Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Thursday, July 27, 2006


OK, let's think: two successful American members of Team Phonak: Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis. One wins Olympic gold in 2004, and weeks after has his career ended by a still-unresolved doping charge. the second wins the Tour de France and is instantaneously charged with doping.

(Disclaimer: when I was well, I raced bicycles. I know Tyler Hamilton, and my impression is of a guy who needs to be persuaded to take aspirin for a headache. I've always thought the charge was bullshit and I still do.)

Apparently, neither American cyclists nor Team Phonak get it .

American riders, here's a news flash: no American cyclist, riding for a European team, is ever going to win a major event without a doping charge, as long as the drug test decision-making is in the hands of Continental Europeans. You know the history of the sport, or you should. That alone will explain it. STAY AWAY: build American teams where you don't have to watch your back all the time. Yes, there is a drug culture in the sport. But yes, Europeans in general and the French in particular will go on hating you because you're an American who has taken away their sport. If they can't beat you on the road, they'll try to get you off it. Join a European team, and you're going to be fucked, sooner or later. I guarantee the next Tour winner will be French, Italian, or Swiss, juiced to the eyeballs, and walk away clean from his tests. How many times do you need this to happen to figure it out?

Team Phonak, here's your bulletin: stop screwing American cyclists. Somebody in your organisation sucks: oh sure, you didn't know. If you don't have the stones to find out, then be honest and quit giving berths to promising American cyclists. You suck. I'd guarantee that it will be your stoned European cyclist that wins the next Tour, except that there are so many equally promising sponsored candidates.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Big and Little Jokes

Toward the end of his life, Robert Frost tossed off this couplet "to God" for a student seminar he was teaching:

If you'll forgive my little jokes on thee,
Then I'll forgive your great big one on me.

Someone naturally asked what the great big joke was, and he said "Druther not say."

I don't know why I can't entirely achieve acting. It fascinates me and before I die I'd love to succeed at it. Something never quite clicks.

What makes it odd is that most of my life is an act. Nearly everything that most people think they see in me is a role, crafted to keep the recipient of the great big joke under wraps. Getting onto a stage and assuming another role should be fine. Certainly I did it daily for several of my historian years.

What is stranger still is that if someone says something that is derogatory to the role, all of me is offended, including that man behind the curtain. Contradictory, that. The role exists to keep the world off and, to some degree, exists to be ridiculed.

Could be a little joke on myself: druther not say.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dear Diary

To use a popular expression these days, this blog is going to be a mere diary for an indefinite period.

Recent events make it clear that my generally contrary views on almost any public issue not only fail to get a hearing, but draw down ridicule from friends that seems far out of proportion to the mere act of expressing them. Worse, I am much too prone to being drawn into such pissing contests. I don't care to indulge that weakness any further.

So yes, the most recent entries have gone away. I rather supposed those ideas must be as "ignernt" and "provincial" as other of my views that have elicited such ire.

Dim Ots:
I could count my audience on the fingers of one hand anyway. Like Elvis, my contrariness isn't dead: it's just gone home.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thoughts of a Tunnel Rat

Those who have not been living under mossy turves presumably have more information than they need about the ceiling collapse in the South Station Access Tunnel. I may be more familiar with the environs than most: I'm one of the few non-commercial drivers who has used the tunnel, east and westbound, every day for more than a year.

The Boston highway net created by the Big Dig is the only thing that makes it possible for me to live in Marblehead and work in Framingham. My trip out the past three mornings has only averaged ten minutes longer, since I'm up before most commuters. My trip home the past three evenings has risen from an average 55 minutes to an hour and three quarters. Gas mileage has dropped about 15 percent, since I spend more time stopping than going now. Today, I tried Route 128, because the masses have discovered Memorial Drive and there, I must now drive at walking speed. In my first ten miles on 128, there were three accidents, and an average road speed under 20 mph. That's dismal even by 128 standards.

I am swiftly running out of patience with dueling politicians and waffling engineers. One objective seems to be to scare all drivers shitless, perhaps to reduce public demand that somebody actually fix the goddam tunnel instead of pointing fingers and posturing. Another is, of course, to avoid being cornered into a deadline. That motive has led Turnpike Authority talking heads to begin using a very unfortunate expression, "closed indefinitely."

This is Massachusetts, where ordinary standards of time do not apply to highway projects. Over in Salem, there is a fairly new bridge to Beverly that took about 35 years to build, from concept to ribbon-cutting. No one called that timeline "indefinite." The bridge is supposed to link up with a bypass which has, in 40 years, moved from a gleam in an engineer's eye to a swath of land takings. There is a very remote chance that the bypass will be complete before the internal combustion engine is obsolete, but no one says that timeline is "indefinite," either.

"Closed indefinitely," in Mass. Highway-speak, means "six months after Hell freezes over."

Politicians and bureaucrats are wringing their hands over the public safety when they are not busy wringing each other's necks. They've scared off what few wits are owned by people who might use this tunnel twice a year, when Aunt Gertrude lands at Logan. They ignore the elevated risk of driving the highways that have to carry the load during their orations.

Risk? On the one hand, I can be frightened by the off chance of being squished by a three-ton concrete panel some genius decided to keep in place with glue and thumbtacks. I set that against the daily risks of driving on any Massachusetts divided highway (now much increased), and the near-total certainty that I will need to find my 50-something ass another job if this raree show does drag on for years, as seems likely, or even a couple of months.

This is not a moment to motivate me with speeches about the public interest. I want my frickin road back.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Most of my fellow workers spent the day wringing their hands for me after the Artery tunnel crash, knowing I drive that way every day. I slyly encouraged the bereavement. If this ends in closing and rebuilding of the access tunnel, then I'm back at work on the resume, because that route is the only thing that makes sane an otherwise irrational commute. I'm not sharing that opinion in the office. Also, a few years of commuting teaches one the virtues of alternate routes, and I had mine chosen.

I crossed the GE Bridge, unofficial gate to the North Shore, about 15 minutes off my usual time. The rest of the trip sucked, since the home grounds had been spectacularly hammered by thunderstorms.

Arrived home to discover that a house about 100 metres way had been struck by lightning and set afire, with fortunately minor damage. Peeled the hysterical cats off the cellar walls and took my wife to supper.

That sort of thing does force one to put other issues in perpsective.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4 Thoughts

Marblehead may not be exactly the cradle of liberty, but has some claim to having fed the baby.

It's interesting that here, in a town well on in its fourth century of existence, there is no yee-hah July 4 parade with red-white-and-blue beer hats, et al. The only parade is the "Horribles Parade," a sort of midsummer Halloween for kids that has been going on so long no one is quite sure when it started. You start the morning with the bells of Abbot Hall and the downtown churches taking it in turn to toll in Independence Day. The flag that I would otherwise have some issues displaying looks fitten and proper on a street of similarly decorated Victorian houses. We'll have fireworks directly: don't need them damn Boston fireworks, thank you.

A few days back, a friend sent me a set of photos without knowing quite what they showed. They were from USS Constitution's cruise to Marblehead in 1997, already a while back. That happened not long after the Fourth of that year.

I have a peculiar, cross-cultural connection with USS Constitution. My grandfather took us on a behind the scenes tour of her when I was 9. He was one of the last shipwrights in the Boston Navy Yard trained in the traditions of the age of sail, and so ended a career which began in a Royal Navy dockyard helping to keep the nemesis, "Old Ironsides," in commission. It says much about the man that he was immensely proud of that.

For all that, when we came back to his house that night, he brought out a medal struck from the copper of a Royal Navy ship that had been one of Nelson's flagships, and was still in commission when Grandpa was an apprentice. She had been in service two generations before Nelson flew his flag over her. Even at 9, I guessed he wanted us to remember where our roots were.

I have the medal today. I also have artifacts he made from USS Constitution's wood. When Constitution came to Marblehead, I made sure my daughter, then 15, saw both.

As a historian and one-time Freedom Trail manager, I knew Constitution for what she was, not as a focus of touristy quaint. She was built as a pocket battleship: larger and far more powerful than any European ship of her class, far faster than any European ship more powerful than she.

In 1997, we were able to see her from the moment she cleared Winthrop and entered Boston's President Roads, ten miles away. Keep in mind there were other sailing vessels in the area as well as modern vessels. The media were all lapping up the interesting notion that the US Navy's oldest frigate was being escorted by its newest frigate, all dark grey and missile siloed. What I noticed was how this ship utterly overwhelmed the existence of anything else under sail. She seemed to fill the seascape: not quaint, but all power and intimidating presence. Mainly because the crew weren't sure how much sail she would carry (Constitution hadn't voyaged under sail since 1931) she flew what was, in her time, only the canvas necessary to maneuvre in battle. It was called "fighting sail:" she seemed to know.

Some years back, when I was working at the Peabody Museum, I had seen ship portraits of American frigates entering Salem Sound. It was generally thought that there was some play of artistic proportion in many of them, that no ship of the time could so completely dwarf the landscape. Next morning, my daughter and I went off in our 16 foot sailboat to see Constitution leave.

There was no artistic licence. This grand ship overpowered everything near her, whether land, ship, or sea. It took no great leap of imagination to see oneself in a much smaller vessel being overborne by this mountain of wood and canvas.

Lest I get overwhelmed with patriotic sentiment, I should record that my kid earnestly begged me not to execute my original escort plan: to fly the British Red Ensign, and to play the Village People's "In the Navy" at full blast as we sailed out. I conceded. Sometimes, one can rub adolescent sensibilities too far.

That same online photo set included a now-famous series of a formation of F-18s on a flyover of Constitution. Impressive visuals: even more impressive when said F-18s have just buzzed your boat at an altitude of 300 feet or so.

That's about it from the cradle of medication. Happy Fourth.