1/28/2006

The following Dialogues are fictional. They are a personification of the New England states discussing real issues that they might find interesting should they be able to discuss anything. They are created by myself, James Tierney, and I would appreciate recognition of authorship should you decide to use them.

 

The New England Dialogues 001

 

What would you do if you were the mayor of New England? But there is no mayor of New England replied Rhode Island. Yes, youíre right about that, but try to imagine being the mayor. What would you do? You mean, what would I do first? Yeah, what would you do first? Well, I guess the first thing Iíd do is tell folks what a great place New England is and how important weíve been in the history of our country. Right, right; but what would you actually do? Hmmmm, I guess Iíd wonder with the twelve senators about how we could get around better. At three bucks a gallon it already costs fifteen dollars, if you drive one of those SUVís, to do a round trip from Auburn to Portland, not counting the $3.70 for the tolls. What will that cost in ten years? Good point chimed in Vermont. If people from New York can fly to Utah cheaper than driving to Stowe, weíre in trouble. But what can we do? Itís Texas and Louisiana with a little bit of DC thrown in that addicted us to petrol and now weíre at their mercy replied RI.

 

Well Iíve been thinking about a couple of things. Iíve heard tell it was the truckers who did in the railroads but every trucker I ever met would deny driving the stake through the heart of what was one of the best railroads in the world. My guess is political ineptness and the inability to see beyond the end of oneís nose suggested Connecticut. Isnít that a little harsh? You have a tendency to lash out at history for our inability to function today. Maybe so, sulked CT. Truckers, however, would be most adversely effected by a railroad that worked. They might be rallied to support the idea if they were given some kind of preference for the new jobs.

 

It is an interesting thought. If we had the railroad that we had a hundred years ago people would flock to New England from all over the world. Theyíd park their cars in Albany or Grand Falls and head for the dining car while someone stowed their gear and made sure it got off loaded and delivered to the B&B they had reservations for in Gorham, NH. Wow, you think that could actually happen perked up CT? Why not? Get off a plane at Logan or Bangor and relax all the way to Rye or Carrabassett while the kids ran up and down the aisles and gaped out the windows. I wonder what that would cost queried New Hampshire? Nothing if we hadnít traded comfort and safety for convenience a long time ago, added Connecticut in her usual, somewhat stuffy, way. We could still have one of the worldís best. I think I heard that itís the rail beds that would be costly to replace remembered New Hampshire, ignoring the sour grapes from the south. A lot of the right of ways have been converted to hike and bike trails, which has been good for us over in Vacationland, might have been heard had Maine spoken up a bit more. But New Hampshire went right on about how the rail beds still exist and wouldnít it be fun to offer a prize to the urban planning institute able to come up with the best design for a modern New England railroad. Well sure but how would one pay for something like that cautioned Rhode Island. You mean the prize or the plan asked NH? Iím not sure what I mean but it seems like it would cost a fortune to rebuild our railroads. Where would that kind of money come from? First of all, fiscal feasibility is one of the components of any plan so we would expect the folks who win the prize to include how it would be paid for in their plan and if we think of it as a plan to rebuild our railroads, we might as well think of it as a plan to go to Mars. It could only succeed as a railroad, not the hodgepodge of bits and pieces that are now left after sixty years of corporate mismanagement on the one hand and government good intentions on the other. But the prize, the prize wouldnít have to be a lot. Five million, maybe ten would be enough to get at least a few universities thinking about it. Believe it or not, there are individuals who could give away ten million dollars and not even miss it. Many of these same folks have qualms about what is being accomplished by the millions they are already giving. They might even enjoy contributing to something as novel as a railroad with the potential to really work. Well, letís sleep on it suggested Rhode Island, you know how we have a tendency to come up with all sorts of bright ideas which look totally absurd in the light of day. This is the light of day, you know we only meet for morning discussions. Yes CT, I was only speaking figuratively. Figuratively?


 

 

 

New England Dialogues 002

 

Hey, you know what I heard? You could almost hear the groan as the others waited for Connecticut to share her insight of the day. I heard the new kid on the block is crystal meth. What in Godís name is crystal meth asked Vermont before she could catch herself.

Crystal meth is the new drug in town. It apparently is moving in from the west coast after devastating some communities in the mid west. You can cook it in your own house sort of like how they made bath tub gin during Prohibition. What does it do asked Vermont,? having been hooked on the discussion after asking her original question. Iím not sure but I hear the rumblings in our legislature and lots of folks are all exercised about it.

 

Iíve heard about it too added Rhode Island. Well, what does it do pleaded Vermont. Iím not sure either but one of the things it does is blow up if you donít cook it right. The burn clinic in Providence is worried they may get inundated if it catches on.

 

Itís a sort of speed offered Maine in her usual whisper. Well, what does it do asked Vermont again hushing the others so she could hear. You know, remember back in the sixties when so many people got hooked on the up down cycle of barbiturates and amphetamines. Not really said Vermont but I wasnít paying much attention back then. Our Attorney General has formed a high level, high status committee back in Augusta to deal with it. What do they hope to do? I donít know but people hoping for voter recognition are vying to get on the committee and the governor is trying to avoid appearing as if he is the driving force behind it. Thatís why the AG is taking the lead. At least thatís what my sources at the Capitol are saying, hanging her head so low you could hardly hear the words. Wow, breathed Vermont, I havenít heard anything about it.

 

Where do the dollars go asked New Hampshire, after a long silence when everyone appeared to be pondering the destructive force of more substance abuse? What dollars, slipped out before Vermont could help herself? She always wondered about what appeared to be a certain ambivalence inside her when it came to ďsubstance useĒ. The dollars repeated New Hampshire, a little exasperated by what sometimes appeared to be childish naivetť, on the part of Vermont and at other times felt like down right dishonesty. You know, the dollars folks make when people get hooked? I think thatís the point noted Connecticut as she tried to get back in control of her topic. The ingredients for making it are available all over the place and when some states, Iím not sure which ones, banned the over the counter cold remedies used in making it, sales leaped in adjacent states. One of the concerns is that enterprising young males will start bringing it in from Canada like they used to do with quality pot before northern California closed that market by closing their eyes to growers who understand horticulture. Sort of like our elderly heading up to Madawaska by the buss load to purchase cholesterol meds at half the price they could be bought for in Bangor offered Maine with just a tiny smile, hardly noticeable, at the corner of the left side of her mouth.

 

Thereís big bucks in drugs sighed New Hampshire. Weíre stupid to not pay better attention to who benefits from their sales. We get caught up in the morals of it all. Out to protect people from doing dumb things to their bodies. Usually under the guise of saving the children. Guess what Vermont, if you really want to know about crystal meth, ask the kids in Burlington. Do you know kids are having parties where the admission fee is a handful of whatever you can pilfer from your parents medicine cabinet? Now whoís being harsh offered Connecticut. Yeah youíre right, I get carried away when it comes to drugs and kids. But you know, it blows my mind that kids can be overdosing on coumadin at parties when parents believe their ritual of asking their kids a few dumb questions before they go out is going to rescue them from the crazy world we are enabling the growth of. Whoa, whoa where are you going with this? Iím just saying there is a lot of money in drugs and we behave as if the solution is to fill the jails with poor folks. We all know thatís not the answer but we arenít able to say it in a way we can hear. Thatís the way it was with gambling before you guys stepped forward with the lottery observed Vermont, a little hurt by the tone of the preceding interaction, and wanting to make that known to New Hampshire. Right, but now youíre falling all over yourselves to invent the next most popular scratch ticket.

 


 

 

 

New England Dialogues 003

 

Did you hear that the Androscoggin River doesnít even meet the lowest possible quality standard in my state, ventured Maine? Senator Muskie would roll over in his grave if he knew that. We have a lot to be ashamed of. Shame and shaming is a waste of time and I guess Iím tired of hearing how the great Vacationland of the world canít even keep its rivers clean. Well, wait a minute, you know that river starts over in your state. Iím aware of that but you donít hear me crying in my beer about how dirty the river is. Youíve got a legislator from the County threatening to unseat a legislator from L/A if she doesnít stop putting jobs at risk in Rumford and Jay. I canít believe how out of synch they can be in your legislature. Everyone knows whatís wrong with the river, and what it would take to fix it. I find this business of politics tip toeing around the obvious to be very tedious.

 

In an effort to comfort Maine, who appeared near tears, Vermont suggested that jobs might be a more comfortable topic to think about this day. New Hampshire picked right up on it saying of course jobs is the issue. People need good jobs with benefits and a sense they are doing something useful and honorable. The useful and honorable part might be a bit idealistic chimed in Rhode Island. Maybe so but people donít do their best work if they donít feel good about the work they are doing retorted New Hampshire, obviously a bit frustrated with what appeared to her to be the obvious. To be sure the pay check is important because everyone has to eat and support their families until their kids can support themselves. But what makes the community work is when people feel good about the work they are actually doing. When a guy cuts down a tree and drags it out of the woods he gets a feeling of accomplishment that makes his day. When he hauls it to a mill he believes is going to make world class paper with it, he can smile. The fact that the river is getting a little dirtier or the neighborhood a little smellier gets overlooked and rightly so because it would be that much harder for him to get up in the morning and go to work if the big picture pollution was hanging over his head all day. And, like I said, if he doesnít feel good about what heís doing heís not going to be doing his best and, ultimately, both he and his employer will suffer and, more importantly, the product will suffer and the community will not be all it could be.  

 

Well, youíre all juiced up today observed Vermont. How does the logger feel good about that ugly plant sitting in the middle of the river in Berlin or at Rumford? Heíd have to be blind to feel good about that. It is truly fascinating how that works advised Connecticut. When people feel like the work they are doing is a benefit to the community and provides them a wage they can live on, they accept all sorts of incredible things like the ugly plant in the river at Berlin or the mountain high landfill of trash I understand they have outside of Bangor. You know, I hate to brag but Vermont has made a lot of progress in cleaning up our rivers. Of course you have, thatís because Senator Muskie helped the country realize that we didnít have to just live with rotten rivers added Maine with just a tinge of satisfaction in her voice. And, I wouldnít have characterized you as reluctant to blow your own horn. Yes, thatís true, came back Vermont ignoring the jibe, and anyone who knows anything about the environment appreciates the contribution that Muskie made to cleaning the rivers up. But, we also didnít have as much degradation as some of the rest of you and we got an earlier start with the clean up. Not sure why that was the case but Winooski recognized the potential in its river way back in the late fifties and I hear Lewiston and Auburn are beginning to see what their river has to offer.

 

You know, the rivers of New England are environmental jewels but not really appreciated, added Connecticut. People seem to head for the mountains or the coast but you donít hear people saying boy, I canít wait to sit where Smith Brook dumps into the Mooseleuk Stream and watch mama Moose with her calves this spring. Yet, many folks would give a weeks wages for that sight or drive all the way to Newfoundland to see newborn triplet calves in a river. Itís true added New Hampshire, sort or resurfacing from preoccupation of mind, our rivers are as good as rivers get and your right about that ugly plant in the river at Berlin, as well. I was just trying to visualize what that town would look like if the plant were put underground. What would happen to the property values if their were flowers growing along the banks for a mile or so below Milan and a mile or so above the Gorham town line with canoe put ins wherever you could get a boat into the water. When you go down river a couple of miles in Rumford and stand in the Walmart parking lot looking up stream you see a river valley that compares favorably with any valley you might see in the Alps. It is hard to imagine but the center piece is there. Been there for millions of years. All that would have to be done is clean up the mess people have made.

 

What about the jobs?, Rhode Island added wondering if New Hampshire had gone off the deep end. You know, those jobs are gone anyhow. New England paper hasnít been competitive for years and the folks who believe making ďqualityĒ, speciality paper will save the industry are living in fantasy land. Weíve always made quality paper and the rest of the world is not unaware of the speciality paper market. The few jobs we still have are the residue of an industry gone by. People trying desperately to hold on to a past which is fast slipping away. Thereís no way Berlin can compete, as a paper making site, with Jakarta and, once China gets going, the whole world will change. And, try to imagine anyone wanting to buy that mess in the river at Rumford. We would be wise to bite the bullet and sell the plants for scrap like the railroad managers did back in the fifties. Brand new track was sold as junk by local managers at Cedar Hill in New Haven. Managers who were sensing and contributing to the demise of an industry that had sustained several generations at a quality of life level beyond anything they might have imagined before the railroads came on the scene. How did you know that about Cedar Hill, queried Connecticut? Youíd be surprised how much I know responded New Hampshire. Where are the next jobs coming from is what weíd be wise to think about instead of wringing our hands about how to keep jobs that are obsolete.

 


 

 

 

NEW ENGLAND DIALOGUES 004

 

You know, welfare is a problem sighed Maine. Oh, here we go again breathed New Hampshire. I get a little tired with your harsh attitude toward what I have to say responded Maine, screwing up her courage. Your right, Iím sorry, but your sentimentality drives me up the wall. Iíll try to be more patient. Its not patience Iím asking for, its respect. Dialogues are one sided without mutual respect. What good is a one sided dialogue? Yes, yes, yes youíre right, Iím sorry. What were you going to say about welfare. Yes, but first, what do you mean by welfare asked Rhode Island.

 

Good question responded Maine. What I was thinking about is only a small piece of what might be sheltered under the umbrella of ďwelfareĒ and I would like to talk, at some point, about that broader picture but what Iím referring to now is the program that is called TANF. It used to be called AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. As I understand it the change to TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families happened as welfare reform in the Clinton Administration. It is really a very small program and it is fascinating that it got ďreformedĒ rather than all the other government programs needing reform, programs that use government money to paint themselves to look like Godís gift to the world. Oh yeah, like what? Like NASA, for example, responded Maine feeling stronger than usual and less intimidated by the tone in New Hampshireís voice. But Iíd prefer not to get sidetracked into the larger issue of government functionality. Please indulge me this once. Iíd be glad to if this was just once, you tend to consistently be the do-gooder, member of the group. No wonder your taxes are right out of control. Wait a minute, suggested Connecticut. Maine is right, dialogues require a setting safe enough to say what you think and if someone is always jumping all over you it is hard at best, not to say impossible, to articulate what you are saying in a way that others can hear. And I for one want to hear what Maine is attempting to say. Alright, alright, grumbled New Hampshire, youíre right, I just get so emotional about this topic. You might want to look at what makes it so emotional for you, suggested Vermont. Very funny responded the granite state.

 

As I was saying, the program was reformed and the name changed during the Clinton administration, repeated Maine, feeling a little embarrassed with so many of the others coming to her rescue, but the purpose remains pretty much as it was back in 1937 when the first check was written. Interestingly, I think, the reform was a result of a core of male legislators in Congress being upset that AFDC moms could have children and get a check from the government to take care of them. Of course this wasnít the case since most AFDC moms didnít want to have anything to do with the federal government, which made them feel badly about themselves for needing the money in the first place. The largest segment of the AFDC population gets off welfare as soon as possible, usually within eighteen months. Another large segment gets off welfare after a few years given the job training and self esteem building most states offer to their recipients. But the enraged core of male legislators were right in that there is a segment for whom AFDC is becoming a way of life. This was, at the time of the reform, a small segment but it seemed to be growing. As far as I know, the validity of such a culture was not discussed. Is it ok for some women to decide that 357 dollars per month plus medical,? was enough to raise their children on and they would be a ďstay at home momĒ because they believed that was what was best for their children. It doesnít work that well in downtown Detroit but it might work fine in rural Maine, or even rural New Hampshire, I might add, where a mom might live at the homestead where she was born and add her resources to the social security checks her parents were now receiving, give her children a chance to know their grand parents and share household and garden chores with extended family members. The interesting point is that the females in Congress, as far as I know, never spoke up to defend their sisters as Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island have stepped up to defend me from time to time.

 

As a matter of fact, no one stepped up to say wait a minute, how come weíre focusing on these low income women and children when any number of other things might warrant such attention? New Hampshire bit her lip but remained silent. Thatís not quite true come to think of it. One member of Clintonís task force resigned when he realized what the administration was up to. He was the husband of a child welfare advocate, one of the few who advocated because she understood what children need as opposed to what political advantage can be gained by appearing to advocate for such a worthy group as children.

 

To get back to the purpose of the program for a moment, I believe the purpose is still pretty much the same as it always has been. Society has decided that it is to the advantage of the broader community that all parents have some money with which they can raise their children. Yes, added Vermont, just walk across the bridge from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez and youíll understand why no politician would want women sitting begging in the street with their children running around, starving and in rags. Right, continued Maine, but also there is some sensitivity to the fact that these children grow up and are much more likely to become contributing community members if they felt some sense of security as children.

 

The new program and especially the new name, emphasize what the enraged males wanted to emphasize. Clearly, they want the program to be seen as temporary. Unfortunately we donít know whether this program is any more temporary than its predecessor. But they also want to emphasize that these are needy women. Let me ask whatís wrong with that, asked Connecticut, before my friend from New Hampshire jumps right out of her skin. Well, think about it, would you like to be thought of as needy? How about you New Hampshire? Look, if I respond to that question right now, you probably wonít be able to focus on your articulation so let me save my response for another day. My, arenít we getting self aware offered, Vermont. Yes, thank you for not distracting the discussion added Maine. Youíre welcome.

 

The point of this all is, should we be concerned about the double messages floating around about what children need and how might New England best respond to those needs? My sense it that anyone you ask would say that children are very important and yes they very much need a sense of security to actualize their potential and yes, it takes the whole ďvillageĒ/community to bring out their best. Somehow those good intentions get lost in the shuffle in practice. I suspect children do not feel as secure in their own communities as say children fifty years ago. Iím guessing their full potential is not being actualized if fourty percent of school children cannot locate Mexico on a map or if our kids do less good in math than school children in Bangladesh.

 

OK, OK so what do you suggest, asks you know who? Awareness, I think, is what Iím suggesting. Awareness! Awareness of what? Well, let me ask this. Do you think John Kerry knows what happened to the two million children that went off AFDC when TANF was implemented? Do you think George bush knows? How about Melinda Gates? My guess is that thereís not a tenth of one percent in the whole country who knows. Is TANF better for children than AFDC was? Is it better for their moms? OK smarty pants, tell us, what happened to the two million children dropped from the program? I donít know either, sighed Maine.

 

You know, I think I heard what you are saying and I donít disagree said New Hampshire but let me tell you a story about a cat I know and see if you might hear me. Sure, go for it said Maine. We have stray cats around in some neighborhoods and one of the residents would put food out for them every once in a while. Well one particular cat seemed to have the schedule down pat because he, I assume it was a he, was there soon after the food came out no matter when that happened. Somehow that cat got into the cellar one winter day and given what rural New Hampshire cellars are like the cat had numerous hiding places and the resident couldnít catch up with him. Well the cat became a nuisance in the cellar, pooping in the pail of sand the neighbor used to temper the ice in the driveway. No one knew what it was drinking but it got hungry because boxes of noodles lay open on the floor. Slim pickins for most cats. The resident who owned the house, the same one who put out the food originally set a have-a-heart trap. This couldnít have been too rural because a shot gun would have sufficed in lots of places I know of. Well, you should have heard that cat howl when the trap door shut behind him as he went in for the single shrimp that was used as bait. Interestingly shrimp are cheaper than hot dogs. You would think someone had plucked its eye out. The owner of the house let it stew a while before releasing it out doors but is known to have wondered out loud the following day, What part did I play in enabling the cat to move into my cellar? I fed it and gave it the message that I cared about it. The cat mistook my message and moved into the warm cellar. I wonder how long it would have taken for it to believe that I was inviting it to sleep in my bed? Hmmmm said Maine.

 

 

 

 

New England Dialogues 006

 

Do you know whatís wrong with substance abuse treatment? We are left to guess who is initiating the dialog this morning but past dialogues, if youíve had the pleasure, might lead you to surmise Maine is again probing the water in a manner intended to get the attention of her associate to the west. It is never fully clear whether Maine gets some perverse pleasure out of pinching the very spot she knows will inflame or whether she is truly trying to engage but it does appear she has ambivalence herself about issues she knows are critical to society on the one hand and might be responded to more functionally by government on the other. Substance abuse treatment is one of those areas.

 

The problem with all substance abuse treatment is that it is substance abuse treatment. Thatís brilliant responds Rhode Island, unable to catch her extravert ness while knowing she should have processed, i.e. thought about, her response a bit more before letting it slip, willy nilly, from her mouth. But Maine continued her discourse without even breaking stride, since it starts with two negatives, she went on, abuse and treatment, it is doomed to failure and probably acts to enable more than cure. In fact, a person, any person, might use any substance and, as long as it doesnít kill him or her, there is no big deal and they might even learn something in the process. The problem of using a substance exists only when the use is managed in such a way as to cause problems for the individual, her family or his community. If someone presents saying I want help with my substance use management they are much more likely to find that help as opposed to someone saying I need treatment or someone saying I need help with treatment for my son or my lover or any other person they care about.

 

So, it is substance use management we need not substance abuse treatment. Why is that important?, asks Maine rhetorically, not expecting anyone to try to squeeze in a response and she quickly increases her stride in case someone is considering doing just that. Itís important, first of all, because of who is doing it. There are currently substance abuse treatment  professionals out there who know all sorts of things about all sorts of substances. So whatís wrong with that interjects Connecticut. Well, whatís wrong with that is that it can drive the focus of the transaction and act as a distraction for the the theÖ.. what shall we call the beneficiary of this intervention? letís say, customer. The customer can get all caught up in dosage, frequency, mixture and any number of other aspects of the use which allows her to not focus on the piece she has control of, ie the management. The professional feels good because she has all this information which is worse than useless, but appears to be powerful, the customer feels good because she now has information, which, must be useful, since it came from the professional and together they enable the focus on the substance or substances rather than on the customerís management of the use. Wow, I see what you mean adds Connecticut clearly impressed with Maineís reasoning. I see as well offers New Hampshire but Iím not wowed. How about an example?

 

Well let me try this. Itís not exactly an example but it might help you hear what I am saying. My hearing is just fine begins New Hampshire, with a tone of combat. Letís not go there suggests Maine, trying to stay focused. Substance abuse treatment has been on for fifty or more years in out states, we have thousands of professionals doing it. There are reams of information on all aspects of the substances and not too long ago someone came up with the notion of ďdual diagnosisĒ. At first it sounds like some great step forward but like the reams of information on substances, it is all irrelevant. The only piece that is relevant is how the customer manages his use and whether that is causing problems for him. What do you mean by problems asks NH, a little less ready to pounce at this point. It could be anything. A typical one with alcohol is late for work on Monday mornings, less interest in sex with his partner, no time to spend with the kids, screwing up behind the wheel. It really doesnít matter what the problem is, what the substance is or what the diagnosis is. The only thing that matters is that the customer is managing his behaviors in a way that can be changed, if he wants the outcomes to be different. Every aspect of the intervention that isnít focused on acknowledging the behavior and deciding whether the customer wishes to change it is a distraction from the success of the intervention and it is these numerous distractions which enable the rising costs, the high rates of recidivism, the public frustration and the substance misuse itself.

 

Yeah, I see what youíre saying, a very interesting point of view. Tell me, why do you suppose so much money continues to be poured into substance abuse treatment when the focus would more appropriately be the one youíve been proposing? Thanks for asking that question NH., I sort of expected a whole different response from you. One of the great questions of our times is why do we keep investing in remedies that are working so poorly. Public education, for example but we can come back to that another day. As you know, however, thereís much more to drug use than the end-user although, like with computers, it is the end-user who makes all the other stuff possible. I suspect the folks managing all the resources thrown at substance use are in a similar position as the end-user in the sense that there are millions of distractions available to enable reduced functionality. Law enforcement wants a piece of the action, education wants some, hospitals want some, self help groups are convinced they have the answer to the problem, community centers whine that, surely, they need some to respond to the failures of the program who are roaming the streets in various degrees of disrepair, day care centers assure us that mom could focus better on her treatment if she didnít have her kids to watch 24/7 and certainly the jails need a bunch. Added to all that are the legislators who want to ear mark expenditures to insure their districts get a piece and to be able to stand before the camera with their arm around some teen age hood, should a program actually work. It is almost impossible to know how the money should best be spent, just as it is almost impossible for the end user to stay focused on the only factor that has any relevance to his feeling better, his own behaviors.

 


 

  

 

 

New England Chronicles 007

2/11/2006 5:50 AM

 

 

Do you know what the Pleistocene is? Asks NH a little more aggressively than necessary looking directly at Connecticut. Of course I know what the Pleistocene is, whatís your point? Well?????????? You might try saying good morning suggested Rhode Island if you actually want someone besides yourself involved in the discussion. Well I do, Iíd like us all involved in this one but Iím more frustrated, not to say agitated, than usual. Iíve been thinking about the weather and getting progressively exercised by how scientists have led the people, via the politicians, in a merry chase round and round the barn turning people against people instead of helping people find common ground. Well, whatís so different about that wonders Vermont out loud? Probably nothing but, for some reason, Iím tired of it when it comes to something as concrete as the weather. You all may remember that I wasnít too unhappy when Gore sunk his own campaign by using global warming as his lynch pin. Iím more worried now than I was then given the escalation of  the centralization of wealth inherent in globalization but clearly the more worrisome part is that the two parties canít even surface a common understanding of the weather in all the posturing about ELECT ME because Iím the best for the country, for the world.

 

The Pleistocene is the most recent geologic era and although some scientists argue it ended ten thousand years ago and we are now in the ďcurrent geologic eraĒ others accept that we are still in the Pleistocene. As you might guess, it is totally irrelevant. Whatever we call it, it is a period of global warming and cooling which Gore, before deciding to use it to show how smart he is, didnít bother to check out what makes it different from the warming and cooling periods the earth has been going through for hundreds of millions of years. I remember Emery doing something like that about the ďEnergy crisesĒ back in the seventies observed Maine.

 

The earth has been warming and cooling for hundreds of millions years and will probably go on warming for hundreds of millions to come no matter what we humans do to it and ourselves in the mean time. The thing that is different is the amplitude of the spikes. Excuse me, the what? The transitions between hottest and coldest used to take hundreds of millions of years which result from three or four different cycles of  how the sun and the earth move in relation to each other. The current one, the Pleistocene, is only taking tens of thousands of years between the hottest and the coolest spikes. Scientists like to call that amplitude but, as near as I can tell, they donít have a clue as to why it is happening so more rapidly than it ever has before. Clearly, the changes in spiking of temperature probably has something to do with the impact humans are having on the environment. But, in spite of what Gore says or his critics say in response, politicians are non very honest in their expressed concern about such events since even ten or twenty thousand years are time frames that on the one hand, are just a flash in the plan in geologic time, but, on the other, involve the whole modern period of human evolution. Since politicians live in two to six year cycles, it is a little fanciful to expect them to be truly concerned for something that might happen in 100 years or even something that it definitely going to happen in a thousand years. Clearly it is probably a bad idea to use up all the fossil fuels just it was a bad idea to cut down the last palm tree on Easter Island yet they did cut it down and we will use up the last gallon of oil if it comes to that. It is also a bad idea to foul the nest, humans have learned that a hundred times. Our fine rivers are an example of such learning, yet humans continue to spoil the nest, nuclear waste, for example. The best humans can hope for is that they begin building in solutions to these problems as they are created. My sense is people are being more attentive to the consequences of their joint behaviors. I agree, is heard around the table without exception, What Iím so frustrated by is the political process tends to obscure understanding of something as simple and as concrete as its getting a little warmer or its getting a little colder with enormous energy wasted by folks like Gore or folks like Julian Simon pushing their point of view for their own personal aggrandizement rather that helping people in general find common ground. You have to wonder if people want common understanding of whatís going on observed Vermont again. Yes, I agree offered NH. Individuals seem pretty smart but the group behaves as if a moron.

 

You know, youíre right about the weather thing offered Maine, feeling sort of good about being able to ally with her neighbor to the west. Itís going to be warmer, on average, tomorrow than it was yesterday. Sea level is going to rise. In fact it can already be measured as rising. Some cities are going to be under water and uninhabitable. I was thinking of that a while ago when I was wondering what to do with the residue of putting all the ICET underground. What in the world is ICET wondered Vermont out loud again and why would anyone want to put it underground? Well, first of all, ICET is internal combustion engine traffic and, if you think about it, any community with half a brain would want it underground. Itís one of the major things fouling the nest above ground, it is noisy, dirty and smelly. But more importantly, once underground the above ground would be open for totally different use. Imagine ski trails, walk ways and bike trails in your favorite city. All parking of ice vehicles underground. Imagine small electric bubbles for the mobility challenged above ground that would automatically stop five feet from any other human unless a human recognition button was activated by the operator. Imagine all busses and delivery vehicles underground. At any rate, the first communities to do it will be the envy of the world. But you would wind up with a whole lot of excess rock if you made a space large enough underground for everything powered by an internal combustion engine. What the heck would you do with it? Thatís what made me think of the global warming thing, admitted Maine. There are numerous cities along the North Sea that would love to have material to hold back the rising sea. It doesnít take much smarts to know that a sack of pebbles isnít going to do it but a laser cut block of stone say twenty feet long by five feet wide by five feet high isnít going to go anywhere once set on bed rock. I was particularly thinking of L/A since I have a close acquaintance who lives there but Rumford or Berlin would do just as well. All three towns have only a few access arteries with beautiful rivers as their center piece. And who would pay for this one and how?, interjected Rhode Island hoping to dull the reaction of NH and not break the spell of collaboration as fragile as that might be. She hoped to preserve the semblance of Maine and NH being on the same page even though she knew it probably existed more in Maineís head than in reality. Is this another example of offering a five million dollar prize for the best urban planning solution to the next monumental human blunder?, asked NH with a bit of a smile at the corner of her mouth. Actually no, and Iím glad you asked. Originally I was wondering about how to get all the toxic silt in the holding pond above L/A down river and into the ocean without making the river a toxic mess in the process or without devastating the marsh at Merry Meeting Bay. Yessssss. Well, youíd need a tunnel all the way from Turner to the continental shelf. You couldnít just dredge it up and truck it down and throw it in the ocean although that is probably what most people would expect to do with it. Itís very toxic stuff. Not just stuff that might give you diarrhea or even a whopping case of diphtheria. Itís the kind of stuff that reorganizes genes and births children with eyes on the sides of their heads. At any rate, you canít just cut this stuff free after having it sit there for a hundred years. That would be even less ethical than putting it there in the first place. So you would need a tunnel, a rather long one, to gradually release the silt over time and let it flow into the ocean below the continental shelf drop off. Since a mixture of water and silt would flow through the tunnel you might as well generate electricity with the flowage and pay for the tunnel by selling the power. I donít have the technical expertise to work out how much total generating power there in the river and how much of it is already committed but I figure there must be some excess capacity since the hydro dams were built quite a while ago and we must be more efficient at such things now. Anyway, if that didnít work just dig a tunnel straight down deep enough for it to be hot enough to turn water to steam and make the power down there. Thatís probably what humans ought to be doing to generate power anyhow. You mean while you were about digging this tunnel from Turner Maine to a couple of hundred miles beyond the coast you would hollow out thirty square miles under L/A and create enough room for all the internal combustion engine traffic, all the parking, all the deliveries and everything else? Observed Connecticut. Sure, fifty square miles if need be, its just a hole in the ground. People can do that. I heard that 13 Al Qaeda prisoners dug a tunnel and escaped from their Yemini prison the other day. Practically anyone can dig a whole in the ground. Figuring out when and where to dig is the tricky part. By the way, the only way to solve the Palestinian/Israeli problem is to dig a hole in the ground and make an upstairs and a downstairs in Israel. Right, and who would be assigned to the downstairs?, asked Vermont. That would be the death knell for sure. The only way it would work is to build the downstairs so well that both would want it and there would have to be some kind of raffle to figure out who actually gets it. Youíre serious about this stuff arenít you, suggested NH. Well sort of, some more so than others. I have to do something with my time.


 

 

 

2/11/2006

 

New England Dialogues 008

 

 

I heard New England has a longer international border with Canada than the country as a whole has with Mexico, announced Rhode Island, as if she had the attention of the full group. Are you sure of that responded Maine incredulously, sounding as if her mind was elsewhere. Well no, I have no more capacity to look up and validate data than you do but the folks I overheard sure sounded as if they knew what they were talking about. Its interesting that you would retain such a factoid given that you have the smallest borders of any of us and your international boarders are non-existent observed Vermont. So, why is that so relevant?, Iím still a part of New England and am effected, if not affected, by whatever is relevant to the rest of you. I suppose even the smallest part of a whole is relevant to the whole even though the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, acknowledged Vermont. You know, that sounds very objective but it feels offensive. What are you trying to tell me? Nothing, nothing, I was just trying to get aboard of what you were talking about, my mind was elsewhere. Maybe I am sensitive to being the smallest member of the group but size or not, Rhode Island has made some important contributions to our overall well being over the years. Of course you have, interjected the Granite state, donít be so thin skinned. Iím sure Vermont meant nothing negative in her reference to your size, and going back to and supporting what you were saying in the first place, its my understanding that Maine alone has six hundred miles of international border with Canada and thatís if you donít count border with the ocean as international. Wow, I never would have thought that I had six hundred miles of border with Canada. How much border does Texas have with Mexico? I donít know but I would have guessed it had more than all of us have with Canada. Thatís the problem with these factoids you find floating around all over the place, half of them come off the seat of the pants of some politician and the other half come from Mark twainís third category of lies. Given the fact we donít have direct access to resource libraries, in spite of the fact that we jointly have some of the best in the world, were stuck with having to believe this or that on the basis of our sense of the intellectual credibility of the folks we overhear. What a state o affairs sighed Vermont, now that she had fully entered the dialogue with both her mind and her mouth.

 

It is an interesting issue observes New Hampshire as she takes the opportunity of a pause to rally the group around her latest concern. As you know, weíre more concerned about finances than some of the rest of you. Iím not sure I agree with that added Maine but it sounds like you are trying to take us toward the practical side and I can have a tendency to be distracted by such efforts which Iím trying to manage better, so I wonít pursue that right now since it would clearly interrupt your train of thought. Thank you Ms Maine for that consideration, I do often find your quarrels to be distractions and would like to stay focused for the moment. You might consider a different way of introducing the topic if youíd truly like to stay focused added Connecticut. All right, all right this group is sometimes exasperating. Whether you agree or not, we are concerned about finances. We have recently been recognizing the increased cost of patrolling our borders and have found it necessary to add seven more state troopers to begin to take on the challenge heaped upon us by all this terrorist business. The feds, since 9/11/01, have, like in education, had all sorts of additional expectations for law enforcement and also, like in education, have no intention of funding these expectations. Yes, unfunded mandates, they are called, floated up from the back of the room without being clearly attached to any particular group member. Right, continued New Hampshire, without looking up, but these arenít all mandates. Some of them just grow out of a sense of fear that our boarders are no longer safe and if we donít shape up we could have God know what being hauled through our gates. Some of the legislators donít like it but are uncomfortable with saying so out loud. New Hampshire has never been driven by fear in the past and most of  the political leaders donít really perceive any new threat now but no one is willing to say, to paraphrase Nero Wolf, phooey. Its interesting your state is concerned about border patrol at all since you probably have the smallest international border than any state and as far as I can tell, from glancing at the map at the state house gallery in Providence, you only have one road to patrol up there anyhow, interjects Rhode Island, still blistering a bit from the earlier remarks about size. To be sure there are other things the troopers could do, and I guess most legislators are willing to pay the extra cost because of that, but when you delete non prescription drug problems and terrorism, both of which have their origins way outside New Hampshire, from the list of law enforcement responsibilities at the state level, there really isnít much new in the way of a threat to the safety to the people than there was fifty years ago. A couple of the legislators are making the point privately that costs related to drug use and interdicting terrorism should be borne totally by the federal government since these are problems that grow out of international relationships that New Hampshire inherits from Washington rather than problems New Hampshire contributes to causing. Well wait a minute requests Maine, I donít want to be a distraction but surely you must acknowledge that the demand for illicit drugs exists in New Hampshire just as it does in all the other states. Sure it does but that doesnít have anything to do with law enforcement. Thatís a treatment and rehabilitation issue at that end of the illicit drug continuum. Thereís nothing law enforcement can do at the ďdemandĒ end of the continuum except put local citizens in jail for using drugs and thatís even a worst financial disaster since putting folks in jail costs more than sending them to Harvard or, I should say, Yale. To be sure, we need to do more to help people avoid drug use and to help people, who are addicted, to stop using drugs but spending money in law enforcement for those purposes is throwing good money after bad. There might be something that law enforcement can do at the production and distribution end of the illicit drug continuum but even there the fiscally functional intervention is illusive at best.

 

In relation to terrorism, all the costs should be borne by the federal government since the states make no contribution to the cause. Well I donít know if thatís true, spoke up Maine again, trying to get a foot in before New Hampshire took off on the second leg of what was beginning to sound like the sermon of the day. Terrorism happens between nations and New Hampshire is not a nation. I suppose you could argue that the people of a state are what make up the nation, sort of like what Vermont was saying before, about the whole and the parts, but most people I observe have no quarrel with folks from other countries and I suspect folks in other countries have no quarrel with the people of  New Hampshire. Who are the terrorists and who are the terrorized?, are questions which have not been adequately dialogued as yet. But having to spend New Hampshireís precious resources chasing bogey men around in the woods of the north country is absurd from the get go. We have no idea what terrorists might do next or even who they are. We donít even really know what their message was when they attacked the world trade center. All we know is that they are upset with Washington and possibly even Boston but we donít know what it would take to contain that upset. So, at the state end of the continuum of terrorism, the smart investment is in public safety. Having the capacity to respond to whatever comes whether it be a natural disaster or a man made disaster is what we ought to be investing in. In fact state and local governments do a fairly good job when it comes to public safety. It is clearly one of the most functional components of government. Yes, I think you are right about that, adds Connecticut, the question will be whoís in charge. Public safety can do a marvelous job when they get good direction and support which can only come from the local level. The resources, on the other hand, need to come from the federal level. Unfortunately, the resources right now are being drained from the local level to the federal level and spent elsewhere in the world and the whoís in charge question is re-battled with each tragedy.

 


 

 

 

New England Dialogues 009

 

You know, there are 4 million kids on Ritalin in the country, announced Connecticut. Whatís Ritalin?, asked Vermont. Donít you know anything?, itís a drug. A drug for what?, and I only know what I hear and half the stuff I hear around here I wouldnít consider to be knowledge. Right, and Iím sure your sources are fully accurate, sighed Connecticut. A drug intended to help kids, and adults too, I guess, concentrate and be less hyperactive, added Connecticut, already getting a little testy before the dialogue had hardly begun. Kids being less hyperactive?, I thought hyperactive was the definition of a kid. Well, thatís the point. Whatís hyperactive enough, when does it become a problem and who does it become a problem for???. I hear its teachers who push the parents to push the doctors to prescribe the drugs sometimes without even observing the child in a hyperactive state, offered Rhode Island. One of the interesting things about Ritalin, resumed Connecticut, is that it tends to slow children down in spite of it being similar to caffeine which, as Iím sure you all know, tends to speed people up. I guess they donít really know why it does what it does but it seems to help people concentrate. I overheard a lecture once when the speaker started by throwing candies in the air ten at a time and compared children needing Ritalin to the people in the audience who were trying to catch all ten candies and the folks who were able to focus on one and actually catch it as illustrative of children  not needing Ritalin. An interesting gimmick to grab the attention of the audience, observed Vermont, but probably having little or nothing to do with hyperactivity. Well, havenít you become the expert at something you knew nothing about a few minutes ago, observed Connecticut. Just because I donít know what this or that drug does, doesnít mean I know nothing about the behaviors involved. Ok, Ok, Iím sorry, I tend to get a little impatient when dialogues I initiate are not crystal clear to the rest of you. One of the things Iíve heard about Ritalin, interjected New Hampshire, and I believe there are two or three other drugs like it that seem to work for some kids and not for others, is that the military wonít take you if youíve been on them for some period of time. That, seems to me, to be a significant disincentive to taking them. Well, so far, thatís the only good reason Iíve heard for taking the drug at all, chimed in Maine. Yeah, why  should I not be surprised that youíd be the first to duck the opportunity to be patriotic. You know, the notion that being in the military is somehow a measure of ones patriotism is fairly simplistic. I know of women doing clerical work that are making a greater contribution to the needs of our country than half the soldiers drinking and whoring their way across one battlefield after another. Aaaaaaaaaaa, can we hold that focus for another time, suggested Connecticut, Iím sure its related to this topic but my sense is that it is so incendiary that it might be a test of the ďno hittingĒ rule we have for these dialogues and would certainly take us away from having any closure on the Ritalin issue. Yes, it is indeed incendiary, offered Maine in retort, and I have little patience for the view that ďWar is the AnswerĒ which seems to be the militaryís response to all possible questions, but I agree, letís try to stay focused or we might all need Ritalin before lunch. I will take the prerogative, however, since I am the initiator of this dialogue, to point out that the country expects more and more from our military and I doubt there is the same kind of drinking and whoring across the battlefields that one might find in previous wars, added Connecticut.

 

The point that I was hoping to get to is that one of the pharmacology students at Storrs did a dissertation on Ritalin, and like drugs, which reviewed the testing done by the pharmaceutical industry and found that they did not test children, who present as hyperactive, for whether they process ambient temperature differently than children who donít. What do you mean by process ambient temperature, asked Rhode Island. Well, I think what the student doing the dissertation meant by that can be gleaned from the question, do some children and adults, for that matter, respond differently to slight changes in temperature than do most children?, and, do some children find it more difficult to sit still at say 70 degrees Fahrenheit than do other children?  You mean to say that some children taking Ritalin might do just as well by putting on a sweater. Well, I donít think anyone would jump to that conclusion but it does seem peculiar that the pharmaceutical companies wouldnít test for something like that since it does seem that it is harder to stay put if one feels cold. Maybe some children feel temperature differently than other children and arenít able to articulate that feeling in a way that their teachers, parents and doctors are able to understand. Maybe they need to move around for the same reason that other children might shiver. We certainly notice the obverse in some children who are able to walk around in frigid weather with just a tee shirt on without appearing to be the least bit chilled.

 

You know, thatís very interesting. One of the med students at UVM did a paper asking similar questions, only about the concentration aspect of the problem as opposed to the hyperactive aspect of the problem. She noticed that some of her class mates were using Ritalin and like drugs to help ďstudyĒ for finals. She suggested these were the same students who were unable to make use of ďmeditationĒ as a way of preparing to study. Some students, she suggested, were simply unable to focus, in preparation for exams, and although this was difficult for all students, the ones who were able to use meditation as part of their study preparation, did not need to use drugs to help with their concentration. She did a cursory review of the literature and found that the pharmaceutical industry did not do comparative studies of children or young adults who were able to use meditation as opposed to those who were not able to use it. Her instructor complimented her on her creativity and suggested she do a more in depth review of the literature and possibly even write to the specific pharmaceutical companies involved asking whether such studies had been done. I think she wrote a couple of letters, and since she is a med student at a prestigious med school, their research departments wrote back but never responded very directly to her questions, and like med students at all such schools, was soon so overwhelmed by everything else she had to do, that the questions got lost in the shuffle.

 

Yes, the student at Storrs also wrote letters which were similarly responded to. He suggested that our digital capacity to measure temperature variants at some distance, now being explored by the defense department, might also be used in class rooms to see whether students vary in relation to their own temperatures as a way of identifying groups of students that might indeed process temperature differently and see if there is any correlation between such students and students taking Ritalin like drugs, to help them sit still. He, however, was soon needing to focus on graduating and probably lost track of whatever response was forthcoming from the research component of the pharmaceutical companies and they, the pharmaceutical researchers, were soon busy, at the direction of their boards of directors, to get a handle on what was causing the unexplained deaths of a couple of dozen folks taking the drugs which other research had surfaced. So, in spite of the enhanced capacity to look at whether the need to take drugs in the first place, was sufficient to warrant 4 million people taking them, the pharmaceutical companies were soon investing much of their research capacity in defending why a couple of dozen folks who died while taking them, died from something other than their drug use.

 

Sounds like there is a need to invent a drug to help research components of pharmaceutical companies and their boards of directors concentrate, observed Maine, who doesnít have much of a pharmaceutical industry to kowtow to. It seems to me that I heard recently, in the buzz emanating from the state house in Augusta, that ours is the only country in the world with so many people doing these drugs. Yeah, and weíre the only country in the world, as well, that does health care financing the way we do, observed New Hampshire, who might, on some other occasion, take issue with the observation that her state was more concerned about money than any of the other New England states. Oh well, focusing is like getting old, it ainít for sissyís, was heard just above the din but not associated with any particular member of the group.

 


 

 

 

2/27/2006 1:42 PM

 

 

The New England Dialogues 010

 

Tinted glass! What? Tinted glass, she said more substantially. So? Itís a foolish gift for us to give the terrorists. What are you talking about? Well you may not see it much up in Maine but down in the southwestern corner of my state, down around Stamford, you see more and more stretch Hummers with tinted glass. You donít mean you think theyíre full of terrorists, do you? No, of course not, but it gives full cover to anyone riding in them and if I were a terrorist group, looking to do mischief, it would be my transport of choice. Can you imagine the jeopardy we expose a trooper to when he stops such a vehicle for a violation or while looking into suspicious behaviors? Well, actually, I hadnít thought about it much. If I remember correctly, tinted glass first showed up in vehicles back in the 80ís and was seen as a safety factor to help block the glare of the sun. How did it ever evolve from that to a warm snuggly place for terrorists to hide in a crowd, in just twenty-five years?

 

Interestingly, we donít hear of terrorists being stopped by troopers for any reason, observed Rhode Island. Thatís a good thing replied New Hampshire. To be sure it is but what does it mean? Either terrorists arenít riding around at all or they are riding around without risk of being observed. I wonder how many vehicles are stopped in New England on any given day she said, more or less, to herself. I donít know but there are millions of miles traveled each day and just the crashes alone would bring a large number of them to a stop and scrutiny by law enforcement. Yeah, that is interesting, maybe there arenít many terrorists around. Or, maybe we just donít know what they look like. Or, behave like. You would think, observed New Hampshire, out loud but to no one in particular, since we have declared war on them a few years ago, we would see more of them around looking to cause mischief. Maybe the administrationís strategy to maintain a hot war in the middle east is working in the sense of keeping the fighting out of our front yard thought Rhode Island, sufficiently loud for New Hampshire to get the gist of her point. Right, thatís a good strategy but you would think even the dumbest terrorist would catch on after a while and move the fight out of their front yard. Maybe thatís the point of using Iraq as the battlefield since it is not the front yard of any of the major players and therefore no one has any interest in disturbing the status quo for fear the actual fighting will get closer to home. And if the folks who are actually benefiting from the war, whoever they might be, can get the various factions in Iraq fighting among themselves, then the war there might go on forever without any of the major players having to actually fight on their own turf. Brilliant, offered New Hampshire, but can the people of Iraq be that stupid. Can any people living within a stoneís throw of  some other population stay at war with them for very long without getting tired of not being able to send their kid to the store for a loaf of bread without saying, wait a minute, do we really want to do this? Try to imagine Coos and Oxford Counties at war with each other with Canada alternately supporting one and then the other in order to keep them fighting. Even the most hard headed jerk would soon say this doesnít make any sense. I want to go back to paddling the river and catching trout. Yes, but add a measure of religion and you might keep them fighting until the cows come home suggested Vermont, feeling a twinge of nostalgia knowing her own cows were dwindling in number. The whole notion that God is on my side is a pretty powerful weapon. It has kept people fighting for generations, probably millennia. It must have taken some damn smart lawyer to paint God as an entity who would endorse living in fear of oneís neighbor. Is it lunch time yet wondered Connecticut, feeling a little frustrated that her tinted glass observation had gotten lost in the shuffle?

 


 

 

 

The New England Dialogues 011

3/5/2006

 

Have we talked about secrecy lately, began Vermont, with a somewhat puzzled look on her face. I seem to remember talking about it but I canít, for the life of me, remember what we said. I donít think we have, offered Rhode Island, but my memory of these morning dialogues is a little clouded with a lot of things running together. Just go for it, replied New Hampshire with a little more gruffness in her voice than she had intended. Whatís the difference if we talk about the same thing more than once? No difference, replied Vermont, a little meekly, but I donít want to waste time for you others if we had just talked about it and I simply canít remember the conversation. In other words, Iím trying to be sensitive to the needs of my colleagues. Well donít bother, weíll let you know if your wasting our time. You seem unnecessarily grouchy this morning, did you not sleep well? I have had a couple of things Iíve been obsessing about but nothing Iím ready to share at this point. Why donít you go ahead with your secrecy business.

 

Well, Iíve been wondering whoís needs are served by secrecy. Some states have recently relaxed their adoption laws to allow adopted children to seek out their birth parents. Itís been done mostly to allow birth children to see if their genetic history can help with the treatment of various kinds of physical or mental disorders that they have. As far as I know, that hasnít caused any serious problems for the people concerned and has, in some cases, created reconnecting, for blood relatives who have never met except for those few moments immediately following birth. I suspect youíve seen some of those reconnections on TV shows that specialize in presenting intimate moments of some peopleís lives to total strangers. The public seems to have a somewhat morbid satisfaction with such exposť. At any rate, the secrecy, that seemed crucial to making adoption work 110 years ago is now beginning to open up. In fact, most people who organize adoptions now encourage the adopting parents to be fully open with the child about having been adopted and to even make information available as to how to go about searching when the child is ready to do so. Some states, I believe Maine is one, maintain a registry through which children wishing to find birth parents and birth parents wanting to find birth children can register and the registry will facilitate the reunification should they both wish it. Interestingly, similar registries do not exist where adopting parents can seek connection with the people who birthed their children. What, whatís that all about?, asked New Hampshire, still a bit preoccupied with whatever had been bothering her. Birth parents can find their adopted children and children can find their birth parents but the folks who have done all the parenting canít find anyone they donít already know even when the other person wants to be found. Some times I am just astounded by the rules people make. Well, youíre right, it doesnít make much sense but it does make the point Iíve been wondering about when it comes to secrecy. In regard to adoptions, the secrecy was initiated to protect folks that other folks assumed would be ashamed if people knew they were adopted or had adopted or were unable to parent at the time of birth. Instead of protecting people it institutionalized the shame and it has taken a hundred years for that to begin to loosen up. What is really a beautiful act, that of raising children birth parents are unable to raise, was turned into a shameful act and, for a long time, no one was even able to question its appropriateness since everyone involved was sworn to secrecy and even the courts took special pains to ďseal the records foreverĒ. Adoptions are still done in secrecy in much of the country and probably in much of the world. I remember one adoptive parent at the Vermont registry, which is somewhat like Maineís but still steeped in secrets, say they were a bit anxious for a few years after the adoption that the birth parents would appear at their door step one night wanting ďtheirĒ children back but, interestingly, that almost never happens. The protection that was believed to be so crucial 100 years ago turned out to cause all sorts of pain for those involved, some of whom went to their graves not knowing who their birth parents are or keeping secrets they knew were unhealthy for children they loved. In fact, most ďfamily secretsĒ, have been found to be unhealthy, spoke up Rhode Island again and I suspect, any social worth her salt would encourage people in families to talk about everything rather than enable secret keeping. What do you mean worth her salt?, asked Connecticut absent mindedly. Oh never mind, I remember, thatís one of those expressions that are used to emphasize something but the words imply something totally different. Yes, where have you been all your life anyhow?, asked Vermont.

 

Well, thatís kind of a long introduction to the question Iíve actually been wondering about, Who benefits from all this secrecy in Washington? Do you know there are tens of millions of pages of secrets and some of them can only be made unsecret, or whatever the proper term is, by the president or occasionally the vice president under rules that would make the adoption rules seem like childís play, no pun intended. There are secrets that people have even forgotten are secret and certainly the president has better things to do than pour through millions of pages of gobbledy gook looking for stuff that no longer needs to be secret so we have secrets that, like the adoption secrets, will be perpetuated into eternity simply because no one is allowed to say they are secret and the folks who might make them nonsecret, what is that term anyway?, donít have the time or interest to wonder out loud whether they need to be secret in the first place. Right, but certain stuff needs to be secret, suggests New Hampshire, incredulously. Like what, querries Vermont, in return. All sorts of stuff. Name two. WMD stuff for example. What is it about WMDís youíd like to know something about that you couldnít find in a library in Kabul, well maybe not Kabul, but certainly any library in Sweden or in Seoul. Actually I donít want to know anything about WMDís but someone might who would use such information to cause mischief for us. Ok, but they must be able to get a library card in Sweden or Korea if they want to know about WMDís or any other topic I can think of, so whatís the value of keeping it secret? Well, we probably have some knowledge about WMDís that no one else has. Do you really think so? Knowledge that Pakistan doesnít have or even Libya?  Well, there must be something we need to keep secret. Maybe, but I canít think of anything. Suppose we were going to attack someone and we didnít want them to know when or where. Yes, Iíve thought of that, that would be an appropriate secret to keep as long as it wasnít just a few folks who had made the decision to attack. Would you agree we shouldnít be attacking folks without the Senate knowing about it. Well, some senators probably. You mean you think we have senators who couldnít be trusted to keep such an attack secret? I hope not but who knows? Well, let me ask you this , do you think we have senators that would advise the folks we are planning to attack that they should expect an attack next Wednesday? Probably not but there are probably senators who would question the advisability of such an attack. And should they not be questioning it? Yes, but probably in secret. Ok, so the Senate should have some way to question whether, this or that that the government plans to do, is a good idea. Yes. Well, they do, theyíre called closed hearings, and they can be held in secret. The question becomes for how long should anything be a secret. For example, if we were going to attack Iran because we wanted to preempt an attack by Israel which we knew was going to happen next month, should that be a secret for ten years or would it suffice to have a sunset provision on the secret for, say, sixty days? Well, I donít think its that simple, responded New Hampshire, clearly more invested in this secret than she was in the adoption secrets. Ok,

suppose the sunset provision could be renewed for an additional sixty days, would that be enough for the committee to fish or cut bait? Maybe, but why would you want to constrain the process like that? Because secrets donít stay secrets just because a senate committee makes them a secret or because the president or the vice president does. They only stay secret for a limited time anyway. Anyone that didnít know we were going to attack Iraq sixty days before we attacked Iraq, wasnít listening. And once secrets, which some folks maintain as secret, but no one else believes to be secret are part of the planning mix, they are just as likely to hurt than to help the folks who made them secret in the first place. So, we may be doing ourselves harm by all our secrets just like families do themselves harm by keeping family secrets. Have you ever heard of the elephant in the room? For Connecticutís sake let me just say this is another one of those expressions where the words say one thing but mean another. The elephant in the room is a phrase used by social workers who are trying to get families to communicate. Some families, for example, maintain the secret that dad is an alcoholic for years even though dad stumbles through the house, regularly gets fired from his jobs, smashes up the car and even beats mom or one of the kids every once in a while. Obviously this is an unhealthy secret. It might be healthy for the family to keep it secret for, say, sixty days while dad has a chance to get his act together and enroll in AA or get some other treatment but beyond that it is unhealthy for dad and all the other family members. Furthermore, no one outside the family believes the secret. They know dad is a drunk.

 

The rest of the world knows who we are here in the states. It doesnít do us any good to pretend we are something else. That might work for sixty days or so but beyond that the rest of the world would have to be morons to not see the elephant in the room. I see your point, a bit grudgingly, but I see your point advised New Hampshire. But what about things like a list of covert agents that one of our national security agencies might have to protect the identity of, folks who might be assigned to take out someone like Sadam Hussein? Shouldnít that be maintained in secret? Aside from the point I made above about the half life of secrets and putting aside the whole notion of whether we should have covert agents doing anything anywhere in the world, It may be necessary to keep something like that secret but, again, is it wise to have just a few people deciding what should be secret in the first place. Should there be a select senate committee that has oversight of such secrets? Actually there is, suggested Connecticut, and I think your ranking senator is the Co-chair. I think its called the Senate Intelligence Committee. Right, and you would think they would oversee such secrets but I donít think they do. You mean to suggest there are secrets the intelligence agencies might have that no senate committee has responsibility for reviewing,? marveled New Hampshire. Iím not sure but I think there are. You mean they might keep secrets about the people living in New Hampshire? Like I said, I donít know but I suppose so if they thought they might be some kind of a threat. And no senate committee oversees it? Your not listening, I said I donít know but once an organization decides that keeping secrets is in its best interest, there is probably no end to the things that might seem to justify secrecy. I suspect it is like the Pinocchio story. One secret, like one lie, leads to another only we have no nose that grows to tell how deep the secrets lie. Whoa breathed Connecticut, thatís pretty scary. Suppose an intelligence agency decided it was necessary to do experiments on how to immobilize people in order to keep them from being combatants in some future war without actually confronting them on a battlefield somewhere? Suppose they assigned doctors to carry out such experiments without advising the subjects that they were being experimented on? You couldnít get doctors to do things like that objected Rhode Island, getting back into the discussion. Why do you say that? Doctors take an oath to ďdo no harmĒ. Sure they do but 100,000 people die each year as a result of their medical treatment. Yes, but thatís through mistakes, not through a conscious effort to deceive. Thatís true but what if the docs were convinced their work could save lives in future wars, save American lives. Maybe even save the lives of their not yet born grand children? Wouldnít it be worth it if a few subjects, or should I say objects, died or became quadriplegic in the process. You ladies have gone off the deep end with this topic. I was with you up through the family secrets part said Maine, but thinking doctors would behave that badly is preposterous. The point, picked up Vermont, is that once secrets are viewed as in the best interest of any group, any secret might be justified just like any lie might be justified once folks have convinced themselves that the ends justify the means. I suspect the doctors in the Third Reich doing all those awful experiments on people were not all monsters. They probably believed they were working in the best interest of the fatherland and would ultimately benefit the people of Germany. Youíve heard of doctors without borders?, well these would be doctors with borders. Borders they could be convinced, through fear of future harm, to protect given the substantial benefits and ďminimumĒ costs. Unfortunately, they would probably have to use their current patients or even friends for the experiments but once they believed in the righteousness of their cause, whether it be God or country,  it wouldn't be that difficult to justify the travesty. That's why I think secrets are not only counter productive in terms of the best interest of the group, like the family with the alcoholic dad, but that they are truly dangerous.

 

 

The New England Dialogues 012

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word philanthropist?, asked Connecticut, sort of casually, of the group while looking directly at New Hampshire. Are you still sore about me putting you on the spot the other day by asking if you knew what the Pleistocene was?, responded New Hampshire looking forward to taking on whatever was coming with a little more glee than she could be proud of. You know exactly what I think when I hear the word philanthropist. You know the story of the fishes and the loaves, right? Sure, everyone knows basic bible stories. Not necessarily so, suggested Rhode Island. Iím always surprised at how some people donít have a clue about the basic stories that have brought history down to them. And, on the other hand, some people spout off bible verbatim as if they had just gotten the word directly from God at breakfast this morning. Yes, I do understand that and appreciate the clarification but, what I mean is everyone in our group knows basic bible stories. It is a little tricky to stay clear as to when one is talking about actual people and when speaks of the people we personify. Yes, yes interrupted New Hampshire, getting a little testy with Rhode Islandís interruption, do you plan to get back to your philanthropist point?

 

Yes I do, and thanks for helping us focus this morning. Well, as I was saying about the loaves and the fishes, I tend to like the story about giving someone a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a life time. What does that have to do with the sermon on the mount?, asked Connecticut a little grumpily, I thought you said you knew bible stories. In fact, it was you that said I know bible stories interjected New Hampshire but the point here, I assume, is not to test my bible skills but to have some sort of dialogue about philanthropy. Yes youíre right, Iím sorry, I guess I still am a little sensitive about that Pleistocene questioning you put me through. Well, Iím not a big fan of philanthropy which should be clear, if you caught the drift of what I was saying about fishing. Yes I did and I know how you feel about that and I probably agree with the notion of giving people opportunity rather than charity but, let me ask you this, who comes to mind when you hear the word philanthropist? New Hampshire pondered and seemed to feel a little embarrassed that she couldnít come up with someone thereby leaving one of those pregnant pauses which she felt both Vermont and Maine were just waiting to jump into. Jane Addams she stammered searching her mind trying to apply some meat to the bones of the name who she knew was one of the greats in the philanthropy field but couldnít remember much else about her. Yes, that true, but I was hoping to focus a little more currently than that. Melinda Gates, Vermont jumped in, clearly intending to tell everyone why, before either Connecticut or New Hampshire could regain control of the discussion, Vermont set off on a tear. She and her husband have more money than God and they are falling all over themselves trying to give it away in some way that will be useful to society. Easier said than done suggested Maine. Her husband has already given humanity a substantial gift that is probably being squandered to a greater extent than it is being effectively used. Yeah, whatís that?, asked Connecticut, trying to get her foot back in before Vermont raced off with the momentum of the discussion. Hotmail, replied Maine. Anyone in the world can open a Hotmail account totally free of charge. Right, but why is that such a big gift to humanity? Lots of companies offer the same thing, Yahoo for instance. Yes they do, but Microsoft , I believe, was the first and sort of made the point that this new way of communicating should not be limited to just folks who could afford a computer and all the other bells and whistles that wealthy families can afford. Any kid, or adult for that matter, can open an e-mail account and thereby communicate with anyone else in the world who has an e-mail account. A kindergarten kid in Medy Bemps, for example, can e-mail Olympia Snowe and probably get a reply. She could communicate with her classmates or with classmates in Arkansas or Saudi Arabia. She could write to kids in Dubai asking about whether their port security would be something we should see as threatening. Well, you get the point. This new resource, e-mail communication, could have been reserved for folks who could afford to buy a computer. The kid in Medy Bemps doesnít need a computer, she can use the one at school or in the library, she doesnít need a nickel from her parents who may well be trading off paying the rent this month vs  keeping the car on the road, she doesnít need fancy programming. All she needs is a little bit of knowledge and she can store 250 megs of communication and organize them in a hundred different ways. Anyone who doesnít see this as an enormous gift for the kid in Medy Bemps hasnít been listening to whatís going on in the world and doesnít remember what it was like as a kid trying to organize everything that school was throwing at them.

 

Good point ventured Vermont and thatís related to what I was thinking about billís wife. Here with all that money they have to give away, she sits on a gift that wouldnít cost them a dime. Well, it might cost them a dime or two but not much more. Not only that, itís a gift, that only they could give to the kids of the world and they donít seem to see it even though its right in front of their nose. And what might that be?, queried New Hampshire impulsively, forgetting she was competing for the limelight on this issue. ESC offered Vermont, impishly, knowing someone would bite. Ok whatís ESC,? asked New Hampshire resignedly. Electronic Storage Capacity. They could give every kid in the world a dozen or so gigs of ESC without ever missing it. As a matter of fact, in one of his books, Bill makes the point that ESC is growing exponentially. It is like a well that each time you draw a pitcher of water from, two pitchers take its place. Iíve wondered, from time to time, whether they just donít notice they have such a valuable gift at their disposal or they are reluctant to give it for fear of the impact it might have on their business. Once that kid in Medy Bemps figures out you donít need a 250 dollar operating system to play computer games, kids all over might well see a whole new window of opportunity that doesnít involve Microsoft. Sort of like your fish story, NH. Or maybe pressure from the hardware companies who make their money selling disc storage and would see giving it away as foolhardy, suggested Connecticut, willing now to let Maine and Vermont take the lead. Whatever the reason, Melinda has not offered the gift, advised Vermont and whatís even more amazing, is that towns like Burlington or Auburn Maine have not seen the value in offering it to their kids, with their parentís permission, of course, free of charge. It would clearly give their kids a leg up in competing for jobs with all other kids. You have to wonder why one of our governors has not surfaced the idea, sighed Rhode Island.

 

New England Dialogues 013

 

You know that discussion we were having on philanthropy the other day?, asked Maine, seeming to direct the question to everyone. And then without giving anyone a chance to reply, started right in to what she had, obviously, thinking about for a while. At the end of the session someone, I donít remember who, sort of wondered out loud about why one of our governors had not already recommended initiating a plan to set up a server and give every kid in that state a dozen or so gigs of ESC. It is so simple, costs practically nothing and would definitely give those kids a leg up when competing with kids from other states. As it stands now, only kids whose parents can afford state of the art hardware have that advantage. Why wouldnít anyone want to level up that playing field? And again, without waiting for a reply started right in wondering more about her own question. One of our governors not too long ago, I donít recall his name, but it will probably come to me, got some recognition by advocating for laptops for every student which was supposed to level the playing field but I donít know if it did. Yes, I remember that, chimed in New Hampshire. I always wondered how that was going to help kids whose parents couldnít afford to stay abreast of the pace at which hardware and software were evolving which is what, I believe, it was touted to do. Why wouldnít it, asked Connecticut, in a way that left some of the group wondering about her naivetť? Well because the kids donít own the computers, responded New Hampshire, with her typical firm grasp on the bottom line, so at the end of the semester, the kids walk away from the experience with nothing tangible to build on. Now if they had the ESC Vermont was talking about the other day, along with a laptop to use during the semester, they could take all the files they accumulated during the school year, with them. A thousand times more significant than just having the computer for the school year, sort of like having the paper as well as the pencil, added New Hampshire, almost as an after thought. Youríre right, responded Maine, clearly trying to regain control of the discussion for the day, I wonder if our governor, what was his name anyhow?, understood the potential inherent in the storage capacity?, and, if so, why he didnít include that as part of his initiative?

 

Well, thatís all very interesting, but it wasnít what I had hoped to dialogue on this morning. And that was?, asked Rhode Island, taking the opportunity to remind Maine and the others, that it was, in fact, she, who wondered out loud as the dialogue on philanthropy was winding down, about why none of their governors had taken advantage of the ESC option when all it would take is a couple of those big servers IBM was now marketing and, of course, a process by which the kids could apply for the ESC which would include a way to insure their parentís approval.

 

What I had hoped for, as a follow up to the philanthropy dialogue, was sort of the obverse. What is the obverse of philanthropy?, asked Connecticut, this time with a little more sincerity in her voice. Iím not sure but let me try to draw that out through the dialogue, suggested Maine, sounding much more confident than she had in some of the previous dialogues. Philanthropy is like having someone, that happens to have a lot of something that someone else might use productively, share that something with that someone else, in a way that enables the someone else to do the useful something. Right? Well yeah, but it seems like an around the barn way of explaining it observed Connecticut again. Well try to bear with me. What Iím trying to say is that philanthropy, as nice as it might be, sort of puts the recipient in a ďone downĒ position. Thatís sort of what I was saying about the loaves and fishes the other day, observed New Hampshire. Yes it is and that may well be what got me started obsessing on this. At any rate, being in a one down position is not such a great place to be although Iím sure weíve all been there before and appreciate it when someone holds out their hand to us. In fact, it is probably more difficult to actualize oneís potential when one is feeling beholden to someone else. Yes, Iím sure thatís true, sort of echoed through the group, with acceptance but with little enthusiasm. Well, the obverse of philanthropy may well simply be actualizing oneís potential. For example, our country is supposedly borrowing about a billion dollars a day. God knows what weíre doing with it but apparently, China and Japan are our major beneficiaries. Now, thatís not exactly philanthropy and Iím not sure to what extent it is an actualization of the countryís potential but it seems to make us beholden in a way that might, at some point, work against actualization of potential. Sort of like how a credit card might work in a family. It feels great to get all the things a credit card gives access to but the cost can come down like a hammer on the big toe. Wham, all the positive energy inherent in acquisition can replace confidence with depression in one fell swoop, and I think we would probably all agree, that depression is more likely to inhibit than enhance potential.

 

Since we donít know what the country is doing with all the cash and since we donít know what impact, whatever the country is doing, is having on the actualization of the countryís potential and since we donít know how beholden we have already become, we here in New England, might want to take a look at our own potential. Should we, for example, be looking at alliances with the Canadian Maritimes that might be beneficial for both regions down the line should the international relationships of both or either of our mother countries bring some unanticipated consequences? Should we, for example, look at whether our retirement benefits should be consolidated to create greater security for future retirees of both regions? You know, you make a good point chimed in Connecticut again. Even if we donít look at the joint benefits of collaboration with the Maritimes, we could be looking at additional collaboration between the five of us or even within our individual states. Yeah, you got any examples?, asked NH a little too aggressively before catching herself. Unfortunately, aggressive enough to preclude CT from responding. Rhode Island, however, picked up the gauntlet and stepped into the fray, reminding the group that they had all become beholden for the fossil fuel they had become addicted to. A state like Maine could, for instance, she said, actualize some potential simply by cutting and putting under cover 100,000 cords of fire wood or maybe even a million cords, as a back up should the fossil fuel hammer come down unexpectedly. What would it cost to use some prisoners to cut, split and stack fire wood strategically around the state? In fact, it wouldnít cost anything suggested New Hampshire as long as the ashes were brought back to the forests. The thing that all three northern New England forests need most is thinning so selectively cutting the fire wood would be like adding fertilizer.

 

That may sound like a rinky dink suggestion added Maine, taking back the initiative in order to make her original point, but, interestingly, one of the first philanthropies in Portland was called ďWidows WoodĒ. It, basically, was a stack of surplus firewood that the town would deliver to widows who were deemed deserving, and by definition, widows were deserving regardless of the behaviors of their dead husbands since they were carrying on the care of the children, which, at that point, was seen as beneficial to the community at large. Philanthropy has come a long way since then, sighed Rhode Island, thinking she had the last word again. But Maine had a little more to say. Actualizing oneís potential, whether it be a widow or a kid in Medy Bemps or a town or a state or a  group of states or a whole region puts one in a one up position, and, a ďone upĒ position is always a position of confidence and confidence is always more productive than its obverse, whatever that might be. Too bad governor whatís his name didnít understand that with his laptop program. What was his name anyhow?, I think it started with an A, Aiden?, Abner?, donít any of you remember his name?

 

New England Dialogues 014

 

Did you ever hear of inflation theory?, wondered Connecticut to start the morning discussion. It isnít any theory responded New Hampshire, a little more determined than she had intended. Itís when the currency of a country looses value to the extent that it takes bushels of it to buy a loaf of bread or a newspaper. The change can happen in a matter of hours or days. Yes, I know about that, I occasionally sit in on lectures in German history but thatís not the inflation Iím talking about. I heard some astronomers talking about the origin of the universe and how some new information has surfaced to help them understand the very early stages in that process. The thing that struck me about it is that the new information, surprise, surprise, is being seen to support key predictions of inflation theory. Apparently no one knows why the universe appears to have grown rather dramatically in the early stages of its evolution, or even that it actually happened, but by some miracle the current information from a satellite, which is in orbit behind the moon, supports the speculation that began at MIT when no one could account for why basic beliefs about physics seem to not fit with what was being observed. When I first heard about that theory suggested Rhode Island I pictured the universe like a living thing that has a spurt of growth in its early years and then settles back into a more modest pace of growth. You mean you think of the universe as a living thing?, asked Vermont incredulously. That would make earth and humans fairly insignificant. Yes, sort of like a bacteria in the gut of a human except human curiosity doesnít let such things lie. Try to imagine a bacterium that strives to understand the working of the digestive system and what underlies the cause of the indigestion that seems to come around with scheduled regularity. Thatís a little ridiculous. Maybe so, but what the cosmologists, thatís apparently what they call scientists who try to understand the ďwhole pictureĒ these days, are purporting to do is a little ridiculous as well, and may well be as scientific as a bacterium understanding the human digestive system or the causes of indigestion which lie in changes in the stock market. Alan Guth, the guy who invented this kind of inflation, was described by the astronomers I was over hearing, as walking around the Caribbean, where he was at a conference, no doubt paid for by us and our counterparts around the country, with a big smile on his face. He invents this outrageous idea which then gives him license to talk about it around the world with others paying for the privilege of hearing him. No wonder he has a smile on his face suggested New Hampshire, who, by now had tuned out most of the discussion. Whatís so outrageous about it anyhow?, asked Rhode Island, in a way that left the others wondering if she was pulling their gestalt leg. Connecticut didnít hesitate though, she jumped in to rescue the lead in order to make her major point. The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, she advised, the satellite hiding behind the moon, is apparently looking back at what the universe was like 380,000 years after it came into being, which was 3.7 billion years ago, and the scientists are drawing conclusions from that, about what it looked like in the first trillionth of a second after it came into existence. Thatís like the bacterium in the gut looking back at the marinara sauce you ate at dinner last night to draw conclusions about the indigestion it is now experiencing. Iím not sure I see the connection, said Rhode Island. Well, Iím not surprised said Connecticut, a little annoyed with her sister to the east. The point is physicists donít even understand quantum gravity yet and they are drawing conclusions about what was going on in the first trillionth of a second after the ďbig bangĒ which itself is a theory and therefore more speculation than science. The other point, and the more important one, is that people, whether they be from here in New England or from any of the other states, accept whatever people who claim some authority say and are willing to pay for Alan Guthís vacation in the Caribbean just because he came up with some idea that no one can explain or refute. No wonder heís walking around down there with a big smile on his face. You seem unusually upset by this, observed New Hampshire. I'm not sure what the big deal is and what it has to do with us up here in the northeast corner of the country. Nearly every politician in Washington as well as a big proportion of corporate management staff, go to breakfast and dinner on someone elseís nickel so why be upset with a few scientists getting in on the ride? Well, youíre right about that but those are the same people who complain that welfare mothers be more resourceful and future oriented. Theyíd all starve if they had to do any real work. And what real work do welfare mothers do? Are you kidding, responded the whole group, in chorus, try raising a couple of kids 24/7. Yeah, I guess you are right about that acknowledged New Hampshire, as she mumbled something about trillions. You know my mind goes blank when someone starts talking about trillions. What can possibly happen in a trillionth of a second?

 

The Congress just raised the countryís debt ceiling to a tad under 9 trillion, observed Vermont hoping to hook New Hampshire on a trillion that she could sink her teeth into. It is the fourth increase in five years, added Vermont with a sly smile in the corner of her mouth. It worked, New Hampshire all but jumped out of her chair. I know, I saw that in the morning paper. What are they thinking? I guess they are thinking the same way the average American is thinking, suggested Rhode Island. Credit card debt is averaging out at about nine thousand per card. That means the average credit card interest payment is about $135/month. Lots of those people canít afford to pay any of the principal each month. They are hooked as surely as someone on amphetamines or the folks who sold their souls to the company store, in order to have a job, back at the turn of the last century. Thatís all very true but the Congress is supposed to protect the states from becoming beholden to folks from other countries, stated New Hampshire, all but in despair. In this instance, the Congress appears determined to hock everything in sight. Why do you suppose the states donít band together and hold their feet to the fire? Thatís exactly the point I was making earlier this morning, advised Connecticut, trying to get a grip on the discussion which she felt was fast losing focus and had the potential to become a gripe session, which they had all agreed, at the start of the dialogues, to avoid at all costs. States, and the people in them, have the responsibility to act as a sort of sheet anchor when things get out of control and one of the signals that things are out of control is when terms are being used that are beyond the comprehension of most listeners, like trillions of this or trillions of that. Good point, responded Maine, who, for some reason, had sat out the morningís dialogue.

New England Dialogues 016

 

You know, I hate to hog the podium here but Iíve been thinking about 9/11 and wondering if any of you have been having similar thoughts. Putting aside, for a moment, the question of whether you take more than your share of the dialogue time here, I too have been thinking about 9/11 and am pleased that you decided to initiate that topic this morning. And, since you are the closest state to where the majority of the attack actually took place, it seems to me fitting that you should be the one to bring our attention back to that tragic event in the history of our international relationships. Let me just say, however, before you make your point, that one of the things that happened in Maine as a direct result of 9/11 is that Auburn, which, you may recall, is the westernmost half of what has become known, in our state, as L/A East, turned up the lights in the downtown section of town, as if that would deter a 747 from crashing into the not yet, at that time, completed, Auburn Hall. But, be that as it may, the folks of Auburn apparently thought they would be more safe with the lights turned up. Well, here we are five years later with the lights still turned up. As I understand it, they were initially dimmed in order to contribute to an ambience that, it was hoped, would encourage business in the downtown area which was undergoing somewhat of a face lift. The town fathers, and I believe one of the significant mothers, had invested a considerable amount of borrowed money, in the hopes of attracting upscale business entrepreneurs with quaint little shops to be frequented by shoppers who would find the dimmed lighting reminiscent of what those quaint Maine towns along the coast must have felt like 100 years ago, with snow sliding through the faux gas light, and while they are in that fantasy land, buy the same kind of stuff tourists now buy in quaint little towns from Kittery to Calais. Weíll never know whether the lighting strategy would have made the difference since the only upscale shop to venture forth has subsequently gone out of business and downtown Auburn now has three pubs within a hundred yards of each other and most people who frequent them are local and wouldnít have bought the kind of stuff the well intentioned developers had in mind in the first place. What we do know though, is that 19 peculiar men, from somewhere in the world most folks in Maine have never been nor want to go to, were able to knock down some tall buildings in New York and undim the lights in Auburn all at the same time. The most fascinating part of this for me, sighed Ms Maine, is that Maine, especially rural Maine, is the kind of place where wrestling is a major high school sport and every parent has just one thought in mind when their son gets pinned in a match, ďget back at emĒ. Yet these 19 men were able to turn up the lights in Auburn and so intimidate the residents of that fine city that five years later no one has said, ďWhat the Ėuck, why should we be intimidated by these ass holes from afar?, letís dim the lights as a symbol to ourselves and as a message to anyone else in the world who might think we are pussies enough to be forever intimidated by any band of 19, no matter what their gender or beliefsĒ

 

Thatís an interesting story Ms Maine and it does act as an appropriate introduction for what I wanted to say, thank you for sharing it. My concern, unless one of you others would like to add something first, Ms Connecticut paused ever so briefly, is that here we are five years after the attack and we donít really know who we are at war with, why or even whether we are more able to defend ourselves than we were five years ago. For example, instead of securing our borders, the Congress and the President have managed to turn good people against good people in the streets because millions of people from away are coming to this country to take jobs that Americans, that is those Americans officially living in the States, donít want to do. Are our borders more secure now than they were five years ago? Probably not, but it is criminal that the federal government is distracting from that important question by not sensibly addressing the issue of immigration.

 

Iíd like to suggest that the states are not wise to wait for the federal government to manage the war on terrorism. Iím not suggesting that we raise militias and send them to Iraq, in fact I am worried that we allow our Guards to be used that way, but there are things we could be doing to enhance our participation. Like ??????, wondered New Hampshire, in her usual devilís advocate kind of way. Well, since you asked, I have four concrete suggestions:

 

  1. Establish an additional public safety level to substantially increase the visibility of that component of government in our communities.
  2. Requisition portable communications command centers, that the Navy has already developed, for each major community in New England so that there will never be the kind of communications breakdown in New England that there was in New York City during 9/11.
  3. Request helicopters and crews to supplement the already existent medical helicopter fleet we have in New England and expand its function to include public safety.
  4. Create an all New England task force to review and make recommendations regarding the several thousand miles of international border New England shares with the rest of the world.

 

I guess you have been thinking, observed Vermont, but donít your suggestions just create more questions and issues? Well, I suppose every thought creates questions and issues, interjected Rhode Island, but the major issue, from my perspective, is that there isnít any New England that can do anything. Our dialogues exist in the ether of the written word alone with no structure to actually make anything happen. And donít forget cost, chimed in New Hampshire, with that little snicker she has developed in response to the various funding schemes she has endured from her colleagues.

 

To be sure, so lets look at the issue of cost first since I think New Hampshire is right to snicker at some of the schemes we have suggested, especially that one to drain the toxic sludge from the holding pond at Turner, Maine. First of all, whomever these 19 guys were and whatever their quarrel was, it was not with Maine or the people of Maine or the people of any other state for that matter. Their quarrel, whatever it is, is with the federal government and it is the federal government that should pick up the lions share of the tab. Ironically, the tab so far has been deposited in the Middle East and the states have seen precious little of the funds generated by this war. Donít get me wrong, I understand the states have a responsibility to bear some of the costs generated by the behaviors of the federal government, as we do with welfare, for example, but we should also reap some of the profits. They shouldnít all go to the private sector. At any rate, what Iím recommending should not be costly. A small portion of the funds now ďmanagedĒ by Homeland Security and the domestic military would probably suffice. For example, the additional level of public safety I envision could be staffed by volunteers drawn from the vast number of retirees waiting in the wings, many of whom who would love to see some purpose and community benefit waiting for them in retirement. They would be arranged in teams of three with training in the law, community health, child development and domestic relations. They would report directly to the public safety folks in each community and be the link between the people and the fuzz. All they would need is transport, training and state of the art communications. Thereís probably enough military transport sitting around rusting to do the job. Obviously, it would need to be painted since it would not do to associate this new public safety component with the military and its initial value would be in its clear visibility but, other than some paint, Iím guessing the thing could be up and running in a dozen communities in six months. The portable command centers already exist so require no research and development. Not filling one percent of military vacancies in a year would more than meet that cost and would seem to be consistent with Rumfeldís notion of leaner and meaner. Helicopters and crews would be expensive but given the value of being able to put a trained SWAT team in place in a matter of minutes or to track some teenager driving a hundred miles an hour on Route 80 in Guilford, or to follow a suspicious container from Portland, Maine headed south has to make you wonder why such capacity has not been actualized long before now. 

 

New Hampshire, more energized than usual, informed the group that she was glad to see some more responsible thought given to finances and the point about war profits not all accruing to the private sector was one that she had never thought of and, at least, on the surface, seems to make a lot of sense. How about my point about structure,? reminded Rhode Island, in case Connecticut had forgotten her earlier observation.

 

Yes, it is a good point, and I have just two things to say about it. The first is that structure, except in SHOSís, usually gets in the way of things happening rather than helping to make things happen. There is structure all over the place. For example, six governors and 483 mayors  is probably more than New England needs while the twelve senators, if we include that other M state, with twelve other, community minded and competent people, two from each state, would be more than enough to make these recommendations happen. But more importantly, all the governors, all the mayors and all the bureau directors, just like all the people of Auburn, Maine, are not saying, ďwhat the ĖuckĒ, why are we so traumatized by 19 jerks from away who blew up some buildings in New York and upset the gas light scheme in Auburn Maine? Letís start taking better care of ourselves and here are some thoughts about how to do it.

 

New England Dialogues 017

 

Remember when the vice president shot that guy bird hunting a couple of months ago,? began Maine, a little more confidently than she usually takes the initiative. Sure, was heard throughout the group. The two women with him at the time both reported in the press at first that it was the fault of the guy who got shot for not making more noise as he approached. Yeah, I remember thinking at the time, said New Hampshire, that it is remarkable how people tend to cover for folks who are in positions of power. Fortunately, added Rhode Island, several hunting experts around the country, when interviewed by the press, clarified that it is always the responsibility of the shooter to know where he is shooting. Can you imagine the mess if people were allowed to shoot others while hunting and not see themselves as responsibility for the death or injury to the person who got shot?

 

Well, that whole scenario got me thinking about responsibility for injury to others and that some communities have taken a step forward toward civilization by making drivers responsible to pedestrians in unguarded cross walks. But that step forward also made me wonder, why wouldnít they be responsible for pedestrians in cross walks?, why wouldnít they be responsible for pedestrians in the road in general? Why do we need a new law to make that point?, wondered Maine, to the group? Apparently pedestrians are not as responsible as hunting partners generally are and actually put themselves in jeopardy more regularly than hunting partners do. You mean you think pedestrians are more likely to put themselves in jeopardy than folks out hunting do? Isnít it that there are just more of them out there? I guess it is generally believed that they are less responsible as well. Less responsible than people sneaking around in the bushes with guns? Well, now that you mention it, I guess folks out hunting by definition are putting themselves in jeopardy while pedestrians, you would think are not in the road trying to get run over although some might be. Right, and the law may be written to protect the drivers from the liability for those that might be as opposed to protecting the majority of pedestrians from the drivers who might run them down. Thatís like saying the guy Cheney shot was responsible for not being in the line of fire and there should be a law to protect the vice president from such folly. Thatís what the two women were saying in the first place, law or no law, the vice president should not have to be responsible for someone elseís folly.

 

You know, there are places in the world where drivers are responsible for not injuring pedestrians where ever the pedestrian happens to be, I think New Foundland is one of those places, interjected Vermont. Just like shooters here are responsible for where they shoot. Well, that makes sense, suggested New Hampshire, given that cars kill or injure more people than guns. Are you sure about that questioned Rhode Island, Michael Moore might take a different view? Actually, Iím not sure, but with all the highway accidents you would think that would be the case. I wonder how many of the injured are pedestrians, was heard from somewhere in the group.

 

Well, before we get too far from the original point I was wanting to make, I have a friend living in L/A Maine and he wondered to me the other day how the L/A public safety folks enforce the pedestrian crossing rule when many cross walks are so obscured by winter wear that you canít see where one is or isnít and drivers seem to him less likely to even slow down when a pedestrian is in what they think is a cross walk but the driver doesnít think of it as a cross walk. If you actually get runned down its easy enough to enforce since there is usually some spot of white paint to be found under some leaves or on the side of the curb but if you are just tooling along on Route 136 into town you probably wouldnít have any idea where the cross walks are and even wonder what in the world was that woman doing with three kids in the middle of the road.

 

I suspect the law was not written for the pedestrian in the first place offered Connecticut, somewhat out of character, but for the merchants who wanted to make sure their prospective customers could get into their shops at least long enough to buy whatever kitsch they were selling. Thatís an unusually cynical view of the world, and rather unlike you, suggested New Hampshire and echoed by Rhode Island, but I think I remember hearing somewhere that the law protecting pedestrians did get its impetus from Hallowell, Maine, which is all antique shops along the Main drag, just south of Augusta, where laws are conceived in Maine. The merchants could easily have successfully lobbied the legislators without either of them giving a hoot about pedestrians and therefore not included the four sisters trying to get across Route 11 just south of Patten.

 

I wonder if anyone in that legislative process thought it would be a good idea to give pedestrians the right of way just as we urge motorists to give moose the right of way, whether they are in cross walks or not. I suspect some legislators did think about protecting all pedestrians at all times, sighed Vermont, but probably figured that might jeopardize passage and, not wanting to alienate the merchants who wanted customers to stay alive long enough to actually buy something, did not advocate for the greater good. Thatís sort of cynical as well suggested Rhode Island again, getting a little frustrated with the tone of the discussion, but it is fascinating that people are clearly responsible for whom they shoot regardless of where they are standing and not responsible for who they run down with a car, unless they were standing in an unguarded cross walk. Humans are, indeed, an interesting specie.

 

4/19/2006

 

New England Dialogues 018

 

This business of child pornography on the internet is so awful that I hardly slept a wink over the week end just obsessing about it, sighed Maine, as wearily as any of the others had heard her be in a long time.  Can you imagine 3 year olds being molested on camera just to assuage the perverted needs of some dirty old men? Can you imagine selling your daughter into bondage for 12 dollars or dropping a bomb on a neighborhood because you thought some bad guy was hiding there?, get with it girl, people are doing some bad stuff to children and child pornography on the net is mild in comparison to whatís happening  in Darfur or even in some foster homes right here in New England, offered New Hampshire, even more aggressively than usual. You canít be an advocate of child pornography too breathed her neighbor to the west, with a bit of a smirk. You know Vermont, it is a challenge for me to remain patient with your sarcasm when both you and Maine tend to start with your emotions and are resistant to my realism before you even have a clue as to what Iím saying or even what youíre saying, for that matter. Well, what are you saying then? Iím saying there are a lot of bad things happening to children and child pornography on the net is probably not one of the worst. And besides there is only one way to deal with child pornography on the net and the emotional response of folks who stay up all week end worrying about it is, in itself, a worse problem than the pornography. Well, I beg your pardon for having feelings Ms steel nerves, but tell me, what is your solution? Take the money out of it and it will go away by itself. Take the money out of it, and how does that happen? It certainly doesnít happen by growing the cyber police to chase these bogey men all around the world. Thatís like throwing gasoline, or at least kerosene, on the fire already smoldering in the minds of the folks too outraged to even watch the pornography in the first place. As I said, there is only one way to deal with the issue and that is to take the money out of it and there is only one way to do that. And ??????????????? waited Vermont, with more smirk. If  the material was confiscated from the commercial child pornography sites and made available on a free site people would flock to it initially, since curiosity will always be a primary driver of human behaviors, and after a while, most everyone would move on to more savory behavior. Commercial sites are highly skilled at bringing the customer back month after month just as commercial TV brings millions back to the same foolishness week after week. You know, New Hampshire has a point, was half heard from Rhode Island as both Maine and Vermont fumed at what they considered an outrageous suggestion. Suppose people made cigarettes illegal, offered Rhode Island. What would be the effect? Clearly those addicted would do anything to get a smoke. Cigarette sales would go underground and smoking them would become even more enticing for teens than it is now. On the other hand if they were available free, those addicted to nicotine would continue to smoke until they see the light, and with a little bit of the right education message, new smokers would be less likely to start the addiction to nicotine in the first place. The most effective punishment for cigarette manufacturers and the most effective preventive intervention, would be to require them to continue to make cigarettes but make them available free until no one wanted them any more. As an incentive, they might be allowed to continue to peddle them in other countries as long as those other countries were foolish enough to allow their residents to pay for the privilege of poisoning themselves.

 

But wait a minute, weíve drifted far a field from dealing with the problem of child pornography on the net by giving out free cigarettes, offered Maine and Vermont in unison. See youíre not listening again interjected the Granite State. Weíre not dealing with child porn on the net by giving away cigarettes. Weíre dealing with it by taking the profit out of it. Right, but youíre not preventing people from watching such filth. Yes, were not, and thatís not the problem, the problem is that some people profit from ferreting out children or their caretakers who can be exploited and then profit from that exploitation. Take out the profit and they have no reason to exploit the kids in the first place. And besides, chimed in Connecticut, with an enthusiasm even she was surprised to express for one of  New Hampshireís ideas, thereís no way you can keep people from doing stuff that way down deep they are either super curious about or titillated by. Their arenít enough prospective cyber police in the whole world to insure that the internet is only used in the way that some percentage of the people believe is proper and furthermore the definition of proper is very slippery when you get into something as emotional as sexual behaviors. I donít agree with that, jumped in Vermont again, the genetalia of five year olds is not something that should be broadcast on the internet. I suspect we could all agree on that said Ms Connecticut but its not always that clear. I seem to recall a situation, I think it was in one of the southern states, where a father had been video taping his daughters in the nude annually since about age five. When they reached 16 he gave them the tapes so they would have a record of their physical development over that period of time. He made a ceremony of the presentation and invited their mom, who was then remarried and living on the west coast, to participate. He rented a condo for a long week end, had gourmet food brought in and used the occasion to talk among themselves about sexuality, marriage and what it probably will be like for their daughters to have and raise their own children. Sounds great, huh? Unusual for sure but it is the kind of thing more families should probably do although Iím not sure the video taping was appropriate, suggested Maine. How would you suggest a father sit his daughters down with his estranged wife and talk about such things Ms appropriate?, responded Connecticut with more than a little frustration. Donít answer that, it is only my frustration with what feels like pigheadedness on your part that drew the words out of my mouth. Hereís a father who knows how his daughters, who apparently were beauties, could be exploited. He knew how they would be seen by many, if not most, of the guys who would be vying for the right to be the first one in their pants. He is trying to protect them from both the bad guys and the well intended good guys who will make it very difficult for his daughters to remember that sex is about procreation when they are in the back seat of a car having smoked a joint and had a couple of beers. Well that father is now in prison doing 12 to 15 years for making indecent videos. What kind of justice is that piped in Maine. Exactly said Connecticut but the point is that there is no easy way to make rules about things like sexual behaviors and child rearing without some people getting caught in the crossfire. The unsuspecting daughter, who all along had been holding her father up as an enlightened parent, shared the tapes with her best friend, who all along had been presenting her own parents as people she found impossible to talk with. The parents of the best friend burst into her room during the showing, forbade their daughter to have any further contact with her friend and deposited the tapes at the local police station after showing them to a select audience at their church. Yikes, said Vermont, wasnít there any way for the court to hear his side of the story? Well they tried and, I suspect, the court wanted to but the prosecutor had her own issues with sexuality and parenting and neither the father or the daughters could deny that they made the videos and the daughter was presented as contributing to the moral decline of her friend by soliciting her to watch videos of her own nakedness. The plea bargaining left the father carrying the load while the daughter was allowed to finish school. God knows what actually happened to her.

 

Wow, what a story, its hard to believe such a travesty could happen right here in the freest country in the world. Are you sure the dad is in prison? As sure as I am about anything, and you know how dependable that is, but I donít think I could have made anything like that up. The details are probably a little sketchy since you know what a macro kind of memory I have but the main point is valid, good people get caught in the crossfire of  the good intentions of other good people and when it comes to something as potentially political as parenting or something as emotional as sexuality, anything can happen.

 

You know, it does take humans a long while to get it, grumbled Rhode Island. Get what?, was heard from somewhere in the group. Get sexuality straight. It was over 50 years ago that Kinsey and his crew tried to inform on the topic and it is only now that a few institutions of higher learning, probably none of the New England schools, are beginning to include courses on pornography. How in the world do they expect to be able to be rational in the courts about pornography if they donít even talk about it in the schools? New Hampshire is right on this one, the only way to deal with child pornography on the net is to take the profit out of it. Well done, Ms ďlive free or dieĒ.