About Town - February, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Maine Sneezes campaign

As someone who's only just starting to recover from a week of consumptive coughing, and whose office currently sounds like "a TB ward" (the words of my editor), I am sympathetic to the statewide LD1454 campaign, promoting the Paid Sick Days Bill.

I don't know what I would have done if staying home last week would have meant either: a) being fired, or b) not being able to pay my rent. But for lots of low-wage workers, in Maine and nationwide, staying in bed and watching Veronica Mars isn't an option -- for fear of pissing off their employer, or losing a whole day's wages.

And that sucks not just for the sick waitress, or cashier, but for the consumers who come into contact with them, and for their co-workers, who run an increased risk of getting sick. (Case-in-point: My TB-ward of an office.)

That's why a coalition of labor and social justice organizations, including the Maine Women's Lobby, the Maine State Nurses Association, and the Maine AFL-CIO launched the Maine Sneezes campaign, complete with three eye-catching ads that highlight the grossness of sick food-service workers. (My favorite shows an image of a menu board, advertising specials such as "Strep Steak" with "a small sneezer salad.")

The campaign is aimed at publicizing the Act to Care for Working Families, which passed through the Labor Committee last fall, and which the state House could take up as early as next week. The bill would require companies that employ 25 or more workers to offer five paid sick days to their employees. Business organizations aren't too keen on the idea. Stay tuned. And remember to sneeze in your sleeve.

2/28/2008 11:23:28 AM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

Perfect Woman winner!

The people have spoken, and Delia W. Oman, whose Perfect Woman Project I wrote about a couple weeks ago, has her work cut out for her.

"The winner...has been contacted and agreed to participate," Delia tells me in an email. "This week, I began the process of deconstructing what he's requested. On Friday, I will begin to construct my new identity. From then until May 18, I will BE the new Delia, day in and day out until the project ends."

She's writing about the process on the Perfect Woman blog, where she's also accepting tips and suggestions on how to make the transformation. Here's an excerpt:

Things I definitely plan to change:
1.  workout daily - I plan to do running, weightlifting and yoga
2.  lose 4 lbs.
3.  get my hair done like Jennifer Aniston
4.  get my gap fixed (probably something temporary)
5.  wear light makeup
6.  work on a tan
7.  buy some new bras that show my breasts off more (maybe pushup bras)
8.  work on not being bossy (try to be aware when I am and change my behavior)
9.  before I assert myself question my beliefs (so I don’t err on the side of thinking I’m right all the time)
10.  send out my birthday gifts and cards on time!  get things fixed around the house  (there are two lights out in the kitchen right now…)
11.  try some video games and find a couple I really like
12.  go to the movies more often
13.  be more hard lined about illegal activities (however, I want to make sure this doesn’t conflict with “nonjudgmental”)
14.  stop having drinks with friends (can still go out but just stick to water? or should I stop going anywhere where they serve alcohol?)
15.  write to Alan and get to know him so I can try to love him (don’t know how much control I have over this one)

Things I may change:
1.  join a sport
2.  get collagen for my lips (it’s temporary, 3 months, but I’m not sure it will help me have a “nice face”)
3.  stop calling and writing my dear friend so I’m not a cyberspace cheater (the only problem is that this is a little in conflict with “stands up for and defends the ones she cares about” and “responsible”… maybe I can do it in a responsible way)

Things I’m reluctant to change, but willing to consider:
1.  get botox (really this just grosses me out)
2.  get a nose job (the women he mentioned all have distinctive noses, so I think mine is fine)
3.  try a cigar (I think this was just an option not a suggestion)

This is just my simple lists.  I’ll make my decisions by Monday (with help from all of you!) 

What it Means to be Perfect Woman:  I’ve got to build a whole person out if his description.  This brings up a lot of questions.  What does Delia do for a living?  What’s her house like?  Who does she hang out with?  How does she dress?  What kind of car does she drive?  What does she like to eat?  How did she grow up?  Where did she grow up?  What does she do for fun?  Who are her friends?  Where does she hang out?  Is she a morning or night person?  Where did she go to school?  What did she study?  Does she like dogs or cats?  There are many things that make up a person.  I’m have to do a bit of imagining, constructing and conjecture.  Feel free to give me suggestions or advice.

2/28/2008 10:54:09 AM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kennebunkport selectmen will take up Bush indictment tomorrow

We just received word that the Kennebunkport selectmen will take up Laurie Dobson's writ of indictment -- which calls on local police to arrest President George W. Bush and Veep Dick Cheney if they come to town -- tomorrow night. It's earlier than Dobson expected; she says they must want to "tamp down" the issue as quickly as possible.

The selectmen's meeting will take place tomorrow, Thursday, February 28, at 7:00 p.m., at the Village Fire Station, 32 North Street, in Kennebunkport. Dobson plans to attend the meeting, and speak during the public comment period.

2/27/2008 5:12:25 PM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [1] |  

Silencing dissent

The bandwidth limits of a hearing room in Boston were stressed to the breaking point Monday, bought up by a large corporation, with the intended side effect that the voice of the people was silenced. In a terrible twist of irony, this was exactly the problem those silenced people wanted to complain about - net neutrality.

Some Mainers were among those shut out of the Federal Communications Commission hearing.

Check out the report by once-and-future Mainer Mike Miliard here, complete with a glorious photo of some of the people paid to occupy seats to keep activists out. (Hint: they're not the ones so passionate and informed about the issue that they drove several hours to talk to government officials about it. They are, instead, the ones sleeping in the front row whose undisturbed slumber barred the informed travelers from petitioning their government to redress grievances.)

2/27/2008 2:23:27 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Black Mountain + Bon Iver

SPACE Gallery, February 25

(Note: pic not from this show.)

What better opener for a revivalist stoner rock band than a... lesser-known, sensitive, atmospheric singer-songwriter act for post-adolescent couples to canoodle to? This is the inauspicious position Black Mountain places Justin Vernon and his band, Bon Iver, in every night. If Monday night and web consensus is any representation, the group consistently hold their own, even at SPACE Gallery, where a crowd of 200 + quiet breakup songs is rarely an optimal formula.

Vernon seemed well enough aware of this precarious position to adapt his music for a rock crowd without betraying its wintry essence. His voice, more of a whispery falsetto on Bon Iver’s fine debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, takes on a forceful tenor on stage. It sacrifices a bit of the delicacy of Bon Iver’s humbler tracks (“Blindsided”), but the crowd-silencing tricks he pulled out with each song - a gorgeous multi-part harmony opening “Lump Sum,” some great solos from each of the three band members - not only compensated for anything wanting, but are forcing me to second guess my favorable-but-dismissive opinion of the band’s album.

Black Mountain, on the other hand, didn’t need to compromise a damned thing. They played relatively straight versions of nine of the ten songs on their latest epic, In the Future, with a couple of likeminded jams from their (even better) self-titled debut in for good measure. The whole band seemed to be in top form. Singer Amber Webber struck a fascinating figure at center stage. She seemed pretty disaffected at times - initially, the songs where she had little to do but handle a tambourine made her presence distracting - but her trembly yet massive vibrato complicated that notion, making her seem more the Chan Marshall or Bjork of the band.

By the time I cozied up to that distinction, Black Mountain were unstoppable. As the set wore on and loosened up (most of the 6+ minute songs came later on), this became the kind of concert you could watch for hours. Set highlights included “Druganaut,” with its porn-soundtrack tempo and relentless hooks, and the mammoth, emotional “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around.” That these were the two tracks from the band’s debut isn’t really a coincidence - it’s a much more liberal and unpredictable affair than the great but stubborn In the Future - but Black Mountain’s newfound focus on atmospherics further improved the songs.

All said, phenomenal show. Excellent sound quality (particularly impressive given the major highs and lows of BM's tunes), a one-song, 17-minute encore, etc., and the best Monday night Portland will see in a long time.

2/27/2008 11:46:07 AM by Christopher Gray | Comments [0] |  

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

FREE TRADE isn't free

At last Thursday's public hearing of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission, the commission heard a lot of people give their thoughts on free trade in general as well as more specifically about a free-trade proposal with Colombia, demanded by the president in his State of the Union address last month. (You remember, the one in which he told Congress - the elected representatives of a country facing more national debt and more consumer debt than ever before in our history, a country trying to pay for two wars in the Middle East and the one at home against non-rich people, and a country hated around the world - that our union would "remain strong.")

Anyway, the commission - a group of state officials, with a couple of "regular people" mixed in - voted to oppose the deal, but that will not mean much in DC.

But the hearing gave me an opportunity to put together a few ideas that I had never really connected as clearly as I did that night. First we have to start with the idea that "free trade" means "trade without tariffs." Here are Dubya's thoughts on the matter, from the selfsame State of the Union I mentioned earlier: "Many products from these nations [Colombia and Peru] now enter America duty-free, yet many of our products face steep tariffs in their markets. These agreements will level the playing field."

But tariffs have a purpose - to protect the companies that abide by the rules countries make. Here in the US we make rules and laws to protect the public interest, like vehicle-emissions standards, labor-relations laws, environmental-impact regulations. If companies operate here in the US, they have to abide by those rules. Companies that don't have to pay tariffs to the government when their foreign-made goods are imported. It is a way to compensate our government - our society - for not having followed the rules. (Before you get too angry, let me admit right here that many tariffs are manipulated by well-connected lobbyists to protect politically "special" businesses here in the US, or to force punitive expenses on companies elsewhere who might deign to compete. But let's move on, in a world where tariffs do what they're supposed to, and are not misused.)

So when companies in Colombia, which are not subject to American labor standards, American environmental rules, and the like want to send their goods here, they have to pay us to do it. (There's another fudge - American consumers who buy those goods pay the tariff in increased prices passed on by the importers. Effectively, we pay our own government for the privilege of buying goods made where people don't play by our rules.)

The US has a couple of options, and we have clearly taken one of those and discarded the other. Rather than trying to get others to adopt environmental standards and labor rules like our own, and rewarding those countries with