At Large : Getting it right
Hedging a bit, but equivocating not at all, I think we have achieved a level of debate in The Times' online Comment feature that may be, in the words of the earthier among us, sustainable. The hedge is that although there are many among the nattering classes who confidently predict what will happen next - the world will end, it will ignite, we will ignite, the president will save everything, the Iranians will ruin everything, Cabral will flub up, Cabral will persuade readers to see it all his way - I am not one.
I do not predict. I am not surprised. I will not be surprised if some Comment participants relapse into calumny and viciousness. I will not be surprised if others insist that the Comment feature ought to be buried with an earlier version of The Times website that we thought was way ahead of its time, as indeed it was, so avant garde, in fact, that we could not tame it, and most of our visitors fell away in despair because they couldn't tame it either and didn't have the patience to try. Who could blame them?
I will not be surprised if, when there are no more dog stories to report, the most vigorous and relentless Comment writers will be reduced to howling plaintively for blood, blood, and more blood. Perhaps mine.
I will not be surprised if one day we report that the 50-year planners among us propose zoning bylaw amendments requiring that 10 decades hence sensors, cameras, and computerized monitoring devices must have been installed in each new house and retrofitted to every older house allowing the central planning authority to manage the Island's carbon footprint by enforcing daily heating, cooling, and lighting standards in Island homes. And getting savory glimpses of who knows what else, I might add. I will not be surprised if despite the odiousness of all this, no one comments on it.
I will not be surprised if the quality of prose be not strained sufficiently in days ahead so that one Commenter will drop so many vowel-free, text messaging, word-like symbols and obscure emoticons into his post that another cannot possibly understand what the first wrote. Both will be blessed with an unbridgeable ignorance of what the other has expressed. But, that lacuna will nevertheless only encourage them to carry on their Comment conversation.
I will not be surprised if the Comment rules require a nip and a tuck, now and again. Remember, we started off saying, simply, Have a thought, put it up. Don't need your real name. Then we said, hold on, there are some rules. Rule one, be nice. Then we said you've got to read the rules and agree to them, before you can post. Then we said, not only that but you've got to add some identifying information, so we can track you down and expose you for the numbskull you've shown yourself to be. Then we said we're going to read and approve each post. Then we said no calling the other posters nasty names, or your post won't post.
Then, we rested.
And, in a moment of downright blubbery gratitude, I say thank you one and all. I don't mean thanks for your cockeyed views, your harshly critical observations, your argumentative tone, your heartfelt (though deeply and horrifyingly misguided) analyses of the deep, dark, and wicked machinations you suppose are behind the editorial workings of the newspaper. No. I say thank you all for whittling away some of the rubbishy expression and mocking address. You've made the Comment feature work better than it worked when we began it. Keep it up.
Book Note: Sailor, novelist, reporter, long-time New Bedford resident, and one-time Vineyarder Rory Nugent set out in Down at the Docks (Pantheon Books, New York, 2009) to tell the sad but true story of fishing out of New Bedford these days. New Bedford is a city whose fortunes distress someone like me, who grew up across the river and remembers bright, innocent times there not so long ago, but long gone, one fears.
I am certain Mr. Nugent's aim was to tell an unflinchingly true tale of a city and its waterfront beset over time with the failure of each industry that for a while supported the heart of a past epoch of success. First whaling, when New Bedford was without an equal among American cities for wealth and vigor. Then textiles, when manufacturing absorbed and employed a half-century of immigrants. And then offshore fishing in modest draggers and scallopers, which has been diminished but not yet killed by depleted fish stocks, foolish fishing practices, uneconomic government attempts to make a small-scale, disorderly but successful enterprise more orderly and better managed, and by drugs, smuggling, a poorly educated workforce, and years of uncertain public leadership.
Mr. Nugent's story is the story of the fishermen, today's version of the whalers, one supposes, similar in some respects, vastly different in others. Drug smuggling, drug dealing, drug using, insurance fraud are today and have been for a while all part of the mix.
Disappointingly, as authentic and complete as I believe Mr. Nugent's understanding of the marine life of New Bedford is, his narrative leaves one dissatisfied and uncertain. The made-up names of fishermen, their crewmen, their vessels; the absent dates for highly dramatic events described; the lightly documented descriptions of the efforts of political leaders and city, state, and federal law enforcement to police the docks; the suggestions of corruption spreading from the docks to the city hall on the hill and down again to the waterfront - all lead the reader to ask why, if a true picture was the goal, why no names, dates, facts and figures? It's a tragic tale Mr. Nugent tells, and it all may be as he says, but the demanding reader wants the authentic tone to be buttressed with evidence and unmasked research.