Whitcomb: PC’s Pandemic; Using the Fear Factor; Dimmer Foliage Season; Metacomet Park

Sunday, September 27, 2020


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L-R: Whitcomb, PC Students, Metacomet, and Trump

Besides the Autumn poets sing,                    
A few prosaic days  
A little this side of the snow       
And that side of the Haze -        
A few incisive mornings -                   
A few Ascetic eves - 
Gone - Mr Bryant's "Golden Rod" -             
And Mr Thomson's "sheaves." 
Still, is the bustle in the brook -                     
Sealed are the spicy valves -            
Mesmeric fingers softly touch 
The eyes of many Elves -            
Perhaps a squirrel may remain -                
My sentiments to share -
Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind -       
Thy windy will to bear!

-- Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)




“Everybody knows about everybody in Hollywood – who sleeps with whom, who doesn’t sleep, who does it standing on his head or in the dentist’s chair.’’

-- Rock Hudson, movie star, who died of AIDS in 1985 at the age of 59. (He was treated with an experimental drug in 1985 at the Institut Pasteur, right next to our Paris apartment, which was on the second floor, right above a fumy motorcycle shop and a bar where neighborhood workers wearing blue smocks drank brandy and coffee before heading off to work in the morning. Everyone suspected Hudson was being treated next door. The Pasteur, by the way, had a big courtyard, from which we could hear a rooster crowing every morning.)



“A pure democracy is generally a very bad government. It is often the most tyrannical government on Earth; for a multitude is often rash, and will not hear reason.’’

-- Noah Webster (as in the dictionary) (1758-1844) lexicographer, in The Original Blue Black Speller. He was born in West Hartford, Conn., and died in New Haven.



‘’I’m not against having higher tax on the wealthy. But I think that you do that through their income as opposed to, you know, calculate wealth which becomes extremely complicated, legalistic, bureaucratic, regulatory, and people find a million ways around it.’’

-- Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase


He sure is right!



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Providence College students partying during the Pandemic - May 2020

PC’s Pandemic

The COVID-case explosion in the Providence College neighborhood is no great surprise. The many PC students living off-campus in the city’s Elmhurst neighborhood can dwell in about as much anarchy as they want when not on campus.  Social distancing? Masks? Who cares! We’ll live forever! Put on another keg! (Reminder: Many people who test positive for the virus don’t get visibly  sick, although they can unknowingly infect others who can get very sick.)


And, after all, they see such theatrical examples of bad behavior as massive indoor Trump rallies where virtually no one is wearing a mask and our would-be fuehrer’s fanatics are standing within a few inches of each other screaming their support, even after he helped to bring the country mass death through his lies about its severity early this year.


It would be better if, as Cornell University officials noted over the summer, all students stayed in college housing, where they could be monitored for mask-wearing and social-distancing and be frequently tested. But PC and most other colleges don’t have enough dormitory space, especially now with the need for social distancing. One student per room.


So now many other Rhode Islanders will suffer from the PC mess –  especially people in the neighborhood who might have gotten COVID from encounters with the off-campus students and Rhode Islanders who will now find it more difficult to travel to some neighboring states because of their new quarantine and testing rules for Rhode Islanders in the wake of the Providence College mess.



Reminder: The most damning information about Trump comes from the people who worked with him.


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Future of the historic golf course is much in question

Urban-Core Park

It sure would be pleasant if some of the Metacomet Country Club were turned into a state park. Having this green area with its views of the head of Narragansett Bay, and so close to downtown Providence, would keep more oxygen in our air. COVID-caused claustrophobia increases our appreciation of having nearby parks where we can walk around freely and fully breathe.



I still hope that a  stadium for a professional soccer team happens in Pawtucket, including if that simply means a modified McCoy Stadium. Consider the area’s large number of Hispanic- and Asian-Americans, and current and former school soccer players and their families. Many follow soccer – the world’s leading team sport – more than baseball or American football.


Uncoordinated Street Work

I have noticed over the years around here a lack of coordination in utility and other street projects. Somebody shows up to tear up the street and then somebody else shows up not that much later and tears up the street again, for water, gas, etc. Can’t more of this stuff be done at the same time, to reduce total costs and the inconvenience to local residents? Maybe not? Just asking.


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Foliage will be less the vibrant

Dimmer Foliage Season

I suppose fewer folks than usual will be driving around New England looking at foliage this fall because of states’ COVID restrictions, which among other things, make it more difficult to get rooms in hotels or inns and tables in restaurants. Many have closed for good. Too bad, those lurid leaves are our region’s greatest natural show, except for maybe a big bad blizzard or heavy-duty hurricane, and bright foliage can last for several weeks, not a few hours, unlike a big storm.


Oh well, our terrible drought means that the colors won’t be as bright this year anyway….


Northern New England has the greatest foliage festival. I particularly remember from back in the ‘60s, when I lived up there, the spectacular shows on Route 100, which goes up through the middle of Vermont, and the Kancamagus Highway, in the White Mountains.


By the dreaded Election Day, on Nov. 3 this year, leaves will cover the ground, which reminds me of the sweet smoke that used to fill the air from burning the leaves we’d rake into big piles. The yearly smoke produced a feeling of mellowness and nostalgia. Now such outdoor burning is generally banned because of the serious air pollution it causes. (I remember, too, the air pollution from wood stoves during the energy crises of the ‘70s.) Now, too many people, or the people they hire (including very hard-working illegal aliens), use also polluting (emissions and shrieking noise) leaf blowers, not rakes, to collect the leaves. An improvement?


The disappearance of leaf-burning reminds me of the exit of other unhealthy but pleasant activities, such as smoking a cigarette after a meal and one or two cocktails before dinner. These habits tended to shorten lives, and so it’s good they have faded. But I’ve seen no explosion in general happiness as a result.


If you do go leaf-peeping, watch out for slippery fallen leaves if we finally get some rain, as well as rutting deer and moose.


Academic/Ethnic Politics Hypersensitivity

Here’s an example of the sort of political correctness/hyper-sensitivity that drives people into the toxic arms of Trump & Co.:

A couple of us are working on a little book about oyster farmers on the Maine Coast. We wanted to get a couple of pictures of middens, piles of shells left by Native Americans. So we asked a University of Maine project for permission to buy rights to use a couple of their photos. At a staffer’s request, we sent that person the only reference in the book to the middens:


"The central story of the Pine Tree State’s oysters begins on the Damariscotta River, which is really mostly an estuary and which for millennia has been a superb source of oysters. The Wabenaki Indians left huge piles (aka 'middens’) of oyster shells, some as high as 30 feet,  that can still be seen on the banks of the Damariscotta.  It might be the best environment in which to grow oysters on the planet.''


The staffer wouldn’t cooperate, saying that “Unfortunately, there are misconceptions involving Indigenous use of the coast.  I work with the tribes here in the State, and they and I are sensitive about how images and information regarding their lifeways are used.’’


This was accompanied by a list of things, with a couple of the staffer’s factual errors, the staffer presumed we didn’t know about Maine but in fact, knew well.  My project partner is a Mainer, by the way. The all-too-common arrogance found on the Isle of Academia.


This little tiff also reminded me of the intensely bureaucratic nature of so much of higher education,  as I learned in teaching gigs and otherwise dealing with that sector.


In any event, we found the photos we needed in the real world.


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Democrats and Republicans PHOTO: Flickr CC

Consolidating Minority Rule

Since 1992, a Republican presidential candidate has won a majority of the popular vote only once – George W. Bush, in 2004, and then with a mere 50.7 percent. The Senate, which confirms or rejects presidential nominees to the federal bench, gives greatly disproportionate power to small, rural Republican-dominated states. Consider that Wyoming, with 579,000 people, has two senators, as does California, with 40 million. And in the past two decades, we’ve had, first, a right-wing GOP president and then a far-right-wing one (basically a fascist/mobster) in the position to nominate judges. All this means that the federal bench, from district courts up to the Supremes, is increasingly stacked with ideologues who reflect a minority of the country.


While polls on such public-policy issues as health care, environmental protection, abortion and voters’ and workers’ rights suggest that the country is center-left, the powers that be, financed by big-business interests and other powerful groups, have been yanking government to the right. Eventually, there will be major social unrest because of a growing sense of disenfranchisement. America looks decreasingly democratic (small “d’’)


GOP pols, including Trump, say they want federal judges who won’t be “activists’’ and will only rule according to the Constitution’s Framers’ “original intent,’’ as if the judges can truly know what the full intentions of those Enlightenment-era intellectuals were as they wrote the Constitution in 1787 and then the attached Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments.  Damned “elitists”! The Framers themselves knew that the Constitution would have to be changed over the years; that’s why they included an amendment process. (Remember that the original version of the Constitution protected slavery.) As John Maynard Keynes, the great English economist, said in a debate: “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, Sir?’’


But the hard-right Republicans now being named, at the recommendation of the Federalist Society, to the federal courts are “activists’’ themselves –  activists protecting certain favored politically powerful corporate and billionaire interests, some politically powerful religious groups (including those led by con men TV “evangelists”) and so on. Some can’t wait to get rid of, for example, the Affordable Care Act and any number of pesky environmental regulations, abortion rights and workers’ and voters’ protections.


So be it!  As the uber-amoral Machiavellian Senate Majority Leader ‘’Moscow Mitch” McConnell noted back in 2016: "When you have the votes {in the Senate}, you can sort of do what you want," no matter what the majority of the country might want. And make no mistake, the Senate represents a minority of the country.


So increasingly the Supreme Court and other federal courts rule against the apparent wishes of, the majority of Americans. That is, unless and until a totally Democratic-controlled Congress and the president decide to “pack” the Supreme Court by adding justices, which, many people may be surprised to learn, they’d have the legal right to do.  Franklin Roosevelt tried that and was blocked. But desperate Democrats may pull it off on the next try.



Maybe both parties can, in the fullness of time, agree that federal judges, including the Supremes, should have mandatory retirement ages -- say age 70 or 75. Too many stay on the bench too long.



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Mitt Romney at CPAC PHOTO: CC 2.0

I wouldn’t be very surprised if former Massachusetts Gov. and now Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who says he backs letting a Trump Supreme Court nominee be considered by the Senate, does a kind of switcheroo.  That would be if the nomination doesn’t come up for consideration until after a Joe Biden victory (the Russians and massive voter suppression permitting). Of course, the nominee will likely be rushed into SCOTUS before then.


Perhaps after Nov. 3 Mr. Romney, who, as a governor in liberal Massachusetts governed as, well,  a liberal (including pushing through a prototype of the Affordable Care Act) and now is a fervent “conservative’’ (whatever that means anymore) as senator from Deep Red Utah, might wet his forefinger, stick it in the air and vote against the Federalist Society/Trump nominee.



For a  reality check on the silly hysteria about “defunding the police,’’ please hit this link:



The Trump administration sent at least $1 billion that Congress had appropriated for COVID-related medical supplies (ventilators, masks and other still-needed supplies) to defense contractors instead, apparently to boost pre-election jobs. All’s fair….



The White House ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to shorten by a month its 2020 headcount in order to count fewer people in minority communities that tend to vote Democratic, thus raising the chances the states involved will lose a seat or two or more in Congress in the coming reapportionment. The forced undercount would also reduce the federal money these places get. You’ve gotta be impressed by this rigor.


An Arms Deal

The U.S.-brokered deal, via Trump mob crown prince Jared Kushner, setting up diplomatic relations between Israel and the corrupt Persian Gulf monarchy/dictatorships of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates has a lot to do with selling these little states U.S. weapons with which to threaten Iran. And maybe we’ll get a few Trump hotels and casinos out of it, too.


It’s far too early to know if the deal (which follows years of quiet contacts between Gulf States and Israel) will make Mideast peace less or more likely. Obviously, the Palestinians aren’t happy but other than old-fashioned terrorism they can’t do much about the new treaty – unless they turn to the Iranians for assistance.


We don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran, which seems stupid because it deprives us of useful information about what’s happening in that nation, with by far the largest population (more than 82 million) in the Mideast. We do have diplomatic relations with many nations that are worse despotisms than Iran, such as most Arab and African nations, Belarus and little old China.


‘Real Power Is Fear’

The Sept. 22 Boston Globe ran a good interview by Dan McGowan (former GoLocal staffer) with Jon Shields and Stephanie Muravchik, authors of Trump’s Democrats, which is about how some  (many now former?) members of that party became fans of the most corrupt and depraved president in American history, and a traitor to boot.  These wishful thinkers ignored Trump’s decades of personal and public depravity and gave him enough Electoral College votes to now threaten what’s left of American democracy. Consider that he’s threatening to try to stay in office even if he loses the election!

The authors talked to people in Johnston, R.I., Ottumwa, Iowa,  and Elliott County, Ky.

Central is their admiration for tough guys who will put down the people whom the Trumpians resent,  envy and even hate, and in so doing make the Fox-fueled leader’s fans feel stronger. As the authors note, that admiration of what a lot of people would call bullies is one reason for the support in some quarters of the flamboyant and criminal late Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci (whom I knew quite well; he could be very entertaining.). No wonder that Trump’s and his minions’ frequent threats to use violence against street protesters and others who oppose The Leader sells well to this crowd, which also tends to love guns, as a security blanket. (Forget the phrase in the Second Amendment about a “well-regulated militia’’.)

The authors say:

“Cianci, Johnstonians, and many working-class communities throughout the United States have been shaped by an ‘honor culture.’ Citizens in this culture prize a social reputation for toughness, which they see as necessary to defend one’s honor and interests. Critics of honor culture … see it as a culture that cultivates bullies.’’

“Like Johnstonians generally, Trump embraces the values of an honor culture. His philosophy of leadership is to never show weakness, to never let any slight slide. As Trump once put it: ‘Real power is fear. It’s all about strength. Never show weakness. You’ve always got to be strong. Don’t be bullied. There is no choice.’’’

Whether Trump’s supporters’  “interests,’’ at least their socio-economic ones, are actually defended by a gangster-like Trump, without an iota of what most people would define as “honor,’’ is highly debatable.


Addresses: Advantages and Anxiety

I’ve lived in, let me see, more than 10 places and early on came to appreciate the emotional and other baggage connected with street addresses and how interesting the origin of street names can be.

So Deirdre Mask’s volume The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power caught my eye. There are some little mistakes (such as calling the Massachusetts State House the “Senate House”) because book publishers, in general, have laid off too many copy editors. But Ms. Mask is very engaging and ingenious as she tours the world, exploring cities’ colorful and sometimes unsettling address histories, including how the Nazis’ eliminated street names with Jewish references. Tokyo’s address system is particularly bizarre.

Her last chapter is titled “Are Street Addresses Doomed’’.

A big takeaway of the book is how much government wants you to have a precise street address so, among other things, it can tax you, arrest you and draft you. Addresses weren’t created so you could find your way.

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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