Friday, July 10, 2020

Andy Young: Dreaming of exotic staycation destinations

By Andy Young

Given the ongoing pandemic gripping both the nation and the world, journeying to faraway destinations is clearly not prudent right now. It’s been nearly six months since I last left the state of Maine, which for someone who works less than 25 miles from New Hampshire seems highly unusual.

Like many teachers and parents, I enjoy discovering new places and revisiting old haunts when school is out. But since traveling this summer involves a high level of risk, the only borders I’ll be crossing will be the ones between local towns. And while wandering around in locales more virus-afflicted locales than ours is currently inadvisable, there’s no harm in taking vicarious excursions by writing, dreaming, or reminiscing about them.

Late in the 1980’s my youngest sibling and I informally decided to see which of us could venture to all 50 of the United States first. We each had jobs involving frequent domestic travel and/or short-term relocation, and at the time neither of us was encumbered with children or a significant other. My sister insisted on some basic rules, one of which was that for a state to count you had to either stay overnight there or consume at least one meal within its borders. Her proposed requirements rendered my claims to both Utah (layover between airline flights) and Iowa (a drive across a bridge from Nebraska for a 30-second cameo appearance) null and void, but nothing tangible was at stake. We also mutually agreed that an actual prize might take the fun out of it, so after concurring on guidelines the competition began.

By the mid-90’s each of us had legitimately checked off 48 states.

But then she got married and subsequently became a parent, and a couple of years later I went down that same winding road. It’s a quarter-century later, we’re still deadlocked at 48 states apiece, and today I’m waving the white flag. It’s time to admit, however reluctantly, that I am not going to win the contest.

These days travel is expensive, not to mention potentially hazardous to the health of older people, a demographic into which, by nearly everyone’s definition, I now fit. In addition, I have little things like a mortgage and some college educations to pay for that weren’t a factor back in the 20th century. That my nominal opponent still needs Alaska and Hawaii and isn’t any more likely to get to those places than I am to check off the two states remaining on my list is of little comfort. I’m still holding out hope that a trip to Oregon is in my future, but if I ever have the money necessary to go to Hawaii overnight (or at least eat a meal there), I’d undoubtedly opt to use it for something else.

But I can lay claim to a significant consolation prize: I’ve been to every Canadian province! I got my ninth and tenth when my three children and I motored out to Colorado and Montana eight summers ago and circled back through Saskatchewan and Manitoba on the way home.

It doesn’t look like I’ll make it to Canada this year. But while physically roaming far from home isn’t currently an option, few if any states are more attractive for “staycations” than Maine is. Thanks to our state’s unique geography, visits to Poland, Norway, and Denmark are all within easy driving distance. If I’m yearning for something more exotic (or less Nordic), Mexico and Peru are both doable. Maybe I’ll even try China, if they’re letting people from Cumberland County across the great wall that I imagine surrounds the place. <

Bill Diamond: Fighting for affordable prescriptions

By Senator Bill Diamond

There are very few people I know who aren’t concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs. Seniors, in particular, can find themselves spending massive sums out of their fixed income on medicine they need to stay alive and healthy. Studies show that about one in four Americans who take prescription medications struggle to pay for them.

About 8 percent don’t take their medicines as prescribed because they simply can’t afford them. 

While this isn’t a new problem, it has gotten markedly worse in recent years, as the cost of many life-saving and life-sustaining medications has skyrocketed. For example, in 1996 the price of a vial of insulin was $21. In 2019, that same vial, which contains the same product and doesn’t cost any more to produce, was about $275. That is a 1200 percent increase. Just this year, the price of Humira, a popular treatment for arthritis and other conditions, was raised by 7 percent, after being raised 19 percent over the previous two years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated these issues, too. Recent reports show that since January of this year, pharmaceutical companies have raised the price of 245 different drugs by an average of 23.8 percent. We also recently learned that Gilead Sciences, the maker of the FDA-approved COVID-19 treatment Remdesivir, intends to charge patients with private insurance $3,120 per treatment course. To make matters worse, while the treatment was invented by Gilead, almost $70 million in taxpayer funds was spent developing Remdesivir. 

The regulation of drug prices mostly falls to Congress, but unfortunately progress on that front has stalled due to partisan politics in Washington. However, in Maine the Legislature does have some ability to protect consumers and offer relief for Mainers dealing with expensive prescription drug prices. 

That’s why, in the past year the Legislature has taken bold, bipartisan action to help lower prescription drug costs for Mainers. We passed a law allowing the wholesale importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada; another that expanded prescription drug price transparency; and still another that established the prescription drug affordability board

We also expanded the Low Cost Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled program and capped out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 per month for many insurance plans. 

While some of these programs and policies are still being set up, some are starting to have an impact. Maine recently received an “A” grade on prescription drug price transparency from the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Source on Healthcare Price and Competition at the University of California Hastings College of Law. But there’s still a lot of work to do. 

We need to make sure Mainers don’t get nickel-and-dimed for medicine that they need. No person should have to choose between their medications and putting food on their table or paying their mortgage. I will keep pushing to make sure the state is doing everything in our power to protect Maine consumers and lower the cost of prescription drugs. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out. You can call my office at 207-287-1515 or send me an email at I’m here to help.<

Insight: To cliché or not to idiom

As a child, I recall my father saying something unusual during the presidential election of 1964 and now, more than 50 years later, I think I finally get what he meant by it.

While listening to a supporter of Barry Goldwater use the slogan “In your heart, you know he’s right” on television, my father turned to my mother and said, “One man’s cliché is another man’s idiom.”

I didn’t understand what he meant by that at the time, but now after having spent decades in journalism and being subjected to covering countless campaigns and elections, I believe I do grasp the meaning of my father’s words so long ago at last.

And as the summer kicks into high gear, we are all about to be inundated with a barrage of the most striking and expressive clichés and idioms in the history of political mankind. They will be used in television advertising, campaign speeches, newspaper and magazine ads, on social media posts and uttered endlessly from the mouths of candidates and supporters alike.

What’s the difference between a cliché and an idiom, you may ask? A cliché is defined as a phrase that once seemed interesting, but through overuse has lost its impact. An idiom, though, is an expression that is metaphorical and not taken literally. Both are freely and commonly used by politicians and campaign strategists during elections and are highly cringe-worthy to the ears of the general populace in my humble opinion.

What speechwriter or media guru doesn’t relish having a laundry list of idioms such as these in their collective arsenal: lame duck; spin doctors; politically incorrect; fishing expedition; red tape; flip-flopper; lash out; kicking the can down the road; presumptive nominee; fiscal cliff; media firestorm; margin of error; or bring to the table?

And how many times have you heard candidates use this list of worn-out political clichés during the course of the election cycle such as: I’m running a positive campaign; I have a plan; This is the most important election of our lifetime; It’s all about the optics; I deal with facts, not fiction; I do not deal in hypotheticals; America is at a crossroads; I categorically deny; Throw under the bus; It’s all a big nothingburger; Winning at any cost; or Enough is enough.

Sometimes the lines blur between idioms and clichés in politics such as: A song and dance show; Intellectual curiosity; A zebra doesn’t change his stripes; Cook one’s own goose; Sacred cows; Putting the cart before the horse; A flash in the pan; Shifting the paradigm; or There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Collectively, I’d like to see all political advisors, marketing and public relations firms and anyone weighing a bid for an elected office to stop and think carefully before speaking aloud in public.

During the 2020 campaign to this point, we’ve heard this so far: Bury your head in the sand; Crunch the numbers; Drink the Kool-Aid; Half-baked; Think outside the box; Ducks in a row; Put the final nail in the coffin; Dot the I’s, Cross the T’s; Believe Me; Once again, it all comes down to turnout; Keep your powder dry; The new normal; and my new personal favorite, the chips are starting to crumble.

If only we could revert to the days of such colorful expressions such as: Where’s the beef: Fuzzy math; Drain the Swamp; It’s the economy, stupid; The buck stops here; See the forest for the trees; The elephant in the room; or how about Speak softly and carry a big stick?”

I’m afraid that we are all locked into another never-ending cycle of trite, hackneyed, stale, unimaginative, vapid, predictable and old-hat phrases until Nov. 3.

And at the end of the day, there’s a lot to unpack here. For some, it will be a deep dive and an uphill battle with the grass always being greener on the other side and ignorance being bliss until we all play our cards right and our decision about who to vote for becomes as plain as the nose on our faces and oh so crystal clear as we venture into the voting booth on Election Day.<

—Ed Pierce

Friday, July 3, 2020

Andy Young: When shopping for facemasks, listen to people you trust implicitly

By Andy Young

In the past high school teachers like me and our students all eagerly anticipated summer vacation. However, given current conditions, spending ten weeks at home in semi-quarantine after spending three months at home in semi-quarantine seems like a mixed blessing. People who know me well (and who I trust implicitly) say that depending on the attitude of the individual(s) involved, what was once seen as unlimited freedom is now viewed by many as continued social exile, or, even more grimly, perpetual solitary confinement.

It’s nice that some businesses are beginning to re-open. Wearing facemasks in public places is still considered prudent, and I have no problem with that. I do wish they wouldn’t make my glasses wouldn’t fog up so much, though. Last week I was desperately trying to purchase frozen meatballs that did NOT contain stinky Parmesan cheese, which two of my children detest nearly as much as I do. The print is hard enough to read on those boxes as it is, but when my breath (which behind a mask is always nasty, no matter how often I brush my teeth) escapes from the top of my facial covering and fogs up my cheaters, it's even tougher.

Since travel this summer appears unlikely, I was considering getting a job stocking shelves at the local grocery store, but as it seems I'm going to be spending a great deal of time preparing for more "distance teaching" this fall, summer employment may not be the best idea. Also, as I found out recently when I received an unexpected gift card from a friend, maybe it’s better if I leave that job for someone else who truly needs it. It turns out there’s nothing in Amazon’s warehouse I need or want that I don’t already have.

But every responsible citizen ought to be doing their part to strengthen the economy, so ultimately I bought an item (or several items, actually) that I had never heard of until recently.

A balaclava is one of those cylindrical cloth things you can wear around your neck, and then pull up over your mouth and/or nose when it suits your purpose, like when you’re skiing down a mountain in sub-zero conditions, trying not to swallow flying insects or diesel fumes while riding your motorcycle, or preparing to hold up a convenience store. They can also be used as face masks. Thanks to that gift card I now own balaclavas sporting the Guatemalan flag, the Canadian flag, Yosemite Sam, the Three Stooges, and Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

I was sorely tempted to get one with The Great Cornholio on it, but since I’m still clinging to the faint hope of getting a date someday if and when social distancing regulations subside, I decided to pass. People who know me well (and who I trust implicitly) tell me that sporting Beavis and Butthead-themed clothing in 2020 is not the best way to impress the chicks in my particular demographic.

Nor, now that I think of it, is referring to women (of any demographic) as "chicks."

But there’s a potential silver lining to the likelihood that face coverings will still be required when and if we return to school this fall. Having a wide variety of them could, for the first time in my life, make me a contender for the title of “best-dressed” faculty member. And people who know me well (and who I trust implicitly) tell me that since 95 percent of my wardrobe was purchased prior to the end of the 20th century, this is indeed cause to raise the flag.

Even a Guatemalan or Canadian one. <

Editor’s note: Andy Young has been writing a column for many years and most recently was a columnist for the Journal Tribune newspaper in Biddeford. His columns will now appear on a regular basis in The Windham Eagle.

Insight: Remembering some memorable characters

In 45 years of working in the profession of journalism, I’ve interviewed thousands of people while gathering information for articles and have had the great privilege of meeting some of the most colorful characters you’ve probably never heard of.

Here are just a few tales and a sampling of unusual, resilient and offbeat individuals that I’ve covered during the course of my career:

** In November 1981, I reported on the annual Veterans Day ceremony in Indianapolis with a special guest speaker, Jesse A. Jackson, the last remaining veteran from Indiana of the Spanish-American War. (And no, not the more famous presidential candidate Jesse Jackson with the same name.) Jackson was 99 and a resident of the Lutheran Community Home. He told me that he had joined the Army after an argument with his father and stepmother. His speech to the crowd that afternoon consisted of exactly eight words, “Enjoy your supper and have a good evening.” When I asked him the secret of his longevity, Jackson told me he drank a bottle of peach schnapps every night and ate a bowl of persimmon pudding each day for lunch. Jackson died in 1987 at age 105.

** Long before actor Mykelti Williamson portrayed Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue and extolled the many ways to serve and enjoy shrimp in the film “Forrest Gump,” I had interviewed “The Singing Airman,” also known as James “Mississippi” Burch. While working the graveyard shift at The Pentagon in 1980, Burch supervised the facility’s pneumatic tube system of delivering teletype messages to the offices of military leaders prior to the invention of email. Having grown up in Tupelo, Mississippi, Burch was a loyal and devoted fan of Elvis Presley. He knew the words to all of his songs by heart and would rattle off a laundry list of facts about the life of Elvis to everyone he met, similar to Bubba’s character in “Forrest Gump.” In an effort to keep his co-workers awake throughout the graveyard shift, Burch also would commandeer the department’s public-address system and croon out “Burning Love,” or “Hound Dog” when he felt it was needed. Burch also shared with me an obscure fact about Elvis that I had never heard before. He said Elvis actually had blonde hair and dyed it black to conform with his “look.” And he told me that everyone in his family had memorized all the lyrics to every Elvis Presley “Number One” hit songs and they all gathered on vacation every year in August at Graceland in Tennessee to remember Elvis on the anniversary of his death. The last I heard, ‘Sip’ Burch as he liked to be called, was entertaining Air Force personnel stationed in the Middle East as a member of the U.S. Air Force’s “Singing Sergeants” in 1995.

** When I covered community sports in Brevard County, Florida in 2005, I kept hearing about the exploits of a masters’ division swimmer by the name of Bunny Cederlund and I eagerly accepted an assignment to interview her for a story. She was a longtime member of the Florida Aquatic Combine Swim Team and had set numerous swimming records for people in her age bracket. As a world-class swimmer in her late teens and early 20s, Cederlund had lost out on an opportunity to compete for the United States in the 1940 Summer Olympics because of World War II. She gave up swimming, married an Air Force officer, raised a family in New Jersey and then moved to Florida when she turned 65. By the time she was 70, Cederlund was once again swimming competitively and turning in record-breaking performances. During her 19-year career in master’s swimming, she racked up 234 individual Top 10 swims and 14 Top-10 finishes in relay events. Now nine years after her death in 2011 at age 89, Cederlund still holds 15 individual United States Masters Swimmer records in three different age groups and dominated the USMS backstroke records from the 50 Short Course Yards to the 200 Long Course Meters in the 80 to 84 and 85 to 89 age groups. And she also still holds four FINA (the international governing body of swimming) Masters’ World Records in the 80 to 84 50-meter backstroke, and the 85 to 89 50-meter backstroke, the 50-meter backstroke, and the 100-meter backstroke. There’s a lesson to be learned from her about persistence, for sure. <
—Ed Pierce

Friday, June 26, 2020

Insight: To Fear or Not to Phobia

When I was younger, not much scared me. I wasn’t the type to be easily frightened by what could be lurking in the shadows or under my bed at night. Yet as my life has progressed, I have developed a certain phobia which I’m cautiously about to share in an effort to better understand what makes me uncomfortable as an adult and perhaps why they do.

And contrary to what my wife will say, no it’s not an irrational phobia about home redecorating.

When I was about 10 years old, my mother took me to Seabreeze Amusement Park near Lake Ontario in Irondequoit, New York one summer afternoon. The main attraction there was an old wooden roller coaster called the Jack Rabbit, which is the fourth oldest in the world and the second oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the United States.

My mother told me one of her greatest fears was riding the “Jack Rabbit roller coaster” because it featured a drop of about 75 feet and she had a fear of heights. I watched as visitors to the amusement park climbed aboard the roller coaster and they screamed out as it suddenly dipped and twisted on its wooden tracks. There and then I developed a phobia about roller coasters that lasted nearly 38 years.

On a trip home to attend my high school reunion in 2001, a group of my friends and I decided to visit Seabreeze Amusement Park to see if it remained as we had known it growing up there. Smack dab in the middle of the park, I stood at the entrance to ride the Jack Rabbit and decided it was finally time to conquer one of my longstanding phobias.

Turns out, riding the Jack Rabbit wasn’t all that bad. Yes, it was a steep drop, but I had fun and didn’t lose my lunch overboard when it made its climatic run down the tracks.

Even though I was able to overcome my phobia about roller coasters that day, I still am not crazy about heights. Recently my wife and I were watching an episode of the “ER” television series and it included a scene where a distraught patient had climbed out onto a ledge on the hospital roof and a doctor also ventured out on the ledge to prevent the patient from jumping.

Just watching that scene made my stomach churn and I closed my eyes as the television camera looked out beyond the ledge to the ground 12 stories below. I’m also creeped out by old photos of workers sitting on a girder eating lunch when the Empire State Building was under construction in New York City or another famous photo from the 1930s of a woman standing on the eagle at the top of the Chrysler Building.

I suppose helicopters should go on my phobia list too, but for me that’s an offshoot of my apprehension about heights. In 1981, while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Arizona, I was asked by my commanding officer to survey a crash scene of an F-15 Eagle aircraft that had gone down in the desert south of Phoenix.

As a member of the emergency response team, I had to get on a helicopter that was headed to the crash site. This particular helicopter had its doors removed and the only place for us to sit were on metal benches in the back. It also didn’t have seat belts, instead, you had to tied yourself in with ropes attached to the frame.

As the helicopter banked both right and left over the crash site, I clutched tightly at my ropes, fearing that if it loosened, I would tumble out the open door to certain death waiting several hundred feet below. Only when the helicopter landed back at the Air Force base did I feel safe again and tossed away the barf bag I was issued prior to takeoff.

On several occasions over the next few years, as a military journalist I had the opportunity to cover “incentive rides,” or F-15 flights given to outstanding enlisted aircraft mechanics or other military members recognized for top achievements. The person being awarded the “incentive ride” would climb into the back seat of an F-15 and the pilot would take them for a thrilling flight across the Arizona skies.

The first time I covered one of those events for the base newspaper, I noticed a large plastic bucket filled with water waiting on the flight line near where they aircraft was supposed to land. I asked what it was for and was told it was a surprise and to wait and see.

When the flight landed and the person receiving the “incentive ride” was back on the ground, he bucked over and threw up all over himself from having pulled 2 or 3 Gs (or Gravitational Force Equivalent) as the airplane accelerated to Mach 1 during his time in the air. The bucket of water was thrown over him to wash away his vomit and I was informed that it was an Air Force custom to have it handy for those not very experienced at pulling Gs on a regular basis like F-15 pilots were.

In 1983, having been awarded the Tactical Air Command “Journalist of the Year” award, my commander let me know that if I wanted, he could arrange an “incentive ride” in an F-15 for me. Having witnessed and reported on a number of those, I was well aware of how they turned out for the recipient and I politely declined his offer.

So at this stage in my life, it’s safe to say that you won’t find me rock climbing, bungee jumping off a bridge, hanging out on a sky deck hovering over the Grand Canyon, or laughing it up while free-falling 130 feet to the ground aboard Universal’s “Tower of Terror” in Orlando, Florida.

In my opinion, some phobias are best tackled from the all-to-familiar living room sofa. <

–Ed Pierce

Friday, June 19, 2020

Insight: List of pet peeves continues to grow

It seems the older I get, the more pet peeves I accumulate.

Just this past weekend, another one was added to the list while driving on a Maine highway. A driver in a SUV ahead of me stopped on the two-lane highway and signaled that he was turning left, so I came to a complete stop immediately behind him.

Traffic coming from the other direction made the driver in front of me have to wait and so I had to wait for him to turn left as well. However, two other drivers behind me decided to go around me, as well as the turning vehicle in front of me, by barreling on past us using the small gravel shoulder on the roadway to our right.

All at once the driver in front of me made his left turn and as I slowly hit the gas pedal to move forward, another car trying to race past me suddenly attempted to swerve back into my roadway lane. I braked and let that driver in, but why do drivers do that?

This happens a lot in Maine and in my opinion, is dangerous and risky operation of a motor vehicle. Where could these people be going in such a hurry that they couldn’t slow down and wait for a few seconds for the driver to turn?

That’s a personal pet peeve of mine and I hope that someday, a pedestrian walking on the roadside shoulder isn’t run over by an impatient driver choosing to pass other cars on the right.

That incident prompted me to think of other pet peeves that get under my skin.

Among those are smokers who throw their discarded cigarette butts on the ground or better yet, flick them out their car windows. I once knew a man in Florida who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and he told me a story about driving on the interstate with the windows to his car rolled down one summer and he flicked his lit cigarette out the window at 70 mph. Some 10 miles or so down the road after doing that, he smelled smoke and saw flames coming from the back seat of his 1978 Buick. Apparently, the lit cigarette he flicked out the window landed on his back seat and caught the upholstery on fire. He said he immediately pulled over and watched as his car went up in flames before the fire department could arrive and extinguish the blaze.

Lately a number of social media posters have joined my pet peeves list. I understand the desire to post a selfie photo after a new hairstyle or announcing a new relationship, but why show the world basically the same photo only wearing different clothes every day for a week straight on Facebook in the same exact pose? Has your face changed that drastically in 24 hours that I wouldn’t notice?

Then there are the people who feel compelled to post photos of what they are about to eat for lunch or the lavishly decorated cake they are bringing to Aunt Martha’s 79th birthday bash. Aren’t those Spicy Black Bean Fish Tacos with Grilled Zucchini getting cold while you pose them so perfectly for all your friends to drool over on Twitter?

Lastly, internet photo gallery marketing ploys drive me crazy. These are usually placed below or to the right of the news story or article you are reading online and are intended to grab your attention with a catchy headline such as “See what the cast of ‘The Sopranos’ looks like today.”

Then you have to click through hundreds of “Then and Now” photos just to get to the cast member you originally wanted to check out. I usually give up after clicking through 40 photos or so without ever getting to view the actor or actress I thought would certainly be shown sooner. And why they would even include actors or actresses that died 10 years ago in a “Then” and “Now” gallery escapes me.   

I happen to fall for this scheme a lot, which is probably why marketers tend to use this tactic frequently, and I suppose it’s all about click-bait that can be used to promote internet advertising.

When I was young, I used to listen to my father discuss his current pet peeves over Sunday dinner and I vowed that I would never find myself becoming irritated over such little annoyances. Time sure has a way of changing perspectives. <

—Ed Pierce