Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Our Ever-Widening Gulf

Have we become a mutual scorn society? As the gulf between left and right in America steadily widens, it’s gotten to the point where primary divisions in our country are not racial anymore; they’re political. According to an article by Yoni Applebaum in the latest Atlantic:

In 1960, less than 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they’d be unhappy if their children married someone from the other party; today, 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats would be, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute/Atlantic poll—far higher than the percentages that object to marriages crossing the boundaries of race and religion. As hostility rises, Americans’ trust in political institutions, and in one another, is declining.

The right sees mainstream media (MSM) as in bed with the left while the left disdains alternative media like Fox News and AM radio as reactionary. According to a recent Gallup poll, 69% of Democrats trust MSM but only 15% of Republicans and only 36% of independents do. This should concern us because it’s a major shift. Gallup first measured Americans’ trust in MSM back in 1972 when 68% said they trusted it. In 1976 it was 74%.

It should be noted that that high trust level of 74% followed impeachment hearings against Republican President Nixon who had resigned two years earlier. As impeachment hearings on Republican President Trump proceed here in late 2019, MSM trust is down to 41% of all Americans. The widening trust gap isn’t just between Republicans and Democrats either. Only one in three independents trust mainstream media now.

When Democrats initiated impeachment hearings against Nixon, many Republicans in Congress supported them. Republican Senate leaders visited Nixon in the White House and advised him to resign. Impeachment hearings against Trump are completely one-sided and Mainstream Media coverage of Trump since his inauguration has been more than 90% negative.

When pollster Scott Rasmussen was interviewed recently by Sharyl Attkisson on her program Full Measure, he said:

78% of voters say that what reporters do with political news is promote their agenda. [Voters] think [reporters] use incidents as props for their agenda rather than seeking accurately record what happened. Only 14% think that a journalist is actually reporting what happened... If a reporter found out something that would hurt their favorite candidate, only 36% of voters think that they would report that. So voters are looking at them as a political activist, not as a source of information.

Ciaramella and Obama's pajama boy
On October 30th, Paul Sperry of Realclearinvestigations named the original Trump “whistleblower” as Eric Ciaramella, who worked in the Obama Administration at several levels including CIA and NSC, then continued under President Trump. Both MSM and Fox News still refuse to identify him. When Congressman Adam Schiff began his secret impeachment hearings, he refused to allow Republican committee members to ask questions about Ciaramella. Schiff still denies reports that his staff had contact with Ciaramella before he “blew the whistle,” and coached him about how to file his original report to the NSC Inspector General.

Obama's staff warmly welcomes Trump on his first day in office.
Eric Ciaramella circled
Sperry also reports that Ciaramella worked with Obama CIA Director John Brennan, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Vice President Joe Biden, and DNC opposition researcher Alexandra Chalupa who was investigating the Trump Campaign in 2016. If all that is true, it’s easy to understand why Adam Schiff won’t allow questions about him. Schiff, however, insists he is protecting the “anonymous” whistleblower from potential physical harm, ostensibly from Trump.

According to the Daily Wire: “Mark Zaid, the attorney for the Ukrainian whistleblower, stated just days after President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January 2017 that the ‘coup has started’ and that ‘impeachment will follow.’” It’s hard to dispute that Trump-hating Democrats and Republicans have had their knives out for Trump from day one of his presidency — even before as the Justice Department Inspector General Daniel Horowitz is expected to report December 11th. Trouble is, it’s not just the pundit class that’s deeply divided on impeachment. It’s the entire American populace.

When extended families get together next week for Thanksgiving, the more prudent will avoid discussing politics because divisions run deep at that level too. In most families, however, there’s always someone who will bring it up. Then there will be someone else who cannot let a remark slide and will feel compelled to respond. At that point, whoever is hosting should respectfully request that discussion of politics be off-limits for the day.

Thanksgiving 2019 may be the last at which imposition of such limits will be possible. Next year’s Thanksgiving will come only three weeks after election day. No matter which way the voting goes, tensions are bound to get even higher.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

What's Under There?

Remember digging a hole at the beach with your pail and shovel? It’s pretty easy to dig in sand when its grains are held together somewhat by moisture. Dig down far enough though and the hole fills with water. Then its sides collapse and you end up with a shallow depression. Well, that’s something like what we found when replacing a 35-year-old foundation that had been heaving up under a large garage on one of the properties I manage. First, we moved the garage off to the side. Then Colin Micklon and his crew at Micklon Tree and Landscaping dug out the old foundation which had been built on blue clay at the bottom of a hill near Kezar Lake.

Hitting blue clay
Colin got down to an undisturbed level, or “virgin ground,” as it’s called in the trade. Then he set up a pump to suck out accumulating groundwater, trucked away all the fill, and got ready to build a crushed-stone base for the new foundation. Then a nor’easter arrived last month with all that rain. On top of groundwater from several springs in the hillside, it was too much and the blue-clay sides of the hole sloughed back in. While Colin and his crew dealt with that, I consulted my research materials to understand why the blue clay was there.

Whenever I see an excavator or backhoe digging, I pull over and look in the hole. It’s the only way to see what is under the surface, right? That’s basically what geologists do when compiling data on what they call Maine’s “surficial geology.” About fifteen ago I purchased several sets of data from the Maine Geological Survey (MGS) on Lovell and the surrounding area. The MGS arranges its research to correspond with green quadrangle maps from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) you’ve probably seen hanging up in various places.

USGS map Center Lovell Quadrangle
My house is located on the southwest corner of the green map called the “Center Lovell Quadrangle.” Surrounding that are the Fryeburg Quadrangle, the Pleasant Mountain Quadrangle, the North Waterford Quadrangle, and so forth. I purchased those about forty years ago when I first moved to Lovell. I used them in my classroom to teach local geography, to guide me in my deer-hunting expeditions, and to explore cellar holes in abandoned settlements all around the area. The University of New Hampshire has an online collection of USGS Maps going back to the 1890s.

Those maps are great for seeing what is on the surface like old logging roads, jeep trails, elevations, streams, and so forth, but don’t offer any information about what is under the surface. The Maine Geological Survey (MGS) surficial geology maps I purchased were based on data compiled up to 2002, but they’ve since been updated. Teams of state geologists visit each quadrangle periodically and look into whatever excavations are going on at the time, gravel pits, cellar holes, road cuts — wherever they can get peeks underground. They compare visible data with evolving theories about which of at least four ice sheets to have come and gone over this area during the past two million+ years did what.

After purchasing fourteen acres on Lovell’s Christian Hill back in 1980 or so, we began building the house in which we now live. First I cleared the trees, then hired Tommy Barker to dig the cellar hole. (Colin was in kindergarten then.) There’s only a foot or so of topsoil above what’s called “hardpan,” which goes about fifty feet down to bedrock. That, according to the above data, was laid down by a glacier, but which one? Was it the last one that melted back about 11,000 years ago? Or was it one the ice sheets that came and went before it hundreds of thousands of years earlier?

There were no geologists around to consult, but my guess is it was probably all of them. We know the last glacier best and it was estimated to be 1-2 miles thick and very heavy. It had boulders, sand, gravel, and clay contained within it which dropped wherever it melted. Earlier glaciers did the same. They all dropped material which was then compressed by the weight of subsequent glaciers. Maine’s hard pan is like concrete, extremely difficult to break through, and impermeable to water.

That blue clay we encountered near Kezar Lake seems to have been deposited during the last warming period around 11,000 years ago when meltwater was held back by an ice and debris dam and formed a much larger lake geologists call “Lake Pigwacket.” It was many times the size of what’s now Kezar Lake. All this surficial geology overlays bedrock, and it seems that Maine’s bedrock is among the most diverse on the entire planet — but that’s a column for another time.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Half Century of Change

There were a hundred guys in my high school class. At the 50th reunion last Saturday, I learned that a third of them are dead. Keith Academy was a private, Catholic prep school for boys in Lowell, Massachusetts that closed in 1970. Also at the reunion were survivors of a similar-sized class from Keith Hall, the Catholic prep school for girls across town. They, however, had lost only eight. On a screen, reunion organizers from both schools displayed graduation pictures of the men first, one at a time. I recognized them all and wondered what killed them, but I’d been in Maine for forty-two years and out of touch with all those people.

Keith Academy
A former classmate looked me up and left a voicemail with a pronounced Boston accent months ago but I was ambivalent about going. I sent in the $50 to keep my options open and put the date in the calendar on my smartphone. My parents sent me to Keith Academy but I had wanted to go to Tewksbury High with my childhood friends. For four years I felt out of place there.
This had been a small ranch. It has quadrupled.
I drove down early so I could visit the Tewksbury, Massachusetts neighborhood in which I had grown up. The dead-end street I remembered with thirty small capes and ranches on quarter-acre lots, seemed shorter. I’d walked up and down it thousands of times during my childhood — to the bus stop and back every day, then again on my afternoon paper route. Almost every house had doubled in size although there were far fewer children living in them.

At least the woods were pretty much the same
It was a sunny, Saturday afternoon in November. Sixty years ago there would have been a sandlot football game going on and dozens of other kids would be engaged in various playful activities on the street, but all I saw last weekend were two mothers teaching their toddlers to ride tricycles. No other children were visible.

Our old house
Not knowing who lived in our old house, I drove past it to the end of the street and parked. What I really wanted to check out were the nearby woods where I had spent most of my boyhood. About a dozen houses occupied what had been part of the old woods, but most of the white pine forest was still there. In the deepest part of it, I startled two boys beside a small campfire. About eleven or twelve, they reminded me of myself and my best friend Philip when we habituated the area. We chatted a while before I hiked back to my car.

St. William's School
Then I drove to St. William’s, my old elementary school about a mile and a half away, now also closed. I remembered the sandlot baseball games we played behind it but that field was gone. I looked at the entry door where we lined up to go back inside after recess. I could almost see the girls in one line and boys in the other, all of us dressed in our school uniforms with a nun supervising. I looked up at the classroom windows where I attended 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Some of my classmates at St. William’s went on to Keith Academy as I did, and Keith Hall too, but I didn’t see any of them at the reunion later that evening. That disappointed me.

At 68 now, I wear glasses and use hearing aids. There were over a hundred people in the hall at Lowell’s Mt. Pleasant Golf Club, all talking at once and the acoustics were terrible, especially for me with my hearing impairment. A DJ played sixties music much too loudly for my liking. Not only was it difficult to understand what people were saying, but I also made myself hoarse trying to talk over the din. Twice I walked over and asked him to lower the volume until after dinner when people would start dancing. He did but turned it back up minutes later.

After dinner I found myself standing next to another former classmate from out of town and told him I live in Maine now. He said he had flown in from Washington, DC and I asked how he happened to move there. He said he’d started working for a Democrat political consulting firm in Boston which led to fundraising for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood in Washington. I almost said that put us at polar opposite ends of the political spectrum and then thought: “Nah.” I get enough of that with my column and Left & Right TV Show.

At about 9 pm I concluded that my effort to enjoy myself was unsuccessful and Michael Connelly’s newest novel was on the nightstand in my hotel room. I found my jacket and went out the door. I doubt anyone missed me.