It was a bear of a summer on Cape Cod
Then came the sharks
By GREG O'BRIEN from the Providence Journal
It was a bear of a summer on Cape Cod. Then came the sharks.
A marauding black bear early on, mugging for the cameras, cut a serpentine path across Cape Cod on Memorial Day, then held sway in the press until Jaws returned.
At first it was a joke. You could hear the oboe wafting off Pleasant Bay as gray seals, thousands of them, sunned on the mudflats at low tide, then wobbled in blubber out to the killing fields. Scores of us were in our boats, chumming for a photo op.
An estimated 15,000 gray seals and a few dozen Great White Sharks, up to 20 feet long, crashed the party on the Cape where upwards of a half million people crowd onto this sliver of sand, the "bared and bended arm of Massachusetts," as Thoreau once described it, to celebrate the solstice.There was hardly room left for the Piping Plovers.
It's post Labor Day, thank God, and they're all gone, right?
But just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the Great Whites linger with the seals, and have now been spotted in Chatham Harbor. The sharks will be here thorough the holidays, says state Division of Marine Fisheries shark expert Greg Skomal of Martha's Vineyard, a Discovery Channel contributor. He's a modern-day Hooper, the cerebral oceanographer that Chief Brody hired on Amity Island to find the Carcharodon carcharias that could swallow you whole.
"We don't know if this summer represents a shift in the existing shark population, given exceedingly higher numbers of seals here, or if there's actual population growth with sharks," Skomal said in an interview.
There's no doubt that the gray seal population has exploded with the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and will continue growing fast. The species was once hunted in the thousands for pelts and speared by angry fishermen apoplectic over hungry seals robbing the fisheries.
New math, old math, it's all the same. The more gray seals, the more Great Whites.
Yikes! We're gonna need a bigger boat. "The ocean beaches are still closed," declared Chatham Board of Selectmen chairperson Florence Seldin, affectionately called in these parts ''the mayor of shark city.''
"Chatham's ocean beaches are still closed. This is not about hype. It's simply the prudent thing to do."
- Chatham Board of Selectmen chairperson Florence Seldin."This is not about hype," she said. "It's simply the prudent thing to do."
Paul Fulcher, park superintendent at the neighboring Orleans Parks Department, where he oversees a swath of Atlantic shoreline from Chatham's new cut to the Eastham line, said Great Whites are coming so close to shore that you can almost spit on them. "I've seen them within 15 feet of the beach," he said.
The seals themselves also have closed beaches, 17 days in fact for bacterial contamination--fecal coliform. Seals "are not wearing diapers," Barnstable County's top health official George Heufelder told the Cape Cod Times, noting that contamination from seal colonies can be dispensed by ocean currents to the shoreline "like a shotgun."
Now that temperatures are dropping and the sun is lower in the sky, shark experts and Cape officials are pondering next season, which promises to bring even more intruders. Great Whites, the world's largest known extant macropredatory fish, are as mysterious as they are fearsome, relying on highly sophisticated sensory systems, Skomal says. "I have great respect for sharks," he adds, "I've been in the water with them for 30 years."
"I taste lousy" - Chris Myers.Fifty-year-old Chris Myers, a father of two who grew up on Joy Street on Beacon Hill, isn't so lucky. He was attacked by a Great White in late July, swimming with his son about 400 yards off bucolic Ballston Beach in Truro. Bitten on both legs, wounds requiring 47 stitches, he was rushed to Cape Cod Hospital, then Massachusetts General Hospital.
"I taste lousy," he joked afterwards.
Taste is key to a Great White's appetite, says Skomal, noting sharks prefer lard-- loads of it--to a long, hairy leg. Consumption of a 700-pound gray seal, a meal that starts with a ballistic strike that would spook the Antichrist, can satisfy a Great White for almost a month, adds Skomal.
"Call it ‘shark-anoia."
- John Piekarski.It's the anticipation that strikes terror in all of us. Cue the oboe. "The dread of the unknown puts the fear of God in us," says counselor John Piekarski, of Sandwich. "We can't see below the surface of the water, and thus we are always frightful of what's nibbling at our feet. People take these fears home with them."
Call it ‘shark-anoia.’ Take three aspirin, Piekarski muses, call me in the morning, and rest assured there's nothing under your bed. Unless, of course, it's a land shark.
Surfers, the bane of many beachgoers who compete for the best waves, are generally relaxed about sharks, or so they say. Scores of surfers in full wetsuits, looking like baby seals, bob like wine corks in the roiling ocean waters, looking for swells.
"We don't talk much about sharks," says Rick Weeks, who has been surfing these waters for 48 years. "I suppose we're all in denial, afraid to confront what threatens our passion."
While the ocean beaches are still closed to swimming, the shops are bustling, selling a cornucopia of shark sticks, bumper stickers and shark patrol T-shirts (bought one). Soon all will be quiet here as Indian summer gives way to deep autumn. But don't be fooled. Sharks are staying for the "shoulder season.'' Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water...
By Greg O'Brien
When was the last time you had a good laugh—a real genuine, spirit-freeing belly laugh?
Laughter, a visual manifestation of joy and inward evidence of contentment, is a powerful antidote to the stresses of life. A good laugh, doctors say, reduces tension, and can leave muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. Laugher boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones, and triggers the release of endorphins—a drug of choice as we age.
Laughter, doctors say, causes dilation of the inner lining of blood vessels, the so-called endothelium, and increases blood flow, offering an array of health advantages.
According to the Ririan Project, “Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline, dopamine and growth hormone. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins, and neurotransmitters. Laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the efficiency of T-cells. All this means a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects of stress. A good belly laugh also exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward. It even provides a good workout for the heart. Laughing 100 times is the equivalent to 10 minutes on the rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike.”
So why not Laughter Yoga?
Dian Hamilton of Provincetown, a certified Laughter Yoga instructor, is all over it. A consultant to the newly created COAST, Council On Aging’s Serving Together, a COA collaboration of programs and services, Hamilton performed her magic recently at a COAST forum, Live Your Life Well, held at the Barnstable Senior Center on Route 28 in Hyannis. The forum was part of a focus on healthy aging, promoting the proven connection between lifestyles chosen and mental wellness. These are dots that need connecting.
Hamilton embarked on her Laughter Yoga exercise with the ease of a maestro. Within minutes, she had a room full of seniors and consultants laughing ecstatically, not at jokes, but at Hamilton’s deep breathing and laughing exhortations, which increase oxygen seven times to the body.
“Laughter Yoga,” she said in an interview, “is like an aerobic exercise, a cardio workout, which brings more oxygen to your brain and makes one feel more healthy and energetic. It reduces physical, mental and emotional stress all at the same time, and strengthens the immune system. It can change mood in minutes.”
“Everyone,” she adds, “can laugh when time is good, but how to laugh when you face challenges is the building block of Laughter Yoga. Laughter gives you hope and optimism to deal with difficult times.”
Hence the rudiments of Laughter Yoga, which were explained and applied at the COAST forum, coordinated by Katherine Wernier, director of the elder-based Reach program. At the core of senior wellness are ten principles in the COAST Live Your Life Well program—simple, direct and yet of no value if not practiced:
The success of Coast, with initiatives such as Live Your Life, is predicated upon cooperation and collaboration among local Councils on Aging—a critical sharing of care and resources. “Live Your Life Well is a program to help seniors with mental wellness and build resiliency, ” said Liz Smith, former COAST chairperson. “Loss of health, once it begins, is a downward spiral, both physically and mentally.
“Taking control of aging and its challenges by working at ‘wellness’ gives one an added advantage,” noted Wernier. According to most experts, Health and wellness through prevention programs, like Council on Aging services, are keys to successful aging.
Council on Aging programs today offer far more than in years past, added Smith, retired Orleans COA Director Smith. “We’re not just bingo anymore. We have a range of programs and services that stretch the mind and renew the spirit.”
COAST indeed is testimony to this.
By Greg O'Brien
Does a bear shit in the woods?
Maybe today in Brewster.
Or perhaps me!
A roving bear that was seen earlier in backyards and cranberry bogs on the Mid Cape has made its way to Brewster, off historic Stony Brook Road near the herring run where a few straggling alewives are still making their way up the stone ladders to spawn in the Mill Ponds.
The bear was reported judiciously to Brewster police; cruisers were then dispatched and a helicopter spotter was put in the air.
The Boston Globe reported that Brewster police Lieutenant Heath Eldredge said the first sighting today was near Red Top Road around 9 a.m., and a short time later, the bear was observed near Stony Brook Road and Herring Brook Lane.
The neighborhood where I’ve lived for 30 years had all the feel this morning of Mayberry R.F.D.
Stop! The Rod & Gun Club is that way!
“The bear most likely swam across the Cape Cod Canal, a feat that would be fairly easy for a bear if the tide were mostly flat,” reports Colin Young of the Boston Globe, noting ironically that the bear, likely a two-year-old cub, was spotted earlier along Route 6A, fleeing toward the Bass River Rod and Gun Club.
Dutiful reporter than I am, I called my old buddy Brewster Police Chief Dick Koch just to rattle his cage.
He said he was on my street hours ago trying to locate the marauding cub. He must be hungry, I thought. The cub, not the chief.
What would late naturalist John Hay, a former neighbor, say if the bear snags a herring out of The Run?
The author of a classic book by the name would have been mystified, the cub displaying the same olfactory instinct of the alewife.
Brewster Town Administrator Charlie Sumner, a neighbor, was a bit more pragmatic.
He told a friend that he had called his wife Cindy in jest, and suggested to her that she strap a Salmon to her back on her walk in the woods today.
Last check, Cindy hadn’t left the house.
By Greg O’Brien
Ok, so the Almighty is ready for some football!
Tim Tebow’s Hail Mary pass on Sunday—the Lord’s Day—punctuated a trinity of testimonies: that the Denver Broncos are for real; that the New England Patriots might need some supernatural Ghostbusters on defense next Saturday; and that Tim Tebow can throw for 316 yards, paradoxically a reference to the Tebow’s trademark scriptural verse inscribed on the “eye black” strips at University of Florida to cut glare—John 3:16. For those who don’t have a Bible handy, it states: “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”—King James version.
In Tebow time, it was a come-to-Jesus moment, indeed; not to mention Internet reports of a “halo affect” above Mile High Stadium after the game.
So praise the Lord, and pass the damn ball again!
From my early parochial days at the knee of the Baltimore Catechism, effectively the orthodox Catholic school text in the United States from 1885 to the late 1960s, we clearly serve a Lord of redemption.
Can I hear an Amen to that brothers and sisters?
Redemption, folks, is now at hand. But while the Almighty may have been making a point about Tebow, the Lord—I believe—is not likely to mess with the point spread on the Pats game. Such an irreverent act would be tantamount to pronouncing that Purgatory and Limbo, like Pluto, have lost their glow.
Weeks ago, Saturday Night Live had it right, proselytizing that Tebow’s righteous genuflecting was fully faithful because Jesus after all is responsible for all seven, now eight, of the streaking Broncos’s wins. But as Jesus, through the on-stage persona of SNL’s Jason Sudeikis, cautions: “ Here's the thing. If we're going to keep doing this, you guys gotta meet me halfway out there. Let's face it. It's not a good thing if every week, I, the Son of God, have to come in, drop everything and bail out the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter. I'm a busy guy!"
Sudeikis conceded on-camera something New England fans have long harbored about their own divinely stirred quarterback. "This doesn't leave this room, OK?" Sudeikis, aka Jesus, declared, "but if I'm the Son of God, Tom Brady's gotta be (a) nephew. That guy's a miracle worker.”
God’s nephew and His Voice Crying In The Wilderness meet Saturday in Foxboro, and pardon the hype, this ought to be a Rapture to witness. Shame on those who get left behind.
Say what you want about Tebow, the youngest of five children, but he is an honest reflection of his parents, persevering Christian Baptist missionaries who labored in the Philippians. Some of us might not like the candor of his genuflections, the wear-it-on-his-sleeve moralizing like he’s discerning a play for third and long, or the vocal callouts to his savior. Many of us prefer to express our beliefs in more traditional or private tones, but Tebow is true to his beliefs, no matter the fallout. That’s not ego, hype, or disdain for unbelievers; it’s a man following the tenets of his parents. And God bless him for it, in spite of the discomfited candor and heavenly high-fives that make some awkward.
Hey, we seem to give a free pass in public and in the media to the bad boys of sports. Collectively, we often celebrate it—the head butts and all-about-me prancing in the end zone. We have politically correct sympathy for jocks who shoot themselves or aim at others, who father children without a commitment to fatherhood, who sexually harass women, who violate every sense of decency, and yet when a decent guy wants to thank his Lord in public, following the role model of his parents, he’s disparaged, mocked in some circles as if he’s just burned down a convent full of nuns.
Political correctness could use a day in the confessional.
So bring it on Tebow! All the best on Saturday. Genuflect in prayer, lift your hands in praise, and inscribe all the scriptural passages you want on your eye black. We could all use some faith in a world racing toward Armageddon.
But for the record, I’ll be rooting this weekend for God’s nephew—the guy with three Super Bowl rings, completion stats that would impress Michael the Archangel, and a spirited quarterback with a smile, work ethic and innocence that could part the Red Sea.
Now, are we ready for some football?
(Greg O’Brien is a freelance writer and author/editor of several books. He contributes periodically to the ProJoe’s commentary page, and has been a consultant to the Kraft Organization at Gillette and other Boston area firms.)
By Greg O’Brien
Grace Kobold has the heart of anangel, more than one could ever imagine.
Thestunning and spirited 14-year-old freshman at Nauset Regional High Schoolreceived the gift of life a year ago this month—a heart transplant from ateenager in the Midwest, who died after a long fight with disease.
LikeGrace, her donor was filled with life, yet battling limitations requiring theinner strength of a seraph. She was a young woman who wanted to save the world,and in the end, she saved it the only way she could, as her mother said in aheartfelt letter to Grace: “She became the ultimate recycler.”
Ina touching exchange of anonymous letters, Grace wrote the donor’s mother thather new heart is a “perfect match; it feels like mine but better.”
Grace desperately needed a newheart. She was diagnosed at birth with congenital heart disease that onlyskilled cardiologists at Children’s Hospital in Boston could fully comprehend—Dilatedcardiomyopathy (DCM), an often fatal condition in which the heart is weakenedand enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently; and a Ventricular Septal Defect(VSD), medical code for a hole in the heart.
“Weknew early on that for Grace to live, someone else would have to die,” Grace’smother, Julie, an advanced placement psychology teacher at Nauset High, saidopenly in a recent interview at the family home in West Brewster. Julie, theimage of Grace, is seated next to her husband, Jeff, a former Navy fighterpilot of F-14 Tomcats over war torn Somalia and Iraq, and now a mortgagelending officer at Cape Cod Five. The lanky Grace—with striking dark blackhair, piercing brown eyes, all the innocence of youth and yet articulate farbeyond her years—is stretched out on the living room floor, recalling with herparents more than a decade of turmoil, defined by great perseverance, courageand faith.
Herfather, a pensive man with military calculation, sits quietly in a sofa chaircollecting his thoughts, then speaks from the soul. “I was distraught. Wefeared we might lose Grace,” says Jeff, noting that with the support of closefamily and the good counsel of a pastor in San Diego where Grace was born andfriends at Brewster’s Cape Cod Bible Alliance Church where the family nowworships, “we came to realize that our children are on loan from God, andthere’s ultimate peace in the reality of that challenge of trust.” Those arestrong words of faith from a guy who on his own gut instinct used to flyfighter jets at speeds of more than Mach 1, and land them at night in heavingseas on wet flight decks the length of two football fields on the U.S.S. KittyHawk, stationed in the Persian Gulf. “You only get one life, and you don’t know how long it will be,” hesays.
InGrace’s case, faith and fear were stretched to a point of total surrender.
“We realized there were criticalmedical issues just seconds after Grace was born,” recalls Julie. “Grace, shesaid, turned purple “once doctors cut the umbilical cord and she went fromliving off my heart to her own.”
A top San Diego cardiologistquickly diagnosed the symptoms as Dilated cardiomyopathy. Julie promptlyinquired of the doctor how many patients he had treated with the disease.
“I was afraid you would ask,” hereplied. “I’ve had five, and none of them has made it past the age of five.”
The room stood still, motionless,as Julie and Jeff collected their thoughts—minds racing toward the unthinkable.
At three months, Grace was still a“failure to thrive” baby with a defective heart, burning up more calories thanshe retained—“literally sweating to death,” as her mother says. Doctorspersevered. A successful open heart surgery was performed when Grace was 11months to repair the hole, but years later, after her heart began anotherdecline, she was diagnosed with E-Coli that quickly morphed intoHemolytic-Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a disease characterized by hemolytic anemia,acute renal failure and a low platelet count that triggers internal bleeding.Again, doctors found a fix.
About a year after Grace was born, theKobolds moved to the Cape, a relocation that made sense on a number of fronts:Jeff had just been hired as a Delta Airlines pilot flying 737s; Children’sHospital, the top pediatric hospital in the nation, was nearby; and Julie’sparents lived in Brewster where her dad Richard, a former Navy pilot himself,was longtime principal at Brewster Elementary, then appointed AssistantSuperintendent for Nauset Regional School District.
Stillthere were many heartbreaking adjustments for Grace. She says she firstrealized she was “different” from other kids at a first grade sleepover whenshe was the only one who had to take medication.
“My friends didn’t seem tounderstand, they thought I had ‘Old Man’s disease,’” Grace recalls. “I wasthrowing up frequently, I didn’t get invited to parties. I was crying a lot.”
Sowere her parents. “The ‘what ifs’ were scary,” says Julie. “We could only talkabout them when the lights were out because it seemed safer somehow.” Grace’solder sister, Madeleine, now a freshman at Azusa Pacific University, wasfrightened as well, and had to juggle normal sibling rivalry with the coldreality that her parents were consumed with Grace. “Mad,” as her mother callsher, always put Grace first. She often coped by channeling her feelings andfears into her acrylic paintings.
“Madeleine’shigh school senior year was very difficult competing for college and writingessays while we drove back and forth to Children’s Hospital every day,” Juliesays. “Somehow she managed. Our family activities slowly had to change, asGrace was not able to do much. On the upside, Mad is now a deeper person, moreaware of life’s fragility, quick to see the shallowness of things.”
In 2008, when Grace was in theeighth grade, doctors began transplant evaluations. With the diseaseprogressing, she was placed three years later on a transplant list with a rareblood type that made a timely transplant remote at best. Then in October, 2011,the Kobolds received a surprise call at 1:41 am that changed their livesforever.
“We might have a heart for Grace,are you ready?” a doctor said over the phone. Confirmation came an hour and ahalf later. “It’s a go; pack the suitcases, wake up Grace!”
The family raced to Children’s Hospital; Grace was soanxious and excited that she packed dirty clothes.
But the serpentine path oftransplant surgery, a progression of hurry up-and-wait, was bone chilling. WithGrace sedated in the operating room, another curve was thrown. The private Learjet carrying the donor’s heart encountered severe thunderstorms along theroute. “The pilot isn’t certain he can continue,” the hospital cardiologisttold the Kobolds, who quickly gathered with family and friends in prayer.
“Ikept thinking,” says Julie, “what am I going to tell Grace?”
Ahalf hour later, the doctor returned with news that she had informed the Learjet pilot that the patient’s father was a former Navy fighter pilot. “You tellhim,” the doctor relayed the message to the Kobolds, “that I’m going to GET this heart there. He can count on it!”
Therest was miracle clockwork: A race from Logan Airport to the hospital whiledoctors opened up Grace’s chest cavity; as technicians were hurrying the preciouscargo up the hospital elevator and into the Operating Room, doctors removedGrace’s defective heart; and within minutes the donor’s heart was transplantedand beating new life as doctors carefully monitored for signs of rejection, asthey still do.
Recoverypain was intense given that doctors had to break Grace’s breastbone, and fullblood circulation for the first time caused massive headaches and throbbing legcramps. “Ouchy!” Grace says in characteristic understatement.
There was another hurdle to clear. Aftera grateful Thanksgiving last November, one during which Grace rode a bike andcooked the entire turkey dinner, she became terribly ill for 28 days with afever of up to 105 degrees and symptoms that had the Kobold family collectivelyon its knees again. After a biopsy that inadvertently punctured a lung, Gracewas diagnosed with Histoplasmosis, also known as “Ohio Valley Disease,” afarm-based fungus common to the Midwest, one that had been lodged for a time inthe donor’s heart. Grace is still in recovery on medication, but the fungusappears to have run its course.
Onecould write a medical textbook on Grace, whose medical records caught theattention recently of Nick News on the Nickelodeon channel that featured Graceand others with organ transplants in a Linda Eleerbee segment called “A Gift ofLife.” The segment can be accessed online here, and well worth the viewing.
In all ways, Grace's story is a gift of life. A broken heart in one part of the country has led to a new beginning inanother.
“Yourchild’s heart beats on in my child, a steady beat with the promise of new memories,a chance at life,” Julie wrote to the donor’s mother. “Words of gratitude donot begin to convey the depth of our thanks.”
Themother caringly wrote back in a three-page letter that Julie will save for alifetime, “Love is never wasted…(My daughter) will always have a special placein my heart, and now there is also a place for you.”
Grace,today with the heart of an angel, is back to being a young adolescent—runningwith friends; scooping ice cream in July and August at Emack & Bolios inOrleans, the first summer job she’s ever held; eating favorite foods verbotenon the menu years ago; and forever blessed with new life. There are some caveats. No contactsports and a regiment of warm up and pull down exercises before activities. Inthe transplant procedure, all nerves to the heart were cut, as in all suchtransplants, and only the major nerves reattached. “If I have a heart attack, Ijust won’t feel it,” Grace says.
But she has an intense feeling for lifenow. Always on the go now, she’soff now to a music social. “This has been a painful process, but the ending isgood,” she says as she sprints out the door. “Life is a walk of faith. You putone foot in front of the next.”
BlessMe Father, For I have Sinned!
By Greg O’Brien
The Providence Journal
BRONX,NEW YORK—I simply should have known better; my dad was spot on. Born on gritty SedgwickAvenue in the shadows of the House that Ruth Built, my late father, FrancisXavier O’Brien, was all New York—a second generation Irish American with rootsin County Claire, the father of ten children, the director of pensions in thesalad days of Pan Am, and a Yankee devotee once his beloved Brooklyn Dodgersturned tail to the west. Dad persuaded me as a kid that the National League nolonger existed; flat DOA on the closing of Ebbets Field. “Gotta fight for ateam that fights for you, “he taught me early on. A man of redemption, dadstill never forgave the betrayal, and passed it down to me.
Playinghigh school and college ball in the New York area, and on a Senior Babe RuthLeague All Star team that won two New York State Championships and qualifiedfor two SBRL World Series tournaments, I was marinated in pinstripes—sitting inthe Pan Am box next to the Yankee dugout in the magical 1950s and 60seyeball-to-eyeball with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen,Bobby Richardson, Elston Howard and the like.
Thencame George. I never took to Steinbrenner in his early years—the epitome of NewYork swagger, a posture that pennants could be bought if not deserved, thegenesis of the Evil Empire. And with that, the New York attitude came intofull, stinking bloom. New York, once a place defined by genuine working stiffs,gave way, brownstone-by-brownstone, to the upscale arrogant, the cocky nouveauriche whose talents often never quite measured up to the compensation. Butthis, after all, was New York du jour, a place of big dreams, bigger egos andboisterous bravado. What do I know?
SoI checked out of the Big Apple scene, seeking those little town blues on CapeCod, and ultimately finding a coveted lunch pail ethic in Boston as a beatreporter for the Herald American and as senior writer at Boston Magazine.Assigned to cover politics, social issues and the Red Sox from time to time, Ifell in love with my adopted city—its collective pride, perseverance andresilience. The Sox embodied this resolve.
Againstmy late father’s wishes, I raised my three children, Brendan, Colleen andConor, to be obdurate Sox fans, to fully hate the Yankees and Bucky BeepingDent. As a family, we suffered wrenching defeats together, bathed in rousingvictories, endured the lacerating extended-family abuse in New York, andforever sought the everlasting promise of another season. All along—in spite,at times, of horrific errors, pathetic pitching outings and a wholesale lack offundamental baseball—the Sox have never given up in spirit. At least not untilnow, and in the face of the third highest payroll in baseball at close to $163million, four times that of competing Tampa Bay.
Call it what you must—injuries, thinpitching, choke hitting, bad karma, or a realignment of the stars, more on thefield than off—but the wretched truth is that this team retreated in an epiccollapse of will, inner discipline and execution from the field to the frontoffice. Such a breakdown has been brewing for seasons with a Sox let-it-bemanagerial style that is far more cheerleading than performance based. How doyou think Bill Belichick would have dealt with the longest season-openinglosing streak since World War II and an 80 percent losing percentage in aplayoff drive? Wind sprints up the Green Monster perhaps? The Sox need a coreattitude adjustment from top to bottom along with key personnel changes beyonda new manager, however agonizing.
SureSox owner John Henry and company are fans, but they are entertainers andbusinessmen first. That’s what they do for a living, and if they think Fenwaysellouts and devotion to Red Sox nation come with a deed to 4 Yawkey Way, theywill soon see empty seats as an attention-deficit next generation losesinterest in a slow, cerebral game played by overpaid athletes allowed todisplay the fundamental skills of Little Leaguers with the competitive desireof a convent full of cloistered nuns.
Inthe fifth inning of Sunday’s first game against the Yankees, ironicallyafter breakfast with an oldfriend, Brooklyn Dodger legend Ralph Branca, to celebrate the publication hisnew book, A Moment In Time, I did the unthinkable. In the wake of Derek Jeter’sdouble that drove in yet another Yankee run in a 6-2 win over the Sox, I leftmy seat on the third baseline next to my son Brendan, then purposefully walkedto the closest souvenir stand, and yes, I bought a Yankee cap for myself—thekind my dad was buried with and the first Yankee cap I’ve owned in 38 years. Myson was horrified. I put it on to make a point: gotta fight for a team thatfights for you.
MyYankee cap, after the Sox 14th inning victory in Sunday’s secondgame, is now locked in my closet, awaiting the hope of an attitudeadjustment—both from me and from my adopted team in Boston.
By Greg O’Brien
Thesky has fallen in the media many times of late. Pinch yourselves. Embrace theRapture.
Take NSTAR response poll. How was the Irene response?
Oh,it’s just television news again, with enough Category 4 spin to exhaust thesupply of Dramamine. The format works nicely: Blow a story out of proportion,create fear, drive millions to their living rooms to watch every second of thepending apocalypse, along with a bazillion dollars of advertising, declarelater that we dodged a bullet, and then climax with isolated or exaggeratedfootage of damage, just to maintain a little credibility.
Whatwould be do without those brave young, Chicken Little reporters in theNortheast, risking a bad hair day in the name of television ratings and in theface of the fierce tropical winds with all the horror of an updraft on aroller-coaster ride?
Thesehandsome twenty- and thirty-somethings are dolefully lacking in perspective asthey hunt to upstage one another. For some, the most suspenseful event theyhave witnessed, to date, is a Red Sox/Yankee series.
Whatwill they do when a Category 5 rolls into New England, as it likely will someday, packing gusts of more than 200 miles an hour? First, we’ll need to addwords to the dictionary. “Yikes” and “killer storm” just won’t fly. Then, we’llhave to scramble these reporters from under their beds. And how do we convincepeople that now they really ought to take cover in the wake of such falsealarms from the Henny Pennys of the media?
Thatis not to say that Irene wasn’t substantial but it sure was something less thanHurricane Gilbert, in 1988 — the most powerful storm recorded in the Atlantic,with winds of 200 miles-an-hour, or the Great Hurricane of 1785, which killedan estimated 22,000 in the Caribbean.
Sadly,there were several dozens deaths from Irene, an estimated 4 million people lostelectric power, and there was horrific flooding in Vermont. Officials wereright to warn others. But all in all the facts and media hype did not meet.
Witness,as we all did, the parade of plucky television reporters on deadline.
Anational news reporter on North Carolina’s Outer Bank bravely stood next to aconcrete storm wall, predicting a momentous crash of waves at any second, thenpointed to a puddle in the parking lot as evidence of imminent doom.
ABoston television reporter standing at a South Yarmouth (Cape Cod) motel near aBass River overflow, declaring that she and her TV crew were almost “trapped!”Of course, she could have waded barefoot through the overflow.
Whatabout the grim Virginia Beach, Va., reporter on camera, sounding like PaulRevere, as three half-naked adolescents frolicked across the camera behind him.
Doyou think that this was the first storm in two millennia to threaten LowerManhattan with a tidal surge?
Andhow about the Boston television reporter in Falmouth, who spotted “a log” inBuzzards Bay and, with the gut instincts of a 3-year-old, suggested that itcould become a lethal projectile.
Oneveteran Boston news anchor, enticing viewers to watch an hour-long hurricanespecial, waxed a bit defensively about Irene, “A lot more has happened than youprobably think.”
Pitythe reporter who stands on the beach in the throes of a storm during livecoverage and declares, “Hey, this ain’t so bad!” The poor sap will be coveringJunior League luncheons the following week.
John Hay's palette is rich in hue for those who care to listen
By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press
John Hay could paint brilliant word pictures with the stroke of a typewriter key as a master does with a brush. He fully absorbed the rhythm of the language, the art of creative flow, perhaps as much as anyone on a blank canvas of life.
"Listen and you touch on light twisting through the shallows; you sense a speech within a time eluding it, ripples on stone. It has no answer," Hay, the renowned Cape Cod naturalist, wrote in his classic work, Bird Song. "Music follows, music falls, with its magicians. With birds, we hear what we could be, never what we say we are."
John Hay spent a lifetime touching on light, always hearing what he could be, never what the world said he was. At 95, that light has been extinguished, but his spirit and his wisdom in words will survive an eternity. The author of 18 books on nature, a Harvard poet laureate, a recipient of the celebrated John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, and co-founder of the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Hay-early on a mentor to me and a neighbor in Brewster's ancient Stony Brook Valley-has been compared in many ways to the venerable Henry David Thoreau. "He (Hay) is probably a better naturalist than the son of Concord," the New York Herald Tribune once wrote.
To say that Hay had a way with words is to suggest that Hemingway was a journeyman writer. Hay captured the fragile beauty of Cape Cod as if drafting in the palm of the Lord's hand, and he taught us, often against our secular instincts, that nature in its purest form is the essence of all. If we lose the natural blessing of the world around us, we lose a part of ourselves. In that lesson, Hay has left behind an abiding gift to a fast-foot, drive-by, attention-deficient nation that is beyond his eloquent words.
"He is probably a better naturalist than the son of Concord." - Herald Tribune.
In writing about nature, he was often reflecting on the fight for survival in all of us. "The fish kept moving up," he wrote in his first book, The Run, an acclaimed chronicle of the annual alewife migration, thousands of them, up the stone ladders of Brewster's Paines Creek to spawn upstream in the mill ponds, responding each year to a biological clock at the strike of spring. "I watched the swinging back and forth with the current, great-eyed, sinewy, probing, weaving, their dorsal fins cutting the surface, their ventral fins fanning, their tails flipping and sculling. In the thick, interbalanced crowd there would suddenly be a scattered dashing, coming up as quickly as cat's-paws flicking the summer seas. They have moved by ‘reflex' rather than conscious thought, but what marvelous professionals they were in that!"
Just another day on the job for all of us, fighting the downstream currents of the moment.
The son of noted archaeologist Clarence Hay and the grandson of John Hay, secretary of state under Theodore Roosevelt and a private secretary to Abraham Lincoln, the reclusive and pensive Hay published his first collection of poetry in 1947, the year he moved to the Cape. Surrounded by an awe-inspiring setting, he turned to nature writing with a perspective wider than an aerial view.
"There has been a pronounced detachment, and pulling away from, our land, primarily thought of as an area of what may falsely be called ‘improvement.' We do not see our nature or natural history as a necessity or food for our well-being." - John Hay.
Other celebrated books soon followed, among them Nature's Year, The Season of Cape Cod, The Great Beach, Sandy Shore, In the Company Of Light, and A Beginner's Faith In Things Unseen. The New York Times Book Review has termed Hay "gifted and perceptive." The Christian Science Monitor has said he "dramatizes our isolation from the rest of life." And Publisher's Weekly once described Hay as "a man with an almost religious sense of nature."
In a call to arms many years ago, Hay warned, "There has been a pronounced detachment, and pulling away from, our land, primarily thought of as an area of what may falsely be called ‘improvement.' We do not see our nature or natural history as a necessity or food for our well-being. We need to involve people in the process of seeing-innate, natural sight-not substitutes for sight...We need help from people, young and old, who will participate in its vision. We are nothing about the life we are given to share."
Hay has shared passionately, and I will always treasure the talks in his living room up the street and in his snug writing studio about observing nature and crafting the language. He taught me and others to think and how to feel.
"It may be surprising, in our age of information, to hear that nothing in nature is finally known," he writes in a Guide to Nature on Cape Cod and the Islands. "There is always more to be discovered about the most commonplace of things we see around us, or pick up, like colorful stones or shells on the beach. The novelty lasts for every individual and for generations to generation... The practice is as old as the world and as new and exciting as any child seeing things for the first time."
As an old friend once said, it is the dabs of color applied by others in great wisdom and in love over the years that joins the dots in one's life.
John Hay's palette is rich in hue for those who care to listen.
(Greg O'Brien, a freelance Cape Cod writer, was a neighbor to John Hay and the editor of some of his writings. O'Brien worked closely with Hay as a longtime trustee of the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History.)
The mating sound of dinosaurs
By Greg O'Brien
All eyes in the paper industry, with consequences from Cape Cod to California and around the world, will be focused once again on NewPage Corp early next month as the embattled company releases its second quarter earnings report. NewPage in many ways is emblematic of segments of corporate America today, a case study in progress.
The earnings report announcement comes in the wake of the resignations last month of top company executives: NewPage President and Chief Executive Officer E. Thomas Curley, Board Chairman Mark Suwyn and Vice President of Human Resources Michael Edicola. Curley had been CEO for only a few months, the fifth CEO at the Ohio-based company in four years in an industry plagued with severe losses and rigorous competition from the electronic media. The company is a unit of NewPage Group Inc., which is owned by the private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP. Curiously enough, in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Cerberus is a multi-headed hound that guards the gates of Hades.
Earlier this year, the company reported that its profit dropped 62 percent in the first quarter of 2010, in spite of an increase in sales and an increase in market share in coated paper sales volume, and NewPage year-end debt in ’09 was up $697 million over the previous year, according to reports. The company had planned an IPO, but in May withdrew an initial public offering plan that was underwritten by Goldman Sachs.
Former CEO Curley has been replaced in the interim by Robert Nardelli, CEO of Cerberus Operating & Advisory Co. and former chairman of Chrysler LLC and Home Depot Inc; Nardelli was named director and non-executive chairman. Nardelli has the distinction of being named in a CNBC survey as one of the “Worst American CEOs of All Time.” Ranking Nardelli 17th on the list, CNBC wrote on its website that “Nardelli was fired from Home Depot after losing market share, alienating executives, downplaying customer service, and refusing to cut his fat pay package. He was then hired by the private equity group Cerberus, which put him in charge of its struggling Chrysler unit (and overseeing its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing). There he took billions in government aid, only to face an ultimatum: Merge or face certain liquidation.” CNBC noted that “Nardelli’s Home Depot exit package of $210 million was regarded as one of the largest ever.”
It would appear that Nardelli has the same challenge before him yet again—both on internal and external business fronts and in public relations sectors. Stereotypical of today’s corporate culture, Nardelli’s tenure at Chrysler was highlighted by the private jet he took to Washington, D.C. to plead for a government bailout. Not surprisingly, NewPage bonds” fell the most in almost six weeks” after Nardelli took over, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. Now there is industry speculation that the company will be sold as a whole or Balkanized, broken into smaller divisions and sold off separately, before the end of the year.
The Miamisberg-Ohio-based NewPage owns paper mills in Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nova Scotia, Canada with yearly capacity to produce 4.4 million tons of paper. The company has about 7,500 employees. And for a firm that posted a $175 million net loss the first quarter of 2010, a 62 percent drop in spite of an overall sales gain of 13 percent, a company that—observers say—faces potential sale or possible dissolution of some manner by the end of the year, NewPage indeed takes care of the help, but only in executive suites and the boardroom. Even recent management castoffs exit with a smile. The math is stunning.
In sharp contrast to earning statements, it was reported late last month that several NewPage corporate executives are expected to receive millions of dollars in bonuses on the heels of poor company performance and mill closures, assuming they stay with the company through the end of 2012 and meet certain performance criteria, according to company financial reports filed last month with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, NewPage said it will give outgoing executive Curley, CEO for just four months, $1.1 million in severance pay—equal to twice his base pay, as part of his contract, as well as a $165,000 pro-rated performance bonus. Suwyn will receive a $2 million severance payout. And Michael Edicola, vice president of human resources who also recently resigned, will receive $650,000 for severance and a $243,000 prorated performance bonus. Two weeks ago, yet anotherNewPage senior management official resigned— Mike Marziale, senior vicepresident of marketing, strategy and general management. Marziale will receivemore than $1.4 million in payments from NewPage, according to a newspaper report and documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Great country, America! When do the rest of us get to become citizens.
NewPage's long-term incentive plan, adopted in January, provides key executives with cash bonuses, based on performance and/or length of service, as incentives for staying with the company, according to SEC documents filed earlier this year. Such nosebleed executive bonuses must be debilitating to hundreds of workers unemployed or temporarily laid off as a result of recent downtime and mill closures.
On related fronts, there is a serious threat to U.S. printing jobs from what appears to be unfair and anti-competitive paper industry tactics, assisted by generous tax loopholes and subsidies, that are restricting industry and distorting the market to raise prices as high as possible. While some paper company executives are getting rich, the American printing industry is on the brink. Overall demand for paper is down due to market conditions and competition from electronic publishing. More than 73,000 printer and graphic communications jobs have been lost since mid-2008, with thousands more expected, according to reports. In today’s economy, a rise in paper costs—a printer’s biggest expense—is ruinous.
For corporate executives, the best defense is often a good offense: deflect and point fingers around the world, wrapping oneself in the American flag. NewPage and other American paper companies today are pressuring the International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Department of Commerce to investigate whether countries like China and Indonesia have engaged in illegal “dumping” of coated paper suitable for multi-colored catalogues, books, magazines, labels, graphics, greeting cards and other products requiring high-quality print graphics. Backed by U.S. labor unions, NewPage and others are seeking tariffs of up to 100 percent on coated paper from China and Indonesia. Given corporate strategies of shutting down North American mills and taking paper off the market, this would have catastrophic impacts on the printing industry and other related industries, now struggling with the worst economy since the Depression.
Some revealing statistics: NewPage shut down six mills in 2008. It closed its paper mill in Niagara, Wisconsin, the only major source of employment in a city of 1,800. The mill provided 319 jobs, with workers averaging $60,000-a-year. According to local officials, the plant had two potential buyers, but NewPage let the mill sit idle. Wrote newspaper columnist Ed Lowe at the time, “The hardship of the mill closure here parallels that of Kimberly (Wis.), where 600 well-paying paper mill jobs were scuttled as part of the evolving business plan of NewPage…Both mill closures devastated their communities…Some lifelong residents of Niagara worry that their city’s future ended with the production at the mill.”
In Kimberly, NewPage refused to sell to two buyers and declined the support of the Governor to keep the plant open. “This is a case of a corporation taking a productive, profitable plant and closing it, and refusing to sell it to anyone else,” Andy Nirchl, president of the United Steel Workers local, said at the time.
Other similar examples:
Nationally and internationally, there is clearly a double standard at play in the paper industry. Fair trade laws, governed by agencies like the ITC are written to guarantee a level playing field on which all companies and industries can compete on equal terms, without unfair help from governments and other sources. Ironically, U.S. paper firms that are accusing China and Indonesia of gaining unfair subsidies are actually the ones benefiting most from the largesse of market-distorting government subsidies. Analysts report that U.S. paper makers as an industry received a collective $9 billion in “black liquor” tax subsidies last year. Observed U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingham, the Democrat from New Mexico, “Congress never intended that this tax credit would be used in this way to avoid payment of taxes. Added U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, “Bad economic times are no excuse to cheat, and that’s the only word for what these companies are doing.”
The Obama Administration is clearly in a political squeeze—support the U.S paper industry and its constituent-rich unions, or risk losing thousands more jobs in the printing industry. In supporting the paper industry and its unions, President Obama will contribute to a disruption of paper supplies, a reduction in the number of available paper supplier options, and the elimination of U.S. printer jobs because some publishers will simply ship business to less costly printers in Canada or Mexico or cutback on printing products. Dr. Thomas Prusa, Ph.D., a professor of economics at Rutgers University, is referenced on the website saveprinterjobs.com as noting that “market-distorting protective actions, such as tariffs, destroy 10 to 20 times as many jobs as they create, most often because the jobs move outside the U.S. Once those jobs are lost, they don’t return. In printing, jobs would move to Canada and Mexico and hundreds of printers would have to close their doors.”
There is plainly no legal or factual basis to suggest that Chinese and Indonesian paper producers are harming domestic production of coated paper: there has been no significant increase in imports, sales are at normal levels and domestic companies are not losing business. Domestic shipments of coated paper are down only because overall demand is down in this economy, not as a result of alleged unfair practices of the Chinese and Indonesian producers and importers. But U.S. paper companies are asking the federal government to keep the Chinese and Indonesian coated paper competitors out of the U.S. market through high tariffs.
A tariff on imported coated paper from China and Indonesia would hurt the U.S printing industry in the following ways: paper supplies would be disrupted; deliveries would be delayed; paper supplier options would be reduced; higher costs will force publishers to seek cheaper printing options in Mexico and Canada or eliminate printing products; thousands more U.S. printer jobs would be lost and the competitiveness of the U.S. printing business would be at risk.
In recent developments:
Any way you cut the cards in the paper industry deck, real money indicates that U.S. paper companies, backed by special interests, are the aggressors, not the victims of market distortion.
What Hell Looks Like When It Freezes Over In Massachusetts!
Scott Brown: 52%
Martha Coakley: 47%
To the Nation:
In Massachusetts, we've given you the Pilgrims, the Great Awakening Revival of the early 1700s, the American Revolution and now this: the greatest individual political upset of our lifetime.
It all began here, and the revolution continues.
We've restored the balance of power. Now, is there anything else we can do for you today?
Go Brown! Keep on truckin'!