Buckley's blog

When to Vote

As one who has spent a lot of time holding a sign and waving to voters outside of polling stations, I offer this observation to those wondering when might be the easiest time to vote:

Between 10 AM and 12 PM


between 1 PM and 2 PM.

Not following my own advice, I am going now (9:30 AM).  But I have to work during those optimal times.

Please, everyone, vote if you haven't already.  Regardless of your choice, please express it.

The Gamers

Back in the spring of 2000, I had the chance to do a book signing aboard the tall ship Lady Washington during its stop in Redwood City, south of San Francisco. The vessel is a replica of the junior partner of the Columbia Expedition, which left Boston 221 years ago on trading voyage and the first-ever American circumnavigation of the globe. Holding a promotional event here for my historical suspense novel, “The Bostoner,” was fitting since the story revolved around the original’s commander, Captain John Kendrick of Orleans and Harwich.

It also gave me the chance to catch up with old friends who now lived and worked in Silicon Valley. Invited to tag along at a dinner party, I was given the opportunity to observe those at the heart of the dot.com bubble at close-quarters. I think I was brought along as a novelty -- “Look, we brought a creative-type!” As long as the food is good, I don’t mind.

Very little of that evening stays in my mind besides my first encounter with one of those now-ubiquitous oversized pottery outdoor fireplaces. Very little else, that is, except for the discussion with two of the other guests regarding their most recent business ventures.

Although they were involved with a new hi-tech startup, they were talking about their previous company. Sound familiar? Seizing on the Internet-investor frenzy, they’d taken the company public, the idea had failed to catch on, so towards the end they were pulling out as much capital as they could, disguising new capital as income, cashing in their stock options and selling office furniture to pay their salaries.

And they were laughing about this. Like it was some sort of play where the props, lighting or sound (or all three) had gone horribly wrong, and the lead kept fumbling her lines.

There was no sense of fiduciary responsibility. There was no shame. There was no remorse that they may have blown the values of countless 401K’s on nothing more than rented office space. And, perhaps worse, no one else at the table expressed any shock or disgust at the attitudes of these two, never mind that they appeared to have gotten new jobs better than assistant toilet-bowl cleaner.

They had failed. That’s OK. In the American system, you have the right to try, and maybe fail, maybe succeed. You don’t have a right to succeed. To their credit, these two didn’t seem to argue that point -- that the government or society owes them its support to make sure their business plans makes it, no matter how useless, outmoded or just plain dumb.

Too often today, many businesses look to us as a guarantor against the negative results of their bad business decisions, or just their own stubborn refusal to adapt to change. There’s a subsidy here and a change in regulation there. But as comedian Ron White observed, “You can’t fix stupid.”

With the turmoil in financial markets these days, I’ve been thinking more of those two Silicon Valley Boys. Eight years later, we seem to be back where we started. Any economic growth seemed built upon rising home prices, and more and more innovative investments that seemed, at their core, designed to be against an investments success.

For the most part, however, America doesn’t seem to do anything anymore. Instead, we have grown very good at marking time. This may be the inevitable result of a large segment of the population approaching retirement.

Meanwhile, we are facing the “moral imperative,” as it referred to by economists. By bailing out people who make bad decisions, whether it is to get more of a mortgage than they can afford, or to grant more of a mortgage than a customer can afford, the government sets a precedent that says, “We will save you from your bad decisions.” Or in this case, “If you are going to fail, go big.”

It wasn’t the government that taught this lesson to my two dinner companions, but American business. These two were again in the same line of work. They had demonstrated their willingness to look out for number one, instead of for their investors, and for some reason had been scooped up. There didn’t seem to be any suggestion that, their MBAs aside, they should reassess their career goals and look into the growing opportunities in air conditioning installation and repair, for example. For the good of us all.

More than anything else, this attitude is what troubles me during discussions as to what the government should and shouldn’t do to help the finance industry. Those who made decisions so bad that global credit markets froze up should be barred from ever working in the sector again. Otherwise, those responsible on Wall Street (and beyond) will not learn anything more than how to game the system better.

The “system” then, meaning the U.S. taxpayer.

Read Andy's other columns at this blog or at The Cape Cod Chronicle.


Last spring while stuck in a slowdown on Route 28 in East Falmouth, I decided to stop idling the car and to pull into Mahoney's to get a little greenery for our yard. Since our place was built, a sloping escarpment of bare clay has taunted me through the kitchen window. Vegetables didn't quite work there. Sunflowers looked nice, and the passing birds loved them. But I grew up on Oyster Pond, surrounded by wild berries of all kinds, so it was not surprising I walked out with a small thornless blackberry bush.

Two weeks later, I swung into Crocker's in Brewster and picked up a mate, just in case it needed a pollinator. Later in the season, we harvested a grand total of four blackberries. I hadn't planned on any the first year, so this was a real treat.

All this summer, Sofie and I have watched our bounty grow. From the kitchen counter, while nursing bowls of cereal, we have seen these two sprouting hydras blossom and produce clusters of red berries. Waiting for them to ripen into sweet black fruit seems to have taken forever. But two weeks ago we were finally able to find a few that came off the stem with the slightest tug. Terrific taste -- and no thorns -- and perfectly formed fruit. We end up with a couple handfuls every other day.

I made a bet with Sofie that all our blackberries would be done by the time she started kindergarten. It is a good thing for me that we didn't actually wager anything. They just continue to come, apparently feeding on nothing more than sunlight and dew. As the wild blackberries we find along our bike rides pass away, our own domesticated bushes continue to produce dessert after dessert. One can only imagine how profuse next summer and fall will be.

If only our local economy showed such adaptability. Throughout our history, inhabitants here learned to be flexible. The soil is relatively poor, the location is off the beaten path, and the harbors are shallow and bounded by sandbars. If it hadn't been for the fish, nobody would have been here to greet the Pilgrims. And most of their descendants got out as soon as they could, too.

Farming didn't last long. Salt works lasted until mines were found in Pennsylvania. Whaling worked until the oil came along (and whales didn't anymore). We had a naval air base until peacetime precluded the need for it. The railroad brought tourists here until the automobile killed that. And now our tourist-based economy is in its throes.

Note that I do not say "death throes." Just massive changes. These changes are completely beyond the control of the local or state tourism entities, and the forces that drive them are as sympathetic to the plights of an innkeeper or restaurateurs as a hurricane.

Gas costs at least twice as much as it did just a few years ago. People do not have disposable income, so they cut back on trips to the Cape, or on the extras once they get there, like eating out and shopping. On the other hand, Europeans have flooded in with a healthy euro-to-dollar exchange rate. Establishing a business model on a favorable international exchange rate is as wise as it would be to base it upon a finite supply of imported labor whose entry is controlled completely by a federal security bureaucracy. From a gardening perspective, that's like replanting your entire yard with annuals every year -- it is going to look like hell if your garden shop runs out of inventory.

Meanwhile, consider this investment. If Sofie goes to Chatham public schools until she graduates, that will be an investment of at least $100,000 of the taxpayer's money. Driving over the Sagamore Bridge on Labor Day (a very light traffic count), I saw a few cars loaded with bags destined for one college or another.

The kids in those cars are almost certainly never going to return to live here permanently, and that is an entirely rational decision. Why go deep into debt for college just to come back to a place where breaking your back is required to just get by? We're losing millions and millions of dollars of long-term capital investment every year. Meanwhile every year our wholesale dependence on a seasonal economy that can be disrupted by something as simple as a few rainy weeks grows more precarious.

Our supposed affluence, measured in what someone from California or Washington, D.C. is willing to spend to buy your modest ranch or Cape, has brought very little lasting benefit to our middle-class families.

We need to diversify our economy to recapture the investment we've made in human capital. We need to see that the way to empower people is not impose limits on their income so they can qualify for health insurance and housing. We need to find new avenues that allow people to remain in Chatham year-round, to make the same paycheck they do in January as they do in July, to afford a home without public subsidy, to go out to restaurants and otherwise spend their money here, at home.

Consider that just across the Canal, a huge film complex, Plymouth Rock Studios, is being built that will transform the economy of Southeastern New England. Now at current gas prices, that's too much of a hike from Chatham. But what local venues will be used for movies and television shows filmed there? There's a short list: Provincetown, Woods Hole, the National Seashore, Route 6A. Oh, and Chatham. Not for one film. Not for just one time in a few years. More than likely on a regular basis.

Moreover, this is an industry that spawns numerous cottage businesses through subcontracts. With the advance of film technology, there's no reason why some of what is shot here couldn't be further developed right here. A non-polluting, non-disruptive, well-paid knowledge and creative economy. Year-round.

That is not at odds with the tourism sector of our economy. It supports it. This is but one example.

Too often when discussing economic development, the public (and sadly, our leaders) thinks in terms of heavy industry. But that's not where we are going, locally or nationally. Not everything works well forever. Not even blackberries.

This week's featured op-ed at The Cape Cod Chronicle.

Kiss from a Rose

She can’t be put in a box.  She’s the black Rickie Lee Jones.  Other times, maybe she’s the female Lenny Kravitz.  She’s an African American woman who rocks.  She’s a singer-songwriter who can plug a hole in a soulful folk tune with a bit of rap.  She’s a guitarist, which means in this day and age she stands out.  So, respect the lady, the artist -- Shea Rose is a musician. “I’m a storyteller,” she says.

Like any good one, she’s on a journey.  Born in Boston, Shea’s grandfather played jazz organ at the famous Hi-Hat, the South End’s first jazz club.  With her loungy-retro sound of “Devilish” (which calls out for use in a soundtrack), we’re taken back to a time when Miles Davis or Sammy Davis, Jr. were setting the standard for cool in Boston and nationwide. 

But at age twelve, Shea’s parents moved the family out to the burbs.  “Being the only black kids at Braintree High School was extremely awkward, but it influenced my music.  If I had stayed in Boston, I would have never been listening to Bon Jovi or Guns N’ Roses.”  That’s clear in the pounding intro to Shea’s “Free Love.”  The whole song is a refreshing synthesis of rock, funk and R&B, not unlike Nikka Costa.

She put her BA in English & Communications to work during an internship for MTV.  While in New York, she responded to an ad in the Village Voice and was offered lead singer for a girl group, Mercy.  Thankfully, she decided to instead return to Boston, and work on her musical chops.  First fronting for “a gang of old hippie white guys”, The Ripchordz, she later moved onto a two-year gig with Luv Jones.  “That’s when I learned how to capture an audience,” Shea says.

After two years, she lost the feeling to perform, and moved to Jamaica with her boyfriend from the band, Nathan Sabanayagam.  Her evolution continued with a heavy course in reggae in its homeland, and learning how to play guitar.  Shea the storyteller revealed herself in a more folk-acoustic fashion, such as “Light Fades” & “Lovin’ You.”

Returning again to Boston, she answered an ad on Craigslist, and was chosen as one of six writer-musicians to tour the country on a bus for MSN Music.  While using her skills as a reporter, she wrote online articles for bands and concerts.  Those close quarters with her busmates, representing different genres of American music, exposed to her even greater range of traditions -- and how the music industry works.

After three months, the tour was over and Shea realized how little experience she really had with music.  Getting serious, she took Berklee College of Music up on a $10,000 World Tour Scholarship they had offered three years before.  “I never realized how vast and theoretical music really is,” she says of her education. Plus, she took advantage of a grant to study for a semester at the Nakas Conservatory in Greece.  While there, she quickly got exposure as an R&B performer, and was performing in clubs in Athens.  “I came back from Europe with such a fire,” she says.

Now Shea’s in the studio, working on a new EP, "The Discovery of Honey", and getting a band together.  Meanwhile, she’s still working on her guitar-playing.  And polishing her songwriting craft is also paying off -- the refrain of her brooding “Liar’s Lament” has riffs echoing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, then pulls in some rap that forcefully expresses the anger of the woman scorned, with the same raw feeling of Kate Nash’s “Dickhead”.

All this time, she’s working hard at more and more shows.  Shea Rose is the go-to when a Boston area band’s lead singer calls in sick.  She has her own concert in Franklin Park at the end of August.  Then, through September 2008, Shea will be hosting Matt Murphy’s “Berklee Girls Rock”.

With a powerful voice and electric presence, Shea Rose could do just fine as a simple performer in contemporary American music.  But there’s a depth and breadth to this artist -- ever-expanding -- that takes any audience further.  The best musicians are on a journey, and every new listener is glad to join Shea Rose on hers.

 Photos by G.F. Productions


My iPod Nods

Upon upgrading to the latest version, Chandra was good enough to give me her old iPod last year. Since my job at the time involved mostly driving, I wasn't able to use the headset (that being illegal while operating a motor vehicle in Mass.), as advanced as it was.

For the past few months, however, I've been outside a lot more and able to spare myself the incessant schilling of commercial radio as well as the thinly-veiled version on public radio. I took the time to hunt down a range of podcasts that update more or less periodically.

My father was interested in the thing I was wearing on my arm. Not a radio -- a recorder, so I can pick the show I want to listen to, when I want to, and stop when I need to, and then pick up again. As the ability to control my listening had sunk in, I've gotten fairly particular on what I am willing to put in my brain.

First up, American Public Media's Marketplace. On the local NPR station, they broadcast this excellent business show during Sofie's bath time. So, instead I get to listen to it the next morning. And what's better, they also have a shorter morning update version, so I can listen to them back-to-back and feel very smart about world economics and global finance by the time I sink my teeth into my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch.

Once a week, I get to punctuate this with the News from Lake Wobegon. Not the entire Prairie Home Companion, just Garrison Keilor's monologue on his fictional hometown. When I first found this show, it was spring and I listened to the latest show where he mentioned the last of the snow melting. But when I realized I could find past shows and listen to them as well, I loaded up, each day picking older and older shows.

Little by little, as the weather around me was improving and warming, Lake Wobegon was moving backward in time, until it hit subzero in Minnesota - strange thing to listen to while seeing daffodils and tulips bloom. Still, for a few days in May during a bone-chilling northeaster, my listening and the conditions around me in Chatham were about in sync.

Now, I have tried to listen to the Wall Street Journal This Morning online. But they seem to emulate a morning AM business news broadcast, with an almost-breathless delivery and an annoying recap of the top stories and time checks. Hint to WSJ online: a podcast can be played (and replayed) at any time, so I pretty much got that "top story" the first time. However, they also have a tech news briefing, which is blessedly shorter. The gist is that they take a few minutes to talk about the latest gadget and news about technology that most of the time I don't understand or can't afford, but it all sounds very smart.

Recalling my time in Germany, I also listen to Deutsche Welle's Correspondents Report (in English). If I have but a few minutes, I can get any number of stories about news from a European perspective - and it is different. For those of you who listen to BBC news radio reports on NPR, Deutsche-Welle is even further removed from American culture. Of course, there is an emphasis on the role of Germany, like when they talk about NATO in Afghanistan, they typically interviewing the soldiers of the Bundeswehr. Every other broadcast from their worldwide correspondents somehow seems to do with global warming (no controversy; it has been accepted as fact for some time). Even if one does not agree with European issues, listening to their news gives me a much better understanding on why they think the way they do.

If I have time, I try to listen to This American Life. Recently I've begun wondering if some of their contributors are blurring the line between fact and fiction to enhance their stories. But when they partnered with Marketplace to produce a whole show on an analysis of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, I remembered why I barely watch the TV news anymore. Every person who intends to vote this November, or invest, had better avail themselves of the show, "The Giant Pool of Money."

Lastly, I been able to bear Slate Magazine's Political Gabfest, if for no other reason than the personal interactions between the participants. Essentially, it is the editor of the online magazine, Slate, and two of his underlings' takes on developments in the week in politics, and are as candid and informal as chatting in the lunch room. If anyone had any doubt as to the perspective of the newsroom of Slate, their is no pretense at disguising a very left-of-center point of view. My appreciation comes from the "Well, at least your being honest" school of thought.

But I listen because I often hear discussions touching upon such things as the tragedy of public life, meaning that politicians cannot let slip for one minute, cannot be themselves except within a small coterie of family and advisors. I find the level of pre- programmed outrage by opposing camps in the presidential race so tediously insincere and whorish that I am becoming unwilling to take either of them seriously.

However, the Slate's Gabfest participants will, often in the same broadcast, defend their right (and even duty) to report on a politician's possible indiscretions, feeling as if they are owed an explanation, but admitting no sense of inconsistency on their own part. No wonder good people shun public life. Frank Herbert wrote, "It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible." They also make better copy.

Then there are the 15 minute kids podcasts from BBC radio, which are a godsend on long car rides with Sofie. Very original and fun. I can keep switching them around, too, to keep from going insane rather than listening to the same thing for the 500th time.

As entertainment becomes far more personal, consumers grow more demanding. I can hear, for free, virtually any show in the world, produced by anyone at a very low cost, distributed via a free worldwide medium. For Cape Codders, whose radio stations have long been as poor as the market allowed, independence lies in a shoulder strap and headphones.

 This week's featured op-ed at The Cape Cod Chronicle.

Over Four

Last month economists were announcing that the magic number had finally been arrived at. Meaning, the price of gasoline had finally risen to a price that changed the behavior of Americans. That number was $3.50.

That price doesn't look so bad right now. Over the Fourth of July weekend, it had gained another 65 cents --- over 18 percent in a month. For a little while, it had looked as if consumers just were not going let it surpass $3.99. The purely psychological barrier of the number four at the beginning of any price was changing minds very effectively and immediately changing bank balances.

But the number of consumers worldwide grows every day, while the number of crises (real or imagined) that threaten the tight supply of oil seems endless. So the price of oil has not been stopped by the reluctant American driver alone. Few believe the price will drop anytime soon, and we now must face reality of life over four dollars a gallon.

Over four, middle class families that might normally drive long distances to a vacation spot aren't. They're not flying either, because of rising airline ticket prices (and ever-more creative fees) and cutbacks on the number of flights. So the demographic of tourists coming here shifts to those who would otherwise go to Europe except for a terrible exchange rate, and those from Europe who see everything as a bargain at 40 percent off (even gas). Or the phenomenon I witnessed just a couple weeks ago in Provincetown --- plenty of rentals booked, but no one is going out.

Over four, those who shopped at BJ's in Hyannis or Wal-Mart in Wareham check the price of the roundtrip first. Costing ten dollars before you even walk in the store, is such a trip worth it? How many mega-packs of toilet paper can a person buy, week after week? Better to go to Job Lot for some items, CVS for others, and Stop & Shop for the real groceries.

Over four, the farthest movie theater or restaurant is Dennis and Wellfleet. The Cape Cod Mall's stadium seating comes at a premium, as does the gas of the mid-Cape. And it won't be dinner and a movie, but rather dinner or a movie.

Over four, there are no more spur-of-the-moment trips up to Boston. In fact, what excursions up there are combined with about six other justifications, and ideally shared with another person. If they can't be found, then the trip is postponed. Even if it is doctor's visit.

Over four, the locations one would be willing to work shrinks dramatically. I once worked in North Falmouth, and the worst part was the long tedious drive --- up to the mid-Cape highway, down to Route 28, over Route 151 and over. Now that commute would cost over $90 each week. That's a substantial deduction made to a paycheck, especially in a area with 40% lower pay scale than Boston but a similar cost of living. Employment options narrow as the zone one can afford to work within shrinks. Unemployment grows, especially in outlying areas.

Over four, exurbia is dying. The outer suburbs of many cities are being hastened to the grave variable-rate mortgages and highly inefficient SUVs. Any place on public transportation is doing well, especially area within walking distance of city centers and/or on bike trails. That's one treatment for obesity.

Over four, parents are telling teenager that (gasp) they will have to pay for their own gas, driving them to (double gasp) take jobs. Reputedly, these were the jobs they were unwilling to take before. Not exactly a revelation: people who need money will work for it, all other options failing. Except they're now in competition with other jobseekers who cannot afford to drive further for work.

Over four means there is less, if anything, in savings to get many through another winter on the Cape. In a seasonal economy, one must make hay while the sun shines. The doubling of gas prices in the past few years, while wages have either stagnated or fallen in the mean time, is a recipe for disaster.

Over four, the arrival of the home heating oil truck will be greeted with the same dread as a root canal. No, worse. A root canal need only be done once. Heating one's home is inevitable and successive. All other supplementary heating sources have risen, too --- propane, wood and wood pellets. Unless you're ready to install a solar hot water system or photovoltaic (electricity-generating) panels on your roof, or your neighbors or town are cool with your plans for a wind turbine, this winter will be extremely harsh on lower and middle class families in New England. Some will end up moving in together, at least for the winter. Others will see this as the last straw and move away. Some will turn down the thermostat, put on a sweater and hope the tank will last until the next paycheck comes in.

Over four offers a mixed bag: more togetherness, more exercise, more ingenuity on the one hand, while on the other, less opportunity, less business for local restaurants, less savings, more out-migration of working families and lower temperatures in senior's homes.

Over four exposes our isolation and the vulnerability, in stark terms, of our local economy. We've never really had a solid foundation --- more of a tent on the beach with the various poles leaning against each other (fishing, tourism, retirees). Long commutes for better paying jobs is no longer an option. Counting on seasonal visitors to have loads of disposable income left over after paying the cost of travel of housing is now a gamble. We must solve our own problems as we see them coming, rather than trying to hold up the tents poles during this hurricane.

This week's featured op-ed at The Cape Cod Chronicle.

The Three Hundred

When I bought my commercial shellfishing license towards the end of the May 31 deadline, the number of my license caught my attention. It was low. In years past, if I waited this late to fork over the $200 to the town, the number was close to six hundred. Instead this year, it was about half of that.

Monomoy SteamersIt shouldn't be too surprising. With the proliferation of aquaculture in neighboring towns and the region, as well as the discovery of a large bed of ocean quahogs in Nantucket Sound, the price of littlenecks clams has fallen from over 20 cents a piece to below ten. Often, four hours or less of work could bring close to a hundred dollars in the summer. Not a bad way to supplement income from other work, and pay the high cost of living in Chatham.

Digging steamers was even better during the times of peak demand in the summer. But I knew things changed last summer when I took Sofie out to the northwest tip of Monomoy. We pulled up to an old haunt of mine, and I took out my rake to show my five year-old how easy it was to dig up dinner. I looked all around. Couldn't find one siphon hole, indicating the softshell clam in the sand below.

What I did find in abundance, once incoming tide washed over the flats, were dozens of sand crabs. So many so that I had to put on my surf shoes, because I was stepping on so many in my bare feet. The upside of this was Sofie discovered snorkeling. Fun, but not filling -- to either the stomach or the wallet.

I'm not blaming the crabs, and I'm not blaming overfishing. Steamers are wild and like all wildlife, they have cycles. Moreover, the dynamics of Monomoy are not the same as they were half a dozen years ago. When South Beach connected to Monomoy, it closed a rich source of nutrients straight from the open Atlantic that washed over the Common Flats twice a day.The same cycle that closed that door created a protected area within the old Southway, east of Morris Island and west of South Beach, where eel grass is thriving and expanding. Because of the very limited building surrounding this inlet, the amount of nitrogen leaching from septic systems is small. That's a terrific environment for scallops to thrive. Someday. Or so I tell myself as I buy another clamming license.

But that's someday. Right now, what steamers are out there are fetching the same prices they did in the early 1990s. How much has housing gone up since then? To qualify for a commercial license, you must have already been a resident of Chatham for over a year, so the argument "If you can't afford to live in Chatham, move to Harwich" doesn't work.

Quahaugger with rake

For those who aren't familiar, Chatham has the most overeducated fishing fleet in the world. Plenty of those who work the shore with rakes have college and professional degrees. Politically, they have been mostly independents and Republicans, with significantly fewer Democrats. Digging steamers is fine for younger people with strong backs, while those who scratch for quahogs tend to be older. Most tend to be male, but there are plenty of women clammers, and I know more than one who was working the flats into her third trimester of pregnancy (must have had something to do with better balance, extra back muscles, combined with the knowledge that they'd soon have to give this up for a while). So by and large, these are just regular people, pretty smart, who are willing to toil to exhaustion for the right price.

But now with the cost of fill up a boat with gas, well, a gallon costs a gallon whether it goes in a car or elsewhere. Materials for boats, like fiberglass resin, have shot up along with all other commodity prices. Faced with stagnant or falling prices for product, and increasing costs for maintenance and ongoing expenses, hundreds of sole proprietors who are in the business of shellfishing in Chatham have made the decision to forgo the profession altogether this year.

For the first time in 14 years, I almost did myself. But anyone who goes out to fish must be, at heart, an optimist. Besides, there's very little in this world as shockingly beautiful as cruising into Stage Harbor just before sunrise, with the moon still up as you turn into the channel out to Nantucket Sound. There's no better commute or workplace.

So after buying the license, I struggled to get the outboard fixed, the boat patched and repainted up and down, and finally launched last week. In this hostile climate for the business of shellfishing, I may not even make back this year's investment. Three hundred clammers likewise have stayed in, while an equal number have chosen to be in other parts of the workforce.

Let's hope we can retain these intelligent, hardworking people. Everything has a cycle; ecosystems and industries. We need to get off the sidelines and develop a new local economy so residents can earn enough money to afford to remain here. Otherwise, we'll go out one day looking to get a load of clams and discover instead the place is overrun with a bunch of ill-tempered crabs.

This week's featured op-ed at The Cape Cod Chronicle.

Daily Bread

A bountiful feast is harder to afford these days

I'm not sure about the garden this year. Last year, we attempted green beans but something's changed in the soil around our place and the fertile spot that, as a child, kept me well-stocked through the fall and winter now produces, at best, scraggly weeds.

Perhaps I could find another spot in the yard. With food prices going up, up, up, and quality heading in the other direction, there's a good motivation to grow our own. But age and necessity have provided another option, and its proven a real hit with our house: bread.

German BreadWhile our family was stationed in Germany a few years back, we had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the high quality and low price of food found at the regular supermarket. Massive heads of Boston lettuce for less than a buck. Scores of potato dishes or frozen vegetable mixtures that you'd have to go to a five-star restaurant to beat. A single aisle dedicated to yogurt -- none of it low-fat, and all of it better tasting than any pudding or ice cream. The only thing they couldn't seem to manage were simple orange juice and a decent steak.

But it was the bread that I remember the best. I don't even remember how many varieties there were at the tiny bakeries on street corners, never mind the ones inside the large supermarkets (even Walmart). All of it fantastic, and all of it cheap.

Three long pepperoni twisted rolls for less than $2. Baguettes with no preservatives that stayed fresh for days. Large crusty white rolls, which proved a godsend to a teething Sofie, for only 10 cents. And sunflower seed bread so dense with kernels that it was referred to as an "egel" (hedgehog).

"Live Sourdough"Main ingredients: flour, salt, water, yeast. Not very hi-tech. But even the worst bread here costs twice as much as another First World country that at the time had almost $4 gas but managed $1 bread.

But I put up with it. That is until gas went above $3. Some switch must have tripped been tripped, and I broke out the until-then-unused German bread recipe book. First up was the sunflower hedgehog. That required sourdough. Real sourdough. Couldn't find it anywhere, so I finally found a recipe to make it.

I never knew it could take so long and so much effort to make something go bad. Once we added it to the bread batter, the question arose whether it had gone bad in the right way. What if it went bad badly? Would it make us sick?

Being the only man in a house full of women, the only answer I could come up with was, "Heat kills everything." Besides, I was hungry.

Sunflower Seed BreadAnd it does. We ended up with an oblong brick, which while tasty, was heavy enough to be classified as a deadly weapon if raised in anger. It takes two rounds on our toaster set on high to get it warmed up enough to spread anything on it. And, as far as I can tell, it has bran or any other fiber beat --- use with caution.

Our attempts at white bread have been even more tasty, but far more benign and breathtakingly simple. With an active and hungry five-year-old around, this stuff goes quickly. It also makes a fun Sunday morning ritual --- baking day. Kneading is the best part. There's little better for a kid than to sink their hands into sweet-smelling goo.

So reflecting on the possibility of the garden, it may lie fallow this year, replaced by the bread stone. I'll happily trade away the damage done to my back and knees in a garden for a few minutes of pounding dough. The onset of old age may have been the reasons human went from hunter-gatherers to baking grains in the first place.

Now if we can just set up a barter this summer with a gardener with an excess of cucumbers, tomatoes or green beans...

This week's featured op-ed column in The Cape Cod Chronicle.

Photo 1 courtesy of teneriffa-baeckermeister.de

Photo 2 courtesy of Live to Cook

Photo 3 courtesy of natur.com

Sussman Questions Need for a Year-Round Economy for Chatham

First, I should point out that my brother, Stephen Buckley, is running for Selectman in Chatham.  That said, I don't speak for him and he does not speak for me.  There are two other candidates, V. Michael Onnembo and Leonard Sussman.  Mike Onnembo ran for selectman here before, and was very supportive of my run for State Rep. in 2006.

Sussman, an architect, has lived in town for five years and is now chairman of the Planning Board. Over the past year, I've heard him make some statements that seem to show a certain distance from reality, or at least the reality I tried to represent when I was on the Board of Selectman.  Like his claim that the number of people in town has not increased in 30 years.  Or that there has been no increase in the number of professionals telecommuting.

Now I can differ with someone, for sure, and still respect them.  But it was his absolute certainty in his point of view, to the exclusion of anyone else's that I have come to find disturbing.  And more than a hint of condescension.

So it caught my attention when, at the Selectman Candidates Forum, Democrat Len Sussman questioned whether Chatham even wants a year-round economy, believing a poll should first be conducted.  As if this were some strange and foreign concept, and not something the Cape Cod Commission and other demographers have had on the front burner for the past decade.

Sussman went on to say that more affordable housing should be built to attract hi-tech workers making $75,000 to $80,000 (despite their not being eligible due to their higher incomes).

This really is quite sad, because this shows of indifference or ignorance that there actually might be people who have to work for a living in Chatham and struggle to do so in the face of similar costs of living as Boston but on 40% less pay.  Meaning, families here end up having to work harder to make more money just to keep out of poverty -- but once they do, they are ineligible for low-income housing that counts towards the state-mandated cap under Chapter 40B.

Chatham has a good track record of supporting housing for working families, giving special preference to those with a strong local connection.  Lately, however, the Board of Selectmen has allowed its eye to be taken off the ball, and has come to incorrectly believe that such preferences are illegal and unconstitutional.  Rather, they are less profitable for developers looking for government subsidies given for low income tenants only.

While increasing supply of units is helpful, it would be encouraging if the town would return to the idea that better jobs mean a better community.  Since I graduated from high school in 1984, I don't think a child attended Chatham Schools who hadn't wished that there was a better hope for a job than waiting tables or pushing a mower.  I would prefer to live in a place where people had jobs paid enough to afford buy a home (or even rent).  Instead, the new attitude of wealthy retired and semi-retired professionals who came to Chatham for an affluent lifestyle that I never knew or agreed to be a part of, could make that snobby reputation we so-richly did not deserve real.

Young college-educated professionals can't find a life here?  Let them eat cake.

Thus our middle class -- those at the heart of our community -- whither.

Race in America, and Chatham

This week's featured op-ed column in The Cape Cod Chronicle

At the Easter Egg Hunt in Chase Park, I ran into Tim Wood and Rowan and asked if they'd seen Sofie.  Having just turned five, she's just a little younger than Rowan.  So Tim's alarm was understandable, figuring I had lost her somewhere in the crowd.

I allayed his concern, explaining, "No, I dropped off her and Chandra here and then parked around the corner."  Glancing about at the gathered masses of kids and parents, I added, "It shouldn't be too hard to find Chandra in this crowd."  To which Tim had to agree.

 And yet, I still had a problem finding the woman I've been seeing for three years now - a black woman - in a small park in Chatham.  She has the ability to effortlessly dematerialize which may come from her growing up in Dorchester.   It was particularly uncanny in this day's sea of otherwise pale faces.

So as the candidacy of Barack Obama has risen, and then taken on directly issues of race in America, it has come at a time of increasing seriousness in my relationship with a professional, masters-educated journalist and health care writer, who is also black.  Both having a great interest in politics, but being of opposite parties, we've become each other's sounding boards for discussions on television news, talk radio and blogs.  Closer to home, however, race is an issue in talking about our future.

 The theme common to both the presidential campaigns and any future Chandra and I may have is that race is an unresolved issue in America.  Not just in East Crackerbarrell, Georgia, but here on Cape Cod.  That makes people uncomfortable.  It makes me uncomfortable.  But in a small place, it is pretty clear when someone is being treated differently.

 One early summer evening two years ago, while I was handing out balloons at a Cardinals game in Orleans, Chandra took Sofie to the playground at the opposite end of Eldredge Park.  As expected the place was crawling with kids, parents and grandparents.  Done with my campaigning, I came over to relieve Chandra from watching Sofie, who was playing with another little girl.  I was dressed well, as was Chandra (as always).  She went over to a large planter surrounding a tree nearby.

 As she did so, the father of the girl Sofie was playing with, looked up, looked over at Chandra, looked over at his wife and yelled to her to move their bag, which was eight feet away on the other side of the planter in plain site.  This, having been there already half and hour with God-knows how many other people around.  Perhaps the guy realized that he had left his personal possessions exposed - but it took the presence of someone dark-skinned nearby to them that flipped his mental switch.

 I'd never seen this before.  Not blatantly.  Perhaps that's the beauty of growing up in an almost 100% white town - you never get bald-faced bigotry demonstrated to you for the simple reason there are no potential victims.

I didn't make excuses for the guy.  But I did for the Cape.  He and his family, by their general behavior and nice apparel on a Saturday evening baseball game in Orleans said to me, tourist.  It wasn't much of a consolation to Chandra, to suggest these people had brought their prejudice with them over the bridge.  For all we knew, they had just bought a house here.  Or just had expensive - and bad - taste in clothes.

But before the smug that-doesn't-happen-here attitude kicks in, consider this:  more than a few times, we've been out at the beach or playground with Sofie - my blond-haired, blue-eyed Alpine princess --, and when it has been time to go, another parent will refer to Chandra as Sofie's mommy.  It is not the same parent every time.  But every time it happens, the person is white, and is from a large metropolitan area much more diverse than here.

 Contrast this with Chandra's reception here by locals.  She's followed around stores by otherwise inattentive clerks.  She's asked what inn she works at.  She solicited for cleaning Saturday changeovers.  In the fall people ask her when she's going back.  Friends of mine who would come from Jamaica for summer work said this was regular rapport with white people here.  So when Chandra is with Sofie, she's often asked if she is the new au pair.  Too often, her experience being black in Chatham has been to be seen first as a servant.

 For a person who grew up in the poor all-white town of Chatham, I see that as quite a step.  Backward.  If that is uncomfortable to read, it is worse to live with.  And like concrete, once set, a public perception is tough to change.

When she studied in London, Chandra saw a city where interracial couples were practically the rule.  To a lesser extent, it is becoming more common in the U.S.  So, as Barack Obama said, the situation is not static.  Attitudes are changing, slowly, on both sides.  It may take a whole generation of biracial children to break the silent stalemate between those who say "Let go of the past," and those who answer, "But it just happened five minutes ago - again!"

I hope for that.  At some point, being black in America will be no different than being Italian or Irish.  Or, like Sofie, part Mexican, part Austrian, part old-line Yankee.  Someday.  It has taken longer, though, and that's because they were the original easily-discernible underclass.  The nation, as a whole, has had two chances to get it right - first with the Constitution, and second after the Civil War - but ditched it for political expediency.

To be fascinated by American history is to be fascinated with the issue of race.  It is a stubborn thing, and an uncomfortable thing.  Though I want it to be assigned to history - and history alone - as I go forward with Chandra, the question of race come down to this:

If Sofie were to have a brother or sister, would  that son or daughter of mine, more likely to look like her mother or the junior Senator from Illinois, be treated the same by my country and my community?

I'd like to say yes. But the answer today is, uncomfortably, no.