Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Viking Ships in Casco Bay

“Do you think an earlier Viking ship looking like that one may have sailed in here a thousand years ago?” I asked the old man sitting next to me on a bench in Bug Light Park last Friday.

“Could have,” he said.

Bug Light Park looks out at islands in Casco Bay and sits at the southern boundary of Portland Harbor where the Fore River emerges into the bay. We were looking at a 115-foot replica of a Viking ship called “Draken Harald Hargagre” out near Fort Gorges a few hundred feet away. It had sailed from Norway in 2016 and I’d hoped it would come into the harbor under sail or see rows of oars sticking out each side propelling it, but it didn’t. The old man told me it had twin diesels. Seeing ships like that on the horizon panicked Europeans for centuries beginning around 800 AD when Vikings raided virtually every coastal and riverine settlement on the continent.

From Portland Press Herald
 We know about Eric the Red settling in Iceland and then Greenland in 985 AD. We know his son, Leif sailed further south, probably to the northern tip of Newfoundland where remains of a Viking settlement were discovered in 1960 at a place called L’Anse aux Meadows. Excavations around the L’Anse aux Meadows site revealed two discoveries that indicate travel to or trade with areas to its south. Two pieces of jasper were found that came from Notre Dame Bay on the island of Newfoundland and were likely used as fire starters by striking them against steel to produce sparks. The other discovery was of butternuts, found in trenches dug into an adjacent boggy area and corresponding in time to the Viking settlement there.

The northern limit of butternut trees is New Brunswick, 800 miles to the south. Wild grapes grow there too, and the presence of many grapes led to Leif Ericsson calling the new place he discovered “Vinland.” No grapes or butternuts ever grew in Newfoundland, botanists insist. While such blanket statements are risky, it’s probably safe to say that no evidence of them has been found. Vikings living at L’Anse aux Meadows likely brought them back from New Brunswick, Quebec, Maine, or areas even further south.

More recently, a Maine archaeologist named Sarah Parcak discovered what was thought to be another Viking site in Newfoundland at Point Rosee, but two years of excavations found nothing conclusive. Parcak had examined satellite photos indicating possible subsurface remains of a Viking longhouse, but nothing like that was found and research has been terminated.

According to a 2010 article in National Geographic, about eighty people then living in Iceland “with a genetic variation similar to one found mostly in Native Americans,” and “This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000,” which is about when Leif discovered Vinland.

In 1958, an 11th century Viking coin was found during a Brooklin, Maine archaeological dig at an Indian site. Most believe it got there through an Indian trading network since no other Viking evidence emerged. There have been scattered reports of “runes” carved into rocks in several New England locales, but none has ever been verified. Runes are Greek or Roman characters modified by Scandinavians.

Several years ago I found an Indian artifact near the Old Saco in North Fryeburg that senior Maine archaeologist Art Speiss told me was made of Ramah Chert. According to geologists, there’s only one source of Ramah Chert and that is in northern Labrador, fifteen hundred miles north of Fryeburg. Ramah Chert has been found as far south as Connecticut on the shore of Long Island Sound. What would account for this?

There are at least two possible explanations. Indians in New England and elsewhere were more capable of sea travel than previously believed and could have built vessels capable of very long sea voyages. The other explanation would be that their trading networks were very extensive. Possibly both are true. Those formerly called Red Paint people are now called Maritime Archaic and they lived five millennia ago on the Maine coast as far south as the Androscoggin River. They used Ramah Chert, and also hunted swordfish.

Hunting swordfish is no easy matter. Maine archaeologist Bruce Bourque is probably the foremost expert on the Maritime Archaic, and he says: “Swordfish are among the fastest and perhaps the most dangerous fish in the ocean. Those found in the Gulf of Maine were huge, some topping 1,000 pounds…Once struck by a harpoon… they often unleash their devastating power upon their assailants, darting away, then arcing back to drive their sword through even the thickest wood ship planking.”

Both intrepid voyagers, the Red Paint People disappeared from the Maine coast and the Vikings disappeared from Newfoundland, but it’s likely both navigated all up and down the northeastern coast of North America in their day. So, is it quite possible the “Draken Harald Hargagre” wasn’t the first ship of its kind to appear in Portland Harbor.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Left & Right July 18, 2018

We have a guest filling in for Gino: Tony Zore, an on-air personality at WMWV, our local radio station. He's a Libertarian and well-spoken.

We start with Trump/Putin press conference and comment on John McCain's put-down of Trump's performance. Tony thinks McCain and most media reaction is overblown. I agree.

Is Trump more anti-Russian than Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc.? I think yes, Tony too. He thinks NATO's effectiveness is diminished as France's and Germany's military preparedness has gone fallow.

Tony questions the wisdom of almost any US involvement in the Middle East. Trump's intervention against ISIS was wrong-headed because we shouldn't get involved when our enemies are fighting each other.

He predicts Turkey will be the biggest problem in the region for the United States and states his reasons.

We further discuss the complicated ethnic/religious conflicts within Islam but also the geography of the Middle East.

I bring up American's deepening divisions. I'm afraid it will get beyond words and so is Tony. I invite him to speculate on why. He gets into two different views of rights: individual rights vs what's good for the group -- society. As the national government amasses more power, the danger of civil war increases. He advocates returning federal power to states.

Tony thinks rising property taxes are the biggest issue facing the Mount Washington Valley. Also, balancing development with preservation of natural resources and scenic areas.

He endorses land trusts buying up development rights rather than government passing restrictive ordinances.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Deepening Divide

He has become the symbol of a divided America. Donald Trump has saturated news for almost three years, but few in media ever expected him to win. They were shocked when he did, and coverage has been overwhelmingly negative ever since. In spite of that, his favorability ratings remain steady and even rise. Half of America supports him; half hates his guts. Our country is divided, and the split is widening.

Half of America believes Russians interfered with our election to stop Hillary and help Trump win. Though no evidence has emerged after two years of investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department, they insist it will eventually. The other half believes the FBI and the DOJ have themselves interfered with the election to help Hillary Clinton and stop Trump — and are still trying to bring Trump down with a phony investigation. Evidence for that continues to grow.

In the interest of full disclosure let me state that I voted for Trump, and if present trends continue I probably will again.

Never before was I reluctant to discuss politics with anyone, anywhere, but lately I’ve become reticent in certain circles. Conversation gets emotional when his name comes up and rational discourse becomes difficult. Many in western Maine and eastern New Hampshire know me as a conservative columnist, but not many in the Portland area know that. Down there I’m a closeted conservative.

My closet door stays shut but I keep a peephole open. Sometimes I feel like anthropologist Jane Goodall observing the behavior of a related species from behind a screen. There are very few Trump stickers in South Portland where I spend a few days per week, and no “Make America Great Again” hats. Bernie stickers, Hillary stickers, and Obama stickers are everywhere. Also proliferating are rainbow flags as well as “=” signs of the Human Rights Campaign — the nation’s biggest homosexual lobbying group.

Every two months, a writers’ group would meet at the Salt Water Grille down the street from our house. At the first meeting after the election, the discussion was exclusively about President-elect Donald Trump — none of it positive. I was quiet until faces turned to me and I said, “ I voted for Trump.” Immediately, the guy sitting next to me said, “You’re an a**hole!”

There was a time I would have reflexively responded, “Oh yeah? Why don’t we go outside and discuss it further?” That night, however, I just turned ninety degrees and looked at him. No one in the room talked for five seconds, but his outburst and my response made it clear who the a**hole was. His apology broke the silence. I kept looking at him for a few more seconds before saying, “Okay. I accept.”

My Hillary interview

Then I told the group I had a fifteen-minute interview with Hillary Clinton before the New Hampshire primary — and that she lied all the way through, so I couldn’t possibly vote for her. For the rest of the evening, I had a rational conversation about Trump with a retired art professor seated on my other side.

People capable of emotional detachment in political discussions report increased quarreling and less rational discourse. I’ve avoided talking politics with certain family members and the list got longer after the election. Like-minded relatives who are professionals report increasing polarization at their workplaces where they, too, stay closeted. We agree that Trump is a reflection of America’s divide rather than a cause of it.

Establishment Republicans like John McCain, Paul Ryan, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and several others share a disdain for Trump with the entire Democrat Party and mainstream media. All shunned the Tea Party when it emerged eight years ago, though congressional Republicans pretended to accept new members elected by the Tea Party. After Congress absorbed what became the “Tea Party Caucus” without changing very much, middle America looked around for stronger medicine.

That set the stage for Trump’s run. Democrats and media at first disguised their scorn for him and his supporters, but after Trump got the Republican nomination Hillary Clinton famously said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it.” After Trump won, media dropped their pretense as well. What did Trump supporters do? They purchased “deplorable” T-shirts and wore them proudly.

Former Tea Party activists who had become “deplorables” always knew elite politicians and media figures harbored scorn for them and were okay to finally have it out in the open. Lately, media calls them “a cult,” and reminiscent of mass suicides at Jonestown, Establishment Washington, and the coastal elites have escalated their divisive rhetoric, but none of it diminishes support for Trump.

The elites remain baffled by Trump supporters, never suspecting that maybe “deplorables” understand them quite well. Thus does America’s divide deepen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jefferson NH Paleoindian Sites

NH Archaeologist Dr. Richard Boisvert
at one Jefferson site

It’s a risk to say they were the first humans in New Hampshire. Better to qualify and say instead something like: “Evidence indicates they were the first.” Because who knows? Some time in the future evidence of an earlier people may be discovered. I’m referring to those people most archaeologists call “Paleoindians.” At least one archaeologist I’ve spoken to, however, prefers the term “Paleoamericans” because that leaves open the possibility that the first humans in New England may not have been Indians, people whom those the rigidly, politically correct would call Native Americans.

There are relatively recent theories afloat that the first Americans may have come from Europe — across the Atlantic on the southern edge of glaciers that covered both the North American and European continents during earth’s most recent glaciation — the Pleistocene Epoch. The period after which those glaciers retreated from what is now Maine and New Hampshire is called the “Holocene.” which began around 12,000 years ago and still extant. Paleoamericans left evidence that they were here immediately following glacial meltdown.

The most interesting of recent Paleoamerican discoveries I know of are in Jefferson, New Hampshire. Those excavations have taken decades but the most recent was during the summer of 2017. All that can be found after twelve millennia are stones, or “lithics” in archaeological parlance, because the organic material has long dissolved. Sources of the stone preferred by those ancient humans for toolmaking are scattered over Maine and New Hampshire but was mostly local for the Jefferson site at least. Availability of that stone may have been one of the reasons Paleoamericans visited.

The various Jefferson sites are close to Mount Jasper, about which I’d previously written here, and the Jefferson stone closely resembles Mount Jasper rhyolite. Excavations conducted at the various Jefferson sites have been under the supervision of Dr. Richard Boisvert, the soon-to-retire New Hampshire state archaeologist I had a chance to interview in June of last year. Boisvert is especially interested in the paleo period and I am too, so I was thrilled when he agreed to meet with me. I’ve read everything I can find on Maine and New Hampshire sites, some of which he authored.

Boisvert believes those early New Hampshire residents made clothing there. “How do you know that?” I asked, given that he has only stones to study. Well, his team found many artifacts called “gravers” which are flakes of “knappable” stone — stone which can be shaped by skilled artisans who strike it with other stones or with pieces of antler to produce a sharp edge for knives, projectile points, scrapers, and “gravers.” Gravers have a sharp point, not unlike a linoleum knife but smaller, and the point can be used to make the eye of a needle. Bone needles have been found at sites not old enough for organic material to have disintegrated.

The various Jefferson sites had at least one thing in common: they overlooked what was probably a game trail along which caribou traveled (and perhaps now-extinct megafauna as well). The proliferation of gravers indicates needle making which, in turn, indicates clothing manufacture. The proliferation of stone scrapers found there would support that hypothesis because they were used to remove residual flesh inside flensed animal hides.

Dating the artifacts is done by consultation with other scientists such as geologists and botanists. Geologists analyze the post-glacial landscape, some of which had been lake bottom. Enormous amounts of water flowed from melting ice still retreating northwestward at the time and dams sometimes formed in valleys creating lakes. Many were temporary when dams failed and water drained through breaches. In some cases, smaller lakes and ponds remain to the present day and botanists analyze pollen samples from lake-bottom sediments. Thus they can determine climate conditions of 12,000 years ago by what kinds of plants produced the pollen.

Notice central groove or "flute"
The Jefferson sites are forested now, but during the paleo period there were no trees and paleo hunters could have seen migrating herds miles away. They fashioned the distinctive, “fluted” spear points characteristic of the paleo period with which to kill them. Boisvert found other small bits of stone called “channel flakes” which are struck from those points to create the central groove or flute created for hafting. Boisvert said his team found 126 such channel flakes indicated extensive spearpoint manufacture.
My wife and I visited Indian sites in the southwest just before I interviewed Boisvert. Artifacts are plainly visible on the surface there because there’s so little vegetation to obscure them. The first paleo artifacts were first discovered in Clovis New Mexico in 1929 and were dated to about the period of the Jefferson, New Hampshire artifacts. Clovis fluted points have since been found all over North America.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Framing Creation

Smarts Hill
It bothers me some that I’ve become attached to an inanimate object: my new camera. Realizing I had left it at our Lovell house and had to do without it a few days, I became mildly depressed. We were heading to Connecticut for my nephew’s wedding and I had to take along my backup camera, a Nikon D7100, which I leave in our South Portland house for just such an emergency. Only last April it had been my main camera and constant companion and my older D60 was the backup. When the new D850 finally arrived after months of waiting, I was infatuated and the D7100 felt like an old girlfriend.

Ram Island Light

The older camera had rendered me thousands of great images over five years. It was always within reach, and with its 24.1 megapixel capability I could enlarge images with little blurring if I didn’t crop them too much. Colors were good, automatic focus worked well, and I have several lenses for it. When Nikon introduced the D850 last September — a full-frame DSLR for half the price of Nikon’s flagship D5, and with equivalent capabilities, I had to have it. It’s biggest advantage is that it shoots at a remarkable 45 megapixels. It’s also very fast, has great dynamic range, and enormous versatility in low light.

There are drawbacks though. Because it’s a full-frame camera, I can’t use my older Nikon DX lenses. Well, I could actually, but they would diminish the D850’s capabilities so what would be the point? I had to invest in a new 28-300 millimeter FX zoom lens for another $1000. However, 28 millimeters isn’t quite wide enough for many shots I want to get. I miss the wide-angle function on the 18-270 I used for nearly ten years with my two earlier cameras.

Diving Loon

My very first camera was a red plastic box I got for Christmas around 1960. It used 620 film and flashbulbs. I can still remember how they smelled after going off — a scent I’ll never detect again I don’t think flashbulbs are manufactured anymore. I shot off several rolls but they sat in a kitchen cabinet for a long time before being developed, because I didn’t have the money. Processing was expensive. There wasn’t much I could do to frame a shot with that old box, either. I could walk around my subject. I could get up high or down low, but those were the only options.

In the late sixties I worked after school in the camera department of an old King’s Department Store in Tewksbury, Massachusetts where a Demoulas Supermarket now exists. When it wasn’t too busy I would take a 35 mm Minolta SRT-101 out of the display case and admire its workmanship. It was a top-of-the-line camera in those days but at $199.99 it was way out of my reach. For our first Christmas in 1971 however, my wife, Roseann, gifted me with one. That was forty-six years ago and I still have it. Although I haven’t shot with it for perhaps fifteen years and may never again, I do take it out once in a while just to admire its fine tolerances.

In the 5th verse in the Gospel of John he says: “God is light.” The late psychiatrist Scott Peck said once: “Sometimes I think God really IS light,” and I believe he was correct. That’s not all God is of course, but He does illuminate His creation. Without light we see nothing. Some say a camera is a tool for capturing light, but I see it as a way of capturing the play of light on the things He willed into existence, including my loved ones and the world in which we live. Everywhere I go, I’m thinking of how to frame some portion of what I’m seeing around me through a lens. My imagined frame might be a few inches across, a few feet, a few yards, or several miles.

Bug Light

That manner of seeing is especially acute just before and after sunrise, then again just before and after sunset. If there are clouds or mist to filter and reflect light at those times, I feel like I’m in heaven. Living on the side of a west-facing hill in Lovell gives me more opportunities at twilight, especially after a summer thunderstorm. In South Portland, there are several places within a five or ten-minute drive where I can watch the sun before and after it clears the Atlantic horizon before breakfast.

Other mornings I’m at Kezar Lake in Lovell when it’s mirror-like and misty. While checking the properties I care for and it’s not unusual for loons to surface only a few yards from where I’m standing. Perhaps they sense the veneration lake dwellers hold for them because they’re unafraid as I snap frame after frame.

Perhaps I’m so attached to that camera because it encourages me to notice beauty all around me I might otherwise miss.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Left & Right July 4th 2018

I defend the right side of the political spectrum. For this show, Mark Guerringue defends the left. We start with Roe V Wade and whether it might be overturned by a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Confirmation hearings will be contentious. We go to the Constitution and its division of power between federal and state. Citing the Baltimore newspaper shooting, Mark asks if Trump's "Media is the enemy of the press" statement was causal. I say no, that it was a "one off." Then I again point out the overwhelming leftist bias in Mainstream Media." Mark says that is insulting. I offer hard data and decades of examples to support it. Regarding Russian involvement in the 2016 election, we speculate about how effective it was. I say not; Mark says somewhat. I compare fifties and sixties cold-war propaganda the US broadcast into the Soviet Union to today's Russian involvement. Mark worked briefly for Voice of America decades ago. Mark points to both Trump and Sanders appealing to "have nots" in cities and in rural areas. I agree to an extent, but Trump injects patriotism into the mix. We briefly discuss Muslim immigration in Europe and Danish attempts to prevent radicalism by educating the newest generation of Muslim children in that country.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Border Matters

Do borders matter? Over the weekend I crossed from Maine to New Hampshire and spent $250 on wine and beer. There’s no bottle law there and prices are better because of that state’s tax policies. Real estate agents advertise homes in Lovell, Maine where I live, and in other towns within the Fryeburg area, as “in the Fryeburg Academy school district.” That means high-school-aged children living within district borders can attend Fryeburg Academy, a private school, at taxpayer expense.

From Maine Sunday Telegram
In Portland, two thousand people demonstrated enthusiastically in support of illegal immigrants last Saturday. They chanted and held signs reading: “No Human Being Is Illegal,” and “We were just following orders – Holocaust prison guards 1943 – ICE Officers 2018.” ICE stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency struggling to enforce laws governing who can cross our national borders and who cannot.

Other demonstrations were held in Brunswick, Augusta, and Farmington. On my way back to Lovell I saw people in Bridgton waving and carrying signs protesting President Trump’s border enforcement policies. A friend told me of another demonstration in Conway, NH in which a young woman carried a sign proclaiming: “Imagine a World Without Borders.” There were similar demonstrations in cities all across the United States that day.

Last week, another young woman named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won an upset victory in a New York Democrat congressional primary on a platform pledging to eliminate ICE. US Senator and presidential contender Kristin Gillebrand (D-NY) is also campaigning to abolish ICE. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is also Vice Chairman of the Democrat Party, paraded last week with a T-shirt proclaiming: “Yo No Creo En Fronteras”— Spanish for “I don’t believe in borders.” In a commencement speech for Northeastern University two years ago, former Secretary of State and Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry told graduates to get ready for a “borderless world.”

On Sunday, Mexicans elected a new president who said: “We will defend migrants all over the American continent and the migrants of the world who, by necessity, must abandon their towns to find life in the United States; it’s a human right we will defend.” A headline in Monday’s San Diego Tribune declared: “Californians cross border to vote in Mexican election.” Are they Californians or are they Mexicans? Can they vote in both countries?

Britons voted two years ago to leave the EU — largely to control their borders. Italians just chose a new prime minister in an election the BBC called “dominated by [the] immigration debate.” Austria recently elected Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who wants to strengthen Austria’s border against illegal immigrants. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government is in danger of breaking apart over border issues in neighboring Germany. President Donald Trump was elected here in 2016 promising to build a wall on the Mexican border.

If border enforcement is not the biggest issue in the entire western world, I don’t know what is. Trying to imagine a world without borders as the Conway, New Hampshire young woman advises, seems problematic. Should a Fryeburg cop arrest people over the border in Conway? What about gun laws? They’re very strict in Massachusetts but not in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont. What about sales taxes and income taxes? New Hampshire doesn’t have any but Maine and Massachusetts do. Who is obligated to pay them and who isn’t? Who should determine that? Will states just abandon their sovereignty?

We purchased fourteen acres on which we built our home in Lovell. Do we have the right to say who can come onto it or who cannot? Can anyone camp out here? Can they cut firewood? How about our dooryard? Does a dog have the right to bark at intruders? New Hampshire poet Robert Frost wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Family members have rights to come into our home, but do we have to take anybody? How about our home town? Our home state? Our home country? Are taxpaying citizens obligated to support whoever takes up residence? What is a citizen? Does that designation mean anything?

If people from other parts of the world come into our home town, home state, or home country, are we obligated to pay for their health care and their education? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got 57% of the vote by declaring medical care, housing, education, and a federal job as “rights,” but for whom? Everybody in the world? There’s serious disagreement about those questions in North American and in Europe. So far, those disagreements are being dealt with through the political process — peacefully, that is — so far.

Here’s hoping it stays that way, but I have little confidence that it will.