Friday, April 16, 2021

Insight: Pandemic online shopping lessons

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Like most everyone else in my community at the onset of the pandemic last year, I’d venture out to the store and try to purchase hard-to-find items for our family.

And like everyone else, many times I came home without finding toilet paper, fresh vegetables, paper towels, milk or crackers. Store shelves were decimated by the end of that first week and I can recall looking down the meat counter at my local grocery and seeing rows and rows of empty coolers.

That experience reminded me of what it must have been like to shop during the Great Depression or in Europe after World War II ended. I had to do something to keep the household running and stocked with necessities, so I turned to the great equalizer, the internet.

There I found so many bargains and opportunities to order scarce items and many delivered within days for an additional fee. Soon the mail trucks and the UPS and FedEx delivery vans were making regular stops in front of our home and it was hard to keep the recycling bin free of cardboard boxes emptied of their precious cargo.

Now more than a year later, we find it amazing to review some of the items I was able to have shipped to us.

Within the first couple months, as trips to the grocery store became somewhat perilous, I purchased these items online and was able to remember this list thanks to the handy “Buy It again” feature on amazon.com:

Four multi-pack boxes of Quaker Instant Oatmeal; an eight-pack of Mr. Pibb Extra soda pop; a dozen 32-ounce containers of 2 percent lactose-free milk; a three-pack of Cameo Crème sandwich cookies; a four-pack of 20-ounce Betty Crocker chocolate brownie mix; several large bags of Match Light charcoal; a 64-ounce jar of Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter; and a 72-count package of Hormel bacon.

Then there was a 10-pack variety of canned Campbell soups; two 64- ounce bottles of Pure Leaf Iced Tea with lemon; a two-pack of 14.3-ounce Oreo cookies; a four-pack of family-sized boxes of Special K cereal; a four-pack of 46-ounce V-8 juice; and 12-ounce 12-packs of RC Cola, Seven-Up, Big Red soda and Mr. Pibb Extra.

For good measure, I also ordered a 15-pack of 12-ounce Dr, Pepper; an eight-pack of 15.4-ounce Campbell’s Homestyle microwaveable chicken noodle soup; a four-pack of Ritz crackers (family size); a four-pack of 20-ounce StarKist tuna; and a six-pack of Maxwell House International instant coffee.

All of those followed two different orders placed online with Omaha Steaks. Those came in specially packed styrofoam coolers placed inside larger cardboard boxes. Those shipping containers were a nightmare to dispose of properly.

The meat was expensive and portion sizes were small, but it did tide us over until such a time that the beef and chicken shortages had subsided, and grocery coolers were full again of those items.

I did order several times from an online restaurant supplier in Pennsylvania. To augment their business during the pandemic, they offered some of their meats to anyone looking, although you did have to buy in bulk.

These are the same people who sell steaks and chops to local restaurants and their meat was shipped frozen and arrived within days after placing my order. I first ordered a box of 12-ounce T-bone steaks and they were so good, later in the summer I ordered another, even though meat was plentiful again in area stores by then.

The T-bone steaks came in a box of 14 for a cost of $140.00 and shipping was free. It was an amazing deal. They grilled up nicely and turned out to be a pleasant distraction from the pandemic as last summer wore on. I’d certainly order from that company again.

Now more than a year later, some items I purchased remain on the shelf and probably a waste of money. Seems nobody in our family liked the packaged milk. This past weekend I noticed that the expiration date on those was November 2020. Out of the 12-pack I obtained, we have 10 left, and it will fall upon me to get rid of them. The canned Campbell’s Minestrone soup was not exactly a popular pick either and neither was the Hormel bacon, which I ended up eating all by myself.

Through it all, I was able to prove to myself that it is possible to order groceries online during a pandemic and our family survived despite the shortages, availability of odd and unfamiliar brands and resorting to ordering some items in bulk. Happy Shopping! <     

Andy Young: Farewell to a prince of a man

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Prince Philip’s passing last week dealt yet another blow to a British royal family that has been beset by misfortune in 2021.  It came just 32 days after a widely viewed televised chat Oprah Winfrey conducted with Prince Harry and his wife, American actress Meghan Markle, that revealed, among other things, that certain House of Windsor members not only lack compassion, but in addition hold some less-than-enlightened views on race.

Of course, “Misfortune” can be a relative term. While dealing with the fallout from the much-discussed unflattering Winfrey interview has undoubtedly been trying for Queen Elizabeth and her minions, there are, one imagines, plenty of people out there who’d welcome the opportunity to deal with the challenge of putting a positive spin on an international public relations snafu were they allowed to do so from inside their own personal castle, which was fully staffed with aides and servants whose salaries were being paid for by someone else. 

The Duke of Edinburgh’s death further thins the ranks of humanity’s surviving dukes. It’s important to remember and appreciate the notable lives of not only Prince Philip, but Patty Duke, Duke Ellington, Duke Snider, and Duke Kahanamoku, particularly given that the most famous still-extant member of the Klan (pun intended), David, has been sullying the reputation of other dukes for decades through his espousal of racism, anti-Semitism, and half-baked conspiracy theories.

There’s no evidence that the late Prince Philip, who had been married to Queen Elizabeth for more than 73 years, was one of those who had showed a lack of compassion for their grandson’s biracial spouse. What’s undisputable, though, is that the man lived a remarkable life.

It’s unsurprising that the fellow who married a princess back in 1947 was born to privilege himself, but who knew the seemingly British through-and-through Duke of Edinburgh was born far from England on a Mediterranean island in the Ionian Sea? Or that his own royal background wasn’t British, but rather Danish and Greek. And learning that he was smuggled off the island of his birth in an orange crate when he was just 18 months old was news to me.

Philip served with distinction in the British Navy for the length of the second world war, even as two of his brothers-in-law fought for the Germans. He was a licensed pilot, an accomplished polo player, and a talented artist. One of the founders of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961, he was a conservationist long before environmental activism became politically fashionable. He also had a talent for self-deprecation; according to an article in America, The Jesuit Review, he once described himself as (among other things), “A discredited Balkan prince of no particular merit or distinction.” 

It’s a shame that Prince Philip, who by all accounts had for some time been dealing with the sorts of ailments that inevitably afflict those who’ve celebrated 99 birthdays, couldn’t have lasted another couple of months. It’s likely that some overworked members of the staff at Buckingham Palace who had been charged with preparing for the Duke’s centennial celebration on June 10 had to reluctantly deposit what was likely months of their hard work into the royal shredder sometime last week.

Even if he didn’t quite make it to his 100th birthday, Prince Philip’s longevity was remarkable. Only a tiny percentage of humanity is allotted 36,463 days (or, if you prefer, 5,209 weeks) of life, and the Duke most assuredly made the most of his.

The final irony of the departure of the royal consort was its exquisite timing. The 99-year-old Duke quietly expired on the 99th day of 2021. <

Friday, April 9, 2021

Bill Diamond: Local heroes protect Maine’s children from abuse

By Senator Bill Diamond

It’s not something most people want to think about, and it’s easy to understand why. But the fact is, children in Maine – just like children everywhere else – are sexually exploited for the financial profit of adults every day. This includes the production, buying, selling and swapping of child sexual abuse materials online. Luckily, in Maine, we have a team of dedicated professionals who do all they can to put these perpetrators away: the Computer Crimes Unit of the Maine State Police, also known as the CCU. Unfortunately, the CCU is understaffed and struggling to keep up with a growing caseload. That’s why I’m sponsoring a bill this year to add more positions to the CCU to help combat some of the most heinous crimes we see in our society.

The CCU is a multi-jurisdictional police entity that assists other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with putting these perpetrators away. In many instances, cases come to the CCU as the result of referrals from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Investigators and computer forensic analysts in the CCU then work side-by-side to identify the producers, sellers, buyers and users of these materials and build cases against them. As technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so do the perpetrators who rely on technology to commit their crimes. In the past four years, the number of case referrals and tips the CCU receives has nearly tripled.

This has left the CCU with a far bigger workload than current staffing levels can accommodate. While investigators can typically conduct about 20 thorough investigations a year, each of the CCU’s four investigators currently has up to 100 cases. Because there aren’t enough forensic analysts and investigators to review and examine the evidence they collect, it remains sitting on a shelf in a closet 20 feet from a vacant CCU desk. The result is that perpetrators remain free and are able to abuse more children.

The bill I’ve introduced will add one or more positions to the CCU to help combat this backlog. The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is currently working on the bill to determine how many positions to recommend, and whether those positions should be for investigators or forensic analysts. Whatever the committee decides, the result will be a recommendation to the Legislature that we fund at least one additional CCU position. This is necessary to protect our kids, and I hope my colleagues in the House and Senate will see the value in funding this priority.

As you can imagine, working on these cases and viewing these images takes a significant toll on CCU workers. I began working with the CCU in 2004, when I served as senate chair of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. I’ve had the honor of visiting the CCU in the years since, and I can tell you that those visits have been some of the most impressionable moments of my entire life. I always encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to tour the CCU and learn more about their work. CCU workers are local heroes, and their work is often unrecognized and underappreciated. This includes the computer analysts in the CCU, who are civilians. Another bill of mine would include these workers in the state’s 1998 Special Retirement Plan, which currently includes fire marshals, forest rangers and many others who serve our state. This would allow these CCU workers to retire at age 55 with 10 years of creditable service.

Protecting Maine’s children from abuse of all forms has been a priority for me for the past two decades. That’s why I’ve also introduced a bill that would take the Office of Family and Child Services out from under the Department of Health and Human Services and make it its own department. This would dedicate more resources toward issues of child welfare, early childhood programs and behavioral health services for children. Our state has seen too many tragedies over the past few decades. It’s well past time we make a real investment in supporting and protecting our most vulnerable children, and I believe this is a critical step in the right direction. You’ll hear more from me about this in the coming months.

I hope I’ve been able to provide you with some information you didn’t have before about the CCU and the reality of child abuse in our state. We have an opportunity to improve our efforts to protect our children in Maine by giving the CCU some of the obvious tools they need to prevent predators from continuing to abuse children. If you want to discuss this issue, or if you have any other questions or concerns we can work on together, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 287-1515 or diamondhollyd@aol.com. <

Insight: Two kinds of people

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Growing up, my father used to tell me that while serving in the Army during World War II he found there were two types of people in the world, those who are rational and think things out and others who are confused and choose to disregard opportunities to learn and improve.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate my father’s sentiments about people and I’ve strived to be a member of the “rational” group. I’m no great philosopher and make mistakes like everybody else, but I do make an effort to try to use what I’ve learned in life to simply continue to live.

This past weekend, I was reminded of the difference between rational and confused. While on a Zoom session with family members living out of state, we discussed getting vaccinated for coronavirus.

My wife Nancy and I have now had both of our shots of the Pfizer vaccine and will soon reach the two-week point for maximum effectiveness. The family members we were visiting with on Zoom reside in the deep southern part of the United States and are considerably younger than us. As a result, I did not think prior to this Zoom session that they would have had an opportunity to receive the vaccine.  

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that their state opened up vaccinations more than a month ago to all age groups and that they were fully immunized. One of these relatives mentioned that his 20-year-old daughter also had been vaccinated and so were his parents, although they were extremely reluctant to do so, but eventually gave in and received the shots.

But there was one holdout. Seems this relative’s sister refused to be immunized against coronavirus, saying we’re all going to die some day and she wasn’t going to let some health official dictate to her whether she should get the vaccine or not.

That statement made me think of my father’s statement about two types of people in the world and how fortunate I am to be surrounded by rational people.

Both my wife and I experienced little to no side effects from the vaccine. While my arm was sore for a little while, it always is whenever I get a flu shot by injection. I wasn’t overly tired or lethargic and both my wife and I each went to work the very next day.

Now we have some measure of protection against the virus and are hopeful that we will have plenty of antibodies to ward it off should we meet someone who does have it.

But what about those people who choose not to be immunized?

The freedom to choose is an underlying foundation of American society and deciding not to receive the vaccine is your right, but in my opinion is a moral failure and evidence of disregard for your fellow man.

Weighing a mistrust of modern science or fearing a negative reaction to the vaccine is understandable, but when put up against the public good and the undeniable personal health benefits in this instance, it pales in comparison.

For vaccination skeptics, I ask you to consider how much has been lost in the last year because of the virus and how we all yearn to return to a more normalized way of life.

It’s really a matter of mathematics when you get right down to it. As the pool of potential virus hosts and transmitters shrinks as more and more of the population is immunized, simple math reveals that the virus will go to where it can survive and thrive among those who have not been vaccinated.

The greatest benefit we will all derive when a majority of Americans are fully vaccinated is the immunity against this awful virus that has claimed so many lives and disrupted our daily lives, our economy and our ability to connect with those we love.

The choice between saving lives and preserving the individual freedom of refusing to be vaccinated is moot.

I truly long to go to a major league baseball game once more, to feel safe dining indoors at a restaurant, to shake hands with someone I’ve just met for the first time and to drive to Connecticut to spend time with family and our grandchild.

I fear that those who reject simplistic public health measures such as wearing a mask or going to receive the vaccine all to make a point about individual liberty will end up on the wrong side of history and continue to prolong this pandemic even further. <

Andy Young: Basketball and why the UConn women continue to dominate

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle


As a youth I was an avid National Basketball Association fan. Thanks to devouring The Sporting News every week, I knew there were actually NBA teams besides the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, and whoever Wilt Chamberlain was playing for at the time. Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, Zelmo Beaty and their teams (the Cincinnati Royals, San Francisco Warriors, and St. Louis Hawks, respectively) may be distant memories now, but to a hoops-obsessed 10-year-old they were gods, albeit unusually tall ones.

But humanity has evolved over the millennia, and so too have individual persons, even those males whose adolescence endures for approximately three decades. I’ve moved past men’s basketball, having finally realized just how silly being preoccupied with a bunch of large men playing a kid’s game is. Besides, these days there’s something far more important for discerning hoop fans to follow.

My awareness of women’s basketball began on a Saturday afternoon during my freshman year of college, when a friend asked if I’d come to a game at the school’s field house with him. His girlfriend (and future wife) was on the team, and he said they could use some fans. That was clearly true, since it appeared there were more people on the court than there were in the stands. And that couldn’t be blamed on ticket prices, since admission was free.

Anyway, the Massachusetts Minutewomen beat our school’s squad that day, 84-70, but I felt good about having lent moral support to the home side, particularly since I was probably the only one in attendance who wasn’t directly related to one of the players.

Sixteen years later I was back on campus visiting when, by utter coincidence, I ran into a friend from my hometown who happened to be a student manager for the school’s women’s basketball team. There was a game that night, and she said she’d leave me a ticket. A sweet gesture, I thought, though hardly necessary, given the intimate gathering of friends and relatives I expected to encounter there.

Thank goodness I was on the pass list; there wasn’t an empty seat in the brand-new arena! The only downer for the enthusiastic sellout throng: the Miami Hurricanes beat the home team, 75-59.

University of Connecticut alumni like me are justifiably proud of our school’s women’s basketball team, which has compiled the sort of record that would make the Celtics of the 1960’s, the Montreal Canadiens of the late 1950s, or the New York Yankees of any era green with envy.

All that success can be attributed to a variety of factors, like standout players (including 13 multiple-year All-America selections) and a remarkable coaching staff, but there are also a few seldom-acknowledged components.

Like, for example, me.

Shortly after seeing that Miami game, I had a sobering epiphany. I realized my mere presence was jinxing my alma mater. After all, how many people have gone to more than one UConn women’s basketball game in person and never seen them win? That’s why I made the heartbreaking decision to stay away in perpetuity from personally attending any of the team’s games. Has that selfless decision had any effect? You be the judge; since the start of the 1993-94 season the 11-time national champions have won 957 games while losing just 66, for an outrageous winning percentage of .935.

But don’t think for even a second my devotion to the women’s game has lessened my encyclopedic knowledge of the NBA. The Celtics and Paul Pierce still rule, of course, but I think the Cleveland Cavaliers may have themselves a rising star in this James LeBron guy. <

Friday, April 2, 2021

Insight: Brown gravy nearly halts a military career

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

It’s been almost 44 years since I took one of the most harrowing plane trips of my life, yet looking back on it now, it’s ended up being a source of humor that I carry with me to this very day.

In the fall of 1977, I was an Airman Basic (E-1) in the U.S. Air Force and boarded an airplane at Charleston, South Carolina with many other military members and their families bound for Frankfurt, Germany. I was headed to my first permanent military assignment and it was an eight-hour overnight flight to Europe with a stop to refuel in Gander, Newfoundland.

At that time, regulations mandated that all military personnel on the flight wear Class A dress uniforms and I was dressed in my official dress blue Air Force uniform with a tie and was assigned a middle-row seat, sandwiched between two U.S. Army colonels wearing their dress green uniforms.

Not long into the flight, each of the Army colonels pulled out books and began to read, while I thumbed through a magazine that I had purchased at the Charleston airport. The plane landed in Gander and we had about a 40-minute layover before taking off again for Frankfurt.

As the flight wore on, both Army colonels on either side of me removed their dress uniform jackets and fell asleep. As the flight progressed, as a 23-year-old, I was too excited about traveling to Europe to sleep.

About an hour after departing Gander, the flight attendant came around and offered dinner to the passengers. I accepted but both Army colonels were sleeping and did not awaken during the meal.

The dinner was roast beef covered in brown gravy with a dinner roll, mashed potatoes, and carrots and served on one of those old white plastic TV dinner trays with plastic utensils. The plastic trays were lukewarm at best and the food was a bit cold, but I was hungry and eagerly started eating.

Somehow a pocket of brown gravy was concealed underneath a stack of the roast beef and when I cut into it with my plastic knife, a small spurt of brown gravy flew off my tray and up onto the collar of the Army colonel seated to my left. It left an ugly stain on his light green collar and now I was faced with a major dilemma. Do I wake him up and apologize for the terrible thing that I have just done or do I let him sleep and pray that he didn’t realize what happened.

The minutes slowly wound into hours as I agonized about what to do. I envisioned that this was the end of my military career before it even got started and that the colonel would complain upon landing in Frankfurt. I envisioned being court martialed and sent back to the USA on the next available flight.

I wrestled with my conscience over and over and played through many different scenarios, all of them turning out bad for me and my budding military career. I thought of how proud my family was of my service and how let down they would be as it all came crashing down all because of a hidden pocket of brown roast beef gravy.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot’s voice came over the airplane loudspeaker and announced we were descending to land at Frankfurt, Germany. Once the plane’s wheels touched down, as soon as passengers were allowed to exit, I was up and out of my seat, grabbed my duffle bag from the overhead compartment and was headed for the door.

I made it through customs and was waiting in the airport lobby for my unit to pick me up when I saw a NATO staff car adorned with four-star general flags pull up outside. NATO’s Commander, General Alexander Haig, got out of the staff car and made his way into the airport lobby.

Turns out General Haig was there to pick up his chief military aide, the U.S. Army colonel sitting left of me on the flight, who had by then made it through customs and was walking toward the general.

The colonel stopped, saluted Haig and then I watched as Haig crooked his neck and stared directly at the brown gravy spot on his collar. I heard shouting and a commotion as I turned and slowly walked away to get a cup of coffee. I felt relieved and decades later, it remains a memorable situation that could have turned out much worse. <

Andy Young: Spring is here, and what a relief!

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I’m not the first person to compare the annual start of spring to being reborn. It’s impossible not to get reenergized when flowers begin blooming, brooks resume babbling, and buds on the trees begin transforming into leaves. Emerging from winter’s seemingly endless cold and darkness provides the sort of relief that’s arguably even more vital to the human spirit than the onset of the ensuing season is.

Now is also that unique time in northern New England when observant types notice things that aren’t readily visible during the rest of the year. Sights obscured by vegetation in summer, camouflaged by fallen leaves during autumn, and buried under a blanket of snow throughout the lengthy winter are clearly discernible for those willing to take the time to look.

Unfortunately, not everything that’s revealed between winter’s end and spring’s onset is pleasant. Receding snow and ice in certain sections of Portland reveal just how many people ignored the city’s regulations regarding the removal of pet waste during the winter, and the amount of rubbish one sees along many country roadsides indicates that plenty of rural types are no more observant of anti-littering laws than certain city dwellers are about cleaning up after their dogs.

I’ve never been able to fathom why some people think it’s okay to randomly toss their trash where it doesn’t belong. But that’s hardly the only thing I don’t understand. The already lengthy list of items I haven’t yet grasped (or seen any reason for) seems to lengthen with each passing day.

I don’t understand quantum physics, the rules of field hockey, or why anyone should care about keeping up with the Kardashians.

I don’t have any idea when time began, why any particular thing exists, or if the egg preceded the chicken (or vice versa).

I don’t know what color a mirror is, what blind people see in their dreams, or who taught the first teacher.

And don’t ask me how asexual organisms reproduce, if it’s the “S” or the “C” that’s silent in the word “scent,” or why anyone would, even for a second, think injecting people with bleach would be a great way to eradicate the coronavirus.

But some seemingly mysterious things can, with sufficient time and effort, be explained.

One of them involves a familiar expression which has been a part of English-speaking America’s lexicon for generations, one that originated long before any states, United or otherwise, existed on the North American continent. This particular declarative phrase owes its creation to the Shinnecock Indians of Manhattan Island, who performed an annual spring-welcoming ritual that involved each member of the tribe over the age of 12 chanting, in their native tongue, a lengthy mantra ending with the words, “Waw-taw-reel-eefe,” a Shinnecock expression which literally meant, “We greet you with warm hearts and open arms, vernal equinox.”

Then in the late 16th century some visiting English missionaries observed the ceremony and assumed it referred to the “re-leafing” of the trees. Shortly thereafter, “What a releaf” became one of the earliest recorded bits of North American-created English jargon in linguistic history. (The spelling of the idiom’s third word was changed by the Dutch shortly after they snatched ownership of Manhattan Island from the Shinnecocks and some neighboring tribes for $24 worth of trinkets and some smallpox-tainted blankets.)

Another thing I don’t understand – how anyone could believe that cockamamie, fake news story about the Shinnecocks and the origin of “what a relief!” I just made it up. April fool!

You have to admit, though: it makes more sense than exterminating the coronavirus with a shot of bleach does. <