Whitcomb: Get Ready for a Real One; Summer Drinking; Pompous Princess; Animal Kingdom

Sunday, August 09, 2020


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Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

“Into my head there come

a cotton beach, a dock wherefrom



I set out, oily and nude

Through mist and chilly solitude.’’

-- From “Morning Swim,’’ by Maxine Kumin (1925-2014), poet and co-owner with her husband of a horse farm in Warner, N.H.



“Deep breaths are very helpful at shallow parties.’’

-- Barbara Walters, retired TV journalist and host, in How to Talk with Practically Anybody About Practically Anything


“Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.’’

   -- Daniel Webster (1782-1852), U.S. politician, statesman, lawyer and orator


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PHOTO: GoLocal file

After that surprisingly lively outer band of Tropical Storm Isaias’s rain and wind swept through Rhode Island last Tuesday, I went for a walk when it was still breezy. It was exhilarating. The storm had cleaned out the oppressive air and the world seemed briefly fresh and new again. People I passed on the street seemed in good spirits.


But the very brief event also warned of how much damage a full hurricane could do in our densely treed region. If 60-mile-an-hour gusts could take down so many branches and even some trees last Tuesday imagine what 100-mile-an-hour winds could do to our electricity system, roofs, and cars parked under trees. (A tree crushed a car up the street from us Tuesday.) Actually, I don’t have to imagine much, having strong memories of what Hurricane Bob did just east of Providence in ’91, not to mention such earlier hurricanes as Donna, in ’60, and, as a little kid, Carol in ’54.

Perhaps National Grid has learned a few new lessons from Isaias in getting ready for a real storm and its aftermath. Especially with sea-surface temperatures so high just south of New England acting as fuel if a hurricane heads this way, that tempest may come sooner rather than later. Stock up on Sterno!



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COVID Confusion Continues

The revisions in states’ COVID-19 data and control policies come daily. For instance, as of this writing, Massachusetts and Connecticut have imposed – briefly I predict -- new testing and quarantine rules on tiny Rhode Island because of recent (and apparently distorting) data. That’s just another example of why it’s now difficult to make plans for more than a few days ahead on personal and business matters, and, of course, it’s another big blow to the Ocean State’s hospitality and tourism business.


Rhode Island, to its credit, is offering fast testing and reporting services to those who say that they need to travel soon, but more than a little chaos still reigns. And we’ll see how fast the testing for travelers claiming urgency to get out of the state actually is. I got tested myself last Thursday and was followed by a gent who urgently needed to go to New York Tuesday. Will he get test results in time?  “Wish me luck,’’ he said sadly. The testing is surprisingly, but very briefly, painful, by the way.


It almost makes you want to give up making any out-of-state travel plans until vaccines are approved – assuming that they work well and the anti-vaxxers don’t ruin everything, which they may well.  For myself, I can foresee soon having to get tested about once a week because of the need to travel within New England and to New York. Of course, there’s no unified national policy on any of this, so the 50 states and the District of Columbia must duke it out. To call it a mess would be grotesque understatement


One wonders if we might have gotten a coherent national policy if the existence of the Electoral College, which gives a big edge to Red States, had not encouraged Trump and his people to minimize the COVID-19 threat as it developed last winter. The disease first became serious in Blue States, and the regime put out the idea that it wouldn’t be a big problem in Red States, which are less densely populated. And to hell with the Blue States with their “Democrat cities’’ anyway! The regime also promoted the idea that warm weather, which the Redest states have a lot of, would kill the virus. We know how this has worked out, made worse for Red States by their having health systems generally inferior to Blue States and much more poverty.

I often get asked if I think Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has done a good job in managing the COVID crisis. This is an unprecedented situation and so historic comparisons are almost impossible to make but I’d say she has, given the challenges of governing a very densely populated state, with pockets of deep urban poverty, and in the very busy and crowded Northeast Corridor – a conveyor belt for disease. Of course, she has made mistakes in this fluid and exhausting situation – who wouldn’t?!  -- and I wish that she had opened up to more follow-up questions from the news media as the crisis rapidly intensified early on, but all in all she has performed well, as have her fellow New England governors, in a situation that demands daily adjustments as new data flows in. Our region’s governors -- three Republicans and three Democrats -- try to follow public-health science and not ideology, unlike in some of America.


That’s not to say they keep all thoughts of the political implications of their COVID decisions out of their heads.



You’re relatively safe from catching COVID-19 in a plane, says science writer Faye Flam (my favorite name of the week). Using airlines that keep middle seats empty make this relatively safe travel even safer. But watch out for shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in the airport – and anywhere else. Please hit this link:


You’re also fairly safe taking mass transportation, assuming that you wear a mask and avoid sitting next to people. Please hit this link:


Life is filled with threats, some known, and some a surprise. Carry on. Don’t hide. Burrowing down to try to avoid all risks is, well, very risky. Keep moving.




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MA Governor Charlie Baker

New Englanders tend to be a bit wary, and so they don’t particularly exert themselves to meet new neighbors. Indeed, you might never meet people who have lived across the street from you for years. But I’ve noticed, on our block anyway, newcomers and long-established neighbors chatting away – about six feet apart -- much more these days as folks stroll to relieve claustrophobia and get mild exercise.  Paradoxically, COVID-19 may be making neighbors friendlier.


“Funny how we’re all talking to each other now,’’ one lady down the street told me as I was walking our dog.



In Trump’s now legendary and, from a black-humor view, highly entertaining interview with Axios’s Jonathan Swan, the increasingly surreal leader said of America’s high COVID-19 death toll, “It is what it is,’’ and was condemned for saying it, but, hey, our leader’s right: “It is what it is,’’ albeit with “it’’ driven up by the leader’s own ignorant, incoherent, lie-filled and demagogic “policies’’. To watch the interview, please hit this link:



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Dog Days Drinking

I hardly drink these days but summer brings back memories of outdoor summer drinking. Cold beer on the beach, the bitter taste of gin and tonics on a porch, as the sound of old songs comes through the rustling oak trees from a well-liquored dance on the harbor.  And I remember the happily sweaty drinkers on the rooftop bar of The Washingtonian Hotel in the District of Columbia back in the ‘70s and ’80s. There, in a far-less stressed and divisive time, U.S. senators and representatives of both parties, Cabinet officers, journalists and others happily drank, mingled and joked in sweat-soaked shirts. No wonder it was easier then to get legislation enacted.



Do you know who I am!?

‘“The noise of argument, the constant hum of disagreement — these can irritate people who prefer to live in a society tied together by a single narrative {writes historian and essayist Anne Applebaum in her book Twilight of Democracy, about ‘populist’ authoritarianism}.’ In today’s United States, such authoritarianism flourishes most conspicuously on the left, in the cancel culture’s attempts to extinguish rival voices.’’


-- Conservative columnist George Will in a recent column.

Hit this link to read it:


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Councilor Kat Kerwin PHOTO Prov Police Body cam

Providence City Councilor Katherine (“Kat”) Kerwin sounds as if she’s a stealth member of the Trump re-election campaign. Her arrogant, ill-informed behavior is just the sort of thing that pumps up our leader’s current and potential cultists and that drives people out of her city.


This 23-year-old “progressive,” who was elected without an opponent, is also ethically challenged, as shown in her July 22 altercation with Providence police called to a Dorrance Street bar called Fortnight because of very loud music. Ms. Kerwin was enjoying herself there that night. She’s a pal of the owner, Michael Da Cruz. 


(The police have alleged that Mr. Da Cruz and an accomplice spray-painted on Providence City Hall, just blocks from the bar, "ACAB" -- an abbreviation for All Cops Are Bastards  -- during June 2 disorders rationalized by the police killing of George Floyd.


(According to a police report, Da Cruz and the accomplice, Heather Jackson, were followed and arrested at the bar.)


In the confrontation, in which she angrily pulled down her face mask, Ms. Kerwin tried to use her political position to make the police leave the bar.  She warned them that she was a councilor, as if that trumped police efforts to enforce perfectly valid ordinances. And an officer can also be heard saying on video, “She said she was going to call [Police Chief Hugh] Clements and ask for everyone’s names.” That was bad, as was her attitude toward people in the neighborhood being kept awake by the racket from the bar.


“If they live downtown, they can f—king get over it.’’


Ms. Kerwin’s followers in her district may love her hyper-ideological combativeness, but most people (including the majority of her fellow Democrats) oppose her extreme behavior as well as “defunding the police” (whatever that means) and the vandalism of such public property as statues of Christopher Columbus,  both of which she has endorsed. Reading her bio, I get the sense that her brief life has been channeled into very narrow lefty positions, and that she has remarkably little knowledge of the complexities of politics, government and indeed life. Maybe she’ll grow up.


And the pompous princess seems more interested in publicity and in promoting pet causes than in the hard work of legislating.  While she sits on the council’s Public Works Committee she has only attended 15 percent of the committee’s meetings since 2019.


As for today’s right-wing populism, driven so much by harkening back to a golden age that never existed, the late sociologist Robert Nisbet noted that nostalgia is “at best a rust of memory.’’ For many Trumpians/Tea Partiers that means nostalgia about the ‘50s, though in many (but far from all) ways life is far better now for most Americans. I remember the late ‘50’s all too well.


Add to the current toxic soup shrinking civic-mindedness, soaring selfishness in the already very rich, far-right, lie-filled conspiracy theories,  poisonous evangelical “Christianity’’ and fragmented, one-parent families. But we have the finest in video games!


Welcome to America!


Brave Hunters

I’m glad that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scaled back plans to expand hunting and fishing on five federal refuges in Rhode Island. But I don’t like  that some deer hunting with bow and arrow will be allowed. I have little faith in the ability of archers to kill their prey with minimal pain. The Trump administration likes the idea of expanding hunting on such federal land. Perhaps that’s pushed along by the fact that Donald Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric, are enthusiastic international big-game killers, including of threatened species. There are plenty of pictures of these plutocrat princes with high-powered rifles posing with the bodies of their victims.  Macho men indeed!



A new study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature finds that more than a quarter of herbivore species are threatened, endangered or vulnerable because of invasive species, climate change and habitat loss. (Herbivores tend to need more space, and are less mobile, than predators.) While we’re all distracted by COVID-19, we continue to deeply damage life on this small planet we inhabit as we cook the atmosphere and the seas and wipe out species, though not usually intentionally.



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Former Speaker Tom Finneran

I enjoyed GoLocal columnist Tom Finneran’s grouchy (or at least a parody of grouchy) column touting the culling of seals along the New England coast because, since the Feds started protecting them, their numbers have greatly increased. This in turn attracts sharks, which like to eat them, which in turn threatens people swimming in some seal-populated places. Since seals are intelligent fellow mammals, I don’t much like Mr. Finneran’s idea.

But it’s a lot easier to agree with his complaints about too many Canada geese.  Federal and other efforts to protect them in the second half of the 20th Century, after over-hunting, chemical pollution and other factors had sharply reduced their numbers, have helped fuel a population explosion. And it turns out that the geese are remarkably opportunistic in living among people. Golf courses and parks, especially those with streams, ponds and lakes, are easy and protected sources of food for the big birds, and relentless housing, mall  and parking-lot development has driven away many of their once populous predators. (The mall era, however, is ending.)  Indeed, while these birds are traditionally migratory, many now just hang around in towns and cities all year.

The geese leave a lot of droppings, which can pollute waterways and carry disease, and they can be aggressive. A bit of decline in their population wouldn’t be a bad thing. Some goose recipes, please.

To read Mr. Finneran’s piece, please hit this link:



Our Deal for Convenience

Well, for sometimes different reasons, at least Republicans and Democrats can generally agree that Big Tech – Facebook, Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft -- have too much power, and need to be reined in, hopefully by breaking them up into smaller companies. This would produce a more competitive and innovative tech sector, one that would create many more and better-paying jobs. American technological and economic innovativeness have been declining since the Feds basically stopped seriously enforcing antitrust laws in 1980s, and not just for tech. Oligopolies have flourished as a result.

Of course, big tech has too much political as well as economic power. Consider Facebook’s toxic stuff in the 2016 election and continuing distribution of lies and misinformation now, inserted by the Russians and other enemies of America, including U.S. “populist’’ conspiracy mongers.

Americans have become addicted to the convenience of the services offered by the brilliant and smoothly ruthless tech moguls. But in so doing they have given up a lot of their privacy and reduced socio-economic opportunity in America. Next, they may be giving up some of their freedom, too.


Grenada Invasion Still Important

In The U.S. Invasion of Grenada: Legacy of a Flawed Victory, Philip Kukielski, a journalist (including as an esteemed former Providence Journal writer and editor) and historian, has done an exciting job in describing the military, diplomatic and political elements of the 1983 operation that ended the violent disorder within the Marxist government of the Caribbean island and kicked out the Soviets and Cubans who were turning the place into an anti-American base. While the quickly thrown-together invasion was inevitably successful – Grenada is the size of  Atlanta!  -- lots of bad stuff happened. The Reagan administration, the military, and Congress learned a lot from the invasion, knowledge that helped lead to success in the Gulf War, in 1991.

There’s great drama, elegant and precise writing, and formidable research in this book about this now half-forgotten operation, which continues to provide lessons for policymakers. It’s a model of military history – and a solid basis for a movie.

Robert Whitcomb's weekly examination of everything that is important. Only Whitcomb offers such a collection of insights on the global and local issues that matter.


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