Category Archives: politics

Sign, Sign, Another Week of Signs

p2Another week, another protest. This one against the “non-ban.” Alt-facts and the temporary lift of the “non-ban” aside, Winooski gathered for the smallest, proudest protest of the Land, held in the center of its infamous rotary. Even the sun participated.

True fact: the Burlington area is famously refugee-friendly, has been for decades. That’s Vermont for you. First in so many things, including outlawing slavery, allowing blacks and women into its (first in the nation) private military college, first state college, and of course the first rope tow. Let’s not forget: first in civil unions. Yay, ‘mont!

Here’s some more signs, mostly last-minute, with heart.



Here We Are!


Squirrels and Tigers and Hares — Oh My

When I’m not buying discounted Valentine foodstuffs, reeling from presidential debates, or marveling at the driving etiquette of certain states, I endeavor to cheer and motivate Dear Reader and, in so doing, activate my own laggardly winter self. In tymes of crippling global bizarreness – political, fiscal, climate, you name it – we could all use a little pep talk.


TD hearts meMaybe your Valentine’s Day wasn’t quite dreamy. No matter, this Hallmark folly is more obligation than holiday, much as I love my annual “balentine” from my mommy. St. Pat’s Day does nothing for many — a drinking day vaguely involving snakes and saints, and if you’re not religious, it seems rather a long, festivity-less haul until Memorial Day. It is.

It’s an odd time of year in an odd year in odd tymes. Who could sleep with all the award ceremonies and farcical debates? A church friend said this has been the winter of our discontent … we had “nothing to play in outside” … had to go to Jersey for snow. When the sun came out (twice?) the temperature plummeted. We felt thwarted. Restless. The global news helped none, and personal problems abounded. Mankind seems to be going through…something. I hope it gets us somewhere good.

When things aren’t going ducky in one life area (say, job), it’s easy to extrapolate the badness onto every other area (money, health, marriage), then just smear it all over the past and the future. It’s a combination of rewriting history (with a dark ink) and catastrophizing about the future. Then everything seems quite terrible indeed. And in your mind, it is. That’s when the compensatory measures kick in – overeating, overdrinking, oversleeping, overreading. I’m not saying your worries aren’t valid. They probably are. I’m saying that in a dreary time of year, one distressing thing can make you don the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. You pick the color.

Overwhelmed? Hiding? Not thrilled with where the choices you’ve made have gotten you? Or maybe you made very few choices. You just went with the flow and now you’re gasping for air on a debris-littered bank since the water level suddenly dropped. It’s not too late, you know, to take your life in hand. I won’t claim it’s never too late to do anything, because that’s a lie. Time marches on. Trains leave the station. Windows close. Boom. You have to get clever with workarounds.

tiger stampPatience is not my greatest virtue. My Chinese Zodiac year is that of the Tiger; tigers question authority, detest incompetence, and are impatient. With age, at least, we improve at handling disappointment and delaying gratification. Which helps, because when you don’t get cranky you retain the clarity to plot an alternate route.

As we encounter pot holes and frost heaves and flat-out roadblocks, let us allow the recent Black History Month to inspire in us a serious pondering of Plan B (“another approach”). Maybe it’s time to try a new route. Switch jobs. Move. Quit something you’re failing at, expand something you’re good at. Good at everything you do? Test yourself; try something new. But if it’s not mostly fun, forget it. Life is hard. Plenty of miserable tasks and situations will be thrust upon you. Don’t add to the pile.

Hell, this crazy weather could force us inside for weeks. Lie around, in the bath or under an20 below ocean of blankets, and let your mind float away. What don’t you do that you’d like to? Or, if you can’t do it, what can you do instead? What are you going to plant, lit. and fig.? Which annual that will last a year; which perennial that you will enjoy — or endure — year after year? Dahlias or skunk cabbage? Use your intuition and look for a Sign. I do.

hare II

“Hare” by Capt. McGee

Ride the rails, knit, bowl. Give or get a massage. Get a pet. Walk. Do something for someone. Take a class. Soon this weird winter will end and you’ll be running around like a crazed March Hare, full of P and V. But remember: vigilance! Turn off CNN (“There’s a rabid squirrel ripping through American neighborhoods … is it coming to YOU?”); it should be called the Alarmist News Network. And I always forget seasonal nuisances until their return. Black flies, cluster flies, black ice … pot holes. I hit one so wide my car couldn’t possibly straddle it. It was really more of a sinkhole, a lunar cheese hole. The car groaned. As did I. As will you. Ponder your spring … with vigilance! Good day.


E-mail or ann.aikens.7 on Facebook. Twitter handle: @uvgvt.

The Devil is in the DEETails

Litterbug, per

A normally wry friend recently told me how his ex had pointed out his faults on her way out the door. This had made him especially dejected. I asked, “What faults?” and he explained. “You know, the disorganization, the forgetfulness, the keen desire to have my picture taken with political celebrities. . . .” I replied, “Those aren’t faults. Those are endearing traits, charming to those who love you.”

It’s been said that what attracts you to someone is what later drives you nuts. Likewise, qualities you have that delighted someone can devolve into vile faults demanding extirpation. But it’s a puzzle when someone who is leaving you feels obligated to express exactly why you’re not good enough. Why do that? Isn’t it bad enough they’re abandoning you? I once received a 13-page Dear Jane letter, detailing all I had done wrong. I see, I thought. Yes, it’s clear now. Thanks so much.

What became clear? My shortcomings? No. That the devil is alive and well. He enters people and makes them romance you, leave you, and tell you how you failed. The devil was in the details: in this case elaborately illustrated criticisms. The devil also invented call waiting, data mining, and other vexing details of modern life designed to make us willing to swap with him our souls, for just a few moments of blessed peace.

He also recruits Litterbugs. When I’m behind someone that throws a cigarette or Big Gulp out a car window, I become possessed. I honk, flash my lights, and make impolite gestures. I know this is wrong, and both Litterbug and I could rightfully say (nod to Flip Wilson), “The devil made me do it.”

Discussing this in church, a wry southern friend says with vehemence, “I want to know. What does a litterbug look like?” I know precisely what they look like but the words I’d use to describe one cannot be said in church. We work ourselves into a lather over it. Then, pews away, I hear a Vermonter of many years (90+?) say to her companion, “It always takes me by surprise, spring. It’s such a lovely transformation, especially after a hard winter.” That this woman could still be awed by how our area is like a different planet in spring, after nearly 100 of them, drives the devil right out of me.

mud from N

Gone fishin’.

I give a wry friend a candy bar named Chocolate Interlude which she promptly renames Chocolate Intervention. Then I think how in these blasted modern tymes how they add an “e” to things (e-billing, e-commerce) and how we can add our own e’s for the heck of it, to our e-underwear and our e-moxy and our e-breath. And how a wry Vermont friend said in Connecticut, “They call these pot holes?” And how nude season is nigh, and the mighty Goliath of mud has been subjugated by gravity and slender blades of grass, and nothing but nothing smells like flowering trees.

Then I attend, despite this column’s deadline, the local Legislative Breakfast. Our state senators and representatives articulatewith intelligence and fairness issues that are ridiculously complex, e.g., the GMO labeling bill just passed—and how VT will be sued by corporations. That the Governor’s so-called “Food Fight Fund” is being established, smartly, with the help of non-Vermonters, is cheering. Someone half my age pays me a compliment. I spot a granny on a riding mower. Finally—get this—technology proves heartening. I choose truelove as a password and it is denied for being “too common.” That its selection as a password is too common says something huge about humankind.

Yes, there is plenty of hard evidence of the devil’s existence, including but not limited to black flies, BP, and the Disgraceful Home Printer Ink Scandal of Modern Tymes, wherein (pricey!) ink tanks mysteriously dry up and your (infernal!) printer won’t even scan without ink. Sometimes we choose between two devils, say, black flies and DEET. A Mainer I know says you can’t go fishing without it. I use it when the biters are so vicious I don’t care if it shuts down my brain, bladder, and kidneys, though I know DEET to be compressed devil in a can.

Some days, the devil’s around every corner, seems like. Yet somehow, with an overheard “lovely transformation” and a too-common password and grannies riding mowers and a posse of wry friends, we remain eHopeful. We soldier on. If you feel disheartened, I’ll give you part of my heart, that as yet unaffected as yet by DEET and other devilment. Good luck. Good day.

“10 surprising things you may not know about Martin Luther King Jr.”

MLKMLK’s 1963 March on Washington speech is as stirring as the first time you heard it. Favorite parts include “When will you be satisfied?” in the middle and “Go back!” after that. His transcendent oratory backed by tireless work! His beautiful face!

Here are some fakts with the video of the speech. Listen this time with an ear to the church-style MLK Man of the Yearencouragement from listeners near the mike (“Yes!”  “Uh huh.” “Amen!”). Video of the crowd is great.  Mahalia Jackson’s interesting contribution noted here with stills of that day.

Today I will write a check to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Morris Dees’ outfit does sooper cool stuff, like (legally) taking a white supremacist compound and turning it into a summer camp for disadvantaged youth of color. Oh man, that is justice, baby. Amen.

Margaret and Helen Rip it Out Over Texas


Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth
Eric Gay/AP

This gem was written before articulate State Senator Wendy Davis pulled it off. I can’t leave it up long (you’ll see why), but I post because Margaret and Helen are a riot (if they exist) and in honor of today’s good news from Texas. Apologies to my Republican friends for Helen’s, um, approach. And shame on those who tried to tinker with the official time on the vote records.

The actual full story is astonishing in every way.

For those agreeing with single mother, Harvard grad, and champion of low-income women Wendy Davis, the outcome is a fresh breeze of good air. Thank you, Miz Davis. Thank you.

What My Grandfather Would Do

FAMILY PHOTO - ONE TIME USEONLY!!!!When my mother’s father died, she was a teacher in Wausau, Wisconsin, a gorgeous young twenty-something that resembled Ingrid Bergman. She was close to her father, a big Irish motorcycle cop with a big laugh.  While the details of the story she told me in high school are now hazy, and it is much too early as I write this to call her to confirm, I recall her being in a hospital room with him while her mother was walking briskly on the sidewalk outside. Her father was making terrible sounds, dying, and my mother was hoping against hope that her tiny, tough Swede of a mother would get inside quickly because it seemed he was hanging on for her arrival. I don’t remember if my grandmother made it. In my mind it was snowing. I do know for sure that at his funeral it snowed, and this made my mother happy because my grandfather loved snow.

My guess is there will be a lot of arguments, in coming weeks, surrounding the notion, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” when it is plainly obvious that it is people with guns that kill people. Many more people a lot faster with greater certainty than if the killer didn’t have a gun. This is why I have been for gun control since my youth. Then, I didn’t live in an area where people hunted for meat. I have since shot guns myself at targets in the woods and at indoor ranges.

I don’t know the answer, but I do know this: if I was hunting and a magical wood sprite promised, “If you give up your gun right now, there will never be another mass murder in the U.S.,” I would trade it in for another “sport” in a heartbeat. I can’t think of a single thing I wouldn’t give up for that.  Some argue that the bad guys will always have guns. That may be true, as it is in New York City where it’s extremely difficult even for even a sane business owner in a high-crime neighborhood to procure legally a handgun, much less an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine designed to kill many as quickly as possible. But regarding the black market gun supply, I doubt the mentally ill who fire upon schools or movie theaters would find much access to guns in a gunless America.Nor do I believe that all angry psychotics can be cured or neutralized by “early detection.”

Access to guns is almost impossible in some countries, yet their citizens seem to live perfectly satisfying lives without them. They find other things to do there. Their murder rate is a fraction of ours, which is astonishing and shameful. At the very least, and I do mean the very least, immediate renewal of the horrifyingly, inexplicably expired assault weapon ban is beyond discussion. We need new, draconian gun access restrictions. We’ve proven that, as a nation, we cannot be trusted with guns.

Here in rural America, I will make enemies by advocating for gun control. That’s fine with me. I am unafraid to take a stand, take abuse, defend my position, get into a barn burner over it. But maybe I will carry as my silent weapon a photo of my friend’s beautiful youngest child, Daniel, who will now remain forever and ever seven years old, with his wide, brown, little-boy eyes and unruly auburn hair and his two front teeth missing. If someone questions my stance on gun control, I will show them this photo. I couldn’t care less what they say after that. But I suspect they won’t say much. To me, anyway.

Without getting up, I open the blinds to look outside my window as one does after staring at the computer for hours, and I think of my grandfather the motorcycle cop. He carried a gun. He adored his children. And I wonder, if he’d seen what happened in Connecticut this week, to Daniel and the others, if he would give up his right to carry a gun if that would end these senseless massacres. I ask him this, the grandfather I never knew, as I peer up into the dark of winter’s morning. Finally, in a cold December strangely devoid of the white stuff, it begins to snow.

We Don’t Talk Politics Much in Rural America

Michael Reynolds/AP

It’s not proper. But can I say that both parties in the veep debate last were mesmerizing?

Joe Biden came on like a fisher cat but with enough spazzy nutter facial expressions to round out his performance. I felt an almost maternal pride towards Paul Ryan for not soiling himself when it seemed as if every Biden statement ended with “…Son.”

[Coming to Vermont? The nasty, weasel-like fisher cat will run into your camper, steal your miniature doberman, take it, and eat it. BYO dingo.]

More Garbage


So let’s forget about how every recipient of this mailing has definitely won something (a 2012 wallet calendar? A pickup truck?) Point is:  I’ve never been to this place,  I live nowhere near it, and that means a whole mess of people received by mail the glued-on, totally useless, piece-of-garbage key that will go straight to landfill.  Shame on you, Capitol City, for your eco-costly gimmick! The Footprint Warriors are on your tail.

Waste: The Final Frontier


We had a foreign exchange student in high school who, for unknown reasons, exclaimed occasionally, “Baby garbage!”   He found this hilarious.  Something was clearly lost in translation, possibly involving what is known as the diminutive. The idea of a little baby garbage, or female or beloved garbage, must have been comical from his culture’s perspective.


In May, we in Vermont practice Green Up Day, when volunteers pick up garbage, baby and otherwise, from roadside, riverside, and public spaces.  I’d never done Green Up Day, so this Earth Day I got myself assigned to a remote stretch of dirt road.  Sometimes you can have an excellent time alone. I did, filling two bags with all manner of Vermonty refuse—shell casings, beer and wine bottles, 175 cig butts, condom, saw blade—presumably tossed from cars by the Party People. But I came across lovelier man-made items as well: a fairy house, Royal Larocque’s farm, a stack of rocks.  There are people who stack rocks, some sort of Skull and Bones-y secret order, I imagine. Perhaps you know their work. The Rock People.

Garbage has troubled me since the Mobro 4000 (a.k.a the Gar-barge) cruised around aimlessly and unwanted for seven months in 1987 with 3,000 tons of trash and no port from Brooklyn to Belize willing to take it.  It was darkly comic to readers of the tabloids, but it probably wasn’t funny at all to the poor slobs piloting the thing, who no doubt needed gas masks by week two. The Gar-barge People also happened to be Mob People. No surprise there.

Years later, I became similarly dismayed at a resort in Jamaica. No one seemed to know where the thousands of plastic cups the bartenders chucked daily were going. And this was just one of a dozen such resorts. The waste was ruining my good time. Why couldn’t they use real glasses? Why’d I have to beg bartenders to re-use my plastic cup? Not that I ever had a second drink.


When questioned by my nieces about worldly horrors, I am often at a loss for words. They once asked me why I got angry when they ran out of sight in a park. I stammered, “There are beings… who… steal… children!” making it sound like some crazy troll in a fairytale out to get them. The author of Garbology, interviewed on the radio recently, revealed terrible facts about garbage that I could never explain to my nieces. The information was too disturbing for a family newspaper. Let’s just say we have a major problem on our hands, particularly in the oceans.

So I’m at the dump, where we recycle for free. I ask the attendant exactly what kind of machine can separate paper, plastic, and metal. He said, “It doesn’t. This goes into a trash compactor.” Oh. We don’t have that magic zero-sort machine other towns have?  I ask him who wants our compacted garbage. China.” China?! What are they doing with it?! He answers by tugging on his shirt and letting it snap back while tilting his chin in the air.  “We’re wearin’ it.”

I’m not really opposed to wearing garbage, but what else are they doing it with it? What do they need it for, what with many garbage-producing citizens of their own? I’m sure Garbology holds the answers. I’ll read it to my newborn nephew. He’s the only one who can handle the truth. Because he won’t understand it. He’ll just squawk and coo.

When confronted with distressing realities we can do little about, we look to scientists. In the future, whole planets may


be used as garbage dumps. Surely scientists can come up with something better. Look at all the solutions they’ve already delivered! Problem is, in a fame-obsessed culture fanned by reality TV, the Young People don’t want to become scientists any more. I propose a reality show where the YP compete for a fat cash prize (and, yes, celebrity) to solve Earth’s problems. Friend Harry suggests “Footprint Warriors.

Do it up, Young People. We oldsters made a mess. It’s yours to fix. Maybe your hot young musicians can start  by singing songs about garbage. Then, as some oldsters would argue, and have for generations, they already do. Good luck…and good day.

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