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Robert Whitcomb: Trump’s Transgender, NFL’s CTE Problem, Stone House and Little Compton

Monday, July 31, 2017


Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

Fishing Out the Fluke; Solar vs. Trees? Let the Military Decide; Charitable for the Heirs; Hypocritical, Sexy Old Boston


“When in still air and still in summertime 
A leaf has had enough of this, it seems 
To make up its mind to go; fine as a sage 
Its drifting in detachment down the road."

-  Howard Nemerov,  from “Threshold’’ 



The Trump administration doesn’t have much respect for science, so it wasn’t all that surprising that it has rejected the science-based ruling of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The ruling was that New Jersey has been violating a conservation plan for summer flounder (aka fluke). 


The effect  of the administration’s (via the Commerce Department) order is to let  Garden State fishermen harvest a lot more summer flounder. This is the first time that an administration has rejected fishing-control guidance by the commission. It seems probable that fishing of other stressed species will also be allowed to expand.


Fishing Industry in New England

The commission is an interstate organization set up by Congress to help conserve fisheries. It has found that the fluke population is 42 percent below the sustainable level. In a variant of the “tragedy of the commons,’’ and  an emphasis on maximizing short-term profit, the administration’s gutting of science-based fishing limits in the New Jersey case threatens  to eviscerate fishing stocks in the not very long-term. The fluke population off New Jersey  has fallen 25 percent since 2010.


The administration’s decision is a political one, to please the recreational and commercial fishing industry.




The folks at EcoRI News are quite right to raise alarms  about cutting down trees to make way for solar “farms’’. 


This is not a good way to expand renewable energy in an area that has lots of open space in vast empty parking lots around dead big-box stores and malls, landfills and brownfields, not to mention rooftops. By cutting down trees, we’re reducing the amount of oxygen that goes into our air, removing plants that help clean pollutants from the air and ravaging the complex ecosystem that depends on the trees.


This issue has come to the fore with the proposal by Southern Sky Renewable Energy LLC to clear-cut all the trees on 60 acres in the Ashaway section of Hopkinton, R.I., to make way for a 13.8-megawatt solar farm, with 43,000 panels. An estimated 30,000 trees would be cut down.


Increasing the use of non-carbon-based energy is essential and there are places where a lack of alternative sites justifies cutting down trees. But in  a long-developed suburban/urban area such as Rhode Island, there are many places for solar arrays that can  be installed without damaging the rest of our ecosystem. And as Amazon and other forces continue to undermine malls and other retail centers, there will be many more.




President Donald Trump

Even if the Trump administration and Republican legislators fail to  directly destroy the Affordable Care Act, the  administration will continue to undermine parts of the ACA. Indeed, it has done so since Jan. 20 by weakening enforcement of the individual mandate to buy insurance and  by failing to do advertising or other outreach to get younger, healthier people to buy insurance on the ACA insurance exchanges in order to offset the costs of older, sicker people and thus to slow premium increases. The GOP leadership, both in Congress and in the White House, also wants to make tax credits for premiums less generous.


All this  has  driven up premiums  and scared away insurers in some states. Even before Trump won the election, the uncertainty about the future of the ACA caused by vehement GOP opposition in Congress and Donald Trump’s vociferous attacks on “failing Obamacare’’ had undermined the insurance exchanges by spooking insurers. It’s a bit surprising that the exchanges in some states continue to do well despite the relentless Republican sabotage.


Still, let’s  note that Medicaid expansion, not the insurance exchanges set up for people without employment-based insurance, is the most important part of the ACA.   And, while we're at it, note that Sen. John McCain, who is battling brain cancer, is having most of his care paid for by the single-payer plan (for those 65 and over) called Medicare.





Whatever the real reason, political or otherwise,  behind President Trump’s bid to ban transgendered people from serving in the military, the ban may be the right move. Large numbers of transgendered people in the military might undermine military unit cohesion and effectiveness, at least in combat units.  We need honest and well-informed professional military opinions on this matter.  And with some transgendered people, there are also considerable medical costs related to sex-change procedures. Having said that, I  concede that it’s unlikely there would ever be large numbers of transgendered people in the military!


Some of the gender-based policies forced on the military in recent years are mostly about social trends and identity politics. That includes having women in combat units. At least one study, by the Marines, found that mixed-gender units weren’t as effective as all-male ones. As some readers may have noticed, men and women aren’t exactly the same creatures.


Of course, we need to ask: What  would the Pentagon do with the transgendered military personnel now serving, whose numbers are small – perhaps 15,000 people at most? My guess is that Trump tweeted out this message with little thought but to please his base and distract them from his incompetence and corruption. Even a  demagogue/would-be dictator’s long-deluded followers will eventually get impatient for the goodies he has promised them.


Here’s the Trump tweet on this issue:


"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," Trump tweeted. (I love the way our Narcissist in Chief writes “my Generals’’!)

"Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender{s} in the military would entail.’’ Well, they’re already there. Now what?

This will be an interesting controversy, if it continues. Trump may soon drop it and propose something else in 140 characters.



I was amused to read in The Boston Globe that those pedestrian buttons at intersections don’t actually work.  


But people keep pushing the buttons, even if they have long suspected that they don’t do anything. As The Globe reported: “Officials say the city’s core is just too congested – with cars and pedestrians – to allow any one person to manipulate the {traffic lights} cycle.’’ But fidgety people keep pushing the buttons, in a search for a sense of control. Maybe what we have here is  a soothing placebo effect that we all need in these tense times.




In U.S., the rich can stay rich

There are lots of big charitable foundations around and many do good work, including work that government can’t or refuses to do. But they are also a way for rich families to stay rich and powerful by extending their power over generations. As The Guardian, in an article headlined “How philanthropic dynasties are exerting their power over US policy,’’ reported:


“Private foundations … offer a way to preserve – and grow – estates over many decades and even centuries. There are more than 90,000 private foundations in the US, with over $800bn {billion} in assets, almost half of which are under family control.


“Such institutions offer a powerful means for heirs to wield influence in society long after the original benefactor is gone….


“One benefit of controlling family philanthropic wealth is social status. Even if you don’t have much of your own money, the ability to give out grants means that people seek you out and pay attention to what you think. You’re asked to sit on boards and attend elite events. While that kind of popularity may not sound like it confers “blessings on generation after generation,’ as Buffett described {the advantages of inherited wealth} such status and access is a very real currency of power in society.’’


Indeed, family foundations are a way to ensure the future income (with power, connections and status come money) and privilege of people who had ancestors who made a lot of money.  Meanwhile, Republican plans to get rid of  the federal estate tax mean that the plutocracy based on inheritance will probably become even more entrenched. So much for a country created in part in opposition to hereditary, aristocratic privilege.

Another problem with some of these “charitable’’ foundations is that more than a few have become purely political organizations attached to one of the two major parties. They’re often used to promote the economic interests of those running the foundations. Donations to political parties aren’t tax-deductible. But gifts to these “charities’’ are.





Increasingly, state legislatures, which are mostly controlled by Republicans, who traditionally tout local control, are overruling localities trying to do things that address local needs. For instance, Bloomberg News has reported, Tennessee legislators have blocked Nashville from creating a bus rapid-transit system, which that rapidly growing big city needs, and is barring local affordable-housing mandates (about whose effectiveness and viability I’m skeptical). Not surprisingly, GOP legislators (and the NRA, but I repeat myself!) in Red States have also blocked local gun-control laws.


A particularly egregious case of this comes, predictably, in Texas, where the state has yanked the right of localities to mandate background checks for those who work for such ride-hailing services as Lyft and Uber, despite scandals involving Uber in particular.


So much for the “conservative’’ mantra that government “closest to the people is best…..’’




Why is Trump still so obsessed with attacking Hillary Clinton? Fairly simple: Because he is humiliated by the fact that she got almost 3 million more popular votes than he did even though she was an unappealing  candidate and even though he had the assistance of a foreign dictator. At some level, this deeply insecure man knows that many people quite understandably consider his presidency fraudulent.




99% of former NFL player's brains tested had CTE

Football fans, especially men and especially those who watch NFL games, enjoy more than watching just the skill and athleticism of the players. They love the violence, a modern  and milder variant of the lethal combat of gladiators in arenas in ancient Rome. There’s a smidgen of sadism involved in this.


The violence is a major reason that the NFL is so popular and profitable. Can the game be adjusted to sharply reduce the number of players who have suffered brain trauma and so have developed such conditions as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)?  Probably not if the NFL wants to keep its fanatic fans.


It would probably be impossible to ban professional football, given the billions of dollars and political support  around it. And, hey, if men are willing to risk being turned into zombies because of the prospect of fame and fortune it’s their business.


But I wouldn’t be surprised if football, at least the way it’s played now, were effectively banned at the high school and college levels within the next decade. Even a single concussion, let alone the repeated ones that are so common in the NFL and  big-time college football, can have devastating effects, as more and more  medical studies have demonstrated.


Might someone invent a new kind of helmet that would truly protect players? It’s hard to see how a reinforced helmet wouldn’t interfere with a player’s ability to play the sport at the level of skill and violence that fans want to see. I wonder what Tom Brady’s health will look like in a few years….




President Trump is wisely leery of expanding the U.S. military role in barbaric, tribal and deeply corrupt Afghanistan. President Obama was also leery. We can never completely “win’’ there. We’ve tried for 16 years at vast cost and things are in many ways worse than they were five years ago.


However, the country’s vast mineral wealth – especially in the “rare earths’’ used in many electronic devices – may overcome some of his leeriness. The president is gung ho about having Americans exploit Afghanistan’s mineral wealth big time.


Fine. Let’s exploit some of those resources, helping American companies and  the Afghans, if we can find places that can be plausibly protected, presumably by American troops, from the Taliban and other crazies spawned by Islam. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we can ever pacify that tormented nation.




Stone House Inn

I’m  a friend of one of the owners so I’m particularly sympathetic with the folks running the beautiful Stone House, an old inn in Little Compton. I’ve been following the sometimes funny, sometimes dispiriting melodrama around the place for at least a year and half.  The Stone House people are struggling against a small group of well-heeled and politically connected foes to again be allowed to host the sort of gracious weddings and receptions that have been held there for many decades, leaving sweet memories and employing many locals.  


The Stone House was built in 1853 and has been a popular – but very low-key -- inn since the late ‘20s.  Its Tap Room is a beloved local meeting place.


With virtually no warning, weddings and receptions at the Stone House were banned the other week as part of a legal battle, causing much disruption to brides and grooms and family and friends -- and of course to the Stone House, whose management  is working  valiantly to find other venues for these weddings and receptions.


It has all been very unfair.


In any case, the hotel and restaurant operations at the Stone House remain fully open for business.




Two good books for the beach or any other place:


First, there’s  the amusingly and quaintly illustrated Wicked Victorian Boston (published by History Press), by Robert Wilhelm, about, for example, such lovely late 19th Century activities as prostitution, drinking in illegal saloons, animal fighting, sports gambling, opium  dens and daughters of Boston Brahmins posing nude for photos in “the Hub of the Universe’’. Of course it’s all seasoned with the fragrance of the hypocrisy that was/is as rife in Boston as in most cities. But then, as the old line has it: “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.’’


Forget about Puritan rectitude and that old line “banned in Boston.’’


The other book is a collection of Roger Angell’s essays called This Old Man: All in Pieces (Anchor Books). Mr. Angell, who is 96, is a long-time reporter  and essayist for The New Yorker, where he was also for decades an editor.  In this charming,  often humorous and wise volume he looks at the challenges of old age, without self-pity; baseball, on which he’s a celebrated writer; life in New York, where he mostly lives, and in Maine (where he has a cottage) and many other things. He also writes about his famed stepfather, E.B. White, and Katherine White, who was White’s wife, Angell’s mother and a formidable editor at The New Yorker. There are also letters he wrote to various exciting individuals, some famous, some not, as well as beautiful tributes to the dead, which of course comprise most of the people Roger Angell has known.


A funny line about Katherine White from Nancy Franklin, a critic, which Mr. Angell said was accurate: “As an editor she was maternal; as a mother she was editorial.’’


Related Slideshow: 10 Things That Need to Happen to Get PawSox to Worcester

Prev Next

Arrange Meeting with PawSox Owners

City officials need to sit down with the new PawSox ownership group. CEO Michael Tamburro grew up in Worcester and is a graduate of North High.

The new ownership group is led by Boston Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, who will serve as Chairman, and James J. Skeffington, who will be President

"We are very excited about our purchase of the Pawtucket Red Sox and the opportunity to partner with the Boston Red Sox to provide first class baseball and family entertainment to our loyal fan base in New England," said Skeffington, who will oversee the operation on a daily basis.

Prev Next

Providence Deal Needs to Fall Through

There's always the chance that Providence could balk at the amount of public funding that the new ownership group is looking for. Early indications show that the number could be upwards of $70 million.

"The doors are always open," said Tim Murray, President and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. "If the deal were to fall apart, I think people here would be willing to listen, but everyone recognizes this requires signifcant municipal assistance. Massachusetts, traditionally, has been reluctant to use tax dollars to those kind of things, and I think in most cases, appropriately so."

Prev Next

Sell Public on WHY It Will Work

With the loss of the AHL Worcester Sharks looming after this season, Worcester will be without a professional sports team. Worcester residents will look to its city officials to do something to get a pro team back to the city.

"As usual, the city leaders have done nothing to attract the PawSox. It's been known for several months that the PawSox were going to be sold. Much like with the Sharks, the city has been reactive instead of proactive. The city leaders - (i.e. government and businesses), and some state leaders as well - need to step it up. Unfortunately, they seem to think Spag's is still around and want something for nothing (or almost nothing). Looking for bargains where very little effort has to be put into it. The city manager, mayor, and city council have been virtually silent on the Sharks move, and probably weren't even aware about the PawSox until it was too late," said Rich Lubin, President of the Worcester Sharks Booster Club.

Prev Next

Strengthen Public Support

Worcester is home to the Worcester Bravehearts, the defending Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) Champions. After the fiasco that the Worcester Tornadoes turned out to be, residents of Worcester would be proud to see both the Bravehearts and the PawSox succeeding in the city. 

“Worcester is a city that has always loved baseball. You can track the history all the way back to the early 1900’s when we had a team in the National League. With the (Boston) Red Sox so close, and all of these minor league teams, the city still took to the Worcester Bravehearts. We were tops in attendance and won the Championship game in front of more than 2,000 people. Baseball will certainly thrive in this city,” said Casey Cummins, Bravehearts pitching coach. 

Prev Next

Find Land in Worcester for Stadium

“The 'WorSox' could purchase, clean up and build a fine stadium on the spacious Wyman Gordon property near Kelly Square. That location also has excellent highway access. What a welcome neighbor the team would be to the up-and-coming Canal District. Worcester, New England's 2nd largest city, would be a much better home for the "WorSox." People from cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond would flock to our city on a frequent basis to see such high level and quality baseball," said City Councilor Gary Rosen.

Prev Next

Utilize Central MA Connections in MA Gov

Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, of Shrewsbury, now holds the highest seat of anyone from Central Massachusetts in state government. Her position was formerly occupied by Tim Murray, now the President of Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Worcester could use this connection to help gain support from Governor Charlie Baker and may even be able to garner state funding to help lure the PawSox to the city.

Prev Next

Find Local Business Partners

The cost of a new stadium could run the city and state upwards of $70 million.

Worcester will need to turn to local businesses to invest in the cleaning up of any area they decide to build a stadium and the actual construction of the stadium.

Prev Next

Push Forward Canal District Plans

The Canal District is located on the "Green Island" area of Worcester that includes Water Street, Green Street, Millbury Street, and Kelley Square.

Over the past ten years, the city and the Canal District Business Association has put a lot of money into the area to revive it and bring business in.

A push to gain funding to continue to improve the Canal District could be a great sign to the PawSox owners that Worester means business.

Prev Next

Pay to Clean Up Proposed Land

Tim Murray, President and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce said the city has looked previously at the Wyman Gordon site, discussed expanding the field at Lake Park, or partnering with one of the colleges or universities on a site to build a baseball stadium. Murray noted that things get tricky when you start looking at these sites when you begin dealing with property and land acquisition costs and clean-up costs. 

Prev Next

Keep the Bravehearts in the Discussion

The Worcester Bravehearts, the 2014 Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) Champions in their inaugural season, will be entering their second season as the only local major sport team left in the city. Last season, they drew over 50,000 people to Fitton Field.

Murray said "We have a great product with the Bravehearts and they had a great inaugural season. The Bravehearts are locally owned and controlled, and they had a great product and strong attendance in their first year. It plays on one of the advantages that Worcester does have that a lot of places don't, is the amount of colleges and universities around and the large number of student atheletes we have here."


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