I think the time is almost ripe for the launch of my airport kiosk service Handy Religious Travelers' Conversion (HeReTiC - as in "I've gotta hit Starbucks and Heretic on the way"). The person running the kiosk will be an ordained/consecrated/annointed priest/rabbi/shaman of every religion on Earth and versed in performing the necessary rites to convert a person of any religion (or no religion) to any other religion in 15 minutes or less. Fees vary depending on complexity and materials consumed during the ceremony. Thus HRTC will allow travelers to fly to their destination country as a member of the safe and dominant religion at the destination and convert back when they return. "Round-trip" conversions will be discounted. Bundle discount for second religion in the case of countries where the strife is so great it's not clear which you should pick. Abrahamic religion and Christian faith bundle discounts available. Orthodoxy certifications are a small additional fee. For additional cost "Outside-Inside" conversions are possible, so you convert, pass through security as one faith, then convert again inside the secure zone - this helps avoid nasty profiling problems. Some conversions may require purchase of self-study materials in advance. Each customer will be issued a laminated religion i.d. card that fits conveniently in your passport. However, due to global hypocrisy, we cannot guarantee the customer will escape persecution. We do offer life insurance through a sister company. Various religious jewelry, garments, and icons are available at the kiosk for purchase or rental. Thank you for using HRTC and have a safe flight.
Heavens. I haven't made a post since April? Ugh. Definitely makes the blog title ironic. I've been very busy with work, touring colleges, and real-world effort to build a creative economy in Waterville via Common Street Arts and Waterville Creates!. The exclamation point is actually part of the name, not overenthusiasm on my part - and thus the ! followed by a period. Something I don't think Strunk & White ever covered.
Anyway, what this post is about is The Jewel of India. (FB Page here) It's our new local Indian restaurant, braving the mercurial economic terrain of Waterville. I've eaten there twice and people keep asking how is it, so here's my answer. KennebecTom's official rating is "Awesome."
Simply, the food is delicious. Really delicious. As good as any Indian cuisine I've had - which is admittedly just a handful of places in a handful of cities.
Now, please be patient. They are mobbed and nearly over-loved right now. My wife and I had to wait for a table at lunchtime last weekend. As soon as I put the first bite of chicken biryani in my mouth, I knew the wait had been worth it. The garlic nan and vegetable samosa were fantastic.
So, when my wife won a "Teacher of the Quarter" vote at her high school, we celebrated by getting takeout. Well, it was quite a gauntlet I ran with good humor.
First, I tried calling from work for 20 minutes, but every time I got a message after two rings that the "user's mailbox had not been set up yet." Whaaaaat? I gave up and concluded an in-person order would have to be made.
I drove downtown and was only half-surprised to see every table occupied, people waiting, and the waitress busy with tallying a bill so I had to wait to report both the phone issue and place my order. Then I learned the wait would be 30 minutes. There was some communication difficulty due to language barrier, but at ethnic restaurants I consider this confidence inspiring. As you may recall, cornerstones of my immigration policy are that any foreigners can stay as long as they like if employed in cooking delicious foods of their country just like their grandma (or whatever their word is) taught them, or if volunteering to pay my income taxes.
I still had enough time before picking up a daughter at dance class, so I said fine and went across the darkened, wintery Main Street to check out the new Loyal Biscuit downtown and see if they carried my favorite cat litter. They didn't, but it's very nice inside and the clerk appeared to authentically have her own dog working the register with her.
Next I wandered down past Kringleville, set up beautifully in The Center in the front windows with a righteous Santa and helpers, but few children this early in the season. A beautiful, warm setup behind the picture windows it is. Much improvement over Santa's old shed with often muddy entrance of years past.
I walked down to Common Street Arts, just to make sure our snow removal guy did his job and had a chat with programming coordinator Lisa Wheeler, who is currently working hard to make this year's Holiday Bazaar even bigger and better than last year. Having satisfied these curiosities and savored the crisp night air amongst the historic buildings (some of which have watched over 123 prior Christmases), I strolled back to wait inside The Jewel.
The place was humming. I read the news, checked Facebook, and checked my email on my beloved iPhone, and chatted a bit with other customers, included several familiar faces. Some folks waited, some folks decided to try an alternative, but took a takeout menu with them. A quartet beside me began discussing the "Chinese restaurant around the corner" as a possibility, and I butted in that if they meant Jin Yuan, it is excellent and my favorite Chinese restaurant in town. They thanked me and took off, my opinion having clinched it, and I'll stand behind that opinion any day. It could have been a ruse to advance my position in line, but I'm not that kind of guy. It was an honest plan to drive business to another beloved restaurant in the downtown of course. I am that kind of guy.
So I stood and observed the slightly stressed young Indian man and two new waitresses confront their sudden and overwhelming popularity in a milder, culinary version of what Lorde must be going through. They have all the standard startup issues of any new restaurant - wonky phones, new procedures, untested systems, etc. I got my food, picked up my daughter, and finally made it home. And as soon as the first bite of chicken tikka masala and basmati rice hit my tongue, I made my popular "savory face" (lips pursed, eyes closed, face turned skyward), said "Mmmmm" and knew the wait was worth it.
I will stick with them for the long haul as long as they keeping cooking like this. It's delicious, fresh, and savory. I'm no regular culinary writer with a food-oriented thesaurus, so I'll have to leave it at that. They're a wonderful addition to Waterville's Downtown Dining District - as defined by yours truly.
A day I've been waiting for a long time. This is no Pops concert. This is rock-solid, hard-core chamber music. And not awkwardly squeezed into an available church with difficult sight-lines, but on the magnificent stage of the Waterville Opera House. I feel sure the Opera House will smile to itself that night, with a warm glow in its belly as these compositional delights are channeled through time and space to be as fresh and new as the night of their debuts.
In tonight's news, Vermont embarks on the great single-payer health insurance experiment.
"A single-payer plan would largely sideline the insurance industry..." Exactamundo. Single-payer was on the table during the first 6 months or so of the ONE AND A HALF YEAR Congressional logjam that gave us what people insist on calling Obamacare, but I feel is more appropriately termed CongressCare. But single-payer was so excoriated and portrayed as a product of the mind of Satan that it was sidelined early on, leaving Congress to assemble the Frankenstein plan they did. Wonder who influenced that? Oh...perhaps...health insurance companies? Well, anyway, when I talk to my dad, who due to his age has Medicare, even he, who has fondness for neither Obama nor government generally, admits "It works pretty good." Like decriminalizing drugs, I feel that we'll inevitably do this. Economics will force it. The question is just whether we go painfully, kicking and screaming and gnashing our teeth, or with an open mind, giving it a try, perfecting it, and, sure, if it doesn't work, then trying something else. Most of the problems I solve are not solved with the first tool or method I try. But I am not easily dissuaded and I keep my mind open to all possible solutions.
P.S. I've heard theories that the liberals gave up on single-payer and went along with passing FrankenbamaCare because they new it would be such a train wreck, and that it would make health insurance companies look so much more evil, that single-payer would look like the Promised Land in comparison. Based on the Facebook chatter I see, that plan, if true, seems to be working perfectly.
I just typed all this on Facebook, and it's long enough I hate to waste it. Plus, it took some math to produce, and I don't like math. So here it is. First the link to the article that provoked me:
And what I wrote:
It took 12 years for this kind of news to catch up to me after moving from Arizona, where it is standard fare. I don't want Maine to go down the same expensive, hopeless, dangerous road. This article mentions Chicago gangs, which are documented to be connected to Mexican drug cartels, and the product is heroin, most of which is produced in Afghanistan. If drugs were decriminalized and regulated, the black market profits would not exist that bring such people to Maine and cause them to fight to the death and endanger police officers and all of us to protect their money and avoid apprehension. Two excerpts - "The gangs are drawn to Maine by its rural makeup and its drug-hungry populace" and "'They’ve set up business and it’s a good business, unfortunately,' Clark said" - explain it all. The drug issue is about money, not drugs. The banned product could be anything. High-flow showerheads (a la Seinfeld), R-12 refrigerant (as was once smuggled), alcohol (as in Prohibition 1.0). Except the addiction factor for those is not so high. The only way to kill the violence and mayhem and foreign intervention and multi-national criminal syndicates is decriminalization. Here's tonight's math. The article says they seized 45 grams of heroin; the street value is $10,000; 1 ounce is 28.3 grams; so heroin is worth $6289 per ounce; 1 ounce of gold is currently worth a mere $1194; thus heroin is more than 5 times as valuable as gold; heroin is a renewable resource, made from opium, made from poppies; gold, despite the efforts of alchemists, cannot be grown or made; gold is precious because of limited supplies (and it's pretty); heroin is only this expensive because we have chosen to ban it, making it a high risk product shipped under complex, threatening, dangerous conditions across the globe to addicts who indeed value it more than gold and possibly more than their own lives.
This blog, and other initiatives on the net I'm involved with were intended to reflect my attempt to do something USEFUL with the internet, rather than just frittering away precious hours of my life. At its lightest, I merely attempt to amuse. At its heaviest, I may attempt to affect political thought. In the middle, I seek merely to inform. About history. About music. And about Maine.
When I was considering moving to Maine, beginning as early as 1993, I sought information about it. Over time, with the internet in its clumsy infancy, I relied upon a weekend subscription to the Portland Press Herald, Down East magazine, and statistics compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. I also spent a lot of time looking at maps of the amazingly unpopulated expanses of woods in Maine, and its fascinatingly convoluted shoreline. But all these sources fail to present an "on the ground" detail about what living here is really like. Especially when you've moved here from away and somewhere totally different (Arizona in my case). So let me now try to provide a service I wish had existed when I was considering the state. A series of articles about minutiae that may not be written about elsewhere. The series will eventually include romantic adorations of the state (for there is much to adore), and criticisms and laments of its shortcomings (which I consider lesser, but should be taken into account). I, in my twelfth year in Maine, unabashedly love this state, and still frequently look around and think, "Damn, this is just a great, great place", mostly in reaction to its natural beauty. But some of the negatives I consider minor might be deal-breakers for others. So let me describe one of those negatives, and suggest a survival tool that could make the difference between you becoming a lifelong year-round resident and bagging it and heading for easy living in Del Boca Vista.
You must buy a snowblower.
It snows a lot in Maine. Not every winter, but about half. In just eleven years, I've experienced it all. According to old-timers, I have apparently experienced the warmest winter, the shortest winter, the coldest winter, the snowiest winter, the rainiest winter, the longest winter, and just flat-out weirdest winter anyone can remember. And some of these are 60 to 70 year-old people. Well, at the beginning of our first winter, my wife and I moved into our 1968 ranch house, with a beautiful yard, and a 300-foot long driveway. Driving around Maine for the first six months, I was baffled as to why there were so many houses with 10, 20, 60, 80, or even 100 acres of land, but the house was located right on the edge of the frickin' road. Sometimes right near the highway. For more privacy, and quiet, and safety of children, wouldn't you want to be farther back? Well, then it snowed. And it snowed. And it snowed. And I had three hundred feet of driveway to clear to get to work.
At first, the kindly farmer down the road offered to plow our driveway for us, for $20 a plow. Sounded great. But it snowed a lot. And his interpretation of when it was time to plow was a little different than mine. I would've picked about six inches as the trigger point. He seemed to feel that one or two inches necessitated another $20 pass. It was an expensive winter and it was clear we needed a different solution.
I think I valiantly went after it with a shovel once. That was foolish and utterly defeating. Next, my mind lighted on purchasing the snowplow attachment for my Craftsman lawn tractor. Well, that was apparently designed for the occasional snowfall on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona or something. With the blade in the straight position, the tractor, even with wheel weights and chains, would only move the snow about five feet before that was the end of the road. The blade would ride up over the snow, the front wheels would drive into the compressed snow, the rear wheels would spin, and there I was stuck and unable to move forward or backward to free myself. With the blade angled, to hypothetically push the snow to left or right, the snow instead shoved the front of the tractor to the left or right, into the parallel unplowed area, and once again I was stuck. It was immediately clear that the blade was useless. I imagine the resistance of the snow may be one reason why snowplowers plow early and frequently (the need for extra Christmas shopping money being the other).
Plowing snow is big business in Maine. Every contractor, boat dealer, and basically any guy with a truck has a plow attachment. Some have drop-in sand/salt spreaders that fit in the bed of their truck. They plow driveways all winter, until building season arrives, after mud season (more on mud season in future posts). I'd guess about half of people go the plow route. Every plower has a list of regular customers, and during storms these guys plow all night and all day till the storm ends, and then for a good while after.
But the problems with plowing are the possible runaway cost and the ever decreasing size of your driveway. For when the plow truck begins the season, they plan ahead. They shove the snow way beyond the edges of the driveway, driving right onto your lawn and plowing the snow across it. Where they stop and back up, you're left with a 2-3 foot high wall of really densely packed snow. It can't be shoveled. It's too densely packed. With subsequent warm-ups and re-freezes it will get even harder. Also, with the next plow, it may get a little taller. 3-4 feet. Now, in Maine the snow usually stays. It doesn't thaw and disappear like in Arizona. Your early December snow may well stay till April, with each subsequent storm adding to it. And each time the plow truck comes, it can't push that wall of snow any farther. So its next plow run is a little shorter. And a little shorter. And so on.
Your driveway area slowly decreases with every storm. Eventually, you've got these 3 foot high walls of rock solid snow ringing your driveway. If you back into one turning around, it can actually collapse a modern plastic bumper. When things get really desperate, the only way out is to bring in a guy with a front end loader to actually scoop it up, dump it in a truck, and take it away. It's not that way every winter. But in winter 2010-2011, we had one of the heaviest snow years anyone one could remember, and certainly the heaviest in my eleven years. And things were pretty bad.
That is where a snowblower has the advantage. Instead of shoving snow around, the snowblower steadily and methodically eats it up and blows it up the chute and out in a giant arc, placing it wherever you like with surgical precision.
There's two kinds. Walk-behind ones about 24 inches wide or so - kind of like a slow moving push-mower - and tractor mounted ones that hook to your ride-on lawn mower or lawn tractor. Since I already had a lawn tractor, I decided to hunt for the blower attachment for it. New, the price was a little daunting, but by knowing the specific model number I needed, and with 6 months of patient scanning of Uncle Henry's classified ads every week, I had the luck of locating a used one that was the specific fit for my tractor.
An annual tradition, the infamous Mower to Blower conversion.
The first time I put it on was at the beginning of a raging snowstorm. I had been dilly-dallying at doing the conversion, which involves removing the mowing deck and installing certain rigging and rear wheel weights and chains - and then mounting the blower itself. Somewhere around midnight, with the snow outside now a foot deep and the family all gone to bed, I realized I was missing a couple of key parts. Necessary parts. So (after a lot of cursing and rechecking box everything came in about ten times) I actual made poor but functional versions of the parts from some scrap metal I had. Around 2 AM I had the thing in operable condition. Nowadays, with the right parts and experience, I can convert the tractor in about one hour.
Generally, it valiantly and effectively clears the driveway and sidewalk in about 30 minutes. It has the most difficulty with heavy, wet snow. But the most miserable experience is when the wind is blowing in random patterns and suddenly whips the stream of snow right back on me. I'm coated in powder, but my body heat soon melts it and leaves me wet. They make soft plastic and nylon cabs that fit over the tractor and prevent this from happening, but I've never purchased one. Seems to me it would greatly obscure vision, especially in evening, night, and early morning conditions. And after being showered with a blowback. I generally oppose this unpleasantry with a water resistant hooded coat and ski pants.
So there you have it. The straight dope on coping with snow in Maine. Think twice before buying that house with the long beautiful driveway.
I’ve been thinking on this post and writing it for a long time. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School completely held up my blogging until I cleared my reactions from my mental buffer. On our way driving to Ohio for Christmas 2012, we passed through Newtown by chance, and from the turnpike one of my daughters saw one of the huge funeral processions. The sensationalized media event was suddenly a grim, matter-of-fact reality.
Over the months, I sat and watched reactions play out in the professional media and social media. I kept my lips (and fingertips) shut. I wasn’t sure how to react. I wasn’t sure what to say. I watched the parade of reactions, assertions, accusations, defenses, speculations, and speeches. None of them seemed right. Most seemed oversimplified, illogical, and belligerent. And the media threw itself on the conflagration like gasoline, building its coverage of the event upon a foundation of juxtaposition and using the word “versus” a lot. Finding the most tactless and extreme spokespersons on every side of the multi-faceted topic attracted viewers I suppose. But it did nothing to foster a workable response to these rare but extreme acts of ultraviolence.
Since that time, several more tragic incidents have occurred and many more near-incidents have been deterred, though certainly not as widely reported as those that come to fruition. After hearing of a couple of close calls, I've finally decided now is the time to share these thoughts, during a time of relative calm – not during the shock and grief of a new tragedy.
People and organizations have made wild remarks about putting armed guards, military or police, in all schools; or fortifying schools against attackers like some institutionalized version of I Am Legend. No thought is given to the economic burden of maintaining such measures, nor to the psychological impact on our children (and teachers) of having to attend a daily reverse prison with armed guards, asking mommy and daddy “should I be scared to go to school?”
I propose something less than the police-state schools proposed by the NRA and something more than an unregulated self-choice method of arming teachers. I think placing police in every school is economically impractical and, we hope, a waste of a highly trained crime-interdiction professional to mostly act as a scarecrow and security guard.*
A quick Google search turns up some suggestion that there are as many as 99,000 public education institutions in America (kindergarten through college graduate schools). If, in a given year, you had "school shootings" in just one percent of schools, that would be 990 events. Roughly three per day. Although the media scours the country to present us with plenty of horror, the toll is far short of three per day. We are dealing with a very, very small number of incidents, calling into question the necessity, wisdom, and cost of altering society to try to reduce the number of incidents to absolute zero (which I believe is impossible). This is the classic "zero-to-infinity" problem. On any given day, in any given school, the chances of a school shooting are almost zero. But if it occurs, the consequences are infinite - so horrible it shakes the nation and motivates scrambling knee-jerk legislation at the highest levels and a willingness to relinquish personal liberties for an illusion of heightened safety.
Despite what may be a copycat wave we are experiencing right now, school shootings are pretty rare. So the cost and resource drain of placing at least 99,000 police officers into our schools (obviously big schools and campuses need more than one) seems to be overkill. It would be similar to maintaining our peak nuclear arsenal after the demise of the USSR. Remember the widespread demand for undercover sky marshals on every plane after September 11? After a while we wondered how many flights really had armed sky marshals on board. It was admitted not all – rather a random sampling such that terrorists would be deterred by the possibility. Now, in 2013, I wonder how many flights have sky marshals. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was none. I don’t hear anyone still actively asking the question.
Even Newtown, Connecticut residents, on April 23, 2013, balked at increasing the municipal budget to hire additional police and unarmed security guards for the town’s seven schools. [article here] That vote took place on the very same day that Newtown officers visited Maine to speak at the Augusta Civic Center for the 5th Annual Maine Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference. Ironically, their top recommendation for protecting schools was a fully trained school resource officer in every school. [article here]
Increasing this burden, I argue that any place with uniformed guards would need at least two, stationed in different locations, to overcome the element of surprise. Because on the one day in a guard’s ten-year tenure when the shooter walks up, it is likely that the first guard will be complacent from years of boring days and will be the first victim. A second guard elsewhere in the school will perhaps hear the shot and have time to switch to fight mode.
At the other end of the spectrum is the near-vigilante, Wild West kind of approach, saying to teachers and/or administrators, “Okay, whoever wants to carry a gun at school, go ahead.” Whoa! Gun owners, like drivers, come in all levels of ability and all levels of vanity about their own skills. Many teachers and professors (and members of any cross-section of the populace) have no business wielding a gun in a public setting. Even the concealed weapon licensing programs in some states require only a paltry level of weapons proficiency, law, and safety knowledge.
So, who does society accept standing around a school with a gun? Who are we comfortable with? Who are we not shocked to see standing in the hallway with an openly displayed deadly weapon, fully loaded and ready to deploy within a second? Well, the aforementioned police. Why are we comfortable with that?**
We accept police carrying firearms in all environments because we at least believe that they have had a criminal background check, analysis of their character and fitness, psychological evaluation, education and training, and have physical fitness level necessary to deploy their weapon and keep it from being taken from them by force and used against them. This training, at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy takes about 720 hours over 18 weeks. The full curriculum is here: http://www.maine.gov/dps/mcja/training/basiclaw/curriculum.htm
Well, what if you took just those aspects of this training related specifically to firearms training, tactics, and emergency management, and offered an optional certification program to teachers, administrators, education majors, and college professors to become trained as “School Security Specialists”? The curriculum and training would NOT include how to write effective police reports, how to apprehend suspects, how to arrest, how to conduct a safe traffic stop, how to frisk people, how to search for drugs, how to recognize intoxication and drug use, or what constitutes a crime and when to intervene. Perhaps, in the place of the criminal justice and patrol aspects of the curriculum, you would add training specifically focusing on prior school shootings, mistakes made, and develop tactics and plans for such scenarios. And there would be ongoing training and practice to maintain the certification - continuing education like that in many professions - including a lot of firearms and tactical practice under conditions mimicking the stress of a real-life attack on a school. The curriculum and ongoing training ought to be a uniform national standard.
In their eventual jobs these graduates would primarily be teachers, not cops. They would not intervene with firepower to stop a car burglary, or a theft of a computer, or embezzlement. They would not search for drugs or bust kids for alcohol violations. All that would be handled with a phone call to the full-time police. The school security officers’ only purpose would be to return fire in the event of a school shooting situation, with a goal to stop, delay, suppress, and obfuscate the attacker until the attacker was disabled or dead, or until a full police force could arrive. The local police would know which teachers in the school were the security officers so as to reduce the risk of arriving on the scene and mistaking the security officers for the assailants.*** Perhaps they’d have some kind of badge to display to the police to identify their role when the cops arrived. The school security officers and the police would develop plans for coordinated response to school violence incidents.
The graduates could expect, with this certification, to command a higher salary and to be more marketable as employees. It will take some years, of course, before there is a pool of individuals large enough to provide trained personnel to all 99,000 schools. Any sustainable rational solution will take longer than knee-jerk panaceas. Additionally, may institutions will choose not to hire any such security specialists.
Once such a body of such educators exists, each individual school, school district, university, or college can make their own decision about whether to hire such people, pay them more, how many to hire, etc. based upon the infinite variables of each location, including school size, demographics, attitude of the parents and community, and more. Essentially, each community can then balance the risks of the zero-to-infinity problem for themselves, but have on the table a reasonably affordable, reasonably safe method of employing armed protection for our educational institutions, which are salient targets essentially because they are places where large groups of vulnerable people congregate regularly on a predictable schedule. And during the 99.9% of school hours that are peaceful and unremarkable, you'd still have a productive educator giving your children your money's worth.
None of this will reduce the number of school shootings to zero. But perhaps it is a balanced, practical, and sustainable approach to guarding against the infinite consequences of the terrible acts of the insane, the impassioned, and the wicked directed at our educational institutions. This proposal is not meant to be exclusive. By all means, effort needs to be made to keep weapons out of the hands of nuts and mental health care (like health care generally) needs a lot of work. And more needs to be done to rehabilitate troubled and broken American families. And I do believe that the extreme violence of a lot modern movies and video games (even though I enjoy some of them) is more than necessary to convey creative expression and, if watched repeatedly by a marginalized, unbalanced person, might give them the kernel of a very bad idea.
This proposal is only for a system of last resort, when all the other measures (should we responsibly implement them) have still failed. This also does not address the problem of other public places of gathering - restaurants, movie theaters, malls, etc., which are beyond the scope of this article.
After hours of driving around thinking on this in idle moments, and watching the scene in the mornings after dropping my daughters off at their junior high and high schools, and after considering my wife’s role as a high school teacher and what could be done that might offer me any increased sense of security - well, that’s the best I’ve got.
*There are those who are completely dismissive of the idea of armed security in schools. They employ an illogical argument, stating, “Well, there was an armed guard (or police) at Columbine. And at Virginia Tech.” Well, that led me to Google up those incidents. True. And the armed guards either fired and missed the killer, or were perhaps not persistent enough when their target passed from their view. But if that argument were applied on a larger scope it would lead to the conclusion that because there was one successful murder yesterday, armed police are useless, and therefore we should disband all of our armed police departments because they obviously can’t stop killings. My retort is that perhaps those police/guards should have spent more time practicing - or that sometimes you’re just stuck taking a shot with a pistol from 50 yards away, and that’s a tough shot. But that's not a rational reason not to try.
**This goes to the NRA’s swaggering cowboy statement, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I can just hear that in John Wayne’s voice. There was, of course, a reflexive outcry over that remark - just because of who it came from, and because the timing and tone of it was tactless. Again, the Columbine and Virginia Tech failures of “good guys” were pointed to as proving this statement untrue. And yet, if you or I saw a “bad guy with a gun” lurking around the school, or our yard, or your neighbors’ yard, or the supermarket, who ya gonna call? Not Ghostbusters (good guys, but no guns). You'd call the police (good guys with guns). And in fact, in a recent presentation in Maine, Newtown police officers essentially echoed this, making their top recommendation for protecting American schools a fully trained school resource [police] officer in every one. (cited above) Further, our nation’s self-defense laws are generally structured in this way, permitting law-abiding citizens (good guys) to employ deadly force only in the face of threatened deadly force (or other life-threatening actions) by criminals (bad guys). I therefore find the basic premise sound, and it is the underlying assumption behind any proposals to install police or even soldiers in school settings. I feel my proposal is a more reasonable and affordable approach.
***Whether students, parents, and the general public would be privy to the identity of the school security specialists, and whether the security officers’ weapons would be carried openly or concealed, is a matter about which I have not yet formed a conclusion. As a friend of mine expressed it, “Why does Mr. Smith always wear a sport-coat?”
Most of the griping about welfare I see in social media and hear on the street is about the selections people see the recipients making in the checkout aisle. My middle or upper class friends are waiting in line and in front of them is some scruffy tattooed dirty guy, or some harried single-mom with numerous children who don't resemble each other wearing the regulation dingy pajama bottoms and slippers or flip-flops (depending on the season). She and the children are probably overweight in this scenario (the guys, for some reason, tend to swing the other direction, being wiry, leather-skinned, tanned, and jittery as red squirrels).
Anyway, on the conveyer belt is a bunch of soda pop, sugary cereals, potato chips, maybe gum and candy, and God forbid, alcohol. Maybe ice cream, chocolate milk – you can imagine a heap of unhealthy and/or “fun” food products.
Then the shopper whips out their Maine EBT card (the way by which Maine distributes welfare money – which includes several different public assistance programs actually) and maybe some cash to cover whatever is excluded from payment with the card, and my observant friends go crazy with Facebook protests and other online rants. Some form entire political campaign themes around the topic.
Well, look, I've got a simple idea I call the Government Cheese Program (GCP). First, check out the Wikipedia Government Cheese article. So, I put forth this premise. If the government (taxpayers) are paying for your food, then the government (taxpayers) get to tell you what you're going to eat. If you want freedom of choice, and fun, colorful, yummy treats that are mostly about pleasing the palate and not focused on sustaining a healthy mammal throughout a day, then that's a goal to strive for by getting off of public assistance and earning your own money that you can use for anything you like – like vodka and Twinkies.
The way it would work is this – eligible persons or families would get a GCP card. At all supermarkets, certain food in the store would be FREE to those with the card. You'd just put it in your cart, swipe your card, and walk out. Instead of getting money and then having a choice what to buy, you only have the choice of specific foods. The supermarkets would all be reimbursed by the government directly for the consumed merchandise. They would also have to agree to carry the core GCP foods list at all times, but would be allowed to adjust quantities to match demand.
What would be on the Government Cheese free food (and other essentials) list? Well, it would intentionally not be exciting, but it would be nutritious. There would be little variety. One reason for boring but healthy selections would be to motivate people to strive to get off of welfare. Another would be for the products to be unexciting enough such that one could not find buyers to resell them too, acquiring cash, and then spending it on Keystone Lite and Ding Dongs.
I sense there is already some categorization of foodstuffs that are eligible and aren't eligible for using the Maine food supplement program, but I don't think it's specific enough to prevent the problem of the junkfood extravaganza. It's probably based on broad categories. Too broad.
So here's some examples of what I'd put on the GCP free food list:
85% lean ground beef
Kosher reduced fat all-beef hot dogs
Boneless chicken breasts
Mac and cheese (store brand – not Kraft)
Franks and beans
Thin spaghetti pasta (no other shapes)
Green leaf lettuce (only 1 variety of lettuce)
Granny Smith apples (only one apple choice – whatever is most generic)
Beans (one kind of basic, canned, baked beans – store brand)
One kind of multigrain bread – store brand
Milk (only the cheapest brand of the basics – skim, 2%, ½ & ½)
Coffee (yes, coffee to enhance productivity – but only one kind of basic freeze-dried grounds – store brand if possible)
Feminine hygiene products – one choice
Toilet paper – one kind of plain white store brand
Shampoo – one kind, one scent, non-gender specific, of the cheapest brand
Soap – just a bar
Potatoes – plain brown ones
No sugar added jam (I'll be generous and allow two flavors, strawberry and grape)
Plain, store-brand, low-sugar, high-fiber cereals
And of course, the proverbial Government Cheese – I think a nice longhorn cheddar. Block form.
I think you see where I'm going with this. Point is, no multiple flavors, no fancy colors, nothing fun. No ice cream, no popsicles, no soda, no flavored water, no potato chips, no Cheetos, no muffins, no cookies, no cake, no Ding Dongs, or Little Debbie cakes, or Entemann's breakfast treats. No pizza. The choices are centered around concepts like Protein and Fiber and what-not. No tiny snack packs or convenient take-along packages. No microwave entrees. You have to cook for yourself until you have a job that has you pressed for time – then you can spend your own money to by quick-prep stuff.
It won't be fun or exciting, but it will keep you from dying until you get a job. Your family and kids and friends will whine about the choices at your house...until the rumbling of their belly gets strong enough to want another can of franks & beans. Or a banana.
This way there is no room for abuse. Public sentiment towards public assistance will shift from bitterness and envy to pity and sympathy. And folks on the program will probably look healthier and lose weight, as well as striving to get off it.
Now, if you'll excuse me, writing this has worked up an appetite for some franks and beans and cheese and crackers.
Today's headline online on FOX News Politics*:
"NSA can reportedly break into most encrypted Internet communications"
No duh. Do you think, if there's a computer geek smart enough to create encryption NSA can't crack, that they're going to stay both alive and not an employee of NSA for more than a week? And further, there's no reversing this revelation. What're they gonna do? Say, "We promise we won't peek anymore"? You believe them? Why?
It's like a scene I imagine:
NSA Dude: "Mr. President, the Secret Spying Program has been discovered. Our citizens and other countries are outraged."
President: "Sigh. Well, what now? What's your recommendation?"
NSA Dude: "There's only one solution Mr. President. The ultimate option. We have to make the Secret Spying Program....EVEN MORE SECRET."
So what's that mean for you? Well, if you want to plan a revolution or a terrorist attack or a school shooting, kidnapping, murder, affair, or any other unsanctioned behavior, you'd better do it in a paper spiral notebook kept under your bed and not "in the cloud", nor even on a computer that is connected to the internet.
The chilling thought is that "unsanctioned behavior" is a shifting definition. So while today's government may only be looking for Arabs bent on blowing things up, tomorrow's government might decide it has a problem with Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese, Germans, Jews or Christians, Muslims or gay people, cat people or dog people, gun owners or pro-lifers. (I assume you noticed that some of these historically have already been the case, but they didn't have Facebook, Google drive, and iPhones) And if you put your thoughts in digital format (whether typed, audio, or video), then they can already read your mind. And by the way, there's plenty of science news that they are working on that even as I type.
*Disclaimer: I am not a FOX News junkie, it just turned up in my Google News Feed.
On July 14, 2013, I went up to Colby College Museum of Art for the grand re-opening day celebration and tour. And I was floored. Really. The floor is totally amazing. Beautiful, beautiful wood, stained a rich deep tone that emphasizes the grain. But of course, I'm sure the Lunders and the Alfonds didn't intend for this all to be a wood-floor showcase.
Moving on to the museum and the art - wow. Actually, more like WOW. I am majorly impressed. I entered cautiously, half skeptically. It's been talked up a lot and I wasn't sure how much was credible assessment and how much was emotional wishful thinking. Well, by the time I made it through about 35% of the expanded place, I was sold. I had MOMA and Met flashbacks. I was running into names and works giving me 1990s UofA art-major flashbacks. I was being stunned again and again by paintings full of dramatic light and sculptures of uncanny sensitivity to form, texture, and motion.
This was a quick pass-through visit on probably one of the museum's most crowded days. I got a sweeping panorama of greatness. It served to impress upon me that I need to come up often. It's clearly now a place where one could spend 1-2 full days viewing and learning. The photos I've posted below are only a portion of what's to be seen. I realize now that I completely forgot to take pictures of some galleries because I was conversing with people I knew, or heartily congratulating Sharon Corwin and Patricia King (director and asst. director) on the magnificence of this fruit of their labors. It was cool to see how genuinely excited Sharon was to see so many people in the museum.
If I follow through with my intentions, I will come to the museum regularly, almost as a meditation, to just stare at some of my favorites for much longer than most people look at paintings. I've always felt guilty at how quickly I may move on, and saddened by how quickly others may. Some works I've seen, both here and elsewhere, don't deliver their full effect until you've stood there long enough for the colors to begin to oscillate, or your peripheral vision to give up reporting, leaving you absorbed in your focus.
In a nutshell, the reviews and the hype appear true and accurate to me.
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