Thursday, December 22, 2011

From the sublime...

Successive stories on Maine Things Considered last night, with no editorial comment between:

A timber management company is buying 3,200 acres on Maine's Schoodic Peninsula, a parcel formerly under contract with a developer who, under the banner of eco-resort, was intending to build hundreds of houses plus the usual amenities. The "eco" part was a small nature center. The new owner intends to place at least half the land under a conservation easement.

Hundreds of homes were also the subject of the next story but the locale is hardly so pristine and wild as Schoodic. A Maine company won a contract to put up cedar log houses on an artificial lake in China, to be sold to the nouveau riche and priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

My only written comment today will be to ask which country is on the rise and which is on the decline.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dead last

The governor steps in it again. When Forbes named Maine as the worst state in the nation for business, LePage apparently phoned them up for ammunition for his political agenda and claimed Forbes told him, among other things, that Maine's welfare costs were ruining the state. Forbes denied it. In fact, welfare isn't even a part of their formula. But LePage is desperately trying to get rid of 65,000 MaineCare recipients and will say and do almost anything to achieve Teabagger politics, as Maine residents well know after a year of it. Those recipients are of course poor and old and sick and should have the decency just to go away and die in the woods.

Politicians are notoriously shortsighted, but this one is dead last in that category. Balancing budgets on the backs of the poor is not only immoral, but idiotic. Denying basic medical care to those 65,000 will cost more health dollars, higher insurance rates, more ER visits, and higher unemployment among the people who take care of them even while tax cuts for the better-off continue. In some ways I'm proud that Forbes rates Maine so poorly. People don't act like businesses here. There's a tradition of taking care of people here. There are communities here. There is tolerance here. None of these attributes are exactly hallmarks of business, are they?

I'm also happy to report that Forbes ranks the US's other paradise state - Hawaii - at number 49.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The color hour in winter

That would be 4:00 pm, when the sun goes down and the sky in the east, out over the islands, turns subtle shades of blue and indigo and violet and even a little red, and if you look closely, you'll see them all in the water too. That would be 4:00 pm, when green turns to gray, gray to black. 4:00 pm, when there's little left to look at on the bay, no boats, an occasional flash of white gull in a shaft of sun, or a few hardy ducks still diving, when you look back at what you've accomplished during the day and it seems a glowing golden edifice, or a black heap of ashes, or (more commonly) an average piece of granite on the shore, a little pink if you're lucky. At 4:00 pm the stock markets close, and it is permitted to see if you're in the red or in the black. It's the time you sink into a brown funk or soar into an azure high, until a silvery drink and a creamy cheddar level the world again. But most of all it's a time to stare at the sea, at the surf breaking in white necklaces, at the surface of the water turning from blue to match the purples of the sky, at the bluing patterns of the breezes, at the edges of the island where the water is a calm blush or a ruffled pink, depending on the direction of the wind. The ocean is that most perfect of oxymorons, an ever-changing constant. Every day's color is a different show, or sometimes no show at all, just a quick graying into night - except that deep in the bay light and color and the concerns of humans do not reach at all.

Soon it will be time to turn on harsh electric lights. Or maybe I'll just sit on for a while in the dark, waiting for the full orange moon to rise.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trending into Maine

Feeling somewhat at sea (more than two weeks now since I've been in Maine), I went to the library and reviewed the 974.1 section of nonfiction. Not too much I hadn't already read, or decided not to read, except for an old copy of a book called Trending into Maine. Just the thing to soothe anxiety, I thought, taking it down from the shelf, and noting with further anticipation that it was written by Kenneth Roberts, one of those few authors whose books last from boyhood on, published in 1938 by Little, Brown, my old company, and illustrated in color by N.C. Wyeth, father of Andrew. Very promising.

At least it started off well. Chapter 1, "A Pretty Good State," is a paean to Maine's people and landscapes that routed the anxiety and roused the blood. Here's a quote: "My provincialism is so pronounced that I freely admit that I have never seen any other part of the United States that seems to me as desirable a place to live; but I know at least a hundred spots in Maine where I am eager to have a home."

Sorry to say, Mr. Roberts, that I don't have too much to say about the book past page 15. It devolves into long quotations from letters about dead Mainers, strange pronouncements that Maine food like baked beans and hash and fish chowder is infinitely better than the fare in New York and Paris restaurants, lists of boats built, lengthy exploits of war, endless sea stories, a chapter on Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec that Roberts told much better in his novels, quotidian chapters on hunting and fishing, and someone's else's memoir about a Maine country character. Oh, and the Wyeth illustrations were tepid and corny. The final chapter, "Vacationland and Real Maine," was better (except for numerous and weird lists of road signs seen in various sections) and its last few pages on Aroostook County was good again- a return to Robert's feelings, not facts, about the state.

So I've discovered a good cure for place-sickness. Read a bad book about the place you love, and it will curb your enthusiasm for a while, perhaps just long enough for you to return. Read a good book about it, and you'll only feel worse.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jobs

As one of Maine's largest employers, Bath Iron Works is often in the news around here. New federal contracts provide a steady supply both of news and of jobs and will so for years to come, thanks to the strong Maine work ethic and the political and DoD connections of General Dynamics, BIW's owner. Shipbuilding on the Kennebec is nothing new, spanning some 250 years. Making warships started over 100 years ago with various precursors of BIW, and WWII completed the transition to complete dependence on Washington. These government programs, by the way, are perfectly acceptable to most politicians and most people; building engines of mass destruction is necessary to maintain the peace on our shores, and the jobs are pretty welcome too. War will always be lucrative, and self-justifying.

Other parts of the economy aren't so lucky, or so protected, and therefore need new justification for their increasingly marginal activities. The main rationale for approving casinos these days is that they will create jobs. Some Republicans are against any new taxes on the rich, because the wealthy create jobs. Democrats propose extending the payroll tax cuts; not to do so would increase joblessness. Most states, even those like Maine that are controlled by various blends of Tea Bags, continue to take federal money because to reject it would increase their unemployment. (Maine finds itself in the illogical position, for example, of participating in lawsuits against Obamacare, yet accepting federal grants to set up healthcare exchanges.) Pipelines from Canada, fracking, new child labor laws, relaxation of clean-air and wetlands standards - all justified by the terrible jobless rate. Earnest estimates of job numbers are now part of standard press releases, to obscure the ideology that's driving them.

What's hardly ever discussed are job training and re-training programs. Businesses will train people only for new contracts won, not re-train people if old contracts are lost. Old industries collapse suddenly, or die slowly, both at immense human cost. The individual is apparently responsible for adaptation even though the new world is far beyond his control. In Maine skilled jobs are going unfilled and the administration mouths some token works about needing to revise educational curricula, but in reality blames teachers and their unions for somehow failing the public.

In a job market so rapidly changing, shouldn't all levels of government, and perhaps even business, make it a priority to help the workforce adapt? How about taking just a bit of the Pentagon's largesse and turn it into something humane?