Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Can We All Keep Getting Along?

It’s remarkable how well people are cooperating with government orders about how to conduct our entire lives. If you’d asked me hypothetically a few months ago to predict how the public would react, I would never have imagined the degree of collaboration we’ve seen so far. Driving back and forth between Maine’s rural mountains and coastal areas each week I see hardly anyone on the roads.

Oxford Street Shelter (From Portland Press Herald)
There are exception, however. I noticed homeless men congregating closely together near Portland’s Bayside neighborhood where soup kitchens and shelters are located. They were commiserating in small groups of six or eight on the sidewalks and touching each other frequently. And, we’ve all seen footage of college students at Florida beaches. These two otherwise dissimilar groups are both wholly absorbed in their own desires and oblivious to the needs of the public at large. Everyone else I observed was maintaining government-advised social distance.

During a community TV show “Left & Right” episode in the early stages of the pandemic, my guests and I speculated on the degree to which the issue might become politicized. One guest was sure politics would influence governmental policies but I expressed cautious optimism that political camps would put aside rivalries for the good of the country. That slim hope has shown little fruition, however. At all levels — local, state, national, and international — many politicians and media personalities have been indulging their animosities.

During daily presidential press conferences on the virus most questioners are looking for facts, but there are many caustic, snarky questions from the usual suspects. Never one to let a real or perceived slight go unanswered, the president responds in kind. Resulting exchanges more closely resemble those of squabbling siblings at the supper table than professionals dealing with a crisis.

No one doubts the virus originated in China but it’s given different names. I first heard of it as the Corona Virus, then as COVID-19, then Wuhan Virus according to the city in which it was first detected. Then Trump called it the China Virus around the same time Chinese government officials claimed it originated in the USA — although there’s no evidence to support that. Then Trump-hating media personalities in the US accused Trump of racism for calling it the China virus.

Although some in media and politics have compared the pandemic to World War II, any student of history would consider that a stretch. There was precious little politicization of WWII. Before Pearl Harbor there was, yes, but afterward American patriotism was so strong hardly anyone dared utter a critical remark. Longtime-leftist radio broadcaster and author Studs Terkel wrote a book calling it “The Good War” because everyone in America, regardless of political stripe, agreed that it had to be fought and won. It won a Pulitzer.

Virtually every historical event since WWII, however, has been politicized, so I guess I was naive to hope this pandemic wouldn’t be. There was a short period of non-partisanship following September 11, but it only lasted  a week or two. That TV show I mentioned was only a month ago but it seems like a year. I speculated that if I was wrong and partisanship did emerge, whoever was guilty of it would pay a political price on election day.

There are seven months to go before the first Tuesday in November, an eternity in political terms, and I think both sides will pay a price. Recent polls indicate mainstream media, together with their Democrat allies, will pay the most. Expect accusations in the form of snarky questions to escalate and be echoed by Democrats in Congress. Trump will continue his fake news accusations and political polarization will exacerbate. 

The $2 trillion bill passed last week was delayed by attempted Democrat add-ons that had no connection to virus relief. Although it was the most expensive piece of legislation in history, still more such bills are predicted before the election. So far, there has been little civil unrest in spite of unprecedented restrictions on public freedoms and increased public distress due to the economic effects of shutdown. Will that continue through April or beyond?

There are signs of fraying. High-end stores have been closed for weeks but lately owners are boarding them up in several cities. Do they expect looting? Will printing $2 trillion cause an inflationary spiral? Will $4 trillion? $8 trillion? There was a mile-long food line in Pittsburgh the other day. Police and food store workers are front-line with medical personnel and they’re getting fatigued.

If we all lose someone in a mounting death toll, perhaps our shared grief will strengthen community bonds. That’s one good thing that can occur in war against a common enemy.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Not Affected Much

Old Orchard Beach Pier at dawn
Virus isolation hasn’t changed my life much. Instead of staying home and guarding my toilet paper, I head out before dawn to Maine’s southern coast for first light. Seldom do I see people, especially in February and March, so social distance is easy. Until recently I had few photos of that area but I have a prospective customer interested to buy some. Even without a buyer, however, there are worse ways to spend time. All of Maine’s winding coastline is beautiful.

It’s been cold though and gloves make camera adjustments difficult. When the wind is blowing my eyes tear up but the natural beauty all around me more than compensates for those discomforts. In pleasant surroundings it’s easy to avoid thinking about the virus changing our entire way of life. Will it ever return to normal? I don’t yet know anyone infected but I probably will soon.
Cape Porpoise
After several hours I’m back home downloading dozens, sometimes hundreds of images for editing, and that can take the rest of the day until dinnertime. My wife occupies herself making quilts for the grandchildren and listening to various psychologists lecture on youtube. She’s a psychotherapist and she can multitask like that. I cannot, as my mind can focus on only one thing at a time. Soft piano music won’t distract me while I edit, but nearly anything else will.

Cape Arundel
I like to venture out before dusk and capture twilight as well. As public reaction to COVID-19 progresses, there’s almost as much solitude at dusk as at dawn. Some are out walking but careful to keep a safe distance. We nod to each other and there’s a shared, unspoken sense that we’re all in this together. My wife goes into Shaws or Hannaford at Mill Creek in South Portland early in the early morning during their designated times for older people like us to get what we need.

Old Orchard Beach at dawn
We seldom go out to restaurants anyway so those restrictions don’t affect us. We have all we need and my wife enjoys cooking. I do too, but not as much as she does so my job is cleanup. We watch Special Report the news until seven and then streaming video or just read. The thing we miss most is seeing our grandchildren. We don’t want to infect them and they don’t want to infect us.

OOB Pier at mid-day
We have some fear, however. Two of out daughters are nurses. Both are gearing up for that they see as an inevitable onslaught of seriously ill patients — too many for whom to provide adequate care. Minimizing that scenario is why government wants to “flatten the curve.” One daughter is an ER nurse who just arrived at her new assignment in Portland, Oregon. The other has been pressed to staff an emergency ICU here in Maine for 12-hour shifts alternating days and nights for the duration of this crisis. Though neither has said so, I think they both fear being forced to decide who gets care and who does not.
Cape Porpoise
Can people stay home indefinitely? Some jobs are essential like healthcare workers, police, fire and rescue, keeping the electricity grid running, delivering fuel, and others but small businesses can only be closed so long before collapsing. Most of us expect to get the virus eventually, but how long will flattening the curve take? We’re all going to die of something, someday, and we prefer the dying be limited to the old and sick as much as possible. It’s better to lose grandparents than grandchildren. Writing in National Review the other day, Congressman Chip Roy suggests that flattening the curve may put so much stress on our economy that it cannot recover. Where will we be then? 
Morning at Scarborough Marsh
This fear thing is real and must be addressed. President Trump was criticized for an exchange with NBC’s Peter Alexander. After snarky remarks accusing Trump of trying to “put a positive spin on things” and “giving the American people a false sense of hope,” Alexander asked: “What do you say to people who are scared?” By that time the president was so pissed at the snark that he called Alexander a terrible reporter. It was a missed opportunity for Trump to acknowledge people’s fears and speak to them. Hostile media outlets broadcast only Alexander’s last question and Trump’s angry response. As intended, it made for a terrible sound bite damaging to the president.

Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote: “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” How many Americans have been forced to do that lately? It’s not a problem for introverts like me, but then the room in which I sit alone is in a house with other rooms, and I’m aware that my wife, also an introvert, is sitting in another. I know she’s aware of me as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

What's Not Happening

It’s been a while, but I haven’t seen any gunfights in the streets of Maine or New Hampshire the past few years and I live very near the border between the two. That’s what progressives predicted would occur if gun laws loosened and people didn’t have to get permits to carry concealed guns. I haven’t seen any newspaper articles or television reports about increased gun violence either after each state passed legislation eliminating concealed carry permits. It’s been three years in New Hampshire and more than four years in Maine, so were the progressives wrong when they predicted both states would turn into the wild, wild west?

Police chiefs in both states were also against the new laws claiming their officers would at risk. What do they say now? Nothing. Vermont never required concealed carry permits and it’s always been one of the safest states in the country. That fact was ignored by progressive gun control advocates when they argued against New Hampshire and Maine revisions of concealed carry permits to copy Vermont.

Many people in the three northern New England states still leave their doors unlocked and crime rates remain very low. Is that because guns here are as common as unlocked doors? That’s probably a factor but not the only one. Most people own guns here and know how to use them. That’s a deterrent, certainly, but they also know who their neighbors are. There’s a much stronger sense of community. People here tend to look out for each other and are wary of strangers and unfamiliar vehicles in their neighborhoods. 

Most rural towns in northern New England don’t have police departments either. They rely on county sheriff’s deputies and the state police. Because of logistics and geography, response times for those larger law enforcement agencies are slower than police departments are in New York City or Boston. Rural people know this so they’re not only more prepared to defend themselves, they’re more willing to do so as well. They’re much less likely to cower in the face of criminal aggression of any sort.

There’s been no let-up in gun crimes for either state since gun laws were relaxed, but the perpetrators usually had prior felony convictions, so carrying a gun remained illegal for them. That didn’t stop them, of course, but then it never did. If you look around and see where most gun crimes are committed, you’ll quickly learn that they’re places with strict gun control laws like Chicago and New York. Gun laws on those places have only been obeyed by the law-abiding. Criminals have historically ignored them.

Although Bernie Sanders has always been a doctrinaire lefty on nearly every issue since he was elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont almost forty years ago, his position on gun control didn’t fit the mold. Is that because he knew he would never have been elected to state-wide office there if he favored gun restrictions? His army of supporters would likely argue that Bernie has always been guided by principle over political expediency, but is that changing?

According to an article by Russell Berman in the February 27 issue of The Atlantic

The senator from Vermont’s hallmark has been his consistency as an unbending progressive over four decades in elected office. Yet if Sanders has embodied left-wing purity more than any of the other potential Democratic nominees, gun policy is one area where his record has been far from pristine in the eyes of progressives… But it’s telling that on gun control, he has gone further this time around to repudiate his past positions and align himself with the Democratic Party’s mainstream opinion. “The world has changed, and my views have changed,” he said at the February debate in New Hampshire.

Was Bernie sincere about his gun control views forty years ago? Is he caving in to political expediency here in 2020? He really wants to be president, but what if he loses to Biden or Trump? Can he be reelected senator in Vermont now that he’s become a gun control advocate? We may never know because he’s not up again until 2024 and by then he’ll be eighty-two years old. Maybe he’ll retire. Maybe he’ll change his position again.
While Democrats consider abortion their most important issue, gun control seems to have become the next most important. Maine and New Hampshire have been voting Democrat the past few cycles, and Vermont has been solidly “blue” for even longer. Maine and New Hampshire, however, are moving the other way on gun control. While Vermont has become even more leftist, there’s no indication they’ll tighten up on guns.

Tighten Up on Student Loans

Shortly before Elizabeth Warren dropped out, a man confronted her about forgiving $1 trillion+ in student debt. “My daughter is getting out of school,” he said. I saved all my money. She doesn't have any student loans. Am I going to get any money back?”

“Of course not," Warren said.

“So you're going to pay for people who didn't save any money, and those of us who did the right thing get screwed?” he said.

As The Washington Free Beacon reported it: “Warren told the man her policy would not disadvantage him, but he described how he and his daughter sacrificed to avoid going into debt, while others spent money on cars and vacations. ‘My buddy had fun, bought a car, went on vacations. I saved my money," he said. "He made more than I did. But I worked a double shift, worked extra—my daughter worked since she was 10. So, you're laughing.’”

“No, I'm not,” Warren said.

“Yeah, that's exactly what you're doing," he said. “We did the right thing, and we get screwed.”

I could identify with that guy and so could millions of other Americans — and not just fathers. Anyone who has struggled for years, decades even, to pay off student loans would be pissed at being forced to pay off other people’s student loans through higher taxes.

While I wasn’t among them, there are people who know exactly what they want to do after graduating from high school and they follow that career path for the rest of their lives. A week before classes started in September I enrolled in a community college that September but had no idea about what to major in, so I dubbed around liberal arts courses for a couple of years. State-subsidized tuition was very reasonable and I could pay all my expenses with a part-time job during school and working full-time over vacations and summers. Classes were easy and I did the minimum. With no particular goal other than maintaining a student deferment (the draft was still on), I dropped out after Nixon reduced American involvement in Vietnam enough that getting drafted became unlikely.

After working various jobs for a couple of years I decided to become a teacher, so it was back to school for a couple of more years while continuing to work full-time. After obtaining a teaching position, I attended graduate school and paid for that myself as well by working additional jobs during summers. I never took out any loans and never got help from parents either. As a husband and father, I took out loans to help my children to go to college and they took out loans as well. Then my wife decided to go back to school and she took out loans. It took years to pay them all off.

As an undergrad I rushed off after class to work the 2nd shift while many of my fellow students went partying. Some of them had prosperous parents. Others had taken out loans. I graduated with no debt, lots of work experience, and time-management skills. Too many of my fellow students just prolonged their adolescence four more years, and not a few took six or more years to finish because they partied so much. Should their student debts be forgiven? Certainly not.

Unless they’re in STEM majors, today’s students are indoctrinated by leftist instructors, graduate with negative views of capitalism, and are more likely to vote for socialist candidates according to polls cited by salon.com. They’re taught to believe old white guys like me are enemies of everyone else and responsible for virtually all of the world’s historical ills — especially any suffered by women and minorities. Some still work their way through as I did, but most do not. They’ve become over-reliant on government assistance in the form of grants and loans. Should their student debt be forgiven? Certainly not.

They’ve also come to view college as a “right” just like “free” medical care. They think a lot of things should be free because they haven’t learned that nothing is free. They believe Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren when they claim that all we have to do is raise taxes on “the rich” and on “Wall Street” and it will all be paid for. They’re not taught that “the rich” are not only paying their “fair share”; they’re paying the vast majority of all income taxes collected each year. Neither do they learn that 50% of Americans aren’t paying any at all. Not only do they pay nothing, they actually get checks in the form of Earned Income Tax Credits.

Colleges charge more and more for teaching less and less to students who think themselves entitled. Grants and loans should be tied to performance by students in majors that guarantee employment after graduation. Those in majors like Art History, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, and other dubious subjects should pay their own way.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Left & Right March 11, 2020

Newspaper publisher Mark Guerringue again sits in the left chair. 

First question from the producer asks: “Do you feel confident that the government is competently managing COVID 19 in the US?”
I think there are three phases of competent leadership: monitoring constantly-changing information, adjusting logistics appropriately, and projecting an aura of confident leadership. I think the feds are good on the first two, but somewhat lacking on the third compared to, say, FDR’s fireside chats during the Great Depression.
Mark says at first it was: “What’s the big deal? It’s a little worse than the flu, but then he worries about healthcare infrastructure being strained — ICU beds for one. He sees politicization of response or lack of it in this election year  as impeding effectiveness in dealing with it. He thinks it will be Trump’s undoing.
I raise the border conflict between Greece and Turkey where Turkish leader Erdogan is releasing a million more refugees bound for northern Europe. Greece is fortifying its border. It’s getting violent and Erdogan is looking for leverage with the EU to have it recognize its claims to parts of northern Syria. He also wants plaudits from the world’s Muslims because he wants to be the next Caliph of the Islamic world.

Mark blames Trump’s pullout of US troops from northern Syria as the cause. I disagree, saying our troops were too vulnerable to attack from several different factions there and there was confusion about who were our friends and who were our enemies. I see the primary dynamic as Muslim designs on Europe — taking over demographically in a generation or two.

Mark asks who is more likely to beat Trump: Bernie or Joe? I say Bernie because he’s an outsider and may ride an outsider wave, whereas Joe Biden, who never was very bright now shows signs of dementia.

Mark claims: “That’s what they said about Trump.” I contend that Trump’s issue is more a chronic personality disorder than dementia. I see no signs that’s changing, whereas there’s plenty of evidence that Biden is deteriorating and he makes a terrible candidate. Mark tells why he chose to endorse Bernie. Biden’s campaign wasn’t organized and didn’t come to the Sun’s editorial board, that only him and Warren failed to make it because their campaigns were disorganized.

Mark thinks Biden’s surge is a big surprise and his victories in the previous day’s primaries, especially Michigan, means Bernie should drop out. He thinks voters are looking for moderate leadership from someone like Biden and not someone who wants to burn the place down like Bernie or a flamethrower like Trump.

I read a quote from Bernie from an LA Times interview in the 1980: “[I believe in] traditional socialist goals — public ownership of oil companies, factories, utilities, banks, etc.” Does that make him a communist?

Biden says dumb things, like pretending to know about guns for example, when he clearly doesn’t know an automatic from a semi-automatic.

We discuss conflicting information being put out about the virus and speculate about what will our world be like a year hence. Should we bail out cruise ships? Airlines? Insurance companies required to cover virus-related claims with no deductible? 

Tulsi Gabbard — why is she still in it?

Monday, March 09, 2020

Left & Right February 26, 2020

Jim Wilfong again sits in the left chair. 

The producer asks if we believe our government is doing enough to combat Russian influence in our elections. I question that there even is disproportionate Russian influence in our elections. Jim assumes they are interfering but so are other countries. He’s worried that now Russians can hack our elections electronically and use social media to influence voters — things they didn’t have in Cold War days.

I ask why do we have to know the results of elections right away? Why can’t we wait until the next day when all the paper ballots are counted? Jim blames the 24-hour news cycle.

Jim brings up Jefferson wanting mandatory public education so citizens could learn civics and make intelligent decisions at the polls. I suggest that education has to teach facts, but also the ability to distinguish fact from opinion, feelings from thoughts — critical thinking. Jim says students need to learn how to gather facts, interpret them, and make decisions.

We discuss government bailouts of private businesses large and small and both of us are against them. Companies should sink or swim based on their decisions and performance. Bankruptcy can be a good thing because more efficient companies will take over. Jim brings up other companies in the supply chain for a big company like GM which was bailed out by government. From there we do to corona virus disruptions in China affecting the US economy which was then just beginning.

Jim related an interesting experience from 20n years ago in Brasilia — a city in the Amazon region — where he ran across eleven American CDC personnel permanently stationed there to monitor viruses and bacteria.

I raise the American tradition of innovative thinking from the bottom up. Ordinary people come up with ideas, convince others to help, and make them happen. This is rather unique to the US as not many other countries encourage this. Jim agrees.

The producer asked why the Russians would want a Bernie Sanders victory. Jim suggests maybe they think Sanders is a weaker candidate who would lose to Trump who they really want to win.

I read a quote from Bernie when he was mayor of Burlington and advocated government takeover of banks, factories, utilities, oil companies, etc. So, Bernie thought like a communist then. What does he mean now when he says he’s a Democratic Socialist?

We discuss what powers different levels of our government may use to control the corona virus as it spreads. Where do civil liberties come in? What does our Constitution allow? We discuss how the virus spread might play out politically. Trump looks like a shoe-in now, but will things change before November?

We discuss our medical issues we both are dealing with recently and the politics of health insurance.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020


I call it “Kearsarge” and it dominates the view westward through our picture window from my recliner where I’d been spending a lot of time recovering from leg surgery. It wasn’t always called that, however. An old woman who owned a property I managed way back in the 20th century called it “Pequawket Mountain,” and that was the official name for it until 1957, the year it officially became “Kearsarge North.

Why, though? New Hampshire already had a Mount Kearsarge in Merrimack County and what was wrong with “Pequawket Mountain”? That’s what the Pequawket Indians, the local Abenaki branch living in Fryeburg and Conway, called it. It’s one of the most prominent peaks looking west from Fryeburg and Lovell. A trail leading to the top begins in village of Kearsarge which is part of Conway, NH. Perhaps the village people pressured whatever official body decided such things to rename it.

From my property, the mountain is almost due west and its profile is classic. Its southern slope is a long, straight, thirty-degree diagonal leading to the summit after which it drops off with pleasing symmetry to the north for about a third the length of the southern slope. The effect is similar to a wave. As a child, before I ever saw Kearsarge, I drew mountains in almost exactly those relative dimensions. The profile seen from Kezar Lake five miles north of me is similar and I have taken many photographs from both venues. When seen from Fryeburg Village, Kearsarge’s profile is quite different — more a rounded dome than a wave. 

Last October, Kearsarge seemed to bend light at sunset
In early March, the sun sets right behind Kearsarge. I mark seasonal progress by how far north of it the sun descends each evening. By the summer solstice, sunsets will have proceeded northward past Mount Washington to the Baldfaces before turning back southward again until the winter solstice. Often I see stunning displays of light, clouds, colors, and mists too beautiful to describe. Afternoon thunderstorms come in over those mountains too, and my favorite sunsets occur when they break up just as the sun is nearing the horizon. Its rays poke through the mists just before it drops behind again.

Rain squall one evening last summer
Never do I tire of watching all this, and it’s not just the sunsets. Our house is perched on the side of Christian Hill in Lovell which rises to our east. I don’t see rays of sun until after they have first lit up the eastern slopes of Kearsarge and the other mountains. It’s quite stunning after a winter storm during which snow or ice coats every branch of every tree on every mountain. The rising sun lights up each slope — first the very top and then proceeding downward to the base. On such mornings it seems our Creator is in a good mood and wants to show off.

Mount Washington one morning last year
After our house was built on what was then a fully-treed lot, it took me about ten years to open up the view. Each summer I’d cut enough for eight cords to keep the family warm over winter, then I’d twitch each tree up to the landing with an old Ford 8N farm tractor. It was a lot of work, but I saved money on oil, and there was the added benefit of seeing more mountains each succeeding year. I felt like a sculptor, and the more I did, the more our new house felt like home. 

Kearsarge from North Fryeburg corn field last month
When my wife started hinting at downsizing after the kids moved out, I knew I would have a hard time ever selling this place. I’d prefer to die here.

Kearsarge is one of the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine, which are relatively young compared to the Green Mountains of Vermont further west. According to prevailing geological opinion, the two ranges were formed by different mountain-building processes. The White Mountains were formed over 100 million years ago as subsurface magma intrusions later exposed by plate tectonics, glaciation, and other erosional processes. The Green Mountains were formed about 400 million years ago when tropical shorelines of an ancient sea were folded upward by continental drift and then also eroded by glaciers.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around such time spans but I keep trying. Four times, glaciers covered those mountains with ice over a mile thick above them, lastly only 20,000 years ago. The earliest humans we know of were in the area only13,000 years ago. Viewed from Lovell, Kearsarge is almost completely tree-covered except for areas recently clearcut. During winter, snow reflects sunlight back to me from those scars and it takes years for newer growth to cover them. They remind me of scars on my head when my mother exposed them using hair clippers to give me a “wiffle” after school let out for summer. By September, those scars were covered too.