Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

Revolution over there

I suppose it’s easy to confuse the grassroots efforts going on the Middle East right now with what’s happening here at home, with Tea Party activists and Wisconsin teachers.

Here’s why it doesn’t work. Over there, people  are tossing out governments that have not represented them for at least 30 years – maybe really hundreds  of years.

For whatever reason, these countries let their leaders do everything they wanted for decades. Maybe the people didn’t know any better, kept in a fog of lies, disinformation and propaganda. Maybe they were afraid for their lives, or their family’s lives. They feared retribution for speaking out.

But now, it’s changed. They are in the process of reclaiming their countries. How long that lasts remains to be seen. If they can establish ongoing, stable democracies or if the old dictatorships has yet to be played out.

We will all wait, and see. At the very least, things will be different than they were.

Here at home, the battle is between two groups have been overly represented since the 1970s. And their struggle, then has now, has been to take the government back from each other, like kids pulling on a toy.

Despite what either side wants us to believe, our current state of affairs socially, economically and  politically cannot be blamed solely on one side or the other. It’s not just the fault of liberal spending or just fat-cat Republican donors looting the country to line their own pockets.

Both are true. Yet, depending on where you stand, you are expected to ignore one and decry the other. The result is a depressing nanny state, with restrictions tightening first on the left, then on the right – but never loosened, on either side.

Every few years, someone comes along promising us a revolution, a contract with America, an effort to restore hope or a tea party that is going to set things right.  It never does. It’s the same old thing, dressed up year after year with better slogans.

And so, we keep fighting the same battles, over and over and over. The arguments are the same as they were in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2003. The battle lines have not moved much in either direction.

After 30 years, don’t you think we’d get sick of it? Don’t you think we’d get tired of efforts to bring common sense to government sidetracked into punishments for political enemies?

Maybe that’s the next Facebook revolution.

We will all wait, and see. At the very least, things could  be different than they are.


The leprechaun theory

I have a pet theory that I’ve shared with everyone that’s willing to listen. To me, it explains a lot about Mainer’s attitudes about business, taxes and life in general. Maybe the attitude is similar elsewhere, but I can’t be sure of that.

See, it’s a tough economy. Unemployment in Maine is not as bad right now as it is in other parts of the nation, but times are difficult. Groceries, gas, heating oil: they’re all getting more expensive. Raises are less frequent. People want the economy to perk up, especially here at home. They want people to bring money to Maine that’s going to be spread around, raising the standard of living.

At the same time, folks don’t want to be bothered with the stuff that comes with economic development. They don’t want increased traffic on the streets, new bodies at the local schools and lines at the grocery store. They’re pretty wary of newcomers and their annoying ideas about how things should done and frankly want to be left alone.

It manifests like this: Someone comes to town, saying they’re going to bring their business with them. It’s going to mean X many millions of dollars of investment and Y more jobs to the community that pay a living wage. They’re going to pay taxes and they want to be part of the community.

Most folks, I figure, yawn at the news. Sure, they say, that’s a fine idea. More power to them.

But a good-sized minority get all up in arms: it’s going to generate traffic, it’s going to bring the wrong sort of person to town, it’s going to have impacts we can’t imagine and it basically going to change our cozy little community.

I’ve seen several plans march  through Maine communities, and half of them get chased away by these folks. They wind up locating their plant, or store or whatever some place else.

It’s a cousin to the “Not In My Backyard” syndrome and it’s confusing for the community, and especially the economic development folks. Mainers are picky folks: they want economic development, but not that economic development.

It’s a rather tough code to break, but I think I’ve figured it out. We want a leprechaun to wander in to the town, drop his little pot of gold and leave. We’ll divvy it up as we see fit and he can move his little green ass right out of town.

Unfortunately, there has been dearth of leprechauns sighted in these parts lately and even fewer pots of gold.

February 19

The Liberals only have themselves to blame, all the pie-eyed Obama lovers from 2008, for the current place they’re at politically.

Just to make sure we’re keeping score, we are a week away from a historic mid-term election that will shape the face of the country for the next two years. If the predictions hold out, Tea Party conservatives will toss a mess of liberal legislators out of office.

I received a mailing last week from the conservative Heartland Institute touting their new book, “The Patriot’s Toolbox.” It’s designed to give Tea Party activists all the ammo they need to help change the country.

But one sentence, on the back of the mailing caught my eye and has stuck in my head:

“On February 19, 2009, CNBC commenter Rick Santelli stood on the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade and called for a “new tea party” to protest out-of-control spending by politicians in Washington.”

So there you have it, the birthdate of the Tea Party movement: Feb. 19, 2009.

Go check your calendar. The Tea Party started one day short of a month after the new president was inaugurated. Basically, they gave Obama 30 days to fix the country before they started saying it wasn’t working, that he wasn’t working out.

Now, that’s not  a surprise. People that didn’t like Obama could never put the 2008 campaign aside. They’d never be supporters.  I guess I wished that they would have given him a bit of a chance, but what are you going to do?

But here’s where I blame the Libs:  Right about the same time the Tea Party folks first started gathering their teabags, the Liberals started agitating. He hadn’t closed Gitmo, legalized gay marriage, gotten U.S. troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany or dismantled Don’t Ask Don’t Tell yet. As that first year progressed, they complained louder.

Too many people had too great expectations, right or left. One group was convinced he was going to turn the country over to Sharia law and the other, that he was going to usher in a paradise.

But he hasn’t. We still live in pretty much the same country we had in February 2009. The economy still sucks and we are still a divided mess but we’ve managed to avoid a full-on depression. Things are no worse, and not much better, than they were then.

So he suffers, diminished by outrageous expectations. Has he been great? Not sure I’d go that far, but I don’t think anyone could have gotten much farther under the same circumstances.

That fact hasn’t gotten out, or it’s been ignored. The only narrative so far has been how raw everyone’s disappointment in Obama has been.

The thing is, I used to get mailing like the one for the Heartland Institute from the Right and the Left. Not only mailings, but emails, too. And when was the last time you saw a new Liberal bumper sticker?

One group stayed energized, the other let its disappointment fester.

So I blame his supporters, rabid in 2008 and disappointed today. Unrealistic on both ends.

So I’m on the phone with the insurance adjuster Thursday morning, looking out the window over my sink to my back yard, when I something catches my eye.

Be sure to wash up after handling a Jay

Look what I found in my garage!

Actually, it was pretty hard to miss. There was this angry male blue jay hopping around on my back patio and  staring intently at me, like he was trying to get my attention. I didn’t move, because I didn’t want to scare him. He didn’t leave, just kept hopping around  for a few long moments.

Then, he jumps off my deck, aiming right toward my little dilapidated garage/shed, like he’s going to smack right into the window. He doesn’t, but pulls up right before he hits it, then lands on the ground in front of it and starts strutting around.

Of course, my gaze follows him and that’s when I see his friend or his mate on the other side of the glass, flapping, pecking and trying like heck to get out and fly off with the other one.

I hung up the phone, ran out to the garage and scooped it up and set it free, but not before snapping a quick picture with my cell phone. He/she/it was serious mad at me and screamed bloody murder once I’d let go.

Anyway, just seemed like an odd way to begin a day.

So last November, the country took a turn to the left. We elected a Democrat president and gave him a whisker-thin majority in Congress. This came after years of letting the GOP run the table and on top of a huge financial meltdown.

I hoped we’d all be able to turn a page, you know, put aside all of our partisan differences. Make things happen for a change: heal the economy, fix the planet, build up our image around the globe and similar stuff. Only an idiot would expect quick fixes, thought I. It took a while to get here, it’ll take a while to get someplace else.

Boy was I wrong. The criticism started right away, giving birth to the Tea Party and a brand new partisan game. And here we are, 2010 looks a lot like 1994 — and pretty much every year in between.

But now, I’m curious about the GOP back-pedaling away from some of the Tea Party’s big winners just as the movement appears ready to bear fruit. It doesn’t bode well for us, I’m afraid.

See, the folks that elected Obama have gotten complacent. They’ve let the “Somewhere in Texas, a Village is Missing its Idiot” bumper stickers get all faded and peely and gotten along with their lives.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party crowd is all energized, ready to get their crew elected. This fall, when they do, they’ll divide Congress up evenly and make sure nothing gets done for the following two years.

Then, in 2012, we’ll have another narrow election. Either side could win. The winner’s supporters will get all fat and complacent. The losers will put brand new bumper stickers on their cars and make sure that nothing gets accomplished.

But at some point, we have to put the bickering aside and give someone the chance to fix things and the time to make it work.

Dog O Lantern?

As far as great mysteries go, this one isn’t.

It’s more of a conundrum, an odd puzzle. Still, it’s driving me crazy just the same. I have theories, but none make any sense. I’d love to hear more.

So, my wife and I bought a nice fat, round and warty pumpkin Monday. We put it, uncarved, on our front steps Monday night and went about our business. We planned to carve it up closer to Halloween but in the mean time, it looked nice and cheery and orange.

Anyway, I woke up Tuesday morning and went out to walk the dog and it was gone, all but the tip of the stem. That was left, discarded, on my front step to taunt me. That’s what I thought.

Now, I recalled the days of my misspent youth and figured that the fat little pumpkin was smooshed into the road somewhere around us. Some youthful miscreant had taken it, and smashed it with his giggling buddies and that was that. I cursed the evil doer and moved on.

No big deal.

Thing is, my neighbors have pumpkins, fat and orange, all over their front steps — and not smooshed in the slightest bit. They are still there, entirely unmolested.

What’s more, I haven’t noticed any pumpkin guts on the surrounding streets. Odd, but not a big deal.

But this afternoon, it reappeared. I walked out into my backyard to check on my dog and his rollicking best friend and they were chewing on my pumpkin. Somehow, it had migrated from the front of the house to the back over the course of five days.

I examined it. Yes, it was the same warty skin and in pretty good shape except for a single abrasion across the top where the dogs got a hold of it.

Now, I was in the yard earlier in the morning and it was not there. I’ve been out all week and it wasn’t there.

And I can’t figure out what happened. Did my dog see me leave out on the front and run around just before bed time and stash it? Did ad overzealous squirrel try and snatch it away then get tired of lugging it around? Or did the youthful miscreant steal it and then have a change of heart five days later and gift it to my dog and his buddy?

Or did something more sinister happen, a rip in the fabric of time and space pull the pumpkin from Monday night and leave it close by on Sunday afternoon?

My dog was the only witness and he’s not talking.

Just people, just shoes

The woman was wild-eyed, yelling to anyone that would listen.

“Three hours!” she yelled. “Those Somalians have been in there for three hours! Those are our shoes they’re taking!”

The woman was one of the hundreds in Kennedy Park Friday morning waiting in line for free used shoes, donated by a charitable local business. I covered the event Friday and wrote about it for Saturday’s paper and I’m kind of amazed at the reaction it got and to the reaction to  another package we ran this weekend.

Amazed, but not surprised, mind you.

I thought I should maybe elaborate a little, explain just what I saw.

In front of me, there was a line, hundreds of people — mostly white but black, too—  stretching from the center of the park to its southern edge.

At the center, there was a  big cube truck surrounded by cardboard boxes. A group of people, mostly African American, sorted through the boxes, looking for shoes that fit.

Most of the people in line looked anxious, happy to have a chance to get some decent shoes but worried the shoes would be gone before the reached the front. Most were in good spirits — it was a nice day in the park, after all.

But a few were pissed, like the wild-eyed lady. They complained that the Somalis were taking all the good shoes, that they had no respect, that they were being allowed to sort through the piles for three hours.

Never mind that organizers limited shoe giveaways to four pairs per person or that the giveaway had been going for less than an hour. They insisted that those Somalis were hogging all the shoes.

But there was more. Farther to the north, a group had gathered around the Salvation Army canteen truck to get free coffee and sandwiches. While they talked, sipping their coffee, I noticed each one had a shoe box tucked under the arm.

There wasn’t a Somali among them, and yet somehow they’d all managed to get their free shoes before anyone else.

Reaction to the story was typical. We received a lot of comments from folks complaining that we somehow hid the real truth, that un-American hordes had descended on the shoe giveaway, making sure that decent, hardworking folks were shut out. Why didn’t I report that?

That’s not what I saw.

I saw people standing in line to get free shoes, just people, and far too many of them. I saw a great thing, local people and businesses working hard to make sure those less fortunate have decent footwear. What matters is that they were less fortunate, and that they needed those shoes.

And in the end, they were all just people.

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