Tag Archives: New Hampshire

Week in New England — and a Quandary

On October 3, my wife and I returned from a week in New England. Mostly northern New Hampshire, to be specific. Historically, that supposedly would be the pluperfect leaf-peeper week, or at least very close to it. Toward the end of our stay the crowds began showing up in great hordes, even in the remote areas of the White Mountains, thus giving that supposition some credence. Lamentably for us all, the dry summer and warm September seems to have pushed “peak peeper period” back a few weeks. Hence we saw lots of beautiful green leaves. And yet, in a few of the upper valleys there was enough leaf color to give a hint of how spectacular it can be.

Along the Kancamagus Highway, White Mountains, NH

Along the Kancamagus Highway, White Mountains, NH

 

Most of the locals seemed happy, nonetheless: seems like the Patriots’ 4-0 start had a lot to do with their cheer.  It’s always mystified me how a local sports team — with dozens of players and coaches and an owner making millions of dollars THAT YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW, but play in a stadium paid for by taxpayers— can affect the local mood just by winning or losing.

We not only caught the beginning of leaf season, but, as a bonus, we caught the beginning of presidential primary season. Since 1952 New Hampshire has held the first presidential primary in the nation.  Why?  Well, they like it that way.  So much so, that it is a state law that they must be first! Indeed, the “New Hampster” Secretary of State has the power (and the duty) to move the primary date, when needed, to insure their first-in-nation-primary status. For the 2016 elections the date is set for February 9th. Even though only a very few delegates for the summer conventions will be selected, New Hampshire is regarded as something of a bellwether state in terms of national sentiment. Maybe it’s because their motto is: “Live free, or die.” It’s fitting too: we came across quite a few liberals and libertarians.

Throughout the week I did an informal count of bumper stickers, yard signs, posters and buttons. Assuming that is a reasonable proxy for the nation’s bellwether:

I feel the change coming;
I feel the wind blow;
I feel brave and daring;
I feel my blood flow.

– from Weekend in New England, by Barry Manilow

Based on my informal count: “I feel the Bern.” Yes, Bernie Sanders. The 74 year-old socialist 8-term US representative and 2-term senator from Vermont had more visible support than all other candidates (Democrat or Republican) combined.  Maybe it’s spill-over almost-native-son appreciation for the guy from next door Vermont.  Maybe not.  By the way: Hillary had a big fat zero.

Over on the Republican side there was scant early visible support anywhere.  From what I saw, it looked like Carly well out in front, with a few stickers for Ben. (That’s Carly Fiorina and Dr Ben Carson).  Thankfully, The Donald also had a big fat zero. I do believe that none of those three have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president — although it’s interesting that the current top four polling Republicans (an orange-haired orangutan, a woman, a black brain surgeon, and a first-generation Spanish-speaking Cuban) demonstrate a lot more diversity than the top thee polling possibilities from the “party of diversity,” which has just three old white people.

Old White People lead the polls for Dems

Old White People lead the polls for Dems

Becoming president, I suppose, is one of those rare opportunities wherein what you say and do can have huge consequences. In the case of president, it’s how that country performs, and how that country is perceived.

Perhaps there’s an analogy in sports. Maybe once or twice in a long season an individual player will have a sudden opportunity to either: a) shine brightly, making the whole team appear marvelous; or b) fail to execute a basic skill or tactic, making them – and their team – appear ordinary at best, and pathetic at worst.

Since it’s football season I’ll bring up the ill-fated Jackie Smith and the 1978 Super Bowl. In the twilight of a Hall of Fame career, Smith finally got his one chance on the world stage as a backup tight end for the Dallas Cowboys.  Late in the 3rd quarter, wide open in the end zone, on a critical third down play, Smith dropped a perfect pass from Roger Staubach.  It was such an easy and critical catch.  The Cowboys lost the game … and that drop was one of the biggest reasons why they lost.

Which is a long way of getting to the quandary.  I’ve been in a few conversations with a friend named “John” lately. He’s been sharing his personal quandary that he’s been having regarding a friend of his named “Rich.” (Not their real names). It has to do with one of those rare opportunities we get in life wherein one simple act or choice can be a large statement of goodness and integrity, or a statement about mediocrity and hum-drum mushy morals.

John and Rich have been friends for a long time, and hold each other in pretty high regard.  Well, they held each other in high regard until recently; until Rich shared a “Jackie Smith” sort of story that has caused John quite a bit of anguish.

As John tells it, Rich has had a decades long very successful career in a lucrative and glamorous profession.  He was highly respected, well-compensated, and recently able to retire in his mid-50s with a nice retirement package plus a send-off bonus. He lives in a splendid home in a high end neighborhood, owning a house worth nearly 7 figures.  Rich recently unloaded an investment property scoring several tens of thousands of dollars more than he originally expected to fetch.  Things are pretty good for Rich, financially speaking. Among the lucky few percent.

Now it came to pass a few weeks ago that Rich told John a story that goes something like this: It seems that Rich was doing some home re-modeling and stopped by a major hardware store to pick up a large stock of merchandise. Distracted by a minor allergy attack, Rich did not check his receipt at all.  Once Rich had his car loaded he noticed that the checkout clerk had made a huge error: a bill that should have been around $2,000 was only about half that.  Rich had no compunction about keeping the money.

As Rich proudly told this story, John cringed internally. His mind ran wild for several days. “If this is what ‘good’ people do, what does this say about the human race?” — “If this is my choice of friends, what does this say about me?” — “How is this morally different than people who took advantage of the broken windows and rioting in
Ferguson to make off with stereos, large screen TVs and cases of booze?”

Eventually John confronted Rich and put the friendship on hold after hearing disappointing morally-ambiguous and squishy explanations.

What would you tell John?

I suggested he come up with a pro/con type of list.  He came up with a different list, which (as well as I can reconstruct) looked something like:

Regarding judging people

How do they act when they think no one is watching?

How do they treat people who can do them no personal good?

Don’t judge people based on their worst behavior, or decisions made at weak moments

Judge not, that ye not be judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged… Matthew 7: 1-2

Look for basic goodness.

In bad times, no person or no situation is as bad as it looks. In good times, nothing is as good as it looks.

I praised John for his list.  He told me it could have been longer.

I asked him if he valued friendships, and if he could be a better person himself. John answered “Yes, of course” to each.

“In that case”, I told him, “You hold the answer yourself. ”

Friendships are like warm pleasant autumns: there might be an occasional chill, but when they come to an end we usually miss them.

Peace,

 

Joe Girard © 2015

 

 

Simply Degenerate

Date line: April, 2015.

My wife and I made a little getaway to Missouri this past February. If you’ve been there in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I often call it “the state of Misery.” Anyhow, en route from Saint Louis to Hannibal we spent time in the formerly not so well-known — but now very well-known — community of Ferguson, Missouri.

Two rounds of riots there in 2014 resulted in multiple cars and buildings being burned. Businesses were ruined. These riots were the aftershocks from (1) the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and (2) the Saint Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to NOT indict said police officer Darren Wilson.

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

We found the community of just over 20,000 to be really quite delightful. Churches and grocery stores and homes of all sorts: like you’d expect anywhere else. We stopped in at the Ferguson Brewing Company, a cheery micro-brewery with a full kitchen and pub menu. There we enjoyed lunch and a beverage. The place was hopping, and the beers we selected were hoppy too. The patrons were mostly pale faced, but scattered about were ebony and ivory-skinned customers, even sitting at the same tables.

We made it a point to drive through the sections of town where buildings and been torched – destroyed by fires from the riots. Laundromats, liquor stores, auto parts stores, restaurants. Pretty much without rhyme or pattern, concentrated mostly in two different parts of the city. Actually, some destruction spilled over into nearby Dellwood, MO.

We stopped at the spot where young Mr. Brown was killed. Even in February, six months after the shooting, there was still a memorial to him there, on Canfield Drive, near Copper Creek Court.

We felt it important to spend some time there: to contemplate the location and its significance. It’s only a few blocks from the Ferguson Market, on Florrisant Avenue.

[What city has TWO major streets near each other with the same name? In this case “Florrisant.” Oh yeah, Atlanta. Almost every other street is named

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Peach Tree.]

The Ferguson Market is where the petty theft – and physical abuse of a 120-lb weakling store clerk by 290-pound Mr. Brown – occurred that resulted in Officer Wilson locking onto a young man of Mr. Brown’s description. That theft occurred about 10 minutes before their most unfortunate fateful rendezvous.

This was all brought freshly to mind for me a few weeks ago during the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness.

“What?”

Right. The College basketball national championship tournament. Why? Because white people riot too, and for really, really stupid reasons. Over and over again.

Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to win the championship. Basketball is religion in Kentucky. The Lexington-based school has won 8 National championship titles, including as recently as 2012. They’ve been runner up twice, including 2013, and National semi-finalists, an additional four times, to my counting at least, including 2011.

That’s a pretty impressive record, given that there are, oh, I don’t know, something like 400 colleges and university basketball teams competing at the Division-I level.

But this year they lost to Wisconsin in the National semi-final match. Which means if there are 400 schools, their basketball team is better than 398 of them. So what did their fans in Lexington, Kentucky do after the semi-final match? They rioted. Burned cars. Trashed buildings. Barricaded the streets. Fought Police.

Really? — Really.

And this is nothing new. Last year, 2014, Kentucky made it all the way to the National Championship game and lost to Connecticut. Guess what?

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Ah, precedence.

In 2012 Kentucky made it to the National semi-final. That time they defeated in-state super-hated arch-rival Louisville. Kentucky won the game. Win? They won? Yes, they won.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Two nights later Kentucky was in the National championship match and won, defeating Kansas. This time another win!! A National Championship. Oh the glory.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

More precedence.

Back in 2011 Kentucky was defeated in the National semi-final by Connecticut (a bit of a nemesis) …

Yes, you guessed it …

The fans in Lexington rioted.

You know. Just the basic stuff. Burn cars. Tear down light posts. Throw rocks at police. Vandalize buildings. Mug passers-by.

You’d think the police and city fathers in Lexington would be a bit wise to the whole thing by now.

What is weird is that the fans are mostly well-lubricated white people rioting because the mostly black student athletes performed so well that their expectations were that they would win a Nation championship … or else. Or else what? We’ll riot either way.

In 2013 Kentucky’s record was not good enough to even get into the championship tournament (a fate that befalls the vast majority of teams). So, Kentucky pretty much sucked that year … at least by Kentucky standards. Guess what? NO RIOTS! Go figure.

White people rioting for stupid reasons (or no reason) is nothing new. Even in my current “home” metro area – Denver, CO – fans rioted when the Colorado Avalanche won the NHL’s (National Hockey League) Stanley Cup in 1996. Sure this was the first major championship in Colorado. That warrants a riot. (#sarcasm).

The next year the football Broncos won the Super Bowl. No riot. But then they won their second straight Super Bowl, 1998, … more riots. Really? Yeah. Let’s get really pissed and burn some sh*t. No riots when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup again in 2001. A whiff of sanity.

They don’t riot for no reason in Milwaukee. Or in the whole state of Wisconsin.

I do remember the summer riots of 1967: Barricades in the street. Our humble suburb blocked off at the municipal city limits. Restrictions on gasoline sales: it had to go right into auto tanks; not into portable tanks. People who wanted to mow their lawn (pre-electric mowers) had to bring the grass-cutter right to the gas station.

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

It was a time of tremendous social unrest – upheaval – and Milwaukee was not spared. Those ’67 riots were not senseless or without reason. They were tied in with the civil rights movement, disappointment with lack of progress from the ’64 Civil Rights Acts, and the move toward freedom of expression, and of course the anti-war movements of the ‘60s. There were a shocking 159 riots in the United States in 1967. One Hundred and Fifty-nine. Mostly race related, they broke out in LA, Cleveland, Minneapolis, everywhere it seemed. The most violent were Detroit and Newark. Too vivid. Too vivid. I remember this gruesome Life Magazine photo from the Newark riots. Burned into my RAM.

The causes, racial participants, locations and provocateurs of these riots were far ranging. From Encyclopedia.com:

“… the year 1967 ended with a final act of violence in late October, when antiwar protesters from around the country moved on Washington, D.C. Those who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on 21 October were largely white, largely middle class, largely educated, and formerly mainstream in their politics. But, when U.S. Army units met them with fixed bayonets, they took to the streets of the capital in an out-break of destructive rioting and constructive confrontation, and 650 were arrested.”

Fixed bayonets for those expressing freedom to assemble? Freedom of expression? Hell yeah, riot. We don’t turn the military on the public in the US. Riots!

Still, I don’t think that places like Wisconsin or Minneapolis have experienced totally pointless riots, like Lexington. And Denver. Maybe I’m wrong. But I doubt it.

I’ll get in trouble for this, but I can’t help but wonder if this behavior doesn’t carry some sort of genetic pass-me-down from each area’s ancestral settlers.

Wisconsin was mostly settled by the “quiet disciplined” sort. Mostly Germans. Many Poles and Norwegians. Some English, with their stiff upper lips. Work hard. Don’t make a fuss. Stick to your own business and do it well. Get it done and move quietly along to the next thing. “Don’t rock the boat” type of settlers.

Early Irish and Scottish immigrants to the New World were largely unwelcomed by the English and moved west, settling in the rugged Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains. When the Cumberland Gap popped open they began moving into the territory that would become the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

I’m not calling the Scots and Irish “rioters” (in fact, I love them, their culture and sense of humor), but they probably don’t have a reputation for spontaneously breaking into (a) drink, (b) song, (c) dance, and (d) fight for no reason. Germans, Poles, Norwegians … they just don’t do that. Ok, maybe they do the drinking part. ☺

Before I get in any more trouble, I’ll close with saying that Wisconsin lost in this year’s (2015) NCAA championship match to Duke University – after defeating Kentucky in the semi-finals. I’ll admit to being partial, but there were many questionable calls during the second half. It seemed that every 50/50 out-of-bounds ball was awarded to Duke, and Wisconsin frequently fouled Duke players with their chins, foreheads and eye-brows.

Nevertheless: There were no riots.

Wisconsin fans did not riot when they beat Kentucky in the semi-final, nor when they lost to Duke in the final.

For emphasis: Last year, 2014, Wisconsin made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing to Kentucky (by one point!, 74-73).

There were no riots.

Meanwhile, in late 2014, while overwhelmingly mostly peaceful riots were going on around the entire country in sympathy with the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, something weird was going on in Keene, New Hampshire. Keene State College – mostly white, upper class privileged kids – had their annual Pumpkin Festival.

Yes. You guessed it. … Riots broke out.

Riots broke out.

Drunken brawls. Random fires and mayhem. Burned and overturned cars. Vandalized buildings.

The media are deluding us.

Well, New Hampshire is the “Live Free, or Die” state.  Love the motto.  Hate the riots.

Wishing you peaceful, riot-free and headache-free spring, summer and fall.

Peace,
Joe Girard © 2015

[1] Encyclopedia.com: 1967 Riots. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401803621.html