Lessons From A Rowing Mom

IMG_6707_2The people of Maine are different:  hardier, more outdoorsy, and seemingly closer to the land.  Kish has noticed that the women wear less make-up and tend toward a no-frills look, while the men have the kind of ruddy complexion that makes it look like they’ve just stepped off a sailboat.

There’s something about living in a rustic area, near water, that seems to encourage that laissez-faire personal attitude.  If you’ve got water and a boat nearby, there would be a lot of incentive to use it — and if make-up tended to run down your face when the fog rolled in, and fancy haircuts frizzed out and became unmanageable in the salt air, then make-up and the high-end ‘dos would likely hit the cutting room floor.

I thought about all of this on our recent mailboat run out to Isle au Haut.  At one of our stops we saw a mother rowing her very cute little girl across the harbor to a dock.  The Mom was an accomplished rower, and I’d be willing to bet that her daughter ends up as one, too.  That’s not a bad skill to pass down from generation to generation.

I Won’t Watch It

Kish and I were driving home yesterday, so we missed the TV news coverage of the awful shootings in Virginia.  We therefore didn’t see the footage of the killer gunning down two innocent people, for reasons no one will be able to explain.

We listened to the radio, though, and heard the sounds of the gunshots and the terrified and anguished screams of the witnesses — and that was bad enough.

Whatever other twisted grievances and chilling fantasies may have motivated the killer to commit a cold-blooded murder of a reporter and cameraman on live TV, it’s obvious that a desire for public attention was one of them.  I won’t give it to him, nor will I have my sensibilities jaded and perverted and corrupted by watching something so horrible.  I’m not going to look for his Facebook page, or read his “manifesto,” either, nor am I going to put a picture of him, or his criminal deed, on this post.  Consider it my little protest against publicizing the evil actions of a sick, depraved mind.

There’s a serious journalistic ethics question lurking here:  if you are a TV news program, do you broadcast the footage, which plays into the killer’s desires and potentially might lead to copycat actions, or do you decline to do so, knowing that some of your viewers might change the channel to a station that takes a different approach?  I can’t fault those outlets that broadcast the footage, on a “just report the facts” rationale, but I can applaud those networks and programs that declined to do so.  Journalists are part of society, and as a society we have an interest in discouraging murderous acts by disturbed individuals.

We live in a weird world, where ethical questions arise that wouldn’t even have been possible in an earlier, less technological age in which “social media” didn’t raise the possibility that every criminal could also become a celebrity.  Sometimes, as in the case of the Virginia shootings, it’s a truly ugly world.  I’d rather not dive into that ugliness.

Let Us All Be Heroes

The story about the three Americans who stopped a terrorist on a European train is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismal news period.  It reminds us that, in a world of big governments and big corporations, individuals who seize the initiative can still make a crucial difference.

The three Americans — one from the Air Force, one from the National Guard, and one a civilian — were middle school chums who were traveling on a train from Amsterdam to Paris when they saw an Islamic terrorist begin shooting.  The airman, Spencer Stone, rushed at the shooter, tackled him, and was slashed by a boxcutter before his friends Alec Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler joined him in subduing the shooter.  The authorities believe their courageous, selfless actions prevented another deadly terrorist incident, and the three Americans were decorated by a grateful French government.

I cannot help but wonder how I would react if I were put in such a situation and whether my instinct would be to duck and cover, or to act.  I’d like to think it would be the latter — with luck, we’ll never be put to that test — but it’s nice to know that there are still people out there who have that impulse.  We would like to think that, in the right circumstances, we could all be heroes.

House Unrequited

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In one of the pretty neighborhoods around Blue Hill, Maine, this derelict structure stands, cheek by jowl with some lovely, well-kept, carefully manicured New England homes.  Its roof and front porch have been partially caved in by the fall of an enormous branch that has never been removed, its windows are boarded over, and its yard is choked with huge weeds.

Why?  Our host said that no one in the neighborhood knows for sure — but something happened to make the house’s owner hate this house, and maybe the neighborhood, too.  For 20 years, he said, she has let the house slowly decay, rejecting offers to buy it, paying the property tax bill in the nick of time, so that the decay could continue until the house looks like . . . this.

What could cause someone to let this once tidy wooden home slide into ruin, and maintain such strong feelings for decades?  It’s a fascinating topic for conversation, of course, and maybe a Dickens novel or two.  Whatever it was, this poor house is paying the price.

In The Blink Of An Eye

At kitchen tables all over America today, husband and wife Baby Boomers are drinking coffee and talking soberly about their retirement plans.  They’re doing so because those plans may have just changed in the blink of an eye, as the stock market has shed a big chunk of its value in the last few trading days and they have seen their nest eggs take a big hit.

IMG_20150823_083542The stock market analysts are talking about a market “correction.”  It doesn’t seem like the right word, does it?  A correction typically fixes an error.  It’s hard to think of a major drop in the stock market that causes hard-working Americans to lose a chunk of their carefully accumulated savings as fixing anything.

Why the sudden plunge and sell-off?  Is it China, or general skittishness, or a concern about American and global debt, or a belated realization that the economy still is weak, or just the backroom decision of some Wall Street titans to create some turmoil that might add to their profits?  The little guys will never know what spooked the markets, and whether we’re in for more of the wild ride this coming week.  We’ll just hold on tight and try not to panic and make things worse for ourselves.

In the meantime, we’ll all be drinking coffee, scratching figures on notepads, and talking about what this means for us.  We’ll tighten our belts and shake our heads and work a little longer and think about how this might change our little corner of the world.

What else can we do?

Worst Of The Worst

Recently we were at a cocktail party when a group of us got into a discussion about a taboo cocktail party subject:  politics.  The debate was about one of those topics that just about every adult American, from the beginning of the Republic to now, has chatted about at some point — namely, who was the worst President in their lifetime.

Our friend The Activist staked out a bold position; she says it was George W. Bush, hands down, and she later sent me a link to a New York Times piece that made the argument that he was even worse than Richard Nixon.  It’s a somewhat familiar argument — sure, Nixon was a duplicitous crook, but he was a foreign policy wizard who has some “historic achievements” like opening relations with China, whereas in the writer’s view (and The Activist’s as well) Bush was a colossal disaster from beginning to end.  I’m a bit skeptical of the argument, and not just because I think no one could be worse than a President who lied, covered up, broke the law, abused his office in countless ways, and ultimately resigned in disgrace.  I also note that the article was written in 2007, while Bush was still in office, and I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have any kind of perspective on a President until years, and more likely decades, after his term has ended and the long-term consequences of his actions become clear.

I think it’s still too soon for anyone to objectively assess George W. Bush.  It’s interesting that, almost eight years later, he still provokes such disdain that intelligent, well-meaning people would passionately argue that he was worse than Dick Nixon.  I suspect that, some years from now, historians will treat him more kindly., whereas Nixon will remain at the rancid bottom of the barrel

I also wonder:  if we’re talking about awful Presidents, where does Jimmy Carter rank?  I would never argue that he was worse than Richard Nixon, of course, but anyone who lived through Carter’s one term will recall the terrible and pervasive feeling that the country was lost, somehow, and there really wasn’t a captain at the helm.  The economy was stagnant and wracked by ever-growing inflation and high interest rates and high unemployment, on the international front the Iranian hostage crisis made it seem like the United States was a powerless colossus, and Carter’s decision to retreat to Camp David to ruminate about the national soul rather than show leadership in the face of adversity left the country baffled.

At the end of Carter’s presidency, the United States seemed pretty hopeless.  Even at the worst moments of George W. Bush’s presidency, I never caught the same whiff of desperation that existed in the last year Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office.