Friday, May 13, 2022

Insight: Party like it’s 1975

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Next week marks an anniversary for me as 47 years ago I wrote my first published professional article for a newspaper. On May 16, 1975, I was assigned by United Press International to cover the world heavyweight championship fight in Las Vegas, Nevada between the challenger, Ron Lyle, and the champion, Muhammad Ali.

It seems like an eternity ago as so much has happened in my life and career since then but celebrating 47 years as a print journalist is certainly a milestone that not many are able to reach. I attribute my career longevity to lots of luck, some wonderful mentors, and having been blessed with an opportunity to tell some exceptional stories through the years.

In celebrating my career anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the news, events and newsmakers taking place during this week in May 1975 at the start of my career.

Gasoline was selling across America for 57 cents a gallon. Electronics manufacturer Sony announced the creation of a new video cassette recording system it called Betamax.

The game show Wheel of Fortune made its debut as part of the NBC daytime television lineup.

The top movies of May 1975 are “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” with Ellen Burstyn, “Breakout” with Charlles Bronson, and the Academy Award winner “The Godfather Part II” with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. On television, the top-rated show is “All in the Family” followed by the ABC miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man,” and “Laverne and Shirley.” 

The pull tab ring for aluminum cans is discontinued by American manufacturers after a series of injuries and deaths caused by people who swallowed the metal tabs. Gerald Ford was serving as the U.S. president.

Newly released products on the market included the Mood Ring, a jewelry item which contains a thermochromic element or a mood stone that changes colors based upon the temperature of the finger it’s worn on, and the Ford F-150 pickup truck.

For three consecutive weeks, the song “He Don’t’ Love You (Like I Love You)” by Tony Orlando and Dawn tops the popular American music charts in May 1975. The top country song during that same time period is the crossover hit “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by B.J. Thomas.

The top bestselling novel of May 1975 is “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow and the first issue of “Soldier of Fortune” magazine is on sale at newsstands across the U.S.

Gourmet jellybeans are introduced in America by the Herman Goelitz Corporation. Original flavors are licorice, lemon, grape, root beer, cream soda, green apple, tangerine and very cherry. The company was rebranded in 2001 as “Jelly Belly.”

The “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” jingle is introduced to the American public in a television commercial for McDonalds in May 1975. The minimum wage for American workers was $2.10 an hour.

Milk was priced at $1.57 a gallon in May 1975, while eggs cost 70 cents for a dozen and ground beef was 99 cents per pound. A 1.05-ounce Hershey’s chocolate bar was 15 cents, and a 12-ounce box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was 45 cents.

Pillsbury acquires Totino's frozen pizza for $20 million in May 1975 while Wally Amos introduces his “Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies” for the first time to American consumers. A Kentucky Fried Chicken “Family Bucket” meal containing 15 pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and six rolls was selling for $4.90.

The U.S. merchant ship Mayaguez and its crew were seized by the Kymer Rouge Cambodian forces and held for three days before being freed during a daring rescue by U.S. Marines.

The Milwaukee Brewers held first place in the American League East baseball standings on May 16, 1975, leading the eventual A.L. champion that year, the Boston Red Sox, by four games. The Los Angeles Dodgers were in first place in the National League West standings by five games over the Atlanta Braves and 5.5 games ahead of the eventual N.L. and 1975 World Series champion, the Cincinnati Reds.

The top selling automobiles in America in May 1975 are the Oldsmobile Cutlass, the Ford Granada, the Chevrolet Chevelle, the Chevrolet Nova and Chevrolet Monte Carlo and the AMC Pacer.

The theme park Busch Gardens officially opened in Williamsburg, Virginia with television personality Ed McMahon on hand for the dedication ceremony.

In women’s fashion, platform sandals, mini dresses and turtlenecks for layering were the top trends, while men were wearing bell-bottom and wide-leg pants, platform shoes, vests, long collared shirts, turtleneck sweaters, and leisure suits. For full disclosure, I wore a new brown plaid leisure suit when I interviewed Muhammad Ali before his knockout of Ron Lyle in Las Vegas.

Yes, May 1975 turned out to be a memorable month for me that I will not ever forget. That was truly a different world than the one we live in today and in many ways a simpler and less complicated way of life.

In looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now, but I wouldn’t change a thing about how my life or career turned out. <

Andy Young: Survey says...

By Andy Young

It’s unsurprising that I view certain things differently than many students in the high school English classes I teach do. I’m more than three times as old as any of them, so it’s only natural we have differing opinions on a variety of issues.

Some of those differences are directly attributable to our respective ages. For example, I’m mystified by the attraction many young folks have to tattoos, reality TV, vaping, and various social media platforms, the vast majority of which I probably still haven’t heard of.

But not all of our differences are generational. This is prom weekend at my high school, and I’ll freely admit I don’t understand why so many people consider it such a big deal. But I didn’t get it when I was a high school senior, either. What I did comprehend back then was that attending the event would have set me back more than two weeks’ worth of take-home pay from my 40-hour-per-week summer job doing manual labor at a local apple orchard, and I just didn’t see how putting on an uncomfortable outfit and carefully eating an overpriced meal (so as to not get any stains on said rented ensemble, which I would be sporting for perhaps three hours) would be worth the investment.

My views on the prom weren't shared by many of my high school classmates at the time, and thanks to a voluntary, three-question survey I constructed and distributed to students in my Grade 12 English classes late last month I now know for a fact that my prom-related opinion isn’t the prevailing one today either, since 50 of the 59 Kennebunk High School seniors who returned the questionnaire intend to attend this year’s event.

I also wondered about the future of print-edition high school yearbooks, given that nearly every young person today is more than capable of preserving virtually every visual and oral high school memory on some sort of electronic device. But there’s good news on that front for the companies that publish such things: only seven of the responding seniors said they wouldn’t be buying this year’s yearbook, as opposed to 50 yeses and two “I don’t knows.”

But not every established adolescent practice lasts forever. Class rings, another tradition that I don’t understand today any more than I did when I was in high school, are apparently going the way of sundials, quill pens, and buckboards. Three students responding to the survey said they had bought a class ring, but nearly all of the 56 “No!”s were resounding ones. “They’re ugly,” “Not worth the money,” and “500 bucks for a ring you’ll wear five times and then stick in a sock drawer? No thank you!” were three of the milder responses from those asked to elaborate on their decision to forego school-related jewelry.

Most of today’s teens aren’t any more rebellious, lazy, disrespectful or reckless than we were at their age. It’s indisputably true they’re attracted to instant gratification, but so were the rest of us as high schoolers. One obvious difference, though: thanks to cell phones and other societal changes, instant gratification is far more readily available today than it was four-plus decades ago, and thus potentially more addictive.

At their core kids today are just the same as they were half a century ago: they’re in a hurry to become adults, or to become what their perception of an adult is. More accurately, they’d like to have adult privileges without any adult responsibilities.

Which, come to think of it, sounds pretty darn attractive to many longtime actual adults (including this one) as well! <

Friday, May 6, 2022

Insight: Acceptance can lead to resilience

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Like many others, for a good part of my life I have tried to fit into a mold or attempted to be someone that I am not. Realizing that fact and accepting my strengths, weaknesses and limitations has always led to personal growth for me and a better understanding about what makes me happy.

I’ll share a few examples to illustrate my point.

When I was sent to Germany while serving in the military in the 1970s, I was the lowest rank that a U.S. Air Force enlistee could be, an E-1 Airman Basic without a single stripe on my uniform. Assigned to a unit where the lowest ranking person other than myself was an E-4 Sergeant, my name kept coming up for the tasks nobody else wanted.

I removed and dumped waste from Port-A-Potties, cleaned and scrubbed toilets, walked the flightline picking up trash in the heat, mopped and waxed floors, and shoveled piles snow and ice from walkways during blizzards.

But one day I was handed a push broom and ordered to sweep the street in front of unit headquarters and all the nearby sidewalks. As I swept the asphalt, I asked myself if I was just being told to do something just to keep me busy. The longer I swept, the more I grumbled to myself and bemoaned my fate as the lowest ranking person at the site.

Just minutes after I finished, an Air Force staff car turned the corner and parked in front of the headquarters building. On small flags attached to the front two bumpers of the staff car were stars, indicating that a general was visiting with our unit commander.

After the general had left, the first sergeant sent for me and told me that the general had remarked how nice the unit grounds looked and that our commanding officer was pleased with my sweeping work.

That evening I had an epiphany that changed the arc of my military career. I thought that if I simply accepted that I didn’t have to know everything in advance  and had confidence in my superiors, my job would be a lot easier. I stopped questioning every little thing I was asked to do and soon I became an E-2 Airman, and then an E-3 Airman First Class, an E-4 Senior Airman, E-4 Sergeant and eventually an E-5 Staff Sergeant.

Acceptance played a significant role in my accomplishing that and growing as a person as I assumed greater responsibilities the higher in rank I became.

I once worked at a newspaper as a copy editor for a section editor who severely lacked any resemblance of social skills or empathy for others. Over the span of five years, even though I sat inches away from him at an adjoining desk, not once did he ever say to me “Good Morning, Nice Job, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving Day, Congratulations on getting married,” or even a simple “Hello.”

What I did hear from him was plenty of cursing when things didn’t go his way, how much he despised his job, how he couldn’t wait to retire, and why he deserved every penny of his salary. But instead of complaining about him, I accepted my role, did my job to the best of my ability, and sometimes I had to do his work too when he was gone on vacation.

His desk was always a mess and his leftover lunch bags, stacked-up newspapers and correspondence frequently spilled over onto my neat and tidy workspace, creating an embarrassing situation when a co-worker would stop by my desk to discuss an upcoming page layout or article. I would apologize for the mess and move on.

One day I was called into the department editor’s office and told I was being promoted to that section editor’s position and he was being transferred to another section. That news was surprising but was confirmation that acceptance had helped me gain a promotion. It led to me going on to becoming an editor for another newspaper, and later being chosen to lead several daily and weekly newspapers as their top editor.   

Acceptance can mean many things to many people, but for me, I can say that it assisted me in being comfortable with who I am and knowing that how I feel about my place in the world plays a major part in how happy and resilient I can truly be.

I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes along the way, but I’ve never been afraid to fail. Deep down inside, I’ve always possessed the confidence to believe that no matter what, things will be OK and accepting that inevitability has led to better things for me professionally and personally.

In practicing acceptance, I’ve had to acknowledge many uncomfortable parts of myself, my emotions, my thoughts, and my past. But letting go of all that can be freeing in many ways and ignite a spark in us in ways a lot of us never expected to achieve or accomplish.

Acceptance is about trying to be real rather than trying to be perfect and that’s a great foundation for anyone and for any age. <

Andy Young: I eye bad grammar, thinking May may be the best

By Andy Young

May may be my favorite month of the year.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound quite right. Have I just inadvertently violated some arcane rule of sentence structure?

I’m not sure where I got the impression that starting an essay (or a sentence, for that matter) by repeating the same word or sound is bad form. Maybe it was from some grammar book, although that’s pretty unlikely, given the number of grammar books I’ve ever read from cover to cover (zero). 

The idea of avoiding beginning a sentence by using the same word twice (or with consecutive homonyms) was most likely planted in the recesses of my still-absorbent brain years ago by some well-intentioned teacher. That information has lain dormant for decades, brought back to life only because of the oddly discordant sound this opus’s opening makes when read aloud.

But why obsess over obscure (and possibly imaginary) grammar rules when there are other issues to resolve? Is May considered a terrific month based solely on its own merits? Or is the general affection for it (at least in the northern hemisphere) based on the anticipation of the months people know for certain are going to follow?

Certainly, the fifth month of the year has much to recommend it. For openers, there’s May Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Mother’s Day. And then there’s Memorial Day, which for Americans is both a festive and solemn occasion. 

That three-day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, but also serves as a tribute to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that those of us still extant in the 21st century can continue pursuing life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness with minimal interference from those who’d deny us such privileges. 

Teacher Appreciation Week and Nurse Appreciation Week both fall in May, and in my only slightly biased opinion everyone should not only sincerely appreciate people who ply their trades in the fields of education and health care, they should do so every day.

(Full disclosure, this column’s writer is himself a member of one of the two groups of public servants referenced in the preceding paragraph and has availed himself of the services of the other group on numerous occasions.)

May is chock full of other less-known days that are worthy of celebration, like National Endangered Species Day (May 20), National Armed Forces Day (the 21), and Peace Officers Memorial Day (the 15). It’s also fraught with less prominent occasions, like Walnut Day (May 17), Turtle Day (May 23), and the mysterious National Shrimp Day (May 10). Is this intended as a salute to shellfish, or to small people? Perhaps it should be designated to honor both these too-often-underappreciated groups. 

May is historically significant, too. New York’s Empire State Building opened on May 1, 1931. Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile on May 6, 1954. Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994.

John F. Kennedy was born in May, as were Florence Nightingale, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Sally Ride, Malcolm X, Queen Victoria, Stevie Wonder, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Andre the Giant, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali, Tina Fey, Rob Gronkowski, Harry Truman, Mr. T, George Carlin, Bono, Pope John Paul II, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, just to name 20.

That repeated word thing is still bothering me, though.

Eight ate at the octagonal table? Bill Bill for the broken window? Our hour of need is now? Fax facts, not lies? Half the milk spilled; what a poor pour?

None of those sound right, either.

May might be my favorite month of the year.

There. That’s better. <

Bill Diamond: Distracted driving puts us all in danger

By Senator Bill Diamond

The pandemic brought with it many surprises. One trend that caught many of us off-guard was the increase in dangerous driving and traffic fatalities, despite the fact that fewer drivers were on the road.  

As I write this, Maine has already seen 39 traffic fatalities this year, up from 29 at this same time last year. While there are many factors at play in these accidents, reckless and distracted driving play a part in too many of the accidents that take someone’s life.

April was Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and I was honored to be invited by AAA to join them at an event to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. 

For a long time, we’ve known that operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol was a threat to the safety of everyone who uses our roads. 

What we’ve come to learn too well in the past 15 years or so is that distracted driving is also responsible for much of the property damage and many of the terrible injuries and deaths on our roadways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in ten fatal accidents involves distracted driving, and the number is higher for non-fatal crashes that still result in injuries.

In 2009, I sponsored a bill that created 
Maine’s distracted driver law, which added additional penalties for drivers who committed a traffic infraction, drove to endanger or were involved in a car accident while driving distracted. 

Our thinking at the time was that defining distracted driving and adding these penalties would work to make our roadways significantly safer. Unfortunately, it did not.

It quickly became clear that there was one specific activity many drivers were engaging in that took their attention away from the road: Texting while driving. In 2011, I sponsored a bill that 
prohibited texting while driving, but it was difficult for law enforcement to determine when a distracted driver was using their phone for texting or was distracted by their handheld device for other reasons. Drivers pulled over for suspected texting often claimed to be dialing a number to make a call rather than sending a text. Once again, we could see that we had to take additional action.

In 2019, we finally passed a law I sponsored that 
fully prohibited the use of handheld phones and devices while driving. In the years since we first started addressing distracted driving in Maine, our phones had come to occupy much more of our attention than ever before. Our phones allowed us to send and receive emails, update social media accounts, check the weather, watch TV, do our banking, read the news, and much more – any time, any place. For too many drivers, the distraction proved much more than they could handle, and their inattention was putting Maine lives in danger.

The steps we’ve taken to make our roads safer have been critical, but even with these laws, it’s still every driver’s responsibility to keep their attention on the road while driving. Over the ten-year span that I’ve worked on distracted driving legislation, I have spoken with many survivors of distracted driving accidents, as well as the families and friends of victims who sadly did not survive their encounters with distracted drivers. 

Innocent people – adults and children – are tragically killed and injured every year due to distracted drivers. When these tragedies occur, the person responsible – the distracted driver, if they were lucky enough to survive the accident as well – regrets their actions and wishes they could take it all back. But it’s too late.

Driving a car is one of the most dangerous activities many of us will ever engage in, yet we do it every day without a second thought. Today, I ask you to remember the serious responsibility we all have as drivers to drive safely. It’s important we remind each other – just as we did with the seatbelt law decades ago – to put the phone down and pay attention. 

And, as anyone who has driven with a child knows well, if we teach our children today that driving hands free is very important, they will remind us tenfold – that way, we all win, and the next generation is even safer.

As always, I’m here to help however I can. You can send me an email at 
diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 207-287-1515. You can also sign up for my regular e-newsletter by visiting www.mainesenate.org. <

Friday, April 29, 2022

Insight: Expressing gratitude not always easy

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

While I’m always grateful when someone does something nice for me, a recent attempt at doing a good deed at our home was more than a little perplexing. 

With my wife at school during the day teaching and myself at the newspaper putting together a recent edition on a production day, my stepson dropped by our house after getting off work to let our dog out in the backyard.

Spending a few minutes there, he decided that the yard needed raking after the long winter months and so he found a rake in the garage and quickly amassed five large piles of leaves and branches.

I had been waiting for a warmer day to do that task myself, so when I got home from work that afternoon, I was surprised to see some piles of leaves and twigs sitting in the yard.

Entering the kitchen, my wife Nancy proceeded to tell me about the piles and that I probably wouldn’t be happy with what he had done while raking.

She led me to the window looking out on the backyard and beyond into the neighbor’s yard and pointed out a pile of leaves and sticks sitting on the other side of the fence.

Apparently, he had decided to rake up a large pile of leaves, twigs, and branches and then toss them over the fence to show his displeasure at having to perform the task. We do not have any trees in our yard, and he figured that the leaves that had fallen onto our property came from the neighbors’ trees near the fence and that they should be responsible for picking them up. 

I went out to survey the situation up close and was horrified to see the huge pile of leaves that he had thrown there. If there was one thing that I was grateful for though, it was that he had told his mother that he had done that, and she had brought it immediately to my attention.

In my opinion, we somehow had to make the situation right, and it had to be done sooner than later.

I sent my wife over to the neighbor’s home to knock on their door and to let them know what had happened. As I began to rake the leaves into a manageable pile to transport back to our property, both of our neighbors came outside into their yard to talk with us.

Despite our utter embarrassment, they told us that they had so many leaves themselves it was hard to keep up with them, and that they had noticed the large pile when they had arrived home a few hours earlier that afternoon. They told us it was no big deal and to just let the pile go and they then laughed about what had transpired.

We apologized to them and I proceeded to drag the pile through a gate and into our back yard. By this time, it was nearing suppertime and Nancy and I decided to let the piles of leaves go until we could find the time to put them into bags for transport to the transfer station for disposal.

Turns out we had to go out of state that weekend for a funeral and the piles of leaves and branches sat in the back yard for a week.

On Sunday evening, my wife and I were able to bag up six large bags of leaves and extract them from the yard.

She reminded me that no matter what had happened, being grateful is about something someone has done for you and then expressing thanks for it.

Although my stepson was wrong to throw a large quantity of leaves over the fence, I texted him to thank him for his work in collecting and raking up the leaves in the first place.

In reflecting back upon the entire incident, I determined that gratitude for me was more than just expressing thanks for his help in cleaning up our yard. And I thought that gratitude doesn’t always come easy for me, especially when people do things that I didn’t ask them to do.

Expressing gratitude about incidents like this and similar ones that have happened over the years is truly about something that leads to a more sustainable form of happiness. Because I did not dwell on my unhappiness and embarrassment at having to retrieve the leaves from my neighbors’ yard and apologize for something someone else had done and then not yelling at or chewing out the culprit, I let it go and discovered a tangible peace of mind.

When all was said and done, Nancy and I laughed about the entire disconcerting episode, and she told me that she was happy that I chose to be grateful about the work her son had done for us rather than share my unhappiness with him for throwing the leaves over the fence in the first place and then arguing with him about it.

In my opinion, practicing gratitude shifted my mindset to a better place, created an opportunity to meet neighbors, clean up our yard and bring us all closer together. What could be better than that? <


Andy Young: The Price of Driving

By Andy Young

Late last year the Maine Turnpike Authority announced it needed to collect more revenue (AKA money) on Interstate 95 (AKA the Maine Turnpike), and as a result the toll rate was going to be adjusted (AKA raised). 

While the reasons given for the escalation were understandable (continued cost of road maintenance and a COVID-related decline in toll revenue, among other things), the bottom line was that the increase was going to hit five-morning-per-week turnpike drivers right in our already-slender wallets.

It could have been worse. I travel south on the turnpike each day to my place of employment, but for those northbound folks who enter near where the York Toll Plaza used to be, the cost of getting on I-95 jumped to $4 dollars, a 33 percent boost. The hike for us southbounders wasn’t quite that steep, but still, an increase is an increase.

One of my north-in-the-AM co-workers began taking U. S. Route 1 (a toll-free path which runs parallel to the turnpike) each morning, and suggested I do the same. Ordinarily I’d have dismissed that proposal out of hand since the portion of the road I’d need to travel contains 39 traffic lights between Scarborough (where I’d get on) and Kennebunk (my destination). However, there’s not much traffic to compete with when I customarily hit the road. At that hour (around 5 a.m.) most of the signals are either blinking yellow or can be beaten by carefully slowing one’s approach to a red light, then prudently accelerating the moment it turns green.

Taking the toll-free route was a good plan, until the very day it wasn’t. One morning while zipping through Saco I saw blue lights in my rearview mirror. Compliantly giving way so the officer could continue pursuing whatever dangerous menace to society was on the loose, I was stunned when, after obediently pulling over, I discovered I was his quarry! 

The uniformed public servant approached my car and asked if I knew how fast I was going. The truth: of course I did, since there had been a big “49” displayed on my digital dashboard when I first saw the blue lights. But my (apparently involuntary) response was, “Ummmm, I think I was going 48, sir.” 

Fortunately, it was too dark for the officer to see my almost-immediate shame. Not only had I fibbed, but I had done so by one (1) mile per hour. Who lies by one mile per hour? And what good does it do?

Then he asked if I knew I was in a 35 mph zone, and I truthfully responded I did not. He took my license and registration, leaving me stewing over the irony and stupidity of getting a $200 speeding ticket because of a flawed effort to dodge a two-dollar toll. 

But providence smiled on me; the officer returned, presumably after ascertaining no warrants for my arrest existed, and told me kindly but firmly to please drive safely, which I pledged sincerely to do.

Lesson learned. 

Or perhaps not.

Early in the a.m. less than two weeks later I was motoring through Saco on Route 1 at what seemed like a snail’s pace when once again I saw blue in my rearview mirror. This time I was clocked at 47 mph. But once again I wasn’t ticketed, just cautioned (by a different, though slightly less friendly officer) to please slow down.

Is the old saying about the third time being the charm true? I for one do not intend to find out. Since that second encounter with the police, I’ve taken the turnpike (and grudgingly paid the toll) every morning. <

Susan Collins: Preserving Maine veterans’ access to longterm care

By Senator Susan M. Collins

Earlier this year, Maine Veterans’ Homes, which provides compassionate, quality long-term care to the brave men and women who served our country, announced that it planned to close its facilities in Caribou and Machias, two of the six homes it operates.

Senator Susan Collins
Shuttering the Caribou and Machias homes, which employ more than 120 people, would have had a devastating impact on more than 80 veterans and spouses of veterans who reside there. There is already a severe shortage of nursing home beds in rural Maine, which would have forced many Aroostook and Washington county veterans served by MVH to seek placement far away from their communities. The next-closest MVH home in Bangor is nearly two hours from Machias and nearly three hours from Caribou, and it could not have accommodated all of the residents.

We simply could not abandon veterans in rural Maine who have served our country and who now need nursing home care. I heard from numerous families who were worried that these closures would make it nearly impossible for them to regularly see their loved ones. As one woman from the St. John Valley told me, if her father had to be relocated from Caribou to Augusta or Bangor, there is no way that she could visit him as often as she does now to check on him, keep him company, and make sure that he is doing as well as possible. My own father, a World War II combat veteran, spent the last months of his life at the veterans home in Caribou, where he received excellent care. I know how much he liked being with other veterans. I also know how important it was for him to be close to our family.

When MVH made its announcement in February, I immediately began working closely with the rest of Maine’s Congressional Delegation, the Governor, and legislators from Aroostook and Washington counties to find a way to prevent these vital facilities from closing. We met repeatedly with the MVH Board’s leadership to urge them to reverse their decision, and we pledged to provide whatever support was necessary. Following this united effort, MVH changed course and decided to keep both the Caribou and Machias veterans homes open.

I have long championed funding for MVH as a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Veterans Affairs. Over the years, I have worked with the MVH Board to increase the per diem that the VA pays to help offset the cost of caring for veterans. MVH also received nearly $2 million in emergency funding from the CARES Act to address increased costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, with my support, MVH has received numerous federal construction or renovation grants for its facilities, including $50 million in 2018 for its new Augusta home.

At the state level, the Maine House and Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill, which Gov. Janet Mills signed into law, to provide MVH with $3.5 million through the next fiscal year. This new law also mandates a public hearing and legislative proposal to close a facility to prevent a surprise announcement in the future.

Our debt to our veterans is one we can never fully repay. As the veteran population ages, there is going to be an increasing need for long-term care. That is just one reason that I felt so strongly that this decision had to be reversed to prevent what would have been a truly traumatic outcome for these veterans and their families.

In the land of the free, there must always be a home for the brave. Working with Maine Veterans’ Homes at the federal and state levels, we can continue to honor the courage and sacrifices of those who defend our freedom. <

Friday, April 22, 2022

Insight: A witness to history in the making

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

On the morning of April 22, 1970, I put on a dress shirt and a necktie, dress pants and a green sportcoat and made my way to meet my friend Ralph Harrison at the high school I attended in Henrietta, New York.

Ralph had graduated the spring before and was in college. I first met him when he volunteered to teach our class during Senior Administration Day when I was a sophomore. He had been an exceptional prep athlete and a star in both football and wrestling.

And as it just so happens, Ralph also was about one of the smartest fellows I’ve ever known and I was good friends with his brother, Bruce.

When word got out in mid-April that Ralph was looking for a student to accompany him and speak to classes at the junior high school about the importance of protecting our environment, I was enthusiastic about the opportunity. Although I didn’t know a lot about science, I was able to convince Ralph to let me be the student to go with him that day.

The occasion that we were planning for was a brand-new event called “Earth Day,” something I had never heard of before. But I took my cues from Ralph and in the space of a week’s time, I learned as much as I could through research at the town library about the effects of air and water pollution upon our planet and the devastating effects that aerosol-propelled spray cans were having on the ozone layer surrounding the Earth.

The concept of that first Earth Day was a product of the activism of the 1960s. It had been proposed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who had been concerned about a deterioration of the environment in America. Nelson had formulated a plan to raise student awareness of environmental issues after watching student protests across the nation on behalf of civil rights and those opposed to the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War.

After traveling to Santa Barbara, California where he witnessed a major oil spill offshore there that harmed aquatic life, Nelson led a bipartisan effort in Congress to get young people involved in safeguarding the environment for future generations of Americans.

A weekday was chosen that fell between spring break for students and final exams for the observance of “Earth Day 1970” to maximize student participation on both college campuses and schools throughout the country. That was April 22, 1970, a Wednesday as I recall.

I got to sit in and listen to Ralph as he spoke to his first class at the junior high school that day and they seemed to hang on his every word.

When it came my turn to speak to a seventh-grade class during the next period, I reached into a brown paper grocery bag and pulled out my father’s Right Guard deodorant spray can, and my mother’s Final Net hairspray can which I used as props for my speech. Many of the students weren’t aware that despite being widely popular and heavily advertised on television, aerosols were harmful to our ozone.

Ralph and I were among a group of about eight students from Henrietta who spoke to junior high classes that day and my confidence had been boosted when he assured me that my presentation was good and told me he wasn’t nervous speaking before students, and I shouldn’t be either.

I had never spoken before such a large group of people before, but I plunged right in and even took questions after my speech was finished. I came away from the event more socially conscious about protecting the environment and certainly more comfortable speaking before other students.

Through the years I have stayed in touch with Ralph Harrison. After retiring from a long and successful career in automobile sales and helping thousands of individuals drive away in their dream cars over the years, Ralph ran for a seat this spring on the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors in Wisconsin and was elected to the position.          

Since that very first Earth Day, significant progress has been made by ordinary people from all walks of life to keep our world healthy. As a result of increased public awareness of environment issues in America, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, the Occupational Safety and Health Act for workers was implemented, along with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. It also has led to the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act putting the EPA in charge of the safe disposal of hazardous waste.

In 1990, Earth Day became a global event and now protecting the planet has mobilized more than a billion people worldwide each April 22 to strive to make changes in the way we humans treat the environment.

Little did I know as a high school junior on April 22, 1970, that I would become a participant in such an important global event that would have such a profound and lasting change for the world we all live in. If I did, I would have spent more time shining my shoes that morning. <

Andy Young: The Color of Spring

By Andy Young

For Mainers whose schedules revolve around either working at a school or sending their offspring to one, April vacation is almost like being reborn.  

Even after nearly 20 years of teaching high school English, this week’s badly needed break hasn’t lost any of its luster for me. Its arrival means that the six-month slog of going to work in the dark (and more often than not returning home in it) is over, or at least it is until this coming October.

I’ve spent more than six hours in bed every night this week, which for me is the height of luxury. My alarm clock has been replaced, albeit temporarily, with chirping birds that sound nearly as happy about the recent rise in temperatures as I am. 

I’ve taken my bike out of the basement and gone out for enough rides to know where many of this year’s potentially rim-bending potholes are located. However, I haven’t put away the snow shovels yet, since I don’t want the neighbors holding me responsible for any freak blizzards that drop an unexpected foot of snow on the region sometime between now and Memorial Day. I have taken my lawn mower out of storage though, since numerous studies show no correlation between its premature appearance and any unpleasant climate-related phenomena like hailstones, dust storms or plagues of locusts.

But the best thing about spring’s onset is the color.

1970’s recording artist Kermit T. Frog once crooned “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,” and as someone who once tried riding the Tilt-a-Whirl right after consuming a hamburger and some extra-buttery corn on the cob at a long-ago fireman’s carnival, I can empathize with those whose complexions are green, even briefly.

But given the hue it’s replacing at this time of year, well, green is solid gold. 

While some colors lend themselves to song (Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” Prince’s “Purple Rain”, or the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” among others), the only recording artist associated with brown, the color nature has ordained to appear between winter’s white and spring’s green, is Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, an animated one-trick pony who warbled about excrement on an infantile TV show called South Park. I assume it can still be seen somewhere in reruns.

Bill Green is a Maine broadcasting legend. Greens named Jeff, Danny, Draymond, JaMychal, Javonte, and Josh are currently gearing up for the National Basketball Association playoffs, and Ted, Mike, Rick, Travis, and Josh (presumably not the same fellow who’s currently toiling for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks) have distinguished themselves in the past with various National Hockey League teams.

Major League Baseball history is literally littered with Greens: Dallas, Dick, Zach, Chad, Shawn, Grant, Lenny, Pumpsie, David, Nick, Gene, Sean, Tyler, Taylor, Fred, Gary, Steve, Scarborough, Jason, Chris, Harvey, Joe, Jim, Ed, Curtis, Honey, Julius, Leslie, and Willie are or were major leaguers, as were Hank Greenberg, Mike Greenwell, and the owner of the best baseball player surname of all time, Jim Greengrass.

Sorry, football fans: the extra E at the end of Mean Joe Greene’s last name disqualifies him from making any all-time Green All-Star teams, but former Washington Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell is there.

Other notables associated with a forest-like tint include Yoda, the Incredible Hulk, Shrek, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Grinch, all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frankenstein, Oscar the Grouch, and the Green Hornet.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with black, white, yellow, red, blue or any other color. But spring’s gorgeous tint has doomed all those other pigments to be forever green with envy. <

 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Insight: Coming to grips with the inevitable

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Turns out there’s no manual for dealing with loss. There’s no shortcut to overcoming the sadness, the tears or the pain associated with the death of a friend, a family member or someone we’ve known and respected for a long time.

But somewhere in trying to reconcile that everyone sooner or later moves on from the earthly plain of existence, it’s comforting to know that others grieve, feel sorrow and try to make sense when death touches our lives.

Within the span of just under five months, I have lost a beloved neighbor, my favorite brother-in-law, and my trusted auto mechanic, and certainly all gone before their time.

My neighbor Andrew left us on Nov. 26 at the age of 37, done in by pneumonia. He had survived a severe traumatic brain injury in his early 30s after an accident that would have left others without hope of recovery.

Yet despite his disability, he fought hard to overcome significant physical challenges and was an inspiration to everyone he met. I’d watch him walking slowly down our street with his physical therapist and think to myself how he refused to give up.

Andrew loved the outdoors and would go camping at the lake with his family each summer and was adored by his nephews and family for his perseverance and his ability to live as normal a life as possible.

His death was another blow for his mother and his family, who were still coping with losing Andrew’s father suddenly in 2018.

Last summer, my brother-in-law Bobby informed us that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Bobby had always been someone I looked up to. I greatly admired his corny sense of humor and his hearty laugh and smile.

Whenever he talked to me on the telephone, Bobby always started the conversation that same way with a bad imitation of Lilly Tomlin portraying Ernestine, the snarky telephone operator.

“Is this the party to whom I am speaking,” he would ask and no matter how many times I had heard that silly joke, I always laughed and replied, “It is.”

Not to be outdone, when my wife Nancy and I called him on his birthday every December, I always started my conversations with him in a similar fashion over the span of the decades that I knew him.

“How old are you today,” I’d ask him. He would answer 64 or whatever age he was turning, and I’d say “Why Bobby, to me you don’t look a day over 63” or whatever age he was. It was a very poor joke, but he always at first would groan and then eventually laugh as the joke settled in.

I can’t recall ever visiting his home and not seeing the Music Choice on Demand 1960s channel playing on his television. He also played and sang at church services every week, something I thought took a lot of confidence to pull off successfully.

Bobby’s condition slowly deteriorated into last fall, and he could barely speak to us when we called to wish him a happy 73rd birthday on Dec. 16. He died in a hospice facility in North Carolina on Jan. 2 and in keeping with his wishes, the family will gather at a military cemetery in Vermont next week for a final sendoff.

Last weekend, I attended a visitation gathering at a funeral home and a church service to remember my friend Byron, who lost his life at age 39 to an aggressive form of cancer. It was especially poignant because Byron’s young daughter had been a student of my wife when she was in first grade several years ago.

Byron was a man of few words but was the best automobile mechanic I have ever known. He never overcharged or sold you anything you didn’t need and was known as a person of integrity and someone who tried to help others in the community.

His wife said that Byron loved to collect and restore old cars and he also had a soft spot in his heart for animals in distress, taking in dozens of dogs who needed rescuing.

Back in November when my vehicle wouldn’t start and an AAA-dispatched technician couldn’t diagnose the problem, I had my car towed to Byron’s shop. As the car was being lowered into the lot, the tow truck driver told me he thought being a newspaper editor made me famous and he asked if he could take a selfie photograph with me. I reluctantly agreed and then turned my car keys over to Byron.

“Hey Mr. Celebrity,” Byron said to me when he called later to tell me my car was ready. “Your battery needs replacing, and can I offer you some Grey Poupon?” Those were the final words that Byron said to me before he passed away on April 3.

All three of these men’s photographs are now displayed on the front of our refrigerator and I’m reminded of their untimely passing each time I open refrigerator door.

My wife says there’s surely a lesson to be learned from these unexpected brushes with the Grim Reaper. “Be prepared,” she said. “You just never know.” <

Andy Young: Stop government overreach! (Except sometimes)

By Andy Young

Like most Americans, I want minimal government involvement in my life, but there are rare occasions when I would welcome some meddling from the authorities, specifically when we the people have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that we require collective guidance.

The most recent example of timely government intervention occurred in 2020. While nearly one million Americans have died due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic (982,809 thru April 10, according to the CDC), the toll would have been exponentially higher had it not been for federal, state and local masking requirements, not to mention the role government played in getting millions of people vaccinated against the virus as quickly as possible.

The only upside of the pandemic was that with no one going anywhere, gas prices plunged. Avaricious petroleum dealers were, for a time, forced to all but give away the gasoline they had on hand.

But COVID seems to be receding. Concerts and sports events are playing to full houses, mask mandates have been rolled back, and Big Oil is more than making up for the losses they absorbed in 2020 by hiking the prices of gas and home heating fuel to unprecedented levels.

There are, however, other issues that have nothing to do with any viruses.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute reported that the average sea surface temperature in the gulf during September, October, and November of 2021 was, at 59.9 degrees Fahrenheit, four degrees higher than the long-term average temperature. That makes it, according to Dave Reidmiller, director of the GMRI climate center, “among the fastest-warming bodies of water in the world.”

This past Sunday I observed nine vehicles waiting in line at the drive-up window at Starbucks in South Portland when I walked by at about 10 a.m. The ones at the back of the queue (and those who later followed them) all waited, engines running, for 10 or more minutes for their overpriced, elaborately named caffeine hits. Two weeks earlier when I went by the same place at the same time there were 13 vehicles (11 of which were small trucks or SUV’s) lingering there.

Rational people recognize the role hydrocarbon emissions play in climate change, and everyone (rational and otherwise) knows gas prices are skyrocketing these days. Furthermore, anyone who walks, runs, bikes or drives on well-traveled roads is likely repelled by the amount of litter that lines all too many of America’s not-so-scenic roadways, and a closer examination of all that detritus reveals that the vast majority of it comes from fast-food outlets.

So why are so many people willing to, at significant expense, let their idling engines further pollute the environment?

Addiction to caffeine and fast food is part of the answer. So is laziness, since nearly every product one acquires at Starbucks, McDonald’s and other fast-food emporiums can be made at home, and often at a fraction of the cost one pays at the drive-up window. Also, corporate fast-food purveyors have no intention of reducing their already stratospheric profits without a fight, and they’ve got countless elected officials whose campaigns they’ve contributed to that are all too eager to wage it for them.

But the biggest reason people continue to pollute and spend too much on products they don't need while waiting inside their idling motor vehicles is because they still can.

An America free of drive-up windows would be cleaner, healthier and significantly better off environmentally.

I wish our overreaching government would leave us alone.

Except for now, when I wish they’d exhibit some common sense, show some backbone and outlaw drive-up windows. <

Friday, April 8, 2022

Insight: And away we go to Candyland

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Did you ever hear the one about the kid in the candy store? Well, I’m certainly no longer a kid in terms of physical age (although some family members will disagree with that assessment in terms of mental maturity) but I did find myself last week in the Easter candy aisle of a big box store and my how things have changed. 

When I was small, the size of jellybeans was almost about as large as a prospector’s gold nuggets and the plastic bags they were sold in appeared to contain about 50 percent of black licorice-flavored ones. Now there are so many kinds, shapes and sizes of jellybeans that it makes it a difficult choice to select one specific kind or brand.

There are Starburst jellybeans in mini and regular sizes, Jelly Bellies in specific flavors, jellybeans the size of Chicklets chewing gum and even SourPatch Kids and Warheads jellybeans. Not to be outdone by the competition, apparently this year there are new marshmallow Peeps jellybeans, Lemonheads, Jolly Rancher, Lifesavers and Sweetarts jellybeans up for grabs.

And as an aside, can anyone answer why jellybeans are not affected by supply chain shortages and manufacturing delays like many other grocery products? This year it seems there is so much Easter candy available in a post-pandemic economy rife with inflation and rising food costs that it may leave you scratching your head.

Last year my Easter candy shopping excursion for our 2-year-old granddaughter Olivia in Connecticut was a major hit. Along with a few of the other treats that made it into the shopping cart was something called “Krabby Patties” which sent her into a sugar-rush Nirvana being an avid SpongeBob Square Pants fanatic.

I decided to see if any other Sponge Bob-related Easter candy is available this year and hit the proverbial jackpot at the store I visited.

This year Olivia and her new baby brother Leon (although at just five months old he’s much too young to appreciate Easter candy) will soon enjoy a multitude of Sponge Bob sugary delights when the package arrives in the mail.

For 2022, along with Olivia’s favorite Krabby Patties, I found her Sponge Bob peanut butter eggs, Sponge Bob milk chocolate eggs, Sponge Bob gummies and something called Sponge Bob gliders which resemble small cheeseburger sliders except made up of marshmallow and chocolate layers.

When I was a child growing up in the 1960s, it used to be such a treat to find my Easter basket included a Cadbury cream egg. Now Cadbury has been joined in the Easter candy extravaganza by Reese’s, who are offering white and dark chocolate peanut butter-filled eggs in various sizes and Snickers, Almond Joy and York Peppermint Patties who are also selling candy shaped like Easter eggs. At the store I visited, the intricate and detailed box that “Star Wars, The Mandalorian” Easter eggs comes in caught my attention and surely will be a collector’s item someday.

As a kid the best part of my Easter basket always turned out to be the solid chocolate bunny but on this shopping trip solid chocolate bunnies were impossible to locate. I did see a plentiful assortment of hollow milk chocolate bunnies including such monikers as “Bunny Big Ears,” an “EB Hopsalot” or “Binks” and even “Peter Rabbit.” I did find it curious to see a Fred Flintstone Fruity Pebbles cereal bunny and wondered if the Easter Bunny existed way back in Stone Age Bedrock.

Among the most unusual Easter candy I looked at this year were Dunkin’ coffee-flavored jellybeans; Kit Kat and Chunky’s soft caramel popcorn flavored eggs (also comes in cookie dough flavor); something called Whoppers’ Bunny Tails; Jelly Belly’s Sparkling Bunny corn (rainbow-colored easter candies shaped like Halloween candy corn); and Pancakes and Syrup Marshmallow Peeps.

For fans of the music of Prince, Brach’s is selling bags of Tiny Purple Jellybeans, and Brach’s also has bags containing nothing but red jellybeans. Butterfinger, Tootsie Roll, Skittles and Swedish Fish and Oreos also had egg-shaped products in plentiful supply in the Easter candy aisle for sale on the day I made my visit.

After some concerns about potential pollution and a nationwide shortage during the pandemic, plastic Easter basket grass is back in an assortment of colors in 2022 much to the dislike of environmentalists. They recommend using colored shredded paper as Easter basket lining instead of the plastic variety that they say ends up polluting the ocean.

I picked up and looked at a package of pink-colored paper Easter basket grass and was unaware until I read the label that it could also be used as confetti for birthday, anniversary and graduation celebrations.

Of course, there were baskets of Easter candy ready made for those who find it challenging to select individual candy items from the vast variety available. I like to pick and choose what goes in the grandkids’ Easter basket and prefer doing it that way.

My mother had a tradition every year where she would buy a Paas Easter Egg coloring kit and our family would dip hardboiled eggs in colored dyes at the kitchen the night before Easter. Ah, those were the days. <

Bill Diamond: Supporting sexual assault victims

Senator Bill Diamond
By Senator Bill Diamond

It's no secret that sexual assault is a big problem in our society, with 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experiencing some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime. With a problem so widespread and so serious, it’s everyone’s responsibility to step up and stop sexual assault wherever it occurs.

In the Legislature, my colleagues and I are focusing on two settings where sexual assault is pervasive and, sadly, under-addressed: Maine’s college campuses and the Maine National Guard.

Sexual assault on college campuses has received a lot of attention in recent years, and for good reason. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, college-aged adults are at high risk for sexual violence, but they are also very unlikely to report their experiences to law enforcement.

There’s a variety of reasons one might choose not to report, including fear of reprisal and the belief that they won’t be taken seriously. College-aged young adults are in a vulnerable time of their lives, having just left home and figuring out who they are and how to relate to each other. It’s a time full of opportunities and risks, meaning that colleges and universities hold a big responsibility to support their students.

A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson would help combat on-campus assault and better support students by stepping up the requirements for Maine colleges and universities. LD 1727 would require colleges to offer evidence-based prevention and trauma-response training for college students and employees. 

Colleges would also need to designate confidential resource advisors to support students who have experienced sexual or domestic violence. The bill would also create a commission to track how well Maine postsecondary schools are handling these issues and to increase transparency and improve policies in the long-term.

This bill would give us more tools to support survivors and to ensure that fewer students are assaulted in the first place.

Another setting where sexual assault is rampant is the military. The Department of Defense estimated that 6.2 percent of active-duty women and 0.7 percent of active-duty men experienced sexual assault in 2018, but the Department also estimates that less than 30 percent of those who were assaulted reported it.

Sadly, Maine’s National Guard has not been immune from this problem. Recent reporting in the Bangor Daily News shed light on what several survivors of assault have gone through as they sought justice and support from their leadership. Sadly, in many instances survivors were let down by Guard leadership, which reportedly prioritized the reputations and careers of the perpetrators over the wellbeing of survivors.

Those in the National Guard step up and volunteer to protect and serve all of us. The fact that anyone would experience assault within its ranks and then be ignored, or even punished, when they reported it is beyond unacceptable.

In late March, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order to establish the Advisory Council on Military Sexual Trauma, a permanent council that must make recommendations by Dec. 1 of this year about how the National Guard can improve its response to sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee also worked hard on a bill to investigate how the National Guard has been handling sexual abuse. The bill directs the Maine Attorney General’s Office to investigate how the Maine National Guard and local law enforcement have conducted their investigations of sexual assault and to determine if any criminal charges need to be filed.

The bill also better defines harassment, requires the Adjutant General to report to the Legislature annually, and takes other steps to ensure that survivors in the Guard are better supported.

It takes tremendous bravery to come forward and report sexual assault, whether one is reporting that to their college, their commanding officer, the police or even family and friends. If you or someone you know is looking for support after experiencing an assault or domestic violence, there are organizations in our area that can help. You can learn more about Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine by visiting www.sarssm.org, and their free, private, 24-hour crisis and support helpline is available at 1-800-871-7741. Through These Doors, Cumberland County’s domestic violence resource center, can be reached at www.throughthesedoors.org or on their 24-hour helpline, 1-800-537-6066.

As always, I’m here to help however I can. <