February License Plate Report

See? See see see see? That oblong green block  just above dead center, labeled “25”?


Or “North Da-fucking-kota,” as I keep saying to people, most of whom know of my license plate obsession and indulge it (or are at least discreet about their reservations).

North Dakota is the unicorn, the holy grail, the impossible dream of the license plate game, at least on Martha’s Vineyard. Other places too, I’m told by friends around the country, though it’s probably not all that rare in Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota, the first two of which are rare birds on the Vineyard, though not as rare as North Dakota.

I last spotted North Dakota about 25 years ago. It was on a tour bus queued up at the Vineyard Haven ferry dock waiting to leave the island. My cohort Don Lyons (whom I blame for getting me started in this game) asked the driver if they really were from North Dakota. New Jersey, said the driver. No matter: the bus and the license plate were from North Dakota.

Mid-February had rolled around and the license plate map looked just like it had at the end of January. Driving from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs I decided to detour through the M.V. Hospital parking lot(s), a reliable source of hard-to-find and even exotic plates. This trip turned up Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky: a good haul indeed. I continued on toward my destination, Reliable Market on Circuit Ave.

A plate caught my eye as I drove past DeBettencourt’s gas station. Could it possibly be . . . ? The dark sedan bearing the plate was parked off to the side, facing the road. In the license plate game, front-end plates don’t count: in states that only require one plate (as used to be the case in Massachusetts) drivers sometimes use the front end for a souvenir plate from times past. A distinctive orange plate from Panama is sometimes seen in my town, but its rear plate is from good ol’ Massachusetts so I don’t get excited.

I was pretty excited — well, no: “incredulous” is a better word — by the prospect of North Dakota. I pulled a U-turn in the middle of New York Ave., rolled to a stop on the shoulder just past the gas station, got out, and went over to do an inspection — briefly wondering if I’d have to explain to the gas jockey what I was up to. (I didn’t: no one even glanced in my direction.)

Sure enough, the plate on the rear end was from North Dakota. Wow.

When I passed that way a few days later, North Dakota was in exactly the same place. I wondered what the story might be. Could North Dakota work at the gas station? Maybe North Dakota was off-island for a while and got permission to leave his/her car there? If the car was for sale, there’d be a FOR SALE BY OWNER or some such sign on the windshield, but there wasn’t. It’s a mystery.

I capped the month off with Delaware, which is almost always the last East Coast state to show up.

Best February on record.

It’s also nerve-racking: spotting North Dakota in February raises the possibility that 2019 might be the year I spot all 50 states plus D.C. This raises the stakes considerably. North Dakota might be the unicorn, but Mississippi, Hawaii, Montana, and South Dakota aren’t exactly there for the spotting. We’ll see.

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January License Plate Report

I’m running late with the first license plate report, but here it is at last. Memo to self: Update the map regularly! It wasn’t till I got around to coloring in the states this morning that I realized I had both Vermont and Pennsylvania on the list twice, and I hadn’t recorded Maryland, whose plates I’ve probably seen a dozen of.

So here we are, in order: Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Rhode Island, Florida, Ohio, Connecticut, Colorado, Wisconsin, New York, California, New Hampshire, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Oregon isn’t a usual contender for the #2 spot. New England took longer than usual to fill in, and New York was a little late too, but the Northeast looks pretty much the way it always does at the end of January: all in except for Delaware, which isn’t really Northeast anyway. Wisconsin and Tennessee are good catches for this time of year.

Grand total: 21. On to the next!

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Year-End License Plate Report 2018

Here’s a belated end-of-year license plate report, and an even more belated apology for not posting monthly updates for October, November, and December. My excuse for the latter, as you’ve probably guessed, is that I spotted no new plates after the end of the September. Boo-hiss, but this is pretty much par for the course.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad year. AWOL at the end were Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, and both Dakotas. Wyoming I might have spotted a couple of times — it’s uncommon here but not really rare — but I wasn’t close enough to be sure so it doesn’t count.

I’ve just printed out a nice clean map for 2019. For the record, the first five sightings of the new year were Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont, and Virginia. Only 46 to go! (Having been a D.C. resident for 11 years, I of course count the “Last Colony” as a state, and if I ever see a Puerto Rico plate I’ll count it too.)

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Singing in “Messiah”

I happily wish “Merry Christmas” to everyone I know who celebrates it, and “Season’s Greetings” to those who may not, or who celebrate more than one of the season’s holidays, of which there are quite a few. The common denominators for most of them are light and rebirth, which is what the Winter Solstice — grandma of all the season’s holidays — is about in the Northern Hemisphere.

Oh yeah, and music. I love the music. When I still lived in D.C., I was lying in bed early one morning when Sydney Carter’s “Lord of the Dance” came on Robert J. Lurtsema’s Morning Pro Musica show on public radio. Sung (of course) by John Langstaff (1920–2005), this was my introduction to the Christmas Revels, which I’ve been able to attend live a couple of times and several of whose albums are in my collection, some in vinyl, some on tape, and some in MP3. In the late 1980s I also got to sing in a local version, directed by Mary Payne (1932–1996).

If you don’t know the song, or need to hear it again, here’s classic Langstaff with a lovely collage video of dancers around the world:

By the time I heard “Lord of the Dance” that morning on the radio, I already knew about the pagan roots of Christianity, but knowing plenty about the doings of Christianity in its post- and anti-pagan phases, I wasn’t all that favorably disposed to it. But the song melded the two together forever in my mind and let me glimpse a Christianity that wasn’t all about kings and wars, the enslavement and/or forced conversion of colored peoples and the oppression of women. A Christianity that had borrowed liberally from older traditions.

In the year or so before I left D.C., I’d started singing regularly, in the D.C. Area Feminist Chorus and the Gay and Lesbian Chorus of Washington (which was brand-new at the time and increased greatly in size after I left town; not sure if it still exists). I wanted to keep singing after I landed on Martha’s Vineyard, but the options for a strictly amateur adult singer were pretty much limited to church choirs. The singing part was fine, but I couldn’t see myself sitting through a church service every Sunday. Instead I started volunteering at Wintertide Coffeehouse, which meant hanging out with musicians, and poets, writers, and other performers too.

Then I learned about the pickup group of island singers that performed the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah every holiday season. Around 1988 I worked up the nerve to attend a rehearsal, in the parish hall of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. The place was packed, the conductor was a forbidding old fellow, and everyone seemed to know the music by heart. I didn’t, and though I could read music, I couldn’t sing from a score I’d never seen before. I was intimidated. I didn’t go back.

A year or two later, though, I tried again. The old fellow had retired, and his successor was someone I knew somewhat from theater. Whatever the reason, I was less intimidated and more confident in my ability to learn the alto part, with the help of my little keyboard and my three-record set of Messiah conducted by Colin Davis with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1966.

Come to think of it, that recording is probably why I was so determined to sing Messiah in the first place. I’d had it for years, it’s glorious, and — though it’s been many years since I had the equipment to play LPs — it’s now available on YouTube:

I’m not sure what my first year was, but I do know for sure that I sang in 1990 because I still have the program and my name is listed among the altos.

What do I remember from those early years? The chorus was huge. (The 1990 program lists  17 sopranos, 32 [!!] altos, 10 tenors, and 14 basses.) Cramming us all into the front of the sanctuary at the stone church (Christ United Methodist in Vineyard Haven) was a challenge every year. Tenors and basses were in the back, which was accessed by a short but narrow staircase. One year one of the guys fainted, probably from a combination of excitement and overcrowding. From where I stood in the first or second row, the audience looked like winter picnickers, bundled in warm clothes, with some winter coats and jackets spread out on the pews and often a baby or very small child nestled among them, sleeping. It might have been my first glimpse of what my whole community looked like, not just the newspaper people, the theater people, and the Wintertide people that I hung out with regularly.

We sang all of Part 1, the Christmas portion, plus the Hallelujah and the Amen. Of course the entire congregation stood up for the Hallelujah. This drove some of the singers crazy then and it drives some of them crazy now, but that’s not going to stop anyone from doing it. I suspect it’s the music that does it, and if the chorus weren’t already on our feet, we’d be doing it too.

love the Amen. It was three years before I could not only sing it all the way through but find my place again if I got lost. Even after I could follow the score and the conductor at the same time, I’d sometimes trance out with the glory of it all and lose my place.

Susanna and puppy

For unto us a puppy’s born. Early January 1995.

In 1994, the performances were on December 19 and 20. On December 17 I’d seen the litter born that included the future Rhodry Malamutt. My imagery for “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” that year was all about puppies, and I still can’t sing that chorus without thinking of Rhodry.

1994 was also the first year that Peter Boak directed. An experienced choral conductor who’d recently become a year-round resident, Peter was naturally interested in directing more than Messiah, and year-round instead of just at Christmastime; in the years following, the Messiah singers became the original core of what has flourished as the Island Community Chorus. The 1997 program is the first to identify the Messiah ensemble as the Island Community Chorus, and subsequent programs do likewise.

My program collection comes to an abrupt end with 2001. Peter understandably wanted to conduct other works from the Christmas repertoire. We went out with a bang, performing the  whole Messiah, parts 1, 2, and 3, on April 7 and 8 of that year. That December (I’m pretty sure it was that December, but if there was a program, I don’t have it) a sing-along Christmas portion of Messiah was held, with soloists, at St. Augustine’s. As I recall, it was well attended but it didn’t happen again. That was it for Messiah on Martha’s Vineyard.

I continued to sing in the Island Community Chorus until 2006, by which time it had grown too big and too elaborate (e.g., instrumentalists imported from off-island) for my taste. Peter is a great teacher-conductor, and I learned a lot singing with him, but I still can’t quite forgive him for killing off an important holiday tradition.

However . . .

In the fall of 2015, a friend at Grace church (the longtime sponsor of Messiah on the Vineyard, from which I many years ago bought my copy of the score) confided that the chorus “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” was going to be sung at the Christmas Eve service and singers were sought to augment the church’s own choir. Of course I jumped, I rehearsed, I sang.

From the 2016 program

One thing led to another, and — wonder of wonders — the next December the whole Christmas portion of Messiah was performed again on the Vineyard, this time at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. The Grace church group, with ringleaders Jim Norton and indispensable conductor Wes Nagy, brought it back. “An Island Family Tradition Returns” said the poster and the program.

Of course I was there, along with an ensemble more manageable than the giant choruses of the 1990s: 10 sopranos, 8 altos, 12 tenors, and 7 basses, along with 8 instrumentalists and the awesome pianist Griffin McMahon. We did it again in 2017 and, last Saturday, in 2018. For good measure a smaller group sang the Easter section (part three) at Eastertide in 2017.

No, it’s not the same. The Whaling Church is less cozy than the stone church, and the front row of the chorus is no longer face-to-face with the front row of the audience. We finish with a rousing “Hallelujah” and don’t sing the “Amen.” I see fewer young children out there: our audience, like the Vineyard in general, is aging. So, of course, is the chorus. Some of us sang regularly in the 1990s, but quite a few of the 1990s singers have died or left the island. Time moves on, but not all is lost, and some of what was lost comes back.

Which is what “Lord of the Dance,” Messiah, and celebrations of the winter solstice are all about, isn’t it? The country has been passing through a dark and turbulent time, but signs of awakening life are everywhere. Hallelujah!

The other half of the stage, altos in front, tenors in back. The empty chair behind the poinsettias is mine.

Warming up before the 2017 performance. The sopranos are in front, the basses behind. Conductor Wes Nagy is at far left, bass soloist Glenn Carpenter is standing up, and Griffin McMahon is partly visible at the piano.


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Post-Election Pep Talk

Yes, it’s a bummer that Beto didn’t win in Texas, and the voter suppression that went down in Georgia should infuriate anyone who believes in representative government, but if you’re disappointed in Tuesday’s election results and you’re not a Republican, I strongly suggest you take a closer look at what went down this past Tuesday.

Start off with the voter turnout. All across the country it was huge for a midterm election. I was a poll worker in West Tisbury from 7 a.m. to noon. When I voted at the end of my shift, I was #1,089 — this in a town with about 2,500 registered voters. When the polls closed at 8 p.m., close to 75% of us had voted.

According to news reports, national turnout was, at more than 47%, a 50-year high for a midterm election. Notes NPR: This “might not sound impressive. But for a U.S. midterm election, it’s a whopping figure. Compare that with just 36.7 percent in 2014, and 41 percent in 2010.”

Next, when the 114th Congress is sworn in on January 3, Democrats will control the House of Representatives. If you’ve been following the abysmal performance of the GOP-controlled House the past two years, on everything from health care to budget to the Russia investigation, you know how big this is. And it’s even better than that: the incoming Democratic caucus is more diverse than ever: more women, more people of color, more younger people, more scientists.

No, Democrats didn’t take back the Senate. They even lost a couple of seats. But this was not unexpected. The Dems were defending 26 seats, including several in red states; the Republicans only 9. It’s hard to lose Claire McCaskill (MO), Joe Donnelly (IN), and especially Heidi Heitkamp (ND), who displayed conspicuous courage by voting against the Kavanaugh nomination. (Suppression of the Native American vote in North Dakota was almost certainly aimed at reducing Heitkamp’s chances for re-election.)

Note too that there’s to be a recount for both the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Bill Nelson (D) and the governorship in Florida, for which Andrew Gillum seems to have lost by a hair to Ron DeSantis. Democrat Mike Espy heads for a Nov. 27 runoff with the top GOP finisher in the race to fill the remainder of Thad Cochran’s term as U.S. senator from Mississippi. (I’m already writing Postcards To Voters for Mike. Didn’t I say that PTV wasn’t planning to go into hibernation after the midterms? Now’s a good time to sign up!)

In fact, so many races were so close that though the compaign-related email in my inbox has definitely dropped off, I’ve already received several fundraising requests to support recounts. My campaign-related credit-card debt is already pushing my limit, even though I swore off buying beer so I could give more to various campaigns, so we’ll see if I can squeeze any more bucks from my (already blown) budget.

There’s more encouraging news out there than I can do justice to here, but here are a few of my favorites:

    • Near the top of my list is Democrat Laura Kelly decisively defeating Kris Kobach for governor of Kansas. Kobach is a notorious vote suppressor; he headed Trump’s commission on (alleged) voter fraud, which foundered on bipartisan opposition by the public and many states. Not only that, as Kansas secretary of state he was supervising the election in which he ran for governor. Brian Kemp was pulling a similar stunt in Georgia, where the voter suppression was outrageous. As secretary of state he’s declared himself the winner of the governor’s race. Stacey Abrams hasn’t conceded, and the jury’s still out on that one. And before we leave Kansas, Sharice Davids, a Native American lesbian, handily defeated four-term congressman Kevin Yoder in KS-03.
    • Another fave: Democrat Tony Evers evicted Republican Scott Walker from the governor’s office in Wisconsin.
    • Going into Tuesday’s election, there were 26 Republican governors, 9 Democratic, and one independent (Alaska). Democrats picked up seven governorships, the Republicans won Alaska, and the tally is now 26 Republican governors and 23 Democratic ones. No matter what happens in Georgia, which is, as noted above, still undecided, this is a major change.
    • Emerge America trains Democratic women to run for office and manage campaigns; it now has affiliates in 25 states. Emerge Massachusetts announced earlier this week that 68% of its alumnae won their up- and down-ballot races.
    • The Collective PAC, committed to increasing the number of African Americans in elected office at all levels, also had a great night. Elected to Congress for the first time were Lucy McBath (GA-06), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Colin Allred (TX-32), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Ilhan Omar (MN 05), Joe Neguse (CO-02), and Steven Horsford (NV-04). There were plenty of victories in other races as well. I got to meet co-founders Quentin James and Stefanie Brown James at an event last summer and was impressed enough to become a contributor.
    • 40 candidates supported by Emily’s List were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Jacky Rosen pulled off an upset to become a U.S. senator from Nevada. Emily’s List supports pro-choice Democratic women running for office.

    John Lewis, congressman from Georgia and hero of the civil rights movement, speaks at an iVote fundraiser on the Vineyard in August 2017.

    • iVote, which since 2014 has been fighting on several fronts to secure voting rights for all Americans, had a great night, winning in three of the four campaigns they supported in key swing states. In Colorado, Jena Griswold became the first Democratic secretary of state elected since 1958. Jocelyn Benson was elected secretary of state in Michigan. And Nevada voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to bring automatic voter registration to the state. In Arizona, iVote supported Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs, whose race for secretary of state remains too close to call. iVote has just launched a campaign to elect John Barrow secretary of state in Georgia– a state whose electoral practices badly need cleaning up.


  • Locally, I’m sorry that Jay Gonzalez and Quentin Palfrey didn’t manage to unseat Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and that Question 1, mandating safe nurse:patient ratios in hospitals, didn’t pass, but the other results were pretty damn good. My state senator, Julian Cyr, took every town in the district, even the purplish ones in the mid-Cape area, for a total of 62%. My buddy George Davis became clerk of courts in a landslide. Elizabeth Warren was elected to a second term in the U.S. Senate with 60% of the vote, and Maura Healey was re-elected attorney general with just under 70%.

    Millions of people took Trav’s good advice on Nov. 6.

    Setting out to canvass for Democrats in Vineyard Haven in the waning days of the campaign. Our state rep, Dylan Fernandes (who was running unopposed) is at left, State Senator Julian Cyr is at right, and I’m kneeling in front. (Travvy stayed home.)

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On Martha’s Vineyard, fall foliage is often underwhelming, probably because the landscape is dominated by oaks. Oaks seem to go from green to brown overnight: blink and you missed it. But some years the maples, beetlebungs, birches, and beeches do more than hold their own: the oaks glow in their proximity. This might be such a year. I remember one year, probably a couple decades ago, when driving down Old County Road was like passing through a golden tunnel. This year isn’t quite as breathtaking as my memory, but it’s closer than I’ve seen in years.

This is from the circle at the end of Halcyon Way. I think it’s a beetlebung (tupelo) — the yellow-pink colors remind me of peaches.

Though I rejoice in all the colors, I judge each year by the reds. Outside my west-facing window is a glorious Japanese maple. In my neighbors’ yard are another Japanese maple, a couple of Bradford pears, and a burning bush, most of which I can see from my deck. Some years are better than others, but last year was a complete bust. The burning bush never caught fire. When the Japanese maple shed its leaves in the last weeks of November, they were still mostly green. I still wonder if they were completing a year’s mourning after the 2016 election.

This year the reds are looking good. Here’s some of what I’ve seen in the last few days. The Japanese maple hasn’t reached its peak yet — that generally comes close to the middle of the month — but it’s getting there.

Burning bush, November 2

Bradford pear, November 3

The view from my deck, November 3

The Japanese maple from my window, November 2

The Japanese maple from my window, October 31

The Japanese maple from my window this morning, November 4

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2018 Election Roundup, Part 2

Part 2 of my 2018 Election Roundup is devoted to the three questions on the Massachusetts ballot. Part 1 was devoted to the candidates. For a detailed description and complete text of each one, along with an argument for and an argument against, see the “Information for Voters” bulletin that all commonwealth voters should have received earlier this fall. You can also find it online on the secretary of state’s website, along with almost everything you need to know about voting in Massachusetts.

Ballot questions are said to be one of our purest forms of “direct democracy,” and I guess in a way they are: they enable citizens to express our views on issues without going through our elected representatives. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ve found that complex issues can’t be reduced to yes/no, and there’s no place on the ballot for “Yes, but . . .” or “No, but . . .”

So I take my cue from singer-songwriter-activist Holly Near, who in her concerts often says of political candidates that she doesn’t expect to agree with any of them 100 percent so she votes for the one she thinks she can “struggle with.” As she put it in a November 2012 interview she said, “In a democracy, one has to struggle with elected officials to keep them on track.”

For ballot questions the equivalent might go something like this: “I don’t expect any ballot question to solve the problem it’s addressing, so I pick the option that’s most likely to move us closer to a solution.”

Short version: 1, 2, 3, YES, YES, YES.

Initially I had big reservations about Question 1, “Patient-to-Nurse Limits.” Of course I agreed with the idea: that health care in hospitals suffered when nurses were expected to take care of too many patients, and that limiting the number of patients per nurse was a good idea. But was this the best way to go about it? The full text of the proposed law is long and very detailed, and according to the Information for Voters booklet, “the state Health Policy Commission would be required to promulgate regulations to implement the proposed law.”

Well, after listening to several active and retired nurses and doing a little poking around on my own, I came to understand that —

  • the ballot question is a last resort: previous attempts to address the issue have not been effective.
  • in essence this is a labor-management issue, and unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise I will nearly always side with labor — in this case, the nurses.
  • the hospital executives and corporations pouring mega-money into urging us to vote NO and claiming they can’t afford to implement the proposed law are not hurting for cash themselves.
  • quite a few hospitals are already in compliance with the terms of the proposed law, but
  • a YES vote will keep the issue of patient safety alive, while a NO vote will most likely kill it.

So I’m voting YES, and I urge you to do likewise. I also urge you to vote Jay Gonzalez for governor because he has the background in health-care management and the ability to build consensus to ensure that this measure is sensibly implemented.

I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending a YES vote on Question 2, which would establish a Commission on Limited Election Spending and Corporate Rights. This is part of a coast-to-coast effort to undermine the disastrous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that campaign spending is protected speech and therefore corporations and unions can’t be blocked from spending money to support or oppose political candidates. This is an important step toward curbing the role of money in electoral politics, and it has plenty of bipartisan support. Check out American Promise for more information about the nationwide effort to enact a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, curbing the role of Big Money in politics.

Note also that the “against” argument in the Information for Voters booklet was contributed by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Mass. Fiscal” is a GOP front that specializes in funneling “dark money” into trashing Democratic candidates and officeholders. To learn more about what they’re up to, check out this CommonWealth story from February 2018 or the MassFiscalExposed website.

Question 3 affirms a law passed by the State Senate and House of Representatives on Transgender Anti-Discrimination, or “discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation.”

Here’s one where I could vote “Yes, but . . .” but I can’t, so I’m voting YES and urging you to do likewise. This law is already on the books, and the effort to repeal it comes from the right, whose track record on anything to do with sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation sucks.

As a feminist, I wish that my liberal and progressive comrades were a little clearer on the difference between “sex” and “gender” and would spend some time discussing what goes into “gender-related identity.” That’s not going to happen in the run-up to this election, and it’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime. Sex, not gender, is assigned at birth, sometimes on the basis of ambiguous physiological evidence. Gender-related expectations follow the assignment of sex, but gender is socially constructed and flexible. Feminism has done plenty in my lifetime to expand and undermine gender expectations.

As a feminist, I also know that although politics does make strange bedfellows, in the 1980s anti-pornography feminists made a big tactical mistake by getting into bed with the anti-pornography right. Likewise it would be a big mistake here to support the right’s attempts to roll back protections for “transgender” people, even when the law is rather vague about what “gender identity” is: according to the law it’s “a person’s sincerely held gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not it is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”

It’s also a big mistake to let the right frame this as the “bathroom bill,” which the “no” statement in the election booklet explicitly does. At the same time I’d be happier if the law talked about sex, not gender identity, when it comes to accommodations and services that customarily distinguish by sex.

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2018 Election Roundup, Part 1

I’ve been planning an election-round-up blog post but was going to do it closer to election day. Then I was reminded that early voting is already under way: in Massachusetts it started this past Monday and continues through November 2, mostly on weekdays; check your town clerk or other local election official for times and place.

I’ll be voting on THE DAY myself, mainly because in my town voting is easy and even fun. Voting everywhere should be as easy as it is in my town, but it isn’t. On the first day of early voting in Georgia last week, some voters had to wait in line for three hours or more, and if you’ve followed the news you know that this is so not the worst thing going on in Georgia. Georgia is one of two states (the other is Kansas) where the Republican secretary of state — the official in charge of all things electoral — is running for governor and fails to acknowledge that there’s a conflict of interest involved.

OK, here goes. Some weeks ago Massachusetts residents should have received the secretary of state’s handy-dandy election guide in the mail. If you didn’t or you’ve lost it, you can find it here. It lists the offices that will be on the ballot but not the names of the candidates. The list of candidates is on the secretary of state’s website, but you’ll have to do some scrolling to find the more local races.

FYI, if you live on Martha’s Vineyard, you’re in the 9th Congressional District; the Cape & Islands state senate district; the Barnstable Dukes Nantucket state house of representatives district; and District 1 for the Governor’s Council. For the more local races, like clerk of courts and county commissioner, you’re in Dukes County. Near the bottom of the page is the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Party affiliation is not given for the MVC candidates because this is a nonpartisan race.

Let’s start at the top of the ticket: governor and lieutenant governor. No, let’s start before we get to the top of the ticket. In fact, if you want to save time, you can skip this entire post and wait for Part 2, which will deal with the three ballot questions and (here’s hoping) be out tomorrow. In what follows, I strongly suggest that you vote Democratic all the way down the ballot. “Vote for the person, not the party” is often taken as a sign of discernment and sagacity. Not this year. This year, when it comes to the GOP, a vote for the Republican is a vote for the party — a vote for the party of voter suppression, attempts to deprive people of access to affordable health care and women of reproductive choice, tax cuts for the rich, inhuman(e) treatment of migrant families, climate-change denial, ongoing rollback of enviromental protections, and the ugliest white-supremacist rhetoric I’ve heard since the heyday of Bull Connor and George Wallace.

In Massachusetts this year, this is not a theoretical issue. Our Republican governor is widely thought to be OK — “pretty good for a Republican” is the phrase I heard often when collecting nomination signatures for Democratic candidates early this year. Trouble is, given the rising swamp of chaos and incompetence in Washington, the states are our first line of defense. For some of the evidence that Gov. Baker has not risen to the occasion, see the handy Sorry, Charlie website. On the “person, not party” thing: Gov. Baker claims to be pro-choice and pro–civil liberties, but he endorsed Geoff Diehl for the U.S. Senate. Diehl ran Trump’s campaign in Massachusetts. If he goes to Washington, is there any reason to believe that he won’t be in Mitch McConnell’s pocket?

Fortunately, we have a great alternative: Jay Gonzalez for governor and Quentin Palfrey for lieutenant governor. I’ve been following the governor’s race since I heard all three Democratic candidates speak at the 2017 state Democratic convention. Jay moved to the head of the pack for me because of his background in health-care access and statewide budget and administration, his commitment to virtually all the issues I care about, and his emphasis on leadership, which is sorely lacking at present. Please vote for these guys, and encourage your friends to do likewise.

I’m wholeheartedly supporting U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Attorney General Maura Healey for re-election. They’ve been on the front lines defending commonwealth and country against the Trump administration, and Healey really has become the “people’s lawyer” she set out to be when first elected in 2014.

With considerably less fervor I’m also backing the re-election bids of William “Bill” Galvin for secretary of state and Bill Keating for U.S. Congress from the 9th Congressional District (MA-09 in political shorthand). The secretary of state’s office could use a good kick in the pants in making voting more accessible, but given what Republican secretaries of state are up to across the country, it’s clear that supporting a Republican is not the answer. Keating has been a lazy-ass congressman, but any improvement is going to come from the Democratic side, not the Republican. Besides, Keating has been showing some signs of life lately, possibly to avoid getting primaried like his colleagues Michael Capuano (MA-07) and Joe Crowley (NY-14).

State Representative Dylan Fernandes speaks; State Senator Julian Cyr (left) listens at a fundraiser for Julian this past spring.

I’m actively campaigning to re-elect our excellent state senator, Julian Cyr. For some reasons why, see my previous blog post, “Vote Like Housing Matters.” Our equally excellent state rep, Dylan Fernandes, is running unopposed, but make sure you mark his name on the ballot anyway.

I confess I know very little about Deborah Goldberg and Suzanne Bump, running for re-election as state treasurer and state auditor, respectively, but they’re Democrats and I haven’t heard anything bad about either of them, so I’m voting for both.

Ditto Democrat Joseph Ferreira, running for re-election to the Governor’s Council from District 1. Every time election day rolled around, my Democratic father would say that the Governor’s Council should be abolished. It still exists, and I’m not sure exactly what they do, but I believe it involves proposing judges for judicial appointments. Upshot is that I’m planning to vote for this guy.

The incumbent district attorney is running unopposed. I haven’t heard good things about him, he’s a Republican, and so I’m leaving that one blank.

Note: This is from the primary. General election date is Nov. 6! Early voting is currently in progress.

Coming closer to home — to the County of Dukes County, to be specific — T. George Davis is superbly qualified for the many-faceted job of clerk of courts, which is why I’ve been supporting him ever since he threw his hat in the ring. He handily turned back a strong primary challenge. His independent challenger in the general election has no legal experience to speak of and seems to think it’s not necessary. Just about everyone I’ve talked with disagrees.

Daphne DeVries, the acting register of probate, also fended off a strong primary challenge. Now she’s running unopposed. It’s time to remove the “acting” from her job title and make her the titular register of probate.

As a write-in primary candidate, Keith earned enough votes with homemade signs and word-of-mouth to get himself on the November ballot.

There are eight candidates running for seven slots on the Dukes County Commission. I don’t pay all that much attention to the commission except when things (figuratively) blow up at the county airport, but I do commend to your attention John Cahill, Gretchen Tucker Underwood, Tristan Israel, Leon Brathwaite, and especially Keith Chatinover. Keith is a young activist who graduated last spring from the M.V. Public Charter School; he’s delayed his college admission till February so he can campaign full-time for a New Jersey congressional candidate. Can he combine an undergraduate course load with serving as a county commissioner? I suspect he can, and that both his coursework and the commission will benefit.

Nine seats are up for grabs on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and not only are only nine candidates running, they fit the town distribution that the MVC requires: at least one from each island town, but no more than two from any island town. You can vote for all nine if you want, but you don’t have to. I plan to vote for Christina Brown, Josh Goldstein, Richard Toole, and Jim Vercruysse. (Contrary to popular belief, commissioners are elected at large; in other words, you can vote for candidates from any town no matter what town you live in.)

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Vote Like Housing Matters

I’m working on an election roundup post and pep talk, but a story in the Cape Cod Times caught my eye yesterday and pissed me off enough that I’m devoting a post to it.

Travvy jumps for Dylan and Julian, fall 2016.

I hadn’t paid all that much attention to the guy running against State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). Travvy and I did a little campaigning for Julian in 2016, and he’s done a stellar job in his freshman term so I’m campaigning for him again — more zealously this time because our equally stellar state representative, Dylan Fernandes, is running unopposed. Dylan isn’t letting the grass grow under his feet, however: he’s working hard for the coordinated Democratic campaigns, including Julian’s. But I digress . . .

So yesterday I read in the Cape Cod Times that Senator Cyr’s opponent, whose name is John Flores and who is on the Barnstable town council, “has recently suggested — in campaign mailers and media interviews — that Cyr does not live in the district.”

WTF? Julian grew up in Truro, lives in Truro, and has lived in Truro most of his life. I was so floored that I read on.

Flores “has not offered evidence to substantiate that contention,” added the Times story. Then it quoted Flores as saying this: “I don’t know where he lives. I don’t think he owns property on Cape Cod or pays taxes here or contributes to the local economy.”

And I got it: Flores checked the property tax rolls, didn’t find Julian’s name on it, and concluded that Julian doesn’t live in the district.

Excuse me for shouting, but if you can’t come up with the screamingly obvious explanation for Julian’s not being on the property tax rolls, you know diddly about the Cape & Islands district and shouldn’t be running for office until you learn that affordable housing is one of our most pressing issues.

And while we’re at it, why didn’t you bother to check the voting lists or the town census before you concluded that Julian doesn’t live in the district?

Julian is 32. He grew up on the Cape, working in his family’s restaurant, and since then he’s worked in the less-than-lucrative public sector. Many members of his age cohort, not to mention those considerably older, have been leaving Cape Cod and both islands because they can’t find affordable housing. The lucky ones, like me, find something we can afford to rent. John Flores, what planet do you live on?

Or, as Julian put it: “John Flores is sinking lower and lower into dirty and false political attacks to distract voters from the issues that matter. This isn’t the way we do politics on the Cape. I proudly live on the Outer Cape, where I’ve spent most all of my life. My legal address is in Truro. I don’t own a home because, like many Cape Codders & Islanders, I’ve never been able to afford a down payment.”

Flores, it seems, dug himself in deeper. From the Cape Cod Times story: “By not owning property on the Cape, Cyr does not pay taxes, Flores contends, thereby not contributing to local school systems, public safety or town government.”

WTAF?? Leaving aside the obvious — that property taxes are generally reckoned in when the landlord sets the rent — Flores seems to believe that paying taxes as a property owner is the only way to contribute “to local school systems, public safety or town government.”

Maybe he’d like to go back to the early days of the Republic, when only white male property owners were allowed to vote?

For the record, sir: renters contribute by teaching in local school systems, volunteering as EMTs and staffing our health-care institutions, and supporting town government in a variety of ways. We support the local economy by spending our money here, and that includes what we spend on rent (which adds up to a lot). And don’t get me started on the hours and energy we devote to nonprofits and arts-related activities.

When I vote, I look for candidates who’ve given some evidence that they understand what the lives of regular working people are like. Julian Cyr is such a passionate and effective advocate for the Cape & Islands district in part because he knows from firsthand experience what we’re up against.

John Flores clearly hasn’t a clue, although he’s calling himself  a “fourth-generation Cape Codder” from a traditional Provincetown fishing family. However, he was also “born in Boston, raised in Dorchester and attended Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury,” according to the Cape Cod Times. “A resident of Cummaquid for much of the past decade, Flores says he has lived on Nantucket and spent time in Provincetown and West Barnstable during summers.”

In my book that makes him a “year-round summer person”: someone who lives here year-round but thinks real life happens elsewhere and doesn’t have a clue about the challenges of living on the Cape or either island. Apparently the number of such people is growing on the Cape, and many of them vote Republican.

Moral of story: Don’t take Julian’s re-election for granted, or the Blue Wave either. Early voting started this past Monday and continues through November 2. Check with your town clerk for hours. Election Day is Tuesday, November 6, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Be a voter!

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Repairing the Bike Path

“Infrastructure” comes up in political conversations a lot these days, and with good reason: infrastructure is crucial to the smooth running of any enterprise, but it often gets short shrift when it comes time to budget money for it. Why? Well, one reason is surely that when infrastructure is in good repair, it’s invisible to all but the most perceptive eyes. Only when it starts to fall apart does it become screamingly obvious — at which time the fix is likely to be screamingly, budget-busting expensive.

Another is that our market-based economic system is notoriously shortsighted. Left to its own devices, it’ll ignore long-term consequences for environment and community as long as they’re profitable in the short term. Watching out for the long term, and minimizing the inevitable collateral damage done when all eyes are on the bottom line — this is government’s job. Unfortunately, “government,” from the local to the national level, can be as shortsighted as business, with the result that plenty of the nation’s infrastructure is in pretty bad shape.

A sign that work on the bike path was about to start in earnest. Need I say that we walked on the bike path anyway?

Recently I got to watch infrastructure maintenance in action. It was a relatively small thing: the bike path that circles the state forest had been deteriorating for years, and rumors that repair was imminent had been circulating for almost as long.

What we got instead was patches on the many, many places where underground roots were pushing through the asphalt, creating a bumpy ride for wheeled vehicles.

Finally this fall the whole thing was resurfaced. Since Travvy, my malamute sidekick, and I walk along the stretch of the bike path between Misty Meadows and the West Tisbury School at least once a day, I took pictures of the project as it progressed. Some days Trav got to woo at the backhoes, graders, dump trucks, pickups, and other vehicles involved in the project. Quite a few of the workers paused to greet him in return.

I was impressed by the amount of work, expertise, and care involved in even this relatively simple sort of infrastructure repair. Here’s a little of what Trav and I saw on our morning walks.

Among the early signs that work was about to start were mysterious marks on the asphalt, orange or pink ribbons attached to sticks with numbers written on them, and orange enclosures at irregular intervals alongside the bike path. I’m told that these were to protect endangered plants. Trav is standing next to what was by far the biggest enclosure we saw. I have no idea what endangered plants were being protected. They have to be pretty hardy to survive passings by all the people, dogs, and wildlife that frequent the area.

When backhoes and other vehicles appeared on the bike path, we knew work had started in earnest.

An early step was to dig a trench under each of the many patches on the path. These would be filled with dirt, covered with asphalt, and graded before the final repaving was done. This one bisects the planet Mercury. How, you ask, did Mercury wind up on the bike path?

In the spring of 2016, West Tisbury School fifth graders created the solar system on the bike path, with the sun just off the parking area next to Old County Road. The distances between the painted planets retained the scale of the real ones, though the planetary diameters couldn’t do likewise: each one’s diameter was the width of the path. You can see the sun and the inner planets here and the outer planets here. As the photo on the right makes clear, the crack in the pavement was there when Mercury was painted. Now it’s gone, but Mercury is too. I miss strolling the planets. I hope they’ll come back eventually.

It took several vehicles and quite a few workers to do all the patching.

Here is a completed patch. I have zero idea how many patches the entire bike path required, but on the relatively short stretch Trav and I walk regularly, the number was daunting. Now, like the planets, they’re buried under the new pavement. Plenty of what goes into building and maintaining infrastructure is invisible in the finished product.

Immediately after the new surface was laid down, my boot soles tried to stick to it. Footprints remained visible on it.

Before long, though, the asphalt dried, rain washed away the footprints, and the bike path was a pristine black ribbon winding its way through the trees around the edge of the state forest.

The last step was to lay down sand on either side of the path. On one side, the main purpose seemed to be to discourage the scrub growth from encroaching on the pavement. On the other . . . Well, that edge dropped off rather steeply; the drop was only three or four inches, but it was enough to make me slip off the path if I wasn’t watching my step. The sandy border smoothed out the drop, and for a bonus, it now reveals where deer and other critters have crossed the bike path or even run alongside it.

Here’s the drop I almost twisted my ankle on . . .

. . . and here’s a view of what it looks like now, from the parking area across from the West Tisbury School.

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