Friday, March 31, 2023

Insight: This too shall pasta

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Through the years I imagine I’ve come across many different types of pasta, and I expect that I’m no different from many others in that regard.

Pasta is among the most plentiful forms of sustenance worldwide and a trip to the grocery can leave a shopper bewildered as to the number of pasta brands and pasta forms available. At a quick glance on my latest visit to the pasta aisle at my favorite supermarket, there were at least 12 types of spaghetti noodles including thin spaghetti, regular spaghetti, angel hair spaghetti, wheat spaghetti, protein-infused spaghetti, chickpea spaghetti, lentil spaghetti, soybean spaghetti, egg spaghetti, gluten-free spaghetti, edame spaghetti, and slow-dried spaghetti.

The array of spaghetti brands was also impressive. I spotted brands that featured Barilla, Mueller, DeCecco, Goya, Zeno, Divello, Rao’s, Jovial and Banza.

But spaghetti is just one form of pasta and at any given time, the cupboard in our home typically contains a bag of broad noodles, and boxes of elbow macaroni and rotini.

My last shopping excursion took me to the pasta aisle looking for spaghetti sauce, but to get there I had to pass shelves filled with gnocchi, rigatoni, tortellini, ravioli, corkscrew rotini, colored rotini, pappardelle, linguine, fettucchine, orzo, tagliatelle, farfalle, paccheri, cavatappi, fusilli, bow tie, capellini, penne, and ziti. For some of those, I must admit that I’ve never used those products, and I believe I don’t even know what they are or even what they may look like.

I’m familiar with ravioli, rotini, linguine, fettucchine, penne, ziti, bow tie and fusilli. And in my opinion, the episode of Seinfeld featuring “Fusilli Jerry” is likely one of my favorites in the entire television series.

For most of my adult life, I’ve probably purchased regular spaghetti noodles more frequently than any other type of pasta and somewhere in the back of my brain I can still hear my mother telling me that spaghetti needs to boil in a pot for 11 minutes on the stove before being drained. Lately though, I’ve been purchasing the type of angel hair pasta for making spaghetti and am preferring it to heavier types of pasta. It’s quicker for me to cook (just four minutes of boiling) and a lighter option for dinner.

Our household meals also are known to feature wide or broad egg noodles as a side dish and it’s a product that’s remained fairly stable in price over time.

During the winter months, my wife Nancy always keeps a box of elbow macaroni on hand which she combines with tomato soup when she has a cold or the flu. I’ve never been a fan of elbow macaroni, stemming from my days of growing up and having my mother make something using that type of pasta.

If I was entering the house in the afternoon after school and smelled what my mother called “Hungarian Goulash” cooking on the stove, I knew I wasn’t going to be at the dinner table for very long. That concoction of hers contained tomato sauce, elbow macaroni and hamburger, but I never liked the taste of it and more than 60 years later, I still have an aversion to elbow macaroni or similar casseroles like that.

Another type of pasta dish that my mother served our family for lunch came straight from a can. It was something called “Beefaroni” by Chef Boyardee and that was a blend of tomato sauce and small macaroni with hamburger inside. Again, not one of my favorites, but to this very day I can still recite the “Beefaroni” television commercial jingle from the 1960s. “We’re having Beefaroni. Beef with macaroni. Beefaroni’s full of meat, Beefaroni’s really neat. Beefaroni’s fun to eat. Beefaroni can’t be beat. Hooray for Beefaroni.”

And while I’m on the subject of pasta products coming from a can, my mother also tried to get our family to eat Franco American’s Spaghetti-Os without success. For me the spaghetti was too soft after being in sauce inside the can for who knows how long. The taste of Spaghetti-Os never appealed to me and like Beefaroni, it is a pasta product that never shows up in my grocery cart at checkout.

Spaghetti has been a staple of my dinner menus throughout my adult life. It was a simple dish to make and even when my finances were tight back in the days when I was paid $2.75 per hour, I always could afford to eat spaghetti at least once a week. With or without meat or topped with plain butter if I didn’t have the money to buy a jar of spaghetti sauce, it kept me going when I was pinching pennies to get by. I haven’t purchased a box of Kraft Spaghetti in decades, but back in the 1970s, it was a handy purchase because it contained a small can of spaghetti sauce, a packet of Parmesan cheese, spice mix, and spaghetti noodles, all for under $1. The price for Kraft Classic Spaghetti five decades since I was in college is only $1.56 now.

A cousin of mine once told me the secret to life is a combination of pasta and magic. I’d prefer spaghetti to plain pasta.

Andy Young: Major League Baseball has started. Who Cares?

By Andy Young

The Major League Baseball season opens this week.

I don’t care.

Some might think the following commentary was written by a cynical, bitter, ungrateful guy sitting on his front porch yelling at passersby to get off his lawn.

They’re wrong.

I grew up loving America’s nominal National Pastime. I learned to read thanks to the baseball cards on the backs of cereal boxes. At 12 years old I was selected for my town’s Little League all-star squad, and three years later made the Babe Ruth League all-star team. I never got to play in any games, though. Back then there weren’t rules mandating everyone had to participate. The coaches played the nine kids they thought gave them the best chance to win, and the men guiding our team decided, probably correctly, that I was not one of them.

Some might think this commentary was written by a cynical, bitter, ungrateful guy sitting on his front porch yelling at passersby to get off his lawn.

They’re wrong.

I coached high school baseball for five springs, then spent nearly 15 years working in the minor leagues, trying to get to the majors as an announcer. I wanted to be what Lindsey Nelson was for the Mets, Phil Rizzuto was for the Yankees, and Ken Coleman was for the Red Sox. I was good at what I did, but so were many others. (I also neglected to play big league ball myself or have a famous relative in the business, but that’s another story.)

Calling play-by-play on the radio was, in retrospect, not quite the equivalent of curing cancer. However, thanks to my involvement with professional baseball I saw nearly all of North America, crossing paths along the way with some remarkable folks (some of whom are still good friends today) I’d never have met otherwise. I also made a living, albeit a modest one, thanks to my baseball-related connections. Later on I helped coach my children’s youth teams, and after they aged out I began umpiring.

Some might think this commentary was written by a cynical, bitter, ungrateful guy sitting on his front porch yelling at passersby to get off his lawn.

They’re wrong.

The minimum salary for a major league player last year was $700,000; the average one was $4,410,000. This past off-season a player named Manny Machado, feeling slighted by the 10-year, $300 million contract he signed with the San Diego Padres way back in 2019, exercised the “opt out” clause included in the agreement. His team responded by signing him to an 11-year, $350 million extension.

These days numbers concerning salaries, contract length and inflated attendance figures get far more attention than those reflecting batting average, home runs or pitching victories do. The average time of a major league baseball game has increased nearly as dramatically as ticket prices have. For me to go to Fenway Park costs the equivalent of a car payment; taking my family would require the better part of a mortgage payment. I’d no sooner put any of my limited discretionary income into the pockets of entitled young millionaires than I would into the coffers of the billionaire oligarchs who pay them.

This year new major league rules ban defensive shifts, on the grounds that they inhibit offense. If they’re worried about scoring, why not prohibit the curveball? Or better yet, any pitch that travels faster than 75 miles per hour?

Some might think this commentary was written by a cynical, bitter, ungrateful guy sitting on his front porch yelling at passersby to get off his lawn.

They’re wrong.

I don’t have a front porch. <

Friday, March 24, 2023

Insight: A Major League Miscue

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

As a child growing up in the 1960s, it was difficult to imagine a life without baseball being a part of my future. I spent about every waking moment either watching games on television or in person, collecting baseball cards or playing in Little League games in my hometown.

Henry Aaron
But as I grew up and entered college, the prospect of becoming a major leaguer or working for a professional ballclub dimmed as I got married, settled down and had bills to pay. As I waited for a job writing about sports in the spring of 1975 to come to fruition, I walked in off the street and applied for work with the Albuquerque Dukes Baseball Club, the top minor league affiliate at the time of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The job was as an administrative assistant to the team’s general manager and what I lacked in experience, I more than made up in enthusiasm during my interview.

Somehow, and I truly don’t know why to this day, Dukes General Manager Willie Sanchez liked my bravado and hired me on the spot. The season was about to start and even before Opening Day, two major league teams were coming to Albuquerque and playing their final spring game of the season in our ballpark. The opportunity of being around major league stars set my young mind into a tailspin of anticipation.

The major league teams playing in the game were the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers, and they were breaking spring camp in Arizona and headed north for the 1975 season. The administrative assistant’s position during games meant I did whatever I was asked to do by the general manager and oversaw all team promotions on the field.

As the big day neared, I coordinated and made sure every request for food for each major league team was delivered and set out in the team locker rooms. It was quite the feast including a carved ham and a carved turkey in each locker room and plenty of fruits, vegetables and desserts too. I also was tasked to meet each team bus as it arrived from the airport and escort the players into the stadium facilities.

When I completed the job of getting each team settled into their respective locker rooms, I was summoned to the ticket office where the Business Manager of the Albuquerque Dukes, Bob Gilmore, handed me the name of the young girl who was the winner of a drawing to throw out the first pitch before the game. I took the name to the press box, and gave it to the public address announcer, with instructions for her to meet me by the third base dugout 15 minutes before the start of the game.

Then I was handed a clipboard and a yellow legal pad by Willie Sanchez and told to accompany him to the locker rooms and take notes for him of anything he asked me to write down. We entered the Cubs locker room and there I met Darold Knowles, a relief pitcher who I watched pitch in the minor leagues for the Rochester Red Wings. He was nice to me and showed me one of his World Series championship rings that he had earned while pitching for the Oakland A’s from 1971 through 1974.

No Chicago players or coaches had special requests, so we then moved over to the Brewers locker room. Right away I became transfixed on the sheer size of Milwaukee’s first baseman, George Scott. He appeared to be the size of a massive oak tree. He told the general manager he wanted more black olives for after the game and I scribbled it down on the legal pad. We then worked our way down a string of lockers, stopping and talking with each Brewers player.

At one particular locker, Willie Sanchez paused and had a photographer waiting in the manager’s office to come and take his photo with the player. Once that was finished, we were moving on to the next locker. But the player that Sanchez was speaking with then motioned for me to come back over because he had something to tell me.

I walked over to him, and he said to me, “Hey kid, is that something you want me to sign?” I explained to him that I was working for Willie Sanchez and was taking notes for him in the locker rooms. I still didn’t recognize the player and I told him again that I needed to catch up with the general manager. The player smiled, shook my hand, and turned away to tie his cleats.

As we were exiting the Milwaukee locker room, a member of the Albuquerque Dukes grounds crew asked me if I got the player’s autograph who I was talking with. I said no and he told me that it was Henry Aaron, who was playing his final season that year for the Brewers but had broken Babe Ruth’s long standing home run record the previous season. I was so embarrassed not knowing who he was and missed out on an opportunity to get the autograph of one of the most famous baseball players of all-time. <

Andy Young: Milk -- it’s worth the expense

By Andy Young

According to, Maine had the third-highest milk prices in the United States in 2022. Their findings were based on the price per gallon at each state’s largest Walmart.

Though it remains uncertain how much milk costs when bought somewhere other than Walmart, Milkpick’s data revealed that Mainers spent an average of $4.77 per gallon for moo juice last year, a figure topped only by Pennsylvanians ($4.92) and Hawaiians ($5.94).

Milk was just $1.67 per gallon in Georgia in 2022, making it cheaper than bottled water in some places. Texas ($2.06), Kentucky ($2.32), and New York ($2.38) had the three next-lowest prices. What’s their secret? Are cows prohibited from unionizing in the Peach, Lone Star, Bluegrass, and Empire states?

How can a gallon of milk be more expensive in Maine than it is in Alaska, where it goes for a mere $3.96? After all, dairies in Alaska are about as plentiful as ski resorts are in Mississippi.

These alarming figures bring to mind a mini-crisis of my youth.

Concerned about our family’s rising expenses, my mother decided part of the problem stemmed from her oldest son’s habit of coming home from school, wolfing down two bowls of cereal, and subsequently falling asleep. Perhaps coincidentally, he (okay; full disclosure: I) was rarely hungry at dinnertime and never tired at bedtime. This led to little to no shuteye at night, sleepwalking through school the following day, and ultimately, she concluded, academic underperformance. Based at least partly on my consistently lackluster report cards, Mom cruelly and unilaterally froze the family milk budget.

But rather than panic, I had an epiphany. I realized I had never really enjoyed that milk on my cereal; it was merely a readily-available cold fluid that kept my breakfast food from sounding and tasting like Purina Dog Chow. Once I realized that, the solution to the untimely milk rationing was obvious: find a substitute liquid. Spying a bottle of apple cider, I poured a liberal amount of it on my Cheerios.

That solution proved unsatisfactory, for both fiscal (cider cost more than milk did) and gustatory (it tasted lousy) reasons. But then I had an even better idea. Leering like Wile E. Coyote opening a carton of Acme dynamite, I went back to the drawing board.

Twenty-four hours later I raced home after school, poured myself a generous bowl of cereal, and grabbed a spoon. The bottle of water I had filled 24 hours earlier was ice-cold. Drenching my eagerly-anticipated midafternoon snack with fully-chilled H2O, I shoveled a heaping spoonful into my mouth, and….


Cheerios with water are not even remotely appetizing. In fact, that combination is far closer on the taste scale to “disgusting” than it is to “delicious.” There are worse things, though. After doing some further experimentation, I can report definitively that Sugar Frosted Flakes with orange juice on them are anything but grrrrrrreat!

These days I use milk judiciously on my morning bowl of Bran Flakes. Thankfully none of the young Youngs is addicted to after-school cereal bingeing. Which, in addition to being financially helpful, at least partially explains why their grades are so much higher than their father’s were when he was their age.

Sure, it’s humiliating to reveal this bit of youthful foolishness, but I feel it’s essential to spread awareness about milk’s importance when it comes to cereal.

If this selfless confession can prevent even one child in Pennsylvania from pouring water on their Rice Chex (or worse, some misguided Hawaiian youth from putting Pineapple Juice on their Cap’n Crunch), I will consider this potentially embarrassing revelation well worth the sacrifice. <

Friday, March 17, 2023

Celebrating Maine’s Sweetest Tradition: Maine Maple Sunday

By State Sen. Tim Nangle

I’m proud to represent communities in our great state, known for its vibrant agriculture and rich cultural heritage. One of the highlights of the start of the spring season in Maine is the annual celebration of Maine Maple Sunday, an event that highlights the state's maple syrup industry and its significance to our economy and way of life.

State Sen. Tim Nangle
Maple syrup production has a storied history in Maine, which began when Indigenous Peoples in northeast America first discovered the sweet sap of the sugar maple tree. Today, Maine is the country's third-largest producer of maple syrup, with more than 450 licensed maple producers across the state, generating 672,000 gallons in 2022 alone.

Maine Maple Sunday began as a small local event in 1983 and has since grown into a statewide tradition that draws thousands of visitors from across the country each year. On the fourth Sunday in March, maple producers throughout the state open their doors to the public, inviting visitors to witness the process of making pure Maine maple syrup and other maple products.

Maine Maple Sunday is an opportunity to learn about the hard work and dedication that goes into producing maple syrup, from tapping the trees to boiling the sap down into syrup. Visitors can see the process up close, sample delicious treats, and enjoy the great outdoors. Many sugarhouses and farms offer tours, demonstrations, and activities for children, making it a fun and educational event for the whole family.

The Maine Maple Producers Association has an online interactive map that you can use to find local sugarhouses that will be participating this year.

To view the map, visit

This fun, annual occasion is also an important opportunity to support our local farms and businesses. By visiting sugarhouses and farms during Maine Maple Sunday, we can help support these vital parts of our economy and preserve our agricultural heritage for future generations.

Many of these maple producers are small, family-owned farms that have been passed down from generation to generation. These farms are an essential part of Maine's agricultural landscape, and they contribute significantly to our economy.

According to the Maine Maple Producers Association, our farms produce “more than $55.6 million for the Maine economy and support more than 833 full-time and part-time jobs that generate more than $26.9 million in wages.”

Maine Maple Sunday is more than just a one-day event. It is part of a larger movement to promote sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship in Maine. Many participating farms and sugarhouses are committed to responsible forestry practices and environmental conservation, ensuring that their operations are profitable and sustainable for generations to come.

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Maine Maple Sunday, we must acknowledge the impact of climate change on Maine farmers and our agriculture.

The Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee recently voted unanimously to pass Sen. Henry Ingwersen’s bill, LD 315, which will provide funding for drought relief and other programs benefiting Maine farmers. The bill will now go before the full Maine Legislature for additional votes.

LD 315 is crucial for ensuring the resilience of our agricultural sector in the face of changing weather patterns and other environmental challenges. By supporting this bill and other efforts to promote sustainable agriculture, we can ensure that Maine's farms and farmers continue to thrive for generations to come.

Maine Maple Sunday is a day to celebrate our state's heritage, promote sustainable agriculture, and support our local businesses. It is a day to come together as a community and appreciate our farmers' and producers' hard work and dedication. So please mark your calendars for March 26, and join us as we celebrate Maine Maple Sunday.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, wants to discuss legislation, or needs help connecting with a state agency, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My email is, and my office phone number is 207-287-1515. Also, you can find me on Facebook at To receive regular updates, sign up for my e-newsletter at <


Insight: The Atomic Burro

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

In our lives we all meet colorful characters and unforgettable things we wish to remember always. This is one of those for me and the passing of time cannot diminish my memory of a creature who was not only a hero, but also part of the family.

Ed Pierce is shown with Mabel, the 'Atomic Burro,' in 1984.
She was a genetic test animal for The Manhattan Project
during World War II which developed the first atomic bomb.
Mabel was a baby burro less than a year old when she was rescued in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1930. Her mother had been killed in an avalanche and she was found alone, hungry, and wandering on a mountain trail.

Government officials nurtured her back to health and eventually she was used by the U.S. Army at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado for soldier training. In 1943, Mabel was shipped south by the Army to New Mexico for new duties as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, a program developing the atomic bomb.

She spent time at project headquarters in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and then in late 1944, she was transferred to White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico to be used as a genetic test research animal. On July 16, 1945, Mabel was placed in the desert along with other animals and exposed to nuclear fallout at a distance as a scientific experiment during the first testing of the atomic bomb.

Over the next 12 years, the burro was bred several times and government scientists checked Mabel and her offspring for genetic mutations resulting from her exposure to radiation. Her babies showed little to no mutations, but scientists noticed that Mabel’s right front hoof grew abnormally fast from her radiation exposure.

Eventually, Mabel was transferred in 1956 to Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico and four years later scientists there recommended she be destroyed as her breeding days had passed and she was no longer useful to them.

At that point, a Sandia National Laboratories employee intervened. He asked for and was granted permission to take her to his farm near Los Lunas, New Mexico to live out her final days. She quickly became a neighborhood fixture there, becoming friendly with people living nearby and popular for taking small children for rides around the farm.

In 1973, Mabel was 43 when I met her, having married the daughter of the employee who took her home. Living on the farm while going to college, I helped feed and care for the burro and noticed that she had a unique way with people.

She’d keep an eye out for neighbors walking near her pasture and when she saw them near the fence, Mabel would trot over and bray to greet them. Inevitably, they would produce a carrot or an apple and she’d let them scratch her ears and pat her neck affectionately.

In the morning as the sun came up, Mabel could be heard bellowing for breakfast and would keep it up until I gave her some alfalfa, a handful of grain and fresh water. We built her a new barn for shelter during the winter and it included stalls for her roommates, some Southdown sheep and later two Nubian goats.

As the years rolled by, Mabel’s popularity increased when she was the subject of a newspaper article and soon kids and families from up to 20 miles away were calling and asking if they could stop by, visit her or have their photograph taken with her.

She relished all the attention and treated everybody equally. If they approached her slowly and had a handful of treats or a carrot, Mabel was their new best friend. But if it was the farrier looking to trim her hoof once again, she’d trot to the far side of the pasture and pretend not to hear us when we called out to her.

The average lifespan of a burro is about 25 to 40 years, so I can remember talking to our veterinarian in 1980 about Mabel turning 50 and how unusual that was. As she approached her 55th birthday in 1985, I wrote an article about her life and quirky personality that appeared in Reader’s Digest.

Following publication of that article, the Guinness Book of World Records reached out to us, wanting to list her as among the oldest living burros in the world. A local television station crew visited the farm and filmed a feature segment about her for the evening news one weekend.

We all thought that Mabel would outlive all of us, but time and arthritis eventually caught up to her. Weighing around 500 pounds, she loved to lay in the sun during warm summer days, but found it increasingly difficult to stand afterward because of severe arthritis in her legs.

By 1989, at the age of 59, the time had come to let her go. The vet came to our home that day and there was plenty of tears shed, but she was in a great deal of pain from the arthritis and had stopped eating.

This gentle animal should be remembered for her service to humanity and ability to bring smiles to the faces of small children. Mabel was certainly one of a kind and hard for me not to forget.<

Andy Young: Thank goodness for the jobs I’ve got

By Andy Young

It’s humbling to consider just how many jobs I am utterly unqualified for.

As I am responsible for several offspring, it would be irresponsible of me to put myself at undue physical risk. That’s why I could never in good conscience consider any position involving logging, ironworking, or cell tower climbing. I’m not comfortable piloting large vehicles, so it’s unlikely I’d get hired as a cross-country trucker, a heavy equipment operator or a bus driver. And that goes double for any job(s) that call for using chain saws, firearms, or explosives.

I generally prefer working at approximately the same elevation level as where I live. That takes out being an astronaut, a deep sea diver, or a diamond miner.

I couldn't be a window washer on a skyscraper, an underwater welder or, for that matter, an above-water welder. Ditto for bodyguard, infantryman, or rodeo clown.

I’m physically incapable of being a center for a National Basketball Association team, a center for a National Football League team, or a center for a National Hockey League team.

Science isn't my strong point, which disqualifies me from becoming a radiologist, a gynecologist, an anesthesiologist, a cardiologist, a dermatologist, a proctologist, or just about any other ologist. I would never consider being a genealogist because everyone knows there’s no such thing as genies.

I’d undoubtedly wash out as a dishwasher, a car washer, or a money launderer.

I don’t have the skills to be a grease monkey, the patience to be a pin monkey, or the DNA to be an organ grinder’s monkey.

Chronic seasickness makes me unfit for being a boat captain, a first mate, or a pirate.

Lack of appropriate education makes me ineligible for a career as a priest, a rabbi, or a nun.

My ethical beliefs make careers in burglary, swindling, or pyramid scheming impossible, and the same goes for weapons peddling, cocaine dealing, and contract killing.

My aversion to both public humiliation and unnecessarily sustaining grave injury means I couldn’t be a stuntman, and that I couldn’t star in any “Jackass” movies. It goes without saying that I could never be a stuntman in a “Jackass” movie.

There are other vocations I’ve consciously chosen not to pursue because I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror without becoming physically ill. That means I’ll never be a reality TV star, a casino operator, or the founder and operator of a university I name after myself.

I also couldn’t work for anyone who makes products that harm more living things than they help, which means there’s nothing for me with any slaughterhouse, tobacco company, or assault rifle manufacturer.

There isn’t nearly enough space here to name every job which I am utterly unqualified to perform, but here’s a starter list:

Hairdresser. Dressmaker. Longshoreman.

Personal injury attorney. Bounty hunter. Sculptor.

Winemaker. Beer brewer. Whiskey distiller.

Funeral director. Exotic dancer. Choreographer.

Gangster. Rapper. Gangsta rapper.

Acrobat. Circus midget. Circus giant.

Golf pro. Tennis pro. Quid pro quo pro.

Butcher. Baker. Candlestick maker.

Army colonel. Colonel Klink. Colonel Sanders.

Beef jerky provider in India. Pork distributor in Israel. Prius dealer in Detroit.

Public Relations Director for Afghanistan Tourism. Head of Louisiana Snowmobilers Association. Chief Imam of Vatican City.

Snake oil salesman. Cryptocurrency dealer. Televangelist.

Rodeo cowboy. Rhinestone Cowboy. Midnight Cowboy.

High school play director. High school athletic director. High school social director.

Given my limited skill set, it’s a good thing English teachers and imaginative list compilers are in demand around here. I’d be a total failure as a televangelizing choreographer who washes skyscraper windows in between “Jackass” movie gigs. <

Friday, March 10, 2023

Andy Young: One tiny adjustment

By Andy Young

Abortion. Guns. Race. Vaccinations. Climate change. Interest rates. Immigration. Name an issue: you can bet polarized, under-informed and/or misinformed Americans will shout incoherently at one another about it, settling nothing.

The United States desperately needs a unifying issue everyone can agree on before the current fault lines widen even further, ripping our 247-year-old experiment in democracy irreparably asunder.

Thankfully just such an issue exists. Daylight Savings Time, if handled correctly by the nation’s elected officials, is the key to reunifying America.

In the past DST has caused more divisiveness than unity. Its advocates contend the extra hour of daylight in the summer saves energy, encourages healthy outdoor activities, and positively impacts public safety, since statistics show extra daylight in the evening decreases crime.

But DST’s opponents claim evening light suppresses melatonin, which adversely impacts the ability to fall asleep. That can lead to misalignment of the body’s innate Circadian rhythms, triggering depression, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Children going to school in the dark during winter months is problematic as well.

But the biggest problem with DST comes annually during the second week of March, when Americans outside of Hawaii, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands “spring forward.” Nothing makes red American blood boil faster than the vaporization of a precious weekend hour, yet that’s precisely what’s going to happen this Sunday morning, when one minute after 1:59 magically becomes 3 a.m.

Naturally nobody complains about the first Sunday in November, when Americans “fall back,” causing 2 a.m. to become the second 1 a.m. of that day. Except for gravity, electricity, and the wheel, mankind has never benefited from a better invention than the 49-hour weekend.

Everyone loves those 60 extra weekend minutes in November, but does that offset the righteous indignation we’ll feel this coming Sunday, which will consist of a mere 23 hours?

One simple bit of reform could permanently eliminate that problem. The current “fall back” date and time can remain the same (2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November). But the clocks should get turned ahead an hour in the middle of a weekday (rather than on a weekend) in early March.

Imagine “springing forward” at noon on a Monday, taking a half-hour for lunch, and getting back on the job at 1:30? Productivity (not to mention morale) would undoubtedly skyrocket, so much so that every decent employer would happily compensate their workers with a full eight hours’ pay that day.

Wednesday is another ideal candidate for setting the clocks ahead an hour. It’d be a lot easier to get through a dreary midweek workday if it were shortened by 12 1/2 percent, which it would be if legislators enact a law designating the minute after 9:59 on March’s second Wednesday morning to become 11 a.m.

But declaring 4 p.m. on March’s second Friday the official “spring forward” hour would be perfect. It’d legalize an early start to an hour-longer-than-normal weekend, something the only non-summer 31-day month without a legal holiday desperately needs. (Sorry, Ancient Order of Hibernians; St. Paddy’s Day doesn’t count.)

Revamping DST won’t alter the USA's current political climate all by itself. But wouldn’t it be great if Americans could all celebrate the legalization of one less work hour per year and an annual extra weekend hour in November thanks to revamped DST laws?

And it’d be even better if the resulting enthusiastic, high-decibel din drowned out all the grandstanding politicians and blow-dried infotainers currently growing richer and more powerful by knowingly fomenting suspicion, discontent, and hate amongst their non-thinking, perpetually aggrieved true believers. <

Insight: Better plate than never

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Last month, Maine officials unveiled a proposal to replace the state’s current license plate with a new design featuring the 1901 Maine Flag.

The chickadee design has adorned Maine plates for the past 24 years and if the proposal is approved by the Maine Legislature, chickadee plates would be phased out by 2026.

The new “Dirigo” design proposal features a plate with the white background of the 1901 flag, with a star that is colored navy blue and a dark green pine tree situated on the left side of the plate. Also in navy blue are the words MAINE at the top of the plate with VACATIONLAND below.

The characters of the new license plate would remain in black lettering.

The state of Maine originally began issuing vehicle registration plates in 1905 and the only slogan ever included on a standard Maine plate, "Vacationland," first appeared on the plate in 1936. Over the years, license plate design and colors have changed for the Pine Tree State, but one thing remains constant, all general license plates and specialty license plates must be approved by the Maine Legislature.

Maine’s Secretary of State, Shana Bellows, said the reason for changing the plate’s design after more than two decades of use is because of plate identification issues during incidents requiring law enforcement, reduced toll collection and decreased nighttime and weather visibility rendering some existing white chickadee plates as “unreadable.”

The 1901 Maine flag was created more than a century ago to include the state’s most historic and well-known symbols and was renowned for its simplicity. It had a pine tree, which is Maine’s state tree, and a symbol for the North Star, representing our state motto, “Dirigo,” which is the Latin phrase for “I direct” on a plain buff field.

That flag was in use across the state from 1901 until 1909 when Maine Civil War veterans succeeded in adopting a design with a Union blue background and the state coat of arms on a new state flag that remains the official one to this day. But over the past decade, calls to make the “Dirigo” flag the official state flag have resurfaced, including a bill that was introduced in 2019 for Maine legislators to adopt the “Dirigo” flag as the state flag.

That measure failed, but a modified “Dirigo” flag design was implemented as Maine’s “Bicentennial” flag for 2020.

According to Bellows, if the Maine Legislature approves the new “Dirigo” plate design, the state would continue to require vehicles to have front and rear license plates. She said that eliminating the front plate on motor vehicles would have an adverse effect for state, county and local law enforcement, public safety, border patrol, traffic management, toll collection, parking facilities, Maine Turnpike, and other government and private functions.

Bellows says coming forward with this proposal now will give the state ample time to manufacture new license plates and distribute them to Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices and towns throughout Maine for initial distribution by 2025 and into 2026. License plates would be created by inmates at the Maine State Prison.

As for me, I have no opinion one way or another about Maine issuing new license plates. I’ve always had the standard “chickadee” plate and would welcome seeing something new on the highways.

But I would encourage Maine BMV and state officials to upgrade the registration sticker. And that’s my ongoing primary complaint.

It’s hard to put the newly issued tiny colored stickers for the new registration period on my license plates each year. The stickers never go on straight or evenly and often end up curling up around the edges or have to be applied over a weathered sticker that’s in bad shape.

Before long, the registration stickers themselves are in poor shape and unsightly and certainly are difficult to read for law enforcement.

Some other states, such as Texas, Michigan, Arizona, and California have adopted the use of digital license plates, which can be customized and are highly trackable. Digital plates can display different emergency alerts for law enforcement, such as when a vehicle is stolen, or if there's a local Amber Alert or Silver Alert issued for the vehicle.
The digital license plate system also can transmit a signal that your vehicle’s registration has expired and may also speed up the BMV process for renewing your vehicle’s registration, similar to the ease of paying a bill using a smart phone when it’s due. The high-tech license plate could also emit a signal of a vehicle’s collision alerting first responders and police or possible involvement in a crime.
These new digital license plates are probably some time away from use in Maine and there’s truly no guarantee that a majority of Maine legislators will pass the proposal before them to adopt the “Dirigo” idea for the new state plate.
Some legislative observers have rated the proposal as having a 70 to 30 percent chance of passing though and hopefully by late spring, Maine residents should know for sure as to whether they will have to obtain new license plates by 2026.
I’m indifferent about new state license plates and would prefer upgraded registration stickers.<

Friday, March 3, 2023

Insight: Faron, Lefty and Roger

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Not long ago, I watched part of a Ken Burns documentary about country music and during a segment on the late 1950s and early 1960s, a flood of memories came rushing back to me.

Lefty Frizzell
My father listened to what was then known as “hillbilly” music and knew all the words to many of the songs that came across the radio in his 1957 Ford Fairlane and later his 1962 Chevrolet Impala. As a child, I liked his singing along with the tunes, but detested the style of music itself.

I never really cared for the twangy guitar sound and the sequined jackets and outfits and cowboy boots that many of the singers wore.

It was humorous when my mother would go into the kitchen for something when our family was watching television and my father would stand up and do his imitation of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of “16 Tons,” including the finger snapping and a joyful look on his face. Yet once he saw my mother reemerging, he quickly sat down and acted as if nothing had happened, although he continued to smirk.

Some of the hit country songs of that era were downright silly, such as Leroy VanDyke’s “The Auctioneer” or “The Interstate Is Coming Through My Outhouse” by Leroy Pullins. It became sort of a Saturday morning ritual when my father asked if I’d like to ride with him to Woolworth’s and on the way there he’d crank up the radio volume when Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo” or Claude King’s “Wolverton Mountain” or Little Jimmy Dickens’ “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” would air.

He did the same whenever “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles would be on the radio but would always tell me that it was a rhythm and blues song and not country music.

Of everything that he listened to, my father had three all-time favorite country singers, Faron Young, Lefty Frizzell and Roger Miller.

Faron Young had two songs my father enjoyed that I found that I just could not get into, no matter how many times I heard them. I just didn’t like the songs and would cover my ears when they played on his car radio.

One was “Hello Walls,” a song that Willie Nelson wrote about a man who talks to the walls, windows and ceiling and describes for them his feelings about being dumped by the woman he is in love with.

Another Faron Young song played frequently on the radio back then that I despised was “It’s Four in the Morning,” a kind of caterwauling about a love-struck fellow waking up early.

Lefty Frizzell was a country singer that my father found fascinating, but like when Faron Young was on the radio, I came to loathe his music.

For me, the absolute worst song of Frizzell’s was “If You’ve Got The Money, Honey, I’ve Got The Time.” It was a waste of my time, yet my father loved it and encouraged me to join him in singing along when it was on the radio.

Once when our family went to a diner for supper on a Saturday night, the jukebox selection machine at our booth only had songs by Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers and Lefty Frizzell and guess which ones my father chose to play? I remember trying to eat my cheeseburger and fries while Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan” blared out of the jukebox.

One county singer of that time period stood out among all the rest for coming up with the most ridiculous songs and always made my father burst into laughter or perform some crazy dance routine. That would be Roger Miller.

Whether it was Miller’s “Dang Me,” a song about a man who spends all of his money on his friends and has nothing left to buy groceries for his wife and child. Miller’s tunes always seemed to be gimmicky or novelty songs to me, such as “Chug-A-Lug” or “Engine, Engine #9” or “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” or “Do-Wacka-Do.”

My father told me of all of Roger Miller’s songs, he liked “King of the Road” the best. That just happened to be one of the few of his songs that I did like, the other being the tune “England Swings.”

As a 10-year-old though, even if I wasn’t crazy about the music that my father loved, I always appreciated the time I got to spend with him, that was if he didn’t make me listen for the 100th time to Boxcar Willie’s “Wabash Cannonball,” Hank Locklin’s “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” or Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darling.” I’d conveniently find that I suddenly had homework to do if I heard the first few notes of “On the Wings of a Dove” by Ferlin Husky or “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” by Buck Owens or “The Cold Hard Facts of Life” by Porter Wagoner they were turned up loud on the kitchen radio.

And please don’t get me started about my father’s personal vinyl record collection and all those Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums that he listened to over and over again. <

Andy Young: Oprah’s twin, or Oprah herself?

By Andy Young

Am I the only person who’s dreamed about having a sibling from whom I was separated at birth?

Oprah Winfrey
I’ve long entertained the idea that through some unfortunate mix-up at the hospital, or perhaps a prearranged agreement between my birth parents and another party or parties, my twin and I were sent to different homes.

It’s taken years, but after much counseling and consideration I’ve clearly envisioned a likely (or at least plausible) scenario which explains how my twin sister, Oprah Winfrey, and I have come to live such disparate lives.

Our similarities are far too plentiful to ignore. We both rode the bus to school every day. Oprah was an honor student; I too was a student. She was on her high school’s speech team; I also spoke a lot in high school, albeit out of the side of my mouth, and mostly to my fellow slackers in the back of the classroom. Oprah won a beauty pageant; I won the blue ribbon for the 50-yard dash at second grade field day.

As adults our parallel career paths have been eerily similar. Both of us are generous to a fault. Oprah once gave away 276 new Pontiacs at a taping of her TV show. I distributed dozens of Big Al’s Pizza gift certificates while doing radio broadcasts for a minor league baseball team in Burlington, North Carolina.

Oprah made her reputation chatting up celebrated people like Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, and Michael Jackson, but my interviews with Johnny Lipon, Steve O’Donnell, and Murray Cook (the Canadian baseball executive, not the Australian musician and red-shirted Wiggle) are every bit as iconic.

But the biggest thing Oprah and I have in common: we both like reading, and enjoy encouraging others to do likewise. Oprah’s had a Book Club since 1996, and has, as of this writing, recommended a total of 99 books to her followers. Coincidentally, I too have been recommending quality reads to my eponymous book club since … well, last week. My most recent endorsement goes to There’s a Bulldozer on Home Plate, by Miles Wolff. It earns the coveted six-star rating from Andy’s Book Club, as it is a memoir that is entertaining, frank, informative, and most significantly, not at all self-serving. Mr. Wolff, unlike other authors who write autobiographically, is scrupulously accurate with his vivid recollections, even when the anecdote he’s sharing doesn’t cast him in a particularly flattering light.

Full disclosure: Mr. Wolff is a friend (and former employer) of mine. I mention this because like my twin sister, maintaining my integrity is far more important to me than increasing my already-vast personal fortune.

I imagine the idea Oprah and I are twins is hard for some people to accept. But have they considered that both of us were born when Dwight Eisenhower was president?

Okay; our listed birth dates aren’t exactly the same, but just ask any conspiracy theorist how easy it is to falsify a birth certificate. And while I’ll concede we look a bit different, remember that not every set of twins are the same gender, or the same height.

Oddly, several friends I’ve shared my hypothesis with have expressed some doubt about my perfectly reasonable assertion. And I’ll admit; on occasion the possibility has occurred to me that Oprah and I might not be related. But the alternative explanation might be even harder for doubting Thomases to get their heads around. Savvy comic book enthusiasts understand it instantly, though.

No one’s ever seen Oprah and me together. Applying the well-known (and generally accepted) Clark Kent/Superman theorem, could she and I actually be the same person? <