At Large

by -
0

Hurricane preparedness, rules number one and two. First, visit Weather Underground or whatever weather prognosticator you favor. Look for the severe weather, North Atlantic forecast section. This year, at mid-September, you’re entitled to a sigh of relief.

Today, if you visit the weather page, you’ll find that three modest lows are bedeviling the Gulf of Mexico, and tropical storm Humberto is moving north in the mid-Atlantic uncertain about what to do next. Humberto harbors no evil intentions toward us. Nothing else significant is happening in the east-west glide path for hurricanes beginning as dust storms swirling from the west coast of Africa into the Atlantic. Residents of the East Coast of the U.S. keep a wary eye on the tropics throughout the summer and fall, and they should, because the pre-hurricane season forecasts broadcast in the spring each year are terrifically imprecise, almost never right. New Englanders must be vigilant, particularly in August and September.

The predictions released before the June 1 start of the hurricane season this year foresaw a very busy few months. But, of course, the forecasters don’t know what’s going to happen. They just think they can come close. Why they commit to forecasting the anticipated goings on in a future six-month period is a mystery of misbegotten faith.

Last year, they wrote, adjusting their earlier expectations, “Although we got off to a fast start in 2012, we feel that the heart of the season will be much less active than the last two, as an El Nino event continues to mature slowly and provide an unfavorable environment for tropical development.” That was a July revision, written by Dr. Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist for Weather Services International (WSI), a part of The Weather Channel Companies. Sounds a touch deflated, doesn’t he?

This year, in August, NOAA updated its forecast for the June through November 2013 season, saying that it might not be so busy as they thought, but active and possibly dangerous still.

The forecast still imagines three to five big hurricanes blowing more than 110 mph and 13 to 19 named storms before December 1.

The forecasters are not throwing in the towel yet. And, of course, we shouldn’t either. But, the likelihood that we’ll be pestered by 12 named storms, six of them becoming hurricanes, and three of them important, damaging storms has diminished.

“Make no bones about it, those ranges indicate a lot of activity still to come,” said

lead seasonal hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

in College Park, Maryland. “We’re coming to the peak of hurricane season now.”

The forecasts count on a busier-than-normal season because of global climate patterns, because the North Atlantic is warm, because the wind is blowing east to west, and because it’s been rainy in Africa. An anticipated but delinquent contributor is La Nina, the cooling in the Pacific. Last year it was a delinquent El Nino.

But, you can draw your own conclusions, if you watch carefully and constantly. You’ll know when something is about to happen, which is, after all what you need to know. And, looking ahead on a day-by-day basis is something forecasters do very well. An estimate of six months of weather ahead — certain to miss the mark to a greater or lesser extent — has mainly entertainment value. What the forecasters are good at is letting you know what is happening in real time. Watching carefully, you’ll know long before the big blow approaches.

When a big storm does develop and seems to have us in mind, there’s a map available on The Times weather site that presents a tracking forecast for up to five days ahead. It’s interesting but, like 10-year budget forecasts by Congress or the White House, or the touts for pretty fillies in the seventh at Santa Anita, or global warming forecasts, or market timing advice by stock brokers, it’s not something on which you want to place a big bet.

This time of the year, as summer expires and fall pretends to be summer’s cousin, read “A Wind to Shake the World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane,” by Everett S. Allen (Little, Brown and Company, 1976). It’s out of print, but not undiscoverable.

Everett Allen began work as a reporter for the New Bedford Standard Times on Sept. 21, 1938, the day the granddaddy of East Coast hurricanes traveled murderously north and east along the Atlantic seaboard, smashing everything in its path. That great storm made an impression on the young reporter who lived on the Vineyard but had mainland ambitions.

The story of the 1938 hurricane was a perfect match for his considerable storytelling skills.

A display at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum documents the havoc that unheralded and nameless hurricane caused on Martha’s Vineyard. Everett Allen’s book testifies in detail to that calamity.

“In Edgartown,” Allen writes, “the tide rose until it flooded summer homes along the harbor front. Piers were under water, fences went adrift, and so did boathouses and boats. Captain Fred Vidler, keeper of the harbor light, said that at least twenty and probably more boats of various sizes went out past the lighthouse in the tide. Seven or eight were battered against the lighthouse bridge, a number sank, with only their masts visible, and the Chappaquiddick ferry lay shattered. Water rose halfway to the eaves of the Edgartown Yacht Club; within, the piano was afloat.”

But the best part of Allen’s book is not his description of the storm or the mess it made of the coast. That’s the stuff we commonly see on television these days as it happens, although it’s mostly wind-whipped tree footage and not floating pianos. And Allen’s prose does not resemble the bare and qualified language of the weather forecasters. Instead, Allen, in a conversation with Thomas P.F. Hoving, then the director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and a summer resident, documents the unique smell of a big hurricane.

“‘I remember the smell of the eye of the hurricane,’ Hoving said. ‘It smelled like six billion air-conditioning sets dispensing ozone.'”

In 1938, Hoving was seven. His mother thought he would be safest under a card table.

“‘That was where my mother put us while the hurricane was going on,'” the grownup Hoving told Allen. “‘To keep us children calm, she put two or three card tables together and laid blankets over them, and my sister was instructed to tell us all the ghost stories she knew. She stretched the one about the screaming skull over about three hours. We were so scared of her ghost stories we forgot about being scared of the storm till it was all over. When the smell went away and the storm had subsided, we went out to see what damage it had done.'”

Describing his persistent, intrusive research for his book, Allen wrote, “For two years, I have forced myself — and countless others — to see again the sick color of the sky and sea on that day, to hear the scream of the wind, which was everywhere; to confront anew the shocking, instant obliteration of what had always been assumed permanent, mile upon mile of man’s work reduced to rubble…. I have made people weep by asking them to remember what for many of them remains their most terrible day.”

Allen understood, as we should, that a hurricane, hostile to confident forecasting as it may be, is no small thing.

A version of this column appeared in this space in September of 2006.

by -
0

There is a potent melancholy about these late summer days, a sense of irrecoverable loss. Sympathetically, the wind was piping Sunday morning, the bright blue sky harsh, and in the pews of the lovely, austere Old Whaling Church, through the mildly distorting old glass in the tall windows, the leaves in the nearby trees danced, sparkled, and waved soundlessly. The bright flat light and the wind moving tolled the warm season’s end.

As they waited, the assembled could not have anticipated an antidote to the blues. After all, the occasion was the funeral service for Joseph Edward Jerome, 24, who died on the first day of September. The older son of Ed and Maryanne Jerome, Joseph had been very ill for a very long time, as his younger brother Nicholas told us, in his lovely, affecting eulogy . There had been so many hospital stays, so many medical procedures, immeasurable discomfort, and yet Joseph through it all was stalwart, generous, and loving. He had apologized to the EMTs who came to take him to the hospital time after time. And, now Sunday.

The Jeromes are well known. Ed was the Edgartown School principal and filled in temporarily as Island schools’ superintendent, in 2005 and 2007. He is president of the annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Now, in retirement, he is Captain Ed Jerome, a charter fisherman. These are occupations, entries on a resume, markers of a busy and successful working and community life that has been admirable in countless respects. Beyond all that, Ed and Maryanne have been the faithful, enduring parents of Joseph. That has been a central calling of their lives.

Beyond the cheerful flowers, beyond the music and the prayers, the unmixed goodness of that parental devotion blessed the crowd at Sunday’s funeral service with a remarkable and unexpected lift. The Rev. John Shule presided and, in his quiet, knowing way, transformed what promised to be an unbearably distressing hour into a heartening, hopeful, and reassuring moment of good will and devotion, as practiced among us.

John Schule presided over the marriage of Ed and Maryanne 25 years ago. He’s presided over lots of marriages and funerals, and he remembers many of them in detail. In September 2006, he married my oldest daughter in a Chilmark field. In a telephone conversation this week, he remembered that day as a “wonderful occasion.” He did not remind me – he did not need to – that the ceremony was late to start, and that he was pressed for time because he had another appointment on his calendar. The moment he had pronounced my daughter and her husband married, John legged it across the big, rolling field to make his next stop. John has been sick, and at 82, he thinks it’s miraculous that he keeps on ticking, but he’s not legging it these days the way he did seven years ago.

In July, John officiated at the Jeromes’ 25th wedding anniversary celebration. He follows the people whose marriages he begins and whose ends he oversees, so he knew Joseph and his torturous health problems. That evening, Reverend Shule and Joseph compared notes over the whithering challenges of their ill health. They graded the medicines they had in common. “We shared so much,” John said this week, “that it was as if Joseph was writing his own service. He was so very courageous.”

Preparations for Sunday, John said, derived from that evening in July and his conversation with Joseph. “What I did really was just reflect on that evening.”

John told the crowd Sunday that when he imagines the Vineyard from far above, it is striking how small and apart it is. But, living his life here, he is astonished and convinced that the spirit of the community is not small, it is big hearted, loving and a sturdy support to neighbors, friends, and loved ones. On occasions, presiding over services like Joseph’s, he has asked the participants to raise the spirits of the afflicted and deserving with a standing ovation. Not the usual thing but, he says, it’s a spontaneous addition and can work wonders.

Sunday, he asked the friends and family who filled the Old Whaling Church’s pews for a standing O for Ed and Maryanne. It went on and on.

“I don’t think Joseph had ever been to one of my services,” John said, “but when we were talking in July, it came up.”

“You know, John,” Joseph said to the man who would preside over Sunday’s gathering, “if you live long enough, I know my parents love you and you’ll probably do my service. Give them a standing O. They’re more than parents. They’re earth angels.”

by -
0

During 50 summers, since Shenandoah, the topsail schooner he designed was launched from Harvey Gamage’s shipyard in Maine, Bob Douglas has been at her wheel as she left her Vineyard Haven mooring for each week long trip. In the early years, he took along 30 or so adults, sometimes Mariner Scouts, and while he wrestled with the Coast Guard for licensing, he carried them at no charge. Eventually, the trade in adults fell off and he turned to children, most from the the Vineyard schools. He thought they were more adaptable and absorbed the lessons he set out to teach, his best ambassadors as well. His aim was to wrestle a few modern Americans away from their televisions and other isolating gadgetry, their compulsive in-touchness. Let them spend a week under sail, in the wind, flying over the water, doing some rough labor and dining together, without technological mediation, with folks they didn’t know well but learned to know.

Recently, Bob, experiencing a few – amazingly and thankfully, a very few – of the knocks that are part of getting over 80, has left the mooring in company with his son Morgan. Kristofer Rabasca, a designer I work with at The Times, took a few minutes the other day to tell me about his trip with his daughter Hannah aboard Shenandoah. Kristofer reminded me of the indelible effect of those days and nights, so different in every respect from the lives we and our kids live every day. Kristofer and Hannah delighted in the wild, free, unmatched pleasures of the sunny, windy days, the kerosene lit deck at night, the storytelling and music at dinner in Shenandoah’s saloon, everyone sitting sleepily around the two great gimballed tables, Bob telling sea stories, the tired children nodding. He said he and Hannah would happily make the trip again, for two weeks if they could.

For me, Kristofer’s account confirmed a durable suspicion, that Bob’s intention when he built Shenandoah endures. His schooner is the instrument of a design as finely wrought as the vessel itself. He wanted to take a week, wrench his passengers out of their everyday lives, immerse them in long gone sounds, smells, and sensations, familiar to 19th century Americans but lost to their 20th Century successors. Who besides a man possessed, and also endowed, could fashion his life to affect the lives of so many others in ways they could not have imagined, but in ways that exactly suited him.

I met Bob in 1966, when I worked one college summer in a Fairhaven, Massachusetts shipyard. I was scraping the bottom of a hard-used New Bedford dragger on one railway, when Shenandoah, pristine, white, perfect, appeared on a railway nearby. Without a moment’s reflection, I left work, climbed the ladder to Shenandoah’s rail and asked Bob for a job. He said no, but a few weeks later, he called to ask me to fill in for a few weeks for a departing crewman. He offered me a full summer’s berth for the 1967 summer, but I was getting married that September and needed to make some money. Seagoing wages at the Coastwise Packet Company had a 19th Century flavor, just as the schooner did. In 1970, Bob called with another job offer. This time, I quit a teaching job that I didn’t like, was no good at, and had no appetite for, and moved to Vineyard Haven.

Over the years, I’ve sailed with Bob on Shenandoah several times. Some of the people I know and like the most, now Vineyarders too, began their Island lives as crew for Bob. During the mid-1970s, when Bob feared that Vineyard Haven’s waterfront and its history were at risk, he tried his hand at politics, running for selectman. It was inconceivable that a man who in his life and dreams dwelt in 1830, and always aboard a ship, could meet the 20th Century head on and change its course. Ultimately, his success would not be political but subversive, 30 passengers at a time. I wrote or rewrote speeches for his campaigns and typed and edited his longhand letters – rants, really – when I was at the Gazette. All to no avail. How could it have been otherwise?

The biggest contribution I made, and it was not selfless, was to encourage my two sons to work several years each as crewmen on Shenandoah, and later Alabama. They were susceptible to Bob’s design, as I have been, and their grownup lives are marked by the experiences they shared with him, as mine has. Not controlling experiences, mind you, but abiding, always in reserve, always informing, always brightening and illuminating life as we live it these days.

Honoring a half century of Bob and Shenandoah, Black Dog Tall Ships has operated day sails throughout the week and they will continue until Saturday, from 3-6 pm, onboard Shenandoah. Make reservations through the BD Tall Ships office. Everyone is invited to a dockside event on Sunday evening from 5-8 pm, at the head of the Black Dog Wharf (weather dependent). Visitors may come onboard for tours and meet Captain Douglas and his crew. Shenandoah’s chanteyman, Bill Schustik, will perform.

by -
0

Of the two dogs, Teddy has the most to say. He is naturally outspoken, and he doesn’t confine himself to subjects with which he is familiar. It’s a natural characteristic of the pug, I suppose, because of the breed’s historic association with the exalted and particularly with royalty of Asian and Western sorts. Although he is really a trinket of an animal, he thinks he’s a trinket with a high purpose. He combines a relentless determination to go and see whenever he imagines that something new and unexpected has popped up. It might be his own reflection in the glass door or a bird or a squirrel, it doesn’t matter, he’s off, leaping from whatever piece of furniture he’s claimed for a perch. And, on the run, he talks ceaselessly about the impending action. “I just saw an elephant on the porch” he has explained to me on several occasions. “Get over here. Are you going to put up with such intrusions?”

I don’t indulge his delusions. I say, “Don’t be silly, it’s the UPS man.” But, my words don’t penetrate. He’s a tiny missile with a mission.

Teddy does not think tininess is a disqualifier. He thinks he’s a necessary ornament whose opinions are dazzling and indispensable.

He is not a fighter. He feigns amiability with most dogs he meets on our daily walks. But, he is not inclusive. He is dearly fond of other pugs, who generally seem to respond in kind. “That’s a good looking pug,” he’ll say, though I can tell by the slant of his eyes that he has added to himself, under his breath, “Not as good looking as I am, but who is?”

It’s about the same with people though curiously paradoxical. He is very fond of people, the whole species in a general sense, not little people in particular. He adopts big people who are exuberantly fond of him, and offer treats. To him they’re people pugs, though outsized. He disdains those adults who are indifferent to him. Doesn’t give them the time of day. The husband of a friend of ours whom Teddy admires gets barely a nod. I can hear him, as we say goodby to them at the door, whisper, “Where’d she get that dud?

When the television news was full of stories about the First Family’s second First Dog, another Portuguese water dog, Teddy was unimpressed. After all, in his mind he’s the first dog of all dogs and the consort of queens, not politicians. Besides, as I’ve suggested, his favorites are little dogs with little hair. “They remind me of mops,” he said of such examples of canine royalty. “They are undignified” is his judgment of big, curly haired, gamboling dogs, no matter what the temporary inhabitants of the White House or any other house might think.

Teddy is not too proud to accommodate himself to a lot of hair in the form of Diesel, who is an English mastiff of generous proportions and Teddy’s partner in filth. I’ve noticed Teddy sniffing Diesel’s sleeping form trying to discover which end was which and what was the sum of it all. As offputting as Teddy can be, he’s dedicated to his association with Diesel. When Teddy leaps from the sofa yapping a warning about an intruder, he looks over his shoulder to see if Diesel’s alert and rumbling in his wake. “Move it, buster. It’s for real this time,” he says.

Diesel is judicious, not impetuous. He thinks it over. He has let himself be fooled by Teddy many times, and now he pauses to weigh the pros and cons. He wants to be there if there is something to be there for, but he’s on to his little buddy’s crackpot ways. He’s not opinionated, but he keeps his own counsel.

Unhappily, over so many years some of Teddy’s imperiousness has made an impression on Diesel, and he’s begun to speak out. For instance, his habit from a youth was to leave the path to bulldoze his way into the woods to do his business. Now, he doesn’t move so well and he knows the brambles and poison ivy will trip him up. So, he may get down to it by the side of the road. He is always happy in his work, and he lets me know when the urge has arrived. But, his long observation of Teddy’s arch and impertinent behavior has led Diesel to try a little chain of command stuff himself. I hear him rumbling, “Hey, big boy, get over here.”

Teddy marks that same moment on the trail with a little touchdown dance, whose implications I understand very well and accept.

I am very proud of my environmentally sound re-use of the blue plastic sleeves in which The New York Times arrives, to clean up after the boys who watch with smug satisfaction.

by -
0

After Jared Remy was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, the mother of his child, the Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan explained to the press how it happened that Mr. Remy had been arrested for abusing Ms. Martel the day before he killed her, but released on personal recognizance. She said that her prosecutors did not request a high bail to keep him in the can, or even any bail at all. They agreed to Mr. Remy’s release, because they thought he would certainly make his next scheduled court appearance. They did not think, even though he had been arrested for slamming Ms. Martel’s face into a mirror, that he would start again where he left off but take it up a notch, knifing her repeatedly until she died.

Ms. Ryan said her prosecutors acted on the information they had available to them when the issue of bail arose, including Mr. Remy’s record of 14 previous arrests, including charges of domestic violence against two other women, and the coincidental expiration of a restraining order, which Ms. Martel did not seek to review.

But, the prosecutors also knew, or should have known, that they did not have to base their judgment regarding bail on Ms. Martel’s decision to let the restraining order expire or on whatever may have been her expressed belief that Mr. Remy’s behavior was improving. They knew that in Massachusetts they might have concluded, based on a review of the record and the most recent arrest, that a dangerous hearing was appropriate.

A statute separate from the bail statute covers the issue of dangerousness to the community. After a hearing, a judge could decide that incarceration, electronic monitoring, or daily alcohol testing is necessary to protect the victim of a crime or to protect the community. The dangerousness statute is usually invoked in cases that involve a crime of violence, or drunk driving, but rarely in drug cases.

But, they might have requested one, and Mr. Remy would have stayed in jail until he appeared before a judge who would hear from prosecutors that Mr. Remy’s history, together with the assault he had just been arrested on, justified keeping him behind bars for a while. That was an option that prosecutors had the day before Ms. Martel was killed, but chose not to exercise. Of course, the judge might have ordered bail or recognizance after the hearing, or Mr. Remy might have got around eventually to murdering his girlfriend, but the prosecutors would have done the intelligent and cautious thing, respecting the facts they knew about Mr. Remy’s disolute and violent life. They would have made a supportable judgment, despite the risk that a judge may have rejected it. Mr. Remy’s mortal assault following his release may not have been predictable, but it was not unimaginable, based on the record. These experienced prosecutors missed a chance to act to protect one of their vulnerable constituents.

Why is this a matter for Dukes County residents to consider? You may recall that in the past we have reviewed in these pages the record of lifelong drug dealer Richard Morris’s ins and outs — arrests, incarceration, bail, probation, release pending trial, re-arrest, bail reduction, bail revocation, etc. — as chronicled in the news and editorial columns of The Times. It was a tale that must disappoint any reasonable Dukes County resident.

It disappoints because it is so common. Drug dealers, drunk drivers, or domestic abusers, thieves of all descriptions — choose your own pernicious influence — too many of them flow in and out of the police reports and the court records. And, doing so, in addition to the damage their activities do to the Island community, they damage the Island community’s view of the judicial system.

What are the lessons that ordinary Islanders can take away from stories like Mr. Morris’s, or of Adalberto Pires, whose interactions with local and federal law enforcement authorities and the courts have a Three Stooges fascination to it?

For one, it is the clear perception that whether one steals $600,000 from customers who had every right to expect behavior that is beyond reproach from their legal counsel, an officer of the court, or whether it’s the theft of $200 worth of stereos to sell for money to buy drugs, whether one imports heroin and cocaine to retail to Islanders, whether one assaults a wife or a neighbor, or whether one is here illegally and compounding that illegality with more severe crimes, the consequence to the miscreant will be inconvenient but not onerous, certainly not a deterrent, as history clearly shows.

People in law enforcement will tell you that drugs are common and widely used, and that drug business and drug use are linked to criminality of a variety of sorts. Thievery, violence, and abuse are associated with drugs, and the social cost is significant.

Yet, despite broad agreement on this and on the toll that other apparently less squalid types of criminal activity exact from the community, we cannot argue confidently that the courts are helping to stem the criminal tide.

In many places in the nation, civic life is lived atop an underground criminal culture, which is accepted as the price of daily existence. It may be suppressed, the thinking goes, but not extinguished. The civic costs in human and financial terms must be assumed and paid. Here, small, intimately acquainted with one another, and apart from the greater nation, we might reasonably aspire to reduce the dangerous and withering cost to the community of criminal behavior.

In this small, inconvenient community, when there is the chance to exercise greater control over criminal behavior than seems possible elsewhere, and when law enforcement has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to catch and prosecute misbehavior, what’s wanted from the courts is something more than personal recognizance, low bails, probation, hopefulness, community service, confusion, and recidivism.

by -
0

In 1965, Eugene Braunwald visited his boyhood home in Vienna. He and his family fled Austria in 1938, shortly after Germany annexed his native country and the SS dissolved his family’s wholesale textile business. Of course, in 1965 Braunwald was no longer the boy who had seen his father carted off in an SS truck, not the boy who, with his family, had escaped the persecution then inevitable and undisguised in Austria, first to neutral Switzerland, then to threatened London, and finally to the United States.

As Thomas H. Lee, cardiologist, professor at Harvard Medical School, and network president at Partners HealthCare, explains, “In the decades that followed that hasty departure, Braunwald would become a professor at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He would become the most prolific and arguably the most influential cardiology researcher in the world. He would visit Vienna for many medical meetings, but that day in 1965 marked the first time he returned to his boyhood home.”

Tom Lee and his family have been West Tisbury summer residents for decades. His mother, Kin Ping, had a memorably fashionable dress shop on Main Street in Edgartown for years. His father, an engineer, worked for GE building nuclear power plants. And, Scotty Reston and I hired Tom as a summer intern at the Vineyard Gazette, where I was managing editor in the 1970s. He had been an editor at the Harvard Crimson, and his work at the Gazette convinced Reston and me that he would certainly be a writer or journalist one day. We weren’t altogether wrong, though we had the timing off. Now, a practicing cardiologist at the Brigham, Tom’s array of talents and his interest in history, particularly the history of medical progress, have combined in the publication of Eugene Braunwald and the Rise of Modern Medicine (Harvard University Press, Cambridge. 383 pp. $35.)

Tom has married his habit of meticulous research to his native skill as an interviewer and storyteller to describe in careful detail and an engaging prose style the explosive advancement of modern medicine — the drugs, the devices, the diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, the research achievements, and the changes in physician training — in the second half of the 20th Century. The changes he documents, many of them the consequences of Braunwald’s work, transformed earlier approaches to medical treatment. Heart disease, for example, Braunwald’s long and passionate focus, had been treated more passively, even fatalistically, than it is today: “The emphasis was on rest, losing weight, and treating conditions that might increase the heart’s workload. … the goal was to decrease the heart’s work as much as possible.” Young physicians were told that even death from the disease “might well serve the purpose of reducing burdens on younger generations.”

Modern approaches are more aggressive, and “Much of Eugene Braunwald’s career would be devoted to changing that fatalism about myocardial infarction — to finding medications and other treatment strategies that can extend life for patients with atherosclerosis.”

Tom’s history of the change in medical care follows Braunwald’s exceptional career, brilliant and committed, but underlying the narrative is Tom’s understanding of the impulsion contributed to that trajectory by Braunwald’s immigrant experience and his determination not to trifle with the opportunity to do important work.

A line written by Oscar Handlin, the historian who grew up in Brooklyn as Braunwald did, and invoked by Tom suggests an important collateral dimension of his interest in Braunwald. “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”

Dr. Braunwald, whose books include Braunwald’s Heart Disease, in its ninth edition, a fundamental text in cardiology, as well as Primary Cardiology, the Atlas of Internal Medicine, and the Atlas of Heart Disease, among others, followed a career path that was often skewed by the slow, unpredictable progress and frequent disappointments, plus wavering budget commitments, common to all scientific research.

Budget cuts and California politics, when Ronald Reagan was governor, led to Braunwald’s move to Boston, and to Harvard and the Brigham, from the University of California San Diego, where he had been laying the groundwork for some of his most promising and transformational work. Then there was the essential difficulty and unpredictability of medical research. Late in his tenure at the National Institutes of Health, Braunwald joined an advisory panel led by the celebrated heart surgeon Michael DeBakey. The goal, set in 1964, Dr. Lee explains, was to fund and oversee research and development of an artificial heart. The target for the program was 1970, but it was unrealistic. “The scientific foundation necessary for developing the artificial heart was inadequate. The two major engineering obstacles — the development of a surface to prevent clotting and the creation of an implantable power source — could not be overcome by 1970,” a 1984 analysis of the program concluded, calling its “initial objectives…quite naive.”

“There was this cockiness of the Kennedy era that infected all of us,” Braunwald judged. “We thought that if the country set its sights on any goal, we could accomplish it. We were going to go to the moon, and we were going to develop an artificial heart. What we learned was that biological science does not move ahead with the same predictability as the space program.”

Braunwald was disappointed, but not daunted. “Braunwald has often said that he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the right people, and this luck enabled him to make contributions to medical progress — but the fact is that, over six decades, he was repeatedly in the right place at the right time with the right people,” Tom writes.

The keys, apart from Braunwald’s brilliance as a researcher and physician, were his vision and commitment. “He would tell me,” Tom writes, “how he had always focused his career on trying to answer important questions (such as reducing mortality from myocardial infarction), and tried to ensure that his work was always connected to his big-picture goals.”

Braunwald’s story is the lens through which Tom Lee observes and describes the extraordinary advancement of medical knowledge and health care practice in the booming half century that began after World War II. Looking through that lens the other way, one discovers a human story that touches the writer deeply.

“Braunwald’s life and accomplishments are inextricably intertwined with the post-World War II history of medicine, and especially of cardiology. He was part of the wave of immigrants who injected energy and ambition into American academic medicine. His generation created a tremendous surge in knowledge through their research at the National Institutes of Health, and then at American medical schools and teaching hospitals. And they changed the way in which students and trainees learned medicine and the institutions through which health care was delivered.”

In the dedication of his book, Tom makes clear the link and the importance to him of not only Braunwald’s story, intertwined as it is with the history of medical progress, but also the nation’s story of 20th Century immigration. He writes, “To Soheyla and our daughters, Simin, Sabrina, and Ariana — four additional wondrous results of twentieth-century patterns of immigration to America.”

by -
0

One Wednesday evening recently, as we put the finishing touches on another print edition of The Times, we chatted about semi-colons. At your dinner table, semi-colons may have been the furthest thing from your list of table talk topics. But, in newsrooms large and small, metropolitan and rural, the wretched folk that ply this tortured trade are notorious chatterboxes, all agenda items welcome, and they’re multi-taskers. They can button up the front page, write headlines, proofread copy, and conduct a feverish discussion of any topic at all. It doesn’t have to be a big issue, for instance whether the newspaper they work for has been sold out from under them or whether the newspaper that is their competitor has. It doesn’t have to be the latest Tweet or Facebook post about A-Rod or the latest viral YouTube video of an Abyssinian cat playing the Goldberg variations or the story of political corruption that readers will wake to on publication morning. Sometimes, it’s semi-colons, or exclamation points, or even commas.

When one invites Letters to the Editor or online Comments, as The Times does, one confronts the prose composition eccentricities of the masses. Over the years these have included not only language, grammar, punctuation, vulgarities, and topic anomalies, but even excursions that aren’t prose at all. It seems there is an unquenchable desire among some in the newspaper’s readership to write letters in verse. It’s a delightful notion, and poetry has its place of course, but it isn’t the easiest sort of communication to commit in cold blood. It requires sensitivity, empathetic understanding, and a feeling for symbolism — skills that the run-of-the-mill newspaper reader doesn’t expect to be called upon to exercise while he chews his beef jerky. It doesn’t find its natural home among the letters. Plus, I’ve learned that if you publish one poem as if it were a letter, the inbox surges with poetry of all denominations. So, we’ve given the poets a church of their own now, at the Poetry Corner in the Community section of the newspaper every week.

Among the weirdest of our correspondents are those who are committed to the most self-effacing kind of expression. They do not use capitalization to signal the beginning of a new sentence, or to distinguish proper nouns. They are grammatically modest, to a confusing degree. For these, I is i, and God (or god) forbid a reader might conclude that the writer’s opinion of himself is exalted. Strangely, the use of that un-capped i in sentence after sentence may infiltrate some ambiguity into the reader’s assessment of the writer’s apparent humility, but each of us is free to make up her own mind about that.

For reasons that I think are wholly unrelated to the no I in i impulse, other writers omit periods at the ends of sentences, preferring the mark for ellipses instead. Thus, john visited judy this evening… they watched some tv then ate some ice cream…then…

The three dots don’t indicate the end of a sentence, as some letter writers imagine that they do. The period, acting alone, does that. The three dots can indicate an elision or omission, something left out, and not by accident. It may also suggest that the writer merely lost his thread and instead of searching for it said an unspoken what the hell and went on. In addition, such omissions leave questions. We wonder, Then, what? Others, attempting to communicate with their neighbors through the Letters column leave out periods altogether. The letter is one long utterly unpunctuated sentence. Their view, I think, is that the editor should straighten all this out, and maybe he can make sense out of what I was trying to say. The combination of these compositional quirks makes it a chore to render into publishable prose.

Occasionally, the writer will get the urge to add some pop to his message. He brings out the all-caps big guns figuring he’ll give whatever he had in mind a sound beating, and thump the readers too. JOHN VISITED JUDY THIS EVENING… THEY WATCHED SOME TV THEN ATE SOME ICE CREAM THEN… Apparently, the information didn’t matter so much as the emphasis. For all these people, semi-colons, capitalization, and even commas are the least of their worries, and don’t get me started on spelling.

I am not a fan of semi-colons, by the way, although I know they have a job to do in more formal written expression. But, for newspaper writing, I mostly gather them up and send the whole herd to the knackerman. Commas are different, and I like them, largely because they don’t just lay there on the printed page being merely grammatical or even puzzlingly so. Their job in informal writing of the sort letter writers and Comment posters – or editorial writers or columnists for that matter – attempt and often butcher is to say, Pause a beat, take a breath, now go on. They are particularly useful to clarify a complicated thought for the reader, especially if it began for the writer as a treasured thought but was on its way to being a jumble.

Anyway, the point of all this was to get to my feelings about exclamation points. And that is, I hate them. The problems are duplication and excess. When someone writes Wow, the word is an exclamation. Adding !!! adds nothing, except a disturbing sense that the writer is feigning an enthusiasm unwarranted and maybe oppressive. After all, no one is really three exclamation points eager, and if someone is, do we want to have written communication with such a person?

If you write Thanks, or even Thanks a lot, will the addition of one ! or even three !!! enlarge your gratitude or make it more heartfelt. If it was not heartfelt when it was represented by the word alone, how can it be more so with the added punctuation?

My theory — and you may conclude that it derives from my view that everything was better years ago, although that is not exactly my view — is that when we moved from typewriters to computer keyboards, writers embraced the license to clutter one’s prose with exclamation points. In the days of the Underwood, you could bang on the keys all you wanted, but you couldn’t find one labeled exclamation point. There were commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, even semi-colons, but no exclamation points. Writers kept their enthusiasms in check. They committed more modest prose. If you wanted to inflate your emotion, you had to type the period, then backspace, then type the shift-apostrophe. It was a nuisance, so writers restrained themselves. They used their words.

Today, the urge to go big or go away has encouraged writers to litter, and they do it with the exclamation point. There ought to be a law.

by -
0

August on Martha’s Vineyard is not about visits by the president. August’s hallmark feature is The Fair, now just two weeks away. There are fairs everywhere in the summer. State fairs, county fairs, country fairs, church fairs, and ours, the Annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair. The Ag Society describes it as a “real, old-fashioned agricultural country fair with mid-way.”

The hall exhibits, the animals, the contests, the food — in mid-August, all roads lead to the fair. The image from this year’s fair poster will appear on Fair tee-shirts that, like Lucy Vincent Beach stickers on car windows, document an Islander’s faithful attendance at our most important tribal rituals.

The Fair, as we like to call it, is a red-letter date on the Vineyard calendar. Folks paint pictures with The Fair entry deadline in mind. They knit and crochet and tend their gardens. They polish the squash and spread Sho-sheen on the cukes. They photograph the kids, bake cookies, bale hay (first and second cut), raise hogs, groom dogs, train the oxen, deodorize the goats, and more and more. They do it all with The Fair in mind. After all, it’s the biggest party of the year, with prizes. It’s the one event to which everyone is invited, high and low, and everyone comes.

But it’s also the mid-August moment when summer becomes autumn, when school, instead of whispering, hollers that the time has come to put away summer and bend over the books, or the keyboard, or at least head for the mall to pick out some back to school clothes and a new trapper-keeper. (What the heck are those things anyway? There weren’t any trapper-keepers when I was going back to school.) The big retailers know when it’s time for back-to-school promotions, but they don’t have the delicious autumn alert that is the Fair.

The Ag Fair is not listed on the national website that maintains a list of all the county fairs in each of the 50 states. But, ours is not a county fair the way the Barnstable County Fair is. The Barnstable fair is on the national list. And, ours is not a state fair, although the state of Massachusetts helps finance it and admires the energy and accomplishment of Vineyard entrants. And, it is certainly not like the Iowa State Fair, which sometimes competes, no doubt unsuccessfully, for the attention of Vineyarders who are looking for a fair to close out the summer. The Iowa fair describes itself as “internationally-acclaimed,” although it doesn’t say who’s doing the acclaiming.

The Iowa State Fair is the biggest event in the state, an agricultural and industrial exposition, plus farm machinery and food exhibits, fireworks, auto and horse races, and a lot more, including superstar entertainment, games, rides, hog calling, cow calling, horse calling, husband calling, and on and on. Apparently there’s an unadvertised politician-calling contest also, to judge from the way herds of aspiring Democrats and Republicans ship themselves out to Iowa and submit to piglet hefting and chicken chasing competitions, all in the name of vote harvesting — which sounds agricultural but isn’t, of course.

The Iowa fair, begun in 1854, may be the biggest and most celebrated of fairs each summer, but it’s not the fair it was 150 years ago. It has changed over the years, as have fairs all over the country, including ours, which is just a few years younger than the Iowa extravaganza.

And, speaking of Iowa, every summer, each of Iowa’s 99 counties throws its own fair. “Provincial and patriotic,” Iowa explains, “with beauty pageants and demolition derbies, polka dances and daredevil shows, these rural exhibitions reflect the traditional values and the countrified culture of America’s heartland.”

Then there’s the Wilson County, Tennessee fair with contests for decorating skateboards and text messaging. There’s a wine bar at the Wisconsin State Fair. Something called a “cellfest” at the Marin County, California, fair features videos and photos created by fairgoers on their cell phones. South Dakota’s state fair dropped rodeos as attendance fell off, but it now hosts championship bull-riding broadcasts on TV.

And USA Today, which keeps track of all these changes, has reported that “Mexican and Middle Eastern food are a trend at New England fairs.” Bob Silk of the New Hampshire Association of Fairs and Expositions explained, “People are getting away from just eating the sausage, French fries, and fried dough.”

Not us. The Vineyard, provincial and patriotic as all get out, is apparently out of step with these trends as well as so many others. We give way more gradually to advancing gentrification, so while fair attendance is declining nationwide, despite the modernizing efforts of fair managers in the “countrified culture of America’s heartland,” giving rise to suggestions that perhaps fairs are phenomena whose time is up, that trend, happily, does not prevail here.

A version of this column appeared in 2006.

by -
0

The season of Vineyard kvetching is upon us. As it has done every year in mid-July, the enthusiasm for the end of spring and the beginning of summer season highlife combines with low-grade despair and regret. This year, the national — actually, global — economic, five-year slump has started a mudslide of depression, foreboding, whining, and dissatisfaction. Moods may be gloomier than they have been since the early 1970s.

You recognize the melody. Gasoline is too expensive. (Absolutely true, no question.) Traffic is congested. Parking is impossible. (But, no more parking places, it will ruin the aura.) Food is way too dear. The ferry is too expensive. Houses are too expensive. Land is too expensive. Oh, and where are the buyers?

Choices are too few. Jobs are scarce. (Not true, to judge by the Help Wanted section of The Times Classifieds.) Wages are too low. You can’t come and go when you like. There’s never a reservation available when you want it. The restaurants are too expensive. The tourists, the dependability of whose arrival we have worried about for half a decade, came in droves this year — we got what we wished for, and it’s such an imposition.

There aren’t enough bike paths. The cyclists don’t want bike paths. They interfere with auto traffic. All the beaches are private. You can’t get a drink in this town. (Ancient and venerable complaint, now mooted.) But, we have complaints in reserve, to wit, you can after all, get at least a beer, but you’ve got to buy some high-priced food with it. Each diner must memorize a list of rules before being served the first glass of wine or beer. For instance, cashews are not considered a meal, but a Chex Mix may be. The bars close too early. The bars ought to close earlier. There’s no Burger King. You can’t let your dog off the leash in the conservation areas or on the beaches. The taxis cost too much. The band at the wedding can’t play after midnight. The big summer houses are too big. Why don’t we add an extra tax on the summer residents? There are too few tourists. There are too many. You can’t make a living. The rich are getting richer. You can’t find a decent carpenter, plumber, broker, waiter, yadda, yadda, and if you do, he’ll be off fishing for a month beginning in September.

You can’t get through Five Corners. Maybe there ought to be a roundabout like the one at the Blinker that we hated. You can’t figure out where to park at the Steamship terminal in Vineyard Haven. It’s crazy the way they have the luggage cart next to the loading ramps.

If there is a Vineyarder archetype — year-round or seasonal — all of these suppurating and contradictory attitudes would be incorporated in the specimen. This is the peculiar, but common vernacular that tells the story of this precious hood. If I’ve got this wrong, if these laments are unfamiliar to you, let me know.

To be fair, there are one or two characteristic attitudes that run counter to the trend. You find them often in the Letters to the Editor columns of The Times, and, sadly, less frequently in the online Comments. Islanders and visitors bless EMS, the hospital’s nurses, the firefighters, the generous neighbors who rush to help anyone who’s having a rough time, and anyone who cleans up after mess makers. They love the beaches, but not the dogs that love the beaches, and the woods, but not the ticks. (Perfectly understandable, that last.)

Is there no joy in the Vineyard rhythm? Is there no upside to Island living? Last weekend, puzzling over the prevalence of discontent and the shortage of ecstasy, I found myself burnt out. I had to get away. So, I took the bus to Costco.

Costco is an antidote to the Vineyard. It’s not Tahiti or the Four Seasons in Manhattan, mind you, but it is absolutely not here. It’s crowded as hell, but everyone loves it. The lunch crowd shares tables and eats pizza. Good humor abounds, as is common when everyday folk discover bargains that are not everyday to them at all. The deli, produce, prepared meals, and meat sections are packed. Pardon me, your elbow has intruded upon my crispy tofu. Terribly sorry, but I notice that you have inadvertently interfered with my Thai salad with citrus dressing. Choices are myriad. Prices are low, but quantities are great, so the savings may be an illusion. Still, no sanctimonious someone tells you they’ve tacked on a few more pennies to save the trees, heh heh, which we should all pitch in eagerly to do, of course. Shame on us.

There are parking places galore. There is considerable hubbub, not just in season, but year-round. No one complains. The zoning is wall to wall, sell it all. There’s a gas station included, and the gas is cheaper than at home. There’s a tire store across the parking lot. They’ve made a 50-year plan to let things happen and have some fun doing it.

Well, that is certainly not the way we do things here.

Don’t misunderstand me. Costco is not life. I know that. It’s a metaphor, sort of, for the way life is lived elsewhere. It’s a place where everyone is eager and happy, thrilled with life’s opportunities. It is a stimulant, a metaphor for choice, congestion without complaint, competitive pricing, happy customers, strange faces, a small place jammed with people of all sorts who cheerfully make a party out of it.

Someone said once that the way to solve the global terrorist problem — and our national economic problems, for that matter — might be to give our antagonists and the economic slackers abroad prepaid gift cards and short-term visas, fly them to the States and let them shop at Costco’s. It would make converts of them all. The Vineyard in-season might not.

by -
0

The Woods family made a generous gift of its roughly 500 acres of land, most of it in West Tisbury, some in Chilmark, to the Nature Conservancy (TNC). The gift came with a conservation restriction (CR), ultimately endorsed, as it needed to be, by the selectmen in each town. The CR is embodied in a legal document of some 21 pages detailing what may (not much) and may not (really, everything) happen on this rather common tract of mid-Island property. I say common, but in fact it’s rather uncommonly large and whole.

In the July 11 MV Times, Nelson Sigelman described the transaction [TNC says conservation restrictions prohibit walking trail link], the CR, and the failed effort of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank to extract from TNC permission to connect public conservation properties on either side of the Woods tract with a trail that would run along the edge of the Woods Preserve. The Woods gift was generous and valuable. No one would dispute either proposition. But, its value to the town, indisputable in some senses, is nevertheless arguable, particularly because there is almost no allowance for public access.

There are certainly beneficial real estate and income tax considerations for the Woods family. A fraction of those benefits may be revealed by an analysis of the real estate tax abatement that goes with the CR’s relinquishment of development rights attached to such a large undeveloped parcel. But, in fact, that value may be small, especially because, as is the practice in West Tisbury, where the bulk of the property is located, assessors set a high value on the residential portions of the property — in the Woods case, there are buildings and as yet unbuilt residential construction sites — and lowering the value on what assessors call “excess acreage,” which in the Woods case is hundreds of acres. So the family’s real estate tax bill was already lower than it might have been if the entire parcel were assessed at its market value as developable land.

The Seven Gates community, whose property is many times larger than the Woods tract, is a case in point. The combination of lower assessed value on “excess acreage” there, plus an agricultural preservation restriction on additional acreage, reduced Seven Gates’s overall assessment by about $5 million, or about $26,000 in revenue were it all valued as residential property and taxed at the current $5.26 per thousand rate.

In any case, in a town whose overall land value is now reduced by almost 50 percent because of preserved and protected land, and on an Island where significant development of open parcels is a thing of the pre-1974, pre-Martha’s Vineyard Commission past, the value of big additions to the undevelopable land category may not be significant in the way of real estate tax revenue or the cost of goods and services when new development takes place. That familiar debate — cost of development vs. the savings when land is not developed — is hardly resolved.

Importantly, when the selectmen in Chilmark and West Tisbury endorsed the CR on the Woods property, none of them knew what was the net real estate tax revenue loss to the town, nor did they consider whether the benefits of the vast, unbuilt acreage outweighed that tax loss.

Not that the decision would have or should have turned on the calculation. But, it might have stiffened the spines of the town officials who asked for public access and genuflected meekly when they learned they couldn’t have any. (Excepting Jonathan Mayhew of Chilmark, bless him.) None of them and none of us are persuaded that the value of that vast tract lies in its usefulness as a scientific locus for habitat and species studies that would be impossible if a few Islanders and even fewer visitors could follow a trail along the edge to connect the Land Bank’s Wascosim’s Rock Preserve and the Agricultural Society property where the annual fair takes place, also a gift — and an immensely valuable one to all Islanders and their guests — from the Woods family.

It is worth keeping in mind that the portions of the entire tract — all of a piece in terms of its habitat and species values — are reserved by the Woods family for its own residential and agricultural pursuits and for some limited development. Indeed, everything that is prohibited on the Preserve’s property on which the grantor does not retain future development rights — and everything that is prohibited is just about everything that anyone would imagine doing — is allowed on the reserved lots.

It is also worth considering whether the selectmen could have been more forceful in demanding some limited public rights to the acreage. First, pressing for such a right in exchange for the CR grant, would have recognized that the Woodses and their successors, conservation- and preservation-minded as they without question are, were unlikely to ravish the land in development if the CR was denied.

Second, the language of the CR itself opens the door to a limited public use. The preamble in the CR document to the exhausting list of prohibited uses makes a modest claim for its purpose: “it is Grantor’s [the Woods family] intention to set aside a significant portion of the property as a nature and wildlife preserve.” The language may contemplate the reserve of rights to some of the land for Woods family continued use. But, it may also have had in mind the state of Massachusetts’s hostility — although muted and negotiable — to CRs that do not open some portion of the property, in some way, to public use, however limited.

The language does not say all of the 500 or so acres. It does not say all but the portions reserved for the Woods family to do as it likes. It says “significant portion.” And, how much is that? Could it be all of the land except the Woods family reserve and a tiny strip along the edge where visitors may walk without disturbing the habitat and the rare and flourishing species. I think the selectmen, when the CR was set in place, and TNC and Vineyard Conservation Society today, ought to read the language as giving latitude for some public access.

As Mr. Sigelman reported last week, Edward Woods Jr., who lives on his parents’ ranch in California but visited the family home off North Road in West Tisbury recently, doubts that the family would agree to relax the restrictions that prohibit public access. He invoked the predisposition of the many-headed to make a mess to explain that posture.

“The amount of ground that is disrupted was not in my grandmother’s thought process, was not in my parents’ thought process,” he told Mr. Sigelman, “and we prefer the thing being left in the natural state, as opposed to being another trail with a bit of litter here and there and the dogs here and there and the bicycle tracks here and there, and the wanderings off the trail, the carvings on the trees, the knocked-over stone walls here and there, if a trail went nearby them. We just prefer it in its natural state.”

The careless and unwashed among us recognize this description of our practices. It’s a common theme. Happily, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s careful stewardship of its vast public lands — several times more vast than the Woods property — has demonstrated conclusively that there is no good reason to credit such blather.