William Marvel: Chionophobia

Language has always intrigued me. As the child of a sailor and a former waitress with a penchant for literature, I picked up a lot of words at a relatively early age. Some of them must have been quite amusing, judging by the reaction of my mother’s bridge club the night she dropped me in my playpen and closed the door, to keep me out of the living room.

The greatest short-term infusion for my vocabulary may have come on the winter evening when my father and I went off the road in his 1954 International Harvester pickup. It was snowing heavily, and the only end of Davis Hill Road that was then open made a 90-degree turn just before the steep climb up the hill. The truck was rear-wheel-drive, as were nearly all vehicles in those days, but there were 400 pounds of oak in the bed for traction. A set of chains hung off the backboard, but they were a trial to put on in the biting cold with bare fingers, so — after a day of work in the woods — my father made the turn at the best speed he could, hoping to gun it up the hill. Instead, we skidded off into the snowbank. That kept us out of the swamp, but it must have taken an hour to dig out, back out, and mount the chains. I held the flashlight the whole while, listening attentively to the foreign-sounding soliloquy spilling out of my father. Some words I recognized but most I didn’t, and when I tried a few of them out at recess the next day some little snitch went streaking for the office, where I was soon called by special messenger.

I learned another new word just last week. “Chionophobia” isn’t in the Oxford English Dictionary, or even the Merriam Webster, but it seems to be a buzzword common among therapists on the lookout for some marketable ailment to treat at $100 or more per hour. When the profitable Greek suffix “phobia” is hung on the Greek word “chioni,” the concept of a morbid fear of snow is born.

Now, I’ve never liked snow. The first storm that sticks is always a little depressing to me, and in winters as bad as this one I really grow to hate it, but I can’t say that I’ve ever actually been afraid of it. Unfortunately, there are obviously quite a few people hereabouts who are terrified of the white stuff. Just ask them to drive somewhere or send their kids somewhere during a storm — somewhere, that is, besides the ski slopes, which is usually OK.

Here in the North Country, a phalanx of parents and their allies in the employ of the school district usually force their neighbors to fund a generous array of programs. That might serve as evidence of their high regard for education were it not flatly contradicted by their support for — and even demand for — speedy cancellations, delayed starts, or early releases at the slightest accumulation of snow. A truncated day will bomb instruction, especially in the upper grades, and makeup days in late June are useless. Blizzard bags seem little more than a euphemism for vacation, and defending them weakens the argument that classroom teachers are the most important part of the entire system.

The budget proposed by the Conway School District for next year will cost taxpayers over $200,000 per school day. A couple of weeks ago local superintendents salvaged one of those enormously expensive days by actually holding school while snow was falling, and for that effort they were absolutely excoriated. Their primary critics appeared to be parents who could have chosen to keep their kids at home, if it was so perilous.

Sometime, somewhere, the first precedent of canceling school for snow turned it into a litigable decision. Thanks to that, superintendents who should be focusing on pedagogy, curriculum, and budgets are now also expected to be fortune tellers. Superintendent David Appleton refused to cancel school in the 1950s and ’60s, when four-wheel-drive was uncommon and front-wheel-drive virtually unknown. In the dozen years I attended Conway schools, I don’t recall a single snow day. There was at least one early release, memorable to me because I had to walk the last mile of unplowed dirt road in knee-deep drifts.

My father was still driving that International when he became the only custodian at Conway Elementary School. He had to be there early every day, without fail, to tend the boiler and clear the walks. The parents of kids who lived on other back roads might give up on trying to get out, but there was no hope for me.

This winter pales alongside those of 1957 or 1969, and our roads are better maintained than ever before. A salt-heavy bare-pavement policy robs each of us of half the life in every car we own, and most of those cars are more nimble in snow than anything available half a century ago. But we have an Achilles heel — a class of people who specifically chose to move to northern New England, despite living in abject horror of a snowstorm.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

  • Category: Columns

National Perspective: Metaphors gone wild!

By David M. Shribman

Of all the moving parts in the Trump era — the changes in the American diplomatic and military profile, the challenges the new president is hurling at the judiciary, the tensions between the legislative and executive branches, the dramatic stylistic changes in the presidency, ranging from shiny ties to Twitter outbursts — none may be in such furious motion as the two parties, the steady rocks of our political system for more than a century and a half.
For decades these two parties have been cairns in our national passage, providing time-honored guideposts in our politics and actually serving as ideological shorthand. We knew Republicans as taciturn (Calvin Coolidge), stoic (Robert A. Taft), deliberate (Robert J. Dole), frugal (Judd Gregg), generally conservative. We knew Democrats as loquacious (Hubert H. Humphrey), emotional (Mario M. Cuomo), sometimes unpredictable (Lyndon Johnson), spendthrift (Edward M. Kennedy), generally liberal.
Much of that is changing in the era of Donald J. Trump, who once was a Democrat and thus — we will not use this metaphor promiscuously with this president — might be considered a bridge figure, though it is also possible that he is no more than a detour sign. And of course those stereotypes have been undergoing changes for some time; Newt Gingrich isn't taciturn, isn't stoic, isn't deliberate and isn't always frugal, and he was perhaps the greatest transitional figure in modern Republican politics, maybe even more so than Ronald Reagan.
The truth is that Trump — so formidable a figure in the United States today that he makes mixed metaphors unavoidable — is a giant celestial body in the political universe, warping the orbits of the other planet. And chief among the planets adjusting to new orbits, or perhaps careering out of long-established orbits, are the two parties.

  • Category: Columns

Erik Eisele: A rural reckoning

I'm waiting. Are you waiting? I think we're all still waiting.

We're waiting for someone to offer a thoughtful, meaningful, realistic proposal with a chance at reviving rural America. From the New Hampshire's North Country to the Rust Belt, the Great Plains and every "flyover state," we are all waiting.

  • Category: Columns

Susan Bruce: Magic bus

Donald Trump won the New Hampshire Primary — and he won it bigly. That night he said, “THANK YOU NH! I love you all.” Ah, gratitude … an emotion with a very short half-life.

Fast forward to a year later. Trump did NOT win New Hampshire in the general election, and it’s been eating at him ever since. That he sits in the White House is not enough for him. He’s miffed that he didn’t win EVERYTHING. The one thing Donald Trump loves more than anything is being seen as a winner. New Hampshire wounded his overweening ego, and like every petulant tyrant, he’s lashing out. If he didn’t win New Hampshire, it’s because thousands of illegal voters were bused in from Massachusetts.

The fantasy of busloads of people from Massachusetts voting in New Hampshire began sometime in the late ’90s, and was spread by the Republican Party. In a strange coincidence, this rumor began to circulate at the same time Democrats started winning elections. The more Democrats won, the louder the rumbling about buses became.

I sat through a hearing on a photo ID bill at the N.H. House a few years ago. It was such a big hearing that it was held in Representatives Hall. Dozens of people went to the microphone to testify that they had seen buses full of people from Massachusetts pull up to the polls and all of the passengers went inside to vote. Under questioning by members of the committee, it turned out that not a one of these folks took a photo of the bus, wrote down the license plate number, made a complaint to the moderator, spoke with the police officer on duty, called the Secretary of State or the AG’s office.

The ugly undercutting of our state elections has continued. Every year, a handful of bills are presented attempting to cast the runes in some magic combination that will change the definition of the word “domicile” to allow the Republican Party to ensure that college students don’t get to vote any more. This year, there are well over a dozen voter suppression bills. One of the concerns endlessly voiced by the voter suppression crowd is that of the same-day voter registrations, or those who vote without an ID, signing a voter affidavit. They claim there are thousands of them that need to be investigated, even though there is no proof that anyone did anything untoward. Given the high volume of indignity expressed, one would think they’d be chomping at the bit for those investigations.

One would be wrong. They’re all mad at the Attorney General’s office for not investigating – BUT – they aren’t funding the AG’s office sufficiently to do the investigations. That tells me that all this hype about voter fraud is intended to gin up the base and cast suspicion any time Democrats win. If they were really concerned, they’d pony up for the staffing the AG’s office needs.

This constant drumbeat of fraud serves to create a kind of cynicism intended to discourage voter participation. Republicans may have once had some interest in public service, and the best interests of our state. Now their service is to the shoddy values and dubious actions of their political party.

Now that Trump is in on the act, the stakes have suddenly gotten a lot higher. I’ve always said that when New Hampshire loses the first in the nation primary, it will be because of the Republican Party. The end feels increasingly near. The newly minted, unofficial leader of the GOP is nothing if not petty and vindictive.

Over the weekend, professional New Hampshire embarrassment, state Rep. Al Baldasaro was on WBZ-TV, showing a reporter some photos of Massachusetts license plates he saw at the polls in Londonderry on Election Day.

A license plate isn’t proof of anything –—but putting that aside, we also know that Al didn’t take his deep concerns to the moderator, the officer on duty, or call the Secretary of State or the AG’s office. He saved those concerns for three whole months — until he was in front of a TV camera, noble patriot that he is.

In the days before the election, candidate Chris Sununu had plenty to say about voter fraud in New Hampshire. Now he’s in the unenviable position of having to flip-flop. If Gov. Chris Sununu followed his leader, that would mean that the legitimacy of his own election was in question. Can anyone explain to me, why, if busloads of people from Massachusetts came to hijack the election, do the Republicans have control of every branch of the state government?

Given the accusations leveled by Trump and his minions, there’s only one thing New Hampshire can do to put this matter to rest.

We need to do the New Hampshire general election over, right away.

Susan Bruce is a writer and talk radio personality on “The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen” on WNHN-FM. She lives in Concord. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com or find the broadcast at www.wnhnfm.org.

  • Category: Columns