The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 5, 2010


Of nuisance and necessity

Any NPR listener knows and fears the words: “fund drive.” WBUR, the local National Public Radio affiliate, has multiple fund drives every season of the year, plus most major holidays. It’s a mercy they so far have overlooked Patriot’s Day and Suffolk County’s (unfortunately named) Evacuation Day. During these fund drives, in order to catch the news or hear a favorite program, the listener is forced to endure many minutes of various radio personalities beguiling, cajoling, threatening and pleading for money to cover the station’s operating expenses.

The Mosquito does it differently. Once a year, every household in Carlisle receives in its mailbox a letter asking for a donation. That letter should have appeared in your mailbox this week.

It is undoubtedly among a number of missives importuning you for help. In these terrible economic times, it is not only more difficult to identify the non-profits worthiest of a donation, it is, for some of us, more difficult to participate in charitable giving at all. If you are still able to make a donation, and if you value having a weekly newspaper written and produced by Carlisleans for Carlisleans, then please help us. The staff at the Mosquito tries to find the right balance between news and features; tries to bring you the news in a timely manner; tries to introduce you to friends and neighbors you might not know; tries to acknowledge accomplishments and milestones; tries to report fairly and objectively about what the various town officers and committees are doing.

The Board of Directors of the paper’s parent company have wisely decreed that paid advertisements can make up no more than one third of any issue’s content. This means however, that ad revenue almost certainly will never exceed expenses, even though a lot of the work done to produce the paper is done pro bono, including much of the writing and reporting, typesetting, and proofreading and all of the web content and design. In many ways your local, independent newspaper is truly a labor of love.

So, no more letters, no telemarketing and no strong-arm tactics. Only a plea: if you can, please help us keep the Mosquito buzzing. ∆

Bad predictions

For the past several years, we’ve hosted an annual dinner party for a small circle of friends. It’s an eclectic mix that includes some academics, professionals, and even a Nobel Prize winner, so the conversation is never dull. At the end of the meal, we take a stab at making a few predictions about the coming year. These are written down and put away in a sealed envelope; the contents are kept secret until the next gathering. This is a bit of a tease, but it keeps people coming back to see who got what right and who missed the mark. The questions are not rocket science – last year’s list included predicting Ted Kennedy’s successor in the Senate, the Dow Jones average, and how much a gallon of gas would cost twelve months hence. I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that by and large, this group of well educated, sophisticated, and fairly hip people is really, really bad at foretelling the future. In fact, we mostly get it entirely wrong.

When you think about it, bad predictions serve a useful purpose. They are often dire, so it’s nice to know that the awful stuff is not likely to happen. For example, meteorologists frequently issue warnings about major storms that always seem to fizzle out. My theory is that the accuracy of a weather forecast is inversely proportional to the certainty with which it is rendered. That’s why I never bother to buy extra milk or batteries if a hurricane is bearing down. So far, it’s worked.

This column is being written just a few days before the November 2 elections (also the day when our annual dinner party will reconvene) so we’re undergoing the usual barrage of political ads, poll results, and pundits pontificating about who will win, by how much, and what the ultimate effect on the body politic will be. It’s said that all it takes to be a successful futurist is to make a sufficient number of predictions to ensure that at least a few of them come true; then you tout the winners and ignore the losers. This is akin to Abraham Lincoln’s observation that even a stopped clock will be right twice a day.

As for Tuesday, here’s my take: the Republicans will recapture the House, but not the Senate. Brown and Boxer will win in California; Reid will barely survive in Nevada; Rand Paul will win in Kentucky; Nikki Haley will be the next governor of South Carolina; Wisconsin’s long-serving Russ Feingold will go down in flames, and, in a squeaker, Lisa Murkowski, who lost the primary in Alaska to a Tea Party candidate, will retain her Senate seat as a write-in candidate. As for the Massachusetts races, I have no idea. The rebalancing of Congress will be a good thing, because history shows that when one party is too dominant, hubris tends to creep in and bad things can happen. (I believe it was either Mark Twain or Will Rogers who said that the Republic is never in more danger than when Congress is in session.)

So there you have it – enough predictions so that at least one of them is likely to pan out. Then on Wednesday morning I can say “I told you so…” ∆



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