Jul 14 2014

The Charles W. Morgan Comes to P-Town

I NEVER go to Provincetown in the summer. In 56 years the thought of driving a distance equivalent to a trip to Boston, down perilous two-lanes of distracting tourist drivers to visit the clogged streets of the zoo that is P-Town has never even crossed my mind. But yesterday, in lieu of beating over to Martha’s Vineyard in southwesterly breezes gusting to 30 knots, I easily agreed with the suggestion we show my daughter’s boyfriend the “real Cape” and head to the outermost tip of the peninsula. As we walked down from the parking lot behind the high school at the Pilgrim Monument I looked out over the harbor for the masts of the Charles W. Morgan, the oldest floating commercial vessel in the United States, the last of the wooden whaling ships, recently restored at Mystic Seaport and now on its 38th voyage, the first time it has sailed in decades.

“I knew there was a reason he agreed to do this,” said my wife, long ago having resigned herself to a lonely marriage of antisocial, agoraphobic behavior by me, the man-who-does-not-dance. There were masts abounding, but none of a New Bedford whaling ship. I had followed the progress of the Morgan from Mystic up to Buzzards Bay and then through the Cape Cod Canal, and knew she would be in Provincetown.  I’ve been aboard the ship a few times in the past at Mystic Seaport, where she has been the main attraction since 1941, but always assumed she was just an exhibit, too fragile to risk the sea.

The six of us walked to the end of the town pier, bustling with little shops, visitors arriving from Boston on the fast ferry, charter captains hosing off their decks and getting ready for their next set of sports. At the very end of the quay was a replica of a merchantman from the 1700s — a Mayflowerish sort of thing — and a not very pretty schooner, but no Morgan. A big inflated sperm whale was tethered down, nose into the southwest wind pushing white caps out in the bay into the Wellfleet and Truro shores.

“There’s a ship,” my daughter said. Out of the harbor, on the other side of the little flat-sided lighthouse at the tip of Long Point, were the masts of a bark-rigged ship slowly sailing in from Cape Cod Bay.

It was the Morgan, returning from a day sail out to Stellwagen Bank, a fertile marine sanctuary a few miles north of Race Point where right whales and finbacks cavort all summer. The ship was in port for some sort of whale awareness event, and around the inflated whale on the pier stood an helpful young woman answering questions about the state of the whale preservation movement. The exhibit had a sense of apology about it, that yes, this was a magnificent ship that embodied a rich part of America’s maritime past, but all those whales the Morgan helped slaughter were, well…..in the past when people didn’t know any better and petroleum hadn’t been discovered yet.

The ship rounded Long Point and tacked around into the wind to pick up a mooring a half mile off the end of the pier. She was not coming dockside. I was a little disappointed, the sight of an actual whaler riding at anchor was such an anachronism I turned to my son and said, “Imagine hiding in the bushes in Samoa in 1850 and seeing that arrive and drop anchor.”

“With a crew of syphilitic, dregs-of-New-England sailors,” he cracked wisely. The rest of my entourage was profoundly bored by the fact that a piece of American history was riding at its anchor in front of them in the same harbor where the Mayflower arrived in the late fall of 1620. They headed back to the insanity of Commercial Street where a man in an orange skirt and orange cat-in-the-hat hat was riding bicycle hawking tickets to an appearance by Baltimore’s pencil-moustached auteur and director of Pink Flamingos, John Waters. My son and I sat on edge of the pier, legs dangling down, and appreciated the view. Being a pedantic bore, I started the history lesson of the Morgan.

She was built in New Bedford in 1841, at the height of the American whaling fishery, a time when Nantucket and New Bedford whaling ships were exploring every corner of the Pacific from New Zealand to the Arctic, from Baja to the Okhotsk Sea of Siberia. This was the world of Herman Melville which he captured in the two books that made him a best selling author — Oomoo and Typee — an account of his voyage to the South Pacific and desertion with another sailor to live among the Polynesians.  This was a time when New England whalers were the most well-traveled people in the world.  Pushing  into uncharted waters — literally — at huge risk and discomfort to fill their holds with whale oil, bone and baleen.

The ships were slow. Built big and heavy to hold a lot of barrels of oil, a crew of 35 men, and the brick fireplace — or “try works” — that sat amidships where the big blankets of whale blubber were cut into chunks and rendered over the flames into big iron kettles into oil like big blobs of fishy Crisco. The decks were soaked in oil: slippery, rancid, foul and treacherous.  Only the Captain and the officers got rich. They worked for the ship owners — the Coffins of Nantucket or the Howlands of New Bedford — and received a share, or fraction of the profits. The crews were drunks and petty thieves, sea sick farm boys, Wampanoags and Pequots trying to work off debts, escaped slaves, Irish immigrants, veterans of the War of 1812. The only things that kept them in line were the fists of the officers and their ignorance of celestial navigation. Oh there were mutinies, but for most whaling voyages — generally lasting three years — the biggest risk was falling overboard, being killed by an angry whale, or merely suffering an accident on deck in a pre-OSHA era.

The Morgan was of a classic type of ship; a couple thousand were built in Mattapoisett and New Bedford. This is the type of ship the Pequod — Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick — was. Melville wrote in the novel, published in 1851 — ten years after the launching of the Morgan: 

… a rare old craft…She was a ship of the old school, rather small if anything; with an old fashioned claw-footed look about her. Long seasoned and weather-stained in the typhoons and calms of all four oceans, her old hull‘s complexion was darkened like a French grenadier‘s, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia. Her venerable bows looked bearded. Her masts…stood stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings of Cologne. Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Beckett bled. But to all these her old antiquities, were added new and marvellous features, pertaining to the wild business that for more than half a century she had followed…She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the Sperm Whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe…A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.”

The Morgan escaped the fate of most whaling ships. A lot were lost at sea, sunk by storms, wrecked on uncharted reefs, driven onto lee-shores, unable to beat their way to the open sea. One, the Essex, was rammed and sunk by a pissed-off whale.  A bunch were lost in the arctic, done in by greedy crews who overstayed their welcome and were frozen into the pack ice. The Civil War took its toll when the “Great Stone Fleet” — about 40 whaling ships — were filled with rocks and scuttled by the Union Navy in an attempt to blockade Charleston, South Carolina. The end of the age of sail and the rise of steam did in the rest, but somehow the Morgan escaped the wrecker and even found a second career in the early silent movie era as a prop in three movies. She was rotting in New Bedford harbor in 1924 when a steamer caught fire and nearly destroyed her in the process. The fire — which was extinguished by the firemen of Fairhaven — raised awareness that the Morgan should be preserved, and eventually the one-legged Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green, son of the notorious “witch of Wall Street,” Hetty Green, was persuaded to pay to have her restored and towed to his seaside mansion in Dartmouth, Mass. where she was pulled into the mud and put on display.

Green, who lost his leg in childhood when his miserly mother refused to pay a doctor to set a broken bone, was the heir to the great Howland whaling fortune and kept the Morgan in decent shape until his death in 1934. Four years later the Great Hurricane of 1938 demolished New Bedford and the Morgan was damaged.

In 1941 she was dug out of her mud and sand berth, towed back into New Bedford harbor, patched up, and eventually towed to Mystic, Connecticut to become the nucleus for Mystic Seaport, an amazing maritime museum (where I spent many month in the late 1970s while majoring in American maritime history at Yale).

She was patched up and put into another muddy berth, and over the years millions of visitors explored her decks and learned about the amazing history of whaling. But she never sailed again.

Occasionally they’d unfurl her big sails at the dock — sometimes one could see them luffing uselessly as they sped by in a car on Route 95 — but she was basically beached. I never expected the Morgan to sail again.  A few years ago, at the Coastweeks rowing regatta, my son and I explored the Seaport after my race. It was his first visit and we had a lot of fun exploring the exhibits, the old rope walk, the sheds of catboats and sharpies, skipjacks and pinkys. The Morgan was in dry dock to be rebuilt from the keel up. We were able to go aboard even though work was being done, and poked around the decks, me droning on about his great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Chatfield’s ship, the Massachusetts, and speculating what life must have been like for a Cotuit man in his early 20s to be given command of a 100-foot long ship and sail it from Edgartown to Siberia and back. And then do it four more times before the outbreak of the Civil War.

So yes, there’s an ancestral connection to these ships. A reminder that somewhere in my DNA is the stuff that made a man run away from home, go to sea, and live a life killing huge beasts in strange oceans on a floating fireplace.

The fact I actually saw one of those ships under sail yesterday — not being ceremoniously towed around like the USS Constitution is every summer  (the Constitution is the oldest floating American ship, the Morgan the oldest commercial one) but actually sailing– was very emotional and more than worth the long drive from Cotuit to see. I’d give a lot to experience such a thing. A few years ago I organized an expedition of a couple dozen friends down to Newport to sail a pair of America’s Cup 12-meters, and those five minutes I spent at the big wheel made me smile all over.

The Morgan heads to Boston, then back through the Canal. She’ll be n display at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy on July 26 and 27.

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Jun 25 2014

When buying a State Rep won’t work, throw more lawyers at the problem

Published by under General

Neighbors raise ante in oyster fight | CapeCodOnline.com.

The Greedheads of Popponesset Bay will not go quietly as far as Richard Cook’s oyster farm is concerned . Having failed to sneak in a midnight amendment to the state budget to declare his underwater clam farm a “marine sanctuary,” they are falling back on that time-honored last resort of the wealthy which is to out-lawyer the little guy. Sort of like raising the bet  in a poker game until everybody has to fold.

Having been denied by every Mashpee board with a horse in the race, the homeowners (a largely  anonymous group who have hired Sandwich pettifogger Brian Wall to keep dragging things along), are now appealing to the State Supreme Judicial Court to kick the case to the Cape Cod Commission for their review because it is a commercial venture.

The appeals court already slapped Wall and his waterfront clients down when they said their objections are without claim because the project is outside of the town’s zoning authority because it is beyond the extreme low tide mark.

Three years and counting. And all over a clam farm.

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Jun 25 2014

Dealing with Biters

Published by under General

With regards to the biting soccer star from Uruguay, I offer the following solution to FIFA’s disciplinary committee:

My father , the late Tony Churbuck, had a proven parenting technique for stopping the biting of siblings and friends. This was a man who’s life’s motto was “Don’t get mad. Get even.”

He would examine the bitten party, calm them down, and check to see if their skin was broken and if they needed hydrogen peroxide and bandages. After calm and quiet was restored he would call the biter over and ask them to present the same body part on themselves that they had just chomped on the victim.

The biter, lulled into complacency by watching his victim be consoled and examined for damage, would usually approach Tony and sheepishly extend the same body part. At which point Tony would take a nice, firm grip (from which there was never any escape) and bite the biter. Hard.  He would do this to cousins, even visiting friends, and always deny it if accused.

If I were FIFA I would hire Mike Tyson to deliver the penalty.

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Jun 12 2014

If the Kettleers had a mascot….

Published by under Baseball,Cape Cod,Cotuit

Opening day in Cotuit today but I went to Hyannis last night for the season opener against the Hyannis Harborhawks and witnessed the unveiling of their new mascot, a person in a bird suit.  The mascot’s name is “Ossie”  as in Osprey. Hyannis has an identity crisis. They used to be the “Mets” but then the Cape Cod Baseball League’s teams who were borrowing the names of major league teams had to stop because of trademark and licensing stuff. So the Mets became the Harborhawks, a nod to the ospreys that next on top of the light poles around the field. They kept the uniform colors of the Amazing New York Mets but the name was changed.

The real birds were there last night, making their screechy osprey peep sounds from their nest on top of the light pole behind the visitor’s bleachers. Ossie was introduced to the crowd. This made me ask the guy next to me on the bleachers why they weren’t called the “Hyannis Ospreys” in the first place.

The Hyannis Harborhawks are guilty of the same name confusion as Cape Cod Academy which has adopted the “Sea Hawk” as its mascot. There are no such things as Harbor Hawks and Sea Hawks.  Yes, “sea hawk” is blessed as a possible synonym for osprey by Wikipedia, but the Britannica Killer also says it can refer to the skua. Then there is the Sea Eagle — a synonym for that classic crossword puzzle three-letter word: “Ern” — but no Harbor Hawk exists except in Hyannis.

Personally, I’d embrace the Osprey and be done with it. Ospreys are cool. Ospreys are survivors.  And the frigging new mascot is running around calling itself “Ossie”. Besides they named a really expensive controversial but bad ass helicopter-plane after the species:

I think Hyannis is at the vanguard of a dangerous trend in Cape Cod Baseball:  more mascots. I won’t speculate what Wareham would come up with, since they are the Gatemen (maybe a security guard would work).  Chatham (the original “quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem”) has the Mariners — so some guy stuffed into some waders with an 11-foot long surfcasting rod could be easily pressed into service and cast t-shirts into the bleachers in between innings. Brewster has the Whitecaps. Tough one there.I guess a custom costume that looked like a Big Wave, give the thing a Supersoaker, have it blast kids. Blow off a tsunami warning horn after every home run?

But Cotuit…. We have a kettle to thank for our name. The kettle that Myles Standish used to “pay” the Wampanoags for the land that became Cotuit, which with a garden hoe thrown in to sweeten the deal, gives us the name of the local tavern, The Kettle-Ho (which lost in the early rounds of the recent Real Cape dive bar contest).

The Kettle-Ho’s mascot is a mermaid (arguably a “ho” herself as the bar’s motto is “Not the ‘Ho You Used to Know”) ,  holding a hoe and cuddling a black kettle with her tail.  The sign hangs just a few doors down from the offices of my insurance broker, Mycock Insurance (the Cape Cod Baseball League’s championship trophy is named after longtime Cotuit Kettleer manager, Arnold Mycock).

Other than the baseball team and the bar, the kettle thing doesn’t have a lot of legs in the village. But, if Cotuit were to get a mascot, what would we get? They pass plastic kettles around the stands to raise some cash every game. And I’ve seen a fan show up with a brass kettle and bang on it like a Swiss ski fan ringing more cowbell on the slopes of the Matterhorn, I guess it would have to be somebody running around in a kettle specific version of the Kool-Aid Man.

My neighbor at last night’s game agreed with the Kool-Aid guy idea, but suggested there would also need to be a “hoe” which of course led to inappropriate speculation about how a “hoe” would be represented in a costume.

Any way, Cotuit lost last night, 3-2 and stranded something like a dozen baserunners, keeping us on our toes with the bases loaded in the ninth. But alas. It was not to be for the 2013 Cape Cod champions. Today at 5 they open at home against Hyannis, game two of the Patriot Cup. Without a mascot but with nice new home stands.

 

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Jun 11 2014

Wild Kingdom of Kotuit

Published by under Cotuit,General

5 am today, sitting down and reading the “paper” on my tablet, the birds waking up and hitting the feeders under the grape arbor and making their usual racket when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I see an explosion of birds scattering in all directions and a grey blur go whistling past the window.

This was the local grey fox who lives somewhere in the woods between me and the harbor on the hunt for a squirrel. Grey foxes used to be the most common fox on the East Coast (they range all over the country from Canada to Mexico, Cape Cod to the Channel Islands off of Santa Monica) but now the more familiar red fox is the one you see around the garbage cans at the beaches the most. They are like little dogs, in fact they are one of the most primitive of the canids, about the size of a skinny beagle with a sort of mongrelish, mini-coyote look to them. Definitely not the more stylish and regal look of the red fox.

The birds fled the scene but the squirrel who had been hanging upside down on the peanut feeder decided to hide in the grape leaves. Because the house sort of envelops the arbor on three sides in an alcove, the escape route is one way across the yard where they can either cross the open grass and duck into the bushes, or cut right towards Main Street, or left towards the back gardens and the chicken coop. This squirrel decided to wait things out on top of the arbor.

The fox circled the arbor for a few minutes. Freezing from time to time whenever the squirrel rustled the leaves and made a move towards the great escape. The fox stood on its back legs and peered into the dense green cover, then dropped back down and sat on the grass, sort of hanging out patiently.

The squirrel made its move too soon. It dropped from the arbor, literally hit the ground running, and took off across the lawn. Total Wild Kingdom scene ensued as the fox followed, about a foot behind the terrified squirrel. eventually stepping on the squirrel’s busy tail and causing it to wipe out. I was bummed. I was rooting for the squirrel. The fox grabbed it by the neck with its teeth and started shaking it hard — right in the open. The squirrel didn’t like that.

Then a clutch of the ladies-who-walk came cackling along the sidewalk. The fox froze. They didn’t see him. He dropped the squirrel (whom I figured was dead) but no, the Squirrel was resurrected and made another dash for the bushes and freedom.

The fox followed and again, the game of hide in the bush and wait started to play itself out again. Eventually the squirrel hopped from the top of one arborvitae to the next, flung itself at the black cherry tree and headed up. Meanwhile, I’m in Wikipedia reading about the grey fox and learned it can climb trees really well. This one stood up, forepaws on the trunk, looked up and seemed to shrug and say, “Screw it.”

Anyway, if the fox can deal with the rat problem under the bird feeders, he’s welcome to them If he poses a threat to the Yorkshire Terrier (everything in theory poses a threat to lap dogs) he’s toast. And we’re all relieved that one of the squirrels — a ratty, wino looking squirrel with half a tail we’ve nicknamed “Stumpy” — was seen on the arbor just a half-hour later. Now to see if this morning’s assault victim limps back with any injuries.

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Jun 09 2014

Stepping off the upgrade treadmill – I hate my devices

Published by under Technology

Random rant expressing hatred of my technology this cloudy Monday morning…..

There was saying among reporters in the tech press in the 1980s that “The PC you want always costs $5000.

I heard this often enough from enough people who knew the business that I had to agree — the PC you could afford was about $1,000, but the one you wanted, the really, really good one that could play Flight Simulator, was $5,000. Upgrading to a new PC was a point of professional pride for a tech reporter.  PC Week gave reporters the original IBM 8088 PC, the one Charlie Chaplin introduced that started it all, an ugly grey monster with a cast-iron keyboard that was the best I’ve ever used. If you were cool you got the IBM PC one with a 10 megabyte hard disk, the IBM PC AT. I remember when the 386 chip came out and the Editor in Chief had the first one from Compaq. Definitely a $5000 machine at the time. Forbes was lost in the stone ages and it took mutinies and expense account fraud to get a PC that would actually work (and I was the senior tech editor).

Now me and the rest of the world is lugging around tablets and smartphones and notebooks and bluetooth speakers and god knows what else and no one other than a few paste-eaters give a damn what “megabyte” size it is or what magic chip makes it go faster. When the iPad arrived I took one look at the rectangle of glass and said “So much for design. Not much you can do with a rectangle.”

I think I was right. Other than the size of the rectangle — be it a phone in your hand, or a tablet in your lap — the only thing that makes one different from another is the software it runs. It’s all about the cult of the backend store these days — are you a Windows person or an Apple cultist? A follower of the Google or you’ve bought into Amazon Prime? I really don’t care if my rectangle comes from Apple or Lenovo or Samsung or Dell.

Now, as my phone contract is up for renewal and my Google Nexus 7 is running a little slower, I realize I could care less about shelling out a few hundred for the next great rectangles. Other than the fact I despise Sprint and my Samsung Galaxy S3 is infected with a mysteriously cheery ring tone that just goes off at random moments because of some ghost app I can’t be bothered to hunt down …..and the New York Times takes too long to load stories on the tablet …. I honestly have reached a complete state of device anhedonia where I could go on with the same crappy stuff for another two years, scratching it up and cracking the cases and in general not giving a damn about being seen in public with the latest drool-inducing toy. And who wants to buy new accessories for the damn things?

I think my next device is going to be a hearing aid.

 

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Jun 06 2014

Cape Cod Modern

Published by under Cape Cod

I live in an old house built in the 1820s, passed down through five generations thanks to a lot of childless great-aunts and the strange coincidence of only-child status enjoyed by my father and his father. It was added onto over the years in a haphazard marriage of outbuildings, barns, porches and what-not all tacked together into a big mess I have been told is an example of “Greek Revival.”  My architectural antenna isn’t very sharp. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like, and I’d say my tastes run towards more to an old New England sensibility than anything else. But I’ve always loved modern architecture from the 50s and 60s ever since my rowing friend Steve moved to Cotuit and his parents built a very cool concrete and glass house in the pine woods overlooking Shoestring Bay. There isn’t a lot of modern examples around Cotuit. A few are scattered along the waterfront, looking tired and overwhelmed by the trend towards wedding-cake ostentation that polluted the views of Osterville and Cotuit in the go-go years of the early 1990s and can be attributed to a local architecture (who shall go unnamed) who had an affinity for faux widow’s walks and lighthouse-like turrets and a love affair with round windows, as if her designs were catalogue models for the Pella Window Company. Whatever, there was a nice little stink when former local TV celebrity carpenter Bob Vila threw the offending architecture under the bus in an interview with a local newspaper.

Reading the Wall Street Journal yesterday I learned something about Cape Cod architecture I never knew before. The outer Cape, especially in Wellfleet and Truro, is renowned among architects as a trove of very innovative designs from the 50s and early 60s. There is a group devoted to saving these places as they grow dilapidated and face being torn down. The Cape Cod Modern House Trust … 

hatchhouseFrom the WSJ:  “Cape Cod was … a stronghold of architectural experimentation, where the aesthetics of Europe’s progressive-thinking designers dovetailed surprisingly well with the casually built oyster shacks, saltbox houses and seaside piers that dotted the woods and dunes.”

I was so smitten by some of the designs on the CCMHT’s website I ordered a copy of their coffee table book. Some of the designs are absolutely awesome, especially when you consider some of them are close to 70 years old and look as fresh as anything designed today.

That “recent old Cape” of the last century — when the outer Cape was a haven of bohemian intellectualism beginning with the writers and painters of Provincetown, then the summer stock theater scene around the Falmouth and Cape Cod Playhouses …. followed by the reputation of Wellfleet as a summer writers’ colony for New Yorkers — gave a lot of flavor to the place before subdivision disasters of the 70s and 80s when the woods were turned into so many Levitttowns and the the seashore became a stage for the Masters of the Universe in their trophy homes with their trophy wives.

It’s cool to see these modern classics lovingly restored.

kugel

 

 

 

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Jun 01 2014

Nothing taken for granted | CapeCodOnline.com

Published by under General

Nothing taken for granted | CapeCodOnline.com.

The Cape Cod Times editorializes in favor of Richard Cook’s Popponesset Bay oyster farm.

I’m still waiting for some official rebuke against the greedhead property owners who are tormenting this poor man. They’ve got to be made to pay for their treachery.

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Jun 01 2014

Stop the presses, Old Shore Road is now one way

Published by under Cotuit

Old Shore Road — it’s the road pictured in the image at the head of this blog (a wide-angle panorama taken at the turn of the 19th century and found in a Churbuck collection somewhere) — connecting Main Street two doors down from my house with the boat ramp, the public bathing beach/dinghy rack at Ropes Beach, the yacht club, and then up the hill to the curve where Putnam Ave swings right  and turns briefly into Maple at the broad expanse of the Ropes Field.

The town, at the urging of the Cotuit-Santuit Civic Association, has been focused on Old Shore Road for a couple years. First they banned dinghies and rowboats and hobie cats and sunfishes and paddleboats from hanging around on the beach between November 15 and April 15. They called out the surveyors last year and staked out the parameters of the road leading to some fears it would be widened. Then they started hanging up even more signs prohibiting the parking of boat trailers, and as of this past week, they have officially made the road one-way from Putnam up to Main Street.

I guess I’m supportive. Old Shore Road is being loved to death.

It will suck not being to duck down the hill in the car on my way to Hyannis or the grocery store to take a quick look at my boats to make sure all is well and the bilge pumps are keeping up with the rainwater. Two way traffic is a disaster on the narrow road, especially during weekends and busy times such as when a hurricane approaches and everyone re-learns how to back up a trailer on the nice new (relatively new) boat ramp installed over the old sandy spot a decade ago. The stretch along the beach is nearly impassable on a sunny summer afternoon as boaters, rubberneckers, pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers and the handful of residents off of the road try to make their way from one end to another.

[Can I say a word about the proliferation of signage down there? There has to be over three dozen different town signs along Old Shore Road — everything from stop signs to parking signs to don’t refuel your boat signs, eastern blue crab season, no trailers, a long list of beach regulations, no dinghy warnings, handicapped parking ….. on and on and on. The visual blight is astonishing. Come on. We can do away with 90 percent I bet. ]

In the end the situation is understandable. There is precious little public beach front in Cotuit and this is spot is the main attraction for boaters, fishermen, sailors and clammers (along with the Town Dock). As the harbor becomes more and more crowded and the inland population of the Cape becomes more insulated and walled off from the water, any aperture with access is going to feel more and more pressure. Personally? I’d make it pedestrian only except for residents and people launching boats with no parking anywhere. Ropes Beach — once a pristine little bathing beach with pretty lifeguards and a bathhouse, and a water fountain — is a dilapidated place for people to park and walk their dogs out to Handy’s Point (the dog-mitt dispenser for turds is missing and special thanks to the dog walkers who leave their little knotted bags in the beach grass). Come summer the beach is taken over by the sailing classes at the yacht club, and every year the place gets closed down due to excessive bacteria run-offs following rain storms.

It isn’t going back to the way it was, but at least the “one-way-ification” may take off some of the pressure from the rubbernecking motorists.

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May 28 2014

Cotuit Fire District Annual Meeting tonight: Vote Yes on Article 19

Published by under Baseball,Cape Cod,Cotuit

Update: The article passed 75-3.

Tonight the village holds is annual meeting at Freedom Hall (7:30 pm) to work through the budgets of the fire and water departments and the prudential committee (which takes care of Freedom Hall.) The warrant is pretty much the same from one year to the next — some years the fire department needs a new ambulance (they need one this year) or the water department wants to build a new water tower (which they did a few years ago in Santuit) — but most of the items are standard items such as salaries, a small stipend to the library, money for the village street lights and some modifications to the bylaws to bring them into the Internet age so meeting notices can be posted on the district’s web site.

This year a special article is on the warrant — placed there by citizen petition — to ask the village tax payers to purchase a conservation easement for the 19-acres of woodlands behind Lowell Park — home field of the Cotuit Kettleers. The price tag is $235,000, about $67 in additional taxes for the typical homeowner.

The highlighted fore4st shows the 19-acres to be preserved. (photo from the blt.org by Rick Heath)

Ordinarily I would say it isn’t the village’s “municipal duty” to preserve open space — that’s a charitable effort usually promoted through the good efforts of the Barnstable Land Trust and private donors — but this is a crucial investment towards preserving the character of the village and keeping intact an extraordinary greenway that runs from Little River Road past the Bell Farm conservation lands, past Mosswood Cemetery all the way up to the wonderful curve at the Ropes Field. It saves the pristine, uninterrupted outfield of the best ballpark in the Cape Cod Baseball League and it will present a good buffer for the well field. This is the sort of thing my grandparents and great grandparents would have done and I say it is our duty to dig into our pockets and do the same for future generations. Cotuit has a proud history of doing the right thing and this is the right thing to do.

The Barnstable Land Trust is pushing for a Yes vote on Article 19 and with good justification. First of all, this keeps nine homes and their septic systems away from one of the most important sources of our drinking water. Last summer Cotuit had its first “boil order” after the drinking water failed a test. Across the street from Lowell Park, is a dilapidated home that has been a battleground between a local developer and residents — he wanted to subdivide the property into condos, but eventually gave up after letting the place deteriorate into an eyesore. It also abuts a well field and the village has purchased the conservation restriction to insure no septic systems get built too close to the water supply.

I’d argue that this is the sort of thing that improves property values in the village and is a great investment in our future. The article is going to come to a vote later in the meeting (it is 19 out of 24) and it’s the duty of any concerned property owner with an interest in the village to get off their butts and show up. Cotuit’s Fire District is essential to keep the village’s individual identity intact and to give its residents a truly local voice in the management of the place. While the calls for consolidation into a single Town of Barnstable system continue to be heard in the name of efficiency and economy, we Cotusions need to keep in mind that our Fire District — granted to us by the legislature in the 1920s — gives us a degree of sovereign autonomy and control over our affairs that once given up, can’t be regained.

 

 

3 responses so far

May 21 2014

Appeals Court ruling favors Mashpee oyster farmer | CapeCodOnline.com

Published by under Clamming

Appeals Court ruling favors Mashpee oyster farmer | CapeCodOnline.com

Sean Driscoll in the Cape Cod Times reports today that the Popponesset oyster farm application approval has been upheld in court. This doesn’t clear the way for the applicant, Richard Cook, to start operations. Oh no. The greedhead property owners fighting him can appeal to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Judicial Court (which their bottomless pockets almost guarantees they will, at taxpayer expense to defend I might add). According to the Times the property owners have another suit pending against Mashpee’s ZBA and building commissioner.

The court stated the homeowners’ claim that the Cape Cod Commission must review the project because it is a commercial development was incorrect. The commission’s regulations include neither agriculture nor aquaculture in its definitions of a commercial project, the court stated.

The Appeals Court also found myriad other issues raised by the homeowners to be without merit, including claims that Cook had failed to adequately address the safety concerns of his gear potentially washing away in a storm and that the Conservation Commission reached its decision without enough deliberation or consideration.”

One response so far

May 21 2014

2014 Cotuit Kettlers – Google Calendar Schedule

Published by under Baseball,Cape Cod,Cotuit

Here is this year’s Cotuit Kettleer’s schedule for adding to Google Calendar. This is unofficial, handtyped by me, complete with any inadvertent errors. Home games are designated in blue, away games in red. You can get to it with this link

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May 21 2014

Bluefish are in (have been for a while)

Published by under General

I forgot to mention the bluefish are back on the shoals off of Cotuit — my son and I caught a couple big ones on orange plugs off of Oregon Beach on Saturday — filleted them on the bow of the skiff and cooked them right up that night in what may be the best bluefish recipe I’ve come across since adapting Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish recipe to the oily things.  This one is courtesy of the late, great Marcella Hazan — the grand dame of true Italian cooking who wrote two of the classic cookbooks on my kitchen bookshelf: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Bluefish are a fairly global species of fish — and especially popular in the Mediterranean. I’ve had snapper bluefish in January in Istanbul (cop cop) and legend maintains some unlucky downed American airmen were devoured by schools of monster bluefish off the coast of North African in World War II. So, that Marcella would suggest the oily bluefish as a preferred substitute for fillets of anchovies in her recipe for Genoese Style Bluefish with Potatoes roasted with garlic and olive oil is not a surprise. This is a drop dead simple recipe.

  1. Take two fillets, skin-on, from a big bluefish. Pre-heat the oven to 450
  2. Grease a baking dish big enough to comfortably fit the fish with some olive oil
  3. Peel two pounds of potatoes, slice almost as thin as chips, dry on clean dish towels then cover the bottom of the baking dish with the spuds
  4. Peel and mince four to six heads of garlic. Go nuts.
  5. Mince a quarter cup’s worth of flat Italian parsley
  6. Combine a quarter cup of virgin olive oil, with the garlic and parsley. Pour half of it over the potatoes and toss them three or four times. Hit that with some salt and pepper.
  7. Roast the potatoes in the upper third of the oven for 15 minutes
  8. Pull the potatoes (leave the oven on) out and lay the fish on top — skin side down — and pour the remaining half of the oil-parsley-garlic over the fish
  9. Roast another ten minutes, pull it out a couple times to baste the fish with the hot oil a few times. Use a spatula to free up the potatoes around the edges and get the less roasted ones some time in the “sun”.
  10. Finish off for another eight to ten minutes. Then let it rest five minutes.

Simple and awesome. John Hersey wrote in “Blues” that parmesan cheese is death to bluefish — totally toxic. And I agree. Don’t get tempted to get all Mama Leone on this dish. Hazan explains that in Genoa the holy foundation of the cuisine is potatoes, parsley, garlic and olive oil — with everything from porcini mushrooms to anchovies to octopus added as the variable. I hate bluefish but dutifully eat one every summer out of some weird ancestral homage to my grandmother Nellie who truly could murder a bluefish. In past homages to the scourges of Nantucket Sound I related my family’s traditional recipe for Bluefish.

“Fish was rarely on the menu in my childhood unless it came out of a box, was pre-breaded, and could be cooked on a cookie sheet in under an hour in a 450 degree oven. My father, the original meat-and-potato man, forbade fish or chicken in the house. Chicken, because he had a phobia of chickens due to his World War II duties as the young keeper of the household chicken coop; fish, because his mother would can bluefish with a pressure cooker in Mason jars to lay up some protein for the winter months.

My brother and I took the tale of canned bluefish as pure Cape Cod legend, up there with stealing coal and catching cabbages that fell off of trucks as part of the “penny-saved-penny earned” Depression-Era lectures we were subjected to whenever the old gent finished paying the monthly bills and decided we would live without electricity for the next month (his favorite economizing move was to make orange juice with the frozen stuff but forbid it ever being shaken or stirred. The idea was to add more water over time, allowing the orange sausage of concentrate to hang on the bottom of the bottle, pale orange water above it).

The canned bluefish was just a quaint myth until I cleaned out the cellar last winter and found a sixty-year old Mason jar filled with what appeared to be a pickled demon fetus from the Omen IV. We opened it on the front lawn while wearing heavy rubber gloves. The grass is still dead there, like some sort of crop circle left by aliens.

Here are some recipes from the Churbuck Culinary Academy of Ruined Food, courtesy of my predecessors who never met a fish they could stomach:

Honey, the Dog Is Eating Grass Again Bluefish

  • Take one bluefish, preferably one caught early in the morning and then thrown into the stern of the motorboat back by the scupper plugs where it can curl, get stiff in the sun and baste all afternoon in a rainbow patina of gasoline and two-stroke outboard oil.
  • Filet with a rusty knife, taking care to leave scales and the rib bones in the flesh.
  • Leave the dark meat in the fish. For that is where the PCBs are most concentrated.
  • Take a cookie sheet. Preferably the kind that warps into a pretzel shape with a loud “thwang” when heated. Cover with aluminum foil. I don’t know if the shiny or dull side up matters or not.
  • Do not grease the foil. The fish must stick to the foil so your guests will have the electric thrill of finding out what happens when foil meets one of their fillings.
  • With the meat side up cover the bluefish with a one-inch thick layer of Miracle Whip, the evil stepsister of Hellmans Mayo.
  • Bake or broil (it just doesn’t matter) until the Miracle Whip is kind of browned like a meringue.
  • Serve, and then remember you forgot to make any kind of side dish. Dig out some freezer-burned Tater Tots and bake in the oven until lukewarm while the fish gets cold.
  • Eat. Feel bad. Then start drinking. Get angry at nothing in particular and call your nearest relation “a leech who contributes nothing” or “an oxygen thief” and then start a mallet fight with the kids’ croquet set on the lawn in front of the horrified neighbors. Ask them what they are looking at.”

3 responses so far

May 20 2014

Oyster Amendment Omitted from Senate Budget

Published by under General

This in from the Cape Cod Times:
“The Massachusetts Senate’s 2015 budget does not include an amendment similar to one slipped into the House of Representatives’ version that would kill a proposed oyster farm in Popponesset Bay.”

The article further reports the amendment fight in the House budget, tucked there by Rep. Michael Costello of Newburyport, will move to a conference committee where the local delegation has vowed to defeat it.

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May 14 2014

“I hope someone makes them pay…”

Published by under Cape Cod,General

So the response to my screed over the shenanigans in Popponesset Bay drew a lot of traffic into this blog — about 20X the normal flow over several days and setting the all-time traffic record for this blog since I started it ten years ago as a way to scratch my occasional itch to write. I generally try to avoid politics on this blog. Three years in the statehouse press gallery in the early 1980s sort of washed the taste for Massachusetts legislative politics out of my mouth for life, and as a former bartender, I knew well that religion and politics are the third-rails of civilized conversation. I also am very turned off by the perversion of the medium into very crazed “hate” blogs used to slander local politicians. There are more than enough moon-bats blogging and I don’t intend to become one.

statsBut, as the tongue-in-cheek tagline of this blog says, this is a blog about clamming, an attempt to blend my personal and professional writing under one umbrella. A wise man — Stephen O’Grady — warned me long ago not to try to maintain multiple blogs. One is enough of a greedy child to feed, let alone several. The result has been a muddy mix of local stuff that I like — history, sailing, fishing — and pedantic digital marketing stuff ranging from Olympic sponsorship to tech trends. I avoid blogging about causes or using this to advance some personal agenda. The habits of an old reporter are hard to break, and it would have been unthinkable ten years ago for me to write with the kind of outraged invective I did last week when the news broke that the democratic process was being perverted by some pompous wealthy dickheads.

The story is amusing though. I have to tip my hat to ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of the law firm of Mintz Levin for going beyond the pale and buying off a lameduck State Rep to pull a classic Beacon Hill maneuver of sticking bizarre midnight amendments onto massive things like state budgets. This crap has been going on forever in Massachusetts. The corruption level of the Massachusetts legislature — especially during my days there when Billy Bulger ruled the senate like some Roman tyrant, and Tom McGee fought reform in the House with every dirty trick in the book — should never be underestimated. Your average state rep is less likable than a used-car salesman and half as honest.. Massachusetts politics should become the official spectator sport of the Commonwealth, as fun and mind blowing a spectacle as the Bruins or the Celtics.  That some rich guys wrote a wicked big check to keep the groundling proles from cluttering up their oceanfront view is the least of our problems. This is a state of bagmen and angles.

But still, people ask me “what can we do?” I’ve done my time at the microphone at Conservation Commission hearings opposing rich people’s applications to build their piers into the harbor. I’ve written letters and earned the enmity of countless gaping buttholes who have more money than sensibility. Yet I also know people on the waterfront with hearts as big at the Ritz.  Some give their beaches to the local yacht club for thirty years to use for a sailing program; others make special attempts to minimize their impact on the environment by banning lawn fertilizers and peeing and pooping into composting toilets.Then there are those who put creepy surveillance cameras disguised as bird houses on their beaches, and make our days just that much shittier by posting stern “PRIVATE BEACH” signs to discourage the kind of free access I knew on the Cape 40 years ago.

I’ve been rattled by screaming homeowners flipping out at me to GET OFF THEIR GODDAMN BEACH, even though I’m within my rights with a fishing rod or a clam license. I know cases where ancient public ways to water — little paths designated as a way for the public to get to the water to dig a clam or catch a fish — are obscured by abutting property owners deliberately planting shrubs, or sliding a kid’s swingset over the path, knowing as the years go by that the old timers who know those paths will eventually die or forget and the public won’t be trudging through their backyards ever again.

The problem on the beaches and the sense of entitlement started in 1650 when the colonists granted waterfront property owners in Massachusetts the unique right to own all of the land down to the “mean low water mark” allowing public access only in three circumstances: navigation, fishing/shellfishing, and fowling. That means you can’t walk on any part of the sand, including the wet sand exposed at low tide. You can swim in front of their beach (as long as your feet don’t hit the bottom above the nebulous “mean low water” mark. You can wade in the water if you have a fishing rod. You can dig clams. But you can’t sit and technically you can’t stroll.

Some beaches say “Private Beach. Walkers Welcome.” That’s nice of the property owner but also a way to forestall an “adverse possession” or taking by granting the public access through neglecting or abandoning their rights. I empathize with them not wanting some family of recent Russian emigres camping on the beach, tossing dirty pampers into the beachgrass and leaving behind their bait boxes while the men folk surfcast. But — if we want to get back at these jerks for throwing around their money demanding docks, fighting clammers, posting security guards, and erecting creepy spy cameras we need to repeal the waterfront property laws.

And that is not going to happen. The most powerful advocate of repealing the Colonial beach rights was Billy Bulger, who was outraged when some Chauncy Wigglesworth Ass Clown bellowed at him to get off his beach. Bulger filed legislation from 1976 to 1991 to change the law to permit walking between the high and low water marks and finally succeeded in 1991, only to have the state courts overrule the change as an unfair taking of private property without compensation.

If you want the full story about the shitshow that is beach rights in Massachusetts, take the time to read this superb article about the situation on Martha’s Vineyard.

I think the only way to take away the tyranny of the waterfront and to stop owners from building jetties, sea walls, hiring guards, posting signs, intimidating strollers and generally being douchebags is to make beach reform a referendum question and let the voters decide whether or not to take it away from them. The legislature is in their pocket so don’t expect a letter to the editor and your state rep to have any impact. Both of them are totally in the service of these people along with the massive real estate industry that encourages them to build commission inflating add ons like piers and cabanas. We just need around 70,000 signatures to force the question onto the ballot the way the bottle bill and Prop 2 1/2 and medical weed were voted in and get ready for a well funded counter-campaign the likes of which the state will never see.

Still, it’s a nice fantasy to imagine the democratic process truly having the last word on who owns the berm between shore and sea.

 

2 responses so far

May 13 2014

Squids

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing,General

Cousin Pete and I hit the squid off of Osterville on Friday and brought in a bucket of the cephalopods. He was outcatching me two-to-one but hey, we got the skiff nice and stinky with a coating of angry ink and had the wonderful experience of listening to a guy on a nearby boat keep up a loud, unbroken soliloquy of f-bombs that was so utterly Masshole that it started to sound right, until the f-word was so worn out by overuse that it became like a meditative “Ommmm”

Back at the kitchen I cleaned half a dozen in the sink, cut em into rings and followed Jasper White’s recipe for “greasy and spicy Rhode Island calimari” which is basically exactly what it sounds like. Soak the rings and tentacles in a couple cups of buttermilk, roll them around in a flour-cornmeal-corn starch-cayenne mixture and deep fry until golden brown. Then toss that in a garlic butter/hot Italian cherry pepper bath and eat with a habanero remoulade. Take a Lipitor.

Hunter-gatherer season is underway. As the lilacs are out and as yours truly was born 56 years ago today, the bluefish must be back and cruising the flats around Submarine Rock. I see tautog in my future.

2 responses so far

May 09 2014

Following the money

Published by under General

Costello criticized for controversial budget amendment » Local News » SalemNews.com, Salem, MA.

An update

1. The money behind the oyster farm amendment is from Charles “Chuck” Clough, Jr. a Boston stock picker who lives in Concord but who has a starter castle on the Popponesset waterfront.  Your standard yellow-power tie wearing Master of the Universe. Oh, and a recipient of the Myra Kraft Award for his good works. He’s also Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Boston College (leave it to a Jesuit to figure out a midnight budget amendment). Guess I’m not getting an invite to next summer’s oyster-free clambake at the Clough estate.

2. Rep. Costello says its all about the “environment.” Really:

“Costello argues that the proposal seeks to protect a salt marsh that serves as an environmentally sensitive habitat for sea birds. The area, he said, is “much like my district in Newburyport. Quite frankly, I think this is a state issue,” Costello said. “The state has a vested interest in making sure that those waterways remain as open space and undeveloped.”

One response so far

May 06 2014

The Greedheads of Popponesset Bay

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming,WTF?

House leaders tucked a controversial and little noticed item into the budget – Metro – The Boston Globe.

Today the Globe published a jaw dropping story out of Mashpee. Read it. I am almost too pissed off to type. I am so pissed off I shouldn’t type but when I heard about it on a Boston public radio talk show  during a drive to Boston today I did something I’ve never done before and I actually called and vented (my venting begins around 1:09) like that old guy at town meeting who rants about how the fluoride in the water is causing him to have erectile dysfunction and who smells a little bit like pee in his dirty cardigan and who writes long letters to the editor.

Here’s the sordid tale of midnight legislation snuck in the back door on behalf of the rich and mighty. It’s the latest in a saga I’ve been blogging about for a while now.

So there’s been an ongoing stink for the past couple of years in Mashpee as a bunch of  waterfront-owning McMansion-squatting greedheads have filed lawsuit after lawsuit to block a commercial oyster grower named Richard Cook from turning a two-acre stretch of Popponesset Bay into an oyster farm. The town, the state, the courts — all have given the guy the go ahead, but in a classic piece of scumbaggery by a hack State Rep from Newburyport (easily 100 miles away from Mashpee) an amendment was tacked onto the state budget last week that would declare a “marine sanctuary” not in Mashpee specifically, not even on Cape Cod to read the amendment, but at some undisclosed location defined by frigging GPS coordinates. The coward didn’t have the spine to actually name the town — he thought he could cloak it with some frigging latitude and longitude numbers. I’m sure it was an honest mistake. Here’s the offending amendment.

And the crowning indignant play by the esteemed Representative Michael Costello is that he further lacked the balls and courtesy to tell the Cape Cod delegation who were actually elected to represent Mashpee — State Senator Dan Wolf and State Rep David Vieira — that he was dropping the little turd of an amendment affecting their districts onto the budget. Thank god the Globe got curious and punched the numbers into Google Maps. (Thanks to reader Aaron Welles for checking the numbers in Google Earth and sending this screen shot below)

Costello was recruited to do the deed by ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin, the pettifoggers who represent the abutters who live along the shore where Cook’s submerged farm would go.

Costello claims he did it for the environment. Who he did it for was a bunch of pricks who include the owner of the New England Patriots. Who wants to bet Costello gets spotted quaffing a frosty Sam Adams in the owner’s box with Gisele at Foxboro Stadium this fall?  What Costello really did when he committed his ethical breach was try to preserve a million-dollar waterfront view, a great view indeed — across the bay at Cotuit’s pristine Ryefield Point courtesy of the Barnstable Land Trust.

Stand in Cotuit and look back at them and what you see looks like a row of tacky beached ocean liners, lit up to beat the band, their chemical lawns, big piers and cesspools poisoning the very bay this guy’s oysters might actually help clean up.

These people have no souls. None. They remind me of the time as a Cape Cod Times reporter covering the waterfront when I watched in amazement as a Lily Pulitzer-wearing ehisshewle of a grand dame (btw: great job missing this story Cape Cod Times, yet again the Globe has kicked your butt in your own back yard) tell a Barnstable shellfish committee in 1980 that commercial quahoggers in Osterville’s Eel River were a blight on her view and worked close enough to her house that she could “hit them with a nine-iron shot.” She wasn’t the last of the Littoral Leeches. Then the Ostervillians of Imposterville went after the aquaculture guys in West Bay for daring to float bags of seed oysters in front of their houses. “A menace to navigation!” They lost that fight too.

If I only possessed a Mashpee clamming license I would do my level best to invite all my clammer friends to join me in sitting on these jerks’ beach on Popponesset Bay every afternoon around cocktail hour in front of their guests (in a pink Speedo of course) and dig their goddamn clams.  I would fish nowhere else. I would fowl nowhere else. I would do everything in my power to get that now sad but familiar sight of some poor policeman trudging down the sand in his brogans, towards me, telling me, “Please buddy. I know what the law says, but can you just do this someplace else? Please?”

I used to say “yes, sure, don’t want to cause a problem.” But never again. Take back the beaches and give Mashpee back to the original wampum tycoons, the Wampanoags. They at least took decent care of the place and appreciated a fine oyster.

Cook said it all to the Globe:

“All the way along through the process, I’ve done what the agencies and regulators have asked me to do in filing for permits and et cetera,” said Cook. “And I don’t understand how at this point someone can come in the back door from off-Cape and without any knowledge of local authority and residents, try and create something like this in order to stop my proposal from moving forward.”

34 responses so far

May 05 2014

Cape Cod shark safety flier sparks concerns – News Local Massachusetts – Boston.com

Published by under General

Cape Cod shark safety flier sparks concerns – News Local Massachusetts – Boston.com.

This cracks me to no end as life imitates art once again. I can just see Chief Brody arguing with the president of the Amity Chamber of Commerce under a billboard with a swimmer being chased by a shark, “But chief, closing the beaches will be bad for business.”

It’s a matter of time before someone gets attacked by a shark in Cape Cod waters. It’s happened recently and it will happen again. Some kayaker, surfer, paddle boarder, or hapless swimmer is going to be mistaken for a seal and get chomped. Not telling the rubes on vacation that the Cape is rapidly becoming a Great White all you can eat buffet is not a way to keep the tourism industry on its feet.

 

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Apr 24 2014

Baseball needs human error

Published by under Baseball

The invasion of the instant replay into professional sports threatens to remove one of the essential components of the sporting experience: the capricious effects of human error on the part of referees and umpires. This spring’s baseball season has seen the introduction of a silly system where a team’s manager can challenge an official call made on the field and the play is then remotely reviewed at Major League Baseball’s New York City headquarters by some faceless judges who look at the television feeds.

Because the technology exists to determine the truth doesn’t mean it has a place in a sport that celebrates the feckless and accidental. From robotic line judges in professional tennis to strike zone graphics, yes, we can make sports more precise and ostensibly more “fair” by taking the foibles of a judge or referee or umpire out of the equation. No more cries of a “We wuz robbed!” No more fist shaking at the Gods for punishing the home team so unfairly. The obvious blunders that rob pitchers of perfect games, the miscalls that cause spectators to have conniptions of disbelief as they watch the slow-mo replay and see what the officials couldn’t see from the field ….are nothing compared to the bullshit politics of the so-called “judged” sports like figure skating and gymnastics where performance is subjective and evaluated by judges with nationalistic prejudices and even the potential to be bribed (sorry, but any “sport” with judges and costumes isn’t a sport in my book).

A huge part of the emotional attachment between fans and sports is the human factor, that indescribable sense of magic when the players transcend the boundaries of human potential and go beyond themselves in a clutch situation and become legends or scapegoats. Sport, like war, isn’t about precision and standards. It’s about luck and happenstance and umpires who should go get their eyes checked. Baseball is the only sport with the concept of an “error” — a subjective judgement by the scorer. I think it needs to embrace the misfortunes of fate that happens when an umpire misses a tag, or calls a ball fair that went foul by inches.  Technology has no place in a ball park.

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