You have your way of frittering away your valuable free time, and I have mine. Perhaps you spend happy hours dusting your collection of antique beer cans or tiny World War II lead soldiers.

I am hopelessly addicted to our local newspaper’s website and the strings of comments beneath the stories. Unwilling to stand and be counted, most sign in with pen names like “ProudPatriot,” “WickedWoman” or “GrumpyGrampy,” and every day my life is enriched by reading what my faceless friends and nameless neighbors have to say.

For years, it was not so. You might recall a time when a legible hand and the price of a three-cent stamp were required to see one’s name beneath a “Letters” rubric. But now no one is disenfranchised.

The electronic age has given voice to a huge class of Maine people who you are likely to encounter only on your local fairgrounds after 10 o’clock on warm summer nights. Unlike the freezing rain that attracts smelts, it is warm, dark evenings that entice our brethren and their female counterparts into the outdoors where they munch fried dough and slurp Big Gulps.

Since the advent of newspaper websites, the commenters’ concise way with words has commanded my attention. One wrote: “I have four piercings, a tattoo, and often dye my hair.” Is it only a matter of time before any Maine newspaper website morphs into a dating agency?

A memorable lead article on one newspaper website was written by a University of Maine professor in Orono. When I Googled the man, he turned up on a “rate my professors” site. Some hated him. Some loved him.


Unfortunately, not all professors appeal to all students. Professors are very much like students in that it might take society 20 or so years before it can accurately determine if what they taught or what they learned had any social value.

A student who learned to be a good neighbor is appreciated more by his neighbors than a student who simply got high marks in geometry. But how do you measure on a standardized test a student’s likelihood of becoming a good neighbor?

So one might well ask if grading students or professors will tell you about anything that really does matter in your neighborhood. Grade the entire school and ask if you are really measuring anything other than the income and educational levels of the adults who live in that community. (You might remember the story about the woman who thought that her son was brilliant although his teachers knew that the unfortunate boy was quite dim. They discovered that she was comparing the child with his father.)

Some of the most famous and effective teachers in the world were burned at the stake or crucified or asked to drink poison just to shut them up. Whenever you read of a professor who is kicked out of a university, aren’t you tempted to believe that he was saying something that his students needed to hear?

And then there was the article about the noise that came from within a building inhabited by college freshmen. Beneath it, someone wrote, “Now you’re actually seeing what your little angels actually do in college and, HUGE SURPRISE, everyone wants to blame the town, the cops, the facility . . . how about someone blame the undisciplined kids (adults technically) and the parents that raised these maniacs.”

Because I have raised cows, rhubarb and not much more, I can tell you only what I have observed from a prudent distance: Parents don’t know how to raise children until they are grandparents. Then they wring their hands and worry because their children don’t know how to raise children.


From the internal evidence on newspaper websites, one suspects that few of the commenters know much about college campus life. They even view an article containing multisyllabic words with suspicion. Most have heard that college freshmen are likely to be an undisciplined and unruly bunch, but what they know about noise on campus is simply hearsay and wouldn’t stand up in court.

I was a teetotaling wimp and a very shy, albeit battle-scarred, veteran when I started college, so I stood well back in the shadows and simply observed the usual first-year-away-from-Mama madness. Because I was supporting myself, most of my time was spent grubbing for food and rent money.

The still of the night is likely to be shattered in college towns. You do not want to live near a building that houses unchaperoned young adults. This I know because I spent many, many evenings in frat houses where there was raucous laughter and an amorphous cacophony of sound that rattled window panes blocks away.

I played in the band that was making most of the noise.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

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