Sunday, June 24, 2007

 

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At 1:45 Friday afternoon, the dynamite was detonated and the big chunks of ledge in my excavation got blown to bits. Fritz called a couple of minutes later to tell me. The guys had worked the drill and set dynamite charges for two days so they could blow the whole thing at once and Fritz said that not only is there enough good rock to face all six poured concrete piers across the front of the house and build the planters that line the entire fa├žade, there's probably enough rock to build the house entirely of stone if we wanted.

I got up there Saturday afternoon and the site was transformed, with the backhoe perched on top of a huge pile of rocks and the excavation much deeper. We're hoping that the blast was sufficient and that the work can now get back underway on the house itself.


We had a great Sweat Saturday night. Sixteen men, a lovely early summer night, and the newly cedar-sheathed Lodge interior beautifully scented by the wood and by eucalyptus oil in the water that steamed off the red hot rocks. At the pot luck afterwards, B the Chef had made me a lovely birthday cake topped with glazed peaches and raspberries (my two favorite fruits).

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One of the big adjustments I'll face in moving to southern New Hampshire (now in just three weeks) is learning in detail the state's politics. I'm not uninformed in that subject already, but there's a lot more to learn. Fritz will, of course, be an invaluable resource (in that as in all else), as he bought his house there many years ago within weeks, coincidentally, of my having purchased mine here in Boston.

Politically, it used to be that Massachusetts and New Hampshire were polar opposites across a shared border. With our perennially Democratically-controlled legislature (albeit with the occasional election of a therefore automatically hobbled Republican Governor, just to confirm the political wackiness of this state) Massachusetts is the home of the People's Republic of Cambridge and other ultraliberal communities in the midst of a far-left state.

New Hampshire, particularly during the governorship (1973-79) of Republican Meldrim Thompson, was a rabidly right-wing state. It was widely believed that the real power wasn't wielded by Thompson so much as by the editor of the powerful Manchester Union Leader, William Loeb. All this was back in the day when newspapers really mattered, before the media explosion, and before the rise of people's publication via the web.
I was frequently assured during those years that nothing of any substance was proposed or discussed in the governor's office without a preliminary phone call by Thompson to Loeb. The Union Leader's voice was reactionary, hawkish, homophobic, frequently vicious in attacking people of whom Loeb disapproved, and the tenor of the political discourse was similar in nature (albeit far less juvenile in style--which wouldn't be difficult) to the pronouncements and rants of Ann Coulter.

Born in 1905 to the son of German Jewish immigrants (Loeb published his birth certificate on the front page of a couple of his papers in order to prove he wasn't Jewish), Loeb had a very checkered career professionally and personally before he hit his stride to achieve almost unlimited power to control thought and politics in the Granite State. An opportunist and something of a charlatan, Loeb married and dumped two wives when they proved less than useful, along the way to seducing Elizabeth "Nacky" Scripps, heiress to the massive Scripps newspaper heritage and fortune, away from her then husband (there were physical and legal battles between the men).

Previously, Loeb had gotten out of service in World War II on the basis of ulcers that he was alleged to have inflamed by drinking massive amounts of alcohol prior to his various medical exams. There is also evidence of spurious resume entries; ugly law suits against his mother over money (she disowned him and, on her death, he brought suit against his siblings, consuming the bulk of the inheritance in legal fees so as to deprive them of what he could not have himself); and his own abandonment of a daughter when she was severely injured in a fall from a horse.

His early newspaper publishing career was spotty at best, riddled with disputes and suits with investors over his having misrepresented his political opinions while soliciting their money, and their disapproval when they found out where he really stood. He also hated labor unions and preferred to kill a couple of his own papers and throw hundreds of employees out of work when there were strikes for better conditions and wages.

Early in The Union Leader's history, Loeb exported the paper to Boston during a newspaper strike here. When it was discovered that his sports reporting was inaccurate, he fell afoul of The Mob--all that sports betting, you know. But Loeb recovered and established an almost complete monopoly over news coverage in New Hampshire in an era when out of state radio signals couldn't penetrate the state's mountains and local community newspapers were few and far between. He eventually found allies in the highest levels of state government and not only reported the state's political news but took a strong hand in making it.

Loeb eventually died in 1981 and a new editor took over, although the paper remained published and heavily influenced by his widow Nackey until her own death in 2000. When I first met Fritz, he had the Union Leader delivered to the house daily because despite its vile politics, it was THE paper in New Hampshire if you wanted to find out what was going on in the state. Much of the style of the Loeb days remained--gratuitous and openly insulting references to President Clinton and, of course, to Hilary (who was treated as devil woman), and a revoltingly sycophantic devotion to Ronald Reagan. Fritz eventually had delivery of the Union Leader stopped; he now makes due with TV news.


On the local level, Fritz has dealt for years with state representative Jack Barnes, a raging homophobe last seen in the Boston media angrily denouncing the passage of same-sex civil unions in New Hampshire; Barnes did everything but snarl and bare his fangs on the video clip shown several times on WBZ-TV. But the era of Barnes and others like him may be coming to an end, and fairly quickly.

The latest figures on population loss and growth among the six New England States shows that New Hampshire is the only one gaining population--and rapidly at that. The attraction is the beauty of the state and the availability of land (which means, of course, development which immutably alters that beauty). There's also the storied lack of state income or sales taxes (offset by heavy property taxes--essential services have to be paid for somehow). But still people come, and the ones who are moving in are much like me demographically--highly educated, professional and academic people who are predominaltly liberal. This 'immigration" is happening in such numbers, joining the not popularly known but significant pockets of socially progressive, liberal New Hampshirites, that in five to ten years it's predicted New Hampshire will be transformed into one of the "blue" states.

It may be that I'm on the crest of a wave that will change New Hampshire politically for a long time to come.

Comments:
Happy birthday. Your descriptiuon of the cake made my hingry. Raspberries and peaches is a favorite combination of mine.
 
Happy (belated) Birthday, Will. I enjoyed the history and your take on NH - from one (rather new) New Hampshire-ite - to another. You'll almost be neighbors to us. By the way, you've been tagged... you know what to do.
 
many happy returns on the feast day of your nativity!
Your sweat lodge looks marvelous
I enjoyed the cartoon as much as all the news/information.
 
When I was kid, the guys from New Hampshire used to call us "Massholes."

Almost the entirety of my immediate family has moved to the Granite State. My mother and one sister still live in Methuen.

Fifteen out of sixteen of my nieces and nephews live in N.H.

Only one of my sisters is irritatingly Republican and conservative.
 
excited the plans are really getting going.. your pic and description of the lodge makes me ache with envy... what i wouldn't give.

last sweat lodge i did was actually with a bunch of women. interesting, to say the least.
 
Check out 7/2/07 Boston Globe - apparently your views on New Hampshire are noticed by many people.
 
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