Robert Whitcomb; Treatment for Brexit bathos; 'The Genius of Birds'

This first ran in Robert Whitcomb "Digital Diary'' column in

"There's been a little bit of hysteria post-Brexit vote, as if somehow NATO's gone, the Trans-Atlantic Alliance is dissolving, and every country is rushing off to its own corner. That's not what's happening."

--   President Obama

Quite right. And the Western World has been prosperous for long stretches without the E.U.!

The 51.8 percent vote  in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union stemmed from, among other things, the failure of the E.U. to slow the flood of refugees from nasty places and, somewhat related, the dwindling job prospects of millions of people hurt by globalization and computerization. Outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, for example, had vowed to cut net immigration into the U.K. to 100,000 a year. In fact,  it rose to  333,000 in 2015.

Then there was the desire to protect the orderly British way of life.

The British and many people on the Continent understandably fear for their tolerant and opensocieties when so many people from illiberal, corrupt, religiously fanatic and indeed barbaric cultures flee to Europe for its safety andprosperity, not to mention welfare benefits, butrefuse to give up some of the nasty archaic aspects of the cultures whence they came. The British “Leave’’ voters want to adjust the influx of immigrants from non-Western cultures to a pace that  allows for thegradual education of these newcomers so that they come to accept the values of an open, tolerant, democratic and secular society.

What happens next?

Future events might include:

·      The U.K. deciding not to leave the E.U. after all. For one thing, the referendum isn’t legallybinding!

·      Letting Scotland veto Brexit since, under one legal interpretation, leaving requires the Scottish Parliament’s approval and the Scots have strongly favored staying in the E.U.

·      Renegotiating the U.K.’s membership in the E.U. -- for example, giving Britain and other member nations more power to control population movements into their nations.

The U.K. will muddle through with new arrangements with the E.U., perhaps along the lines of non-members Norway and Switzerland and, I hope, develop  even closer connections with its offspring the United States.

Brexit should remind us that we need to strengthen the unity of the wider West – Europe, the U.S. and Canada --  especially as aggressive dictatorships, particularly Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as well as Islamic terrorists, pose intensifying dangers.  NATO must block Putin’s obvious plan to take over the Baltic Republics and that  part of Ukraine he hasn’t already grabbed. And the U.S., the U.K and the E.U. need to accelerate negotiations  to enact  the TransatlanticTrade and Investment Partnership to strengthen the West on both sides of the Atlantic.

An analysis at the World Economic Forum in Davos listed the 10 best nations to live in. All except Japan are Western democracies. Brexit may spawn new ways of thinking to keep it that way.


MontyBurnham, who chairs the Preservation Society of Newport County,  controlled her exasperation in her recent status report on  long-delayed upgrades to three Newport mansions – upgrades that would draw in more tourist money to the City by the Sea.

Tedious Nimby legal actions have long held up a long-overdue welcome center at The Breakers as well as refreshment services at Marble House and The Elms. The society will almost certainly finally triumph this year, letting these improvements be implemented next year. But what a pity it will have taken so long to offer these amenities. America has become an increasingly difficult place to do public projects, no matter how good for the general public.


Republican leaders have long denounced the Affordable Care Act without coming up with a detailed plan with a cost-benefit analysis to replace it.

The tradition continues with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s election-year healthcare replacement “plan’’ for the ACA. As usual, it involves further complicating the tax code -- in this case,  with a new tax credit for people (including rich folks) to buy insurance in markets to be regulated by the states.

The speaker doesn’t project how much the credit would be worth, what the total cost would be, how many people it would cover and the range of  health conditions to be covered by such policies. So, at this point anyway, it means pretty much nothing.

Meanwhile, the most cost-effective and least complicated way to improve American healthcare – extending Medicare to everyone – remains off the table. Lobbyists rule!


Jennifer Ackerman’s new book, The Genius of Birds, about birds’ cognitive abilities, is quite something. Birds use tools, plan, have capacious memories and complex social lives. Many species are anything but what we think of as ‘’birdbrained’’.

But then,  the more we learn about nonhuman animals the more we’re surprised by how many species are smart and deeply feeling creatures. Pigs, certainly. (And some fish?)

And yet we continue to terrify, kill and eat intelligent animals.

Robert Whitcomb is overseer of New England Diary.