Monday, April 30, 2007

Relative Merits

As you might suspect, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is none too popular with the populace of the other half of the coalition. Nevertheless, the leaders of that country do actually, well, lead. And not just through cooked audiences at air-force bases, either.

Prince Harry is headed to the sandbox.

Say what you like about Harry. He likes a pint, it's said. Likes to party. But he's not into favoritism and he's not about to join the Texas Air National Guard. What's Jenna up to again? Oh yeah.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Look Out

I know this has been a largely political blog of late. But if you look into my archives, you'll see that I indulge in writing about the New England Patriots with some frequency. There's a lot to think and talk about in the wider world, but nothing has quickened my pulse lately as much as this tidbit about my favorite sports franchise:

This man is now a Patriot:
We got him straight up for a fourth round draft pick.

Later I'll go into more detail about all the off-season moves surrounding the Pats. In the meantime, let this sink in: For the first time in his career, Tom Brady will be throwing to a premier wide-receiver. Not just a "good number one," but rather, potentially the greatest wide receiver ever to play professional football.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Vigorous North

Hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy, and hereditary land, we know but little of your vigorous North.
Anybody who quotes Melville is going to get my attention. To keep it, you've got to be interesting on your own.

I've been meaning to plug this 'blog for a while. If you're interested in Maine and in environmental issues, city planning, sprawl, human impacts, etc. and etc., you really need to check this place out. I added it to my list of "'blogs and websites I like" a while ago, but hadn't gotten around to giving it its due. The chap that runs it also does some e-work for Grow Smart Maine. He consistently posts things that pique my interest, so I'm plugging him here. Add him to your hitlist.

Click on the title to go there.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


(committee chair)Drier: Will the gentlewoman yield?

Eleanor Holmes-Norton: I will not yield, sir. The District of Colombia has spent 206 years yielding to people who would deny them the vote. I yield you no ground. Not during my time. You have had your say, and your say has been that you think the people who live in your capital are not entitled to a vote in their House. Shame on you.
There are 600,000 people living in Washington, D.C. in what amounts to a political ghetto.

The odd anomaly of the District of Colombia is that it is not a state. It is a little land unto itself, carved out of Maryland and Virginia (which actually called give-backs some time ago). It has no senators and no vote in the house of representatives.

What it does have is one very determined delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and a chance at overcoming a centuries-long history of taxation without representation. The residents of Washington pay taxes, fight in wars, serve on juries. But they have never had a say in the process.

One significant hurdle has been cleared: H.R. 1905, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007 passed the House on a virtual party-line vote. The premise is simple: Every U.S. citizen deserves representation in their government. Representation without a vote is disenfranchisement. H.R. 1905 will change that by giving their lone "delegate" a vote that gets counted.

What was the price? Another delegate for Utah. It boggles the mind (even after the last 6 years), but the GoP just didn't want to give the folks in DC a vote. Why? 'Cause they're mostly democrats. Let me emphasize this: They Had No Vote. What could possibly be more at odds with democracy? But rather than simply doing what's right, they forced a deal. "Fine. If you want DC to have a voice, then we want more congressmen from Utah." Depraved and cynical. And, I might add a phrase they love so much, unAmerican.

Every time you think irony is dead, the GoP comes up with a new one. In order to keep the process as unencumbered as possible, the Democrats blocked amendments to the bill. The GoP response? "Orwellian democracy," said Tom Price (R-Ga).

Republicans are also worried that this is just the beginning of the madness. After all, how long will it be before DC wants two Representatives? Ye Gads! Alaska, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Delaware and Vermont all have one Rep. Something tells me that if Alaska ever wants another, you won't find the GoP out there in a tizzy, talking about Orwell and scrabbling for a copy of the Constitution at the bottom of their trash.

This bill will soon come before the Senate. Urge your Sentors to stitch up this gap in the civic fabric. Go to Free and Equal D.C. and register your support -- it only takes a few seconds. The true gift of democracy is its perfectability: keep the experiment alive for DC's residents. The measure has bipartisan sponsorship. It's a no-brainer.

Of course, the President has promised a veto. Sure as the sun comes up -- the man couldn't find his veto pen for 6 years. But wave the stench of actual rights and liberties at him and he'll burn it down in a hot minute.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Heroes Revisited

A little while ago, I wrote this about Heroes, with the disclaimer that it needed some finishing. Got a comment, thought I'd touch on it some more.

There are certainly heroic acts that occur in battle, or at the scene of a fire. But not all acts of warfare or public safety are heroic, so not all soldiers or public servants are automatically heroes. It wouldn't be necessary for me to point that out if it weren't for the fact that we're increasingly encouraged to think in those terms.

A letter in the Boston Herald on the eve of the marathon this year referred to the "20,000 heroes" who would be running in the race the following day. Bullshit. They're not heroes -- they're runners. As far as I know, there was only ever one hero associated with marathons, and that was this guy, and even that story probably isn't true.

On the other hand, no one can overstate the heroic value a man has to the man whose life he was wounded or killed saving or serving, nor his friends or brothers-in-arms.

So I begin to see that my irritation with the way we use the word has to do with the way were encouraged to make all potential heroes into public heroes. It has killed the word. The common use forces people to have to distinguish real Heroes from all the heroes out there, which they shouldn't have to do.

And since my objections have more to do with the way the word is used than the word itself, I'm starting to drill down to this:

Once the media have labelled a hero, their supposed heroism isn't allowed to stand for its own sake. Instead it is used as a sword to defend its larger context. I'm thinking, of course, of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If all soldiers are heroes, then the war is an heroic endeavor. They seep into each other, such that criticism of the war becomes de jure criticism of the heroes.

The reason we permit this is that we're lazy with language. And we wind up fooling ourselves. But the real hurt is done to our soldiers, some of whom can't see that in our hatred and dismay over the war, we don't hate or despise them. At least, I don't, in general. The trick has robbed us of allowing heroism whilst condemning its context. That impossibility highlights the distinction between public heroes and intimate heroism. It also might explain why I wander off this map and into a discussion of our cultural heroes.

I think that's what we're fighting over, really. Because we can't agree on the justness of the war, we seem to rob the hero of his due. If the war were just (if any war is just), the men and women who fight it get public glory. Public glory is what they sell you as a kid. And I have a hunch it's what the recruiter is peddling as well, at least by implication. Perhaps a soldier comes to think of it as part of his pay.

But we've come so far and fought so many questionable wars, that most Americans aren't willing to offer the unfettered adulation our grandfathers received at the end of WWII. And that must hurt.

The more I write about this and think about it, the more hollow the note of "hero" is starting to sound. I'm thinking of a personal 'hero' of mine, Kemal Ataturk (pictured) -- a quintessentially public hero. He was often brutal and mean. But he had great vision and force of will, and an egalitarian and democratic dream.

The more I play this song, the more I think "hero" can't be a word that applies to a man.

I think it is a word about myths and gods, and that only our acts can be heroic, never our selves.

More to come, no doubt.

National Healthcare Nightmare

A Frenchman tells all:

As the next exam for my son gets near (next week), I though I'd provide a short summary of my family's dealings with a socialist, centralised, single-payer healthcare system.

As a reminder, my (then 4 years old) son was diagnosed 2 and a half years ago with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery, then chemiotherapy for a year and a half. Early last year, he appeared to have been cured, but the tumor reappeared last autumn, and he underwent radiotherapy this winter. Next week we'll know how that is working.

In the meantime, as a consequence of surgery, he is handicapped and only very partial use of one arm.
Click on the link to read the rest of the tragic story. Thank goodness we don't have these problems in the good ol' US of A. And Thank Goodness I finally got a job that offers health coverage. Too bad my bad back is a "pre-existing condition."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Temporary Holding Pattern

A new job has taken up much of my time lately. Suddenly there is even more to write about, but not as much time. I will be getting some things together soon, as there is much to rail against. To wit: A tragedy that has become a sick parody in Blacksburg, the Supreme Court enshrining the concept of "moral legislation" (a hell-road down which we have only begun to travel), and the continuing failure of my back to heal or my legs and lungs to improve in fitness.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these words of wisdom from my friend Ian (who swiped them from someone else -- John Stewart? -- but who I know and therefore will credit):

"Our culture has reached the point where it eats itself, shits itself out, and then eats its shit-self."


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What it means to be from Maine

Pictures courtesy Eugene Cole at The Bollard:

I like that last one because it isn't often that you see someone caught in a curl with snowy fields in the background.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Please, Think of the Children

I'm on the run. No, really.

I've gone and entered a half-marathon. This is a scary deal for me because I am woefully out of shape. But no matter if I finish or not, some good is going to come of it. Introducing:

The Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Half Marathon (aka "let's see if Jim can get his round butt into shape by August and finish the thing before the sun goes down and his little sister starts taunting him").

The Children's Hospital at Dartmouth depends upon this kind of fundraising to meet the needs of kids throughout the upper Connecticut Valley region. Like all healthcare in the US, it's expensive. It's also underfunded: CHaD loses about $9 million a year. Starting last year, they sponsored this half-marathon to help raise money.

Why you? Because you have a few bucks you can spare for a truly worthwhile cause.

Why me? Because I'm bang out of shape. My sister and I were mutually moaning about that fact when she dropped the hammer on me: "I'm going to run the CHaD. You want to do it with me?"

Pride, people. Pride will always lead you astray. Resist its sneaky pull.

I was in shape once, briefly. I am now round.

My goals are these:

1. Raise $1000 to benefit the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth.
2. Finish the race.

Please help me meet my funds goal by donating online. Click the link here, or click the link on the right (under the CHaD logo).

It feels good to give! I'll update my training progress periodically and I promise a full-on post with pictures after the race is run. Thanks!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Maine State Pier: a Crossroads

The project to develop the Maine State Pier is more than just a problem of urban planning. It is a crossroads.Beware, Portland: whatever is born of this process will determine the future of our waterfront. No matter which of the proposals currently before the council is adopted, both would spell the end of the working waterfront. Is that what we want? Perhaps, but we need to realize that that’s what we’re doing. Once one luxury hotel/conference center/boutique rack sits on the waterline, you can bet another will follow. It’s the small end of a wedge that could ultimately drive out the working waterfront zone.

The development of the pier is also an acid test for how seriously we take our commitment to sustainable progress. We need to get Portland out of its cars and walking. And we must guard against pricing ordinary Mainers out of the city. Development is necessary. But unless we carefully monitor the course and character of that development, we will find ourselves living in a generic commercial grayscape that puts profit before people. In doing so, we’ll have killed the goose that lays the golden egg.

The Olympia proposal is on the right track, and shines by comparison to Ocean Properties, but it needs to go further. I’m baffled by former Green Representative John Eder’s decision to act as window dressing for the Ocean Properties plan. There is very little that is truly “green” about it, other than Eder himself (pictured). Putting shrubbery on top of a parking garage is like passing out aspirin in a cancer ward.

These plans do not encourage increased pedestrian access, nor aid in the reduction of traffic. They do not maintain harmony with the ideal of a working waterfront. They do not address affordable housing at all. Instead, they pluck a piece of our bay away from us and use it to gild the lily of luxury.

Ask yourself, Portland, were you consulted about this? Or did this plan grow quietly in the dark of some city councilman’s office? Ocean Properties had a proposal ready very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that others have questioned the openness of the process and thereby, its integrity.

But Ocean Properties’ eagerness is perfectly understandable. Whatever they (or Olympia) do to the pier, they’ll hold the result rent free under a lease that lasts for generations. It’s a giveaway. I’d jump at it, too. That is, if I weren’t a tax-paying citizen of the City of Portland.

To be fair, the pier needs help in the form of expensive structural repairs. But that very fact highlights the shortcomings of years of city council policy which have failed to acknowledge that this day would come. To solve it, some propose to give it away.

The Maine State Pier belongs to you and me. It is an important piece of the public trust that we own by virtue of living in this city. Watch this closely, Portland. Be sure we get what we want, because this decision has the potential to shape the future of our skyline.

And since we’re on the subject of sustainable development and the privatization of public resources, it’s worth pointing out how our state legislature fell down on the job this week.

The Land for Maine’s Future program has been one of the most successful state land conservation projects in the nation. In a bond that has been consistently replenished since its inception, LMF has succeeded in setting aside over 400,000 acres for the people of Maine.

This land is our heritage. More importantly, as we negotiate our way into a new economy, it is also our brand. The genius behind the LMF money is that the state doesn’t give it out unless it can be matched by private funding. It’s a business-savvy strategy for leveraging our money to leverage our resources.

In a proposal that had the backing of people from former Governor Angus King to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to municipal officials from across the State, the Governor asked for 35 million dollars in bonds (Hannah Pingree asked for 75 million--go Hannah!), spread over three years. Instead, our congress gave us less than half of that, in a one-time hit.

That’s not forward-thinking. That’s not preserving the best leverage our state has not only in the new economy, but also for the health of our selves and future Mainers. That’s half-a-loaf where more than just bread is needed. It’s a calculation based on buying votes rather than banking a resource for the future. As Beem said, “People come to Maine for from all over the world to experience the natural environment that has been plowed under, paved and developed where they come from.”

Whether you serve in City Hall or in the State House that’s a message you should bring into committee. And take to heart.