If it’s worth arguing about, have at it


Islanders are refreshingly free of compunctions when it comes to debating public issues. Detailed understandings of the question under debate just weigh us down. We prefer our opinions au naturel, in the raw, uninhibited, bold, brassy, and uninformed — well, you see what I mean.

Mainly, as regards our opinions, we like to let the boys run.

Ah, you say, but what about facts?

Poof. That’s what we say.

A case in point is the current, feverish battle between supporters of the roundabout and opponents. Across the broad and blistered landscape of this controversy just one fact appears to be established with bedrock certainty: if the state wants to install a roundabout where the Blinker used to be and the four-way stop is now, it can. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), had it done its job a decade ago, might have recognized that this proposal had Island-wide implications, and it might have advised Oak Bluffs, in whose domain the construction will take place, that regional consideration ought to be given, but even if it had, the MVC knew that its jurisdiction did not extend to the state’s decision making in this case.

When the MVC agreed to review the roundabout plans — albeit 10 years too late — it knew that, or ought to have known that the verdict, yes or no, was irrelevant.

Richard Knabel, the West Tisbury selectman who led his town and then Edgartown into a lawsuit aimed at overturning the MVC decision, ought to have known that, even if the suit were successful, throwing a monkey wrench into the roundabout was not going to be accomplished without a popular political uprising, whose prospects have been always uncertain.

Ultimately, legal counsel explained the landscape to the litigants — at a price — and what remains is to acquiesce in the roundabout or mount a campaign on the back of a popular referendum.

And actually, that might work. With sufficient support, the roundabout opposition might persuade state officials that the $1 million-plus destined for the circle’s construction could be put to use in some less prickly Massachusetts community. Realistically, the odds on such success are 50-50 at best.

Many of the writers, whose letters and comment posts have appeared in the past few weeks in The Times and on its website, have joined the battle in that flavorful way the Vineyarders enjoy. The horses may have left the barn a decade ago, but no matter, let’s get it on.

Do you know what a tool is? Not a hammer or a pipe wrench, but a tool. If you have children, I’d be surprised if one of them hasn’t used the word in reference to you. You might have misunderstood the child’s intention, concluding benightedly that he had in mind how useful you are as a parent. If so, I’m suggesting you look more deeply. I’ve had the experience, but being modestly practiced in the use and misuse of words, I keep a dictionary handy. The kid wasn’t paying you a compliment.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a tool, as your impertinent offspring used the word, means, “One who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool. A cretin. Characterized by low intelligence and/or self-esteem. Example: That tool doesn’t even know she’s just using him.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission take note. When someone urges you to take up a proposed development for consideration, a development that satisfies all the existing local rules or for which no permits are required from any town or other local permit granting authority — such as a roundabout or a Menemsha Coast Guard boathouse — beware. Just because, they say, a broader community discussion of the plan is needed, don’t be a tool.

As an old logic text put it, “If reasoning is merely casual or haphazard, it is apt to be erroneous.” So that on these important questions, it would be comforting to think that we are beating up on one another upon a common and extensive battlefield of facts, not subjective prejudice.