CDS: Heroin “Ground Zero”

CONWAY — By this point, we are used to hearing about an opiate crisis has reached pandemic proportions. More people dying from overdoses each year than car crashes. A cheaper, stronger heroin that is often mixed with powerful synthetics like fentanyl and destroying lives across the social spectrum.

And while it’s in every corner of the country, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Deputy Administrator Jack Riley, who spoke to WMUR last month, “the Northeast, in particular New Hampshire, is ground zero,” he said.

As if on cue, two days later, the New Hampshire branch of the U.S. Department of Justice announced indicting more than two dozen individuals, mostly from Massachusetts and Manchester, on heroin-trafficking charges.

Locally, news stories about heroin show up with regularity: a Conway man out on bail for one heroin complaint arrested a week later on a second; a Bartlett couple arrested with more than 5 grams of heroin and $4,000 cash; a selectman’s adult son charged with conspiracy to sell heroin; a pair arrested at the public library allegedly using heroin; a homeless man arrested for heroin possession with intent to distribute; a man arrested twice in two months on heroin-related charges. Police are doing what they can to combat addiction and trafficking, but the uptick continues.

But heroin is more than just a headline or a quick story. It is the everyday experience of many in the Mount Washington Valley, from police officers to doctors, EMTs to midwives.

“The question is how we deal with this problem,” Conway Police Lt. Chris Mattei said after a bust in March of 2015. “When we hinder the accessibility of one drug, addicts have proven that they will find another source to feed their addiction. The way to attack the drug issues long-term within a community is to help the addicts who utilize these illicit drugs.”

He is not the only local police official pushing for more prevention.

“We know we cannot arrest our way out of this,” Bartlett Police Chief Janet Hadley Champlin said last month. “As long as there is demand for drugs, there will be suppliers. For all of those in our community who are addicted to drugs, now is the time to get help.”

But there are few options for recovery. The state’s own report on New Hampshire’s substance use disorder treatment service capacity lists Carroll County as one of four regions without any residential programs, and according to addicted.org there is not a single long-term recovery program northeast of Lebanon and Tilton.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, ranks third in the nation for prescription rates of long-acting/extended-release opioids, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report released in September. Neighboring Coös County ranks as one of seven counties in New England with an overdose mortality rate of more than 20 per 100,000 deaths. And Carroll County is not far behind: one of the 20 New England counties with overdose mortality rate above 16 per 100,000.

Dr. Matt Dunn works nights in Memorial Hospital’s emergency department. He grew up in the valley, graduated from Kennett High in 1991, but he did his medical training in Albany, N.Y. He worked in a 400-bed hospital in Glen Falls, N.Y., before returning here almost three years ago. Dunn sees patients with opiate-related complaints “multiple times a week,” he said. “I see much more frequent issues with heroin here than I ever did in New York.”

The heroin-related complaints Dunn deals with fall into three categories: overdoses where the patient “is just about to die,” injection-related infections and people coming in asking for help.

These days, it is EMS personnel who do the heavy lifting in overdose cases. New protocols have enabled almost anyone to administer naloxone (Narcan), an opiate antidote, and “often by the time overdose patients get to me they’re awake and talking,” Dunn said. Many, he said, “get up and leave.”

Ambulance personnel see something else.

“The heroin snore,” Rick Murnik, director of the Bartlett/Jackson Ambulance Service, said referring the depressed breathing of overdose patients. “Once you see it, you’ll never forget what it looks like.”

An overdose leaves the patient taking only four or five breaths a minute — too few to keep them alive.

“Our first heroin overdose was five or six years ago,” Murnik said. “We didn’t know what it was.”

Now the service, which responds to only about 500 calls a year, sees several a month.

Conway Fire Chief Steve Solomon described what his EMTs see all too often: a patient reported to be unconscious, pale, breathing at less than half the normal rate, maybe lodged between the bed and a wall or sprawled in the bathroom.

“We’ll find well-meaning people have tried to revive them by pouring water on them,” he said. But water doesn’t work.

What does work is Narcan, which in Conway is usually given via IV and nasally in Bartlett.

“Within a minute or two, that person will wake up,” Solomon said, and sometimes they’ll be grateful that the EMTs that just saved their life. But some will be angry, upset that someone interrupted their high.

“We’re using Narcan to bring these people back from death,” Solomon said, and ambulance staff may end up getting yelled at.

In Conway, there may be no overdoses for a while, Solomon said, and then the next day there’s one at noontime, another in the evening, two more at night. His guess is overdoses surge when a new batch of drugs comes to town. “It’s not so much there are more people doing drugs,” he said. “It’s that the drugs have changed. The dose they give themselves to get high is now a lethal dose.”

One girl in her 20s “we’ve brought back from the dead three times,” Solomon said. “Most of our narcotic overdose patients we’ve seen before.”

But, says Shannon Monnat, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University and a fellow with the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, “we’re not going to Narcan our way out of this.” What her research has uncovered is that addiction takes root in rural communities and small cities left stagnant by structural economic change.

In the face of sustained economic hardship and uncertainty, “drugs and alcohol are a way to cope.”

“The problem is not a new problem,” she said. “The problem has been building for three decades.”

Access to Narcan and improved mental health services are “important first steps,” but “we need to get to the underlying cause. People without a college education need opportunities for a livable wage,” she said. “People need to feel their role in this country is important.”

In the valley, organizations are still figuring out how to serve a population with growing addictions.

Memorial Hospital, for instance, launched a prenatal program in March after more than a year of watching the number of heroin-addicted mothers-to-be skyrocket.

“We were seeing more and more moms coming in who were addicted,” said Dr. Marni Madnick, an OB/GYN at Memorial. “We felt we had to do something.”

Ten percent of pregnancies at Memorial involve opioid — primarily heroin — dependence. In 2014, that meant roughly 24 women.

Infants born to addicted moms require more treatment than traditional moms, which can mean days in an acute care setting.

But concentrated support upfront can reduce the services addicted babies need. So Memorial’s midwives, OB/GYNs and birthing center staff drew up plans for the New Life prenatal program, combining pre- and postnatal care, community support services and access to social workers with drug treatment and substance abuse counseling.

“It’s a lot more work,” Madnick said. These moms often face additional challenges even beyond addiction, like transportation problems, financial limitations and domestic violence issues. But if the team can meet these challenges, they can make a real difference.

Since the center opened, it has helped four women give birth. Each received the prescription drug Subutex to treat the mom’s opiate cravings and the fetus’ addiction.

“Our goal is to keep these moms with us for one year postpartum,” Madnick said.

Ten more moms are set to deliver at New Life over the next nine months.

Dr. Dunn, meanwhile, focuses his prevention efforts on high school students. Research shows the majority of heroin users report first experimenting with opiates between age 17 and 25, so he has been holding forums at Kennett High to talk about the risks.

“Once this decision is made, it often becomes a lifelong issue,” Dunn said. Therefore, it is vitally important to reach people before they take their first dose.

“I’ve seen straight-A honor students die,” he said.

“This can be anyone, from any walk of life,” he said. “It’s a tragedy everywhere. But this is where we live.”


This story ran in the Conway Daily Sun.

From the Backseat: Fear, the Biggest Liar

I will not be afraid.

Fear is a mask without holes to see through. It pulls at us, weighs us down. It is a yoke, a liar. I will not be afraid.

I will, however, say thank you to the women in my life: my sister Liz, my mom Nell, my nieces Charlie, Kennedy and Mackenzie. My sister-in-law. My step-mother. My cousin Lisa. My friends Helga, Lindsay, Terry, Nicole, Ana, and others too many to list and too strong to hold down. You are breathtaking. Powerful. Worthy. Equal. Unique. Amazing. I can only imagine your thoughts, the frustrations spinning inside. There is nothing I can say or do, but I hear you, grieve with you. Not for a missed political opportunity, but for the national sidestep around your inherent equality, our collective rejection of your internal capacity. For the continued elevation of your bodies as objects. For the grinding lack of respect you endure.

And to my friends of color — Jahad, Cynthia, Sinclair, Ish, Katie, Miguel, Helga, Lisa — my Muslim friends — Wasim, Farah, Selma — I can only imagine this moment for you, the feelings of exclusion, of otherness. You are the blood and bones of America. Your Haitian heritage, Salvadoran past and Saudi roots add texture to our fabric, your Friday prayers as sacred as Sunday. Worth does not live in color, sex or religion. It just is. Do not dim your light for anything, for anyone — doing so robs both you and the world.

Where to go from here? Part of me wants to drop the anger, to push for healing and national unity. But another part realizes this is a false choice, that the repudiation of Clinton and Obama grew out of racism and misogyny. Anger at the extreme right, meanwhile, is a rejection of these most American characteristics.

So how do we extract hate and exclusions from America? How do we instead spread ideals like tolerance, inclusivity and religious liberty? By yelling at opponents? No. We have to try something else.

Hurt people hurt people, a friend told me. Hurt people lash out. They react. They do damage. America today is full of hurt people. Will we, the tolerant, now become hurt too? Will this rejection grow to anger?

No. I will not be afraid. Fear is what got us here. I am sad, disheartened, but I will not move forward in anger. America has had enough of that.

Instead, I will look for the bright spots. Like Pious Ali, who was elected to Portland’s City Council. The first African-born Muslim to hold the office, he is a resounding voice for America’s integrated future. I heard Ali speak in September on young immigrants and people of color in America. His message was clear: We are stronger together. The gaps that divide us are narrow. The success of our newest citizens mark success for us all. Ali is not a man of fear. His eyes are open. He sees the American challenge with clarity, and instead of cowering in its shadow he smiles at it. He brings an unfettered heart to the fight. We must do the same.

The forces of inclusivity are strong, woven deep within the American experiment. We, the tolerant, are not alone. Fear and exclusionary violence will erupt from time to time, but those blows cannot overcome America’s inevitable grind towards equality. Over the long arc we are moving forward, and that movement continues, however awkwardly.

But our fight will always be hamstrung. We are cursed with the knowledge our opponents are as human as we are, as worthy and valuable as ourselves. We cannot demonize; even those who see us as abhorrent are our brothers.

How do we rise from such handicap? Like Ali: With clear eyes. By refusing to cower and rejecting the shadows. By realizing our commonalities will always be stronger than our rifts are deep. By engaging even our adversaries with curiosity and compassion. By refusing to be afraid. Fear is a liar. Put down that mask.


This column appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

CDS: Political Standing and Climate Science

CONWAY — The divide over climate change has long split along party lines, but a new report by University of New Hampshire researchers highlights just how politicized climate science has become.

“We found that most Americans are unclear about where the North and South Pole are located,” said Larry Hamilton, professor of sociology at UNH, “but they have definite ideas about whether the climate there is changing. And those ideas, along with basic knowledge, correlate with how they plan to vote in November.”

Hamilton was lead researcher on the first ever polar, environment and science survey, a joint project between the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy and Columbia University. Researchers asked Americans their views on science and climate change, their sources of information, their thoughts on the current problems and possible solutions. They also tested basic geographic knowledge related to polar regions. The survey was conducted in August, and the results came out in October.

Public views on almost everything related to climate change — acceptance of basic scientific observations, trusted sources of information, the seriousness of current problems, the need for a policy response — differ greatly depending on political orientation, the survey found.

“Trump supporters are much less likely to accept or know the scientific observations that carbon dioxide has increased and arctic sea ice declined,” Hamilton said in the report. “Logically, we could separate the scientific observation that climate change is occurring from the political question of what should be done. In public opinion, however, the science and political issues prove not very distinct.”

Ninety-nine percent of Clinton voters believe climate change is happening now, and 86 percent believe it is largely caused by humans. This, Hamilton said, is the statement most scientists support.

A majority of Trump supporters, however — 55 percent — believe climate change is occurring through natural forces. Only 33 percent believe humans are the primary cause. Another 7 percent do not believe climate change is occurring.

A similar divide occurred when respondents were asked whom they trust for information on climate change. Supporters of both Clinton and Trump listed scientists as their most trusted source, but the two sides showed differing levels of trust: 85 percent of Clinton supporters said they trust scientists for information on climate change, compared with 61 percent of Trump supporters.

For Trump supporters, Fox News was the second-most trusted source for information — 49 percent — followed by friends at 38 percent and religious leaders at 34 percent.

Only 10 percent of Clinton supporters, meanwhile, trust Fox, and 26 percent trust religious leaders. Clinton supporters trust websites, friends and political leaders most after scientists, at 44 percent, 42 percent and 42 percent. Only 18 percent of Trump supporters trust political leaders, and 22 percent trust websites.

That separation continued into policy questions, where Clinton supporters repeatedly give high priority to policy moves aimed to reduce the impacts of climate change such as renewable energy investments, lifestyle changes and a carbon tax.

But Clinton supporters are not alone here. “Trump supporters also place high priority on action to reduce climate risks,” Hamilton said, though not as high as Clinton supporters: “39 percent prioritize renewable energy investments and 27 percent consumer or lifestyle changes.”

Researchers also found a relatively poor understanding of the forces at work in global warming, paired respondents’ belief they were well-informed. Respondents had more confidence in their understanding of issues like sea level rise and melting glaciers than the data bore out.

“Objective tests suggest,” Hamilton said, “that such confidence often derives from political convictions rather than knowledge of science or the physical world.”

The survey found most respondents had limited knowledge of polar regions. “Less than 40 percent correctly place the North Pole on ice a few feet or yards thick, floating over a deep ocean,” Hamilton said.

“Similar proportions think the pole is on ice more than a mile thick, over land, while others imagine a rocky, mountainous landscape. Answers regarding the South Pole are not much better; less than half correctly place it on thick ice over land.”

Similarly, fewer than 20 percent of respondents recognized the United States as an arctic nation, with more than 3 million square miles of territory and thousands of inhabitants within the Arctic Circle.

Over the past seven years, UNH researchers have seen public acceptance of climate change “drifting upwards,” Hamilton said, and the scientifically supported view that humans are the main cause has climbed from roughly 50 percent seven years ago to 63 percent in recent surveys. “Thus, despite sharp political divisions, there is broad and rising public recognition of climate-change problems and of the need to shift our energy use in response.”


This story appeared in the Conway Daily Sun.

From the Back Seat: America’s Argument

It has come to an end. After almost two years of buildup: the election, the point on which it all hinges. Dragons will either be slain or Armageddon will soon commence.

Which, of course, depends on your political bent, whether Hillary is your Antichrist or Donald. But either way there will be an offended swath, American outrage that hasn’t occurred since… last election.

Remember in 2008 when Obama became president and the TEA Party stormed the streets in protest? We still see the racially-tinged aftermath of Taxed Enough Already in the selection of Donald Trump. Obama marked the Socialist takeover, the “they’ll come for your guns” moment, another pivotal dragons and danger moment.

And yet today America stands, gun in hand. Rome has not fallen. There have been incremental ticks, changes to health care policy, the recognition of same sex marriage, withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, but much from before remains. Guantanamo is still open. America still kills from the sky with unmanned aircraft piloted from the Heartland. Abortion is still legal and under stress. A black man may occupy the White House, but beyond condolences he’s been unable to offer anything to curb the mass incarcerations of innocents or shootings by police. America is thick with its own history, and the wave of his hand proven insufficient to part the Red Sea.

Foreign-born Muslim Socialist or not, presidential powers are limited. Armageddon will have to wait.

The same can be said of Maine and the 2010 sweep that brought the 39 percent to power. Despite his best threats, Gov. LePage proved unable to eradicate functional government. His insistence on undermining the bureaucracy rather than reforming its aims was caustic but not calamitous, and lumbering beast though it is, the government proved agile enough to stay steps ahead of the governor.

Mainers still pay taxes and state agencies continue to offer services. LePage did his damage, but much of it was superficial. The occasional racist comment proved the governor an unsavory mascot, but his real goal—to free the state of the tyrannies of government—stands uncompleted.

Another disaster dodged. Armageddon again averted.

But was Armageddon really the risk? That is language of elections today, both from conservative corners and progressive politicians. But in American democracy nothing burns overnight. Things don’t happens fast. Neither man nor movement has the sway they claim. Our institutions are great pyramids standing on bases that stretch for miles. One man or woman at the top has not the strength to move it. Even armies of protesters lack the might to push them over, be they the TEA Party or Occupy Wall Street.

A state is so much more than its government. A country is so much livelier than its laws, its politicians. These are small choices, momentary blips, water and sand only have the power to eat away the stone that forms our foundations. One day, through the slow erosion of time, shifts may come, but there is no earthquake on the horizon. Shout as they might, this country can endure.

And regardless of its smaller swings, America lumbers in the direction of its founding, the words it was born with: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

America is a country forged out of words and ideas, not the other way around. It was plucked from thin air by idealists on land made clear by genocide. We live a nation rife with contradiction. Questions of diversity and wealth and what it means to be free run in our blood. They are our history, our legacy, our burden. And they are bound to resurface at times. At times like these. Indeed, they might never go away.

Sometimes this argument we have with ourselves is raucous, ugly even. But it is our argument, one we must embrace to push forward those American words.

But for all the fighting the sky will not fall. This argument, this ungracious snarl, is the messiness of democracy. There will be no dragons gone after Nov. 8, and Armageddon will still have to wait.


This column appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

CDS: Where the Avalanches are

frank-caras-snow-ranger
Joe Klementovich photo

CONWAY — The high summits have their first brushes of snow, which to many winter aficionados means one thing: Ski season is almost here.

Not everyone prefers the manicured slopes of ski resorts. Some look to the backcountry and the white-peaked Mount Washington for their sliding fix.

For them, early-season concerns aren’t limited to what type of skis to purchase or whether it’ll be a good snow year.

Their favorite sport arrives with risk. The snow is back, and with it comes avalanches.

But this year is one of transition for the Mount Washington Valley avalanche community. The U.S. Forest Service is in the midst of hiring two snow rangers for the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, which forecasts conditions and conducts rescues in Tuckerman and Huntington ravines.

Half of its four-person staff has departed. One of the positions being filled is that of longtime Lead Snow Ranger Chris Joosen, who ran the Mount Washington Avalanche Center for more than two decades.

“We have some pretty big shoes to fill,” said Justin Preisendorfer, assistant district ranger for the Forest Service’s Androscoggin district.

Both Joosen and Jeff Lane, who also left in the spring, spent decades digging snow pits, watching the weather, learning how avalanche hazards affect the mountain. “Lots of on-the- ground knowledge and skills there,” Preisendorfer said.

Preisendorfer himself was a snow ranger for eight seasons before moving to the district office.

He knows what the job requires. Mount Washington is like almost no other avalanche-forecasting spot, he said.

In most places, assessments are for entire mountain ranges, spanning miles and including varying aspects and thousands of feet of elevation change. But here it’s just two bowls: Huntington and Tuckerman. Individual gullies are examined.

“Forecasters develop an intimacy with the terrain you can’t get most places,” he said.

Plus forecasting is only part of the job. From Dec. 1 until the end of May, snow rangers also are in charge of all rescues within the Cutler River Drainage, which includes Tuckerman and Huntington, No one else does that.

There is also education and outreach. Each day after the advisory goes up, snow rangers go out and meet with skiers and climbers to talk about current conditions. That, too, is not the norm in avalanche-forecasting positions.

A lot of the complexity in forecasting Tuckerman and Huntington is because of the people.

“The biggest challenge with micro-forecasting on Mount Washington is we have an unorganized fleet of volunteer stability testers,” Preisendorfer said. Every day, swarms of skiers and climbers put assessments to the test.

So far, he said, the Forest Service is in the midst of the hiring process, and there has been a lot of interest in the positions. But Preisendorfer doubts they will both be filled by the time Dec. 1 rolls around, when the snow rangers take over responsibility for rescues from New Hampshire Fish and Game.

Luckily, the Forest Service has a handful of former snow rangers who have agreed to fill in, but the time crunch leaves Preisendorfer a bit conflicted.

“On one hand, I’m praying for a heavy, long winter,” he said, but on the other, it’d be nice if things stayed quiet until both positions were filled.

One of the two remaining snow rangers, Frank Carus, said he’s looking forward to new blood at the avalanche center. After years of the lead snow ranger working both as safety officer for the White Mountain National Forest and forecaster at the avalanche center, the new position will be at the avalanche center only.

“I’m actually excited for the change,” Carus said. “Having a full-time director will be great.”

The new job will engage with the public more, heighten the awareness of the center and work with groups like Friends of Tuckerman Ravine and Friends of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center to support center operations.

The avalanche center is one of the White Mountain National Forest’s most popular programs, and one the public interacts with most. The new director will have plenty to do.

Not all awareness education falls to professionals. Enthusiasts and former avalanche workers are stepping in to fill the gap.

The Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop is one such effort. Set for Nov. 5 at Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center in Fryeburg, Maine, ESAW is a one-day seminar organized by volunteers who are mostly snow rangers and former snow rangers. It will provide a venue for avalanche workers and backcountry aficionados to hear presentations and discuss new techniques and technologies with experts in the field.

“It’s a grassroots effort to get people educated on snow science and avalanches,” said Joe Klementovich of North Conway, one of ESAW’s main organizers and a former snow ranger.

The idea of the workshop, he said, was triggered “by an uptick in midwinter activity.” It used to be that most skiers came to Mount Washington in the spring, when warm temperatures had cooked most of the instability out of the snowpack.

But these days, more and more people come up looking for powder. They are on the mountain in midwinter, a time of much greater avalanche risk.

“There’s just so much people don’t know they don’t know,” Klementovich said. From spring to winter, the snowpack “becomes a whole different animal.”

It is the sixth year of an ESAW. Carus, who will be a presenter, said part of the goal is to reach younger enthusiasts and to counter images they may see that show people skiing in front of avalanches or surviving slides like it’s no big deal.

These portrayals don’t show the teams of rescuers poised just behind the ridge ready to respond should there be a problem, said Carus, noting, “It’s deceptive.” It makes it look like these pro skiers take huge risks without any safety net. “That’s what we need to compete against.”

The avalanche center has been working with friends groups to purchase video equipment in an effort to provide more multimedia content from the field, “integrating modern messaging techniques,” Carus said.

And, at ESAW, “it’ll be a little less nerdy than in the past,” he said, with more focus on terrain considerations and how to evaluate risk than the intricacies of snow science.

Klementovich highlighted, as well, the need to reach younger skiers.

“That was one of the founding tenets of the whole thing,” Klementovich said.

Because, like every skier, they, too, are looking up at a white Mount Washington with anticipation and sharpening their skis.

Klementovich and Carus both want to see them sharpening their avalanche skills, too.

ESAW registration information is available at esaw.org. For Mount Washington Avalanche Center information, go to mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.

CDS Column: Right, Left and Center

image1-2When it comes to voting for federal office in New Hampshire this cycle we don’t have a lot of choices to be excited about; both the Republican and Democratic tickets are bleak. At the top is Donald Trump, clearly unfit to lead, or Hillary Clinton, the consummate politician. One step below is the U.S. Senate where Gov. Maggie Hassan is hoping to unseat Sen. Kelly Ayotte, two candidates more astute at political maneuvering than practicing leadership or instituting policy. Two strikes for the federal ballot.

Then there is the race for Congress: incumbent Frank Guinta running against former representative Carol Shea-Porter in the fourth matchup between the two. These two have gone back and forth, and every time the seat flips.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter which one is in office, both have proven uninspiring. It’s another version of the races above it, but it’s also worse: Guinta versus Shea-Porter is more bad TV, but in this race we have to watch a rerun.

In one sense we’re lucky: In a country where almost every congressional seat goes to the incumbent it’s a rare thing to see a contested race. But it hasn’t done us any strategic favors. Rep. Guinta has members of his own party (including Sen. Ayotte) suggesting he resign following his finance scandals, and still Shea-Porter is unable to trounce him.

Is that because Guinta is likeable? Nope. He’s come by the Sun a number of times, and each visit is reminiscent of a sitdown with a used car salesman.

But Shea-Porter offers nothing more promising. Both candidates sit square within their parties, basically stooges for Washington games. If a bright idea has come from either it never made it to paper.

But in the house race 2016 isn’t a rerun. We finally have a chance to watch something other than the lumbering Shea-Porter-Guinta-Shea-Porter drama. This year there is an Independent in the race. And Shawn O’Connor is a guy worth voting for.

Who is O’Connor, and why haven’t you heard of him? I hadn’t heard of him either before he came by the Sun office earlier this month and introduced himself. O’Connor is an entrepreneur and businessman from Bedford, the founder of Stratus Prep, a test preparation and admissions counseling firm, also the founder of the Stratus Foundation, a nonprofit the helps underprivileged kids access college prep services. He earned an MBA and a law degree from Harvard and studied international politics at Georgetown as an undergrad. He graduated all three with honors.

He’s smart, but more important than that, he’s reasonable. And unlike his predecessors, he’s without puppet masters to pull his strings; he’s running as an Independent, and in his case that means truly independent.

The Guinta-Shea-Porter brawl is loud. So you might have to turn down the volume to find O’Connor. But if you do you just might find something you like. Here is a thoughtful, considered candidate running for elected office, the kind of person who usually steers clear of Washington, or else is corrupted by it. He has ideas for addressing healthcare, minimum wage and social security that pull from both conservative and progressive corners, taking the good ideas from both and applying them to American problems. With no ideological allegiance and a background in business he’s a free man, something Washington lacks.

And what’s more, he’s already made his money. One of his pledges is to donate the bulk of his Congressional salary, roughly $160,000, to a charity selected by an independent board. He’s not going to Washington to help himself.

To be clear, as a New Hampshire reporter you sit through a lot of interviews. Politics is kind of New Hampshire’s thing, and as a result we bat around ideas with everyone from presidential hopefuls to prospective school board members. And often these editorial board meetings feel like a game of cat-and-mouse with the candidate unwilling to say anything concrete and the team of reporters chasing them to nail down a policy position. The best escape artists (Mitt Romney comes to mind) evade every attempt like a bullfighter avoids the horns. Lesser versions (Newt Gingrich, Marco Rubio) do it with less grace, but all of them come off feeling insincere.

Guinta and Shea-Porter (and Hassan too) always struck me as part of Team Insincere, team bullfight. They’re of the ilk who will say anything to win election, always trying to escape their own records and avoid firm points.

O’Connor, meanwhile, sat in front of us and took thoughtful, nuanced policy positions. He avoided partisan rhetoric and instead carved a platform in part conservative, in part liberal. His talk truly earned the label “Independent,” was the kind of candidate you can actually feel good about sending to Washington.

That’s a rare thing these days. Most races are about selecting the least poor option. O’Connor flips that on his head.

But can he win? That’s the question. As he pointed out, New Hampshire is the New England state with the widest independent streak but Maine, Vermont and Connecticut have sent Independents to Washington. New Hampshire could do it too. Voters just have to demand service, not politics, from their representatives. It was talk reminiscent of Ray Burton, the longtime executive councilor who cared more about his constituents needs than their party affiliation. Since Ray passed no one else has picked up the mantle.
O’Connor can change that. He is a candidate for all of us, not one stuck to the margins. He claims to want to Washington to support New Hampshire’s people as opposed to a party. Neither Guinta nor Shea-Porter have done that. Maybe it’s time for a change.


This column appeared in Wednesday’s Conway Daily Sun.

From the Backseat: A Mini America

49895953510__6feb8924-ea7f-4930-ae0b-20f4a8fb15f3-1Maine is a modern political allegory. In a lot of ways it can serve as a stand-in for the entire United States—liberal coast hemming a vast but sparsely populated conservative heartland, with bustle and trade, vibrancy and a smattering of diversity along the shore but both tempo and complexion changing once you leave the ocean. Isolated pockets clustered around centers of higher education (rather than midwestern cities) retain the progressive flavor of coastal life, but otherwise inland culture is very different, as is the economic outlook.

America Mini: Yeah, we’ve got that.

And politically Maine has America covered too: one Republican congressman and the other rep a Democrat, in the U.S. Senate a moderate Republican regularly accused of being a RINO and an Independent who leans liberal. Maine voters, like voters across America, support every political stripe.

And then there’s the governor. If Maine is an American metaphor then loose-lipped Gov. Paul LePage is a glimpse into the future, a hint at what a possible presidency with Donald J. Trump would be like.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” Gov. LePage told a radio host last spring. And he’s right: Gov. LePage is a shining example of what loose cannon leadership looks like, how an executive who takes no notice of facts likes to govern. It’s impossible to watch the trapeze act of Trump’s campaign and not be reminded of Maine’s own mini-circus, the pro-business bark adorned by rude racist comments and a constant confusion on facts. Trump hardly has a corner on that market. LePage never had his own TV show but in terms of political buffoonery and chicanery he’s got a six-year head start.

How do candidates like this get to power? Of course there’s the business of third party politics and Maine’s 61 percent, but there is also that vast white interior, the working class industrial heartland of Maine/America, the places where good jobs were once plentiful and now are hard to come by. These are the forgotten lands where infrastructure is crumbling as quickly as communities. This is the seat of power for “straight talk” politicos today, the home of the frustrated white worker.

And why shouldn’t they be frustrated? These voters live in the economic sectors of yesteryear, places like Rumford and Skowhegan (Cleveland and Milwaukee) that have suffered setback after setback. They’ve watched their communities drown in joblessness while their elected officials lead in other directions and focus more on talking over them than talking to them. The American Dream, long at their doorstep, is now far away and doesn’t look to be coming back.

It is to those voters that politicians like Trump and LePage offer their promises: a rejuvenated working class and a reborn heartland. “Make America Great Again.” It’s a slogan aimed at them, and it has hit its mark. It may be hogwash, a fantasy in today’s changing world, but when no one else is speaking to this constituency there is room for LePage and Trump to find support. They took a read on the pulse of frustration among white working class voters and they spoke to it. Their words may be hollow, but any sound booms across a vacuum. They noticed a bloc and reached out; they should not have been the first.

LePage and Trump are blowhards, but their political foresight should not be overlooked. It’s now clear that white rural voters are ignored at our collective peril. While Maine and the rest of America quibbled over policy nuance these factless windbags climbed ranks: LePage won both election and then reelection, and Trump cleared the Republican field. Disillusioned and disenfranchised working class voters led the way, showing up in droves to exercise what power they have left, supporting the candidates that speak to their situation as everyone else looked on.

Maybe next time Republicans and RINOs, Independents and Democrats will approach this frustrated constituency, listen to what they have to say and speak to them. Maybe next time working class Maine’s sole option won’t be a bluster-filled bully.

Maybe that can be part of America’s story too.


This column appeared in this week’s Portland Phoenix.

CDS: No Limits Ascent

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Gary Dunn photo

CONWAY — How does a guy in a wheelchair climb the biggest cliff in the America? Pull-ups. Lots of pull-ups.

Enoch Glidden may have been born with spina bifida, but that doesn’t keep the 37-year-old Western Mainer from rock climbing. Paralyzed from the waist down, he got his first wheelchair when he was 4. But his birth defect didn’t diminish his passion for adventure, and this month, Glidden climbed the largest granite monolith in North America: El Capitan in California’s Yosemite Valley.

“It was definitely a pretty awesome experience,” Glidden said in a phone interview from somewhere in Colorado (he was driving back to Bethel, Maine).

Glidden and two partners — climber Christian Cattell and climber, artist and filmmaker Craig Muderlak — set out from the valley floor on Oct. 4. Their goal was to climb Zodiac, a well-known route on El Capitan’s steep right-hand flank.

Zodiac ascends 1,800 vertical feet of sheer rock up mostly overhanging terrain. It requires nights as well as days on the wall, and most teams have to haul camping gear, food, water, even a collapsible hanging ledge to have somewhere to sleep. It can take anywhere from a handful of hours to days to ascend.

Glidden and his team planned on five days. The three were scheduled to start out on Oct. 5, but it turned out that a woman from Italy, who was also an adaptive climber, was set to begin the same route on the same day, so Glidden and his team opted to launch their effort early.

As in any such expedition, theirs was not without complications. Eleven volunteers met Glidden, Cattell, Muderlak and a fourth team member — climber and guide Gary Dunn — in the meadow below El Capitan early on the morning of Oct. 4. It was 30 degrees F., but soon everyone was warmed as they took turns carrying the 130-pound Glidden strapped in a litter over a mile of trail, rocks and boulders to reach the base of the route.

“It was exciting to see and be part of it,” said Joan Veilleux, a Mount Washington Valley guide and nurse at North Conway’s Memorial Hospital, who was on Enoch’s support team.

Once they reached the base, Cattell and Muderlak started up Zodiac. Then it was Dunn’s turn, whose job would be to support Glidden throughout the climb.

But a short way up the first section of the cliff, Dunn injured his shoulder. Still close to the ground, it was clear he couldn’t continue. He came down, and suddenly the team of four was down to three — of which one member couldn’t use his legs.

Muderlak and Cattell descended, and along with Glidden considered their options. They decided to see whether anyone back at camp would take on the job and had suitable experience.

But their search was fruitless, and a few hours later, Muderlak and Cattell returned to start up with Glidden as a team of three.

“That kind of started us off a little unsure,” Enoch said, but they were determined to give it a shot. They developed a system: Cattell would go up first and set the ropes, which included a line for Glidden to climb. Glidden would start up, doing pull-up after pull-up using specially rigged rope clamps that would allow him to ascend to the top anchor, while Muderlak would set out from the low point to clean any gear Cattell used in climbing. Cattell, meanwhile, would haul the bags of overnight gear, food and water to the high anchor.

This meant Glidden was without the planned support person to help should there be complications. While Cattell and Muderlak concentrated on the rock and the gear, Glidden hung, twisting and swaying on the rope, hundreds of feet above the valley. There were definitely moments, he said, when he thought, “Why am I doing this?”

It was scary, when the wind caught and spun him, he said, but it was also why he was there: to challenge himself, for the sense of exploration and adventure.

With the adventure, of course, came times of doubt. “Just using the bathroom was a total chore,” Glidden said.

Muderlak agreed: “That was the most stressful part of the day.” It was forced intimacy, something nobody was comfortable with. “But we got better at it.”

The project had begun two years before, and Muderlak had been to Yosemite with Enoch in 2015. “The more work is manageable,” Muderlak said.

The biggest challenge was pushing Glidden, “but not pushing him too far.”

Glidden said he was definitely pushed.

“Most people would think (the hardest part) was the 4,000 pull-ups,” he said, “but it was the mental challenge.”

Five days on the wall is wearing; 1,800 feet of sheer rock is wearing. Day after day, with no ground beneath you gets wearing. When it came to pull-ups, “I actually wasn’t that sore,” Glidden said, “I guess I’d put in enough time at the gym.”

Despite his undeniable fitness, “there were definitely thoughts of maybe I should bail,” he said.

Like at the top of the seventh section of climbing, the point where the route becomes too steep to retreat easily. That had Glidden thinking hard about returning to flat ground. But he kept going up.

And five days later — and thousands of pull-ups later — Team Glidden reached the top.

Glidden is modest, not a talkative guy. His reminiscences about summit day are subdued. He’s the kind of guy whom you ask, “How was it?” and he’ll reply, “Cool.” Or “Fun.” Or “Hard.” A journey of a lifetime squeezed into a single word.

But for those who worked with him and witnessed his determination, this was not just another mountain.

“This was so much more than that five-day climb,” Muderlak said. This was the culmination of two years of planning, training, effort and setbacks.

For Veilleux, who met the team at the top to help them descend, it was an emotional moment. “I just lost it,” she said. “It really was amazing. I’m still coming down from it.”

But the top, as every mountaineer knows, is only halfway. After five days on the wall, the hardest part was yet to come. It took another day and another team of 12 to make it off the top of El Capitan and back to civilization.

By all accounts, the descent was grueling and took until well after dark.

But on the way down, strange things started happening. People showed up, started helping, assisting with the litter carry and donating food, water, fresh headlamps. “All these climbers were coming to our group to meet Enoch,” Veilleux said.

In truth, Muderlak said, that was the real magic of Enoch’s ascent: “The climb isn’t really the story. The real story is the moments in between. The real story to me is the community of people.”

Enoch’s determination, his drive, was moving, Muderlak said. “He is what inspired people.”

Muderlak captured it all on video, filming the climb and the lead-up. He plans to release a movie on Glidden next spring, giving everyone a chance to see what determination and adventure really look like.

Glidden, meanwhile, hasn’t slowed. He reached the summit, but it looks to be just one of a string. “The next day, we were talking about doing Rainier,” he said, referring to the hulking 14,410-foot volcano that dominates the Seattle skyline.

It’s a different kind of ascent, one that will require him to pull his way over crevassed glaciers. He’ll probably sit on a ski, he said, and use a rope to pull himself along.

“I’ll definitely be training for that.”


This story appeared in today’s Conway Daily Sun.

CDS Column: The American Locker Room Tradition

CDS Column: The American Locker Room Tradition

13475016_1517641101595303_7355454198074171565_o“Locker room talk” is a catchy phrase and now the talk of the nation. Never have the tiled quarters of towels, benches and shower stalls garnered such attention. It is, however, a presidential year, so no wonder.

It’s been interesting to watch lines drawn around Republican nominee Donald Trump’s comments, “locker room talk” or “sexual assault” depending on your political leanings. His supporters rallied, some Republicans used the comments to justify severing support, and opponents pointed aghast saying, “See! See! We told you!”

But Donald Trump’s comments don’t make him a monster; they put him squarely within American culture. They mark him as an American male, the personification of American masculinity stated in stark terms, its dark edges exposed, things we don’t often dwell upon out. His “grab them by the pussy” comments are not so far fetched or outlandish, not as far afield as many claim. This is the raw of American male conversations on sex, particularly among young men — proud, boastful men still finding their way across the landscapes of adulthood.

Trump’s comments shine a light into a world we look to ignore. Not a political point; this is a truth about us, about American male culture and the customs we carry. Donald Trump is no outlier here. He lives squarely within the American psyche, the sexual culture we cultivate. This is about American men, our mores and a tradition of celebrating aggression.
Sounds dramatic, but it’s not meant to be. American men are not predators. But we carry a school of conditioning, a cultural norm: From a young age, American men learn to talk about sex in grand terms. Sex is not a subject to ask questions about, something for discussion, learned easily within our social network. It is instead something to boast about, a way to prove your position within the pecking order. If you are an American male you’ve seen this before: raunchy conversations where participants compete to be the most brash, the most raw, the most confident and loudest. If you’re an American male, chances are you’ve felt your place within the hierarchy, and you’ve probably either striven to prove yourself or else felt ostracized by it. Likely both.

From middle school on there is pressure to conform, pressure to be the most experienced, the most promiscuous, the silverback, the alpha. Sex talk, “locker room talk,” is never gentle, thoughtful or considered. It is “grab them by the pussy” and worse. This is how we grew up, our sexual education. It is where and how American men learn to talk about women.

Most men don’t act out these lessons. For most it is a show, a performance we make to fit in, part of joining the tribe of our peers. It does not become foundation for sexual assault or sexual violence but remains the bluster of “locker room talk.” Is it necessarily happening in locker rooms? No, but make no mistake, it’s happening.

And that bluster does two things: It leaves young men and boys feeling ostracized, wondering how their peers know so much about sex when they themselves are clueless (despite whoever or whatever we just claimed to have carnal knowledge of), and it permanently impacts the language we learn to use around sex, the character of the conversation we embrace. We adopt the swagger and bravado to fit in, and it is the swagger and bravado that make us afraid to ask questions, afraid we are the only ones who don’t know. To speak in opposition to the boasting rhetoric becomes unthinkable — it risks exposing ourselves as ignorant children, fakes. And with that coincides a tumbling loss of social position, a risk we cannot take.

And if men know the bragging and rough talk, women know the ignorance, the bumbling, the delicate male egos propped on false claims of past deeds. This is our “sexual education,” the path carved for young American men and women to reach adulthood, our incubator for home, family, partnership.

And it has consequences. It leaves young men groping to prove themselves, to show they are who they say they are. From private New Hampshire high schools to the swimming pools at Stanford we’ve seen young men from the top of the pecking order strike out, thrash their way into sex rather than risk a question, an about-face. Boys employing the crude tools our culture has equipped them with.

And their thrashing has consequences. Their thrashing leaves victims.

But they, too, are victims. They are victims of our collective unwillingness to talk openly about sex, our timidity and our vision of American maleness. They grow to be men never baring their ignorance, never risking what they don’t know. They learn only through thrash and bluster, bumping their way down the hallways. Then they have their own boys, and the cycle continues.

Donald J. Trump. Alpha. Silverback. He stormed the pecking order with braggadocio, and now like so many of us he cannot risk an about-face. He is a man, built of words like so many other men. Some of us may fumble our way out of the locker room but still we find ourselves back there at times, fighting our way within the hierarchy. Billy Bush, the other man on the Trump tape, knows that fight.

What that tape shows us is ourselves. This is how we as Americans engage in conversations about sex. We learn young, and we learn well. Maybe we spend the rest of our lives unlearning it. But this pattern shapes our perspectives, forms our culture. And what we never learn to say shapes our children.

And so we should be grateful to Donald Trump. Because this conversation is one way overdue.


This column appeared in today’s Conway Daily Sun.

From the Backseat: Maine, Live on the Street

From the Backseat: Maine, Live on the Street

img_0656-3It was a Thursday, normally a workday but we were tucked in the downstairs of the Portland Museum of Art, around 100 of us taking pause to listen to Maine, live.

That’s what they call it: Maine Live. Like a TED conference fitted with flannel, 15 speakers with 15 minutes each to talk about whatever they want. Mainers of all backgrounds: a former U.S. Olympic luge racer, the co-founder of ReVision Energy, the department chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Maine Medical Center, business owners and nonprofit directors and artists. Pious Ali, Maine’s first African-born American and Muslim to be elected to a public office, shared stories of young immigrants and people of color searching for jobs amidst more roadblocks than on-ramps. Kennebunk-based architect Brian Beaudette talked about knowing he was gay but pushing his feelings aside through high school, college, a marriage and fatherhood. MaineWorks founder Margo Walsh shared her own struggle with alcoholism and how her work helping felons and addicts find jobs helps her, too.

Like most conferences of the inspirational type there were standing ovations, moments of teariness, hors d’oeuvres during intermissions and photo handshakes. But at Maine Live there was more. It was a distillation of creative energy, the state concentrated. Put 15 Mainers in a room and let them to speak on whatever they want and there could be 15 distinct topics, no linking thread. But themes emerged: immigration, climate change, the power of business for positive impact. If you wanted a pulse on Maine, a hint at what was important and pressing in the state today, with Maine Live as a carotid snapshot you got a chance to see it, what matters to those in the thick of it, out in the morass.

And there was a shadow among themes, a darkness that kept rearing: any Maine Live participant would be forced to note how often heroin came up. Among a roomful of professionals, nonprofit-types and business people opiates were everywhere. One speaker, Biddeford-based plumbing and heating business owner Jim Godbout, devoted his entire talk to addiction, to the impacts of heroin and other drugs and the toll they’ve taken on his community. He stood wet-eyed on stage and shared stories of more than 40 friends and loved ones lost. This inside the white walls of the art museum, a space more familiar with the picturesque projections of upper-middle-classness than somber stories of social decay.

But opiates have emerged so insidious they’ve wormed their way into all our halls, part of everything and everywhere, in the art museum not in some scrawlings by an on-edge surrealist but among the crisp crowd who rents the space for the ambiance. Addiction has left the shadows, gone mainstream.

It is a funny thing, watching talk of heroin and opiate addiction wind its way through such circles. These $100-tickets events are usually reserved for generative conversations that lighten the heart, exchanges that make you think, make you wonder. Perhaps they highlight a societal problem, but one distant. But here sat a hint of alarm bells, indications of a problem metastasizing close to home. Addiction the wrecking ball swings at all walls, even those lined by Wyeths and Winslow Homer. Something needs to happen, soon.

That was in the museum. Then Maine Live ended. I walked out onto Free Street, crossed over to Congress in my sport coat and dress shoes.

Around Forest a man pointed at me from a few feet away. He was walking towards me wearing a tee shirt and dirty jeans. “Wait!” he said. “Before you take another step…”

I kept walking, closing our distance.

“…can I have a dollar for something to eat?”

I continued to walk, brushing past him. I heard him turn but he didn’t follow.

A dozen more steps and I heard his voice again, this time shouting: “Who is going to give me a dollar so I can buy SOMETHING TO FUCKING EAT!”

Maine, live.

No one paused to listen.


This column appeared in the Portland Phoenix.