COUNTIES WITH ONE ACA CARRIER DO JUST FINE
Let's get something straight. Do you get health insurance through your employer? Guess how many carriers you can select. ONE. Guess how many plans you can choose. ONE.
Let's say, instead, that you buy health insurance on an exchange in a county with one carrier. You will discover an array of plans from that single carrier. No matter the premium increase over last year, unless your family is very well off, your coverage will stay affordable under Obamacare.
Therefore, people who reside in counties with a single carrier have way more choice than people with employer coverage.
If no insurance carrier services your county - sadly true in a growing handful of places - yeah there's a problem. But where one solvent, well-respected insurance company operates?
Congratulations! Celebrate. Obamacare works just fine for you.
UNREALITY, I ONLY WISH IT WERE
What is going on with the FBI on the eve of this election? How can the FBI Director reopen a case he just closed? How could he share unfiltered case notes with a highly partisan Congress once he closed said case a few weeks ago? It's called work product, and it's none of anybody's business but the legal team.
She chose to use one server over another. We all know how tough - no impossible - it is to compartmentalize our own little lives amongst the electronic devices that rule us. That's all she did, put stuff on a different server - one already in place at the former president's residence - that was never hacked.
Nothing, but nothing will cause right-thinking people to switch to and vote for an unqualified, mean egotist instead of an incredibly accomplished and ultimately kind woman. Drown out the noise and stick with Hillary. America as we know it cannot survive Trump.
Am I alone in the universe?
This time I doubt it. What’s the outrage to which I fell victim, and who might join me in a class action plaint?
Maine's premier professional theater painstakingly nurtures its formal development process called the Clauder Competition. Every three years - used to be every two - we New England playwrights submit scripts. Then we wait and wait, well beyond the promised decision date.
Then said theater bypasses its careful process to rush a novelist’s first play into full production. You’d think said play, Monica Wood’s Papermaker, must be incontrovertibly excellent.
Anything but! She starts with narration, not action. She shamelessly pirates from her novels rather than presenting fresh, urgent material. Worst still, Wood slaps a happy ending onto the union workers’ struggle. Sure it's make-believe but in a region where, ultimately none of the players in the paper industry won, the writer's choice rings false and sour.
Alongside me in this sorry boat ride the likes of Callie Kimball, Karmo Sanders, Brent Askari, Carolyn Gage, Bruce Pratt, Cynthia Thayer, Claire Melley-Smith. We’ve each got multiple full-length scripts that are oh-so readier for prime time than Wood’s first effort. We don’t rely on the utterly improbable to put the CEO at the mill gate. And we know that pre-intermission tension’s achieved by not letting the car escape as the house lights rise.
Because Bangor must slavishly follow Portland’s lead, now Penobscot Theatre’s devoting its impressive resources and talented team to enacting this flawed play. Why not be original for once? And oh, by the way you inherited the respected Northern Writes New Play Festival. What about that?
Maybe my readers – the meager handful – won’t believe me when I say that Jack and I went to the Bangor Public Library last Saturday hoping to cold-read a wonderful new play. I wanted to be transported, a la Horten Foote in The Trip to Bountiful or August Wilson’s Jitney with its unmatched father-son confrontation.
I have penned ten excellent full-length plays! Each forms a unique and cohesive whole. I submit all the time. I’ve paid plenty of dues - backstage, serving on Boards, networking.
You bet I'm bitter. I've been disrespected mightily. Bitter, but surely not alone.
You just elected your despicable, ignorant crook. He asked you - yeah you too white boy - what do you have to lose. Boy, you're about to find out. Over and over and over.
Right-thinking people, for what minute consolation it's worth, we will have infinite opportunities to say we told you so.
Pollsters, crawl under a rock and eat crow. I was wrong too, but only because I relied on you and you failed. You failed us.
We have to live our lives, don't we? You too, Hillary. Thank you for your service. They would have made your presidency a living hell. You're well out of it.
THE BAD-LITTLE-KID FACTOR
The character lives in most of us, in me for sure. She never makes her bed. She doesn't pick up the dog's poop. Her primal wants reign supreme. This theory came to me recently, one more marcher in the parade of possible explanations for the truth-is-stranger Trump phenomenon. Today my bad-little kid theory gained steam as the media reported that teachers observe shouting and shoving in ninety-two percent of America's youngest classrooms.
Never before has a candidate behaved in exactly the ways we punish our children for acting. Just run the bullying, the violence-inciting, or the profanity reel in your own head. What does a bad little kid do when countered? He lies. He blames others. He stamps his feet and shakes his fist.
For ordinary adults, the bad-little-kid strategy failed long ago. We learned to share and to empathize. With some wise and gentle prodding, we came to understand perspective. Still, wouldn't it be empowering to always get one's own way? Eat fried fast food and brag about it. Invent stupid nicknames that the other kids all repeat. Chant a nonsensical slogan and hear the crowd roar. Wow, what fun what freedom. The worse I behave, the bigger I get.
You know what? It's heady just thinking that way for one paragraph. That in itself is quite scary.
If Corporations are People
If corporations are people, then they have civic duties as well as personal rights. If Hobby Lobby can hold a sincere religious belief - one the Supreme Court compels me to respect - I insist that this morally-aware entity apply His doctrine toward the public good. What public? On a micro level every jurisdiction in which they operate a retail store. On a macro level all of America unto the civilized world.
Corporations are defined as associations of like-minded individuals. So there’s nothing incongruous in entreating them to behave ethically. Management has obligations beyond maximizing shareholder return. If we allow otherwise, then we mustn’t fault them when other constituencies become mere tools. Management should squeeze the most out of the workforce and shed costly promises to retirees. If community involvement happens at all, its cost-effective result must be highly positive spin.
So how do we alter today’s inward, money-driven paradigm without losing the vibrant productivity of America’s corporations? Let’s start with this common-sense truth. All good works - whether accomplished by church, government, or nonprofit organization – ultimately depend on profits from successful business activities. Otherwise, there’s nothing to tax and nothing to donate.
I would begin with these two changes to the income tax regime.
1. Get rid of the ten-percent-of-income limitation on corporate charitable contributions. Individuals can generally give away fifty percent of their income each year. Corporations should have similar capacity to deduct genuine good works within their mission.
As is, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have to use a separate foundation for charitable work. Just think what a company like Walmart could accomplish if it were free to mix charitable outlays with capital investment in America’s urban food deserts.
2. Second, fix one joke of a law, a law that feeds the complaint that the system is rigged. Deductible compensation is nominally limited to $1 million. But bonuses don’t count, so there’s no limit. If given its plain English meaning, the law would still let corporations overpay executives to their (purported) hearts’ content, but they could only deduct $1 million per employee.
Those two tax changes – one carrot one stick – would encourage corporations to choose ethical behavior that promotes shared prosperity. Corporations would stand poised to change the world while serving every constituency that enables their successful business model. The wages, the pensions, the workforce training, the new public infrastructure would all be tax deductible.
Those ever-mounting executive compensation packages full of perks and promised golden parachutes when relations between the CEO and the Board inevitably sour? Not so tax deductible and consequently – I’m betting – not so disproportionately generous to the anointed few.
If corporations are indeed people, we must impel them to act like good people of conscience.
WISHING AWAY THE BEST OF DAYS
When at last our long national nightmare ends, autumn leaves will have fallen. Right now I cannot savor one moment of the vivid waning summer. Righteous vitriol consumes my being and so it will till you exit the national stage. And stage it is.
How dare you play president? That's what you did today in Mexico, last week in Louisiana, and every time you stand in front of that bank of American flags. What gall! The Donald so loves theatrics. He's like the white-coated actor who's not a doctor but plays one on TV. Neither is qualified to do anything but dress up and pretend.
Where's the plan for the eleven million? Where are your tax returns? Your medical records? Your mute trophy wife's non-existent degree? Your compassion? Your soul?
Me, I want my soul back. I want to think and write about something other than Donald Trump. I want to contribute to causes I care about other than your urgent defeat. Your bitter, angry, derisive campaign permeates America. Every day you inflict harm, possibly irreparable hurt, upon the party to which you don't belong and the country you do not love or respect or even get.
The last thing on the planet you are fit to be, Mr. Trump, is a public servant. Deep down you know it. The whiff of failure shakes your oversized confidence. Better usurp the thrill now, right? Because you suspect that the closest you'll ever get to being president is to play one on TV. I'd say shame on you, but you don't possess that basic human attribute either. How many more days till November 8?
Did Hillary Clinton Receive Special Treatment by the FBI?
She sure did. Especially bad treatment, that is. Now the majority of Americans believe she should face criminal charges. Are you kidding me? Criminal charges. For doing her job, 24/7, on your behalf. We have lost all sense of proportion and every shred of context.
Start with Jim Comey, no hero he. Over my long business career, I’ve brushed against FBI investigations on a couple occasions. The Feds rush in and grab original records. A lot of time passes. If no charges result, you never hear from them again. Not one peep! In this case we were duly owed a statement of closure. "No charges are recommended," he should have said. That and nothing more.
What Jim Comey found – some 100 + dubiously classified documents somewhere on 55,000 pages of e-mail chains – he can rightly call fact. There was classified material on her server. But his characterization of people’s attitudes at the time as extremely careless, that’s pure opinion. He speaks from the haughty perch of perfect hindsight. He ignores the fact that the State Department’s own email system has been repeatedly hacked. (Go ahead - google it.) Yes, that’s the unclassified side – so far as we’ve been told – but isn’t that what she would have routinely used?
She kept a server in her basement. Oh my, that sounds bad – to the digitally ignorant. See, security’s 99% electronic and the 1% that’s physical was probably pretty decent chez the Clintons. After all, we’re talking about the principal residence of an ex-president with constant Secret Service protection. Comey said her e-mail was less secure than G-mail. Really? Even if that’s accurate, was it less secure, or in all likelihood considerably more secure, than the personal e-mail used by Secretary Colin Powell and even Secretary John Kerry? (Powell too balks at the retroactive classification of material.)
I would bet the farm that not one single person on any Congressional committee, period, has a pristine e-mail profile from 2009 to 2012. Do you, dear reader? Nor do I see why we have a God-given right to partake in every word ever uttered by anybody in the process of every workday. We don’t demand the content of private phone calls and face-to-face conversations, even from our public servants. This new-age parsing of e-mail minutia strikes me as voyeuristic and unseemly.
Worst of all, there was no issue, no problem whatsoever except the one the Republicans invented. Hillary Clinton stopped being Secretary of State in 2012. Not one iota of a problem related to her e-mail practices has ever, ever surfaced. They couldn’t pin Benghazi to her chest of steel, so they picked something else. I’m sure they never dreamed they’d be so successful at pushing this nothing of a molehill to such lofty heights. And they haven’t quit yet. Think another so-called emergency hearing involving Loretta Lynch, yet another referral to the FBI. Beat Hillary fair and square at the ballot box, if you can. If you even want to. I mean, Trump. Really?
I take it back. The Republicans are not the worst of the lot. I blame the news media for buying into this idiotic frenzy. I’m not saying that nothing improper was done, but the scale of the misdeeds by Hillary and her staff, on a moral level of 1 to 10, they rate maybe a .05. Eventually we’ll all watch this e-mail scandal fade to dust just like Whitewater and Vince Foster, as in what was that all about? She used the wrong server, they shout indignantly, while in 2016 we all place infinite faith in the ephemeral, unregulated cloud.
Unlikely credit does go to one journalist at Fox News. Geraldo Rivera had the prescience and courage to predict no charges because, Folks, from an informed legal perspective as seconded by Comey himself, the question is not even close! No reasonable prosecutor would bring charges, admitted Comey, while trying desperately to please his fellow Republicans anyway.
Loretta Lynch, good luck tomorrow. Hillary Clinton, if I were you, I’d declare a plague on this ungrateful nation. Hang in there, as I know you will, because you’re the toughest human being on the planet and we need you, oh how we need you now.
Declaration of Conscience 2.0
Boy do we ever need a true statesman - or stateswoman - to step forward and oppose Donald Trump. He or she must be a Republican with immense credibility. Happily, I can name several.
First, to refresh everyone’s memory, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine made the original declaration of conscience against that day’s unleashed tyrant Senator Joseph McCarthy. His accusations ruined lives and eviscerated free speech. Today his stated sworn enemy – communism – stands weak and discredited. Republican Senator Smith was the fist to speak out against McCarthy's bullying wrath.
So I’m not a Republican, nor does my voice resonate beyond a very small circle. Unfortunately, I cannot be the one to make the needed declaration of conscience 2.0. Were I a prominent Republican, I too would be reluctant to oppose my own party’s presidential nominee. After all, he might win. Petty thin-skinned vengeful fiend that he is, I’d be damn right to fear his pointed revenge and public scorn.
I would have to step back, take a deep breath, and look beyond this election which Mr. Trump will probably lose to Hillary Clinton. Then perhaps I would be able to make the courageous moral decision to stand up and say no, I will not vote for this evil unqualified disaster of a candidate.
What powerful Republican could issue the needed Declaration of Conscience 2.0 or its functional equivalent? May I suggest:
1 Senator Susan Collins of Maine
2 Former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen
3 Former President George W. Bush
4 Former First Lady Laura Bush
5 Secretary of State Colin Powell
How about it, ladies and gentlemen?
Picture this headline: Clinton made wedding plans on State Department computer.
It’s not true, of course. She did the opposite. She made the other imperfect choice. It’s a dilemma that every 21st century worker faces constantly. Who are we, spouse employee or parent, when the cell phone rings at work?
Me, I answer the pesky little monster. Chances are it’s a personal call. But maybe it’s a client. Maybe it’s a friend and a client because, like every engaged person today, my work and personal worlds have become inextricably intertwined. Good thing or bad thing, welcome to reality.
You were never Secretary of State, Laura. I hear you. But as a CPA I handle highly confidential information all the time. It gets transmitted over the internet via email. Yes my firm has policies and protocols that we follow. But I guarantee that we all, partners included, violate them from time to time, especially while on the road.
Secretary Clinton traveled constantly as Secretary of State. She carried one device, as did all her predecessors. But unlike them, she actually had a sophisticated server at home. The hacking of emails registered on few radar screens in 2009. Plus the U.S. government was hardly impervious. How many times have we heard of data breaches at our most sensitive agencies like the Pentagon and the Internal Revenue Service? (Don’t get me started on that ongoing nightmare!)
Reasonable Republicans, do be reasonable about this molehill of a so-called scandal. Quit please with the false equivalency. You are perfectly right that Israel is a vibrant democracy while the Palestinians are terrorists. David Petreas deliberately shared military secrets while cheating on his wife. Hillary? Not even remotely close.
Let’s stipulate that no human being who is on duty 24/7 can perfectly separate the personal from the professional. If that’s true, then so is the following statement: Hillary Clinton today would find herself under vicious attack had she ever conducted personal business via government email.
What Telleth the Sanders Tax Return?
April 21, 2016
As little as possible, that’s for sure. They provided the bare-bones federal forms for a single year with no supporting detail. The revision date at the bottom of page 1 of Form 1040 – 05/19/15 – reveals that they needed extra time to make this simple filing. How late did they report, after Bernie knew he was running for president? Presumably 2015 has been extended also, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The Donald says you can’t tell squat from a tax return. On this and SOOOOOO many other questions, he is dead wrong. Here’s what we can definitively say based on the Sanders’ 2014 tax return. On income four times that of the average American family, this couple has saved practically nothing.
They own no wealth. If they did have savings or investments, we’d see a whole lot more than $11 in interest and $2 – yes $2! – in dividend income. If they had built a retirement nest egg, we’d see substantial IRA or pension withdrawals. (I believe the $5,000 reported pension comes from the coffers of Burlington, Vermont.)
The Sanders do own a home, right? Well, not exactly. Assuming they’re paying an interest rate of three percent, this couple carries a mortgage close to three quarters of a million dollars huge. That’s hard to fathom for an old, established couple in a rural state.
I don’t know what’s on those elusive earlier-year tax returns. I’m betting it’s more of the same but a bit less scrubbed squeaky clean. Personally, I’ve already seen enough. This man does not have a clue how to manage money!
As to the Donald Drumpf returns, we'll never see those, will we? Here's what I'm betting on that front: The Clintons make way more.
WHY I SUPPORT HILLARY CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT
by Laura Emack
April 10, 2016
Free college. Free health care. Who wouldn’t want that?
News flash: Medicare is actually not free. Each solvent senior pays some $1,300 per year for a plan with unlimited 20% co-pays. Many pay much more for optional drug coverage and carry private “Medigap” plans to boot. No, Medicare is not free to the consumer, nor is the universal healthcare provided in other advanced democracies. Medicare is not free, but it is by and large affordable. So are the Obamacare premiums for modest earners.
What about college? Well, with refundable tax credits up to $2,500, community college is close to free now. Even if one takes the preposterous leap of faith that red-state governors will buy into free tuition at state schools, little net gain will result. Kids, you’ve still got room and board and books to pay for. Plus the intelligence, ambition and effort to thrive in college – that’s all on you. Ever and always on you.
We should not elect a sworn enemy of these major sectors: Health insurance. Financial services. Energy. America desperately needs the cooperation of all those dynamic industries, each of which operates within the rule of law. No Bernie, the very business model of Wall Street is not fraud. If that were true, nobody with a brain would ever buy stock. As Hillary wisely said in an early debate, "We have to save capitalism from itself." That’s called sensible regulation, kind of like Dodd Frank, whose effectiveness can best be inferred from the incessant howling that comes from the regulated.
The health insurance companies implemented the complex maze of Obamacare remarkably well. To borrow a phrase from fashion guru Tim Gunn, they make it work. Now that they can’t exclude the sick or rescind contracts, now that they must expend eighty cents of every dollar on patient care, we don’t need to hate them anymore. In fact we’d better embrace the Aetnas and Harvard Pilgrims and even mega-player Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. After all, they’re still kicking while the well-intentioned nonprofit healthcare co-ops have virtually all failed.
By and large, energy companies are run by flawed humans trying to stay on top of their very difficult jobs. Let’s not forget that fuel moves through pipelines every second of every day without fanfare. We need the energy companies, more specifically we need American energy companies. They’re tough and robust enough to navigate boom and bust, not too big to fail but too nimble. Does fracking cause earthquakes? Yes. Can it and should it be done with less seismic impact? Probably. Let’s support the companies who research better scientific methods rather than assume every evil CEO rejoices when mother earth suffers.
America, wake up!. I don’t just mean you twenty and thirty-somethings – my aging-hippie friends feel the bern too. Unfortunately, you’re all in grave danger of getting burned. Ask yourself how Bernie Sanders can possibly govern after trashing the underpinnings of our - yes – still strong and resilient economy. If you listen to big business, their worst current constraint is the strength of the American dollar. We should have such a problem. News flash: we do.
Bernie? Quit your constant moaning. We need a commander in chief, not a kvetch in chief. You misrepresent my America, our America, and you offer no viable answers. Forget pie-in-the-sky free entitlements. Let’s go for affordable and achievable. And way better qualified.
And on the other side of the ledger ....
Trump’s Achilles Zeal (or lack thereof)
Dear The Donald,
Think about that post-election headline from 2008, “Black man gets worst job in the world.” We all laughed, but …
“I don’t need this, Folks.” It was a prescient moment when you blurted out the inner truth. Not only don’t you need the toughest job on the planet, you don’t really want it.
One of these days, when you get tired of playing Leader of the World, as the clamor for your tax returns mounts – and OMG-can-you-ever! tell a lot from somebody’s tax returns - when you grasp that handing the keys to your slick-haired sons does not constitute placing all your assets into a blind trust, one of these days you must quit the race.
Think about it. Not one second of one day will belong to you. Those disgusting people a/k/a reporters will hound you for answers, real answers, and when you command them to, “Believe me,” they'll do the maddening opposite. Time after time for eight long years. Eight years because four years would brand you a loser. And those adoring fans who each personally, hopefully, desperately buys the glib promise, ‘You’re going to be so happy!” - let them drop back to earth.
Just declare victory. Tell us how you could have won, assure us that you would have won. Hey, it's very likely true and nobody will ever be able to disprove the big assertion. Brag unto eternity. But let John and Ted and Hillary and Bernie fight it out. God knows why, but they actually want the worst job in the world.
(and I use that powerful word with all the sincerity with which you toss it about)
Essay: The Life Cycle of a Pond (posted 4/10/16)
Hooray! We have our pond back.
Is that because spring sprang early, driving 2016’s ice out well before April? Well yes, but that’s not the whole story. The sight of ripples on open water is especially gratifying this spring because, last year, we lost the pond for the entire season.
We created our pond eighteen years ago from back-field jumble. Some fantasies – hey most sweet dreams – never materialize, but this one did. We longed to swim minus chlorine in fresh lake water without leaving the driveway. I wanted to paddle the canoe on a whim without heaving it onto the roof rack first. Most of all we wanted a water view from the dining room.
We thought we knew where the pond should go, but the local contractor quickly set us straight. On land that slopes, a well-placed pond will fill up on its own. I did not believe this till I watched it happen, that very first spring, even faster than the contractor promised. With an overflow pipe at its lowest corner, the pond also drains of its own accord. It never overflows.
As the seasons streamed by, we came to know the pond’s cycle. It freezes solid in December, etching odd straight lines and rope ridges on the surface. In March the ice cracks and slowly recedes from the edges toward the center. Funny yellow flowers appear on the banks, with squat stems and blooms like dandelions, even before the crocuses. I adore the first Screeeee! of a red-winged blackbird just returned from wherever he winters.
Ducks come. They never quite conform to the photos in the guidebook. They glide and dive, disappearing and resurfacing. Less frequently a heron stands on the far bank. Sometimes our dog Alex and I surprise a duck, spooking it into panicked flight, as we walk the path around the pond. I don’t know what the visiting waterfowl consume, water bugs or maybe tadpoles.
Tadpoles become frogs. The evening screech of the peepers deafens us. Later come the ones we dub gunkers and splatters and laughers who for all the world say “ha-ha ha-ha.” As the cattails grow taller, red-winged blackbirds sway on their tips. I sit on the granite steps that descend to the water. I sip coffee as sky-blue damsel flies flit and Alex chases after the frogs.
Come July the brown-tipped cattails form an amoeba-shaped border. They create a screen so thick that, floating on my back, I feel enclosed. I’m light-years away from the paved road not a hundred feet distant. I love to swim in the pond. But far more often, I stand at the window and marvel as the wind pushes waves across the pond or raindrops pelt it with splashing spear points. Oh that water view!
Every year lilacs and lilies of the valley give way to daisies and coneflowers and red leaves. But as the years came and went, a wistful sadness began to flavor them. A summer passed during which I only swam once, fully clothed after a couple wine coolers on a very hot day. Then came a summer, and another, when I did not swim at all. The pond had lost its pristine appeal.
Ponds need periodic dredging; otherwise they become swamps. Our beloved one had progressed quite far into its life cycle. Its borders shrank as the cattails closed in. So much silt spilled into the clay bottom that a variety of aquatic plants took root and grew. They didn’t smell very good and their tendrils felt even worse, yucky slime on bare skin.
We finally called the contractor. It took two seasons of nagging and pestering but he and his son finally came to dredge the pond. I expected them to haul in huge mechanical pumps. Instead, they drained millions of gallons from our pond using a single hose and a powerful force called gravity. It took quite a few days for the siphoning process to work.
Then the heavy machinery arrived to scoop out the crud. They flattened the once-lush banks and left them as dirt-brown as any other construction site. Barely a few feet of water sat in the bottom of the gigantic pit that used to be our pond. This was how our spring began. But unlike the year when we first created the pond, this time we knew that it would fill up on its own.
We waited eagerly. The summer of 2015 persisted, week after week, sunny and bone dry. We’d gain a foot on a showery afternoon, then watch in dismay as the level dropped, leaving a widening bathtub ring as irrefutable evidence. Green grass appeared spottily, then filled the surrounding banks despite the drought, but the pond itself did not recover. To make the agonizing wait worse, an unfamiliar invasive plant took root. Unlike with the ducks, I found this exact specimen in the reference book. It was aptly called American pond weed.
Alas, our old white canoe, vintage 1971, proved beyond repair. I tried duct-taping its leaks and paddling from the floor, as all seats and thwarts were broken. My pants got very wet. We trashed the canoe and bought a dinghy. Dubbed the Max boat, it has provision for both motor and sail. I used it to row around the vastly reduced surface area and pull American pond weed. Most of it came up easily, roots and all. I piled it in the bottom of the Max boat and dumped it onshore to dry and blow away.
Just as I was about to declare victory over American pond weed, patches of green slime took its former place. Hot sun baked the brackish water into a teeming organic soup. The pond became a no-go disaster zone, with swimming utterly unthinkable. Even the frogs got so logy and lethargic that Alex was able to catch them. We began to face the probability that the pond would not fill up again until spring.
Rain came one day in October, multiple inches throughout the state of Maine. We watched with astonishment as the whole pond filled up in a single day. The incoming deluge drowned every trace of algae and surface vegetation. Gusts of wind once again spawned shimmering waves of grace and beauty. But it was way too late to swim in the pond, too cold even for a picnic on its shores. 2015 was a painful lost year, lost but not wasted, to miraculous regeneration.
Today the pond is replete, brimming, sparkling, healthy, young, and brand new again. As Alex and I walk its squishy surrounding path, I see cattails starting to grow. Over the coming years they will surely encroach. Some day we will have to dredge the pond again. Some day, but not someday soon.
December 14, 2012
Penobscot Theatre’s Annie – A Contrarian Review
Nobody reads my blog. So I can say stuff, stuff like that the actor who played Annie embodied the awkward age. Though spirited and well-rehearsed, she just didn’t appeal. Perhaps no Broadway ingénue could have overcome that ridiculous clown wig. It transformed Annie into her cartoon iteration in stark contrast to the dead-on authentic little girls who all outshone her.
Don’t get me wrong. Everything in this huge and demanding production was executed as intended. Set, orchestra, clever choreography, expansive use of space, costuming (red wig excepted) were all excellent and worthy of professional theater. Like most of the females in the production, Annie sang on key with pretty good diction in a strident tone. It’s not the cast’s fault that their songs were set in a sky-high key that made shrill
Here’s something else the careful local reviewers (God, I miss Judy Harrison!) dare not say. The script, that is the spoken lines or “book” in the musical “Annie,” - well, the script sucks. Principal characters like Miss Hannigan have but one dimension (mean!) with no redeeming features or emotional growth. Why Oliver Warbucks suddenly decides to bring an orphan into his home never gets explained. Still, there is a poignant story at the heart of this play. One key relationship forms and develops, that between Oliver Warbucks and little orphan Annie. Ultimately, the success of any “Annie” production hinges on their chemistry. They have to surpass the script or the play falls flat.
Why did I never for one moment buy into the story? I fault the directorial decision to go big at every juncture. With some notable exceptions (Warbucks, Grace, Roosevelt, the adorable Molly), people overacted to the point of buffoonery. Dominick Varney as Rooster, from the moment he stepped onstage, did nothing but perform his own standup antics. Of the three players who share the stage during “Easy Street,” Lily alone did not severely overdo the moves. I far preferred A.J. Mooney’s earlier rendition of “Little Girls” where the repressed hatred bubbled just below the surface. Later on, she morphed from credible curmudgeon to grotesque caricature.
Contrary to current theatrical thought, going bigger does not always help. Big does beget laughs, and it’s hard for those who present plays, myself included, not to measure success by the quantity and volume of laughs achieved per minute. Big works just fine till it wrecks emotional content. At some level, no matter how silly or fantastic the story, the audience has to believe in the people onstage. In Penobscot Theatre’s 2012 production of “Annie,” overacting obscured character far too often.
All that crap said, I want to say a huge thank you to Bari Newport and her capable team for pulling off this heroic dramatic feat. Bangor loves this production, and people are flocking to the theatre. I have never been privy to the backstage administrative goings on at PTC. However, to this outsider it appears that order and harmony rule to an extent not seen there in years, if ever. And I can’t sign off without a shout to the very best voice in the production, not the able equity actor's who did a creditable job as Warbucks, but the versatile Ben Layman, who should be the 4th tenor.
We were so looking forward to a sublime theater experience! We did not find it at PTC last night, but we will definitely keep on looking.
MITT AND ME
Cards on the table: I didn’t vote for Mitt Romney. I’m among those repelled by the extreme social agenda to which he sold his soul. I
disagree that military spending stands sacrosanct (unless we bring our organized, disciplined troops home to rebuild America.) On balance, I went with the incumbent who came in with a thin resume and still doesn’t get that no smart company ever hired a worker it didn’t need just to claim a tax credit, nor should it. I voted in favor of gridlock and less bad legislation.
Mitt’s an odd duck, but I kind of like him. I definitely admire him. He stayed remarkably unflappable during an interminable primary
campaign where everybody else had a flashy star turn. He’s fit and faithful and obviously cherishes his wife. He reputedly irons his own shirts. There are moving tales of his personal generosity when no political motive could possibly be impugned. He gave a prompt, brief, gracious concession speech in contrast to – yes the circumstances were way different, but still – to Al Gore.
The mainstream media did not cover Mitt fairly. What other candidate got widely quoted only when someone secretly recorded him in a
private setting? On many an occasion I watched a newsperson assume a puzzled frown and inquire why Mitt never spoke about this or that issue when Mitt had addressed exactly this or that issue on the campaign trail that very day. I know because I translated Mitt Romney’s speeches into French as part of the PBS NewsHour’s all-volunteer project to translate the election.
The Democrats’ speeches got chosen first by my fellow translators because, yes, the PBS audience leans liberal. Still, PBS invites all players to the table. Abolish its federal support? What a silly, symbolic pittance of a gesture! That’s not real money and business-savvy Mitt knows it.
America has vast rural regions where no profit-seeking enterprise will ever lay cable and there is no internet, I mean zero bars. The relevant question is not, as Mitt posited, whether it’s worth borrowing from China to pay for amazing resources like PBS. We should ask whether a unique voice that reaches Americans who lack access and clout is worth our paying for. The answer is yes.
However, he’s right that we have a creeping culture of dependency that the government unwittingly promotes. Action: A single mother works a few more hours per week. Result: She loses her food stamps. Action: An unemployed teacher volunteers at the animal shelter two days a week.
Result: He loses his unemployment check because he isn’t available for fulltime work. And why should a middle manager who showed up on time every day, who adapted to technology, who played well with others, and still got fired for no other reason than that he reached age fifty with a decent salary go to work for $8 an hour, when he’s getting the equivalent of $10 per hour in benefits? Programs that pit the work ethic against
common sense – that’s our current system.
There are moments that stick with me from Mitt’s speeches, snippets that epitomize the right – by which I mean right-on - kernel
of truth in the conservative economic message. “In our best days, we can feel the vibrancy of America’s communities, large and
small. It’s when we see that new business opening up downtown. It’s when we go to work in the morning and see everybody else on our block doing the same thing.” That’s from his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention.
Before the NAACP (Obama sent Biden to speak, remember?) Romney said “You understand the deep and lasting difference the family makes. Your former executive director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, had it exactly right. The family, he said, ‘remains the bulwark and the mainstay of the black community. That great truth must not be overlooked.’ Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country, and that must be our goal.”
Of course Romney went on to expound policies I don’t support – defending traditional marriage and aggressively promoting charter schools. The point is that he did present a coherent plan directed at improving the lot of the poor. Yet all that the mainstream media replayed from his NAACP speech were the boo’s that sounded when Mitt told them he opposed Obamacare. That too is wrong-headed in my book, but Mitt stood there and courageously said it to the NAACPA. For that he deserves a considerable amount of credit.
Most of all, I marvel at the astounding confidence Mitt radiated in the face of such an enormous endeavor as leading this wild and crazy country. He said that he could turn around the American economy. For that, too, he had a little-covered plan whose central pillar - North American
energy independence - struck me as pretty strong and substantive. Could he really muscle the country into robust-achievement mode? I’d sure like to know.
Mr. President, give this man a mission! Tell him to compel the grand economic bargain, to forge that plan. Send him to Israel to direct development in the West Bank where the moderate PLO leadership must become better rewarded than Hamas with its bombs and rockets. Or let him consolidate the disparate job-training programs into an efficient employment engine. That subject, by the way, comprised another key point in Mitt Romney's economic plan.
Give Mitt a job. He has earned that challenge. After all, as Mitt once pointed out - only to be labeled insensitive, he’s unemployed too.