Soundings : And another thing...
1. Artists on the block
With June eight weeks away, nonprofits across the Island are preparing for one of the sacraments of summer, the fund-raising auction. Tents will go up, Trip Barnes will emerge from his winter slumber, and expertly wined guests will be encouraged to bid. And again this summer, as always, much of what goes up on the auction block will be Island-made art.
Some Island artists have a beef with this, and legitimately so.
Says one of them, an artist whose work folks will no doubt have several chances to bid upon at auctions this summer: "I don't understand why people don't get donations from plumbers and electricians. And a lot of us are sick of it. The community of artists here is the barrel of fish into which people are always shooting.
"I feel like saying, you know what, I'll sell you one of my pieces at half-price if that money comes from a plumber, or an electrician, or a lawyer. I don't think there's an appreciation of the fact that a lot of us are actually struggling, and when we see one of our $250 pieces going for $35 at an auction, it hurts. I don't even go to the auctions - I don't want to know what my stuff went for."
The problem, my friend admits, is that artists are bleeding-hearts. "We're the original girl that can't say no."
2. Why did we break up?
How many Islanders can still remember what the issue was back in 1984 when the Visiting Nurse Service was sundered and the Vineyard Nursing Association was born? For almost 25 years since then, we've been paying for the inefficiency of two nursing agencies, with duplicate sets of office staff and overhead costs, in a community that arguably needs but one.
Corollary question: How many of us can recall what lofty principles were at stake when Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven seceded from the Vineyard refuse district, giving us a similar situation of two separate agencies doing one job, with all the duplicate costs billed to the taxpayers?
In both cases, the cost of our fractiousness - our inability to see this community whole, our refusal to fashion regional solutions for regional problems - lingers through the decades, long after we've lost all memory of why splitting up once seemed so desperately important.
3. Neighbors, departing
In Appendix B of the Martha's Vineyard Economic Profile, a draft report now knocking around inside the Martha's Vineyard Commission, a chart tracks our community's human losses by income class. According to Census data, households earning between 80 and 100 percent of the state median income made up 16 percent of the Vineyard population in 1990. By the year 2000, they represented just 9 percent.
To put this in perspective, the government defines median income for a family of three in Dukes County as $59,500 per year. These are the people we're losing - hard-working people with decent jobs who can't make a go of things given the cost of living here. These are the families who say to themselves, hey, short of winning one of the housing lotteries, we're never going to have an Island place of our own. Let's get off this seasonal rental merry-go-round, take our savings, and make a new start somewhere else.
There's a growing hole in this community's human ecology. We're losing the very segment of the Vineyard population we should be working hardest to keep.
4. Assumptions and statistics
Nominee for most dubious assertion in an otherwise good story, from Mike Seccombe's March 14 Vineyard Gazette account of the Vineyard public hearing on Cape Wind: "About twice as many Vineyarders, assuming those who attended are broadly representative of Island opinion, oppose the project as support it."
In fact, public hearings make poor statistical tools. Folks with the most extreme views - in this case, that the wind farm will save the world or destroy it - are most motivated to bundle up, head out and stand in line to testify.
Somewhat better data comes from two polls conducted by the Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of the Civil Society Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Newton. ORC polled 600 people in 2006 and reported that 81 percent of Massachusetts residents and 61 percent of Cape and Islands residents supported the wind farm plan. After the federal Minerals Management Service issued a positive report on the wind farm this January, ORC surveyed 1,200 people and found that support had increased to 87 percent statewide and 76 percent in our region.
But Opinion Research reveals, in the appendix to its 2008 survey, that only eight percent of the folks it surveyed were from the Cape and Islands. Dukes County is home to about six percent of the Cape and Islands population, which means perhaps half a dozen Vineyarders were polled this year. The 2006 poll may have included only three of us.
So in the end, you can take Mr. Seccombe's assumption, or the ORC's statistics - they're similarly worthless as measures of Island opinion.
5. In Edgartown, we don't elect our selectmen - we crown them
Bob Fynbo, candidate for selectman in Edgartown, has reviewed three decades of town reports and summarizes the recent history of town elections on his website. The most daunting fact, from a challenger's point of view, is that only once in the past 30 years has an Edgartown incumbent lost an election.
Since 1979, Edgartown has had just 10 selectmen. Ted Morgan, the longevity king, served for 24 years, elected eight times but facing a challenge only twice. Tom Durawa, who served for 15 years and thus was a candidate five times, also experienced only two contested elections. Art Smadbeck has served for 15 years as selectman without once facing an opponent.
E.B. White once described democracy as "the recurring suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time." Edgartown is a poor place to test this idea, because in 22 of the past 30 years, the town has had no contested races for selectman. And it's hard for voters to be either right or wrong two-thirds of the time, when they're given no choice.