Friday, September 10, 2010

USS Virginia Arrives at Shipyard for Maintenance, Upgrades

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
She came up the river slowly, accompanied by security and tug boats, much to the delight of a small yet enthusiastic crowd of municipal officials, shipyard workers, members of the media, and, clearly not the least of these, family members of her crew.
While some saw the arrival of the attack submarine USS Virginia signifying a long future for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, there were those with a much more personal reason for welcoming her.
“Hi Daddy,” one of the small youngsters cried out several times as the boat made it way to its dock.
According to a shipyard spokeswoman, Virginia is the first of her class to arrive at the shipyard for work, and is scheduled for “a major availability consisting of various maintenance work and several systems upgrades.”
The bread and butter for the shipyard has been and remains work on the 688 Class (Los Angeles) submarines, Capt. L. Bryant Fuller, the shipyard commander, said. “One of these days it will be nothing but the Virginia Class,” he said, adding the Virginia class will eventually replace the 688’s.
Work on the Virginia class “is our future,” said Paul O’Connor, president of the yard’s Metal Trades Council, the largest union on the shipyard. He said the arrival of the new class of submarine is “another step in our history” at the shipyard that has been operating for more than 200 years.
Workers have received a lot of special training to prepare for work on the submarine.
Tom Ferrini, the Mayor of Portsmouth, also noted the historic event.
“It continues a long and storied tradition that we enjoy in Portsmouth and the seacoast of Maine and New Hampshire,” he said. “The city of the open door welcoming the submarine, its crew and their families. It means a lot to us economically, and we’re proud of our Naval shipyard to be able to maintain and improve its standing” in the military community as a fine facility.
Portsmouth is the host community for the Virginia and its crew. Chairman of the Host Committee is City Councilor Bob Lister and the former superintendent of Portsmouth schools. In the near future Lister will become the interim superintendent of Somersworth schools.
The USS Virginia, under the command of CMDR. Tim Salter of Buffalo, N.Y., has a crew of 13 officers and 121 enlisted personnel. The boat was built under a team agreement between General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding of Newport News, Va.
Commissioned in October 2004, Virginia is the sixth United States Navy vessel to be named for the 10th American state.
According to NAVSEA, Virginia is the fist of the newest class of nuclear powered attack submarines, built to excel in anti-submarine, anti-ship and strike warfare, special operations, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, irregular warfare and mine warfare missions.
Cmdr. Salter is a 1992 graduate of MIT with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and was commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
He had served aboard the USS Salt Lake City, USS Greeneville, and USS Philadelphia. He has completed three deployments with USS Kitty Hawk Carrier Battle Group and one deployment with USS Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group.
He has also served on the staff of Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces Europe. Most recently he attended the Naval War College where he earned a Masters of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies.
Photo caption: The USS Virginia arrived at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard last week. (Courtesy photo)

In Thin Ice

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
“The Frozen Rabbi” is New York novelist and National Jewish Book Award winner Steve Stern’s novel that spans three centuries and two continents. Rabbi Eleizer ben Zephyr’s travels also span this time and space, but he spent most of it inside an ice cube discovered by Salo Karp in 1890, a shrewd businessman who bargained with a peddler for his own wife.
Karp became devoted to the preservation of this artifact, and it would eventually be discovered by a fifteen-year-old descendant, Bernie, in his Memphis basement one hundred and ten years later. Upon his parents learning of their son’s discovery, and eventual thawing of the holy man, young Bernie Karp loses weight and interest in school. In place of this, Bernie learns the mystical scriptures through the Rabbi and develops the skill of traveling out of his body, a talent that captures the affections of Lou, a gentile girl who has a passion for anything forbidden.
The subsequent chapters document a woman with a tragic past crossing the ocean posing as a man with the frozen man in tow, echoing the Barbara Streisand film Yentl, and an industrious inventor’s chance encounter with him/her to start a business around something he invented that didn’t end up a disaster. This and the Rabbi himself, awakening to modern day Memphis hooked on trashy television, and a business idea to transform the spirituality of humanity make for a comic blaze. As the old Rabbi finds a way to raise mischief with his new practice, the novel indicates that it may be harder than ever to be a moral person in this day and age, or possibly, that moral flexibility was the whole reason the Rabbi vanished in the first place.
The first forty pages of this novel are hard work. Getting a grasp of the far flung subject matter, and the generous use of Yiddish and Final Jeopardy worthy vocabulary take time. But there is a rhythm that eventually catches the readers and their imaginations. The only thing to beware, a half an hour can pass and only fifteen pages might get read. With that said, it is a fantastic journey, and a half an hour well spent.
Such a bizarre premise for a book needs much further explanation, but it takes nearly four hundred pages to narrow it down to any plausibility. The earthy and bodily humor of Bernie’s adolescence adds only a little more spice to an already zesty dish as Stern references Freud and Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” tying this novel deeply into its Jewish literary roots. Not unlike the works of Roth, this novel rings with tremendous satire about modern life, lost innocence, and the loss of culture. A must read for Jewish fiction enthusiasts, and those who enjoy wit and carefully written fiction.
Photo caption: Cover image of “The Frozen Rabbi.” (Courtesy

Organizations Qualify for Assistance with Early Retiree Health Costs

A number of entities in Maine have qualified for assistance in paying for health care costs in a transitional provision of the federal health care law now in effect. All applications have not been reviewed as of this date, but already Unum Group and two public entities have been approved for assistance. This program, which is available on a first-come, first serve basis until the funding expires, will pay 80 percent of medical claims costs of early retirees, those age 55 and older who have retired but are not yet eligible for Medicare, for health benefits between $15,000 and $90,000.
“We all know that health care costs are a road block to job creation in Maine and the nation,” said Rep. Sharon Treat. Rep. Treat co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Health Care Reform Opportunities and Implementation and the Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and Financial Services. “Early retirees are a cost driver in high premiums and this will help reduce expenses for tax payers and the private sector. This effort is one of the early economic benefits of the health care law that will be phased in over the coming months.”
Many early retirees are caught between not being eligible for Medicare because they are too young and having to try to purchase insurance in the individual market, which is very expensive. Too often these are the people who see their golden years and their hard-earned nest eggs disappear as medical costs mount. The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program will serve as a temporary effort until health insurance exchanges are phased into effect in 2014 and it is intended to provide much needed financial assistance for employers, including businesses, unions, state and local governments, and nonprofits, so retirees can get quality, affordable insurance.
To date, Unum Group, the Portland Water District and the University of Maine System have been approved. For updates on Maine groups that have been accepted, click here:
The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program is one of several provisions of the federal health care law that that are now in effect. These include tax credits for small businesses, relief for seniors from the Medicare Part D “donut hole,” coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions, extending coverage for young adults, free preventive care and many consumer protections from insurance industry abuses.
Congress appropriated funding of $5 billion for the program as part of the Affordable Care act of 2010 to assist businesses in covering the costs of providing early retirees with health insurance coverage. Funds were made available on a first come, first served basis.
The reinsurance program is overseen by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. Applications for the program, as well as fact sheets and application assistance can be found at: