About Town - April, 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Interesting endorsement in Collins-Allen race

The Human Rights Campaign – one of the most influential national organizations working to advance/protect the rights of GLBT people – announced its “Year to Win” election-mobilization campaign yesterday. Part of the initiative includes endorsing candidates in 14 “targeted Senate races,” and assisting those candidates with get-out-the-vote efforts and fundraising.

            Maine’s incumbent Republican senator, Susan Collins, is the only Republican that got an HRC nod. The endorsement sticks out like a sore thumb, and induces no small measure of head-scratching. Why did the HRC choose to endorse Collins over her Democratic opponent, Tom Allen, when Allen’s voting record in the House has been more consistently aligned with HRC interests? And while Collins’ record isn’t shabby in this regard, her votes have been in line with the HRC only 78-88 percent of the time over the past few years (as opposed to Allen’s 100 percent).   

            In response to the HRC snub, Carol Andrews, communications director for the Allen campaign, said this: “Tom Allen is proud of his record of fighting discrimination on all levels and for standing up for equality. When he was on the Portland City Council, it led the state in nondiscrimination practices by banning bias based on sexual orientation for housing, credit and employment. As a Member of Congress, he has consistently supported fairness and equality measures while opposing discrimination. As a member of the Senate, he will continue to do what is right for all people. Specifically, he will not support judicial nominees like Sam Alito who don’t understand fairness and equal rights.” (Collins did vote for Alito.)

We’re not the only ones who think this endorsement is kinda fishy. But the HRC might just be playing realistic hardball politics – putting more value in a swing Republican senate vote than in the fall-in-line support of a solid Dem.

As Phoenix writer Tony Giampetruzzi wrote last August, with regard to Collins’ mixed messages on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: “Perhaps she is playing politics, but those champing at the bit to repeal DADT may just consider the ranking Republican a better ally in the war against the policy than a senator-wannabe who has opposed the law from the very beginning.”

Seems like Giampetruzzi presaged the HRC’s strategy to a T.

[When we hear from the HRC and the Collins campaign, we’ll update this post.]

UPDATE: From Senator Collins: "I am grateful to have the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign and will continue to work in the Senate to protect the rights of all Americans, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation."

UPDATE #2: From Brad Luna, HRC Spokesman: "Successfully getting pro-equality legislation to the President’s desk for signature or veto requires partnerships with pro-equality lawmakers of both parties.  Sen. Susan Collins is a strong ally for the GLBT community, supporting a fully inclusive employment protection bill, a fully inclusive hate crimes bill, and funding for critical HIV/AIDS programs."

4/29/2008 11:28:06 AM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [1] |  

Great Ideas Department

Cool. We could do this in Portland too.

4/29/2008 9:23:35 AM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [1] |  

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Diet Coke + Mentos = World Record!

We all remember the Emmy-nominated EepyBird folks from up at the Oddfellow Theater in Buckfield for their video of Diet Coke and Mentos imitating the Bellagio Las Vegas fountains.

(If you've forgotten, or didn't see it, it's here:)

That video was played on a huge outdoor television in Belgium yesterday, in advance of an attempt to break the world record for most Diet Coke-Mentos explosions at one time. This is the best photo of that event, from a story in Britain's Daily Telegraph:

There's also some video of the event - the first video shows the EepyBird video on the outdoor TV:

And the second shows the attempt itself from a distance:

A third video shows a more intimate view, admittedly with less of a sense of scope:

4/24/2008 9:13:33 AM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pingree appears with former US general

Without endorsing a precise timeline, retired US Army general John Johns appeared with Maine Congressional District 1 candidate Chellie Pingree this afternoon to support the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq. The plan mirrors many of the (largely ignored) recommendations issued by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in 2006.

Johns summed up the plan’s main goals thusly:

1)      To initiate increased diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East and worldwide;

          2)      To start withdrawing troops immediately.

You can read the complete document here.

Pingree was one of six US House candidates to originally sign onto and present the plan; there are now 51 Congressional candidates who pledge to uphold its tenets if they are elected in November.

4/23/2008 2:19:48 PM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day personal report card

In honor of Earth Day, I’d like to assess my eco-progress over the past year – things I’ve successfully implemented/changed, and areas for improvement – using criteria from about a year of Going Green columns.

--      My first official column dealt with trash – and I vowed to produce less of it. Certainly, I’ve become a diligent recycler, I remember my reusable mug much more often, and I pay more attention to excess packaging on new purchases (so as not to create more garbage). However, I’m far from reaching my lofty goal of producing just one plastic grocery bag’s worth of trash per week (and one blue bag per month). On average, I fill up one small blue bag per week.

--      If I don’t say so myself, I think I’ve developed a bit of finesse when it comes to non-intrusive persuasion. And I still don’t use paper towels, even if my guests think of them as necessities.

--    I use many more organic / PABA-free toiletries and cosmetics than I did before. I use Dr. Bronner’s for hair and body, and I’m partial to Aubrey Organics for facial products. I must admit that I haven’t found the perfect natural deodorant yet – I switch back and forth between Tom’s of Maine (for when I know I won’t be doing anything strenuous) and Arm & Hammer (for when I risk offending the people around me).

--      On July 11, I wrote about my rather disastrous composting attempts. I said I’d give it another go, but my second attempt never really got off the ground. However, I shelled out $38 last month for an 80-gallon Earth Machine (discounted by the City of Portland) that I’ll pick up on May 11. I’m looking forward to starting afresh.

--      Overall, my CFLs and electricity-saving measures have worked great.

--      Water-saving efforts have proved slightly dicier (is that a word?). My Portland Water District-issued low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators are doing their jobs (though I still haven’t worked up the willpower to take “Navy showers”). But laundry remains my least-favorite and most environmentally complicated chore: I do it at the non-eco-friendly Laundromat, with eco-friendly detergent, and haven’t been hanging my clothes out to dry – but may start that again now that the weather’s nice.

--     In October, I reported that if you’ve gotta drive, there are ways to do it that could save gas and carbon emissions. While I still try to walk as often as I can, I do find myself driving more than I should – hopefully the sunny temps will change that pattern too. When I do drive, I try to remember the tenets of fuel-smart driving (but slowpoke drivers still get on my nerves).

--      My cats continue to get super-green treatment. In fact, I’ve gotten greener (and, fear, meaner – but it’s for their own good!): I keep them indoors now.

--      I got a live Christmas tree which has lived on my porch since the holiday season. Honestly, I fear for its health. I did try to handmake most gifts – which resulted in fewer people getting presents. I’ll have to start earlier next year.

--      Eating less meat is relatively easy (except when I’m drunk or hungover, when animal products seem most appealing). I continue to try to get most of my protein from beans and nuts, but I enjoy the occasional soy product. And the occasional hamburger.

--      Local strong-arm (and co-worker) Chris Gray and I are joining a CSA! We’re hoping to split the veggie-herb riches from Pleasant Valley Acres Farm in Cumberland, since neither of us thinks we could consume an entire share. I’m looking forward to the joys and challenges of cooking in-season.

I give myself a B-. I’m doing okay, but I justify lazy choices a bit too often. However, I’ve definitely laid the groundwork for an Earth-friendly summer, and beyond.

4/22/2008 4:38:01 PM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

New Orleans activists tell of interconnected struggles

For many local activists, Common Ground Collective is a familiar cause, and one that is close to their hearts. Formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the organization is a community volunteer effort that provides long-term sustainable assistance to residents and neighborhoods of the New Orleans area. Over the past two-and-a-half years, a number of Mainers have volunteered with Common Ground; Maine-native Meg Perry was working with the CGC before her untimely death in 2005. If they weren’t already, that tragedy inextricably linked Maine with New Orleans.          

Indeed, the fight for peace and justice knows no regional boundaries, and thus two prominent and powerful New Orleaners, Malik Rahim and Robert King, traveled to Maine last week – to “link the struggles here with the struggle in New Orleans,” to remind us that the work in the Gulf Coast region is far from over, and to show how Common Ground’s mission has evolved from hurricane relief to broader social-justice concerns.

“I don’t believe there can be any progress until we analyze what happened,” Rahim said in a wide-ranging interview at the Phoenix office on Friday. Rahim, a Common Ground founder, worries that people have yet to learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina – whether they be economic, social, or logistical. He described an “adversarial relationship between the government and the activist community,” and said there is still a dearth of educators and social safety nets within “traditionally disenfranchised” communities – that is, the poorer parishes of Louisiana.

He also detailed the connection between Common Ground and the Angola 3, of which Robert King is one. The story of the Angola 3 is symbolic of the prejudice and disenfranchisement that existed in Louisiana long before Hurricane Katrina brought these problems to the surface. Long story very short: When three young black activists (all in prison for armed robbery) tried to expose prisoner maltreatment at the Louisiana State Penitentiary – a/k/a Angola Prison – in the late 1960s, they ‘mysteriously’ were accused of having murdered a young prison guard. All three of them spent more than 25 years in solitary confinement for a crime they did not commit. Robert King Wilkerson is the only prisoner to have been released thus far.

“There wouldn’t be the Angola 3 without Malik,” King said of his friend on Friday, describing Malik’s efforts to free these prisoners of conscience. Negotiations to free the remaining Angola 2 are ongoing, as is King’s quest to overhaul not just Angola, but America’s industrial-prison complex.

(Several aspects of King’s story – including prison officials using increased security as a punishment, insufficient money spent on rehabilitation, and less-than-adequate treatment of mentally ill prisoners – sound awfully familiar.)

Rahim and King spoke at the Meg Perry Center on Saturday evening, at what was apparently a well-attended, moving discussion. Rahim is scheduled to speak at Bowdoin on April 29.

4/22/2008 12:31:52 PM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

Monday, April 21, 2008

Our own holiday (well, sort of)

Maine and Massachusetts share a history, having once been two parts of the same colony. Which is why both states celebrate Patriots' Day - that's why banks, government offices, and schools are closed today.

It commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, and in honor of the holiday (on which we're working, natch), we've collected a few interesting tidbits about the holiday in honor of the start of the American colonists' struggle to throw off tyranny.

First off, a piece I did a couple years back, comparing King George III of England with King George III of Washington DC.

But now let's step away from politics and into history. We can move past the relatively brief Wikipedia entry on the holiday and go straight on to the orders of British General Thomas Gage to Lieutenant Colonel Smith, 10th Regiment Foot, commanding him to proceed from Boston to Concord to seize ammunition being prepared for use in a revolt.

And then there's the account by Paul Revere of his ride to warn the colonists that the British were coming.

Let's bring things back closer to home with a poem about the occasion by one of Portland's favorite sons, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This one is called "Paul Revere's Ride." (with thanks to commenter Brendan for correcting me on the title)

Happy Patriots' Day!

Paul Revere's Ride

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Written April 19, 1860; first published in 1863 as part of "Tales of a Wayside Inn"

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A momen