Robert Whitcomb: A little context, please, on race relations; for ferries; democracy in Vt.

This originated in

The news media, for marketing reasons, and the general public, for psychological/emotional ones, generally want simple narratives of big events, preferably with clear villains and heroes, idiots and geniuses, not to mention vivid starts and banging ends. A recent narrative is that Britain’s exit from the European Union was suicidal and will  be a world-historical catastrophe. No it won’t, as calmer members of the financial sector quickly realized.

Last week it was the shootings by police and then the lunatic Micah Xavier Johnson’s murder of five police officers. Tragic indeed, but the implication by some news media that America is somehow doomed to ever-widening  conflict about race and related law-enforcement matters is ridiculous.

America -- like all nations! – has plenty of racism. But the progress  that our huge, and complicated country has made in recent decades toward an inclusive and  mostly un bigoted society is impressive. I can remember back when drinking fountains were segregated in the South. The United States is a far more just (except perhaps economically) and peaceful place now than it was in, say, 1968 --  the disorderly year to which 2016 is now compared by people who didn’t live through ‘68.

That three of the key personalities in commenting on last week’s racially related incidents  -- Dallas Police Chief David Brown, President Obama and U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch--- are African-American says something important.

Most Americans are ignorant of many basic facts of their nation’s history. About foreign matters they’re even worse: The bigotries in most of the world far exceed America’s. That’s  one big reason that, for all our faults, so many people from the rest of the world want to move to the United States. Those denouncing  extremely ethnically diverse America as somehow uniquely vicious in race relations ought to do more reading and traveling.

A couple of other observations spawned by last week’s horrors:

Some people complain about the “militarization of America’s police.’’ But what do they expect given that it’s so easy for nonpolice to buy or otherwise get military-style weapons? The NRA, its employees on Capitol Hill and the likes of Walmart that sell so many weapons have been the biggest militarizers of America. They’ve made the nation an armed camp, and the police have to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, an interesting story in the July 11 New York Times reports:

“A new study confirms that black men and women are treated differently in the hands of law enforcement. They are more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer, even after accounting for how, where and when they encounter the police.

“But when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.

“’It is the most surprising result of my career,” said Roland G. Fryer Jr., the author of the study and a professor of economics at Harvard and anAfrican-American.’’  Here’s the link:

The conventional wisdom can usually use a bit of editing.


Let’s hope that the return of warm-weather Providence-Newport ferry service, which will last just 10 weeks, helps get Rhode Island officials, working with the U.S. Transportation Department,  to start year-round commuter services by boat around Narragansett Bay. TheBay’s coast is heavily populated, there are lots of harbors and the (bad) roads are often congested – all making Rhode Island a damn good place for ferries.

In Europe,  most bodies of water with dense populations around them have ferry service, as does Massachusetts Bay. See:

Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) runs  MBTA commuter boats that carry thousands of passengers to and from work each day, including the Inner Harbor Ferry between Charlestown Navy Yard and Long Wharf; the Hingham-to-Boston Ferry service, and the Hingham/Hull/Boston/Logan service.  BHC also operates the Salem Ferry under contract with the City of Salem in the summer. Its slogan is:  “Leave Gridlock in Your Wake’’.

What a fine economic-development tool ferries could be for a crowded state much of which is a bay.


Ah, Vermont, where citizens flock to hear local and state candidates take (usually) polite questions. Vermont and New Hampshire, for all their differences, have especially civic-minded and engaged citizens.

I saw an example last Sunday at a forum sponsored by the Washington and Orange County (Vt.) Republican committees, at which two smart candidates vying for the gubernatorial nomination answered some questions prepared by a moderator, made brief general statements on why they should be governor and took some queries from the floor. The forum was in the barnlike Vermont Granite Museum in Barre. That city is the site of famed granite quarries and some of the most bizarre cemetery sculptures I have ever seen! 

The candidates – former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman and Vermont Lt. Gov. and businessman Phil Scott – were both very articulate. They generally had coherent if, of course, predictably vague answers to questions and made  sure that they told the audience what they wanted they to hear.

This led to some typical (hypocritical?) contradictions such as talking up the need for business-friendly deregulation and economic development while also implying that they’d block a big (and utopian) development proposed by a Utah businessman and put the kibosh on more wind turbines on Vermont’s ridges because they’re unpopular among the neighbors. 

And the scary word “Trump’’ was never mentioned on the stage.

I went mostly because I wanted to see and hear my friend Josh Fitzhugh, chairman of the  Washington County Republican Committee, dress up like Vermont founder Ethan Allen and give a speech, rife with 18th Century language but along the lines of what a Republican circa 2016 might say. To read the speech, hit this link:

The speakers, the earnest and cordial audience, the stout and rich-voiced lady singing “The National Anthem’’ at the start and “God Bless America’’ at the end and a fried-chicken  picnic (inside – it was raining) made it a day of industrial-strength Americana.


Donald Trump’s capacity for sleaze is exceeded by his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, a man who apparently would do just about anything for money.

For decades,  Washington lobbyist and fixer Mr. Manafort has represented some of the world’s worst people, including the late Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, former Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych  and the late Somali dictator Siad Barre. He has  also worked with Pakistan intelligence services (which have worked hand in glove with Islamic terrorist groups). In purely domestic matters, he has also shown a similar rapaciousness. He is truly an archduke of amorality among his fellow Beltway Bandits. Donald Trump presents himself as an “outsider’’ who will shake up Washington. Eh?


I think that many readers will look differently at their own lives as they plow through My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,600-page, barely edited autobiographical novel, or extended journal, or whatever it is. The Norwegian writer’s astonishing recall of the joys, pains, drama and tedium of daily life deepens our understanding of what it has been like to live in a Western nation for the last few decades.


As I walked our dog on a balmy night last week, I heard   a man softly playing songs from the ‘30s on a piano in his living room.   The music mixed with the sound of leaves being rustled by the southwest wind. It was a magical moment, and rare in these cacophonous times.

Robert Whitcomb is overseer of New England Diary.