Monday, January 15, 2018

I’m Sorry - An Apology, Not an Apologia

An "apologia" is a defense - justified or not - for one’s opinion or conduct. An "apology" is a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

This is an apology, but for nothing that I have done personally. I am apologizing for the failure of my country to live up to the standards our Founding Fathers and Mothers established for the people of the United States . . . "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . . ." If you disagree with that, let me remind you this comes from the preamble of the Constitution, a document the folks in the White House and on Capitol Hill should be familiar with by now. Or so one would hope. Each has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.

I am growing tired of the constant litany of faux pas, gaffes, indiscretions, improprieties, and solecisms that have come to represent the will and the way of this White House throughout the past year. It seems to me each one is more outrageous and contemptible than the last. The president has long been considered the leader of the free world and the spokesperson for democratic ideals, yet the current occupant of the Oval Office has promptly and completely surrendered these roles confounding our enemies and our allies in equal measure. And in doing so he is leaving the American people, those who did not vote for him, and now many who did, bewildered and perplexed. He promised to make America great again. But should this be at the expense of our hard won reputation throughout the world community? We can no longer call ours the greatest country in the world if we are going to sit idly by and let this poor excuse of a national leader speak for us.

I am likewise getting damned tired of having to apologize to friends and colleagues in other countries – including some who live and work in countries our president [sic] has now characterized as "shithole countries" . . . just one more disparagement in an unbroken chain of asinine, ignorant, xenophobic, and downright racist comments and tweets flowing out of this Oval Office. Also for all of the senseless, ill-informed, not to mention his loathsome, unsavory, insalubrious, exasperating, infuriating . . . and just downright ugly rhetoric. Add to this the lame apologia offered up by those in the White House and on Capitol Hill who continue to defend the man [sic] and his ignorance and lack of statecraft. Those who enable and excuse this aberrant behavior are equally guilty. I feel I have to apologize for, but never excuse, these words and actions because the man [sic] guilty of this ignorance and offence does not have it in his DNA to admit when he is wrong. The president [sic] should be ashamed of himself, but then again he has no shame, no moral compass, not one iota or scintilla of an idea what he is doing or the significance of what he does or says. If he did, we would not be treated to these daily, if not hourly, dreckfests.

That said, as a citizen of the United States, I apologize to those offended and I assure you that I am equally ashamed of the leader [sic] of this country and all those who, for whatever reason, refuse to step up and register their shame and disapproval. As folks say in some of the nations referred to as a "shithole countries" - "Digame con quién caminas, y te diré quién eres." . . . . "Tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are." Please know that I do not walk with those who cast dispersions on others out of ignorance. RESIST!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

In the Golden Arc - Johannesburg and Soweto - Into Africa - Part III

Part Three of Six

I was reminded that first morning in Johannesburg of something Ernest Hemingway once said . . . that he never knew a morning in Africa when he awoke and was not happy. Before arriving here I would have questioned if such a thing were possible. Yet I knew there was something to it when I arose every morning of our trip with a happiness I could not explain . . . perhaps knowing that each day would be full of new discoveries and experiences . . . seeing things I had only dreamed of.

We slept like the dead, and that first morning, after showering and dressing, I took a short walk around the grounds of our bed and breakfast. It was early autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and the leaves were beginning to turn. The air was fresh and sweet. Autumn has always been my favorite season, and now I was going to enjoy it twice in the same year. One thing I noticed almost immediately were the high security walls topped with barbed wire and the gated driveway. I asked our host, a white Afrikaner, about this and she said it was pretty much de rigeur throughout South Africa. And not just the residences of the minority white population. Our travels throughout South Africa would prove this true. Marlboro Gardens seemed such a quiet and peaceful residential suburb today, yet during the years of apartheid, when the area was an Indian township, it was frequently the scene of bitter racial disturbances and the crime level, as is the case throughout Johannesburg, the country's largest city with its 4+ million inhabitants, is still a significant problem.

When planning our trip to South Africa we gave very little attention to Johannesburg as it has never been considered a traditional tourist destination due to its size and its infamous crime. Many view it as just another big city with little to offer compared with what lies beyond. People fly into Johannesburg and then quickly disperse to the many game preserves and other nature sites throughout the region, returning only to catch their homeward bound flight. This was essentially our own plan as we mapped out the logistics of our own trip. We would fly into Johannesburg, spend one night and then head into the bushveld to see what we had really come to see. As our planning began to coalesce, however, we looked into the possibility of visiting one of the former Black African townships that encircle the city. Soweto and Alexandra immediately came to mind as they each played a strong role in the eventually existential battle against apartheid.

If crime was rampant, you would not know it on that pleasant early autumn morning as we ate a casual breakfast on the porch of our B&B. Afterwards our host drove us a short distance to the Marlboro train station where we caught the Gautrain for the short hop to the upscale northern borough of Sandton. She would meet us there again in the afternoon along with our luggage. This modern light rail system opened in 2009 in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer competition hosted by South Africa. It now links Johannesburg and the airport with the capital city of Pretoria a few miles to the north.

Along the way we got our first real look at the former "native township" of Alexandra – known locally simply as "Alex" – which in contrast to modern Sandton is among the poorest urban areas in the entire country. Almost 200,000 people are crowded into three square miles. Alexandra was the home of Nelson Mandela in the early 1940s, as well as several ministers of his African National Congress government when he became the first black president of South Africa in 1994. It was also home to Samora Machel, later president of neighboring Mozambique whose widow Mandela married after divorcing his second wife Winnie. Machel lived in Alexandra in the 1950s and 1960s when he worked at a hotel in downtown Johannesburg. Hastings Banda, a former president of Malawi, also lived here for a time before moving to Soweto. It is now home to an ever-growing population of Zimbabweans who have fled their chaotic homeland in search of jobs. In the early 1980s a new master plan was introduced to transform and modernize Alexandra, but all of this came to an end in February 1986 when a violent uprising known popularly as "Alex Six Days" resulted in scores being killed by security forces while attending a funeral. Tensions still exist there today as they do in other townships around the country.

Just a short distance to the west is Sandton which is considered by many to be the wealthiest square mile in all of Africa. It certainly appeared so on first blush, especially after traveling along the outer fringes of Alexandra. Sandton became a destination of white flight in the mid 1990s when the ANC government took power in the midst of racial unrest throughout the country. Many hotels and corporate offices have since relocated here to escape the urban decay and rampant crime in central Johannesburg and elsewhere. Despite its reputation as a moneyed enclave, I found a rather cheery and pleasant racial mix going about their daily lives among sidewalk markets adjacent to upscale galleries and boutique, it streets full of traffic, including a fleet of tuk-tuks, those three-wheel motorized rickshaws used for deliveries and as taxis. These would be a common sight as one passes through South Africa’s urban areas.

From Sandton we made our way slowly through central precincts of Johannesburg on the MI autoroute. South Africa’s largest city – frequently referred to as simply "Jo-burg" - is situated on the Witwatersrand, an east-west escarpment running through today’s Gauteng (Sesotho for "place of gold") and Mpumalanga provinces. This area was originally highveld grasslands covered with scrub brush until the Afrikaner farmers moved into the former Transvaal (South African Republic) from the British (formerly Dutch) Cape Colony (centered around Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope) in the late 19th century. This region is also part of South Africa’s Golden Arc," the massive gold-bearing reefs where at one time almost half of the world’s gold was mined following its discovery in 1886, the same year Johannesburg was established by those attracted to the new gold rush.

There were few if any naturally occurring trees in the Witwatersrand when the Afrikaners arrived. They brought with them seeds - oak and walnut mostly - from the Cape Colony to plant as wind breaks for their new farms. With the development of the gold mining industry in the area, the mining companies established a horticultural center just north of Johannesburg to cultivate trees whose wood would be satisfactory for reinforcing mine shafts and tunnels. They would eventually settle on the blue gum (eucalyptus) which quickly became an important commodity supporting the South African economy. Various types of trees were planted along city streets and residents were encouraged to plant trees on their property and in their gardens. Over the past century the city has continued to plant and cultivate trees, especially in those underclass areas that suffered under apartheid, and today Johannesburg is considered one of the world’s greenest cities. Towering above the city’s treescape are long ochre-hued hummocks formed by the tailings from the mining of the gold reefs.

Arriving in teeming Soweto, the oldest former Black African (the current official demographic designation) township established in the 1930s and situated on the southwestern edge of the city (thus the name), I was surprised to discover that it was far larger and more diverse than I had expected with a population well over one million. Established in the wake of the Urban Areas Act of 1923 which sought to separate the races, Soweto is now technically part of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality since 2002. Yet Soweto is in many ways a city unto itself with its own core neighborhoods and"suburbs." Like many, I first learned of Soweto in 1976 when a massive violent uprising against apartheid rule erupted here and quickly spread to other townships, including Alexandra. Scores of blacks were killed and the uprising marked the beginning of the slow deconstruction of the apartheid system.

Our driver and guide was a Zulu resident of Soweto (they are
the largest ethnic Bantu people in both South Africa and Soweto) who shared with us the rich colorful history of various sections of the township, from Diepkloof through Kliptown to Orlando. Despite its size, in many ways my first impressions of Soweto matched what I expected to find. Here was the maze of shanty neighborhoods with their corrugated tin houses and huts.
Running water and electricity are still scare in many areas and electrical connection are jerry rigged, and many gather their water from communal wells. Stalls and open-air markets are scattered about everywhere. One sees few trees in Soweto. It’s streets - some paved and many not - are crowded with people, cars, motorbikes and scooters, mini-van buses, tuk-tuks and mule carts.

For me there were two memorable moments during our visit to Soweto. The first was our stop at Walter Sisulu Square, in the heart of Kliptown, where we were able to explore sacred ground for South Africa’s native peoples. For it was in a field located here on June 26-27, 1955 that the Congress of the
People rose up in resistance against apartheid with its Freedom Charter which would become the cornerstone of the African National Congress and the current constitution of a multi-cultural and non-racial South Africa. Many participating delegates were arrested and subsequently imprisoned for treason against the state. The ten tenets of the charter are etched in bronze under a brick tower located in the square.

Next we drove to nearby Vilakazi Street in Orlando West to visit the Nelson Mandela House and Museum. Mandela lived in this small brick house from 1946 until 1962 when he was
arrested for treason and later sent to prison for 27 years. He returned here briefly in 1990 upon his release from captivity. The house is full of mementoes from his life and public service. Mandela has long been one of my heroes, especially after I saw him motoring down Pennsylvania Avenue In Washington, DC in May 1990, just a very few months after his release from prison. So it was a very moving experience to spend some time here. A very short distance away is the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu which is still a private residence. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson’s second wife, also lives nearby. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world that can claim the homes of two Nobel laureates. It is lined with shops and restaurants and street was full of warm and friendly people with smiling faces. Life is still hard in Soweto, but the people find a reason to smile.

Some of the residential areas throughout Soweto struck me as solidly middle-class, some even with Mercedes and Jaguars parked in the driveways. Our guide told us that some of the wealthiest blacks still choose to reside in Soweto. Much of the township, however, is gut-wrenchingly poor. To call it a slum would be too kind. It reminded me a great deal of scenes from the gritty 2005 film Tsotsi set in the Alexandra township although it was actually filmed in some of the Soweto neighborhoods we drove through. Based on a novel by contemporary playwright Athol Fugard (more on him in Part VI), it won the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (featuring Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, as well as some English).

We continued past the brightly painted Orlando Towers -
cooling towers at the former coal burning power plant - which are well-known Soweto landmarks and then passed the massive Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, a former British hospital now named after the former head of the South African Communist Party and an ANC activist until his assassination in 1993. His image, and that of Mandela, Sisilu and other ANC luminaries, are found on buildings and walls throughout Soweto.

Following our visit we returned to the Marlboro train station later in the afternoon where our previous night’s host met us with out luggage. We took the Gautrain back to the airport to meet other members of our upcoming safari who were arriving on a flight from Atlanta. From there we headed north to Brits, near Pretoria, where we would spend the next two nights.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Longest Day - Into Africa - Part II

Part Two of Six

I explored various options concerning our travel to and from South Africa. I had originally hoped we might fly to Johannesburg via Addis Ababa which would have presented the option of exploring Ethiopia for a few days. Unfortunately our schedule and rather complicated logistics made this option impractical and we ended up flying directly from Washington, DC to Johannesburg.

Departing Dulles
It was a twenty hour flight. Departing Dulles International Airport shortly before dusk, the South African Airway jet cut through the night as it crossed the North Atlantic. I have flown to and from Europe many times and the seven or eight hour flight can seem grueling, leaving one in the throes of severe jet lag due to the length of the flight and the five to six hour time difference. One’s circadian rhythm is disrupted and it can take days to recover. The flight to Africa would take ten hours to Accra, Ghana followed by an equally lengthy leg to Johannesburg. Not being able to sleep well on planes (this flight being exacerbated by the fact that the passenger sitting behind me was coughing up a lung all the way to Accra), I feared I would be totally exhausted by the time we arrived in South Africa.

There was nothing to see below until I spotted the lights of Dakar, Senegal extending along the African coastline from Cap-Vert in the early morning darkness. Jutting far out into the dark Atlantic void, this is the westernmost point of the African continent. It seemed fitting that this is where we would make landfall, and rather poetic considering that Dakar, my first sighting in Africa, is a sister city of Washington DC which we had departed just a few hours earlier. I’ll mention Dakar again in Part VI of this blog series as our plane would land there for a brief refueling stop on the trip home.

From there our route took us across the length of Senegal and Guinea, and a thick cloud cover greeted us as Palm Sunday dawned somewhere over northwestern Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). We did not descend through it until we made our approach to Accra, Ghana – the trip’s half-way point. The green landscape stretched as far as I could see, interrupted only occasionally by a clearing surrounding a small village from which dirt trails and roadways extended in every direction. There was very little traffic on the roads. The ground below became more cluttered with housing tracts and industrial sites and we made our final approach to the Kotoka International Airport situated in central Accra. Most of the roads were unimproved except in the city center business district which appeared quite modern.

I had always imagined that, if I ever came to Africa, Accra would be on the list of places I would visit. Ghana, formerly the British Gold Coast colony, was one of the earliest African countries (after Liberia, South Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Tunisia) to throw off the shackles of colonialism, in 1957. Kwame Nkrumah, a colonial leader and first president of Ghana, was an early advocate of the pan-African movement and a founder of the Organization of African Unity. In high school I read Dark Days in Ghana, his 1968 autobiography, as well as a collection of his political axioms published the previous year. Both were published following the 1966 coup d’etat in which he was overthrown while visiting North Vietnam (he was a dedicated Marxist). The coup and its impact on the independence movements throughout Africa was one of the subjects discussed at the conference I attended in Chicago in 1969 (see Part I). Nkrumah lived in exile in Guinea until his death in 1972. He is now buried in Accra. Unfortunately I would get no farther than the airport on this trip, yet as we sat on the tarmac on a rainy Sunday morning in Accra, I hoped that one day I might return for a longer visit. There is so much history there.

We were on the ground in rainy Accra for less than two hours as we took on fuel and a new crew and passengers. Soon we were back in the air and into the clouds again as we crossed the Ghanian coastline shortly after take-off. We continued our journey over the Gulf Of Guinea and the South Atlantic. The remainder of the flight was during the daylight hours and I watched our position on the seat-back screen as it ticked down to 00º00". We crossed the Equator for the very first time not far from the islands of São Tomé and Principe, a microscopic republic in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon. We crossed back over the Africa coastline in northwestern Angola. The cloud cover was still thick and I did not see the ground again until we were somewhere over the Caprivi Strip in northeastern Namibia.

Over Botswana
This was my first good look at southern Africa; not much down there but barren hills, forests, and an occasional road or track as we continued to fly over the Okavango Delta and the edges of the Kalahari desert of Botswana. "Why is it you can never hope to describe the emotions Africa creates?" writes Fransesca Marciano. "You are lifted. Out of whatever pit, unbound from whatever tie, released from whatever fear. You are lifted and you will see it all from above." Indeed I was. Far below was the continent I always dreamed of visiting. And now I was here.

We eventually arrived at Johannesburg’s O. R. Tambo International Airport just before dusk. Named for a former president of the ruling African National Congress, it is the busiest airport in all of Africa since 1996. Coupling the flight time and the stop in Accra with the six hour time zone differentiation, we arrived in South Africa roughly 24 hours after we took off from Washington. And having slept very little on the flight, we were quite exhausted as we awaited our luggage and trudged through customs inspection.

Happily our luggage arrived intact and upon clearing customs we were immediately greeted by our hosts for our first night in Africa. They ran a charming little bed and breakfast in Marlboro Gardens, which is a constituent borough of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality on the northeastern outskirts of the city.

It was a short drive from the airport and we quickly settled into our comfortable quarters. It had been an extremely long day and we soon fell into bed. A great adventure lay ahead.

Friday, January 5, 2018

An Unfamiliar Voice - Into Africa - Part I:

 There is always something new out of Africa.  
     – Pliny the Elder

I have been sitting at my desk in my darkened study looking through the several hundred photographic images I took when my wife and I traveled across South Africa last spring. I had long planned to post several travel essays during the course of our month-long visit, and I did manage to complete and post a couple along the way. Yet as they often say, all good things come to those who wait. I have let my recollections simmer over the interceding months and I feel it is time to share them here.

I am reminded of something Jonathan Raban wrote in the Washington Post many years ago which I jotted down in my journal and which seems most applicable here. "Traveling (and one might as well say living) turns us into creatures of hap and contingency. We are forever navigating in fog, where the sensations of the moment are intense, and both our point of departure and our intended destination are lost to view in our concentration on the overwhelming here and now." Well, that is exactly what happened to me during my travels in Africa. "Things are constantly happening," Raban continue; "but we’re in no position to judge their meaning and significance." So true. Thankfully I maintained a very detailed travel journal during our trip and now, as I look back through all of these images, I can more properly reflect on what I wrote while we were there, and consider it all carefully and place it in its proper context.

My interest in Africa goes way back. I grew up with the story that one of my distant English ancestors was an intimate confidant of David Livingstone, the Scottish medical missionary and explorer, and I read everything I could find by and about him and his exploration of East and Southern Africa, hoping without success that I might find some reference to this friendship. On my first visit to London, in early 1972, I visited Livingstone’s final resting place at Westminster Abbey (sans heart which is buried in the heart of Africa). Something might turn up one of these days.

In high school in the late 1960s, as much of Africa was beginning to cast aside the yoke of its colonial past, I seriously considered a career in African history and politics. I had teachers who encouraged me in that vein and gave me books to read. "There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa," Beryl Markham wrote in her 1942 memoir West With the Night. "And as many books about it as you could read in a leisurely lifetime." I discovered how correct she was. And more and more books were published every year. It would be a daunting task.

In early 1969, during my senior year, one of these teachers took me with her to a meeting of African historians at a downtown Chicago hotel where they discussed the international ramifications of the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) and the resultant genocide of the Igbo (also Ibo) people in the breakaway Republic of Biafra. It was during my first trip to Europe the previous summer that I saw photographs in various newspapers of starving Biafran children and I first came to understand the meaning of "genocide." At that Chicago meeting I could not understand how the United States could remain neutral in light of these horrendous events; it was more interested in access to Nigerian oil than the people who lived where it came from. How ironic, that it was President Nixon, upon his inauguration in January 1969, who recognized the Biafran genocide for what it was and criticized the Nigerian central government. And although I chose a career in European history, who would have guessed that thirty years later I would be involved in the pursuit of perpetrators of another African genocide, this time in Rwanda, during my career as a historian with the US Department of Justice.

One of my colleagues at the Justice Department spent time in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps and he introduced me to that country’s history, culture, and its very fine cuisine during our visits to one or another wonderful Ethiopian restaurants found in the metropolitan Washington, DC area which hosts the largest Ethiopian diaspora community outside of Africa. I discovered more books to read, most recently The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007) by Dinaw Mengestu. It tells the story of a young Ethiopian man who comes to DC to live and work and his interaction with American life. And I continue to enjoy Ethiopian cuisine every chance I get.

For me Africa has always been a place of mystery and transition and who knows where my life and career would have taken me had I followed this planned course of study. As it was, I pursued the study of German history, culture and literature although I have always remained interested in Africa and always knew deep down that I would visit there one day.

Almost fifty years later I finally arrived . . . ironically in South Africa which was for many years a pariah state and for which I held little or no lasting interest. All that changed once Nelson Mandela was freed from his imprisonment on Robben Island. He and the African National Congress ushered his country into the world community. Now it is a popular destination with its vibrant cities, its beautifully rugged landscape, its lovely beaches, its world-class wines, not to mention its numerous game preserves which was my primary reason for going there in the first place. Not to hunt animals, but to enjoy watching then roam about in their natural habitats. "Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia," Beryl Markham wrote in her 1942 memoir West Into the Night. "It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one." I would finally find out for myself whether Markham was correct. "Africa is less a wilderness than a repository of primary and fundamental values, and less a barbaric land than an unfamiliar voice."

This is the first part of a six-part series.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Consent of the Governed?

I, along with a majority of Americans, recently watched with anger and disappointment as the United States Congress, those 535 individuals elected to represent us in Washington, passed a new tax reform package that very few of us want and which will add at least 1.5 trillion dollars to the already bloated national deficit while cutting taxes for the top 1% über wealthy and corporations at the expense of the middle class, the working class, and the poor. All of this comes in the immediate wake of the administration’s deep-sixing internet neutrality in favor of communication and media corporations over the overwhelming opposition of the American people.

Instead of standing up for America’s most vulnerable, the increasingly fascist-minded Republicans have decided to put tax cuts for the rich ahead of protecting the American people, many of whom have to work more than one job to make ends meet. The Republicans say this legislation will make them popular with the American people. If so, then why is a large majority of Americans opposed to it?

Once again we are promised the trickle down benefits from this hair-brained scheme that very few of those who voted for it even understand. Many admitted they did not have time to read and study the provisions of the legislation before they rammed it through Congress behind closed doors in the dead of night. I would think they would have learned by now that trickle down never works because there are too many greedy hands hauling in the lucre before it gets down to those anxiously waiting for it. Any ameliorating provisions pledged to the middle class are only temporary and will likely add to the deficit (a rising deficit floats all yachts). It is said that no one wants to know how laws and sausage are made. We just saw how sausage is made in Washington, DC, folks. Even Senator Marcus Rubio (R-Florida), who supported and voted for the legislation, admitted after its passage that it went too far in benefitting corporations. A day late and a dollar short, if you ask me. And who can ignore Congress’ aggressive maneuvers to enrich its own members and the president’s [sic] family? Just one more egregious example of Congress feathering its own nest at the expense of the people on whose behalf the have been elected to govern.

For the past several years, on the morning of July 4, I have participated in the reading of the Declaration of Independence. I’ve done so because I think it prudent that every person residing in this country should read it at least once a year to be reminded of the tenets on which our nation was built. It declares America’s sovereignty over its people and a destiny as a free nation in which everyone is guaranteed "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" by whichever creator they chose to recognize. In order to secure these rights, our Founding Fathers (and the women who stood by them) instituted a government deriving its "just powers from the consent of the governed." We established a congress of elected representatives and gave it our sacred consent to govern on our behalf.

Granted, the Declaration of Independence was drafted and sanctioned in order to separate the American colonies from Great Britain based on that country’s failure to guarantee its American subjects’ God-given rights, and to establish the free and independent United States of America. Should we not hold these United States, our own country, to the very same standards we expected from the British motherland? Franklin Delano Roosevelt certainly believed so in his second inaugural address, on 20 January 1937. "We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." This no longer rings true today. The current president [sic] and Congress have seen to that in spades.

So let’s take another look at the Declaration of Independence. It states that "whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing it's powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." This is certainly something we should all keep in mind as we approach the mid-term elections in November. The Declaration cautions us, however, that "prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes: and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." Yet the representatives who no longer represent our interests are where they are because we elected them. We can just as easily send them packing and elect leaders and representatives who will hold our Founding Fathers’ pledge and their sacred honor to a higher standard. "[B]ut when a long train of abuses and usurpations, begun at a distinguished period, and pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to [subject] reduce them to arbitrary power, it is their [the American people] right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security." This right is ours and we ought to take it back. November can’t come early enough.
It should be interesting to see what the new year holds for Americans who are pledging to take their country back from this Fascist-minded Republican administration and gearing up for what are likely to be punishing midterm elections in November . . . especially after the trouncing the Republicans took in the November and December by-elections. These 2018 midterms, more than those in previous years, will prove a referendum on the catastrophic Trump-Republican administration. Resist!! Vote!!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Farewell 2017

Frankly, I am happy to see 2017 fade into the past. We observed the opening salvos of a fascist oligarchy attempting to deconstruct American democracy as quickly as humanly possible. Those holding the balance of power in this country, all of whom swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States while representing their constituents in Congress, sequestered themselves behind closed doors to draft and enact legislation that a majority of the American people did not want. These so called "representatives" bowed down to wealthy fat cats and corporations who fill their war chests with vile lucre.

And don’t even get me started on the ignorant and narcissistic moron who moved into the White House this past January and the bizarre assemblage of advisors along with a motley collection of cabinet secretaries who exhibit almost complete disdain for the departments and agencies they were selected to oversee. I don’t have enough time, space, or energy to list the deficiencies of the house Trump is trying to build. In the meantime, he insults and alienates our enemies and allies alike. Indeed he has made America grate . . . the slow stripping of the gears that makes this country work. To quote #45 . . . "Sad."

As a counterbalance to this governmental mayhem assholishness, I have sought solace in family and friends while turning my attention to projects that mean a lot to me. There was interesting travel to anticipate and to reflect upon afterwards. Time spent in Maine, New Hampshire and Québec in January with plenty of wintry weather and cold. A couple trips to Ohio to visit family. A four month hiatus at a lake cottage in Maine during the summer during which we relaxed, painted, and I finished the first draft of my first novel. And this followed by a wonderful trip through the Canadian Maritimes and Québec . . . most of the time spent on my third visit to Halifax . . . to conduct research for a second planned novel. I am enjoying this new foray into fiction.

The crown jewel of 2017 was the month SallyAnn and I spent in South Africa. We put an ocean and a continent between us and the foolishness at home. We visited Johannesburg and Soweto and then spent a number of days on a photo safari near the borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The scenery and wildlife sightings were beyond our wildest expectations. We also spent a couple weeks in and around Cape Town. We found the South African people to be warm and friendly and we are anxious to return as soon as possible. I’ll be honest; it was very hard to come home.

As we begin a new year we should all strive to avoid the mistakes and misadventures of the one just gone by. Winston Churchill, when asked to consider the not so pristine history of British imperialism, replied "Ah, but you see, all that belongs to the unregenerate past, is locked away in the limbo of the old, the wicked days. The world progresses." We can only hope so.

So why ruminate on the darkness of the past when today brings the dawn of a new day and a new year. If you must prophesy what 2018 will bring, consider that it will be a good year, a promising year, and do everything in your power to make it so.

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Let’s all keep our chins up and hope for the best.

Monday, December 11, 2017

I ❤ Cheese (But Does it ❤ Me Back?)

I love cheese and now it seems cheese   loves my heart. The December 5 online edition of Time magazine posted an interesting article by Amanda MacMillan suggesting that eating a moderate amount of cheese each day might actually be beneficial to one’s heart health. Recent research published in the European Journal of Nutrition shows that individuals "who ate a little bit of cheese every day were less likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, compared to those who rarely or never ate cheese." This is certainly a major departure from previous studies that have linked cheese, which is high in saturated fats (a no-no in any dietary plan), with high cholesterol and potential cardio-vascular disease although some researchers claim cheese has lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) than does butter. Other nutritional experts now say that saturated fats are more benign than first thought. This could be too good to be true.

The first question that pops into the head of any self-respecting cheesehead is what constitutes a "moderate amount" of cheese? If you ask my own nutritionist, that would be approximately 40 grams, or the equivalent of a slice about 1/4 inch thick and the size of a matchbook. In my very humble opinion that does not seem like very much cheese. Putting a block of cheese in front of me is like putting a juicy, raw steak in front of a chained dog. Cut us loose and the rest is a foregone conclusion. Its not quite as bad as that, but you get the general idea. I can understand such a meager portion of cheese from a dietary standpoint; it contains approximate ten grams of fat and almost 200 milligrams of sodium . . . a lot when taking into consideration one’s blood pressure. Now researchers are saying that the high blood pressure risk is not that bad; as salty as cheese is, there are no clear links to hypertension. There is just as much protein in a small slice of cheese as there is saturated fat. And just as much bone-building calcium as sodium, and calcium tends to bind certain fatty acids so that they cannot be digested. And don’t forget vitamins D and B12. It would appear that the good outweighs the bad when it comes to eating cheese. Cheese is mysterious indeed.

But what about my heart? I have to protect my heart don’t I! The new study goes on to report that individuals who consumed "high levels of cheese" (again, what does this mean??) exhibit a 14% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and are far less likely to suffer a stroke than those individuals who rarely or never ate cheese. So 40 grams does not seem like enough to get the full beneficial effects that a more substantial chunk of cheese might offer. "We are always searching for ways to minimize heart disease and reduce atherosclerosis," the study goes on to say. "It’s promising to find that something that actually tastes good and pairs well with a nice glass of red wine—may offer some protection, as well." So it’s damned if you do from a dietary standpoint, or damned if you don’t, if you consider your heart health. I guess the addition of red wine to the mix was the tipping point for me.

I was about to enlist in the "WTF, let’s give it a whirl" endeavor when I reached the conclusion of the Time article. The promising study was unable to find a definite cause-and-effect relationship between the consumption of a moderate amount of cheese and a decreased risk of heart disease. It might all just be a coincidence. "It could be that people who eat cheese on a daily basis are healthier overall, or have more disposable income and higher socioeconomic statuses." So now what am I to do? I love cheese, but now maybe cheese does not love me back after all. Thanks a lot Time for getting my hopes up for nothing. The mysteries of cheese remain as does the guilt of eating it with abandon.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Rack of Memories Redux

Three days ago I reported on my recent trip to my native Midwest where I relived some memories of my younger days. Two memories cited were its delicious cheeses and my rediscovery of a "Rack of Hamm’s," a six-pack of one of my favorite beers which I have not seen in a cooler in many years. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Heading back to Maryland I wondered when I would get another chance to enjoy that favorite St. Paul brew.

So imagine my surprise when two nights ago my wife and I visited the MilkBoy ArtHouse, a new bar/café, art gallery, and performance venue on the Route One strip adjacent to the University of Maryland at College Park. We had stopped by to check out a pop-up gallery set up in the foyer where some of my wife’s jewelry was on display after which we stopped into the café for a late bite to eat. Having not been there before I was curious about its menu. I did not have to look far before I found cheddar cheese curds (the real thing!) lightly fried in a beer batter and served with a ranch dipping sauce. My heart went aflutter. And to wash them down? A couple cans of (drum roll please) Hamm’s beer!! To make matters even better, they also serve Narragansett lager, another of my favorite retro beers.

Was I dreaming? Had the stars suddenly realigned? Had I been transported back to those good old days in Wisconsin? Nope. Just a little bit of heaven fifteen minutes from home!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Rack of Memories - A Return to My Midwestern Roots

Last week I visited my family who has resided in the suburban fringes of Columbus, Ohio for several years. Although I have been firmly planted in the Mid-Atlantic for over four decades, I still consider myself a Midwesterner at heart and in temperament. So I always enjoy these infrequent visits to that native soil that nourishes my deep Midwestern roots.

Such visits provide me with an opportunity to reconnect with places and events that trigger pleasant memories of my early years when I called the Midwest my home.

Such memories include all the wonderful things I ate while growing up which are difficult, if not downright impossible to find elsewhere. In the past I have written about some of these with loving affection. Top on the list would have to be the indigenous cheeses of Wisconsin.

Add to this the Michigan-brand cottage cheese that was pablum throughout my youth and still available in certain markets in the Midwest (including Columbus). My mom’s refrigerator is always well-stocked when I visit and I frequently bring a stash home with me. Mom always stows some in her luggage when she visits us in Maine every summer. So far TSA has not interfered with these welcomed care packages.

And who can forget the de rigeur Friday fish fry dinners? Healing piles of the ubiquitous yellow and lake perch although every once in awhile one was lucky enough to score fillets of fresh caught walleye. I personally consider it a crime to fry such a delicate fish; I prefer mine broiled or poached which is how it was served the last time I had it five years ago while passing through central Minnesota.

Speaking of Minnesota, who can long forget a well-prepared lutefisk which is a traditional holiday "treat" for Midwesterners of Scandinavian and Finnish descent?

I enjoyed my fill of Michigan-brand cottage cheese on this most recent trip, but the sharpest memory surfaced when I spied a six-pack of Hamm’s Beer – a rack of Hamm’s – in a rural farm store. When I was finally old enough to buy beer in the USA (I was drinking it in Germany long before I turned 21), it was Hamm’s or the local Pabst Blue Ribbon brewed in Milwaukee (my son rolls his eyes every time I mention my affinity for PBR). Hamm’s had been brewed in St. Paul, Minnesota since the end of the Civil War and was only available in the Midwest until the early 1950s. Thankfully, when I left the Midwest for Arizona in the early 1970s the brand had been bought by the Olympia Brewing Company, in Washington State, and I was able to find Hamm’s "In a Barrel" at my local beer depot in Tucson. A happy reminder of home. PBR has remained a staple over the intervening years, and that brewery subsequently purchased the Hamm’s brand in 1983. Yet I have seldom found Hamm’s in the cooler when buying beer. It is now brewed by Miller/Coors and a flood of memories surfaced when I rediscovered it in Ohio last week. And only five bucks for a rack!!

In the words of that great philosopher Dr. Seuss . . . "Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. My recent return to the Midwest brought that home in spades.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Don't Call Them Christians for a Lack of a Better Name

I am disturbed by the ongoing comparison of right-wing extremists who label themselves evangelicals with true Christians. These zealots, who use their pulpits and their broadcast studios to represent themselves as true representatives of mainstream Christian theology, have no clear understanding of the teachings of Christ. They are evangelizing for sure, but not true Christian values. Far from them. So let’s call these white supremacist, homo- and Islamophobic bigots what they are. They are fascists pure and simple, and the only thing that separates them from their Nazi forefathers is the fact that they have not instituted a genocide . . . yet. But given the opportunity I have no doubt that the destruction of humanity resides within their brazen doctrine. So please . . . do not equate these ignorant bigots with real Christians. They only use the name of Jesus Christ to give themselves credibility. He'd be spinning in his grave . . . if he was still there.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Has It Really Been Nine Years??

Yes it has.   Nine years ago today I sat down at my mother-in-law’s computer in Gainesville, Florida and launched this blogspot.   I had no idea at the time where I was going to go with it or what I really wanted to say.  I offered a simple reason why: “For a long time now I have been reading those [blogs] of others and so I thought it is time for me to chime in.”   That I have done.  Since then I have posted here 420 times (this is #421) and this site has been viewed 247,286 times by readers in over 100 countries around the world.  This is more than I could have ever hoped for when I sat down at the computer that evening.  I’m still going strong.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

From Camelot to Amityville

Sitting here this morning I suddenly realized that yesterday was the 54th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I neither read nor heard a single reference to it yesterday. I would have thought the decline of this country from Camelot to Amityville would have deserved an appropriate comment (280 characters or less).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Why Am I not Surprised? - Trump Targets Elephants

Take a good, long look at this photograph, if you can. It is disgusting in the extreme. It show the eldest son of the President [sic] of the United States standing next to the corpse of an African elephant he had just killed. He proudly stands there with knife and severed tail in hand after claiming his trophy of the kill. Frankly, I find it too disturbing to look at. I share it here only to make a point I did not believe I needed to make. Apparently I do.

In an interview in 2012, when this photograph first surfaced, Trump Junior claimed that it is a tradition in Africa to cut off the tail of a killed elephant as a sign of respect for the animal. He later stated that he and his younger brother were "avid outdoorsmen and were brought up hunting and fishing with our grandfather who taught us that nothing should ever be taken for granted or wasted." He stated further that "all meat was donated to local villagers who were incredibly grateful . . . we are outdoorsmen at heart." I would beg to differ.

Two days ago the US Fish and Wildlife Service (an agency within the US Department of the Interior) announced that it would renew the issuing of permits allowing for the importation of trophies taken from elephants killed on big game hunts in Zimbabwe and Zambia after January 21, 2016. It justified this policy reversal by suggesting that legal "well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program" was beneficial, and that permitting the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia would raise money for various conservation programs in these countries. It fails to note, however, that both countries have long been plagued by rampant corruption.

According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a review undertaken by the Fish and Wildlife Service "established that both Zambia and Zimbabwe had met new standards, strict international conservation standards that allowed Americans to resume hunting in those countries." ’Really??? In Zimbabwe which is presently in the throes of a military coup? Even Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the lifting of the ban was the "wrong move at the wrong time."

New standards?? This is also news to everyone who is familiar with the dangerous plight of the African elephant which remains on the list of threatened species on the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Public Law 94-205) which requires the US government to protect endangered species in other countries as well as in the United States.

A New York Times editorial warned that lifting the ban announced by the Obama administration in 2014 (which provided for the possibility for the importation of elephant parts only if it could be established that hunting would improve the overall viability of the species) would "endanger gains made by governments and environmental groups to protect elephants from illegal trade in ivory and other body parts." Once again this current administration is ignorantly going about its efforts to destroy the legacy of the previous one, and with it the African elephant.

The lifting of the ban was lauded by the Safari Club International, a hunters’ rights advocacy organization, and by the National Rifle Association, which apparently is not satisfied with the wholesale slaughter of innocent Americans but believes it important for American hunters to also slaughter endangered wildlife here and abroad. Thankfully, vocal opposition to the lifting of the ban was immediate, loud and pervasive and thankfully this led to a quick, if perhaps only a temporary hold, on the reversal pending further review. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced yesterday that he had discussed the matter further and both he and Trump agreed that "conservation and healthy herds are critical." Trump says he will wait to make a final decision until he has time to "review all conservation facts." Wouldn’t you think this review would have been undertaken before announcing the lifting of the ban? That is just not the way it works in Trump’s Washington.

Does this temporary hold illustrate Trump’s change of heart, or that of his administration? Or that Congress will oppose the lifting of the ban? Don’t think so for a minute. Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that the ban should remain in place "until Zimbabwe stabilizes." He view the killing of elephants from the point of view of national security. He is not concerned with big game hunting but rather with the poaching of elephants which is "blood currency for terrorist organizations." He added that regulated hunts could be beneficial to maintain a healthy herd. This logic may hold when considering overpopulated deer herds and the like, but surely does not apply to the African elephant and other endangered species that are being slaughtered at an alarming rate.

Trump says he wants to weigh the conservation facts. How about this one? According to the Great Elephant Census released by the World Conservation Congress last year, the African savanna elephant population stood at approximately 352,000 over 93% of its former habitat. This demonstrates a decline of 30% of the overall population between 2007 and 2014 (the year the Obama administration instituted the ban). The census also showed that in some areas the population had declined by as much as 74%. Add to this the fact that this population is experiencing an 8% annual decline

due to the ravages of the poaching epidemic throughout Africa. The UN estimates that 27,000 African elephants are slaughted annually. You do the math! If this is true, and all who are in the know seem to agree it is, then how can studies show that the African elephant population "in both Zambia and Zimbabwe [where the population declined 6% during that period] had met new standards, strict international conservation standards"?

This past spring my wife and I visited South Africa where we were able to spend some quality time up close and personal with African elephants. We found them to be highly intelligent and compassionate. They pose no threat unless threatened. People have the ability to stand up and protest when they experience injustice. Elephants and other relatively defenseless endanged animals do not. They are slaughtered by trophy hunters and our government apparently thinks this is just fine (unless our national security is threatened). Well I don’t. One thing is clear. Elephants certainly demonstrate an intelligence and compassion unfamiliar to the heartless and ignorant individual sitting in the Oval Office and his two butcher boys.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Abrupt Transitions: What Country Am I Really In??? - Dispatches from Canada (or is it?)

Dateline: Trois-Rivière, Québec 

 After a week in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick I have finally arrived  in Québec - la belle province - and I am resting my weary head this evening along
the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, in the realm of the Trifluvians, about half way between Québec City and Montréal.

I spent last night in
Edmundston, New Brunswick situated on the Canadian side of the St. John River opposite Madawaska, in Maine’s Aroostook County.  Just shy of the Québec border, Edmunston seemed an appropriate place to begin my exploration of the USA-Canadian border in northern New England (a ca. 800 mile long boundary between Lake Champlain, on the New York-Vermont border, and the Bay of Fundy on the Atlantic Ocean where Maine and New Brunswick meet).

The Treaty of Paris of 1783 formally ended the American Revolution and concluded peace between the infant United States and Great Britain.  It also established the original boundary between this country and British Canada to the north, from the Atlantic coast to the northwestern head of Connecticut River and then proceeding down the middle of that river in a generally southwesternly direction to the 45th Parallel of north latitude in what is today northern New Hampshire.  From there it continued due west along this parallel to the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York as surveyed in 1771-1773.

The area around Edmunston / Madawaska along the St. John River was the focal point of an intense yet bloodless border dispute between the United States and Great Britain in 1838-1839 known as the “Aroostook War.”   Although originally between the State of Maine and the Province of New Brunswick, this dispute eventually drew the attention of the US and British governments and led to the unilateral establishment of the Republic of Madawaska by American interests on the Canadian (British) side of the river.  Local residents still refer to Edmunston by its republican title and the republic’s flag is frequently on display.  Edmunston, although in New Brunswick, is mostly francophone and therefore a suitable place to transition into Québec where French is the only official languages.

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 eventually resolved both the local Aroostook War / Madawaska Republic dispute between Maine and New Brunswick, as well as redefining the international boundary separating British Canada from New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.  It also resolved the Indian Stream Republic dispute on the border of New Hampshire and Québec, and the Vermont-Quèbec border at Fort Blunder situated at the outlet of the Rivière Richelieu to Lake Champlain.
[See for additional information of the Indian Stream Republic.]

This morning after departing Edmunston I drove west along the St. John River on Route 102 for a few miles through a small panhandle of New Brunswick; the USA just a couple hundred feet away on my left.  I eventually turned northwest away from the river and drove through beautiful rolling countryside in full autumn splendor and dotted with deep azure blue lakes until I arrived in the Témiscouata Regional County Municipality of Québec.  From there I followed Route 289 - the "Route des Frontières" - to the south shore of the St. Lawrence River at Saint-Alexandre-de-Kamouraska.  Along the way I once again skirted the Canadian-US border running along the Rivière Saint-François from Rivière-Bleue to Pohénégamook (formerly Estcourt), Québec.  I will remain in Canada for a couple more days before I return to my native land although today I jumped the gun just a bit at Pohénégamook.  More on that in a moment.

The US-Canadian border provides a number of strange boundary anomalies, especially along the roughly 90-mile boundary separating Vermont and Québec.  This boundary, also referred to in some quarters as the “West Line,” is based in part on an earlier survey in 1771-1772 and was formally established in 1783 along the 45th Parallel, the line of latitude halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.  This boundary was later confirmed by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 which unfortunately did not take into consideration various boundary anomalies which have now been incorporated into the current official boundary recognized by both countries.  As a result the Vermont-Québec border deviates in some places by more than a mile beyond the 45th Parallel.

A 2006 essay published by the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) refers to international boundaries as “places of abrupt transition, where a conceptual cartographic line can manifest itself physically in many ways.”  This is probably no more evident than in Beebe Plain and Derby Line, two villages in the northern Vermont town of Derby which I plan to revisit tomorrow.  Both are situated directly on the USA-Canada international boundary opposite the municipality of Stanstead, Québec.  I first began visiting the Derby / Stanstead area regularly in 1994 after teaching a summer seminar at the University of Vermont, in Burlington.  I have always been fascinated by borderlands, and when I was young my father had told me about an old army buddy who came from Derby Line and lived in a house divided by the border.  Apparently he has a choice of serving in either the Canadian or the US Army during the war and chose the latter.  I had to see this for myself. 

In Beebe Plain, the half mile length of Canusa Street / rue Canusa runs along the border.  Houses on the south side of the street are in the USA while those on the north side are in Canada.  The entire roadway is Canadian territory.  To visit a neighbor across the street one must go to the end of the street where the respective border stations are located and show a passport and then return to the neighbor’s house on that side.  To go home one has to repeat the process.  It is probably easier just to wave and shout . . . in English or French depending on which side of the street one lives.  Consider, too, the fact that whenever American residents of Canusa Street pull out of their driveways they have left the USA and must report to the border posts at the end of the street.  Canadian residents of rue Canusa need not report for border inspection as long as they do not cross the line into the United States.

The dilemma of residing on this international boundary is further compounded where a few homes in Beebe Plain / Stanstead are situated directly on the line; homes where families eat in one country and sleep in another.  Fortunately a different set of rules applies and these residents are not required to report if they cross the line inside the building .  However, they must report to the respective border post if they leave the building into a different country than the one from which they entered the building.  It wasn’t always this way; customs officials in friendly neighboring countries knew who lived on Canusa Street and the border-straddling home and often turned a blind eye.  To add insult to injury, residents of homes straddling the border must pay property taxes in both countries. 

Jim Lynch, in his novel Border Songs, referred to the northern US boundary as "the nonchalant border, a geographical handshake."  Not anymore.  The reality of the USA-Canada border . . . long touted as the longest undefended border in the world where passports were not required and border formalities were frequently as informal as a wave and a smile . . . changed forever after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Present security concerns now make it necessary to adhere to strict procedures.  US and Canadian customs agents can’t even go back and forth on official business unless they leave their weapons behind.  Only a few steps separate them yet it has become easier to communicate by telephone.  

Just a couple miles east of Beebe Plain on Québec Route 247 (an extension of rue Canusa) is Rock Island, another village within the Stanstead municipality facing Derby Line, Vermont.  Here, too, a few buildings and homes are bisected by the border.  The local library, shared by both towns, was intentionally built on the border at a time when Derby Line and Rock Island were joined at the hip and one was able to wander back and forth between countries without formality or concern.  Both entrances to the building lie in the USA as do the library’s foyer and offices.  The book stacks, a reading room, and the circulation desk are in Canada.  There is a line demarcating the border running through one of the reading rooms.  The toilet in the bathroom is in the USA; the toilet paper in Canada. [This was a subject of my September 19, 2013 blogpost.
Upstairs the opera house is also divided.  The stage is in Canada while most of the audience sits in the USA.  It all seems strange . . . but true.  Streets once shared by the two communities have been gated at the border point since 2009 when passports became necessary when passing thought he international boundary (they can be open and closed remotely to permit the passage of emergency vehicles).  Now many eyes, sensors  and cameras keep tabs on who is where and why , , , even library patrons from both countries although they are still allowed access to the building without having to first go through border formalities.  There are two fire escapes - one in each country - in case of an emergency. [The library is also the subject of a prior blogspot posting on June 28, 2009.]
That being said, however, patrons are warned not to park on the Canadian side of the building if they’re American, or on the American side if they’re Canadian.  If they do, and they fail to report to customs, they may be subject to arrest.  All along the border one sees more of the familiar green and white US Customs and Border Patrol vehicles, as well as those of the Sûreté du Québec and the RCMP/GRC, on the Canadian side of the line.  A rumored friendly border has become deadly serious.  Even the once common photo-op of straddling the border can get you arrested.

The US-Canadian border has been particularly volatile this year following President [sic] Trump’s inauguration and his subsequent ill-advised and blatantly unconstitutional travel bans directed at residents of several predominantly Muslim countries.  Canadian authorities have reported that up to 500 individuals, many of them citizens of the banned countries in question already in the United States, are daily trying to flee the United States to see asylum in Canada.  How unfortunate that those who came to America’s shores to seek respite from terror, persecution, and violence must now search beyond America’s borders for such protections.  All the more unfortunate when these migrants have become so fearful of remaining in the United States that they seek to enter Canada by any means available to them, including illegal ones.  As a result, Canadian border authorities are also clamping down and enforcing laws and procedures to the letter.  The border has not been this confrontational since the War of 1812. 

So this is probably not the best time to do many close-up exploration of the US-Canadian frontier.  One false move, whether intentional or not, can have dire consequence.  Nevertheless, earlier today, as I was passing through Pohénégamook, Québec, I chanced upon another border anomaly . . . this one by far stranger than the others I have experienced and one I have wanted to visit for many years.  I am referring to the “American” town of Estcourt Station situated at the northernmost point in the State of Maine which has the third longest state border with Canada after Alaska and Michigan.  Some have claimed it is the northernmost point in the contiguous United States, but that honor goes to the Northwest Angle, situated in Lake of the Woods where northern Minnesota borders Manitoba; yet one more border anomaly resulting from the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.  And like the Estcourt Station, it can only be effectively reached by passing through Canadian territory.  Estcourt Station is, however, the northern-most point in the Eastern United States and the most isolated American border community in the 48 contiguous states. 

To call Estcourt Station, Maine an American town is a bit of a stretch.  It is hardly a town at all; just a single road - Rue de la Frontière - which like Canusa Street in Beebe Plain is situated entirely within Canada until it reaches the customs post at the far end of town.  The only public access is from Québec Route 289 at Pohénégamook (population ca. 3000).  The official population of Estcourt Station is four American summer residents who live in houses solely within US territory.  The remaining residents are Canadian citizens whose few homes are bisected by the border.  Technically an American town, residents have a Québec Area Code and receive their water and electricity from Canada.  There is twice weekly US postal delivery although the town mail boxes in the United States can only be accessed by passing through Canadian territory which requires reporting first to the Canadian border station. 

There are no commercial establishments save a filling station situated entirely in the United States which can only be reached by first reporting to the US border station a mile farther down Rue de la Frontière and then returning through Canadian territory to the station.  I am reminded of an incident that occurred here back in 2003.  A Canadian resident of Pohénégamook crossed into the United States at Estcourt Station in order to purchase cheaper gas (at the time 20-25% cheaper than in Canada).  The US border station was closed at the time and so the Canadian did not report.  He was nevertheless interdicted by the US Border Patrol and charged with entering the United States illegally.  They found a hunting rifle in the resident’s car (not an unusual occurrence in those parts) and he ended up spending a month in jail and the incident led to a high-level diplomatic dust-up between to otherwise friendly neighbors.

I arrived in Estcourt Station by the most direct route; driving several miles through the far northwestern strip of New Brunswick into Québec beyond Fort Kent, Maine, the closest American town.  To reach Estcourt Station directly through the United States would require a two-plus hour trip via private gravel logging roads which are difficult under the best of conditions.  Try it sometime during the winter.

There is a Canadian border station located in the middle of Estcourt Station (on Canadian territory, of course) at the access point from Québec Route 289.  Upon my arrival I reported to the station.  I had no plans to formally enter the United States, but I did want to visit the small park at the end of town on Rue de la Frontière which sits directly on the border. There is also a footbridge crossing the Rivière François, the only footbridge linking the two countries, and one must take a few steps across American territory to access the bridge.  Must I drive to the opposite end of town to report first to the American border station before returning through Canadian territory to the park?   I had read how intransigent the American inspectors can be and I did not want to do anything illegal just to experience this rather quaint border curiosity.  The friendly Canadian inspector saw my American plates as I pulled up and already knew my question before I asked it.  He told me the park was considered a “gray area” and I was free to visit and move around it.  He reminded me to touch the border pylon in the park as it was the northern point in the United States [sic].  He did, however, caution me not to stray farther beyond the park’s perimeter into American territory or I might well have an unwelcome visit from the American authorities who monitor the area with cameras and sensors.  Ironic that they would have to transit Canadian territory to get to me. [In general, I have found Canadians border agents friendlier and more accommodating, a subject of July 10, 2013 blogspot.]

I drove the very short distance down Rue de la Frontière to the Border Park.  To my left was a steep embankment leading up to the tracks of the Canadian National Railway linking Montréal and Halifax.  To my right the houses of Estcourt Station, Maine; almost every one bisected by the international boundary.  The roadway is bordered on the American side of the line with sensors and cameras to monitor any activity on the border.  At the end of the road there is parking area adjacent to the park, both of which are divided by the border.  A large border pylon stands in the middle of the park.  Just beyond the park is the Rivière François, the Route 289 highway and CNR rail bridges (both wholly within Canada), and the aforementioned international footbridge. 
The original bridge at this location was wide enough to accommodate horse carriages.  It was long known locally as “Tobacco Road” as Canadians would visit the now defunct small store in Estcourt Station which did a fast business selling American cigarettes which were two to three times cheaper than tobacco products in Canada. That bridge washed away many years ago and there was no plan to replace it as it permitted Canadians to enter the United States where there was no official port of entry.  It was finally rebuilt but the new bridge is limited to pedestrians only.  Canadians residing in Estcourt Station can now reach the commercial area of Pohénégamook even though they must cross a few feet of American territory in order to do so.  Those crossing from the Canadian side are greeted by a prominent sign warning visitors they must report to US customs at the far end of town.  There is no such sign requesting visitors to report to the Canadian border station.  Yet one more community and a host of problems not envisioned by Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton in 1842.

UPDATED October 11, Dateline: Pittsburg, NH: The day after I visited Estcourt Station I returned to Beebe Plain - Derby Line, Vermont / Stanstead, Québec where I once again probed the international boundary, this time from the Canadian side of the line.  Driving south from Magog on Québec Route 247 along the eastern side of Lake Memphrémagog, which is also bisected by the border, I approached the border and turned left onto Canusa Street.  Since it lies wholly in the Canada and I was continuing on to the Rock Island side of the line a few miles east, I was not required to report to either border inspection station facing one another across the street.  I finally crossed back into the USA at Canaan, Vermont.