Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Acadia Shut Down

Today the U.S. Federal Government was forced to shut down all non-essential services and activities, as Congress was unable to agree on a continuing funding resolution by the end of the budget year at midnight last night. Among the many agencies closing their doors this morning was our own Acadia National Park.

For anyone who has yet to figure it out, what we are seeing here is a high-stakes struggle between those who believe in a small, limited government, and who rely on free market systems to provide for the basic needs of the people, vs. those who believe that government has an important role to play in ensuring that people's basic needs are met, and that inevitable free market excesses or shortcomings are corrected. The government program currently being fought over is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama-care; a massive overhaul of our entire health care system.

To get even more basic – most people tend to like government services when those services are available to them. The problem is that they don't want to pay the taxes which are necessary to fund those services. Hence the unfortunate tendency to borrow for current services with the expectation that future generations will pay off the loan.

So far, our democratic system of government has been unable to handle and resolve these most fundamental issues, so we lurch from crisis to crisis with no good end in sight. There are many knowledgeable observers around the world who are becoming quite concerned that the United States is no longer able to govern itself, a situation that would have dire economic and social consequences for us all.

We here at MountDesertIsland.Net, probably like most Americans, come down somewhere in the middle on the proper role of government. A welfare state is not an appealing or effective option in the long run, because it tends to reduce the personal ambition and responsibility that enable a society to grow and prosper efficiently. On the other hand, unrestricted and uncontrolled free markets eventually result in imbalances that can undermine or even destroy a society. Leaving everyone to their own devices when resources are not evenly divided can lead to dysfunction and disaster.

So the loss we feel when our beloved Acadia National Park closes is symptomatic of a much larger and much more serious problem. In a properly functioning democracy, the ultimate solution to this larger and most fundamental problem should lie with informed, participating voters at the ballot box. But what happens when nearly half of the potential voters are neither informed nor participate? What happens when powerful special interest groups use huge sums of money to influence elections and our elected representatives for their own private gain? What happens when large segments of our society struggle to meet the day-to-day requirements of basic living, while a few others reap all the rewards of a privileged life?

We have a right to worry and be sad about the loss of access to our Acadia Park at this beautiful season of the year. But we have a much more important obligation to find a way to restore faith in our democratic system of government so our country can function, and so Acadia doesn't have to close again!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Freedom of Speech



While in Bar Harbor this weekend, we could not help but notice a small, vocal group of demonstrators staffing a prominent display set up on the Main Street sidewalk and advocating the impeachment of President Obama. In addition to signage, there were large portraits of the President with a Hitler style mustache. Thousands of summer tourists were strolling the streets, and two cruise ships were in port. A brief inquiry indicated that the group apparently did have a permit from the Town of Bar Harbor.

Observing the demonstrators for a short time, we saw many people cross the street to avoid passing directly in front of the display and also to avoid any verbal contact with the activists. That likely made shop owners on at least one side of Main Street rather unhappy. We also saw demonstrators gesturing to, and verbally interacting with, people who were forced by heavy traffic to drive up or down Main Street very slowly. In fairness, there was the occasional person who intentionally walked over to the demonstrators voicing support, signing their petition, or donating money.

In our view, this incident raises some difficult questions that require a lot of careful thought. Of course, our first priority must be to preserve the First Amendment right of everyone to speak their mind, no matter how offensive that speech might be to some willing, or even unwilling, listeners. Still, we also are aware that millions of people visit Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor every year to both marvel at the natural beauty of Acadia National Park, and to enjoy for a brief few days the small-town atmosphere of a coastal Maine village which they like to think is far removed from the frustrating extremism and debilitating negativism that have become so much a hallmark of our political system.

As other interest groups see or hear about demonstrations like the one this weekend, it is likely that they too will want to take advantage of Bar Harbor's high visibility and heavy summer traffic. We believe that the Bar Harbor Town Council, with input from the town's attorneys, local citizens, and the Chamber of Commerce, should carefully review any pertinent ordinances to be sure that the rights and interests of all parties are adequately protected.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day 2011

It has been a long time since our last post on MDI Blog, and for that we sincerely apologize. During the intervening months, local issues have continued to be eclipsed by national and international economic and political events.

Here on Mount Desert Island, we like to think that because we are surrounded by the ocean and dramatic natural beauty, we are thus somehow insulated from the problems that are so apparent throughout our country and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we are not! What happens in China, or in Afghanistan, or in Washington, or on Wall Street, or at the Federal Reserve, or along the Mexican border, or in other towns and cities throughout the United States; all eventually could have a serious adverse effect upon the quality of our life as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren, despite the fact that we live in this supposed haven along the Maine coast!

In our opinion, we as individuals and, collectively, as a nation currently face some of the most significant and difficult problems we have ever encountered since the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Now is not the time for ideological posturing, or for burying our heads in the sand, or for selfishly trying to enrich ourselves at the expense of our neighbors and our fellow inhabitants on this island in space. We need strong leaders who can inspire us to bring out the best in each other. We need the willingness and courage to look beyond short term personal gain and, instead, focus on the long term common good. We need to solve our problems together, not on the backs of those who are least able to defend themselves. We need to stand up for the fundamental human principles set forth so eloquently in our country's founding document.

On this Independence Day, let's resolve to do more than just wave the flag or wear the red, white and blue. Let's spend some time thinking about what our freedom really means and what considerable responsibilities that freedom entails.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tragedy at Thunder Hole

We’re sure that Acadia National Park has received many comments about yesterday’s tragedy at the Thunder Hole area, and especially about whether or not Park personnel took proper care to safeguard the public.

As one of the thousands who were present at Thunder Hole before, during and after the incident involving the tragic loss of a little seven year old girl, the near loss of several others, and many injuries; we sincerely hope that Park personnel do not take a “bum rap” for what happened. The bottom line in this most unfortunate situation is that you cannot legislate or enforce safe behavior by large numbers of foolishly determined people.

We personally saw Rangers and other Park personnel trying their best to keep people from venturing too far out onto the rock ledges when powerful and increasingly large waves were coming onshore. We saw people move back at Rangers’ requests, and then go right out on the ledges again after the Ranger moved 25 or 50 feet away. We heard people cheer when spray and actual green seawater swirled on or around them. They had no clue about the risk. They also had no interest in being warned by a Ranger, much less by one of the many other ANP employees who were present and did not wear a Ranger uniform or carry a gun. Some people can be incredibly stupid, and we saw a lot of that stupidity yesterday at Thunder Hole.

The big debate is and will be – should the Park have anticipated this and just closed Ocean Drive early on Sunday morning, long before high tide. Our vote is “NO”.

Ocean Drive is one of America’s treasures – a very beautiful but also very dangerous area. The American people should be allowed easy access to this wonderful place that we all own. At the same time, each of us needs to use common sense and take reasonable care to protect ourselves and our loved ones wherever we may be – particularly in natural areas when the forces of nature are on full display. We have always admired the Park for not placing fences or barriers or obtrusive signs in places like Otter Cliffs where a number of people have been killed over the years. People need to take responsibility for their own actions, and that is a concept that has become increasingly foreign in recent years.

Our only real concern about the way in which this incident was handled is that the size of the crowd and congestion on the Loop Road yesterday significantly hindered the Rangers and rescue vehicles from responding to the emergency at Thunder Hole. There is no easy answer to this problem, but when the large number of cars began to approach the point of completely blocking all lanes of Ocean Drive, a situation that was apparent well before the tragic incident, perhaps a Ranger in the Thunder Hole area should have asked the entrance station to temporarily stop allowing more vehicles to enter so that emergency access could be maintained. This has been done from time to time in the past when crowds on Cadillac Mountain became so large that there were no more places to park. Rangers at the bottom have stopped more cars from going up until some came down to prevent gridlock.

In our view, it would be unfair to criticize Acadia National Park for not doing more to avoid this terrible incident. We were there, and overall we feel that the Park and all of its personnel did a very good job on Sunday under very difficult circumstances. The problem was people, and as we said earlier, you cannot enforce good judgment!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Season

We are almost embarrassed that it has been so long since our last post; but as we said at the time, issues on Mount Desert Island and elsewhere have been largely overshadowed by national economic events. That doesn’t mean there has been nothing going on around here. We have seen the occasional “dust up” over a few local regulations and other matters, but little has happened of island-wide import. Taking a longer term perspective however, there are some subtle shifts occurring in island life about which we all should be concerned.

In just a couple of weeks the time of year locally known as “the season” will begin. “The season” refers to that period between July 4th and Labor Day when most of our summer residents occupy their homes, and when the events calendar swells to overflowing. “The season” for many of these longtime residents has always remained a constant in their lives, and it has been eagerly anticipated as a welcome respite from day to day business and social interests, as a time for relaxation and enjoyment of nature’s beauty and bounty, and as a time for extended families and friends to gather in a quiet, relaxed setting – often for the only time each year.

Year-round families also enjoy and look forward to “the season”, but in a different way. Most of them work long hours during the summer months, although they still entertain family and friends and look for opportunities to savor these wonderful days that seem to pass all too quickly.

But in the words of Bob Dylan – “the times they are a-changin”! Increasingly, “the season” is not what it used to be.

For one thing, families from all economic strata don’t place the same value on just being together that they used to in years past. Various generations often see things very differently today. They have different priorities and sometimes vastly different lifestyles. The closeness that was so much a part of extended families 50 years ago, all too often no longer exists.

For another thing, society has changed. There used to be relatively little social competition among wealthy summer residents. They lived rather elegant lives to be sure, but they usually saw summers on Mount Desert as a time to “rusticate” and to be with their friends in a more low-key fashion than was possible in the cities where they spent most of the year. Today, there seems to be much greater competition to build the biggest, most extravagant house on the boldest, most dramatic ocean cliff; to be seen at a party with the most prominent national and international figures; to have the most well-known house guests; or to have at one’s disposal the largest private jet and the most expensive yacht.

Perhaps the main reason behind these changes is the fast, intense and highly competitive pace of life today compared to 30 or 40 years ago. No one seems to have the time to do everything they feel they need to do, and finding time to relax is something that frequently is neglected. Also, many people today do not respect tradition the way they used to. The current generation appears to be much more self absorbed, much more materialistic, much more interested in being first, and much less inclined to learn from their parents and grandparents.

Of course, exceptions certainly can be found; and it is possible that we unfairly exaggerate the potentially negative aspects of modern life. Still, there is little doubt that the idyllic, idealistic summer days of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s are very much in the past. All of us are poorer as a result.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Uncertainty

The major issues with which residents of Mount Desert Island have been concerned for several years have not gone away. Resource conservation, maintenance of a viable year-round population, balancing the role of tourism in our local economy, reducing the duplication of municipal services, dealing with summer traffic congestion – all of these things and more remain on our plate. But it seems to us that discussion of them has moderated in a significant way over recent months, with such matters taking a back seat to other more immediate global concerns.

Without a doubt the United States, along with most other developed countries, is currently experiencing the greatest financial crisis of our time. And the worldwide economic meltdown has widespread negative implications for our national, state and local governments, for our businesses, for our charitable institutions, and for all of us as individuals. But just exactly what the effects will ultimately be is unknown, leading to much worry and uncertainty about the future.

How will our federal government handle trillion dollar annual budget deficits? How will Maine handle decreasing amounts of federal funds available to the states? How will our municipalities handle corresponding reductions in state financial support for localities? What will a poor economy do to our tourism industry? How can we protect critical funding for Acadia National Park? Will our residents be able to get or keep good jobs?

All of these questions cry out for answers, and the uncertainty surrounding them has, at least for the moment, drowned out discussion of more familiar island issues.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ah, For the Good Old Days...

Now how, you might ask, does this topic specifically relate to issues facing Mount Desert Island?

Well, certainly it is a wistful lament that resonates with a growing number of people around the entire country today. (Anyone for $.25 gasoline?) But it also reflects a recollection of, a respect for, and a desire to preserve things from the past that have been and continue to be very central to the lives of most residents of our island.

Perhaps more than in a lot of other communities, people living on Mount Desert Island have always had a sense of their local history and traditions. That is definitely true of native families, though it might be slightly less a factor in the lives of many who have moved here "from away". Those who were born and grew up here are a part of local history, and they remember with great fondness the relative simplicity and beauty of life on a Maine island, especially during the summers. To be sure, there were hardships as well, but there also is a certain pride among those who dealt with and overcame those hardships, often using the strength found in local community values and institutions. Over the years, more than a few of the families who moved here did so at least in part because of their perception of MDI’s rich local history and its abiding sense of community.

So herein lies our issue. Mount Desert Island has been insulated to some degree from the changes that have affected life so dramatically in the rest the United States, particularly its urban areas. But change is overtaking us more and more rapidly. The fast pace of the Information Age is upon us; more new residents come to the island each year seeking a haven of one sort or another and having little prior knowledge of the community into which they are moving; and many of our village elders around the island are gradually passing away, depriving us both of their wisdom and their direct link to the past.

As a result, we are in serious danger of losing our sense of local history along with the local relationships that have been so important to the quality of life here over the years. We have already lost the local sewing circles, all but one of the community associations, most of the grange halls, most of our ladies’ aid societies, and many of our smaller churches. We find it increasingly difficult to recruit members for our volunteer fire departments and for our local town boards and committees. We live our lives on the Internet and on cable TV instead of interacting with our neighbors.

We cannot turn back the clock, nor would most of us really want to, but we do need to find a way to preserve the essence of the island institutions that have made MDI such a special place. As a start, we need to constantly encourage a broad-based understanding of our local history and traditions, so that everyone living here today can fully appreciate the value of those institutions.

Ah, for the good old days...