the New Maine Times Archive News from, 03 May 2021 08:56:59 -0400Editorial: Time to end qualified immunity<p><em><strong>by New Maine Times Editorial Board</strong></em></p> <p>There is a lot we don't know about how Maine polices its citizens. Too many issues are not made readily available to the public, as we learned last month when the Maine State Police finally made public -- sort of -- a group of 19 disciplinary records, some heavily redacted, over the last five years. Most likely there had been more, but it is possible that no one will ever know, because the records are destroyed after a period of time.</p> <p>Or the fact that Maine does not keep data on bias in policing. What we do know is that with Black citizens being 1.6 percent of Maine's population, they represent 5 percent of all arrests. All other information is unfortunately anecdotal; Black citizens report being pulled over for reasons that Whites do not, for instance.</p> <p>These situations are all the more reason to encourage better data keeping and transparency by removing the shield that protects law enforcement officers when citizens believe their civil rights have been violated.</p> <p>Qualified immunity was a doctrine developed by the Supreme Court 50 years ago. Under its shield, an officer cannot be sued civilly for civil rights violations unless either the Supreme Court or the Appelate Court in which the incident occurred have decisively ruled that a particular action -- one that has to be exact to the one committed by the officer in question -- violates the victim's civil rights. If no such ruling has been made, then the officer is granted the presumption of ignorance -- he or she couldn't be expected to know that such an action was a civil rights violation, and therefore couldn't be responsible.</p> <p>For instance, Minneapolis is part of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers a number of midwestern states. At the moment that George Floyd died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, neither it nor the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled definitively that killing someone or injuring someone by asphyxiating them by placing a knee on their neck was a civil rights violation. Even though Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter, he will probably never be sued civilly for violating Floyd's civil rights.</p> <p>Instead, the City of Minneapolis, with its 420,000 taxpayers, is on the hook for the $27 million settlement the city reached with the Floyd family. And there will probably be more settlements coming, as the city has to pay when protesters, bystanders, and even journalists were injured or abused by police during the ensuing riots.</p> <p>The Chauvin case was nearly unique in that the defendant actually stood trial and was convicted, thanks in large part to a teenager who calmly filmed the entire ordeal. Chauvin's sentencing date in June will occur two months before four other officers will stand trial as accessories to the same killing. And even so, Chauvin will probably never have to pay a dime for his actions because of qualified immunity.</p> <p>How many people in Maine might have sued an officer instead of a municipality, county, or state when the officer mistreated them? We don't really know, but not knowing is not a good enough reason not to act. Nor does it mean there isn't a middle ground.</p> <p>Many people work with the public in situations where there might be incorrect treatment, leading to death or injury or defamation, intentional or not. There are already means&nbsp; to protect these essential workers -- professional liability insurance or personal umbrella insurance. There is no good reason why police should not be asked to pay for a fraction of what a civil rights claim would be, rather than leaving it to their jurisdiction -- and every taxpayer therein -- to pay for their poor behavior.</p> <p>We do not accept the specious argument that if the police can be sued for their actions, no one will step forward to work in law enforcement. Doctors, lawyers, and many other professionals can be sued right now, and that is not keeping would-be doctors and lawyers from competing strenuously for seats in law and medical schools. Nor, apparently, is the cost of malpractice insurance. But we must ask ourselves a serious question. If it were true that people considering a position in a police department were deterred by the fear that their behavior would lead to a lawsuit, isn't that a good thing? Do we want police officers who feel they cannot control their behavior to the point where a victim believes it crosses a red line into a civil rights violation? Of course we want our employees -- and police work for us -- to feel they have all the tools necessary to do their jobs in a safe way. To that end, more rigorous training -- perhaps over a two-year degree program at a community college rather than a few weeks at the police academy -- might be a better solution. But every worker needs to be responsible for his or her actions on the job.</p> <p>We therefore support efforts to end qualified immunity by one of two means: One, <a rel="noopener" href=";snum=130&amp;paper=HP0149" target="_blank">L.D. 214,</a> would eliminate qualified immunity entirely for police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers in Maine. The other, <a rel="noopener" href=";snum=130&amp;paper=SP0466" target="_blank">L.D. 1416,</a> would deny qualified immunity to officers who have received training and work for departments that have use-of-force policies in place, yet still violate constitutional rights. LD 1416 could be a bridge to LD 214, but the process has to begin now.</p> <p>We also support efforts to increase transparency in all police agencies with regard to police misconduct. The steps offered by the Maine State Police are simply the first steps necessary to a greater public understanding of what happens when an officer is accused of misconduct. As for profiling, Maine already has a law -- An Act to Eliminate Profiling in Maine. However, because there has been no data collection, it is impossible to say whether it is working or not. Data collection must be dealt with by the officers who make the arrest or traffic stop, and it may not be collected at all, done properly, or done consistently.</p> <p>Limiting or eliminating qualified immunity, knowing which officers are being disciplined, and knowing who is being pulled over and arrested in Maine is a first step for the policed to have confidence in those who police them.</p>Mon, 03 May 2021 08:56:59 -0400 deferential enough: Biden hits the right notes<p><strong><em>by Gina Hamilton</em></strong></p> <p>President Joseph R. Biden. It feels so good to finally say that. As I watched him take his oath of office, and listened to his inaugural speech, I'm not ashamed to say that there were tears of relief and, yes, even joy, coming from my eyes.</p> <p>I did not realize, until today, even though I've been writing about it for four long years, how absolutely horrifying, how dysfunctional, the last presidential term has been. It didn't hurt that today was a clean, crisp day, a new fresh breeze blowing across the District, and that the sun was shining brightly and reassuringly.</p> <p>Hope sprung from the banners snapping briskly across the Mall, just as last night, the lights at sunset, representing those who died in the pandemic, represented sorrow, but also a sense that something was going to be done. The adults were going to be in attendance from now on. Things would surely get better.</p> <p>It was as if a long, dark night was finally ending, the sun would soon be coming up, and we could all breathe again.</p> <p>Biden spoke of unity, yes, but also of truth. He spoke of finding common ground, yes, but for the common good, not for capitulation for the sake of peace.&nbsp; How long he will wait for Republicans to reach back across the aisle isn't known, but it won't be forever. He doesn't need to wait long. He has the people he needs in the positions he needs them to be in in Congress.</p> <p>He will spend time at Arlington National Cemetery today, then go home. Home, to the White House so recently vacated by the former occupant, a man who knew nothing of truth, or unity, or loyalty, or even basic decency.</p> <p>Joe Biden is a decent man. He understands the threats he faces clearly. "Folks, this is a time of testing. We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America's role in the world. Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we've had. Now we're going to be tested. Are we going to step up? All of us? It&rsquo;s time for boldness, for there is so much to do. And this is certain, I promise you, we will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era."</p> <p>Yes. This is the challenge of a century. But Americans of good will shall step up and face the challenges, and work together to see them through.</p> <p>I will step up. Will you?</p>Wed, 20 Jan 2021 11:11:19 -0500; the Biden train?<p><em><strong>by the New Maine Times Editorial Board</strong></em></p> <p>Bernie Sanders isn't president of the United States, but he might have more power than Joe Biden right where he is, courtesy of the win of two candidates in Georgia.</p> <p>Sanders is poised to hold the gavel of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, and his ascension to the chair is giving Biden and the Democrats hope for a successful Biden agenda in his first term, and giving his GOP counterparts fits.</p> <p>That's because his control of the committee allows the Democrats to pass spending and&nbsp; taxation bills also passed in the House by a simple majority. Although Biden and Sanders seem to be working together on which issues Sanders would force through using the manuever, called budget reconciliation, Sanders doesn't even need Biden's signature.</p> <p>The Republicans used budget reconciliation in the last Congress to cut taxes, the majority&nbsp; of which benefitted the wealthy; Sanders has signaled he would increase taxes for the wealthy and use the revenue saved to increase spending on programs that would help the working class and poor.</p> <p>How can one person wield such power? The reconcilation process begins with a budget resolution, which originates in the House and Senate Budget Committees. If the two resolutions are identical -- a snap if one controls both houses, a little more complicated if one does not -- the resolution can include directions to congressional committees to increase or decrease federal spending, decrease or increase taxes, and propose entirely new programs, such as the pandemic relief program Sanders is envisioning.</p> <p>Biden and Sanders seem to have agreed on an additional amount of relief spending to individuals -- an additional $1,400 per person -- but other parts of the stimulus bill are as yet undecided. With Sanders' fellow liberal Ron Wyden of Oregon as chair of the Finance Committee, there should be little demur from Democrats in the Senate on the relief bill.</p> <p>Sanders is thinking beyond the immediate box. While the initial means of financing the bill will be deficit-funded, Sanders says he intends to raise revenue in a "progressive manner". That means tax increases for people at the top of the economy -- the one percent and their slightly less well off friends, including corporations who, despite earning billions, have paid little to nothing in income tax over the last decade or so.</p> <p>Sanders also said he intends to test the boundaries of reconciliation to address issues that go beyond traditional budget items and deal with more structural issues in society. No doubt Sanders and Biden will be speaking regularly about these things.</p> <p>However, less enamoured are Senate Republicans, who have long worried about Sanders in such a position. Losing his gavel will be Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said this week that he had a "fight on his hands" and that "Republicans would have to fight like hell" to prevent tax increases and to prevent America from being a socialized nation.&nbsp; Graham is also, probably justifiably, concerned about Sanders pushing through statehood for the District of Columbia, which would come with its own two, probably Democratic, senators. The actions of Jan. 6 had already made statehood a sympathetic issue for many senators, even Republicans, since DC's mayor was unable to call out the National Guard and relied on Trump and the Secretary of the Army to do so.</p> <p>Now, Joe Biden is a nice guy. He invited former rival Bernie Sanders on board his train. He is inviting his GOP friends as well. But he was there when President Barack Obama was stonewalled by them. Biden won't make the same rookie mistake. If Republicans won't get on the train, Democrats will leave them behind at the station. And Engineer Bernie Sanders will be given leave to work up a full head of steam.</p>Tue, 19 Jan 2021 10:41:20 -0500;Except in cases of impeachment&#39;<p><em><strong>by the New Maine Times Editorial Board</strong></em></p> <p>President Donald J. Trump will be gone in five days, before he faces his impeachment trial. However, he will face an impeachment trial a few days later, because he was impeached before he left office. There are several cases of impeachment of judges in U.S. history that occurred after the judge left office, for precisely the same reason&nbsp; that Trump will go through a trial: Convicting him will allow for a separate vote to disqualify him from future high office.</p> <p>However, Trump's second impeachment itself provides a single, important benefit, now, while Trump is still in office. It prohibits Trump from attempting to pardon himself or the people who are currently being arrested because they acted at his behest to storm the Capitol.</p> <p>In Article II, Section 2, among other things, the Constitution explains some of the President's powers:&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, <strong class="hs cv">except in Cases of Impeachment</strong>."</p> <p>It is unclear, because there is no precedent, whether a president can pardon himself in any situation anyway, and Trump is probably right that he wouldn't be able to rely on Vice President Michael Pence to pardon him, especially now. However, the Constitution is clear that Trump, even if he had personal pardon power generally, can't use it for events related to his impeachment. In the four-page impeachment document, which includes only one article, "Incitement to Insurrection", the House included more than just the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol; they also included Trump's ham-handed attempts to subvert the election, especially in Georgia.</p> <p>In the meantime, some four score insurrectionists have now been arrested. The mood in the District is tense, and in state capitals, including in Maine, the National Guard has been called out to protect the statehouses. Since the insurrectionists are instrumental to Trump's impeachment article, he can't pardon them either.</p> <p>There may also be members of Congress who aided and abetted the rioters; if this is proved, they, too, cannot be pardoned. Members of Trump's own inner circle, including his son, Donald Junior, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others who participated in the incitement rally or worked to arrange it, will be unable to be pardoned either.</p> <p>What Trump is thinking is curiously unknown, since his Twitter feed and Facebook pages have been shut down. All we know is what certain aides are willing to say, anonymously. They describe a defiant president without his megaphone of choice, without many allies in positions of power, and without any real defense to the impeachment charge. Trump himself has claimed that there was nothing wrong with what he said on the sixth; there is no one else who is willing to publicly say so.</p> <p>Trump hopes to leave office with a military band playing as he leaves on Jan. 20 before the Joseph Biden Inauguration, marking another unfortunate flouting of presidential decorum.&nbsp; It was always going to be a low-keyed affair, because of the pandemic, but now it will be nearly deserted as Biden and Vice President Harris take their oaths of office and the District shuts down most of its locations to view the Inaugural and many of its Metro stations. The FBI is following up on chatter that there is likely to be violence; 2,000 National Guardsmen are currently bunking in the Capitol.</p> <p>However it goes down, Jan. 21 will be a new day. A new president and vice president will be in place; Trump will be an increasingly distant bad dream. And with luck, it is a nightmare that will never be repeated.</p>Fri, 15 Jan 2021 14:20:41 -0500 reconciliation without truth<p><em><strong>by New Maine Times Editorial Board</strong></em></p> <p>Many Republicans oppose efforts to bring President Donald Trump to justice in the wake of the Capitol riot, using the term "reconciliation" somewhat, shall we say, liberally.</p> <p>But when there has been such injury, there is another half of the reconciliation process. That's the truth process.</p> <p>Truth and reconciliation is a means by which forging unity is possible, though not guaranteed. Until both halves of this hard work is done, unity is not possible, or it is so fragile that it may not survive the process.</p> <p>In any case, Trump should face justice. Impeachment and conviction, followed by disqualification from any further high office is the smallest price he should expect to pay for the five deaths and multiple severe injuries, to say nothing of the terrorism of the 535 lawmakers inside, their staffs and guests, and members of the press, and the rank attempt at insurrection and sedition.</p> <p>He should also face civilian justice, in our view. The new Attorney General and the Justice Department may very well have some strong ideas about investigating Trump, his immediate family, his attorney, and others who had a hand in this latter-day Reichstag Fire. If evidence can be found, these individuals should be tried and convicted, and imprisoned. Civil penalties such as accountability to those who died, were injured, were exposed to and infected by COVID-19, those who were merely terrorized for six long hours, and those who had belongings trashed and stolen will also fall due and should be paid in full.</p> <p>Trump is soon to face a host of other issues, including state charges in New York for falsifying business records, possible criminal charges for election tampering in Georgia, financial disaster piled upon financial disaster, and personal problems stemming from his time in office and his behavior toward family and people who once counted Trump among their friends. Politically, on his watch, he lost the House, the Senate, and the presidency. But none of those problems are enough payment for his obvious attempt to overthrow the government on Wednesday.</p> <p>Here are the issues that Republicans must deal with before the process can move forward with justice to the victims.</p> <p>1. Accept that the election was free and fair. This is among the most important issues, and Trump must also admit to this truth. The rioters believed, in their heart of hearts, that the presidential election was stolen. Trump and his minions, including those in the House and Senate who enabled them, must state, categorically, unequivocally, that this belief, promulgated by Trump himself, was misguided and is untrue.</p> <p>2. Accept responsibility for the harm done in every aspect of Trump's presidency, from the policy to rip children from their parents at the border, some five hundred still not reunited, to the attempt to equalize the actions of the white supremacists in Charlottesville with the actions of those who protested them, to the tepid response when Black Americans were abused and murdered by police, to the truth behind the Mueller Report and Trump's first impeachment, to the disastrous incompetence surrounding COVID-19 response and the actions taken by the president during the 2020 election, to the incitement to insurrection that led to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.&nbsp;</p> <p>3. Once there are sincere apologies for all of these things, and Trump and his creatures hear how their victims were hurt by these actions, then, and only then, can there be a movement toward unity. That doesn't&nbsp; mean there won't be other penalties, but the abolition of the GOP&nbsp; need not be among them.</p> <p>We call on our own Republican senator, Susan Collins, to acknowledge the pain and suffering that these actions have caused Americans, including Mainers, and at the very least, vote to impeach and disqualify Donald Trump when the inevitable trial occurs. Trump did not "learn his lesson", and may be beyond saving, but his example will inform how American government continues. If it continues.</p>Tue, 12 Jan 2021 11:25:14 -0500 at the end of Trump&#39;s days<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p>And then, a mere two weeks before it would have all been over, outgoing President Donald Trump invited his bully-boys to Washington D.C. on the day when Congress was to meet to finally, completely, name Joseph Biden as the president-elect.<em><strong></strong></em></p> <p>He'd been grooming them for months. "Stand back and stand by," he told the Proud Boys in the last presidential debate in October. When he lost the election, he insisted he had won, and his partisans in Congress were by and large too timid to tell him the truth. That brought the whole sacred lost cause of a "stolen election", which infuriated his base. After multiple recounts and court cases, the states certified their results anyway.</p> <p>The electoral college elected Biden a week later; Trump kept claiming nonexistent fraud, and kept telling his angry base that the election was rigged. One by one, the social media he relied on started fact checking him, covering his comments with advisories that they weren't, in fact, true. Finally, the Georgia runoff gave him one last chance to tell his lies before a wide audience.</p> <p>The Georgia runoffs, which the Democrats won, came and went, with the usual complaints of irregularities, but Trump encouraged his base through Twitter and the rally the night before the election to come to Washington for one last event. A day of marching and rallying in the streets, to coincide with Congress' counting of the electoral college certificates. On Twitter, Trump had called Jan. 6 a &ldquo;historic day&rdquo; that will be &ldquo;wild!&rdquo;</p> <p>A ceremonial event overseen by the Vice President in his role as President of the Senate, the count normally flies under the political radar. A couple of representatives might object, but rarely does a senator join with the objection. Even if one does, the chance of doing away with any state's electors is next to zero. So having several Representatives and Senators prepared to try to overturn the election is astonishing.</p> <p>Trump appeared to speak to his base a little before noon; Congress was planning to start opening certificates at 1 p.m. Before Trump spoke, his son told the gathering of several thousand that "This gathering should send a message to [Congressional Republicans]; this isn't their Republican party anymore, this is Donald Trump's Republican party." Shortly afterward, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told them that the time had come for "trial by combat." The mob would soon take him literally.</p> <p>Trump had somehow assumed that Pence would do something -- no one is quite sure what -- to overturn the election. Pence wrote a letter to the president informing him he didn't see any way to do that. When Trump got the letter after returning to the White House, Trump used his Twitter feed to draw a large, red bullseye on Pence's back.</p> <p>"<span class="d2edcug0 hpfvmrgz qv66sw1b c1et5uql rrkovp55 a8c37x1j keod5gw0 nxhoafnm aigsh9s9 d3f4x2em fe6kdd0r mau55g9w c8b282yb iv3no6db jq4qci2q a3bd9o3v knj5qynh oo9gr5id">Mike Pence didn&rsquo;t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!" This tweet, along with three others, has since been deleted, and Trump's account has been locked.<br /></span></p> <p>But the challenge had already been accepted. The fired-up mob moved off toward the Capitol, about a mile and a half march away, while Trump, after telling them he would be with them, instead slunk off to the safety of the White House, where he apparently watched the proceedings on television.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the electoral vote count was getting underway. While lawmakers were still in joint session, it was clear that some representatives and senators were prepared to debate the acceptance of electors in certain battleground states. The first state that came up alphabetically was Arizona. Although in the end, Biden would still be president, for the vote had already taken place and was certified by the states, arguing the issue would give some of Trump's supporters a modicum of face-saving. Then the houses split up, the Senate returned to its side, and began two hours of debate about accepting the Arizona electoral college certificate.</p> <p>Although he did not yet know it, Mitch McConnell had already been demoted to minority leader with the win of Jon Ossoff in Georgia; even so, he gave the speech of a lifetime, wracked by emotion, explaining why he would not vote to overturn a democratically elected government. As debate began, aides and Capitol Police entered the chamber and evacuated them because the Capitol had been breached by the mob.</p> <p>Capitol Police seemed woefully unprepared to do their job, and were not geared up for what was known in advance to be a mob action. Very quickly, it was obvious that the nearly all white mob who took over the Capitol were being treated very differently than other protesters -- there were images of Capitol Police helping them get in and out of the Capitol, and taking selfies with them. Few of them were arrested at the time, and little was done to prevent the looting of offices, including that of Nancy Pelosi. It took an unconscionably long time for reinforcements to arrive.</p> <p>On the House side, lawmakers and others were removed, but many could not escape in time and were forced to remain in the House chamber for several hours before they could be safely evacuated. During this period of time, the mob broke in, breaking windows, doors, breaking into offices, and several people were injured, one, a woman said to be pregnant, was shot and later died. Several more died from medical events during the siege.</p> <p>Several other buildings, including one of the buildings of the Library of Congress and congressional office buildings, were also evacuated. Warnings messages inside the Capitol told staffers and others to retreat to offices, lock doors, stay on the&nbsp; floor, and keep away from windows and doors. "Call your EOC [Emergency Operations Center]," the warning voice advised.</p> <p>Meanwhile, nearby, at the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, explosive devices were discovered, and the offices evacuated.</p> <p>The occupation of the Capitol went on for four hours, while lawmakers were taken from the Capitol to a secure room elsewhere on the Capitol campus. Pence later said he remained in the Capitol to try to resolve some of the matters at hand.</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger </span>of Illinois said<span style="font-weight: 400;"> simply: &ldquo;This is a coup attempt.&rdquo;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It took several hours for the District's National Guard to be deployed; Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was more concerned about the optics of the military taking charge of a civilian riot than solving the problem of the Capitol under siege. Ultimately, after several calls, he agreed to call out the National Guard, and ultimately, the Maryland and Virginia Guards, as well as several police forces, converged on the Capitol. McCarthy later said there was "confusion" about the multiple requests he had received.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Biden appeared on national television to encourage Trump to do the same and tell his partisan mob to stand down. He blasted the invasion of the Capitol as an insurrection. <br /></span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Midway through the siege, in response to multiple requests by his own partisans and possibly Biden, Trump made a short video to be posted on Twitter, since deleted, in which his rhetoric about the stolen election was first and foremost, but that he told the mob it was time to go home."We must have peace," he said.<br /></span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Most never got the message. Around that time, several lawmakers raised the question of whether or&nbsp; not this was a good reason to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would remove President Trump, probably for the remainder of his term, on the grounds that he was unfit to continue in office. Neither Pence nor his office have responded, but by the next morning,&nbsp; as many staffers began exiting the White House unceremoniously, some members of the Cabinet began discussing the option.<br /></span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Washington's mayor, Muriel Bowser, declared a 6 p.m. curfew, and as the sun set, police moved in with tear gas and flash bombs, and moved the crowd back out to the street. Many continued to argue with police, even as the curfew hour came and went. Because of the pandemic, few options were open for the mob unless they already had accommodations. Restaurants were closed and after 6 p.m., most businesses were shut as well.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">At latest count, 52 people have been arrested; one woman died from gunshot wounds, four more from medical issues, and seven others were transported to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries.<br /></span></p>Wed, 06 Jan 2021 14:42:31 -0500 Deferential Enough: Singing to sleep<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><strong></strong>When I was a young girl of sixteen, my cousin Renee asked me to sing a song at her wedding. I did her one better; I wrote a song for her wedding. My coffeehouse singing partner, Susan, and I performed the song in close female harmony -- think Simon and Garfunkel for young treble voices. Years later, even after the marriage failed, she told me how touched she was that I was there and sang for her.</p> <p>The years went by; I went away to college, traveled around the world and moved across the country twice, got married, had a child, and in short, lost touch with my cousins, keeping in touch only with Christmas cards, my appearance at the very occasional funeral, and failing that,&nbsp; through flowers and condolence letters for the deaths of parents&nbsp; and congratulatory letters at the birth of children and the marriages of said children.</p> <p>I sang, now, in English, Welsh, Irish, or as it is sometimes known, Gaelish, and Scots Gaelic, putting my own son to sleep, a succession of foster children, and later, my own granddaughter, who fell asleep to the sound of my voice every night as an infant and toddler. Not for them the typical lullabies, but songs of love unrequited or lost, the songs of the death of hope, the songs of defeated nations, the songs of the deaths of kings and queens. For what is sleep but a little death?</p> <p>And then the songs of the acceptance of the coming of the everlasting night.</p> <p><em>Of all the money, that 'ere I had, I spent it in good company ...</em></p> <p>On the same day that my father had been gone for ten years, I sang my dear friend and editor Fred, to sleep on the last day of his life, as I held his hand and let the sweet lilting sound drift him away from me forever. I sang both of their souls to sleep at the same time.</p> <p>Songs of freeing oneself from the burden of one's own past...</p> <p><em>And all the harm that 'ere I've done, alas it was to none but me, and all I've done, for want of wit, to memory now, I can't recall ...</em></p> <p>Songs of the hope that one will be remembered well by one's friends and loved ones ... <em></em></p> <p><em>So fill to me the parting glass, goodnight and joy be to you all!</em></p> <p>When the call came for me to sing Renee to sleep, it was the day before Thanksgiving. She had had a stroke that was slowly ending her life, but she was able to be home, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, as the evening fell. All hope for recovery was lost, but she was well-reconciled, and so, from 1500 miles away on the phone I sang The Parting Glass, as I had done before, many times. <em><br /></em></p> <p><em>So fill to me the parting glass, and drink a health, what 'ere befalls, and gently rise and softly call, goodnight and joy be to you all!</em></p> <p>She died later that night, though I didn't know it until the next morning.&nbsp; That night, I dreamed she had come to me, wearing a lacy white gown, raising a glass to me. That day, as I bustled about making turkey and all the trimmings, I opened a bottle of wine, and raised a glass back to her, and sang, all alone in my kitchen:</p> <p><em>So fill to me the parting glass, and gather as the evening falls, and gently rise, and softly call, goodnight and joy be to you all!</em></p> <p><em>Goodnight and joy be to you all!</em></p> <p>2020 has been the hardest year of my life<em>, </em>with losses, tangible and intangible, almost impossible to bear. But acknowledgement of the passages of life, however abbreviated and sorrow-filled, are what we owe the dying and the dead. If my small and mean offering helps the dying to rest, no matter how difficult my role, I shall continue it. If it gives a measure of peace to those left behind, I consider it an honor to be the voice that provides that peace.</p> <p>Goodnight. And joy be to you all.</p>Fri, 27 Nov 2020 10:40:09 -0500 clash in Cleveland<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p>At the first of three presidential debates, held September 29 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Fox News moderator Chris Wallace had his work cut out for him. President Donald Trump (R) and Vice President Joe Biden (D) came out swinging. It was not a pretty sight.</p> <p>There was a very good reason for that. The two candidates had agreed in advance that for each question, each candidate would get two minutes to address the question without interruption, followed by a period of time of "open discussion."</p> <p>With the very first question, however, it was clear that Wallace would not be able to control Trump's interjections and interruptions, which occurred repeatedly throughout the debate.</p> <p>A CBS post-debate poll of debate watchers described the most prevalent emotion after watching the debate was "annoyed", 87 percent. Only 17 percent felt that they were "informed".</p> <p>And that should tell anyone smart enough to avoid the debate in the first place everything they need to know about this particular event.</p> <p><strong>Supreme Court&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>However, there was an attempt, on the part of Wallace and Biden, at least, to discuss the issues. The first issue, which got somewhat short shrift, was the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the Supreme Court. In spite of the fact&nbsp; that in February of 2016, Merrick Garland wasn't even given interviews by most senators, Trump announced that "We won the election, and elections have consequences." After the Garland nomination was stymied eight months before the election, Biden questioned the pushing through of the nominee mere weeks before the&nbsp; election. "The American people should have the right to have a say," he said. "Wait until the outcome of the election." Trump said that the people had spoken by not replacing the Senate in 2018.</p> <p>Biden said that the fate of the Affordable Care Act hung on this nominee, who has written opinions considering it unconstitutional. He said that 20 million people would lose insurance and that 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would be left unprotected. Trump denied that 100 million had pre-existing conditions, but a fact check after the debate showed that the number believed to be suffering from pre-existing conditions lay somewhere between 65 million and 140 million.</p> <p>Biden was asked if he planned to pack the court by increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices or ending the filibuster, refusing to commit to either option.</p> <p><strong>COVID-19 and Health Care</strong></p> <p>The next question involved COVID-19. Biden said that the U.S. currently had more than 200,000 dead, with seven million infected, about 20 percent of the world's dead from COVID-19, with only four percent of the population of the planet. Biden said that Trump had no plan, even though he knew in February how serious it was.</p> <p>Trump almost immediately began interrupting Biden, complaining about how the Obama administration handled H1N1 influenza, and blaming COVID-19 on China, even though he had, early on in the pandemic, praised Chinese president Xi Jinping about his transparency. He claimed, without evidence, that if Biden had been in office there would have been millions dead. Trump said that there would be a vaccine "within weeks"; Biden countered that both Dr. Redfield of Trump's Centers for Disease Control and <span class="st"><span>Moncef Slaoui, head of Trump's vaccine "Operation Warp Speed" program, both have stated publicly that a vaccine would not be widely available until summer or early fall of 2021.&nbsp; </span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump retorted that it was a "political thing", stating that he disagreed with both of them, and saying he believed that many Democrats are opposed to a vaccine prior to the election. Biden said that Americans should trust the scientists, while Wallace asked him about VP nominee Kamala Harris' fear that public health experts are muzzled and suppressed. Biden responded that not all scientists work for Trump and are dependent upon him for their jobs.<br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump said that Biden was reluctant to open schools and businesses, and Biden responded that it was unsafe, since a federal program was terminated that would have provided teachers and students with masks, and there was no financial support for small businesses to reopen safely. </span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump was asked, point-blank, about his much touted plan to replace the ACA. He refused to provide specifics, despite numerous redirections by Wallace. Biden acknowledged that the public option in his expansion program would be for people who would otherwise be eligible for Medicaid.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><strong>Trump's Taxes</strong><br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>On the issue of his taxes, Trump denied that he paid only $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017, despite Wallace's attempt to have him divorce the income tax from other taxes he might have paid. All Trump would say is that he paid "millions" of dollars in tax. He said he would release his taxes "at some point."</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>"Inshallah (as God wills)," Biden said sarcastically.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><strong>Economy</strong><br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump described the post-COVID economic recovery -- which has still not returned to pre-February levels -- as a "V" shaped recovery. Biden said it was more of a "K" shaped recovery, with millionaires and billionaires bouncing back quickly, while the middle and working classes continued to suffer.&nbsp; "People who lost their jobs are people working on the front lines," Biden said. "One in six small businesses are now gone."</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump responded that he brought back football -- a fact check after the debate suggested he played a marginal role at best. And just prior to the debate, the Tennessee Titans had eight incidents of COVID-19, also sidelining the Minnesota Vikings who had recently played them.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Also on the economy, Biden acknowledged a plan for $4 trillion in new taxes on families earning more than $400,000 per year, and increasing corporate taxes to 28 percent. Biden said that more&nbsp; jobs were created in Obama's last three years than in the first three years of Trump's administration. He also said that manufacturing -- including auto plants in Ohio that had been lauded by Trump as successes, "went into the hole". Trump attempted to refute the assertion that manufacturing has again collapsed in the midwest, however, a post-debate fact check showed that only one manufacturing plant opened during Trump's presidency, while eight assembly plants moved to Mexico and four to Canada during the same timeframe. <br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><strong>A stern warning</strong><br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump again interrupted to deny Biden's assertion as Wallace again tried unsuccessfully to control the direction of the conversation, then Trump tried to change the direction of the conversation to Biden's son Hunter, who had worked for Burisma, a Ukranian energy company, in 2016 and 2017. With Wallace desperately trying to stop Trump's questioning on this issue, Biden gave Trump a stern and thinly veiled warning: "Do we want to talk about families and ethics? I don't want to do that." Trump apparently got the message; he did not bring up Hunter Biden and Burisma again.<br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><strong>Racial tensions and unrest, and law and order</strong><br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>From there the issue went to racial tensions in America. Trump accused Biden of being anti-law enforcement, which Biden hotly denied, and Trump pressed, saying his "radical left" base wouldn't let Biden be in favor of law and order. Trump said again that he had done more for Black Americans than any president other than Abraham Lincoln. </span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Biden said that America had never walked away from trying to provide equality for everyone. He criticized Trump's use of the phrase "very fine people on both sides" during the Charlottesville white supremacy rally, and shooting tear gas so that Trump could do a photo op at a Washington DC church, scattering a group of peaceful protesters outside the White House after the death of George Floyd, calling it a "dog whistle". In the meantime, Biden said, one in a thousand Black Americans have died because of COVID-19, and it will soon be one in 500.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Biden acknowledged that there is systemic injustice, and this raised the issue about whether justice can be equally applied. He suggested convening a panel with all stakeholders, including police and social justice activists.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump was asked why he ended racial sensitivity training for federal employees. He said because it was racist, revolutionary, and "taught people to hate our country."</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Biden said that despite several race riots during the Obama administration, notably in Ferguson and Baltimore, the murder rate had fallen during the last administration, and has gone up under Trump.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>When Trump began speaking about the threat to the suburbs, Biden called it a dog whistle, and said that he must not have been in suburbs lately, because they are all fairly integrated. "The real threat to suburbs is COVID-19 and environmental issues," Biden said.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>In response to a question from Wallace about Biden's plan for "reimagining policing", Biden made it clear that he believes police need more money, and faulted Trump for cutting $400 million to municipal police, but said he would make sure police had the right personnel to deal with the problems they are facing, such as psychologists or psychiatrists to help deal with mentally ill suspects and domestic violence counselors to help with those issues. He said that he does not believe violence is ever appropriate during protests, and people who engage in rioting and looting must be held accountable. He also said that police officers who engage in the type of actions that led to the summer's unrest must also be held accountable.<br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump interjected, asking if Biden had ever called mayors or governors of affected communities and asked them to send in National Guard troops. Biden said he was not in public life, and it would be inappropriate. Wallace then asked Trump if he had ever condemned white supremacy or militia groups.</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Trump did not provide a clear answer. Wallace asked again if he would encourage some of the right wing extremists to stand down. In a statement that will be examined with great concern, Trump said, "Proud Boys. Stand back and stand by."</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><strong>Climate change</strong><br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>After a garbled discussion with Trump involving global climate change, in which Trump downplayed the role that mileage standards have helped with carbon emissions and insisted the western wildfires were caused by leaf litter, rather than global warming,&nbsp; Biden discussed his plan for renewable energy, which Biden said would make the US carbon neutral by 2035, and both Wallace and Trump questioned the cost. Biden said that his plan would create millions of good paying jobs, and would upgrade and weatherize homes using a series of tax credits. "It'll be cheaper than dealing with the effects of floods, hurricanes, and rising seas," Biden said. </span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><strong>Election results and transfer</strong><br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Wallace asked pointedly if the two would commit to accept the election result, whatever it is. Biden assented; Trump claimed that there were likely to be fraudulent ballots, and called on his supporters to become poll observers. Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power. </span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>It is unlikely that most observers got more information about either candidate's positions during this "debatacle." Trump's attempt to subvert the questioning and giving many misleading or outright false answers meant that Biden, too, was unable to fully participate. But Biden came across as more presidential, more concerned about the issues, and better able to handle the slings and arrows of what could come up during a presidential tenure&nbsp; than Trump, who appeared petulant, bullying, whiny, and unable to handle the most basic standard of presidential comportment.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span>Perhaps the next debate will feature&nbsp; a small button on the&nbsp; desk of the moderator to take control of out of control moments -- a mute button. We'd all have appreciated such a precaution tonight.<br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><br /></span></span></p> <p><span class="st"><span><br /></span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>Tue, 29 Sep 2020 19:20:13 -0400 of the Plague Year: Time traveling<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p>A friend pointed out that we had begun the year 2020 in 1974, as the Trump impeachment scandal unfolded. We then jumped back in time to 1918 as the largest pandemic in a century struck the world. Now we're in 1968, with race riots stemming from police brutality.</p> <p>In short, in five short months (or interminably long months, depending on your perception), we've experienced many of the lowest points in American history.</p> <p>Here in Maine, where we've had relatively low COVID-19 numbers, though a high percentage of those with the virus who have died from it,&nbsp; and really very little in the way of race-related police brutality, it's hard to imagine the horror that is happening in other states. Our protests have been orderly, if that can apply to protests; certainly more orderly that the terroristic threats that we've seen at the statehouse and Blaine House, by overly armed and awfully well-fed juvenile white men (always, always, mostly men), fighting for their right to eat in a restaurant without a mask and get their hair cut.&nbsp;</p> <p>By contrast, the protesters in Portland have been polite, have been supported by and protected by police, and there has been little to no looting.</p> <p>Comparing the protest chants of "I can't breathe!" which was whispered by murdered Minneapolis resident George Floyd while a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes until he really couldn't draw breath and died, and the childish complaints about wearing a mask uttered by the ammosexual terrorists at the state house ought to shame them into silence. But of course, it won't.</p> <p>The one sad thing both the handful of armed anti-mask/open the hair salons terrorists and the hundreds of unarmed anti-fascist freedom fighters have in common, however, is that both groups are likely to kill other innocent people.</p> <p>Because there is still a pandemic going on, and it's killing almost four percent of the people it infects, according to Maine CDC numbers.</p> <p>It's virtually impossible to socially distance when you are protesting real injustice, the kind that truly is killing a sizeable number of our citizens every year.&nbsp; Even masked and distanced to the extent possible, the protesters were still well within the danger zone.</p> <p>Still, as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young pointed out in "Ohio", "how can you run when you know?"</p> <p>I don't know. That's one of the mysteries of this sort of sad time travel. Would that we could learn a lesson once and remember it for a few minutes, or hours, or days, or years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>Mon, 01 Jun 2020 09:24:33 -0400 Journal of the Plague Year: Prep School<p><strong><em>by Gina Hamilton</em></strong></p> <p>So we are entering the next month of lockdown, except for essential employees, which means that I'll be working at home, but my husband will be serving coffee at Starbucks, because mocha frappacinos are essential to the economy. And because I'll be at home, and because I haven't been able to buy the typical five-pound bag of flour anywhere, we ordered three large bags of flour -- one fifty-pound bag of bread flour, two twenty-five pound bags of all-purpose flour from a bakery supply house, together with a pound of yeast.</p> <p>When things were looking very grim, flour-wise, we bought some red wheat berries which we hand-ground, along with some rye seed that we hand-ground, a bag of King Arthur rye flour that was a bit of a ground score at a local grocery store, and a kilo sack of semola flour for pasta and pizza crust that we ordered from an Italian restaurant supply house, since our local supplier, Bob's Red Mill, is having a supply issue.</p> <p>When the pandemic hit, we still had a little bit of whole wheat flour, a box of cake flour, and virtually every other baking item one needs to make everything from chocolate chip cookies to everything bagels to soft pretzels to pies to scones and currant buns for tea to cakes and loaves of bread.&nbsp;</p> <p>We've also been sharing our newfound flour wealth with anyone who needs it locally. It's a tough time for many of our aging friends to be stuck at home without some of the basic necessities for life, and, I'm sorry, my gluten-free friends, lovely gluten-rich bread is one of those things.&nbsp;</p> <p>We store the flour in large plastic bins to keep it dry and free from dog hair, filling smaller plastic bins in the pantry as needed. When friends need flour, we fill their bins or fill a flour sack for them.&nbsp;</p> <p>In any case, we aren't the only people having this and similar problems, but we are possibly better prepared for them than many people are. We grow our produce, can our own jams and sauces, freeze other produce. We keep chickens, gather eggs.&nbsp; We know how to make cheese and butter and grind wheat berries into flour, and make our own bread and pasta. My husband roasts and grinds his own coffee. If we had to, we could have probably survived an extended pandemic with just a few additions to our diet -- liquid milk products, meats, cooking oils, and fresh produce top of the list. And tea. And of course, enough medication to get by for a month or two.</p> <p>Obviously, other things are necessary -- feed for the animals, paper products, even the city's pay-as-you-throw trash bags -- but we are as prepped as we can be. Spending the pandemic ordering seeds and working on the garden plans and encouraging the hens to lay and starting plants isn't something new and different and frightening -- it's what happens every spring at Turning Tide Cottage.</p> <p>When we were living in California, we had to prepare not only for being on our own for an extended period of time, but also to be on the move if necessary after an earthquake or flood. The prep work was a lot less extensive but portable, and included things we don't really have to think about during this emergency -- drinking water, extra gasoline, personal hygiene items in case we had to shelter in a stadium or travel long distance to stay with a relative, paper records of the deeds, insurances, a copy of everyone's birth records, vaccination records, marriage records, and passports.&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile in Maine, we exchanged flour for rice; we gave away eggs and coffee; we planned month-long menus and made certain we had all the ingredients. We found ways to celebrate the small things -- an Easter dinner with a chocolate cake, sending small gifts and cards for birthdays, ordering flowers for Mother's Day, planning a Mexican dinner for Cinco de Mayo. Life goes on, luckily, for us, and we spare a thought for those for whom life has been so tragically interrupted.&nbsp;</p>Sun, 03 May 2020 15:36:22 -0400 of the Plague Year: April brings more than we can bear<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>April 1, 2020</em></p> <p>There was a two and a half hour long press conference yesterday with the President and the pandemic response team. It became clear in the course of that conference that even if everything was done absolutely right -- and it can't be, because there still aren't enough masks, respirators, ventilators, or hospital beds -- that America would lose at least 140,000 of her people, and possibly up to 2.2 million people. Many of those people are expected to die in the next couple of weeks.</p> <p>April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot told us. There is something obscene about the beauty of lilacs, rising out of dead branch arms, whose feet are stuck in mud and filth left over from the winter. Yet the blossoms are appropriate for mourning, the time when those who died over the long winter can at last be put to bed in the earth. Abraham Lincoln died in April; Walt Whitman offered his corpse a sprig of lilac as it passed in great procession. Women who had been widowed for at least a year were allowed to go into half-mourning and one of the colors they could choose was lilac. Purple is the color the Church uses to denote a period of sacrifice, sorrow, and suffering. Purple is the color of the pall that a coffin is placed on during a funeral.&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever happens in the next month, the numbers will be more than we can bear. Some of us have already lost friends. Some of us live in terror of losing someone close to us. Most of us have an awful lot of time to think about it.</p> <p>But there is a flattening of the curve that can be done with this, as well as with the incidence of COVID-19. The same amount of time that we use to make ourselves mad with feverish anticipation of pain and suffering can be turned to offer love to a creature badly in need of it. Many people are adopting or fostering animals from the shelter. Plant seeds for the upcoming gardening season. Adopt one of your own rooms for a makeover. Nurture your houseplants back from their winter doldrums. Do a deep spring cleaning. On one of April's less cruel days, open your windows and open your doorways and let in the scent of the thawing earth and the dusty smell of the rain.</p> <p>Ring friends who are isolated. Check in on elderly relatives, at least once a week. Buy books you can read on Amazon or your Kindle and share them with others. Start a virtual book club with like-minded friends.</p> <p>We won't be able to escape the pain that will likely visit many of us during this month. But like participating in a danse macabre, we don't have to think about it every single moment of every single day. It will hit when it hits, but as my grandmother used to say, "Don't borrow trouble." You only have to pay interest on something that will be more than you can bear for longer than you have to.</p>Wed, 01 Apr 2020 06:07:58 -0400 of the Plague Year: Of ponds and water lilies and coronavirus<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 25, 2020</em></p> <p>The problem we as a society face is that the president doesn't understand exponential mathematics. He is looking at a society where coronavirus is still multiplying and trying to will the thing away. An Easter timeline would be a disaster on many levels. The disease is still accelerating, and people are so worried that they are fleeing hot spots.&nbsp; Short of wishing that Trump would simply step back and let the experts deal with this, perhaps a simplified kind of education is in order.</p> <p>So here is a highly simplified thought experiment that perhaps, someone who has access to the president, can gently explain to him.</p> <p>Let us say you have one water lily plant in a pond. The plants reproduce themselves once a day. At the end of 48 days, the entire pond is covered. On which day would the pond be half-covered?</p> <p>The answer is on day 47. Between day 47 and day 48, each plant reproduces itself and the pond is completely covered.</p> <p>Now, to coronavirus. It, too, is exponential. In New York City, it appears that the number of cases double every third day, and this is despite shelter in place orders, which may yet show a slowing of the pandemic if everyone cooperates, a tall order. To make matters worse, New Yorkers have fled -- to their summer homes on Long Island, to friends on Cape Cod, to winter homes in Florida, to more rural areas of the state and New England.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo has advised -- because advising is the only tool in our toolbox right now -- that anyone who has been in New York in the last 14 days self-quarantine wherever they are. But no one knows where they are, or who they are.</p> <p>This has happened before.</p> <p>When an outbreak of plague occurred in 1592, all the theatres were closed in London. Without any kind of social safety net, hundreds of thousands of people left London, including every major acting company, carrying plague germs into the countryside.&nbsp; In some towns, desperate for information about what was happening elsewhere, the players were welcomed. In other towns, they were driven off at the point of pitchforks.</p> <p>The great migration delivered death across England, Scotland, and Wales. In addition, thousands of travelers died -- from plague, but also from illnesses caught from the villagers, and from drinking bad water and having little food.</p> <p>Now, the last great plague year was a long time ago, but the 1918 flu pandemic year wasn't that long ago, and we know perfectly well that worldwide travel sparked and drove the flu across the world. Fifty million people died in a single year from influenza. The worst situations were when people flouted advice and joined together in celebration, at that point, for the end of World War I. The Philadelphia parade is a case in point.</p> <p>In 1918, toward the end of the war, despite warnings of influenza, Philadelphia held a parade to sell war bonds, called Liberty Loans. Everyone was there -- every scouting troup, every ladies' auxillary, every high school marching band, every mummer tribe. And everyone who wasn't marching in the parade was watching it from the sides of the city's streets.</p> <p>Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia&rsquo;s 31 hospitals was filled. In the week ending October 5, some 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from influenza or its complications. A week later, that number rose to more than 4,500.</p> <p>This is a novel virus; no one is immune. Social isolating may seem difficult, but it is the best technique we have to prevent the virus from being transmitted. Please. Do your part. Consider the lilies of the pond. They toil not; nor do they spin. All the CDC is asking is that you toil not, nor do you spin, for the next little while.</p> <p>Celebrate your holidays at home this year, no matter what the president says.</p>Wed, 25 Mar 2020 07:04:33 -0400 of the Plague Year: Play ball!<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 22, 2020</em></p> <p>The news isn't great. In fact, it's worse than not great. People in Maine are dying; schools are expected to be closed indefinitely, earliest possible return is April 27 and it could be well beyond that; there are daily painful requests for personal protective equipment for hospitals as doctors and nurses get sick treating patients with coronavirus; there is a run on toilet paper and disinfecting wipes and almost every food item you can imagine; people throughout the state are hunkering down and not leaving home.</p> <p>The baseball season has been postponed. Perhaps indefinitely.</p> <p>It's eerily quiet in Bath, and I imagine elsewhere as well, as the worried well distance themselves from one another and even kids don't go out to play.</p> <p>But there have been bright spots. Many employers -- looking at YOU, Starbucks -- have stepped up for their employees and are offering a month's catastrophe pay, whether the stores have to close or not. Neighbors are helping neighbors out with grocery store runs and tutoring kids who aren't cut out for homeschooling (or their parents aren't). People are being kinder in the shops, it seems to me, and everywhere, people are sharing what they have and using social media and the telephone to stay in touch despite the inability to get together in person. There is time, every day, for second breakfast.</p> <p>And then there are the dogs.</p> <p>Our dogs are used to us leaving and coming back at regular intervals, but they love us beyond all reason. And having us home 24/7 seems like heaven on earth to them. Far from becoming more aloof than they used to be, they seem to want, if anything, more attention from us.</p> <p>Play ball! Take a long walk! Let us sit on your lap! We'll come with you everywhere you go, even if it's just to the bathroom! Can we have a treat? Play ball!</p> <p>In Maine, at least now, the parks are open, the streets are empty, and the land trusts are greening up. There is something about a dog that forces you to be present, to give your little darling all your focus. Let the cares of the moment melt away in those liquid brown eyes. Remember that you are the center of their little universe. Don't be afraid to be the shining star they firmly believe you to be. There will be plenty of time later to worry about the virus and how the bills are going to be paid. Spend the time now to be there for your little buddy, and give him or her or them everything they've given you all these years.</p>Sun, 22 Mar 2020 06:27:12 -0400 of the Plague Year: &#39;Let us spray&#39;<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 20, 2020</em></p> <p>My husband is now home for two weeks on "catastrophe pay", a two-week program that pays for him to be home because he's been ill. We don't know if he had COVID-19; his illness seemed like a normal cold, but he can't be tested, so there it is. I'm running essential errands and working at home; otherwise we're all going to be home for two weeks. Out of, as they say, an "abundance of caution".</p> <p>Issues arise when you're living at home that you don't really think about when you only spend a few waking hours there. Every spot of dirt or unwashed window or dirty curtains or blinds are painfully obvious. The kitchen counter needs repainting -- yes, repainting, we have found a rather nice countertop paint by Rustoleum -- and the cabinets likewise need repainting. It's clear that we haven't been the most dilligent housekeepers on the planet, and that's about to change. Granted, this is a plan that I am probably more excited about than the other two are, but barring actual illness, I'm going to insist. We have all the supplies and we certainly have the time.</p> <p>The curtains are being washed as I write, and the living room windows have been washed as well. Today, we'll finish the other windows and rehang the curtains,&nbsp; and wash the blinds and hang them on the line outside. They'll get rained on a bit, but that's probably just as well.</p> <p>The other issue that's come up is stuff that comes into the house. It turns out this virus can live on cardboard and paper and plastic, so the new protocol is to spray everything with lysol before we bring it inside. After it dries, we can open the package.&nbsp; It feels like we're overreacting, but as Dr. Anthony Fauci said, "If it feels like you're overreacting, you're probably doing it right."</p> <p>So the new prayer for the modern age is "Let us spray."</p> <p>Aside from taking the dogs for walks, and looking after the chickens, that's essentially our lives right now.</p> <p>Please follow all the instructions we are receiving, somewhat contradictory though they may be. When necessary, err on the side of caution. Ask your elderly neighbors or neighbors with young children if you can help with procuring supplies, and then sit back, start designing your garden and paint your countertops and wash your curtains, and grin and bear it. It's not the end of the world, it's just an inconvenience for most of us.</p>Fri, 20 Mar 2020 04:30:18 -0400 of the Plague Year: Reality hits hard<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 19, 2020</em></p> <p>I had just spoken to him on Monday. We'd had a conversation about the country's coronavirus response -- Stephen, predictably, argued both sides of the issue. On one hand, the country should do a lot more. On the other hand, it came with a loss of privacy and freedom.</p> <p>I didn't speak to him on Tuesday. I found out Wednesday that was because he had been hospitalized with COVID-19. He died Tuesday night.</p> <p>Stephen Schwartz was 78, and had been at the University of Washington for many years; I met him through friends who thought that our quirky personalities would mesh well. They did.</p> <p>I don't use the term "brilliance" lightly, but Steve was brilliant. He was a modern-day Renaissance man, with bright interest in many subjects. He could have been a classics scholar; he spoke Latin and Greek like an ancient and could quote any ancient text in existence and a lot that are no longer in existence. It was my interest in a librarian at Alexandria, Hypatia, that first brought us together.</p> <p>He had a lively interest in esoteric mathematics, a discussion we had more than a few times.</p> <p>His first career, while he was still at Harvard, was in pathology, helping many people with genetic issues before genetics was even really a thing. He was a resident, rising to a full professor in pathology at University of Washington, then he became an adjunct professor in biomedical engineering and medicine.</p> <p>His most endearing quality was his mentorship of young scientists.</p> <p>In turns charming and infuriating, Steve was a dear friend. We disagreed as often as we agreed, and the very idea that we will never have another argument leaves me cold. I shall miss him, and I extend my sincere condolences to his family and his other friends.</p> <p>While Steve was the first person I know to succumb to COVID-19, he won't be the last. He would be gratified if his death is a canary in a coal mine that spurs the nation to action. I only wish such a sacrifice weren't necessary.</p>Thu, 19 Mar 2020 04:43:31 -0400 of the Plague Year: Such small strange things<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 17, 2020</em></p> <p>I've been to the grocery store several times looking for one item that I can't find -- I end up buying more than one, but the thing I'm looking for isn't lysol wipes or hand sanitizer or even toilet paper, which is in incredibly short supply. I had the foresight to get that stuff in advance.</p> <p>No, the thing I am seeking and can't seem to find, at least locally, is flour.</p> <p>Specifically, I want bread flour, since it will be used to make, you&nbsp; know, bread, but I'd buy ordinary all-purpose flour which can be used in a pinch. I'd also appreciate some more baking powder and soda, and maybe some yeast, but for now, flour is the thing.</p> <p>Neither type is available on the store shelves, and hasn't been for at least two weeks.</p> <p>It's hard to imagine the average hoarding type (but perhaps there isn't an average hoarding type anymore?) buying up all the flour; most of those folks probably wouldn't know what to do with it. It wouldn't have occurred to me that there would be a run on flour, and no one at Shaw's knew why it was such an issue, except that in the last few deliveries, despite their request, no flour was sent. Shaw's had a little sugar, which had also been out.</p> <p>The same was true over at Brackett's, the local IGA market. The owner, Steve, told me that people don't really understand how long it will take for things to get back to normal. He told me there might be a delivery that might include flour in the morning, and to call and ask.</p> <p>I will. Thanks, Steve.</p> <p>But who could have predicted that something as small and homely and simple as bread flour would be a target of these odd supermarket runs?</p> <p>Maybe, I mused to Steve, that people are staying home and laying in supplies to make cookies during these periods of enforced isolation?</p> <p>"There are worse things to do," he said.</p> <p>Yep.</p>Tue, 17 Mar 2020 13:43:56 -0400 of the Plague Year: When recommendations conflict<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 16, 2020</em></p> <p>It's a few days into the strong request for social isolation; my husband has been off with a cough out of an abundance of caution -- I'd had the cough a few days earlier but both of us are on the road to recovery. It was just a cold after all, but for my husband,&nbsp; who works in food service, a nasty cough in the journal of the plague year is particularly bad.</p> <p>Aside from taking the dogs for walkies and the occasional trip to the store to see if they have bread flour yet again, we've all been home. After the first great rush of Getting Prepared, buying supplies, filling the gas tanks, making sure we have enough dog and cat food and chicken feed, we're now just settling in for the long haul. For me, working on the taxes and my books and trying to get the Spring Tingle done, as well as looking after all the life forms in our busy lives, has been distracting from the real issue of what social isolation means.</p> <p>But I remember all too well when milady was in her final illness, three years ago almost to the date. Among the things everyone worried about was whether or not she was getting enough social interaction. Of course, I was there, several times a day, as was a neighbor, and soon enough, hospice care was coming in. Suffering from brain cancer, she had difficulty remembering whether she was lonely in the in-between times, or if she was sick of everyone hovering. She was sorry not to be able to go to the Bath Senior Center to play bocce, or just to have a cup of coffee and watch the others play, I know.</p> <p>But she was in her last few days. If she'd been confined to home for a reason like this, she'd have gone nuts, and probably rightly so.</p> <p>I don't know if the Senior Center here in Bath is closed for the duration of the pandemic; it should be, but I haven't heard anything, and their Facebook page said only that they were going to be closed today. Sadly, social isolation among seniors is always an issue, but now, it can be devastating.</p> <p>One of the things we ought to be doing, since we can't meet with our elderly friends face to face, is get organized to help them stay in touch virtually. When you meet, show them how to use FaceTime on their phone to keep in touch with grandkids and other loved ones. Teach them how to Skype. Make sure, at the very least, you call at least once a week and check in. Even if they are perfectly healthy physically, social isolation in the elderly takes a devastating toll.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><em><br /></em></p>Sun, 15 Mar 2020 11:40:19 -0400 of the Plague Year: Holy remedial biology, Batman<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 14, 2020</em></p> <p>Maine announced that it would be closing down the statehouse after Tuesday. Okay, okay, this was the emergency session and they would have been done by the end of May anyway, but still. They can't hold Skype meetings because of Maine's open meeting law, and that's that. They can be called back into special session<em>, </em>presumably, and you can still keep in touch with your representative and senator by email and phone, and in some of those weird lines for supplies.</p> <p>So that's the biggish news of the day, other than a couple more schools have decided to close for the duration, including the Math and Science Academy in Limestone, Scarborough, John Babst, the Mt. Desert Islands schools, and a few others.</p> <p>But during a conversation about how this particular virus works, it became clear to me that a lot of highly intelligent people don't understand the nature, if you will, of a virus, so for the record, this is essentially what's what.</p> <p>Viruses aren't technically alive. They are made of the stuff of life -- RNA and in some cases, DNA -- but that's about where the similarity ends. They don't do a lot of the things that living things do. They don't regulate their homeostatis; they don't feed; they don't respirate; they don't mate. Their cycles can be interfered with, including being "killed", and the things do replicate, but not "reproduce" in the cellular asexual way, or the organism's sexual or asexual ways.&nbsp;</p> <p>Viruses are tied to their hosts in what, if they were alive, we might call a symbiotic (although parasitic) way. They evolve, to the extent they do, in lockstep with the host. When the host develops an immunity to them, and they can no longer replicate in the host's cells, they either move, adapt, or die.</p> <p>Moving means viruses develop means to infect a new host by tricking the current's host's body to expel them by sneezing, coughing, an exchange body fluids of other kinds, or even breathing. Viruses might adapt -- relatively quickly change themselves a tiny bit so that the host can no longer resist them. And if they don't do either thing, they can die.</p> <p>Some viruses are better at adaptation than others viruses. The less they adapt, the easier they are to control in the host population.</p> <p>For instance, measles is not a good adapter; the disease relies only on airborne movement of virus particles from host to host, which is why it can be controlled with a vaccine so well. Measles can be almost completely controlled with childhood vaccination, and the only way it gets a foothold in the population is if people fail to vaccinate.</p> <p>Seasonal influenza, on the other hand, <em>is</em> a good adapter; it changes in subtle ways even within the course of a single season, which makes an effective vaccine hard to predict or produce. But unlike measles, seasonal flu requires more than an airborne system of delivery -- it has a histamine delivery system to the lymph nodes, which is why the coughing, sneezing, and runny nose occur, and the particles, called virions, move from person to person in those mucus particles.&nbsp;</p> <p>Coronavirus transmits from person to person using a histamine delivery system, like the flu, but no one is entirely certain whether it has the same adaptation superpowers that the flu has. Some Chinese researchers think they are seeing evidence of mutation. We'll find out soon enough. What we do know is that some relatively simple things "kill" it, including isopropyl alcohol. (Which is why it is so hard to get one's hands on hand sanitizer right now. But you can make your own with isopropyl alcohol and a little aloe vera gel, about two parts to one, alcohol to gel. Pop it in an old hand soap bottle and use liberally. And hand soap -- got the handwashing memo?)</p> <p>All of this means that this particular virus should be pretty easy to detect. Nobody needs to know whether the virus is replicating in the host; all they need to do is look at cells in the host's mucus and see if it's there. So the weird little tap dance about needing some kind of strange test that no one else in the world is using to determine the numbers of Covid-19 patients is utter nonsense.</p> <p>The only reason for this government not to take already-existing World Health Organization testing kits and testing virtually anyone with symptoms or anyone who got close to anyone with symptoms is that someone has a vested interest in keeping the numbers of victims down for some obscure (political) reason.</p> <p>I can't imagine who that would be.</p>Sat, 14 Mar 2020 09:23:28 -0400 of the Plague Year: The exquisite agony of self isolation<p><strong><em>by Gina Hamilton</em></strong></p> <p><em>March 13, 2020</em></p> <p>On a nasty, rainy day, the remaining colleges in the state announced that they would close after spring break and begin online coursework to the end of the year.&nbsp; That's unfortunate on many levels.</p> <p>There is a vast difference between being in class on campus, where you can work with your classmates in study groups, grab a cup of coffee or glass of beer, attend a musical evening, colloquium in an interest area, college game, or visit a new exhibit at the college museum, take an actual lab, and be encouraged by professors, and the silent world of computerized work in your childhood bedroom or on your parents' sofa in the livingroom.</p> <p>For seniors, the isolation will be particularly difficult, as no one really knows if there will even be a commencement after their four years of effort.</p> <p>Some students are in more dire straits than others; international students may have difficulty getting back and forth to college.</p> <p>College towns are worried, too -- a lot of their school-year income comes from student spending.</p> <p>Kindergarten-12 schools are extending their spring breaks, and it will be a short step from that to closing indefinitely if things don't improve quickly.&nbsp; This will leave students reliant on assistance from the school lunch and breakfast programs scrambling for calories, and leave many parents with childcare struggles.</p> <p>Meanwhile, regular people -- the worried well -- are stripping stores of supplies. Yesterday,&nbsp; we saw that our local Shaw's was out of pantry staples, such as flour and sugar, and Covid-19 specific items like hand sanitizer. Other friends said that specialty store Whole Foods was out of pasta. Really? And nut milks, which might be expected.</p> <p>What isn't completely out of stock is often difficult to reach, especially for the vertically challenged.</p> <p>And then there's the greeting business. We aren't shaking hands anymore, so people are coming up with their own strange and new means of saying hello. The greeting I prefer is a simple hand over heart (no shaking that, if you please) with a little head nod or sketched bow. But there are these other things that are just weird, if you ask me -- a rather awkward elbow bump has become suddenly fashionable. Handing out flyers can transmit the virus, as can giving out business cards.</p> <p>But most of that worked out, because at the height of Maine's show season, the shows are shutting down. The boat show got in under the wire, but the Maine Flower Show announced its cancellation just today. Whether the Home Show will go on is questionable. It looks like it's been postponed to May, but they're still advertising for it.</p> <p>At home, working in isolation is difficult. Although dogs seem to like our being here, it's more difficult for us. We see a rug that needs vacuuming. We are reminded when we get a cup of tea that the dishes need doing. Every minor sniffle or cough catches us up. Is it the coronavirus? Or is it just March?</p> <p>We'll see.</p>Fri, 13 Mar 2020 13:22:05 -0400 of the Plague Year: Maine finally welcomes coronavirus<p><em><strong>by Gina Hamilton</strong></em></p> <p><em>March 12, 2020<strong><br /></strong></em></p> <p>Welcome to Maine. Now go home.</p> <p>Maine has had its first positive presumptive coronavirus test, a person somewhere in Androscoggin County, who has not been hospitalized. The public health people are doing all the public health things, including contact tracing, but Maine had been actively planning for this eventuality for a couple of weeks, and in the last few days, had gone forward with some otherwise fairly draconian steps, including closing the public university system and Brunswick's Bowdoin College, canceling sporting events and the St. Patrick's Day parade in Portland, and closing public meetings in some localities.</p> <p>No one seems to be worried about any of these things, and that's probably because unlike in poor Daniel Defoe's day, or even in 1918, it is possible for many of us to stay home and do what we do, as long as we have the internet and power.</p> <p>Coronavirus can infect anyone, but at least right now, it seems to be most virulent with older people.&nbsp; So in addition to the usual instructions about hand-washing and disinfecting and so on, there are other things that people need to do, some of which will be difficult and sad to put into place.</p> <p>We must stop visiting loved ones in nursing homes, senior housing, or assisted living; the angel of death might very well be riding on our shoulders. We should stay in touch to the extent possible by Skyping, Facetiming, or using one of the new social media portals.</p> <p>We must put into place, now, a system for a clean election in November. There is no guarantee that coronavirus will fade by then or that it won't return. Given the time constraints, a simple ballot by mail system seems reasonable.</p> <p>We must create a network group with our local neighbors so that if anyone needs help -- say, an older neighbor who doesn't feel he or she should go shopping or walk the dog -- one of the rest of us can step up and help out.</p> <p>We must certain that we have contingency plans in place if schools are closed down and children are suddenly at home. While they don't seem to be the targets of this particular virus, and thank the stars for that, enforced idleness is always a problem. Make sure they are included in as many daily, age appropriate tasks as possible. We must be certain we have a dedicated computer for them so they can complete schoolwork and enough bandwidth to allow them to do so. Run now -- do not walk -- to the library (before they close down, too) and get as many new books as possible for them and for ourselves.</p> <p>Remember to lay in supplies for pets and livestock. Consider that feed stores and large box stores may run out of animal supplies and food as more people become ill and transportation networks fail.</p> <p>We're certain that this is just the tip of what appears to be a rather large iceberg.</p> <p>Stay home if you can, be well, and light a candle for a speedy end to the crisis.</p>Thu, 12 Mar 2020 10:06:38 -0400