Maine

The original idea of the Electoral College

State population per electoral vote (2010 census)

State population per electoral vote (2010 census)

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

‘Maine legislators have been debating whether to join an interstate compact that would have made the state give all its Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

I’m not happy when the Electoral College and the popular vote go in opposite directions, as in 2000 and especially in 2016, when the Russians gave the election to Trump, who they thought would be far friendlier than Hillary Clinton. Still, by making presidential candidates campaign all over the country and not just in densely populated states, the Electoral College supports federalism.
HHoh

The Electoral College was originally meant to be a group of wise men who would use their individual judgments in choosing a president and act to block corrupt demagogues from the office. Now they vote almost always on a party-line basis.

Here’s Alexander Hamilton’s understanding, as expressed in Federalist Paper #68, of what Electoral College members would be and expected to:

They would be...”men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.’’

Members would be "most likely to have the information and discernment" to stop the election of anyone "not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications."

He warned that an election could be corrupted by the desire of "foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils." Hmm….

He wrote: “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.’’

What happened?

High-end coastal crops

The    Whaleback Shell Midden   , in Damariscott,    Maine   , contains the shells from oysters harvested for food dating from 2,200 to 1,000 years ago

The Whaleback Shell Midden, in Damariscott, Maine, contains the shells from oysters harvested for food dating from 2,200 to 1,000 years ago

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“Of all New England dishes, clam chowder probably evokes the strongest feelings. In 1939, for instance, a bill was introduced into the state legislature in Maine suggesting that to make a clam chowder with tomatoes be deemed illegal. Almost passed too.

 

-- From Inside New England (2010), by Yankee magazine’s  Judson D. Hale

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com 

The Maine Coast is becoming an international center of aquaculture, especially of oysters and other shellfish and edible seaweed, even as the warming of New England waters drives the lobster catch further north and east. The number of these salt water farms has increased rapidly in the Pine Tree State, with the epicenter in the Damariscotta area. It’s worth a trip up there by present and potential aquaculturalists from southeastern New England, although their crop mix might be a bit different from Maine’s because of our warmer water and different coastal geology.

For more information, please hit this link.



“Of all New England dishes, clam chowder probably evokes the strongest feelings. In 1939, for instance, a bill was introduced into the state legislature in Maine suggesting that to make a clam chowder with tomatoes be deemed illegal. Almost passed too.

 

-- From Inside New England (2010), by Yankee magazine’s  Judson D. Hale

Love letter to Portland

Cruise ships in Portland. Below, Portland art walk (photo by Bd2media

Cruise ships in Portland. Below, Portland art walk (photo by Bd2media

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Often I think of the beautiful town 

      That is seated by the sea; 

Often in thought go up and down 

The pleasant streets of that dear old town, 

      And my youth comes back to me. 

            And a verse of a Lapland song 

            Is haunting my memory still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


I can see the shadowy lines of its trees, 

      And catch, in sudden gleams, 

The sheen of the far-surrounding seas, 

And islands that were the Hesperides 

      Of all my boyish dreams. 

            And the burden of that old song, 

            It murmurs and whispers still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


I remember the black wharves and the slips, 

      And the sea-tides tossing free; 

And Spanish sailors with bearded lips, 

And the beauty and mystery of the ships, 

      And the magic of the sea. 

            And the voice of that wayward song 

            Is singing and saying still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


I remember the bulwarks by the shore, 

      And the fort upon the hill; 

The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar, 

The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er, 

      And the bugle wild and shrill. 

            And the music of that old song 

            Throbs in my memory still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


I remember the sea-fight far away, 

      How it thundered o'er the tide! 

And the dead captains, as they lay 

In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay, 

      Where they in battle died. 

            And the sound of that mournful song 

            Goes through me with a thrill: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


I can see the breezy dome of groves, 

      The shadows of Deering's Woods; 

And the friendships old and the early loves 

Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves 

      In quiet neighborhoods. 

            And the verse of that sweet old song, 

            It flutters and murmurs still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


I remember the gleams and glooms that dart 

      Across the school-boy's brain; 

The song and the silence in the heart, 

That in part are prophecies, and in part 

      Are longings wild and vain. 

            And the voice of that fitful song 

            Sings on, and is never still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


There are things of which I may not speak; 

      There are dreams that cannot die; 

There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak, 

And bring a pallor into the cheek, 

      And a mist before the eye. 

            And the words of that fatal song 

            Come over me like a chill: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


Strange to me now are the forms I meet 

      When I visit the dear old town; 

But the native air is pure and sweet, 

And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street, 

      As they balance up and down, 

            Are singing the beautiful song, 

            Are sighing and whispering still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 


And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair, 

      And with joy that is almost pain 

My heart goes back to wander there, 

And among the dreams of the days that were, 

      I find my lost youth again. 

            And the strange and beautiful song, 

            The groves are repeating it still: 

      "A boy's will is the wind's will, 

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 



“My Lost Youth,’’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). The poem is about, among other things, his hometown, Portland, Maine, which in the past couple of decades has become a very popular and hip place for tourists to visit, as well as for Millennials to move to. There are lots of working artists there.

Portland’s Longfellow Square (named for the artist) soon after the turn of the 20th Century.

Portland’s Longfellow Square (named for the artist) soon after the turn of the 20th Century.








Old mill towns looking for a brighter future

Bucksport, Maine, from the top of the    Penobscot Narrows Bridge   . The town may be a partial model for “Bealport’’ in Jeffrey Lewis’s new novel.

Bucksport, Maine, from the top of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. The town may be a partial model for “Bealport’’ in Jeffrey Lewis’s new novel.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Jeffrey Lewis’s new novel, Bealport: A Novel of a Town, published by Haus Publishing, is about the socio-economic woes of a Maine Coast community all too dependent on a shoe factory (makes me think of Maine’s famous Bass Weejun loafers). A private-equity fund partner buys the company on a sort of lark because he likes its products. He and his partners load it up with debt and basically loot it before he decides to close it, in part because of bad behavior by a local guy whom the fat cat briefly puts in charge of new product development.

The crusty Bealporters, most of whom refuse to move to places with better prospects, are left with dark futures but mostly retain their sardonic sense of humor, but some also use drugs and booze as pain relievers, along with the distraction of a demolition derby.

Coincidentally, while working on this column, I came across an article in the current issue of Yankee magazine headlined “The Town That Refused to Die,’’ about Bucksport, another, but real, Maine Coast town that had been too dependent on a mill, in Bucksport’s case a paper mill that was shut down in 2014, and the town’s efforts to economically and culturally re-invent itself. Part of the reinvention will involve the planned opening of a huge salmon-aquaculture facility. Let’s hope that Bucksport folks don’t become too dependent on that single big employer.

The whole thing reminds me a bit of J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, about growing up poor in Appalachia. Why don’t more people just get up and move to places with more economic potential? Well, many aren’t well educated and so don’t have mobile skills, many feel that they’re too old to start over, many adore their gorgeous if sometimes harsh regions and many have very strong family and friend ties to these places going back generations. For good and for ill, they are rooted.



William Morgan: Finding treasure of Downeast Doric

SEDGWICK, Maine

(New photos by William Morgan)

This small village on the Blue Hill Peninsula seems like so many towns along the rocky coast of Maine. Hardy souls who settled here mostly made a living from the sea – fishing and shipbuilding -- along with some quarrying of the granite ledges. Brooklin, next to Sedgwick, is where the famed essayist and children’s book author E.B. White wrote and set much of his writing there, perhaps most famously Charlotte’s Web.

Sedgwick in 1909.

Sedgwick in 1909.

In a land of many small Congregational houses of worship, what sets Sedgwick apart is its very handsome Baptist church. Earle Shettleworth, longtime director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, who knows more about the architecture of the Pine Tree State than anyone else, declares the Sedgwick church to be the finest example of the Greek Revival style in the state.

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Superlatives aside, the Sedgwick church is both magnificent and a surprise. Situated above the village, First Baptist has a commanding presence, with its Doric portico, temple form and three-stage cupola.

First Batist, Sedgwick 1837

Sedgwick Baptists broke away from the Congregationalists in 1805, most of the congregation with them. This building was built in 1837 at the height of the national craze for architecture putatively inspired by the ancient Greeks. The architect was Benjamin S. Deane from Bangor; the builder was Thomas Lord from nearby Surry.

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Deane was a successful architect of other churches, houses and even a courthouse in eastern Maine. Like many country builders in 19th Century New England, Deane's architectural sophistication came from books, most especially the builder's guides published by Boston architect Asher Benjamin.

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Benjamin's hugely popular how-to books did much to spread the high styles of Boston to New England's rural backwaters. The sixth edition of his American Builder's Companion added templates for Greek details, in addition to the Late Georgian that predominated in the earlier editions.

Plate showing the Doric order from  The American Builder's Companion.   Benjamin's Greek orders were clearly 'borrowed' from earlier European books on the    subject. The Doric was the simplest order and thus the easiest for rural carpenter architects to fashion, especially in wood.

Plate showing the Doric order from The American Builder's Companion.

Benjamin's Greek orders were clearly 'borrowed' from earlier European books on the

subject. The Doric was the simplest order and thus the easiest for rural carpenter architects to fashion, especially in wood.


The cupola, however, is not Greek Revival, but rather a late Georgian form from one of Benjamin's own buildings, the West Meeting House, in Boston. Yet, this kind of mix-and-match without too much regard to historical purity was typical of American architecture.

Asher Benjamin’s West Meeting House, Boston. The church is in late Georgia, of Federal, style. This is the likely source for the Sedgwick cupola .

Asher Benjamin’s West Meeting House, Boston. The church is in late Georgia, of Federal, style. This is the likely source for the Sedgwick cupola.


The interior is pretty similar to a lot of Protestant preaching boxes, with pews that could be from any Maine church of the early 19th Century. The tabernacle frame around the organ is, however, Greek.

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Stained glass windows in the opalescent manner of the great glass artists John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany were installed at the turn of the 20th Century. Alas, were these not run-of-the-mill copies, their sale might have contributed heartily to the $400,000 needed to restore the church.

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Sedgwick's Baptists became pretty thin on the ground. By the congregation's 200th anniversary, in 2005, fewer than a handful of people came to celebrate. A few years later it was sold to an adoring fan who is trying to stabilize the church, searching for money to fix it up, and seeking to find an appropriate nonprofit group that would run the church as a community center.

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William Morgan, based in Providence, wrote his Columbia University master's thesis on Alexander Parris, a New England Greek Revival architect. He contributed the introduction to the Dover reprint of Asher Benjamin's American Builder's Companion, and is the author of American Country Churches, among other books.

Trying to protect Maine from the Brits in a border dispute

Entrance to Fort Knox, in Prospect, Maine.    -- Photo by SarekOfVulcan

Entrance to Fort Knox, in Prospect, Maine.

-- Photo by SarekOfVulcan

Fort Knox, painting by  Seth Eastman  done sometime between 1870 and 1875.

Fort Knox, painting by Seth Eastman done sometime between 1870 and 1875.

“On the Penobscot River, on the opposite bank from the once-upon-a-time paper mill, stands Fort Knox {in Prospect, Maine}, proudly named after the nation’s first secretary of war, Henry Knox, who lived in Thomaston, Maine. It was built between 1844 and 1869 {initially} to guard against the British in a border dispute with Canada. The fear was that if this part of Maine fell, the British would take over some of the best lumber-producing areas on the East Coast and this would cost the United States a most valued natural resource in the building of ships. Other than training recruits during the Civil War, the fort was never used and is now a scenic location overlooking the new bridge, crossing the Penobscot River.” 
 

― Captain Hank Bracker, "Seawater One: Going to Sea

A poet finds grace on the Maine Coast

Cape Neddick Light  (circa 1920), in York, Maine, where May Sarton lived in her last years, after moving from Nelson, N.H.

Cape Neddick Light (circa 1920), in York, Maine, where May Sarton lived in her last years, after moving from Nelson, N.H.

"As I think about it today in my 81st year, looking out at the sea from my desk, I realize that what I have found in Maine is more than courtesy and kindness. It is grace.''

-- The late poet May Sarton, in "I Was on my Way Home Anyway,'' in the March 1994 Yankee magazine.
 

York is a well-known summer resort town, with 18-hole golf clubs, four sandy beaches and Mount Agamenticus, a remarkably high hill (692 feet) considering its proximity to the sea. There's lots of "old money'' there, perhaps best seen at the exclusive York Harbor Reading Room club.

-- Photo by Fredlyfish    At the top of Mount Agamenticus, in York.       

-- Photo by Fredlyfish

At the top of Mount Agamenticus, in York.

 

 

"York Harbor, Coast of Maine'' ( 1877),  by Martin Johnson Heade.

"York Harbor, Coast of Maine'' (1877), by Martin Johnson Heade.

Once the sardine capital

Union Dock in Eastport, Maine, in 1910.

Union Dock in Eastport, Maine, in 1910.

"On a boat cruising down east, sardines are scooped out of the holding seine at Eastport {Maine} at dawn. 'Sardines' may be any of several species of fish; in Maine they are usually small herring. Fish are penned in nets until the boats are ready to load. The fish are taken a short distance to canneries which work round the clock, according to the time of the catch.''

Luis Marden (1913-2003), American writer, explorer and photographer.


Eastport used to be America's sardine capital  but its  last sardine fishery closed in  2010.

 

Towering kitsch

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The statue of legendary woodsman Paul Bunyan in the old lumber town of Bangor, Maine, is one of those pieces of kitsch that can bring a smile  on otherwise depressing days. But sadly, as Lonely Planet noted, "his view of the Penobscot River {which used to be  used to float logs down to the coast when Maine was a huge supplier of wood} is now blocked by a  casino. ''

Big fortunes were made in the wood business, and Bangor still has many mansions built by those who made these fortunes. One is below, now owned by famous writer Stephen King.

 

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The Maine way to boost lobster stocks

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From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

Southern New England lobstermen (or should I say lobsterpersons?) may have hurt themselves by taking as many lobsters as they can, without looking at the species’ ability to reproduce. It may be a case of “the tragedy of the commons’’ -- wherein individual users in a shared-resource system acting independently in what they see as their own self-interest undermine the common good by depleting that resource through their collective action.

Has that attitude had as much impact on the plunging lobster stocks along the Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts as environmental changes, especially warming seas? Hard to tell. Commercial fishermen are notoriously independent and secretive about their catches.

You can’t but think of that when you learn that many Maine lobsterman have long used what seems to be a very effective conservation method. As reported by Fred Bever for Maine Public Radio:

For years, Maine lobstermen have used "’V-notching’: when they found an egg-bearing female in their traps, they would clip a ‘V’ into the end of its tail, and throw it back. The next time it turns up in someone's trap, even if it's not showing eggs, the harvester knows it's a fertile female, and throws it back. Later, the lobstermen also pushed the Legislature to impose limits on the size of the lobster they can keep — because the biggest ones produce the most eggs.’’

“And those fertile females have been doing that job very well in Maine. Since the 1980s, lobster abundance here has grown by more than 500 percent, with landings shooting up from fewer than 20 million pounds in 1985, to more than 120 million pounds in 2015 with a value of more than a half billion dollars.’’

To read more, please hit this link.

https://nenc.news/research-concludes-maine-conservation-technique-helped-drive-lobster-population-boom/

Sliding down winter in Camden

At the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, in Camden, Maine.

At the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, in Camden, Maine.

Camden, Maine, on the Pine Tree State's Mid-Coast and, very unusual for New England, with (low) mountains behind its gorgeous harbor, is a famed summer place for the affluent "from away''. But it's beautiful and fun  year round. 

The high point of the winter is the annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships, this year to be held Feb. 9-11, as usual at the Camden Snow Bowl.  It includes a party in the woods, with a bonfire, food and music. In warmer weather, admire Camden's famous schooner fleet.

'Inflexibly territorial'

The harbor of Cutler, Maine. The tiny town is way Downeast.

The harbor of Cutler, Maine. The tiny town is way Downeast.

Many small towns I know in Maine are as tight-knit and interdependent as those I associate with rural communities in India or China; with deep roots and old loyalties, skeptical of authority, they are proud and inflexibly territorial.

-- Paul Theroux, novelist and travel writer
 

Patty Wright: Maine governor puts brakes on Medicaid expansion

Maine State House, in Augusta.

Maine State House, in Augusta.

Via Kaiser Health News

Just hours after Maine voters became the first in the nation to use the ballot box to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Republican Gov. Paul LePage said he wouldn’t implement it unless the Legislature funds the state’s share of an expansion.

“Give me the money and I will enforce the referendum,” LePage said. Unless the Legislature fully funds the expansion — without raising taxes or using the state’s rainy day fund — he said he wouldn’t implement it.

LePage has long been a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion. The Maine Legislature has passed bills to expand the insurance program five times since 2013, but the governor vetoed each one.

That track record prompted Robyn Merrill, co-chair of the coalition Mainers for Health Care, to take the matter directly to voters Tuesday.

The strategy worked. Medicaid expansion, or Question 2, passed handily, with 59 percent of voters in favor and 41 percent against.

“Maine is sending a strong and weighty message to politicians in Augusta, and across the country,” Merrill said. “We need more affordable health care, not less.”

Medicaid expansion would bring health coverage to about 70,000 people in Maine.

As a battle now brews over implementation in Maine, other states will likely be watching: groups in Idaho and Utah are trying to put Medicaid expansion on their state ballots next year.

With passage of the ballot measure, Maine is poised to join the 31 states and the District of Columbia that have already expanded Medicaid to cover adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $16,000 dollars for an individual, and about $34,000 for a family of four.

Currently, people in Maine who make too much for traditional Medicaid and who aren’t eligible for subsidized health insurance on the federal marketplace fall into a coverage gap. It was created when the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act optional.

That’s the situation Kathleen Phelps finds herself in. She’s a hairdresser from Waterville who has emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She said she has had to forgo her medications and oxygen because she can’t afford them. “Finally, finally, maybe people now people like myself can get the health care we need,” she said.

Medicaid expansion would also be a win for hospitals. More than half of those in Maine are operating in the red. Across the state, hospitals provide more than $100 million a year in charity care, according to the Maine Hospital Association. Expanding Medicaid coverage will bolster their fiscal health and give doctors and nurses more options to treat their formerly uninsured patients, said Jeff Austin, a spokesman with the association.

“There are just avenues of care that open up when you see a patient from recommending a prescription drug or seeing a counselor,” he said. “Doors that were closed previously will now be open.”

But voter approval may not be enough. Though a legislative budget analysis office estimates Medicaid expansion would bring about $500 million in federal funding to Maine each year, it would also cost the state about $50 million a year.

The fate of the Medicaid expansion will now be in the hands of the Legislature, where lawmakers can change it like any other bill. Four ballot initiatives passed by Maine voters last year have been delayed, altered or overturned.

But state Democratic leaders pledge to implement the measure. “Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert the law … will be fought with every recourse at our disposal,” Speaker of the House Sara Gideon said. “Mainers demanded affordable access to health care yesterday, and that is exactly what we intend to deliver.”

Patty Wright is a journalist for Maine Public.

This story is part of a partnership that includes Maine Public, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

His magical Portland

(This is a tribute to Portland, Maine)

"Often I think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea; 
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town, 
And my youth comes back to me. 
And a verse of a Lapland song
Is haunting my memory still: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

"I can see the shadowy lines of its trees, 
And catch, in sudden gleams, 
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas, 
And islands that were the Hersperides
Of all my boyish dreams. 
And the burden of that old song, 
It murmurs and whispers still: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

"I remember the black wharves and the slips, 
And the sea-tides tossing free; 
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips, 
And the beauty and mystery of the ships, 
And the magic of the sea. 
And the voice of that wayward song
Is singing and saying still: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

"I remember the bulwarks by the shore, 
And the fort upon the hill; 
The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar, 
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er, 
And the bugle wild and shrill. 
And the music of that old song
Throbs in my memory still: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

"I remember the sea-fight far away, 
How it thundered o'er the tide! 
And the dead captains, as they lay
In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay, 
Where they in battle died. 
And the sound of that mournful song
Goes through me with a thrill: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

"I can see the breezy dome of groves, 
The shadows of Deering's Woods; 
And the friendships old and the early loves
Come back with a sabbath sound, as of doves
In quiet neighborhoods. 
And the verse of that sweet old song, 
It flutters and murmurs still: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

"I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
Across the school-boy's brain; 
The song and the silence in the heart, 
That in part are prophecies, and in part
Are longings wild and vain. 
And the voice of that fitful song
Sings on, and is never still: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

There are things of which I may not speak; 
There are dreams that cannot die; 
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak, 
And bring a pallor into the cheek, 
And a mist before the eye. 
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

Strange to me now are the forms I meet
When I visit the dear old town; 
But the native air is pure and sweet, 
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street, 
As they balance up and down, 
Are singing the beautiful song, 
Are sighing and whispering still: 
"A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 

And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair, 
And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there, 
And among the dreams of the days that were, 
I find my lost youth again. 
And the strange and beautiful song, 
The groves are repeating it still: 
'A boy's will is the wind's will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82), "My Lost Youth''

 

Charles Chieppo: Maine may be pacesetter against healthcare-price inflation

As consumers suffer sticker shock over rising-health-insurance premiums, insurers increasingly are responding with policies that aim to hold down premiums with narrower provider networks or much higher co­-pays and/or deductibles.

According to the National Business Group on Health, 32 percent of American companies intended to offer only high­-deductible plans to their employees last year. As out-­of-pocket costs rise, so does consumer interest in the cost of the procedures they undergo.

Legislation pending in Maine would add it to the list of states requiring hospitals and other providers to share price information with prospective patients upon request. But the legislation goes further. It would make Maine the first state to let consumers and insurance companies split savings of more then $50 if the consumer can find a provider that offers the service at a cost that is lower than the regional average.

A similar shared­-savings model is in place for state employees in neighboring New Hampshire. Few Maine legislators oppose price transparency, but there are concerns about the shared-­savings provision.

Opponents argue that the full cost of most medical procedures is hard to determine in advance and that the financial incentives won't change consumer behavior. You are indeed unlikely to be able to get a cost estimate for a procedure as complex as open­heart surgery, but one forthcoming study suggests that the savings that could be achieved from shopping around, at least for routine procedures, are far greater than expected.

The Pioneer Institute asked more than 40 hospitals in six metropolitan areas for the price of an MRI on the left knee without contrast. The prices ranged from $400 at a Los Angeles hospital to $4,544 at one in New York City. (I am affiliated with Pioneer as a senior fellow but had no involvement with the survey.)

It's hard to believe that consumers won't shop around for routine or elective procedures if they're paying a significant portion of the cost and the potential savings are that large. Indeed, the main point of the Pioneer survey is that it was very difficult for callers to get a complete price for the procedure despite state and federal health care price transparency laws.

The authors argue that it is the lack of access to price information that keeps consumers from shopping. The benefits from cost comparisons go beyond consumers' out­of­pocket savings.

Medical loss ­ratio laws require health insurers to pay out at least 80 percent of the money they receive in benefits, meaning that any savings the insurers realize from consumers shopping for lower prices will translate into premium relief.

That relief is sorely needed. The average annual premium and out­of­pocket costs for the nearly 60 percent of Americans covered by employer­-sponsored health plans is more than $8,500. That number is expected to rise to between $13,000 and $18,000 by 2025 and could top $36,000, or about 45 percent of average household income, by 2035.

Price transparency and providing incentives for consumers to shop for better prices won't by themselves get healthcare costs under control. But faced with the prospect of families spending nearly half their income on healthcare just two decades hence, states should take action now to start bending the cost curve down. The kind of legislation that Maine is considering now could be an important first step.

Charles Chieppo (Charlie_Chieppo@hks.harvard.edu) is a research fellow at the Ash Center at Harvard's Kennedy School (and a friend of the overseer of this site). This piece originated at Web site of Governing magazine (governing.com).

 

 

 

 

Van Gogh's angst on a Maine bulletin board

bullboard
Comment and photo by WILLIAM MORGAN
The community billboard is a feature of many small New England towns.
Notices of town meetings, public hearings, cultural events and lost cats appear on these pre-electronic message boards. A friend of mine in Dublin, N.H.,  died a few years back and a notice of his death and memorial service were chalked on a board in front of the headquarters of Yankee Magazine in that town.
But there is something a little different on the bulletin board between the town landing in Round Pond, Maine, and the Muscongus Bay Lobster restaurant there: a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh.
These hand-written recitations from the angst-ridden painter's last year in this unexpected place are legions more real than the tacky reprints of his work, the museum shop tote bags, and the eternally dreadful ballad "Starry, Starry Night."

Birdland at Maine gallery

  Farrar

"White Pullet'' (encaustic), by HELENE FARRAR,  in the show "Little by Little, Bird by Bird,'' at Monkitree gallery, in Gardiner, Maine.

The show includes bird-inspired art by nine Maine artists.

Ms. Farrar says she came to crafting birds when her dying mother made hamburger  available to attract, and watch the beauty of,  a flock of birds. (Not so beautiful for the  steer killed to make the hamburger.)

"As they swooped down for their dinner, their flying and fluttering forms forced a moment of quiet and observation in an otherwise intense and painful period in my life. Birds from that point on became something else  -- a witness to life's events and cycles, portraits, commentaries on life and relationships, and a general slice of humor.''

The gallery says that whether "they symbolize peace or freedom, flight or ambition, birds are the sole focus of the artists in this exhibition.''

Has she seen The Birds, the Alfred Hitchcock movie?

 

 

The Winslow Homer Studio

  homestudio

Winslow Homer's paintings have long been some of the most beloved art associated with New England. Thus many will want to visit the Winslow Homer Studio, at Prouts Neck, Maine. The studio, owned by the Portland Museum of Maine,  is where the artist lived from 1883 until his death, in 1910. The museum says the studio is meant to "celebrate the artist's life, to encourage scholarship on Homer, and to educate audiences to appreciate the artistic heritage of Winslow Homer and Maine.''

 

Not that Homer is always that cheery. Many of his images show nature to be menacing, as in the painting "Northeaster'' below.

 

northeaster