Letters, Jan. 21, 2012
To: the Editor—
At the January 18 Town Council meeting I complained about noise from Club Soda interfering with my family’s enjoyment of our recently renovated home on Connecticut Avenue (see story, p. 6). From my perspective as a mainlander who owns a second home here, I believed that I was completely justified in making my complaints. For instance, it sometimes gets so bad in the summer that we need to close the windows in our kids’ rooms and turn on air conditioners to drown out the noise. I thought, without knowing the history of Club Soda, “Aren’t there enough bars and places for people to let loose on this island? Do we really need one smack in the middle of a mainly residential neighborhood?”
I initially took offense when someone shouted out “Who are these people complaining? They aren’t from here!” Then, despite myself, I began to listen as islanders explained how important Club Soda was to year round residents. Native islanders spoke about how they rely on it as the only consistently open bar and restaurant over the winter. They explained how it is an important gathering place for young and old. They talked about the bar’s almost 100 year history at the Highview Inn. They talked about how the owners, Max and Rick, were year round residents raising young families and how they had invested much time, money and effort into making Club Soda a place islanders enjoyed.
When the meeting ended, I realized just how selfish and mistaken I had been in thinking my interests were somehow superior to Club Soda’s interests. Club Soda has earned its place on Block island — surviving many a harsh season. I, on the other hand, have earned very little over the course of a mere 18 months of ownership and temporary residence on the Block. Nonetheless, the next morning Max Balmforth showed up on my doorstep and asked me how he could help make Club Soda less intrusive. He was most gracious and most neighborly. I hope that my family and I will be given a chance to be equally as neighborly and gracious as we slowly plant roots here.
I want to thank those who came to the meeting, and Max, for opening my eyes.
To: the Editor—
I’m getting used to thinking of myself as the serpent in this veritable Eden, as a letter-writer suggested. Your literate readers will remember that the original serpent was not venomous, but “subtle.”
Rebuked, I crawl on my belly to apologize for claiming that a cleric “hates” anyone. It was hearsay, even if a reasonable inference. I was silly to quote my parish source for state politics, a lovely woman who spends afternoons listening to hate radio from Providence in a vain attempt to drive herself crazy or make herself glad to live on Block Island, whichever comes first.
I do not want my speculation on the inner life of bishops to deflect attention from the substantive differences between traditional Baptists and traditional Catholics (as opposed to fundamentalist Baptists and liberal Catholics, in which the positions are reversed). The Baptists descend from oppressed minorities who saw the negative effect of government endorsement of majority religion. Catholics descend from Constantinian religion which used government power to support the spread of the religion of the ruling party. Other denominations that have their origins in state churches — Anglicans, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed — have in their DNA a similar desire to use government to prop up religious belief, although in their American forms they have largely joined the Baptists in supporting religious liberty, along with our historic allies, the Quakers and the Jews.
That these differences are not merely historical was made clear last week when a judge ruled that the prayer banner at Cranston West High School had to come down. Bishop Tobin immediately trotted out a spokesperson for the Diocese who complained that judges “need to remember that a majority of the people in Rhode Island are Catholic.” Therefore, it was implied, they should have influence. Therefore the government should support the majority view of religion over that of an atheist minority.
The Baptist view is that the question of who is in the majority is utterly irrelevant. If the majority were Muslim or Mormon — or atheist — it would make no difference. Religious liberty — the essence of the “lively experiment” begun in our charter — is all about the rights of religious minorities.
It is also about the purity of faith. Early Baptists believed that government power corrupts faith, which cannot be genuine if coerced. Tax support and public school support for religion makes faith a public and watered-down belief intended to support the status quo, rather than inner conviction that challenges the world’s values. John Leland wrote in the early days of the Republic, “Experience...has informed us that the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did.”
Judge Lagueux was correct in his decision that government schools may not even imply endorsement of any religious views, no matter how “generic” the views expressed. Baptists would add that the least-common-denominator nature of public prayers like the one at Cranston West is evidence of the harm that government-sponsored religion does to genuine faith. Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court was correct in its unanimous decision last week that the government may not under any circumstances interfere with church decisions regarding hiring of teachers or clergy. One imagines that Bishop Tobin applauded that ruling, but it is not possible to have a church that is free from government interference without standing up for the necessity of government schools that are free from church interference.
Despite what many conservatives today argue, the founders of Rhode Island and those who demanded the First Amendment understood that the only way to have religious liberty is to have a state that is completely secular. It is always tempting to use the state’s power to support religion — and those churches with long histories of state support are understandably tempted more than others — but it is a temptation that must be resisted, even in a matter as innocuous as a banner on the wall of a gym.
This email was sent to the Town of New Shoreham Electric Utility Task Group and copied to the paper—
I have observed the actions of Clifford McGinnes, Sr., one of the owners of Block Island Power Company, as he maneuvers to remove the ratepayer assets and transfer them to his control. The goal is clear. He is attempting to create what is known as a “turn-style operation” where he adds no value, but inflicts added cost upon Block Island Power Company’s customers, which he pockets. This was done with the cell tower, and to this day no one seems to know how much income it actually generates, and if the ratepayers receive appropriate compensation. Now we see his attempt to create a transmission entity on the estate in the trust of his late deceased wife. This was an estate that in my opinion was illegally created from land owned by the ratepayers.
It is the EUTG’s mission statement to lower the cost of energy on Block Island. Nothing of substance has occurred towards this goal for a variety of reasons. It seems clear that the most reasonable path to lowering electricity costs is to condemn Block Island Power Company and turn it into a ratepayer owned cooperative. Condemnation will establish a fair value for the company, which many suspect is actually negative given the environmental liabilities and condition of the distribution system. We can then remove the owners and their salaries from rates, hire a professional utility manager to straighten out the mess they have created, and begin to establish a stable utility much in the same way that was done with the water company. What is preventing the EUTG from taking these steps?
To: the Editor—
Fraser Lang is absolutely correct in pointing out the fact that Lyme disease is a significant health problem on Block Island, and in reminding us of evidence that the problem would be solved if we took the steps necessary to eliminate the deer herd.
However, when he says that his support of total elimination may be a minority opinion, perhaps he underestimates the extent of the public’s willingness to do what is required to achieve herd elimination. The recent poll conducted on behalf of the Land Trust did not have a question that asked specifically whether residents were in favor of eliminating the herd, but it did show general support for the measures that would be necessary if a reasonable attempt were made to do just that. Of those polled, half would be willing to have weekend hunting, and more than half would support allowing the baiting of deer, hunting on conservation lands, and the organization of managed hunts.
Let us hope that members of the Town Council (those presently in office or those to be elected this fall) will reach the same set of opinions and throw the weight of town government behind an attempt to reach the corresponding goals.