By Greg O'Brien: Codfish Press
There was a popular bumper sticker circulating San Francisco in the late 1960s, heralding the end times that proclaimed: “Jesus is coming and man, is He pissed!” Like pop culture, the bumper sticker quickly spread East. I got in trouble in high school for pasting it on the rear of my Buick. The Jesuits didn’t think it was funny.
Funny or not, the bumper sticker has many people thinking again, given the wild happenings in the world today: the constant threat of terrorism; the Asian tsunami that killed more than 120,000; Katrina floods of Noah proportions; mudslides in Central America that have created mass gravesites; a crushing Pakistan quake whose death toll is pushing 40,000; the melting of polar ice caps that indicate, several climatologists say, a global warming trend that could in time cause devastating flooding and fuel more intense hurricanes; a feared avian flu pandemic that experts warn could inflict a 50 percent fatality rate worldwide.
“We and the entire world remain unprepared for what could arguably be the most horrific disaster in modern history,” Gregory Poland, an immunization specialist at the Mayo Clinic, said of the avian flu threat in a Hearst Newspaper report. “What we are talking about is not just another health issue—it is a nation-busting event,” added Tara O’Toole of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.Is anyone listening? Are these signs of the apocalypse detailed in the Book of Daniel, the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Revelation, or are we just having a global stretch of bad luck?
A quick read of Matthew 24: 6-8 is as sobering as the demise of Lot’s wife: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Many expect the labor to last for generations, but are covering all bets.
“I prefer the bumper sticker that says: Jesus is coming, look busy!” says the Rev. Paul Ring, parochial vicar of St. Marks parish in Dorchester where the late Rose Kennedy worshipped along with her father “Honey Fitz,” then the mayor of Boston.
So is God hurling thunderbolts?“No, but I think it’s a wake-up call,” Father Ring said in an interview. “Scripture tells us no one will know the time of the end, but what I think we’re experiencing today is the permissive will of God: not that the Almighty causes bad things to happen, but that God allows them to stir.” Father Ring advises those watching “to take a deep breath and use this as an opportunity to grow in grace.”
The Rev. David Otis, pastor of Protestant-oriented First Light Church of Cape Cod in Chatham, and a former reporter for the San Bernardino Sun and a former contributor to Time Magazine and the L.A. Times, agrees. “If you start putting pins on a world map, it gets your attention. I think God is taking hands off the world because of our collective choices…and the direction of our lives—the common grace that has protected this planet is being slowly removed. I think this a time for all of us to evaluate where we stand. And for most of us, that’s not on firm spiritual ground.
“No need to get sensational about it. What’s happening in the world is sensational enough.”It’s late in the fourth quarter, preaches Otis, and a time for some hard-knuckle defense. “We ought to punt, and give it over the Lord. The clock is ticking down.” Thanks for the word picture, reverend, and the sports clichés. See you in church soon. I’ll be the one in the back pew, near the confessional line, getting ready to snap the ball.
By Greg O’Brien: Codfish Press
Last time we checked Webster’s for the word “independent,” the definition read: “not influenced or controlled by others…not relying on another for aid or support.” Cape Cod Times Publisher Peter Meyer must have printed his own dictionary or has a wordsmith license to play on words. In announcing in Tuesday’s paper that corporate parent, New-York based Ottaway had just purchased the venerable Barnstable Patriot, ending 175 years of independent ownership, Meyer declared, “The critical factor is that we have two independent voices. We will absolutely maintain that…We will not have one unified editorial voice…we will compete for news and so will they.”
Oh, and by the way, Meyer indicated, Ottaway is hungry for more independent Cape voices. Winter is coming, you know, and we have to put on some weight. “Frankly, if there are other quality weeklies available on Cape Cod, we’d be interested in talking with them as well,” Meyer said in a comment that sounded like it was cast in the boardroom, or lifted from one of Fidelity Investment’s news releases when its Community Newspaper Company began swallowing up The Cape Codder, The Register and just about everything in eastern Massachusetts with black ink. The company has since been sold to Herald Media, which (observers suggest) is entertaining possible suitors.Be careful, Peter, you may get what you wish. The only loser here will be the community. Let’s face it, history has shown that quality independent weeklies consumed by corporate giants have become editorial shells of themselves—attractive shoppers or trapper keepers for ads. This has everything to do with why corporations exist—to make money—and there is nothing wrong with that! But it has nothing to do with quality editorial, which tends to become formatted with corporate ownership, then watered down to a puddle of itself.
The Cape Cod Times is a fine daily newspaper, arguably one of the best small dailies in the country, and much of the credit belongs to Meyer and his knack for excellence. Ottaway also has done a sound job with its Nantucket weekly acquisition, The Inquirer & Mirror, leaving local hands on the keyboards. But Nantucket is different—a land apart, as they say, in spirit as well as geography. The Inky is still the lifeblood on the island, the dominant influence.The Barnstable Patriot is another kettle of fish. Former owners, Rob and Toni Sennott, have done an extraordinary job running the paper under difficult economic conditions and under the ever-expanding circulation shadow of the Times just up the street. Hard to dominate when you’re in a sandbox with the big kid.So it was no surprise the paper was sold. And Ottaway, if it keeps its mitts off other Cape weeklies, might just do a decent job of overseeing the Patriot. It’s reassuring that Rob and editor David Still II will remain in place, at least for now. What concerns me is the possibility that Ottaway, with an appetite of newspaper proportion, will attempt to digest other fine Cape weeklies, The Cape Cod Chronicle in Chatham and The Enterprise of Falmouth, among them.I know something of chewing off more than you can properly digest. As former editor and publisher of The Cape Codder under the late Malcolm Hobbs, a surrogate father, I oversaw the sale to Community Newspaper Company of The Cape Codder, The Register, Cape Cod News, Sandwich Broadsider, Osterville Advertiser, Bourne Courier and all of the former Memorial Press Group Oracles on the Cape. On paper, it looked good! In print, the papers in time began yellowing with corporate formats and special advertising buys. The newsroom, which once ran the operation, became a back office. It showed. I’m responsible for setting this dissolution in motion, and will take those sins to the grave.
Perhaps, there is no other way, and that’s sad, given the cold realities of newspapering these days. If we pause for a second of silence, we can hear the fading encouragement of Hobbs, the late John Ullman and the late Henry Beetle Hough—patriarchs of country newspapering, a craft that has passed, but one that enticed many of us years ago to plumb its depths.“Perfection is beyond us, but striving for it isn’t” Hobbs once wrote. “Anyone can dip gobs of colored paint and dab the result on canvas. How the colors are arranged distinguishes the painter from the daubler.” Ullman, managing editor of The Cape Codder for 36 years and a pragmatist (he once worked on the floor of the stock market and advised businesses in how to become more profitable), counseled us years ago, “A newspaper is not a money-making operation, not a commercial enterprise. It has to make money, it has to get and stay in the black ink, but the purpose of the profit is only to permit it to publish another day.” It was Hough, legendary editor of the Vineyard Gazette, who understood most the significance of institutional knowledge in running a good paper. “Instead of being qualified in a profession, it seems to me that I have taken root in a place,” he said.
In a 1996 introduction to a reissue of Hough’s celebrated Country Editor that was printed after his death, Hough’s friend and colleague Walter Cronkite quoted from the Rev. John Golding’s eulogy at Hough’s funeral: “Thoreau once said that one is not born into the world to do everything, but to do something. Henry Hough did something for 65 years—with a small newspaper, in a small town, on a small island. And he did it with such deliberate and concentrated attention that the world off-Island soon took notice. What he wrote and what he stood for was so specific to this place that it was universal.” Indeed, something for all us to emulate. We all fall short of his mark. And so I wish you luck, Peter, on Ottaway’s new venture, but on the “independent” stuff about the Barnstable Patriot of the future, be cautious of the corporate speak. Been there, done that. When it smells like a corporate duck, looks like one and quacks like one, it’s a corporate duck. No waddling about it!
(Greg O’Brien is former editor & publisher of The Cape Codder, The Register, Cape Cod News and other Cape weeklies. He’s also one of the founding managing directors of Community Newspaper Company. O’Brien now is president of Stony Brook Group, a publishing and strategy company based in Brewster. His Codfish Press and Boston Cod blogs are linked to capecodtoday.com.)
By Greg O’Brien: Codfish Press
Buck up, Sox fans! Feeling nauseous today? Achy? Can’t stomach the whiff of a Fenway Frank—even after last night’s walk-off win?
That morning sickness you’re feeling, particularly if you are ten years beyond child bearing years or if you happen to be a guy, can be as fleeting as first place in the American League East. All it takes is a dose of faith, and a dash of what psychologists call “profound identification” with success.
Time to shed the fear of failure over the Yankee hex. Get some help. There’s plenty of room on the couch. We’re all here, they say, because we’re not all there. I checked in Thursday with a shrink friend of mine after sitting in Fenway Funeral Parlor Wednesday night with my son, Conor, watching Bronson Arroyo throw batting practice to the Blue Jays. My friend finally talked me off the ledge—the Mass Pike overpass that leads to the House That Ruth Broke.
“Why do Sox fans always expect to lose?”
He offered me some clinical balance for today’s start of the Red Sox-Yankee imbroglio. “Why do Sox fans always expect to lose?” I asked him. “It’s easier to anticipate a loss than a win,” counsels John Piekarski, a clinical psychologist from Sandwich, “and we have a cheerless history of losing to the Yankees. If you anticipate a loss, you are not caught by surprise and pain.
It’s like being on the Sagamore Bridge on the Cape and you’re afraid you’re going to fall off. So you throw yourself off the bridge; that way you don’t have to be afraid any more!” If you expect failure in life, he notes, your misery is more predictable. “The predictability of misery is always easier to stomach than anticipating something good,” says Piekarski, former president of the Sandwich Little League where he engaged in more shock therapy than his own practice. “So out of fear, you don’t anticipate success—the curse mentality.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.” And one that at times appears to affect the players, given the sullen pusses in the dugout Wednesday night. Have faith, Piekarski urges. Fenway is the Mother Church. If things don’t work out, there’s redemption next year. We’ll always be the “little brother” to New York, he says, but every once in a while the little brother whoops him. There is pleasure in some degree of pain. And it’s apparently safer.
Baseball angst might be good for fans’ health
The New York Times this week reported a Children’s Hospital study in Boston that indicated baseball angst “might be good for fans’ health.” Emergency room visits at six Boston hospitals fell off last year during the A.L.C.S and World Series. So just snap out of it, advises Boston public relations maven Charley Manning, who knows negative spin when he sees it.
“Enjoy the ride,” he says. “We have nothing to lose. I’m in the camp with Teddy Sarandis (WEEI Sports Radio). This is a mulligan year.” And besides, a conservative buddy—frustrated with the last week of the Sox season—told me the other day: “Hey, if we lose, we can always blame Bush!”
Postscript: The Red Sox are in first place after Friday's win over the Yankees . Since it basically amounted to a postseason game, the Red Sox had the perfect man on the mound in David Wells shown on right. Throughout his career, the big lefty has loved big games. And even at the age of 42, he still thrives on that stage. He did it again Friday night against the team he did it for so many times, pitching the Red Sox to a 5-3 victory over the Yankees.
The teams are now tied for first place in the American League East with just two games to go. Yes, this is what the Red Sox had in mind when they signed Wells as a free agent back in December.TO BE CONTINUED: Not bad for a bunch of idiots! Took a home field advantage away from the Yankees, sent them packing for LA where they will face tougher pitching than in Chicago. Second place never looked so good!
By Greg O'Brien Codfish Press
Our war on terror has shifted, for the moment, from extremists like Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri to radicals like Rita and Katrina. But don’t be fooled—a catastrophic Category 4 or 5 hurricane has all the force of a suitcase nuke or the hydrogen bomb dropped in Hiroshima. As the beast Rita bore down last week on Texas and storm-battered Louisiana, Homeland Security, dead off course from the start, was being retooled, refocused and redefined. The knuckleheads at the top are finally getting the point: we must protect our shores before we move into the heartland and worlds beyond.
No surprise here, presidential hopefuls, governors of coastal states, and hybrids like Gov. Mitt Romney are rushing to the podium or mugging for the cameras to declare their take on the issue. The problem is they are about as equipped to forecast as the unwary victims of the Great Storm of 1938 that devastated New England—“the wind that shook the world.” That's a Boston Herald front page about that storm on the right.
In full bluster, Romney, mulling a run for the White House in 2008, grabbed the megaphone, the political conch shell, recently to proclaim the obvious: that Hurricane Katrina has caused more economic damage than the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and that the government response to the storm had been “undermanaged” and an “embarrassment,” notes to an Associated Press report. “This has not been a showcase for American ingenuity,” Romney said during a Statehouse news conference earlier this month.
Yeah, but is Massachusetts? The quick sound bite—and we’ve all heard it—is that the Bay State is different than Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. “We’re not a city under water or below sea level, like New Orleans,” Romney said. But Governor, a pile of rubble is a pile of rubble. And if we get hit some day with another storm like the Hurricane of ’38—which is as sure as frost in February—rescue workers won’t be able to tell the difference between Baton Rouge and Barnstable.
A 50-foot tidal surge hit New England in 1938
The ’38 storm, with its 50-foot tidal surge, claimed 564 lives in New England and left 100,000 homeless at a time when the population was a quarter of what it is today. We’ll need to do far more than conduct monthly reviews, as Romney has directed, of the state’s plan for responding to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
Asked if Massachusetts was prepared to evacuate large numbers of people in the wake of a catastrophic storm or detonation of a dirty bomb, Romney replied in an AP report, “The answer is yes, to a degree…Knowing what has to be evacuated and where people are going is something you would only learn at the time of the attack.”
You’re forgetting something, Governor—frontline public safety response, and the fact that we’re down a few quarts. A legislative report last year cautioned that 92 percent of the Commonwealth’s fire departments and 83 percent of its police departments are not prepared for such an emergency. He who lives in the midst of a seaport city with glass high rises ought not to be the first to throw a stone.
Far better, Governor, to duck and take shelter, particularly if you’re hoping to live some day in a white house with a lot of windows.
Can you hear me now? Weeks ago before Hurricane Katrina rearranged the geography along the Gulf Coast, flushing out the Big Easy, inflicting billions of dollars in property damage and claiming the lives of hundreds, with the body count likely to reach into the thousands, I posted a commentary on global warming on my Codfish Press blog (24 comments to date), citing evidence that global warming may be intensifying storms in the Atlantic.
We got a taste of what a powerful storm can do locally with Hurricane Bob in 1991, and for those who were alive then, there was the Great Storm of 1938 that took hundreds of lives. Don’t touch that dial! The Weather Channel, no doubt in years to come, will be reporting on a big blow—Category 4 or 5—lumbering in our direction. It will carve Cape Cod up into a series of islands like the Florida Keys and will flood low-lying areas downtown Boston like Revere Beach on a moon tide.
I saw Congressman William Delahunt Saturday at a social gathering in Boston and engaged him in a discussion on the subject. “I want to know what the federal government’s plan is in the event a major hurricane hits Boston or Cape Cod?” Delahunt asked rhetorically.
The answer is a fat: nothing. Every man, woman, child and politician to him or herself!
I repeat my global warming column here, just to keep the debate going. There are many angles to this issue, some of them sharp as you can discern from comments on the Codfish Press blog. You may subscribe to global warming theories; you may not. But one thing is as certain as sunset, a killer storm will be headed in our direction one day. And what are we doing about it? I’m reminded of the closing line in the grim television movie: The Day After.
“Is anyone listening? Anyone at all?”
Not everyone is tone deaf on the subject. Some environmentalists are embracing a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that indicates the intensity of North American hurricanes has more than doubled in the last 30 years and that the force of western North Pacific cyclones has swelled by an alarming 75 percent since the mid-1970s. The glee is over speculation that the increase is the result of global warming from a buildup in the ozone layer of man-induced carbon dioxide, methane, various pollutants and other chlorine-based chemicals that have caused a depletion of the outer layer of our atmosphere, which shields us from dangerous radiations, like cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. Harmful radiation, seeping through the ozone layer, also causes genetic damage to plants and animals.
For years, critics—many of them corporate defenders fearing government regulations on chlorine-based fluids for refrigeration, plastic foam compounds and aerosol cans—have tried to poke holes in global warming presumptions, questioning their veracity and insisting global temperatures are directly related to sunspot activity.
But the environmentalists look like they might have it right this time. Now there is evidence, although disputed by some, that global warming intensifies hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms. Warmer ocean temperatures, caused by rising air temperatures, as the theory goes, provide hurricanes with more fuel for energy. Warmer water temperatures also result in the release of more carbon dioxide, which holds heat and increases warming.
“When I look at these results at face value, they are rather alarming,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Tom Knutson, commenting in the Associated Press, said of the MIT study that was conducted by climatologist Kerry Emanuel.
Equally disturbing is a recent report from two University of Maine scientists that two glaciers in Greenland are moving at a record pace, suggesting that global warming is melting the ice and causing it to slide at a faster rate, in one case at a rate of 8.7 miles a year, up from 3.5 miles a year in the 1990's. Such changes in conditions, experts say, usually take thousands of years.
Closer to home, scientists are concerned about the affects—brought on by global warming—of rising sea levels in Boston, Cape Cod and along the entire New England coast. Scientists estimate that in the next 40 years the Cape’s shoreline will retreat more than 100 feet and by the year 2100 more than 1,200 feet of Cape shoreline will be inundated. The center of Provincetown may be flooded in tens of years, one erosion authority predicts. Martha’s Vineyard will also be severely impacted, and Nantucket is expected to be under water in the next 800 years—a New York minute in geologic terms.
Adding to this problem is that while the sea level is rising, some coastal areas of the Cape and Islands, formed from silt sediments, are actually sinking—slowly compressing under their own weight.
Provincetown and Chatham aren’t the only areas of the Cape facing severe erosion. Others include Falmouth Heights, where the cliff is falling into Vineyard Sound and still undermining the coastal road above it; Sandwich and West Barnstable, where beaches like Sandy Neck can lose 10-to15 feet in a single storm; Mashpee, where the shoreline is eroding from Waquoit Bay to Popponesset Bay and exposing high-priced homes to the sea; Dennis on the bay side, where the popular Corporation and Cold Storage beaches are losing ground; and Orleans (most recently the Outer Beach which has experienced storm and tidal breaches into Pleasant Bay, creating a temporary island that in time may be permanent) Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro on the bayside and ocean sides.
The same uncompromising forces are at play on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and the neighboring Elizabeth Islands, all part of the same moraines and outwash plains that formed Cape Cod. Time is running out for Nantucket: on the east, south and west shores, from Great Point to Siasconset to Madaket, beaches of this low-lying spit are losing an average of ten to 30 feet a year. That’s impressive when you consider the island is about three and a half miles wide and 14 miles long.
The menacing oboe you hear today over on the Vineyard has nothing to do with sharks. Martha’s Vineyard, which is losing shoreline a similar washout rate on its northeastern, eastern and southern shorelines, faces similar fate.
So why the fuss about global warming? It is what it is, and to ignore it invites disastrous consequences. Evidence of human-induced global warning cannot be ignored, warns the Union of Concerned Scientists. The debate over what to do about it ought to be driven by science not politics. And the science here sadly suggests that one day we may all have a water view.