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

Posted in home, outdoors | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

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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Standout Saturdays

The weather for last Saturday’s “Stand Up!” standout was pretty lousy, but more than a dozen of us braved the rain and chill and stood out anyway. Plenty of passing motorists honked their support. The organizers — a bunch of individuals, including me, who sometimes refer to ourselves as “the Usual Suspects” — decided to repeat the standout every Saturday till election day: from noon to 1 p.m. at Five Corners. Join us!

This Saturday, our state rep, Dylan Fernandes, will be at Five Corners at noon to kick off a canvass for the coordinated Democratic campaigns. Dylan is running unopposed for re-election, so he’s been working hard to get other Democrats elected (Jay Gonzalez for governor!) or re-elected, like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Attorney General Maura Healey, and our state senator, Julian Cyr.

Speaking of Julian, some of the Usual Suspects have organized a district-wide postcard-writing campaign to get out the vote for Julian. If you want to help out, let me know.

Julian and Dylan are hosting a fundraiser next Wednesday, Oct. 24, from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Quicks Hole Tavern in Woods Hole. It’s a mere stone’s throw (even for someone with no pitching arm) from the boat, so come on over! Sign up or make a donation at ActBlue, and hope to see you on the boat.

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Get Ready to VOTE!

Hey, if you’re on the island this Saturday, come on down to Five Corners around noon! Bring friends! Bring signs supporting the candidates and issues that matter to you!

That morning, at 9:30 a.m., Howes House, West Tisbury, the MV Dems meeting will be devoted to actions we can take in the last weeks before the desperately important midterms. Phone-banking and canvassing are on the agenda, and I’ll be talking about writing postcards to voters, both as a long-term strategy and as something we can do right now. We’ve got a postcard campaign going for our wonderful state senator, Julian Cyr, who’s got a well-funded GOP opponent. All hands on deck!

And note these dates:

  • Massachusetts voter registration deadline: Wednesday, Oct. 17
  • Early voting: Oct. 22 to Nov. 2
  • ELECTION DAY: Nov. 6, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Be there!

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An Open Letter to Senator Susan Collins

Dear Senator Collins:

You don’t know me. I’m not even a constituent. I grew up in and have lived the last 30+ years in Massachusetts. Like many another New Englander I think of New England as home. Though these six states differ from each other, and each one is diverse in and of itself, they do have a few things in common.

When I was growing up, nearly all of my relatives were Republicans. The exception was my father, a Roosevelt-supporting Democrat. Republicans in those days generally favored small towns, small government, fiscal responsibility, and a somewhat laissez-faire approach to personal matters, best summarized by the variously attributed quote “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do it in the street and scare the horses.”

The GOP has undergone a sea-change since then. If any of my older relatives were alive today, I’m pretty sure most of them would have left the party for the ranks of the unenrolled. A few might even have become Democrats. I am writing to you in the hope that you might be one of those old-style Republicans, of the kind I grew up with and you probably did too.

And yes, I am writing about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. The news reports say that you are still undecided — or at least undeclared. A while back you said that you were reassured by Judge Kavanaugh’s statement that he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.” I’m not sure there is such a thing as “settled law,” and based on his other statements and decisions I don’t think he supports a woman’s right to choose abortion. Yesterday you were reported as saying that you thought that the FBI appeared to have conducted “a very thorough investigation” of the allegations that as a young man Judge Kavanaugh had committed sexual assault. Given the speed of the investigation and the long list of potential informants who were never interviewed, I have to disagree.

However, though I do believe Christine Blasey Ford’s account of what happened in 1982 and greatly admire her courage for coming forward in 2018, I no longer think that the decision to vote for or against Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court should rest on what happened in 1982 or even on his apparently anti-choice views.

Having watched Judge Kavanaugh’s astonishing performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, I do not need an FBI investigation to tell me that this man is unfit to sit on the nation’s highest court. A man who can’t manage his own anger, who gives vent to conspiracy theories that are unsupported by any evidence, who can’t be civil to the senators asking him difficult questions — this is the kind of behavior that if done in the street, would scare the horses. It’s scaring me. It also scares me that so many congressional Republicans have managed to rationalize this behavior and find it acceptable.

Senator Collins, my mother was an alcoholic. I grew up with this kind of explosive anger. I grew up with a mother who was even-tempered and reliable when sober and a harridan when drunk. I’ve seen such Jekyll/Hyde behavior in others over the years, and heard the stories that my recovering alcoholic friends tell about their drinking days. Interestingly enough, most of my mother’s co-workers weren’t aware she was an alcoholic. In the office she was sober. Within half an hour of getting home, she was stumbling, passing-out drunk.

I know how this works, Senator, and as a result I strongly suspect that Brett Kavanaugh is an alcoholic, maybe an actively drinking alcoholic or maybe a “dry drunk”: an alcoholic who isn’t drinking but hasn’t taken any steps toward recovery. I can’t come up with any other hypothesis that explains what I’ve seen and read during this confirmation process. It explains Judge Kavanaugh’s many failures of memory, and the striking contradictions between how he recalls his own behavior and how his friends recall it. It explains his belligerence toward Senator Amy Klobuchar when she asked him about his drinking.

By focusing so narrowly on what happened in 1982, the FBI has shed no meaningful light on Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court. It did not need to, for his unfitness has been on public display during this confirmation process. I see it, and virtually everyone I know who’s dealt with alcoholism up close and personal sees it. I hope that you are like those old-style Republicans I grew up with and can see it too.

Sincerely yours,

Susanna J. Sturgis
West Tisbury, Massachusetts

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September License Plate Report

Two good catches for September, one at the beginning of the month (Oklahoma) and one at the end (Montana). After scanning my updated map, I realized I had colored Montana in but not added it to the list. That’s now been fixed, but I’m too lazy to scan it again.

One afternoon toward the end of the month I was driving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven. On a hunch I turned left into the hospital parking lot, where exotic out-of-state plates often hang out thanks in part to the travel nurses and doctors who augment the staff during the busy season. I parked, strolled around — and there it was: Montana.

The busy season is passing, but I intend to play my hunches from now to the end of the year.

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How to Make Popcorn

Sometimes one just has to have popcorn for supper — or breakfast or lunch, but for me it’s always supper.

Last night was the night, so here’s how I make popcorn.

My method does not involve prepackaged popcorn or the microwave. I’ve got nothing against that method, not least because popcorn thus produced is a staple of my Sunday night writers’ group and I eat more than my share of it.

A housemate from my D.C. days, Beverly by name, taught me how to make popcorn the old-fashioned way. Beverly could do anything, like fix things and play the mandolin. I’m still kneading bread at a little table she rescued from the alley behind our group house and stabilized with dowels between each pair of legs. She was also responsible for the A LESBIAN WAS HERE sticker still stuck on the table’s little drawer, and the I’D RATHER BE READING ADRIENNE RICH sticker on one of my old file cabinets.

But I digress.

First, assemble equipment and ingredients. Once the popcorn starts popping, you don’t want to be hunting for them.

  • pot with tight-fitting lid
  • popcorn
  • vegetable oil
  • butter
  • toppings of your choice (my perennial faves are nutritional yeast and fresh-ground pepper, but grated Parmesan is also excellent)
  • big bowl
  • knife

I use an old 2-quart Revereware saucepan. It makes just enough for one person with a dog who loves popcorn.

Pour into pot just enough oil to not quite cover the bottom. Into oil drop 3 popcorn kernels. (This is not a magic number. You can drop 2, 4, or 5 kernels into the oil, but whatever you do remember how many you put in.)

Cover pot and turn up heat. You want hot but not scorching hot. Do not for any reason leave the pot unattended. Pretty soon you will hear pop, pop, pop. One pop for each kernel you dropped into the pot. See why remembering the number is important?

Remove the lid — see the nice fluffy popped kernels? — and pour in just enough popcorn to not quite cover the bottom of the pot one kernel deep. Replace the lid.

Don’t go anywhere. I keep one hand on the handle and give the pot an occasional jiggle to keep the kernels from getting burned. Once the corn starts popping in earnest, keep jiggling the pot. Steady is good. Frantic isn’t necessary.

Pop pop pop pop pop pop . . .

Once the popping slows way down, give the pot a few jiggles to make sure all the unpopped kernels get their chance at the bottom.

Pour about 2/3 of the popped corn into the bowl and sprinkle with toppings of your choice. Pour in the rest of the popped corn, sprinkle with a little more topping, and stir gently with knife to distribute toppings.

Into the hot pot put about a tablespoon of butter and put pot back on stove. You can turn the heat way down or even off if the burner is electric: the pot alone may be hot enough to melt the butter.

Drizzle melted butter over the popcorn and mix gently with knife.

By the time I get the bowl to my chair, Trav has taken up sphinx position close to my feet. I munch some popcorn, toss him a handful, munch some more popcorn, toss him another handful, and repeat till popcorn is gone. Then he gets to lick the bowl clean.

Tools of the popcorn popper’s trade. Not in picture: knife and 2-quart pot.


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