Thursday, September 24, 2020

WILL THE ELECTION BE ABOUT FEAR?


Every four years, it seems, we have “the most important election in history.” Exaggeration? Maybe, but I don’t think so, not this year anyway. While many Americans see November 3rd as  Biden vs Trump, others see it as left versus right. I’ve voted in every presidential election since I became eligible in 1972 and, while I used to be swayed by who the person running was, that’s not very important to me anymore. It’s the platform he or she espouses that matters now.

Over that forty-eight year span, my political outlook has moved across the spectrum from left to right and two aphorisms sum up why. The first is attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re twenty, you have no heart; if you’re still a liberal when you’re forty, you have no brain.” The second is from that other British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who said: “The facts of life are conservative.” Democrats are so far left now they’re becoming socialist.


In a February 17th column, I said Trump looked unbeatable, and he did. Then, in the last paragraph, I wrote something which has proven prophetic: 


But nine months is an eternity in politics. Anything can happen between now and November. Like what you may ask? The Corona virus, for one thing. Chinese efforts to contain it have been futile. So have their efforts to censor information about how serious it is. Their economy is slowing considerably and likely to tank. Pulitzer-Prize-winning science writer Laurie Garrett has covered first-hand over thirty epidemics worldwide and she offers a very sobering account of what we may expect from the virus now being called COVID-19. “The economic and political repercussions are going to be enormous,” she says.



Then, on March 16th, a British professor at Imperial College named Neil Ferguson issued a devastating prediction. If the U.S. and the U.K. did not shut down for eighteen months and isolation measures were not taken, he claimed, 2.2 million Americans and more than half a million British would be killed. American and British health officials — and President Trump —took that very seriously and shut down their countries. Thus, covid became the biggest issue in the campaign.



Ten days later, Ferguson said, Whoops! I was wrong! And he revised his prediction down. Only 20,000 Brits would die; half of them would have died anyway of old age and comorbidities; and the U.K. already had enough ICUs to handle the victims. But it was too late. The left loved the shutdown here in Amcrica because President Trump’s surging economy — his biggest asset for reelection — was crippled. The left and its mainstream media allies weren’t about to let it recover until after election day in November.



Using the British scale above, Ferguson’s prediction for the deaths in the U.S. would revise downward by 2500%, from 2.2 million to 88,000. Here in mid September the CDC has reported 200,000 Covid deaths, but in August the CDC said that only 6% of fatalities reported as Covid deaths were solely from the virus. The other 94% involved Covid, but the virus wasn’t the only killer. Nonetheless, mainstream media continue to hype the virus with endless stories about how many are testing positive and how many are dying. Is that because they want the shutdown to continue through to the election? Seems like it.


Actually, in June, the CDC estimated 0.2 % overall chance of dying from Covid


On my local Left & Right TV show months ago, I asked my left-wing opponent if there will come a time when we view the shutdowns as a major disaster far worse than the virus itself. Never before has there been such a drastic step taken to deal with a disease. Never before has this country shut down its entire economy plus its schools, sports, parades, churches, and countless other activities for medical reasons. Have our state and federal governments exceeded their constitutional authority? Have they violated constitutional rights of citizens?



In 1933, the US Supreme Court ruled that no governments — neither state nor federal — may exercise powers not enumerated by the US Constitution. “[A]n emergency may not call into life a power which has never lived,” said the ruling in HOME BUILDING & LOAN ASS'N v. BLAISDELL. Lawsuits have been filed in several states alleging governors wielded unconstitutional powers, but given the slowness of the judicial process, many plaintiffs will have gone bankrupt before they’re adjudicated.



Governors and other officials, especially in blue states like Maine, drunk with new power over people and economies, are reluctant to give it up as the virus threat fades. Have partisan politics controlled government response to Covid? Do politics influence research into Covid? Consider this: According to Federal Election Commission records, over $285,000 was contributed by CDC employees to Democrats, but only $1000 to Republicans.

Is it possible the CDC is hoping to sway November’s election by pushing fear?


Saturday, September 19, 2020

THE FRYEBURG CANAL ON THE SACO RIVER


Promotion for Barrows' book on Fryeburg History 1938

Exactly two hundred years ago, a group of local farmers in Fryeburg, Maine changed the course of the Saco River with oxen and hand tools. First, however, they had to dig through bureaucratic red tape put in their path by Massachusetts government from which they requested help. Frustrated by that and the state’s refusal of funds, they dug a canal by themselves at their own expense. It was completed in 1820, the same year Maine finally broke from Massachusetts and became its own state.

North Fryeburg farmland today

After rising near Crawford Notch in New Hampshire, the Saco River enters Maine in Fryeburg. Although the town is only about ten miles square, the Saco meanders through it for thirty-six miles. Early settlers cleared land and farmed, but the most fertile land in the northern part of town flooded nearly every spring. It was so bad, farmers petitioned the Massachusetts legislature (which governed Maine at the time) for flood relief in 1786. For the loss of a grist mill, nine houses, numerous animals, and much produce, Fryeburg was granted a tax abatement of 200 pounds. 

Saco River today

That was temporary relief and farmers wanted something permanent. They next petitioned the Massachusetts to fund a canal for flood control in 1812. They had a good idea about where and how to dig it because at one point near the center of town, the meandering courses of the river were only four-and-a-half miles apart. A canal there, through mostly sandy soil, would cut off seventeen miles of river through the fertile intervale in north Fryeburg. The plan was sound and would eventually relieve much of the flooding, but Massachusetts would not give them any money — only permission. So farmers wanted to dig it on their own.


More rich North Fryeburg farmland

First, however, they had to indemnify themselves against legal liability for whatever damages their canal might cause, for along with state permission to form a corporation called “Proprietors of the Fryeburg(h) Canal,” the state attached — to both the corporation and three dozen individual proprietors — legal responsibility for damages in perpetuity. So, the farmers went back to the state in February, 1816 for relief of this endless liability. Massachusetts responded in June, 1816 by limiting it to four years. Only then did the farmers feel safe enough to break ground in earnest.


Old River upstream from Hemlock Bridge

The sequence of actual construction is a bit confusing to this writer. One account said the digging of the first phase began in 1812; others say the digging began 1816 or 1817, but all agree the canal was finished in 1820 with the assistance of Mother Nature. It’s hard to say exactly where that construction started and some say it was done in segments over an eight-year period between 1812 and 1820. The most comprehensive account I have found so far is in John Stuart Barrow’s Fryeburg, Maine: An Historical Sketch published in 1938.


Fryeburg before canal showing two ponds in the center
Library of Congress map

There were two ponds within the four-and-a-half-mile stretch of land across which the canal was planned. One, called Bear Pond, was situated about where Canal Bridge crosses the present course of the river and it was completely drained by the canal. Nothing is left. The other, called Bog Pond, was larger and the canal drained most of it too, but a small segment remains to this day off Bog Pond Road between Route 5 and Menotomy Road.


Old Course of Saco near Hemlock Bridge

According to former Fryeburg Historical Society President Diane Jones, the digging began behind what is now the Al Barton farm in West Fryeburg. She told me her late husband, Ed Jones, together with the late Phil Andrews, found what they believed was the beginning of the canal. None of the many accounts I read about or heard about contradict this. For those who said the first segment was dug between what is now the Old Course of the Saco and Bear Pond, the Jones/Andrews claim is as good as any about exactly where. I went down there last week, but vegetation is so thick in the many old oxbow riverbeds, I could see little. I’ll go back after leaf drop in the fall and check it out again.


Old Course of the Saco in Fryeburg Harbor

Canal construction began with a narrow ditch — either in 1812 or in 1816 — and leading into Bear Pond. One account from Bill Vinton of Lovell said that a man could step across it in certain sections. Then came a freshet (river flooding) in 1820 that widened the ditch into the wider canal we see now and drained Bear Pond, then proceeded to Bog Pond and beyond to connect where the main course of the river below Hemlock Bridge now flows. Another account says there were two separate phases and the second phase was dug between the ponds a few years after the Bear Pond phase, and the 1820 freshet widened and deepened that part as well to complete the course of the Saco River as we know it today.


From Canal Bridge where Bear Pond used to be

Today’s course is the river with a sandy bottom so many canoers enjoy. There’s little water left now in the Old Course of the Saco — which is what the 17 miles of river cut off by the canal has been called. There is more water where tributaries still flow in but not enough to use a canoe or kayak until the “Fryeburg Harbor” area where the Cold River flows in from Stow and the Kezar Lake outlet enters from Lovell. Even there the old river is slow-moving and choked with weeds, especially in late summer. Snapping turtles like it and they grow very large, but no one would want to float a tube or swim in it.


Winter dawn on today's Saco River

Indians had traveled the winding Saco River in Fryeburg, possibly for nine thousand years or more. Archaeologists believe they farmed its fertile, intervale planting corn, beans, and squash beginning about three thousand years ago. In the late 20th century, amateur archaeologist Helen Leadbeater excavated two significant Indian settlements, one at Fryeburg Harbor and the other at Lovewell’s Pond. That pond is only a short canoe ride from the Saco as it flows south out of Fryeburg at the southern end end of town. She amassed her huge artifact collection primarily from these two sites.



She also investigated the entire shore of Lovewell’s Pond and, based on the patterns of where she found artifacts, she surmised that Indians often portaged across a two-mile stretch of what is now Fryeburg Village from the Weston’s Bridge area to the northern shore of the pond. That shortcut would eliminate about two dozen miles of paddling through north Fryeburg for those traveling express from settlements in Conway, New Hampshire to other encampments along the river’s course all the way to its mouth in what is now Saco/Biddeford. 


There are many different spellings of Pequawket

The Pequawkets were part of a subgroup of Abenaki Indians called Sokokis who settled Fryeburg in historic times. They also included the Ossipee, after whom both the town in New Hampshire and a tributary of the Saco flowing from the Ossipee area are named. The Pequawkets and the Ossipee traveled up and down the rivers between the coast and the White Mountains regularly. Captain John Smith and Samuel Champlain both had contact with the Sokokis at the Saco River’s mouth in the early 1600s. The section of Maine’s Route 5 between the Fryeburg/Brownfield area and Saco, Maine is still called the “Sokokis Trail.”


The first white man thought to have entered what is now Fryeburg was likely Darby Field in 1642 on his way to Mount Washington. He described an Indian village of about two hundred and was probably referring to Pequawket — now Fryeburg. We know Captain John Lovewell arrived in 1725 from Dunstable, Massachusetts to fight Pequawket Indians at the pond named for him. Some historians claim Lovewell came to take Indian scalps, but other sources say he was retaliating for Pequawket raids into Dunstable and nearby Andover, Massachusetts. Lovewell died battling Indians in Fryeburg after which most of the Pequawkets retreated to St. Francis on the St Lawrence River.


John Buxton's "Ambush at Lovewell's Pond"

The man destined to have the most impact on Fryeburg was Colonel Joseph Frye of Andover, after whom Fryeburg is named. A surveyor by trade, he knew of the fertile Saco intervale the Indians prized and persuaded the Province of Massachusetts to grant him the land in return for his service in the French and Indian War.


Cumberland and Oxford Canal

During the late 1700s and early 1800s centuries there was a lot of canal digging in Maine and New England, mostly for two purposes: transportation and power. The Saco River canal for flood control was relatively unusual at the time. As it was completed though, a huge transportation canal project nearby was being planned called the Cumberland and Oxford Canal which was opened to traffic in 1832 from the outlet of Sebago Lake to Portland Harbor on the coast. Canals for water power were dug along the Androscoggin River in Lewiston for powering its textile mills.


Back in the 1970s an older Lovell, Maine citizen told me how her grandfather shipped barrels of apples to England from Lovell in the 1800s. First he took them by wagon over the hills of Sweden, Maine to the northern tip of Long Lake in Harrison Village. There they were loaded onto specialized canal boats for transport down Long Lake, through the Songo Lock to Sebago Lake, then across it into the Cumberland and Oxford canal on the lake’s southern end. From there it was onward to inner Portland Harbor at Stroudwater.


There the apple barrels could be loaded onto ships bound for England, or they could remain on the specialized canal boats for transport along the Atlantic seaboard to the Port of Boston. These specialized canal boats were designed to drop a keel and erect two hinged masts, enabling travel along the coast in good weather.


When coal-driven steam power was introduced, however, both the power function and transportation function were gradually undermined. Steam power made railroads possible and they proved cheaper and faster than transporting goods by canal. Steam power also replaced water power for mills of all kinds: saw mills, grist mills, fulling mills, and textile mills. In Lewiston, water-driven turbines were replaced by steam turbines.


Recent shot of Saco at flood stage near Canal Bridge

The Saco River was the biggest obstacle to travel between the old settlements of Fryeburg, Maine (1763) and Bethel, Maine (1769) over an Indian trail which, today, Route 5 largely follows. Bethel is located on the Androscoggin River; Fryeburg on the Saco. Indians preferred rivers for transportation, but they sometimes traveled overland between river systems. Excellent farmland on the intervales of both rivers which first drew Indians, then attracted Bethel’s and Fryeburg’s early white settlers, Colonel Frye being one of these.


Frye had fought Indians and their French Allies in 1757 at the Battle of Fort William Henry and elsewhere as commander of the Massachusetts Militia during the French and Indian War. For that, he obtained a land grant now comprising the town bearing his name. Like fellow French and Indian War Colonel George Washington, he was surveyor by trade. Both also became generals when the American Revolution broke out, but Frye, being much older, saw little service in it compared to Washington.


Joseph Frye cellar hole today

It Massachusetts made its grant to Frye in 1762, he built his home in the center of town just above the Saco’s intervale. All that’s left of it now is a cellar hole in the woods at the end of a dirt road just off Route 5 north of the Fryeburg Fairgrounds. The road is marked by a brass plate set in a stone beside the paved highway. Frye knew the Saco intervale’s rich soil and huge potential for farming when he sought to acquire his land grant, but apparently not so much about the regularity of its annual floods and the bane they would be to farmers.


He soon learned after settling there himself but he died in 1794 before the canal was dug. He’s buried in the Village Cemetery but other members of his family lived to see the canal completed in 1820 — very close to his original home on Frye’s Hill. The Fryeburg canal stopped much of the flooding in north Fryeburg, but didn’t eliminate it entirely. I can remember twice that my brother Dan, when living on the McNeil Road in North Fryeburg at the edge of the intervale, had to use a canoe to get around for a few days.


Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Left & Right Wednesday, August 26, 2020

 


Stow, Maine resident and former Maine legislator and Washington consultant Jim Wilfong sits again in the left chair. Jim has a depressed immune system right now so we’re wearing masks. 


The first question is about Q-Anon and should Trump accept their support in his campaign. I don’t know what the organization is, but Jim says it’s an individual. The producer’s question alleges Satanic involvement and pedophilia, which leads instead to a discussion of Jeffrey Epstein’s shenanigans involving many powerful people internationally.


I speculate that, along with great ambition often comes a powerful libido. Jim agrees. They can buy their way out of accountability and that leads to more aberrant behavior.


Jim says video can be created that seems real but is falsified, that it’s very realistic and had enormous potential for abuse even more than spying on people digitally through the NSA.


We discuss the value and importance of reputation. Jim mentions how vulnerable it can be for damage given this new technology and the difficulty in countering it.


Jim relates a story about Ed Muskie with whom he used to work, about the difficulty of being in politics and concludes it with a Harry Truman quote: “Politics ain’t beanbag.”


We discuss violence in Democrat-run cities. I contend Antifa is run by Democrats. Jim says they’re anonymous and would not take anyone serious who hides his/her identity.


We discussed a possible vaccine, would we take the it during current virus and compared that to other epidemics like polio when we were children.


Finally we discuss the possibility that masks will be mandatory in Massachusetts or, if Biden wins, nationwide.

Left & Right Wednesday, August 19, 2020


Mark Guerringue again sits in the left chair this episode. The producer leads with a question about whether the US Postal Service can handle the expected surge of mail-in ballots. 


I say yes, they certainly can given that they handle Christmas surges every year and the PPP checks that went out recently.


From there we comment on the Kamala Harris selection to Biden’s VP slot. I’m not thrilled by it, but that’s no surprise.


We discuss whether or not Harris is part of the far-left within the Democrat Party. I say yes, but Mark disagrees.


We discuss spurs to de-urbanize due to Covid, that even if the virus goes away, there’s a shift to suburbs and rural area with people working at home.


The second question deals with colleges opening to in-person instruction. Would you be worried if it were your kid going?


Mark wouldn’t and neither would I given that Covid doesn’t seem to affect that demographic.


We discus overpriced colleges and we both agree that needs to change. If Covid does this, then good.


THE STONE


The Stone

Last week, I picked up a piece of stone from the ground in Fryeburg, Maine where a machine of some sort had cut into an old riverbank. It was unlike any other stones around it because it came from a cave on Mount Jasper in Berlin, New Hampshire forty-five miles away. Archaeologists and geologists call it “Mount Jasper Rhyolite” and Indians mined it for about 12,000 years or more.

In the hands of a skilled “knapper,” the stone can be fashioned into various tools useful to Indians who hadn’t learned to use metals here in what is now the United States. Everyone is familiar with arrowheads or spearpoints but probably wouldn’t recognize other artifacts that are much more common wherever Indians lived and worked, sometimes only seasonally, during prehistoric times in what is now Fryeburg.


What I picked up is a scraper. It was used, probably by a woman, for various purposes — most likely to prepare hides from animals brought to camp by hunters who used those other tools archaeologists call “projectile points.” There was no way for me to figure out how long the scraper had been there. It could have been used as recently as four or five hundred years ago, or it might have been used 10,000 years ago or more. Scraper technology hadn’t changed much over ten millennia.


Early Paleolithic type projectile point


Projectile point technology, however, had. I cannot say it advanced because there’s little agreement about that. We do know that it changed. The shapes of projectile points varied over millennia, but their function remained the same. They were hafted onto either an arrow, a spear, or a dart, but the hafts — and whatever material was used to attach the point to the haft — had long ago deteriorated. With relatively rare exceptions, only stone artifacts remain to be found here in the 21st century.


Calcine bone from the site


Those exceptions include something called “calcine bone.” Unless heated, bone will deteriorate quickly. When it’s heated sufficiently during the cooking process, it turns into calcine bone and can be preserved underground under certain conditions for millennia. Another exception is pottery. Though I didn’t find any yet at the site mentioned above, I’ve found many fragments a few miles away alongside the old riverbed. Archaeologists generally agree that American Indians learned to make pottery only about 3000 years ago at the beginning of the “ceramic age.”


Damariscotta Shell Heap


One more exception would include coastal sites where human and animal bone has been preserved under shell heaps, which are fairly common along the coast of Maine and the Maritime provinces of Canada. Bones going back a few millennia have been found under discarded shells of oysters and other shellfish. Some shell heaps like those found in Damariscotta, Maine can be quite large.



The Fryeburg site is new to me and I learned of it while reading notes and journals of the late Helen Leadbeater whose extensive artifact collection I’m packing up for delivery to the Maine State Museum soon. Although she didn’t say she collected there, she referred to others who had. It’s not ethical for me to disclose the exact location of any archaeological sites and I’ve pledged not to.



Though I’m tempted to scrape away at the raised riverbank where I found these artifacts to look for more, I resist. If I were to do so, I’d be obligated to conduct a dig according to strict archaeological guidelines which I have neither the time nor the inclination to undertake. I’m content to walk around and surface-collect and then figure out where the stone from which the artifacts were made originated.



This interests me. It’s a thrill to pick up something that hadn’t been touched by another human for hundreds or thousands of years. It’s also interesting to speculate about how the unusual stone — called “exotic” by archaeologists when the source is hundreds of miles away — got to where I discovered it. The Mount Jasper rhyolite came from Berlin, NH forty-five miles away as stated, but Berlin is on the Androscoggin River, but I was collecting on the bank of an old channel of the Saco River.


Inside the cave at Mount Jasper


I also found small flakes of of the same stone as the scraper which indicated that tools were manufactured on the site, or sharpened at least. These are clues about whether Indians habitually used the site or if it were a temporary encampment. Also visible were what archaeologists call “fire-cracked rock” which are associated with hearths. Indians used river cobbles to surround fire pits the same way campers do it today. Continued use of the same hearth caused the stones to redden and crack.



All this fascinates a history geek like me and I’ll definitely return to the site as time permits to see what else turns up.


TO BAIL OR NOT TO BAIL


“What is bail, Mr. McLaughlin?”

I got that question a lot when teaching the Eighth Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted,” the Amendment reads.



My explanation went to several concepts, the first being the “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” principle. “Not everyone who gets arrested is guilty and that’s why we have bail,” I’d explain. “It says in the Sixth Amendment that an arrested person has a right to a speedy trial but sometimes it takes months to schedule it.”



Although a person arrested has to be able to see the judge within three days, that’s just to plead guilty or not guilty. If he or she pleads “not guilty,” then a trial is scheduled but an attorney for the arrested person often asks for a delay of weeks or months to prepare the case for defense. Meanwhile, a judge will allow a release from jail if a certain amount of money is put up — that’s called “bail.” The money can come from the defendant, a relative, a friend, or someone else.



For the most serious charges like murder, a judge might rule that no bail is allowed, or if it is, then a huge amount of money would have to be put up. Sometimes it’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Most people cannot raise that kind of money. Sometimes though, a family member would mortgage his/he house to raise it. Whatever the amount of bail, it is given back when the defendant shows up in court for trial. If he or she doesn’t show up, then the family members can lose their house.



It can be persuasive if an arrested person’s mother, for instance, mortgages her house to bail out her son. Even if the evidence against him is strong, it would take a real lowlife to skip out and make his own mother homeless. If nobody out in the community is willing to come through with bail money, that’s a sign for the judge too. It may signify a lack of support that no one out there cares enough about him or trusts him. The judge might decide he shouldn’t trust the person either and rule that he/she stay in jail until trial. 



Before Covid, I spent four years as a volunteer at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, Maine doing a Bible Study class. Each week, about 8-12 inmates came into my classroom. Some had been to court and either pled guilty or were found guilty and sentenced. Others had been arrested, had pled “not guilty,” and were held awaiting trial because no one bailed them out. Most had been through the cycle many times and had spent almost their entire adult lives in jail or in prison. They were very familiar with how the system worked.


Three out of four were addicted to alcohol or drugs and had burned through friends and family along the way. Many had lived on the streets and were “frequent fliers” at the jail. Many, if not most, had mental health diagnoses and took psychoactive medication daily to remain stable. They tended to go off their meds on the outside and used alcohol and drugs instead which inevitably put them right back in jail for one thing or another. These men were seldom bailed out. 



Some leaders in cities and states run by Democrats have ruled that the bail system discriminates against poor people. They claim guilty rich people can get out of jail while innocent poor people must stay in. Some came up with a questionnaire to determine how likely a defendant is to show up for trial after being released. In New York City, for example, a new law went into effect last January eliminating cash bail for up to 90% of arrests.



By the end of February police there were blaming the new no-bail law for a significant spike in crime. Adding to this were progressive district attorneys who refused to prosecute many other crimes. Then came the Covid-19 epidemic and more inmates were released from jails and prisons before their sentences were up. Then came Black Lives Matter protests, many of which turned violent with riots with looting. On July 6th, New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea called all this a perfect storm resulting in a tripling of people shot during the previous week compared to the same period in 2019.


Dermot Shea


Will this mean the end of bail reform? We’ll see. Meanwhile lots of New Yorkers are staying at their Maine and New Hampshire vacation homes a lot longer than usual. Many others are buying up property here.