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Saturday, December 31, 2005

The First Face of Janus

The Romans had a two-faced god, Janus, with one face looking into the past and one into the future. Today’s post for the last day of 2005 will be the first face, and tomorrow will be predictions from the second face. The most memorable events of 2005 were as follows.

The year began with an outpouring of help for the victims of the tsunami late in 2004. For the first time, the United States had a chance to help the Muslim nations in the Pacific, and good work was done there, with former Presidents Bush and Clinton leading the appeal.

After a bizarre DNA sweep of the Town of Truro, District Attorney Mike O’Keefe was able to find the murderer of Christa Worthington, her garbage man, who will stand trial shortly. Whether this will be enough to dismiss images of him presented by a rubbishy book will be known next year.

Cape Cod was blanketed in an unprecedented snowfall, requiring the National Guard to dig out streets in some outer Cape communities. This was excellent rehearsal for the freak windstorm that hit us at the end of the year, upending our most ancient trees from their tenuous hold on our sand spit.

Indeed, the year had a bizarre variety of natural disasters, from the Florida hurricanes to the Gulf Coast disasters. For the first time, the Weather Service ran out of names, and began using the Greek alphabet to name storms. Despite the various scandals and finger pointing, there was minor loss of life compared to the scale of the catastrophes, and we were able to help our own people as well as we had helped those abroad, with Gov. Romney opening a refugee center at Camp Edwards for evacuees.

Victory was snatched from the jaws of BRAC defeat, and the Otis Base will remain open – in what capacity remains to be seen.

There were three successful elections held in Iraq, spelling the beginning of the end of the US military effort there. Each election had a better turnout, with the December elections having participation of almost 80% of the registered voters. Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurd all voted, and a coalition government will be formed as a result. The ongoing trial of Saddam Hussein by his Iraqi peers strengthens the fledgling government.

Rep. Demetrius Atsalis repaid the Cape Cod Time’s endorsement of him on the grounds that he had ‘grown in his office’ by staging a golf party and giving the money to a not-quite-existent charity. The Times has not pursued this, perhaps hoping that he may grow up some more before they will be forced to report on him again.

With the death of Pope Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, US Catholics lost hope for a liberalization of their Church. At the same time, growing friction between rigid secular humanists and emotional religious conservatives saw the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance and Evolution all drawn through the Courts, culminating in a virtual battle over the proper name for the 25th of December.

The Cape Cod fishing community was devastated by the most virulent red tide for many years, and was helped out primarily through the good offices of Lower/Outer Cape Outreach and the Interfaith Council, whose relief efforts proved far superior to government help.

The first year of George Bush’s four year term saw an increasing unwillingness on the part of Congressional Democrats to admit that he is President and will remain so for three more years. John Roberts was confirmed as the new Chief Justice, and Samuel Alito was nominated for a vacancy, but only after tremendous wrangling. While Scooter Libby has been dismissed over the Valerie Plame scandal, Karl Rove is still a Presidential advisor, and Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

The first, and foremost, District Attorney for the Cape & Islands, Phillip Rollins, died at the end of the year, leaving behind colleagues of both parties, reaching far beyond the legal community he helped to found and define.

Massachusetts, by virtue of legislative shenanigans, continued as the first state in the nation to recognize gay marriage. Like a vampire, the issue is not dead, and may spring to life again in 2006 and 2008, cannibalizing those legislative sessions.

The Assembly of Delegates flexed its muscles in preparation for Tom Bernardo’s County Commissioner run by creating a new Wastewater Authority and a new Human Rights Commission. It remains to be seen if these will enhance or detract from Mr. Bernardo’s popularity, but he will certainly take credit for them.

The subway bombings in London and the riots in the French Muslim slums surrounding Paris made Europe realize that international jihad was not an exclusively American problem.

In retrospect, the watchword for 2005 is dissention. One of Porcupine’s favorite memories of the year is arguing with Jack Coleman about the Terry Schiavo matter. Jack felt that the husband was untrustworthy, and the parents should be given custody to care for their daughter if they chose, and her life support should be sustained. Porcupine felt that there was a clear statute that gave the legal authority to the husband, and that the infringement of the state and Federal governments into a private family matter was a matter of gross intrusion. After arguing all through dinner, and driving Jack to a train station, we still continued to argue for another half hour in the car, until a security guard began to give us the fish eye, and we realized it was time to quit. I didn’t change his mind, and he didn’t change mine – but at least our disagreement remained respectful and thoughtful. Looking back over the year, I wish that all the divergence of opinion that runs through the year like veins through marble had only been as honest as our dispute. May 2006 allow us to disagree like ladies and gentlemen, and devil take the hindmost!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Suffer the Little Children - Redux

"A ship lay in the harbour; one of those unquestionable cruisers, frequent at that day, which, without being absolutely outlaws of the deep, yet roamed over its surface with a remarkable irresponsibility of character."
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter. 1850.

Contrary to popular impression, Porcupine does not need to seize upon every little thing for comment. Especially in a week such as this, mellowed with good cheer, port wine and fine, aged cheese. Especially the cheese. Live and let live, fools dance about, t’was ever thus…..

Then something happens to break the mood of benevolence, and compels comment.

Last July, I wrote about the well-to-do teens who called in a bomb threat to the Authority so they could spend some extra time on . (HERE). At the time, I said they were , if the purpose of terrorism is to inspire fear and disrupt society, and that they were being encouraged to evade responsibility for their actions. “Does anyone need a criminal record? At what age should they be held responsible for their actions, then? After the drunk driving offense at age 20? After they default on student loans at age 28? After the divorce and lack of child support at age 32? Indeed, why should they ever have to shoulder any responsibility at all, when assuring people that they are really very, very sorry will suffice?” When the news arrived that they had been mildly punished with a slap on the wrist (story HERE), Porcupine was full of Yuletide good will. While a follow-up was intended, it was allowed to slide. Heigh-ho, no surprises.

Then Porcupine was stung into action by television news footage of the court appearance of over 100 youths who had been drinking and trashing a hotel in Rockland. Like the Nantucket terrorists, they were all given a stern ‘talking to’ by the judge, and released. But that was not enough for these young hedonists. In fact, one was so rude the judge had to cite him for contempt; while all of them made it manifest that contempt was what they felt for the process of law and the courts. It was the television images of these young louts mugging for the cameras as they were escorted away that stung Porcupine into action, and made a reconsideration of the Nantucket teens important, as the lessons learned about the criminal justice system are so similar in both cases.

They have learned the lesson of their life,” said attorney R. Bradford Bailey, who represented Reed and Williams. “It’s given them a lesson they will never forget and they will carry forward. They have repeatedly expressed their remorse.” Yes, remorse and an expensive lawyer will get you off from felony charges these days. The 400 hours of community service will be performed in Connecticut and Texas (parenthetically, WHEN did community service become debased from being something that responsible people gave to communities they cared about to a get-out-of-jail-free card for the well-connected?) and will give no benefit to Cape Cod. It would have been more fitting to sentence them to chambermaid work in the various hotels that stranded travelers had to take refuge in when they tried to find rooms at the height of the summer season, but sort of menial duty would be beneath these pampered felons. They will probably wind up using the ‘community services’ that they perform as punishment on their college resumes as demonstration that they are good citizens. The $39,467 that the four must split three ways will barely put a nick in their families’ mad money.

The idea of this disposition might be misunderstood, but I don’t see a reason to destroy the lives of these youngsters. I’m sure their parents have paid a bigger price. I think justice has been achieved”, said Judge O’Neill. Yes, a fine lesson was learned, in Rockland and Nantucket. An expensive lawyer will keep your permanent record clean. If there are enough of you, the judge will have to let you all go. Under no circumstances should the young be punished, as that might damage their self esteem and ‘destroy’ their young lives. Instead, a profession of remorse will wipe every slate clean.

Until the next time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Maid Servant At The Inn

Porcupine is gradually being swept away by Christmas festivities. Holly and roast beef predominate in his thinking. Good friends like Jacob Marley (sans most of his chain after his good turn for crooge), and other hristmas Spirits are coming to share the celebrations. I wanted to leave you all something to enjoy while I am enjoying myself and my companions.

I am proud of my books, and one of my favorites is a first edition of orothy Parker’s first book – marbled brown boards, black binding, the quintessential ‘slender volume’ of verse. In it is perhaps the loveliest Christmas poem ever written, and I share it here as my gift to you all.

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light
As plain as I beheld it then,
All silver-like and calm and bright ---
We've not had stars like that again! "

And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.
The barn was dark and frightening ---
This new one's better than the old.

"I mind my eyes were full of tears,
For I was young, and quick distressed
But she was less than me in years
That held a son against her breast.

"I never saw a sweeter child ---
The little one, the darling one! ---
I mind I told her, when he smiled
You'd know he was his mother's son.

"It's queer that I should see them so ---
The time they came to Bethlehem
Was more than thirty years ago;
I've prayed that all is well with them."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Human Ecology

And it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee:
Deuteronomy: Ch. 23, Verse 13 - World's Oldest Septic Regulation

If you live in a sandbox, it makes sense that wastewater handling will be the next big thing. For those who don’t know the difference between grey and black water, you are about to learn, and it will cost you money.

For year, Cape Cod towns and zoning boards unashamedly used a lack of septic capacity to stymie growth. The clever idea was that it world prevent extensive development in a limited land area. Hence the introduction of ever increasing acreage requirements, more expensive septic systems, the banning of small apartments above the shop, and so on. What these municipal gamblers never counted on is that their bluff would be called, and that people would spend what seemed like ridiculous amounts of money to be able to live here. Patti Page has a lot to answer for with that song of hers.

Now, towns are in a place where development has happened, they are approaching build out, and working people have no place to live. The construction of affordable housing may be desirable in some areas, but a far greater concern is how to treat our existing septic problems in the face of scientific advances.

There are two main schools of thought – the MWRA-type government super-entity one and the leave us the hell alone one. Both go too far towards their extreme. The County has weighed in and has created a Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative. “The new county agency will be charged with creating a regional wastewater plan, helping towns identify specific needs, and securing state and federal money to pay for fixing what is likely a multi-billion dollar problem,” according to the Cape Cod Times (a NEW COUNTY AGENCY? Grrr….). The glitch in this is that there are many lenses of water to our aquifer, and the problems east and west of the Bass River are very different, as I have written before (HERE). So how can we create a system which will respect and take into account the problem, without having some towns subsidize and bulldoze others?

We already have a model in the successful Cape Cod Open Space Acquisition Act, a.k.a. Land Bank. The original Land Bank would have given all monies to the Cape Cod Commission, to spend at their discretion (HA!). The now-former Land Bank gave the money to each town to preserve what it needed, and many towns decided operate in conjunction with one another to protect adjacent parcels that straddled town lines, especially on the Lower Cape. Why not allow a 15 town cooperative arrangement?

But where is a revenue stream to allow the solution to a “likely multi-billion problem”? The Cape Cod Business Roundtable wants to charge each residence a fee based on $20 per bedroom, which would raise $9 million per year county-wide. The problem with this is that there is no incentive to save water – a 3 bedroom home with a sprinkler system, a Jacuzzi, two dishwashers, and three bathrooms will pay the same fee as a 3 bedroom home which has no washing machine, goes to the Laundromat, and washes its own dishes in the sink. There is no apparent sunset to this plan, either.

Porcupine does not decry conditions or posit problems without providing a strategy or solution, which is why he is not a Democrat. We will turn to Harwich as an example of how this could be solved locally, without a super-agency.

Harwich recently did an extensive study, for which it deserves much praise, and concluded that their septic woes would cost several million dollars. Quite a price tag for a single town, and far too much for an annual budget. However, Harwich also had 17,204 cars with a valuation of $84,815,390 which brought in $1,780,901 in excise tax, $1,703,213 after $77,688 in abatements were paid. A 3% surcharge on excise tax, like we paid for the land bank, would create annual revenue of $51,096.39. Wouldn’t that make the at least part of payments on a 40 year bond for the millions? That would be in addition to any betterment charges or water fees the town would collect. If you are a homeowner, compare a 3% - or even 5% - surcharge on your auto excise with a $20 fee for each bedroom.

The beauty of it is, there is no need for additional bureaucracy. The excise tax structure is in place, right down to Registry of Motor Vehicle enforcement for non-payment. While a person can be ‘house rich’, they are seldom ‘car rich’. In fact, the kind of car you drive, be it a Lexus or a rusty Delta 88, is probably the best indicator of actual ability to afford a tax. Also, most solutions rely too heavily on property owners, who already foot the bill for services. With this, businesses, renters and homeowners would each pay a fair – and more affordable – share.

Best of all, it leaves Boston and Barnstable County out of the financial loop. These excise tax funds are paid to and retained by the individual towns. If Harwich and Brewster wanted to work on a collaborative treatment system, great. If Dennis wanted to use it to extend sewer lines, fine. If Wellfleet wanted to use it to install town water and protect individual wells from pollution by adjacent septic systems, wonderful! If the state or county wants to apply for grants or award money, the towns will have a pool of matching funds if they choose to participate – or, they can indeed tell the county to leave them the hell alone, although it is less likely in a scenario where they are not coerced.

Let’s keep our government smaller, and our environment cleaner. We can do both.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

An Ode on the Death of Sen. Eugene McCarthy

It was a tragic year for the Democratic party and for responsible politics...the Party became a kind of unrelated bloc of factions, each refusing accomodation with another.
Sen. Gene - Interview in 1988

Terrible Infants

Why did we think it was easy?
Perhaps, everything always had been,
All America was pregnant in the Fifties
A generation of terrible infants was born.
A science was made of our feedings,
Our bowels were of national interest
New schools were built, new teachers trained
Se we should want nothing
So we could be everything.

The Phonics and New Math we mastered
Let us sneer at our ignorant parents
Those yokels! Only Youth could be virtuous,
Only the Youngest, the Best and the Brightest.
Our Messiah, the President, lasted three years
Hearts aflame, we vowed service, purest belief.
Teenagers, we knew we’d change everything.
The world had only been waiting
For the Terrible Infants to come.

A Revolution was held, so everybody came
When we learned that the races weren’t equal.
Such well-fed rebels, so shocked and self-righteous
Guilty parents had done this, our soft hands were clean.
We scorned all possessions, except perhaps stereos
Our Prophets and Poets wrote lyrics to live up to
Intricate lyrics of love, peace and power.
Music opened our souls
As drugs opened our minds.

Too young to vote, we took on all politics.
Go Clean for Gene – our civics text hero!
Chicago taught brutally that virtue could lose.
VietNam made us choose between honor and drugs.
When we couldn’t serve both, our songs turned to lies.
St. Jack bid us serve, but had he meant Asia?
We wanted to heal and not kill other nations.
Soldier and Hippie both fought VietNam
Both lost as ideals died in the War.

Bitter, we turned shrewd and cynical quickly.
Let the world save itself as we grabbed what we could.
Satan once tempted Faustus with Knowledge and Beauty
Now She carries a briefcase and talks money markets.
We are practical now, and want government services.
Maturity, we call it, but we flinch to remember
The promises we Terrible Infants once made.
We still should want nothing.
We still could be everything.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lessons Learned?

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
George Santayana

The President was ready to go to war, many claimed eager. As President, he was widely hated and criticized, especially by the press and the academic establishment, who could not understand how he had managed to get elected, but something about the sincere way he spoke resonated with the common voters, if not with the power brokers. His family was powerful politically, and he had Senators, Mayors, Governors, and even a President in his family, but he was vague and distant when describing his plans. Respected heroes and Hollywood figures protested that he had merely been looking for an excuse to go to war, and implied his business dealings were his real motivation. So when the planes hit, he moved the nation into war with the approval of Congress, some of whom claimed later that they had been misled.

George W. ? No, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

American heroes like Charles Lindberg championed the ‘America First’ movement, born out of the deaths and debt of World War I, urging that the United States keep out of European wars, much as we hear about VietNam today. Let them slaughter each other – those reports out of Germany and Poland were so exaggerated, how could those people claim any credibility?

All that changed on Dec. 7th, 1941. great speech about the ‘day that will live in ’ is a long ago echo of the events of September 11. In 1941, we did not fully understand the enemy we were fighting. The war wasn’t about territory or money or regime change – although all those things were factors – but about a foreign world view, a view of an Aryan master race and culture. We had no real frame of reference for the in our understanding, even as we have trouble grasping that Muslim jihadists do not wish to live in peace with us, but are sincerely called to eradicate us.

Porcupine once asked a WWII veteran who had been a liberator of the concentration camps why the Germans had continued killing the Jews, even as the tanks were rolling into the compounds. Why didn’t they just run, take off for the hills? The vet explained, “The men who guarded those camps had been very specially chosen. Among the Hitler Youth, they looked for boys who were bullies and enjoyed hurting others. They put them in the SS. They looked in the SS for those who had a sheer love of hurting and killing. Those were made guards in the camps. The reason they were machine-gunning prisoners, spreading quicklime on them and then machine-gunning more is that they knew, in all their lives, they would never have such a chance to kill again. They were addicted to it, and couldn’t stop, even as we walked up to them and took the guns from their hands. They began to cry because it was over.”

We were a young country to look into such a dark void as we had to in World War II. Yet every person shared in that war (oh, a few opposed it, but were not given much opportunity to make their views known). We are facing another dark void in the world now. The Japanese planes of December 7th found a nation unprepared, even as the ones on Sept. 11th did. We need to remember that lesson, and go forward together. Take a moment today to remember the fighting men and women of World War II, and thank them.

Let's Remember Pearl Harbor, As We Go to Meet the Foe,
Let's Remember Pearl Harbor, Like we Did the Alamo...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Never Play Poker with a Democrat

SEVEN full-paunched eunuchs came to me, Bearing before them upon a silver shield -The secrets of my enemy.
Skipwith Cannéll, 'The King', 1917

Why is it so hard to grasp that it might be unwise to advertise our wartime strategy in Iraq to our enemies?

It isn't as if we don't know that they watch our television and read our news reports avidly. Indeed, Al Quieda sometimes runs press releases in Al Jazeera in response to remarks made on the House floor.

Rep. John (D-PA) chose to share his opinion that our troops are "broken and worn out" and "living hand to mouth" (story
HERE) in his public remarks. This is an unusual way to 'support' the troops.

For the sake of argument, let us say that he is entirely correct. Is he not just encouraging the dissident Iraqi forces to attack them? What earthly good can come of informing our adversaries that we do not intend to fight for very long, and plan to leave the new Iraqi government in the lurch? Is he so haunted by memories of his war, Viet Nam, that he cannot see he is endangering the life of every soldier on the Arabian Peninsula?

VietNam is often invoked by detractors of the Iraq War, and it is a comparison that should be resented by VietNam veterans. We went to aid the French (!) in the late 1950's, and did not leave until 1973. Public support for the war did not erode until we had been there almost ten years. We have been in Iraq for less than two - about the same time we spent in Bosnia during the 1990's. Frankly, while it is sad that there have been 2,000 casualties in Iraq, that was a bad month - or sometimes week - in VietNam.

Iraq has held successful elections for its Constitution, and a final vote is due to be held on Dec. 15th. Of the 125,000 soldiers that guarded the polls in the last election, 100,000 of them were Iraqi soldiers, defending thier own right to vote. The Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish tribes all turned out, despite naysaying in advance. A map showing the turnout is

Can you imagine Winston Chruchill broadcasting to the Britons under fire that things were going badly and it didn't look like the US would enter the war? What effect might that have had on the Axis forces? Why is it so hard for Congress to understand that they could be shedding real blood in their careless attempt to score political points?
Do our House and Senate Intelligence Committee Minority members really wish to bear our secrets to our enemies on a silver shield?

In all the partisan glee about President Bush's low approval ratings, one fact is routinely omitted in the MSM reporting - the public's approval ratings of the Congressional Democrats are even lower. Americans have better sense than to give away the hand they hold, even if some of their elected leaders do not. Rep. Nancy Pelosi had better postpone her appearance on Celebrity Poker Showdown.

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