs McCain which proved to be the last straw for the forgotten family. "It's just very hurtful."

As if Cindy's memory problems weren't enough, her husband, nearly 20 years her senior, can't seem to remember how many homes he and Cindy own.

The McCain camp has done its best to portray him as a man that understands the lives of average Americans, paining Mr. Obama as an elitist. The reality is that the McCain's are American royalty, also. A man that wears $500 shoes isn't blue collar, no matter how you spin that shit!

It seems to me that unless you are part of the upper levels of American wealth, then it will be another four years, at least, before we have someone worthy of our votes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Let the wind blow

Some people believe that Maine is sitting on some major natural resources; our wind potential, to be specific.

Seth Silverton, a transplant to Maine (native Mainers might call him a "flatlander"), is the owner and sole employee of the Silverton Group, an independent energy firm based in Lincolnville. Silverton began his energy consulting business in June, after leaving a job as a commercial sales manager in the oil industry in January. He located to Maine with his family after 9-11, when debris, soot, and burning papers from the World Trade Center were deposited on his lawn.

There's a good article in Village Soup about him and his business, and why he believes that the "Gulf of Maine is the Saudi Arabia of wind power." This echoes the sentiments of another better known Mainer, former governor Angus King.

Do Mainers have the foresight, and do our leaders possess the political will to make this happen?

Only time will tell. In the meantime, entrepreneurs like Silverton are finding ample opportunities and the energy field wide open. They'll make money, while at the same time, helping Maine businesses and others save on energy costs.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A historical perspective on gas

Politicians of both party stripes now believe that government must solve every problem, real, or perceived.

Take for instance, the price of gasoline.

While we've seen some serious increases in the price at the pump over the past year, Cato Institute fellow Jerry Taylor, along with Indur Goklany counter that notion with an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, August 11.

From the article,

But both [presidential] candidates and the public are evidently unaware of a basic fact: Gasoline is more affordable for American families now than it was in the days of the gas-guzzling muscle cars of the early 1960s. Prices are beginning to come down somewhat, but this was true even when the national average was at its summer peak.

Two-thirds of American voters say they think that the price of gas is "an extremely important political issue," and many believe that it will cause them "serious" financial hardship, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press and Yahoo.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

American Jesus

[AP photo/Altaffer]
Religion was on stage, front and center, last night, as megachurch pastor, Rick Warren hosted the two candidates for president, in a Q & A forum, at Saddleback Church.

With each candidate given an hour to answer questions and discuss issues pertinent to evangelical Xians, facilitated by America’s purpose-driven pastor, both Mr. Obama, and Mr. McCain acquitted themselves well.

While I didn’t watch the interviews in their entirety (surfing back and forth between the forum, and Red Sox baseball and the Olympics), I heard an extended segment with Mr. Obama, and Mr. McCain’s answers to Warren’s questions on evil, as well as abortion.

Hard line partisans probably won’t be budged from their candidate on the basis of Mr. Warren’s efforts at creating a forum to civilly discuss the issues. Those on the fence, however, or who happened to tune in and pay attention to either candidate’s responses, got a representative sampling of their leadership styles, and ideological orientation.

I think Mr. Obama had the greatest challenge, since some on the right assume being a Democrat and having core values rooted in faith are mutually exclusive. Others on the left fringes of the ideological spectrum may even view discussions of faith by a left-leaning candidate to be a liability.

As someone with a background rooted in spirituality, and a working knowledge of religion in America, I think Warren’s effort was done in good faith. I’ve not always been a fan of Warren, and the megachurch movement in general, but allowing candidates the room to answer questions like adults, and allow them an opportunity to tackle issues steeped in faith is necessary, in my opinion, in a country that at least pays lip service to religious values.

Interestingly, while more conservative evangelicals will probably consider is a slam-dunk win for Mr. McCain, younger evangelicals, many whom probably attend Warren’s church, will have a more difficult time pulling the lever in November, for Mr. McCain. Much of this has to do with changes that have occurred within American Xianity, and the inroads made by new evangelicalism. To think that today’s evangelical movement occupies a monolithic viewpoint is to reveal the kind of ignorance common among the drive by media.

While I’ve been critical of Mr. Obama, his willingness participate in this forum demonstrates an ability to cross party/political/religious/ lines. The nonpartisan view on this, I think is that he displayed wisdom, showed consideration, and came across as human to anyone who watched this with an open mind. Others will disagree, saying that his “nuance” was trying to be all things to all people, and give “safe” answers.

What is most interesting, the morning after, is viewing various websites (here and here) and reading media accounts, noting the predictability of the reactions (particularly the comments), when ideology is factored into the mix.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reliance on past performance

Reading is a lot like listening to music, at least in my opinion. If you find an author that you like, reading other books by them usually brings enjoyment. There have been personal exceptions to this rule, of course. You might read one book by a particular author, and not be able to put it down. Another book, by the very same author, might be tolerable, but not the page turner you had been conditioned for.

Joyce Carol Oates is an example of the latter for me. I’ve found some of her books exhilarating. No doubt Oates is a fine author, but for me, her books have been hit or miss.

An example of an author that I once read everything I could find is Joseph Wambaugh. Wambaugh, who rose through the ranks of the LA Police Department, from patrolman to detective sergeant, over a 14 year law enforcement career, turned to writing, detailing the gritty realities of police work in his first novel, The New Centurions. Published in 1971, this book launched a prolific stretch of writing for the cop, turned writer.

I read Wambaugh shortly after leaving fundamentalist Xianity in the 80s. His books were the first that I’d read for pleasure since high school. I enjoyed his takes on police work, based upon his own experiences. The characters were believable, and Wambaugh was a good writer, so sticking with him brought a steady stream of enjoyable reading.

On the music side, certain bands and artists, are much like authors. Once you like one of their CD releases, chances are, you’ll enjoy their other output. Like certain writers, there will always be exceptions.

Mike Ness, of Social Distortion fame, and also, two solo discs, is an artist that I can listen to his entire catalogue, both with the band and solo, and not be disappointed. While my tastes have evolved somewhat from much of the indie post-punk that comprises a good deal of my music collection, Ness’ Social D stuff still stands the test of time.

Not long ago, I met with a colleague for lunch. After we discussed work, and details of possible collaboration, our conversation turned to music, baseball, writing, and spirituality. On the basis of that talk, he said he’d send me his favorite novel about baseball.

Curious as to what the book might be, about two weeks later, a package arrived in my work mail slot. Inside was The Brothers K, by David James Duncan.

I had never read, let alone heard, of Duncan. Sorry for me that I hadn’t.

I read most of The Brothers K, all 643 sprawling pages, during my long weekend at Shagg Pond.

My work friend was right about the book. Duncan is a wonderful writer, and the book captures the life, passion, and heartbreak of family like few other books I’ve ever had the privilege of reading.

Duncan creates characters that at times are a bit larger than life, but at the same time, very believable. The father, Hugh Chance, is a former minor league baseball phenom. A pitcher, on his way to the big time, before an accident in the hometown paper mill derails his plans, the book never becomes clich├ęd and the sudden turns and twists of the novel kept me engaged right up to the very last page turn. Even after 600 plus pages, I was disappointed the book was coming to an end. Duncan kept me wanting more, as he didn’t detail each and every event, or fall into the “lives lived happily after” trap of some.

On the strength of The Brothers K, I picked up River Teeth the other day, when I was perusing the shelves of fiction at the Lewiston Public Library.

I just started reading Duncan’s book of stories about rivers and idiot sheep, infused with the rich metaphor of “river teeth,” the memories of experiences we’ve all had, shaped by the river of time. Like The Brothers K, River Teeth is great reading, and Duncan seems to be a writer like Wambaugh (as well as Jonathan Franzen, Sherman Alexie, and others) whose catalog won’t disappoint.

Ending on a musical note, the band Nada Surf has become a band for me that brings aural pleasure. Overcoming the curse of MTV success early in their life as a band, with their hit, “Popular,” the Brooklyn-based band, after being dumped by major label Elektra, have moved beyond the constraints of “finding hits,” to producing some mighty fine work on tiny Barsuk Records.

About six months ago, after hearing a killer live performance on KEXP by the band, I picked up Let Go, their first post-Elektra musical foray. The disc stayed in my car’s CD player nearly nonstop for weeks. Recently, I decided to add The Weight Is a Gift, their 2005 release. The song "Always Love" is such a great piece of songwriting by the band, and captures the importance of choosing love (and possibly, kindness), over hate. While that song is the reason I nabbed the disc, the rest of the tunes are stellar, and there isn’t one bad track on the record. I also picked up their newest release, Lucky, which I’ve yet to listen to, I’m so enthralled with TWIAG.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One last game of catch

I can barely move today. Yesterday, after taking a long walk in the morning with my dog, and then biking around noon, I decided to throw batting practice to Mark, our son.

For a large portion of my life, baseball has been front and center in my life. It’s been a safe haven for me, a means of bonding between my son and I, and even provided a way to heal family divisions.

Oddly, the past two summers, baseball has been relegated to the margins. Somewhat burned out from coaching, and running a summer semi-pro league, as well as fed up with much that passes for the professional version, I became disinterested in the game that once meant so much to me.

[The accoutrements of BP]

Our son, now 24-years-old and no longer actively involved in playing (although he’s been a t-shirt vendor outside of Fenway for the past two summers) is readying for a move to the West Coast. He’s been home for a final visit this week, gathering belongings before heading back to Boston prior to his move.

The ball field at Durham Elementary School has been the scene of countless sessions of BP between the two of us, dating back to when Mark was eight, or nine. The early days were about instruction and lessons about the finer points of the game. I wasn’t always a patient teacher, but somehow, Mark gleaned the important points, and became a very good player, excelling at every level he played, up through college.

When I passed the school on my bike ride, I noticed a solitary L-screen setting on the pitcher’s mound at the field, beckoning me to return.

During the ride, I thought about the times Mark and I performed the ritual of me emptying the crate of 50-60 baseballs, as he scattered them about the outfield grass, with grounders, line drives, and long fly balls. Whether we were using a crate, ball bag, or bucket, eventually, it was emptied, and we would wordlessly trudge about the field, gathering the practice balls for another round. When Mark was in his teens (and I was in my 30s), it wasn’t uncommon for this to occur four, or five times, meaning that I would throw close to 300 pitches. When it was apparent I could no longer throw strikes, our session would conclude. Some of my best memories were the two of us, sweaty, sitting in the dugouts, talking, and sharing a water bottle.

Like Kevin Costner, in Field of Dreams, having a game of catch with the character he comes to recognize as his dad, Mark and I were able to share another session of BP, maybe the last one we’ll ever have.

As we tossed the ball back and forth to loosen our arms, the familiar “thwack” of the ball hitting the leather of our gloves was like a tune I hadn’t heard for a time, but something you never forget. As the ball hurtled to me, I realized that while I still could snatch the ball with relative ease with my mitt, I wasn’t as agile as I once was, even in my late 30s, when I was still playing competitively.

[Amazingly, I can still get into a catcher's squat]

Both Mark and I were rusty. I had managed to have a game a catch with a work colleague this spring. Other than that, and tossing the football some this week, with Mark, I hadn’t thrown a ball all summer.

Amazingly, I was still able to get the ball the requisite 60 feet, six inches, to the plate. Mark’s timing was a bit off, as he hit left-handed to start (he was a right-handed hitter through college). Mark always enjoyed toying with the opposite side of the plate. In fact, when he was 13, and broke his right arm, he taught himself to throw left-handed, so he could play catch while recuperating. It wasn’t long before I was glad I had the protection of the L-screen to duck behind, however. Mark began rattling line drives around the ball park from his unnatural, left-handed side.

[The L-screen is my friend]

[60 baseball pick-up]

After one bucket, he switched over to the right-side. Several of the first few soft tosses were popped up. After about 20 pitches, the Mark I remember came to life, and lofted a ball over the pines in left, some 350 feet away. The “crack” of wood making solid contact was back, and he hit several shots that reminded me of his high school, and college days, and some of the majestic home runs my wife and I witnessed.

While my right shoulder is painfully sore, and my left butt cheek pulses with pain every time I take a step, this 46-year-old baseball has-been is happy for one final diamond outing.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

MSM fails to report on John Edwards

Ken Layne, editor of Wonkette, summarizes the John Edwards/love child story that the drive by doesn't have the heart (stones?) to report on. Slate also gives an explanation for the deafening silence surrounding the story.

I was duped by Edwards' faux populism he espoused when he was still jockeying his horse in the race. I should have known better about a guy that talks about the working class, but gets $400 haircuts.

The story, as Layne reminds us is "that politicians in Washington are creeps and weirdos, and whether they're Senator Larry Craig cruising for gay sex in an airport bathroom or ex-Senator John Edwards hiding from tabloid reporters in a Beverly Hills hotel bathroom, they are twisted little Caligulas pretending to be statesmen, on your dime."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Change agent for the common man

I no longer harbor illusions that most Americans possess the critical thinking to parse ideological differences between candidates for president. What has me concerned, however, is that when one candidate says one thing, like he's an agent of change, but at every turn, acts exactly like most other candidate for public office (as in saying one thing, and doing the opposite), then have the honesty to say you're voting for the guy because your an ideological hack, not someone that really believes your candidate will be any different than what your party has been offering for decades.

Take for instance Lord Barack Obama's 47th birthday party.

About 850 people attended the gala celebration, held in the ballroom of a Boston skyscraper, the 33rd floor to be exact, overlooking Boston Harbor. The guest of honor was serenaded first by singer Harry Connick Jr. and then his 10-year-old daughter, Kate. Afterwards, the entire room joined in what was described as an "animated" rendition of "Happy Birthday."

The cost for guests was between $1,000 and $4,600 per ticket. Among those, 250 also ate dinner with Obama — for $15,000 per ticket or $28,500 for a couple.

This is nothing new; candidates routinely shake down supporters for having the honor to be in their presence. It's how you become president in America, in the 21st century, and how it was done for the latter part of the 20th. Heck, Lord Obama left with $4 million in loot.

Interestingly, for a guy that seems to demonize oil, and is a member of the party of Al Gore and smaller carbon footprints, I wonder how many of the limousine liberals in attendance biked to the event, with their high end clothing and all. Come to think of it, I don't think Mr. Gore's spent much time on the bike, of late. Obama, on the other hand, looks like a cyclist, one that keeps his tires properly inflated.

The main course included porcini-crusted sea bass, which isn't the kind of cuisine that the working class, or John McCain was chowing down on, out in Sturgis.

Check out this link for the rest of the menu.

[Note: For the purposes of full disclosure, and in fairness to Mr. Gore for my crack on his weight, I'm carrying a few extra pounds on my own frame. At the same time, I'm not urging my fellow Americans to park the SUV, bike to work, and move to a cave without electricity.--JB]

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Small towns run amok

It occurs to me, at a time when Americans are quick to blame the federal government, and those in the Beltway for many of our problems, the systemic root of our failures and shortcomings might be much closer to home.

While railing at some distant bogeyman seems convenient (and often less threatening), it’s much harder to confront those that you encounter in person, particularly if they have the means to get back at you for any criticism, or efforts to bring about change.

In many small Maine towns (and I’m sure similar issues exist in the other 49 states), the officials that run the town were put into their positions for a variety of reasons, the least likely being that they were the best person at the time to fill the position.

While town managers and administrators are hired by an application process that in many cases is competitive, the decision to select the final candidate is often done by those elected to do the bidding of the citizens of the town. Unfortunately, in more cases than I’m comfortable thinking about, these elected officials don’t always act in a manner that benefits the citizens of their community.

My late father-in-law, one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, and someone that I hold in the highest esteem, spent about a decade near the end of his life, serving as an administrator in several small Maine towns. This was about 20 years ago, but I remember him telling me how difficult his job was, coming into a town, and having to butt heads with entrenched town officials, like road commissioners, finance directors, and even town clerks, who resented my father-in-laws questioning existing practices. I always found this interesting, as he had over four decades of accounting experience, was a CPA, and had handled the accounts of several large firms, as well as his own successful business. Yet, many of these local yokels, with a high school diploma at best, were sure that they knew more about ordering the town finances than he did.

I haven’t thought about my father-in-law’s challenges with small town power structures for awhile, but since I’ve been following the goings-on across the river, in my town of origin, Lisbon, it occurs to me that what’s happening there is similar to what he and I used to talk about, two decades ago.

From what I can gather, reading accounts in The Lisbon Reporter, and speaking to people I have known for most of my life, there is a tug-of-war going on between those who have benefited by being on the town’s payroll, and a group of concerned citizens that have grown tired with the town’s business as usual, and some of the tactics of town employees that have grown fat at the taxpayer’s expense.

Recently, I was glancing through the latest issue of the Maine Townsman, a monthly magazine produced by the Maine Municipal Association, and sent to more than 4,500 elected and appointed officials and employees of member municipalities and other readers interested in municipal issues.

In it was an excellent article written by Dorothy Burton, a city councilmember in Duncan, Texas, and a writer and professional speaker about issues affecting small communities, like Lisbon.

Her article, "Why We Fail: Avoiding the Evils of Elective Office" ought to be required reading for the town council members in Lisbon, as well as some of the other town officials, such as the town manager, chief of police, the director of economic and community development, and others, who seem to be embracing many, if not all of the seven evils Burton lists in her acrostic, which spells out FAILURE.

  • Forgetting Our Purpose

  • Arrogance

  • Ignoring the Core

  • Lying

  • Underestimating Risk

  • Ruling out the Rules

  • Electronic communications

Burton’s list is an excellent one, and one that all of us ought to look at, and do our own soul-searching, because it also applies to everyday interactions with the people in our own lives.

You can read Burton’s article in its entirety, here:

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Durham detritus

The other morning, on one of my early morning walks with my dog, I came across a large box, and packing materials, scattered along Route 9, just prior to the gravel pit, headed south.

I’ve lived in Durham for nearly 19 years, now. Durham had been a farming community for much of its existence, and like similar communities with an abundance of open space, the last 20 years has witnessed substantial growth via residential development taking place.

I live on a section of Route 9, the road to Bradbury Mountain. I regularly walk this busy thoroughfare, along with Bernie, my 13-year-old Sheltie. Most often, my walks are in the morning, just after 5:00 am, before I head out to work. I rarely take my walks in the evening, when I return home, because Route 9 resembles a NASCAR track, with heavy traffic, and drivers that feel like they own the road, and aren’t willing to share it with a man walking his dog.

It wasn’t always this bad. When we first built, 19 years ago, the road was busy, but the volume was noticeably less, and drivers tended to drive slower, and extend courtesy to anyone out for a walk.

In addition to an increase in traffic, and driver boorishness, there has also been a substantial increase in the amount of roadside trash. This refuse comes compliments of drivers rolling down their windows and hurling unwanted items out and along the roadside.

Apparently, drivers feel that it’s alright to bomb down this road, exceeding the 45 MPH speed limit that I personally feel should be lowered, as the area is now residential, with three major subdivisions feeding into it; they also no longer have qualms about dumping their beer bottles, fast food bags, and wrappers, construction materials, in this case, appliance packaging. Worse, I now regularly find dirty diapers strewn along this two mile stretch of road.

We seem to have crossed a societal Rubicon of sorts. No longer is littering seen as an act of wrongdoing, and a blight on the community. In fact, most of these sows probably don’t even think twice. These are probably the same folks that cut you off in traffic, cut in front of you in the store (without saying “excuse me”), steal from their employers, and are raising a generation of children with no concept of respect, or etiquette, or morality.

I close with this story to show that I’m truly old-fashioned in the values, and etiquette that I value, which was instilled in me, at a formative age.

My mother, who my sister and I used to call, “Emily Post,” was a stickler for etiquette. If we were out in public, my mother would insist that I hold the door for anyone behind me, entering a building. She would say, “A young man always holds a door for others.”

We were taught to say, “thank you,” if anyone gave us a sample in a store, and “excuse me,” if we happened to cut in front of someone, while out shopping with her.

When I was eight, or nine, coming back from the dentist with my mother, she decided to treat me to a hamburger at McDonalds. This was back in the day when McDonalds was a special treat, not the second family home, like it is today.

For some reason, we ate in the car, and as we were returning home, and I had completed my meal, I rolled down the window and tossed my trash out. My mother yelled, “what did you just do?”

“I threw my McDonalds bag out the window,” I stammered, embarrassed, knowing I had done something seriously wrong.

My mother has never been a great driver, so it was with great effort that she pulled the large Plymouth Fury off to the side of the road, and pulled a U-turn, returning to the scene of my crime. When we were off the side of the road, she demanded that I get out of the car and get my garbage. Cars were passing by, a couple honked, and I was embarrassed, and mortified.

To this day, nearly 40 years later, I still think of that experience, if I’m ever tempted to even drop a gum wrapper on the sidewalk, let alone toss trash out my window.

Obviously, the pig that offloaded their packing material for their grill, didn’t have a mother (or father) that taught him/her very much about etiquette and social responsibility. Sadly, it appears that an entire generation of adults missed these valuable lessons.