Monthly Archives: March 2009

Newburyport, the Land of Eden

In Newburyport, MA I read an hysterical piece in The New Yorker Magazine by Woody Allen. I, for some reason, never read The New Yorker anymore, but “Bernie Maddoff” captures my eyeballs. And what really captures my eyeballs is the last paragraph of the essay:

“Moscowitz lives to this day with Yetta Belkin, whom he recognized from shopping at Fairway. In life she had always resembled a flounder, and after her fatal plane crash she came back as one.”

You can read the whole piece about two reincarnated lobsters’ encounter with Bernie Maddoff by Woody Allen here.

It’s the “shopping at Fairway” that catches my eye. Fairway on Broadway and 74th Street in New York City is a super supermarket to die for. Not only is there fresh produce up to the wazoo, but there is the ancient, impoverished Afro-American woman along with the waspy, middle aged New York socialite, the impeccably dressed New York businessman, lawyer, banker whatever, along with the pizza guy up the street, all jostling and doing a New York jig, within the hustle and bustle of Fairway. And with a quart of milk that goes for 75cents, what’s not to love?

I look at the new, or now fairly new website for Newburyport Development, and feel, at least compared to an institution like Fairway, that it is, in my mind, politically incorrect.

Newburyport is pictured by Newburyport Development, in my book, as a “Never Never Land” for the waspy, young, only attractive, well to do, American elite. That does not include moi, and I live here. The depiction is sort of the young, gorgeous versions of AIG executives and their girl friends or wives, that are now the recipients of populist rage. It is in stark contrast to the America seen at Fairway, which would, these days, be a politically correct reflection of the America in which we all, like it or not, abide.

This “perfect” Land of Eden, which the Newburyport Development website appears to depict, is in stark contrast to the real life squabbles, let’s say that we in Newburyport, MA are having over the large 292 foot wind turbine located in Newburyport’s Industrial Park.

And what I love about Newburyport, MA, is that no matter how one might feel about the 292 foot wind turbine, the passion is genuine, the “squabbles” are real and heartfelt, not a Madison Avenue mockup. And at the end of the day, or year or decade, there often seems to be a grudging respect for the other side. Often eventually one time “enemies” give one another hugs at the produce department at Newburyport’s local grocery store of choice.

Wind Turbine Newburyport

Who knew last spring when Newburyport’s wind energy, turbine ordinance was written, that Barack Obama would become president of the United States or that we as a country would have a mandate from our new president to make wind energy work.

Wind-wise we are light years ahead of where we were just a year ago. Who knows where wind energy will be a year from now.

I read somewhere that the innovations of wind energy will be similar to the innovation of the PC in the 1990′s. I have no idea if this would be true, but it makes sense to me.

And although I realize that from a wind energy point of view, bigger has been better, it appears, however, that that mindset might be beginning to change.

I think we as a city (see myriad of previous posts) have an opportunity to think about our wind-energy ordinance–policy from a different point of view. And there would be no better time to do that than at the Public Meeting concerning Newburyport’s Wind Energy Ordinance, this Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 7PM at Newburyport City Hall Auditorium.

Wind Energy and Governing

Although it is laudable that we in Newburyport, MA have an individual–company that is on the cutting edge of clean energy, it is also up to our Newburyport governing bodies not to be advocates for any one agenda, but to understand the pulse of the entire city of Newburyport, MA and to govern accordingly, which almost always, when successful, means balance and compromise.

So my thoughts are that when Mr. Richey may have approached whoever about the large wind turbine now on his property in Newburyport’s Industrial Park, that it might have been prudent for our elected Newburyport officials to say something to the effect, “We are thrilled to have someone as committed to clean and green energy as you are, however, our constituency might not be ready for such a radical move (i.e. a 292 foot wind turbine near a residential area); why not start out “low and go slow,” with wind turbines that may not pack as close to a high voltage punch, but are more in balance with a residential community.”

The buck stops with the Newburyport City Council.

And in looking back at the Newburyport Blog, in November of 2007, I expressed a concern about “fastening our seat belts,” because things were really going to move with this particular Newburyport City Council in place.

And concerning wind energy, things have really zoomed, and as a result, things may really backfired. One giant step forward, and possibly many giant steps backwards.

One of my favorite sayings is, “Baby steps get you to the top of the mountain.”

And as far as wind energy goes, there are several “baby steps” that could be taken. There are a number of wind energy products that are now being fast tracked, in response to the same conflict that we in Newburyport, MA are experiencing.

Quietrevolution hopes to have its vertical wind turbine product in 4 different sizes by late 2009 and 2010. The product was featured on MNBC here.

Windspire is a 30 foot by 2 foot vertical wind turbine featured at the Inauguration that has now been fast-tracked. The company was able to retrofit a former auto parts factory in Michigan and high volume production is planned for April 2009.

These are just two examples of wind turbine products, that yes, are not anywhere close to being as high voltage as the example that we currently have, but do wrestle with the issues that concern Newburyport citizens.

I would urge our Newburyport City Council to rethink a long term Newburyport wind energy policy, and not be wedded to an “either-or” approach, but in future, to urge citizens and business to take a more tempered and balanced direction.

Newburyport Wind Backlash

I know what it is like to work on a Newburyport civic project, to be completely committed to a Newburyport civic project for years, and then have an incredible Newburyport public backlash. It’s not fun.

So I understand how our elected and civic Newburyport officials might feel, working on the Wind Energy Conversion Ordinance that made the current 292 foot wind turbine in Newburyport’s Industrial Park possible, and how the backlash (which is significant) could also make them feel.

My first reaction to a very vocal Newburyport public backlash was that people just didn’t understand, that this was a solution to a very complex problem and that people would come around.

Not only did most people not come around, but the project was derailed, lost funding, may be put off for decades, that civic employment was lost, and a significant amount of distrust from the public still lingers on.

And the sense that I get from folks who have worked hard on the Newburyport Wind Energy Ordinance that made the 292 foot Newburyport wind turbine possible, is that they might feel, in someway, the way I felt–i.e. very much committed and wedded to the concept.

Please, if possible, learn from my experience. It’s really hard to let go of something that has so much passion and reason behind it. But if another huge wind turbine would be put up in Newburyport’s Industrial Park, my guess is that the pitchforks might come out with even more force. My sense is that the Newburyport Wind Energy Ordinance has the potential of causing an even greater fissure within the city of Newburyport, MA if another industrial size wind turbine would be erected.

And the very, very good news is that we have a mandate from the President of the Untied States to make wind energy work. That communities all over the globe are experiencing the same conflict that Newburyport, MA is–an ambivalence about having an industrial size wind turbine near a populated area. All kinds of incredibly innovative ideas are in the works and being funded to make wind energy that is more effective and more in scale with the cities and towns in which we live.

So I would urge the Newburyport City Council to be open to rethinking the Wind Energy Ordinance that will be discussed in a public meeting this Tuesday, March 31 at 7PM at City Hall Auditorium.

Making sure that we as a city have the trust of the citizens of Newburyport, MA could be essential in making sure Newburyport, MA has long term, vibrant and viable wind energy projects.

Small Wind

I am now intensely curious about the possibilities of wind turbines in populated areas, Newburyport and elsewhere. And with a small amount of Googling I come up with a website that claims to have all the world’s small wind turbines. At the moment the website lists 283 small wind turbines, from 118 manufacturers. Not only are there horizontal wind turbines (243), but there are also vertical (40) wind turbines. All of this fascinates me.

My favorite (and I have no idea how good it is) is the Helix Wind vertical wind turbine.

There’s even wind turbines that are lighting up a Times Square billboard.

It sounds like this is becoming a fairly competitive industry, and that wind turbines that are Newburyport balanced friendly (see earlier entries) are a pretty good possibility.

And, I guess not surprisingly, what I read on many of the websites, are that the residential wind turbines are being developed because there has been “resistance” in populated communities, such as Newburyport, MA to huge 300 foot wind turbines.

So there is an alternative or a soon to be alternative out there, which makes me happy. The idea of Newburyport historic preservationists pitted against Newburyport environmentalists seems counterproductive, and it looks like there could be a possibility of having a long term a win-win situation.

Residential Wind Turbines

In thinking about wind turbines and scale and balance for our historic Newburyport, MA city, it seemed to me that we would not be the only place feeling somewhat conflicted about having huge wind turbines in residential areas (vast understatement).

And we now have a president who A) believes in science and B) thinks clean-green energy is a good thing, and is rigorously promoting wind energy. So why wouldn’t President Obama’s administration want to address the issue of smaller wind turbines for populated areas. Great entrepreneurial potential, huge market, lots of jobs.

And in a brief Google of small residential wind turbines, there are lots of folks beginning to wrestle with a solution.

We’ve had antennas on historic Newburyport roofs for many, many years. It would not be so far fetched to imagine effective wind turbines on a residential scale in years (who knows, months?) to come. So down the line there maybe a compromise between huge 300 foot wind turbines and something more manageable wind-wise for a Newburyport historic place.

An Obama-time, Obama-moment, full of Obama type possibilities.

Historic Stewardship and Clean Energy

Actually the quote from President Obama is about clean, green energy.. “…we have to balance economic growth with good stewardship of the land God gave us.”

(Courier-Journal.com, “Obama chides Republicans, President says party needs to offer ideas,” by James R. Carroll, March 24, 2009.)

I’m still wondering about the idea of how to balance clean, green energy (huge, out of scale wind-turbines) with a residential community, much less an historic, beautiful one.

Yup, there were large smokestacks spewing horrible stuff into the air in Newburyport, MA earlier in the 20th century, and the wind from wind turbines is clean and green. But because we (at least a lot of us) are mighty excited about clean, green energy, does that mean that it might not be a good idea to give some serious thought to balancing economic growth and clean energy growth with the stewardship of the historic land, Newburyport, MA in which we live?

And again, I come back to scale. I think the existing wind turbine could give us the opportunity to have that kind of dialogue. And I don’t know the answer.

I do, however, think that David Hall struck a balance between clean and green energy and our residential and historic Newburyport, New England city. The solar panels on the restored Tannery are not at odds with the historic nature of our Newburyport historic district.

We are a city that fought two large towers that would have spanned the Merrimac River, because, among other things, they were completely out of scale with the environment in which they would have existed (on either side, both rural and residential). The alternative was to put the wires underneath the river.

For a residential and historic area, an emphasis on solar energy for long term clean and green might be more appropriate than more out of scale wind turbines– the Industrial Park which they are zoned for, is mighty close to the residential areas of Newburyport, MA. Not exactly a new conflict.

Such are my politically incorrect thoughts.

Newburyport Balance

As I drive on Rt. 95 going North past the Scotland Road exit, I come to the Newburyport vista that I always enjoy so much, what is known as the “Common Pasture.” Newburyport is one of those rare communities that has fought to combine rural agricultural historic areas, the Common Pasture, with architectural preservation, our Newburyport National Historic District, the engine of our economic and cultural vibrancy.

And smack dab in the middle of that beautiful vista is the gigantic, in my mind, completely out of scale with its surrounding environment, now getting fairly famous, wind turbine.

My knee jerk reaction, seeing it up and running, is to give it the finger. I wait a good while, before even deciding whether to comment on it on the Newburyport Blog or anywhere else.

A) I am totally politically incorrect, and green anywhere is good. The wind turbine is not an affront to the historic Newburyport landscape, but an 21st century adaptation, a natural outgrowth, the local Newburyport green response to “Drill Baby Drill.” I should be grateful.

B) Wind turbines are a good thing, but a balance between contemporary green technology and historic preservation is a vital thing for the long term economic vibrancy of our historic seaport New England city. It’s the completely out of scale aspect of the wind turbine that makes it objectionable. 292 feet is a lot of feet, even though the city ordinance written by Newburyport City Councilors Ed Cameron and Barry Connell allows for 300 feet, and a variance of up to 400 feet.

My knee jerk reaction is to want to run out and make sure that the Newburyport City Council who wrote, endorsed and voted for such out of scale structures, along with the Mayor of Newburyport who endorsed the ordinance, that none of them get re-elected to their elected posts. Plus, there are 22 sites that the Newburyport Planning Office deems acceptable for more out of scale wind turbines, although from what I can make out, at the moment no one seems to want to erect another one (yet).

There is a message from Ed Cameron on Gillian Swart’s blog:

The Newburyport Planning and Development Committee
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 7pm
Newburyport City Hall Auditorium

Wind Energy and the City’s Wind Energy Conversion ordinance–primary topic.

Anyone who now might have second thoughts about the ordinance or would like to see it “tweaked,” now that an example is spinning in our midst, would be able to have a chat with our Newburyport city officials.

Editor’s Note: President of the Newburyport City Council James Shanley has emailed me to say that the Wind Energy Conversion Facilities Ordinance was written by the Planning Board and the Planning Office.  Newburyport City Councilors Ed Cameron and Barry Connell were the Newburyport Councilors who sponsored the ordinance, and James is pretty sure that it passed 11-0.

The link to the Wind Energy Conversion Facilities Ordinance is here.

A Loud Moderate Voice

I flip though the TV channels and go, “Wait a minute, that looks like Frank,” but in backtracking, he’s vanished or I was wrong.

So a few days later I Google, and yes, on YouTube I find him. The most entertaining and Frankesk is his appearance on CNN.

I’m very proud, of long time friend and Newburyport community member Frank Schaeffer, whose political views I’ve watched morph over the years from someone who was “right” of Attila the Hun, to now a “moderate” voice– howbeit a loud, unrelenting “moderate” voice. And this is a “moderate” voice, one who has as much distain for the far “Left” in our country as he does for the far “Right,” although I’m sure that the Left would love to claim him.

Frank wrote a number of novels about what the Religious Right is like from the inside. I’ve always been amazed that the novels weren’t picked up as an insight into how this vocal and powerful segment of our society thinks. But they were never viewed that way. I guess it was too subtle an approach.

In “Crazy for God,” Frank takes the reader by the hand, and step by step guides them through the good, the bad and the ugly of this part of American culture. And I always thought that this was the book that would make the inevitable huge breakthrough for Frank. And yes, it appears that that may finally be true.

And finally the media may have found someone, right here in our own Newburyport community, that can explain in no uncertain terms what the Religious Right is like and what it has done to our society.

And the CNN interview with D. L. Hughley is quintessential Frank Schaeffer. No apologies to Rush Limbaugh by this fellow.

I’m not a betting woman, but I wouldn’t be surprised after his visit to CNN, that within a year Frank Schaeffer could have his own cable TV show. He’s a natural. You can see the segment on CNN here.

Economic Rebellion

I find that when something major bad happens in my life I go, not surprisingly, into shock–paralysis, then fear, then I start to get cranky, irritable and downright angry, and then eventually some sense of equilibrium settles in. All part of the process.

At least what the press is reporting is America enraged, and their rage coming to a boiling point. Protests at 100 locations are being organize by TakeBackTheEconomy.org at the offices of major banks, other corporations and locations against corporate excess tomorrow, Thursday March 19th. From what I can make out Bank of America is the corporation of choice in Massachusetts (this will, I think, make Gillian Swart happy). The rage at AIG rages on all across TV, Web and radio land.

It seems as if a country we went into shock when we first heard about the financial excesses and meltdown, then into paralyzing economic fear, and now we seem to be thawing out, and experiencing a sense of communal rage. A sense of justice is being demanded, problem solving and getting out of the situation we are in, at the moment, seems to be on the shelf.

And I wonder if this is part of a process of communally working through a major now global trauma, or if it is something more. More revolutionary. An “Off with their heads” rebellion. A visceral demand for a more equitable distribution of wealth.

From a perch in Newburyport, MA or anywhere, who could know if this is just part of the process of working towards an economic equilibrium, or if it is the beginning of an all out rebellion about something much bigger.

What if you Burp

My son tells me that security is impossible. That I should prepare for the very, very worst.

“My son is in the play, ” I tell them (them being security). Open sesame, no problemo.

My son tells me that my experience is an anomaly. That it will not happen again.

Apparently proud mothers are deemed a low security risk, because they (security) continue to open the security gate, no questions asked. They even smile–this can be unusual in New York City.

In the “talk back” after the play, one of the audience members asks, “What do you do when you burp?”

The question, which could have been awkward, is deftly handled by the young Shakespearean troop. A burp or even a sneeze would not be a distraction, but could be seen as part of the plot by the audience and the actors would move ever forward (sort of like proud mothers breezing through security gates).

And I suppose that would be true of the burps and sneezes in life. My own life burps and sneezes are noticed hardly, if at all, by the outside world. It is only in my own little brain that they have the possibility of becoming anything of consequence.

However, as I watch and follow the new president, from my home town of Newburyport, MA and elsewhere, as I’ve never watched or followed any president before, I realize that every burp, sneeze etc. appears to have major significance to at least someone and can be open to the possibilities of multiple burp, sneeze interpretations, i.e. distractions. Often, it seems, so much so, that a larger picture could be obscured by burp and sneezing stories (mostly, it seems to me by Republicans and media outlets in need of a story line). And I wonder if pride in one’s country could often be mucked up due to constant conjectures as to whether or not a political digestive tablet or a Kleenex might be necessary, making it difficult for everyone to get on with the plot, or of solving the gigantic Shakespearean size problems that lie before us.

Frolicking Doom and Gloom

How weird are your enemies.

The fierceness of hate towards President Obama takes me by surprise. And it may be shrouded in disagreements about policy, but it’s a whole lot more than that (see earlier entries).

I guess it’s a long task for me to wean myself from Pollyanna hopefulness–that civility could happen.

The latest high-ratings hatemonger, frolicking fear sower, is a baby-faced boob (a double D–see earlier entry) called Glenn Beck. A wolf in sheep’s clothing and all of that.

I have this awful feeling that Mr. Beck may be one of these Sarah Palin “End Times” folks. People who look forward to the earth self destructing (and who better to destroy it than President Obama), because religion-wise that’s good for them. I’ve know more people over the years who have been so severely psychologically damaged by this world view. Little children lost in the supermarket, not being able to find their parents, and wondering if the “Rapture” has occurred and they have been left behind–all of this haunting them well past middle age. And I’m not even a shrink.

So March 4, 2009 was a nifty day for me, because, God bless him, Steven Colbert took on Glenn Beck and his Mr. Doom stuff in the most delightful way. Humor can be a wonderful weapon.

You can read a little more about it and see Stephen Colbert do his downright brilliant parody here.

Financial Confusion

In trying to make some sort of sense out of the financial mess that we are in, Newburyport and globally, I find myself staring incomprehensibly at my Newburyport TV watching some guy in a hot pink necktie and a raging bald guy. It feels like Flannery O’Conner meets the business channel, or “Alice in Wonderland” meets the business channel. It’s really hard to take these folks seriously from my vantage point in Newburyport, MA, but as a neophyte desperately trying to learn this stuff, I’m not exactly sure just how crazy these people are.

And along comes Jon Stewart last night, God bless him, to explain the whole thing to moi, confused in Newburyport, MA.

The whole business channel thing doesn’t even rate high enough on the weirdness scale to be a combination of something as classy as Flannery O’Conner or “Alice in Wonderland.” Nope, this is the Twilight Zone gone rancid:

“Maybe the most shocking Jim Cramer gem is when he is advising that his audience buy stocks: “You should be buying these, and accept that they are overvalued, but accept that they are going to keep going higher. I know that sounds irresponsible but that’s how you make the money.” On that day in 2007, the Dow was at 13,930. It is now below 7,000.”

You can read the Huffington Post article and watch the Jon Stewart segment here.

And this is one of the guys who is slamming President Obama. Good grief.

Hope, Faith and New England Winters

My son says to me as he hears more and more people that he knows being laid off, “Mom, people now know what it’s like to be an artist.”

When folks ask me how I’m doing in these times I say, “Being an artist really helps me a lot in times like this.”

And what I mean by that is as an artist I never take for granted good financial times. My habit has been to sock it away, because there are always rainy days in the arts and hurricanes happen, and I guess now we even get the occasional typhoon.

I also know that the process of painting has taught me a lot about life’s lessons. Life’s different paths for me have never been straight and narrow, they have always been circuitous, uncertain, just like painting. Without an ongoing hope and faith, being an artist is almost impossible, and I have found that hope and faith becomes essential for living circuitous pathways.

And living in Newburyport, New England has helped me understand that creatively there can be no spring without a dormant winter. And I am no longer afraid of life’s winters because I know that life, like the seasons, is cyclical, and that spring always happens, no matter how long or how harsh winter may be.

And certainly right now, globally and as a country we are experiencing one of those long harsh Newburyport, New England winters, one that starts sometime in November and lets up sometime in April. But even in February, on the side of the street where the sun is warmest, early signs of spring begin to show. At the very top of high trees, a reddish hue becomes visible, and the buds on bushes and trees plump up. All signs of hope. All signs of spring.

So in an atmosphere of hopelessness, anxiety and often fear, I remind myself, that even in these times, spring and then the long hot summer will, as it always does, arrive once again.

A New American World Order

My father was a very smart and courageous man. He lived through the depression, served his country and received a Purple Heart in World War II. He deftly navigated the charters of the corporate and social world of New York City, and then reinvented himself at the age of 72. At almost 90 he looked at the financial landscape, and I think looking back at the different things that we talked about, he knew on some very profound level, that economically things were going to go into a tailspin. And he was tired. He was ready to go.

He knew exactly how he wanted to go and was very clear about it (I had hoped that he would make different choices, but he did not), and what I discovered was that, pretty much, aside from myself, no one was listening. But my Dad was very much in control of his own destiny, and things did go the way he wanted them to go, whether anybody wanted them to or not. And frankly, his timing was pretty good.

And what I see today is that President Obama was always very clear in what he would do as President of the United States. Either many Americans weren’t listening, or they believed that he wouldn’t go though with it, that it was only “empty campaign rhetoric.”

And in some ways it seems to me that the wealthy (Rush Limbaugh, by his own admission, is no exception) are furious that he intends to actually go through with what he promised, ie that they are going to pay higher taxes. And it seems to me as if we are on some level, this was actually articulated by some cable TV shows last night, playing a game of chicken, or witnessing a power play, between the Obama Administration and the wealthy. This is what I think. That they want his administration to fail because they don’t want to be told what to do by a man who is Afro American, and they do not want their taxes to go up, and they don’t have, it seems to me, much empathy for the folks that have less money than they do.

They are staging a weird sort of protest against what they, I think rightly, see as a reorganization of a social order. The wealthy white man might no longer be in control. Better to humiliate President Obama, take a loss for a certain amount of time, send the Democrats permanently into the wilderness, and return to a free market economy, hopefully with no or little restriction, business as usual, just like the good old days of the last eight years.

This is what I am thinking and hoping. That because they haven’t been listening, and they are so intent on their own agenda, that they have misjudged the new president, severely. President Obama is very clear on what he wants to happen. And I hope, among all the noise, and smoke and taffy, that the old world order of the wealthiest in this country getting pretty much a free lunch, compared to the rest of the country, is dead on arrival. And that we continue to see a new America emerge and once again reinvent herself.

Science and Taxes

I remember when the Bush Administration lowered the capital gains tax to 15%, my father was horrified. The ordinary American he told me was still paying 25% in taxes on a CD that they had in the bank. He was also aghast at the the Bush Administration gradual repeal of the estates tax. My father believed that the wealthy in America were the ones to pay the most taxes. He predicted that the extreme “Voodoo” (ironically dubbed by George Bush the elder) economic policies of the Bush Administration would lead to fiscal chaos for the United States of America. I wish he was around for me to say from Newburyport, MA, “Dad, wow were you ever right.”

My father was a tax lawyer, one of the first. His job was to help wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes. But what I discovered was that he used his influence as a tax lawyer to persuade folks to give to things like research for mental illness and the cure for cancer.

My father believed in and encouraged investing in science, even when the government, in the dark ages, under the former Bush administration refused to do so, by refusing federal money for stem cell research.

I briefly got to know an artist by the name of Eliza Auth and her husband Tony Auth, the syndicated political cartoonist and cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, who has been mentioned before on the Newburyport Blog. Tony Auth graciously gave this political cartoon that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 27, 2005 to my father for his 90th birthday, and also gave me permission to use the image on the Newburyport Blog.

Tony Auth, May 27, 2005, Used with Permission

So on November 4, 2008 we as a country decided to put away childish things, voted for a candidate who wanted to once again embrace science, and go back to a more realistic tax structure. And all of a sudden the country, or as the media would have us think, is surprised and some of them aghast.

This is my theory, and I think it’s one that my Dad would have agreed with, that for eight years under the Bush Administration, the wealthy have had a basically, pretty close to, almost, tax free, relatively speaking, free ride. And possibly that part of why the market is down so much, is a petulance on the part of the 15% capital gains folks on Wall Street, that the existing tax disparity might have only been an eight year Christmas present by the former Bush administration.