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And furthermore...

Things Fall Apart

Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself. Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see! aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinox! and but six months before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries! From storm to storm! So be it, then. Born in throes, ‘t is fit that man should live in pains and die in pangs! So be it, then! Here’s stout stuff for woe to work on. So be it, then.” “No fairy fingers can have pressed the gold, but devil’s claws must have left their mouldings there since yesterday,” murmured Starbuck to himself, leaning against the bulwarks. “The old man seems to read Belshazzar’s awful writing. I have never marked the coin inspectingly. He goes below; let me read. A dark valley between three mighty, heaven-abiding peaks, that almost seem the Trinity, in some faint earthly symbol.

So in this vale of Death, God girds us round; and over all our gloom, the sun of Righteousness still shines a beacon and a hope. If we bend down our eyes, the dark vale shows her mouldy soil; but if we lift them, the bright sun meets our glance half way, to cheer. Yet, oh, the great sun is no fixture; and if, at

One

"We talked through the air in those days, thousands and thousands of miles. And the word came of a strange disease that had broken out in New York. There were seventeen millions of people living then in that noblest city of America. Nobody thought anything about the news."

It so chanced that the doubloon of the Pequod was a most wealthy example of these things. On its round border it bore the letters, REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO. So this bright coin came from a country planted in the middle of the world, and beneath the great equator, and named after it; and it had been cast midway up the Andes, in the unwaning clime that knows no autumn. Zoned by those letters you saw the likeness of three Andes’ summits; from one a flame; a tower on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching over all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all marked with their usual cabalistics, and the keystone sun entering the equinoctial point at Libra. Before this equatorial coin, Ahab, not unobserved by others, was now pausing.

“There’s something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here,—three peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self.

Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself. Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see! aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinox! and but six months before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries! From storm to storm! So be it, then. Born in throes, ‘t is fit that man should live in pains and die in pangs! So be it, then! Here’s stout stuff for woe to work on. So be it, then.” “No fairy fingers can have pressed the gold, but devil’s claws must have left their mouldings there since yesterday,” murmured Starbuck to himself, leaning against the bulwarks. “The old man seems to read Belshazzar’s awful writing. I have never marked the coin inspectingly. He goes below; let me read. A dark valley between three mighty, heaven-abiding peaks, that almost seem the Trinity, in some faint earthly symbol.

So in this vale of Death, God girds us round; and over all our gloom, the sun of Righteousness still shines a beacon and a hope. If we bend down our eyes, the dark vale shows her mouldy soil; but if we lift them, the bright sun meets our glance half way, to cheer. Yet, oh, the great sun is no fixture; and if, at midnight, we would fain snatch some sweet solace from him, we gaze for him in vain! This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly, but still sadly to me. I will quit it, lest Truth shake me falsely.” “There now’s the old Mogul,” soliloquized Stubb by the try-works, “he’s been twigging it; and there goes Starbuck from the same, and both with faces which.

Natirar: the first two miles

Physiologists say that a walker of moderate good health will traverse a gentle two-mile trail in under 45 minutes. That’s provided, of course, that she doesn’t stop to take in the scenery or to idle alongside a murmuring stream, distractions that occur regularly on the new public hiking trail at Natirar, Somerset County’s newest and most spectacular public park.

Opened for daily public use on May 1, Natirar immediately takes its place as the crown jewel of New Jersey’s Open Space preservation movement and showcases what determined public land preservation programs can achieve. Your Open Space property taxes, along with those of other Somerset County residents, have provided our small community with a brilliant new reminder that wall-to-wall development in the Garden State need not be inevitable. Rather than lamenting yet another housing tract, early summer here will forevermore be a great time to grab a pair of comfortable shoes and go experience Natirar for yourself.

First established as the Walter Graeme & Kate Macy Ladd estate in 1905, Natirar bore witness to the Somerset Hills’ original gilded era and eventually encompassed nearly 1,000 acres of rolling hills, lawns, and woodlands within the municipalities of Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills, and Bedminster, mostly astride the North Branch of the Raritan River from whence the estate and new public park take their name. (Natirar is “Raritan” spelled backwards.)

First-time visitors to the new Park will observe that Ladd was a most-capable steward of his land, leaving spectacular undisturbed vistas of the surrounding countryside and taming the course of the North Branch to preserve its orderly flow for nearly a century. The result is a unique achievement, all the more remarkable for what has survived than for what has been lost during subsequent changes in ownership. Following Ladd’s death, the estate served as a convalescent home until 1983 when it was acquired by H.R.H. Hassan II, King of Morocco. Having long eyed the property as potential parkland, Somerset County purchased the estate from the King’s heirs for $22 million in 2003 with the intention to preserve it forever as public Open Space.

We are fortunate that what remains today is 411 acres, of which 247 are located within the Borough of Peapack and Gladstone. Accessed via the Park’s main gate on Peapack Road, the new trail is open for pedestrian hiking each day from dawn to dusk, unless otherwise posted. County Park Rangers are on-site should you require assistance, but in keeping with the spirit of passive-use, permanent sanitary facilities and concessionaires are not.

Consisting exclusively of level, graded ground, the new trail is undemanding, non-technical hiking but even the most energetic stroller will find the two miles to be an agreeable outing. The trail loops along the North Branch for most of its length and provides expansive views of former pasturelands, as well as the estate’s main residence, a 40-room, Tudor-style hilltop mansion that is currently closed to the public while it undergoes renovation as a world-class spa/retreat center. On a recent visit, birdcalls and running water were the only discernible noises and an enlarged sense of space and perspective were everywhere apparent. Passing away from the river, a newly-graded trail segment traverses what County Parks officials are calling the “Great Lawn,” a large, open meadow beneath the brow of the hill that will eventually be used for public musical performances and other community events.

Whether you walk, jog, or simply find an agreeable spot to sit apart and clear your mind, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the enduring marvel that is Natirar and your Open Space tax dollars at work.

Editors asleep, the New York Times misquotes Ian Fleming

The vodka martini is justly celebrated, but not because James Bond preferred it. Gin is the predominant spirit in his famous "shaken-not-stirred" recipe. Shouldn't the Paper of Record know these things?

Weighing in on the use of fruit and other substitutes in the manufacture of vodka, NY TIMES correspondent Dan Bilefsky invokes no less an authority than fiction’s James Bond in Vodka World Shaken, and Stirred, by Fruit Spirits (NYT Nov. 26), but he needs to brush up on his 007 canon.

Bond most certainly did favor the cleaner distillation of grains in his vodka and purported to taste the difference. The famous martini and the spy who loved it first appeared in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale in 1953 and was introduced thusly:

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”

“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.

Bond laughed. “When I’m ... er ... concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip.

“Excellent,” he said to the barman, “but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.”

Movie audiences who, for a generation, remember only that the drink was “shaken, not stirred” learn from Bond’s latest screen opus that the drink is eventually given a name: The Vesper—after his love interest in the book and film. What’s wasted in the film treatment is Fleming’s classic joke: both the girl and the drink are named for vespers, traditional evening prayers said “...in the violet hour when my cocktail will be drunk all over the world.”

Just thought you oughta know.

First Skateboard Ride in Antarctica

July 23, 2006

In a few days, my brother Mike plans to announce his candidacy for the City Council of his hometown, Beaufort, South Carolina. In support of his candidacy, some recognition of his early achievements seems apropos here.

It is little-known but true that my brother was the first human being to ride a skateboard on the continent of Antarctica.

Years after the event, he confided that the dearth of useful macadam in that frozen place and his teammates’ seeming indifference to his achievement diminished any initial excitement that he may have felt. But he persevered.

Mike’s journal records that the permafrost was rough that day and, if he’d expected an audience, choosing the morning after Super Bowl Sunday for his first attempt meant almost certain disappointment.

Nevertheless, the ride was a success: a few solitary kick turns behind a desultory Quonset hut, a wind-assisted Ollie down on the Fuel Dock, the satisfaction of scratching up some curious, yellow-blue lichens in a frozen half-track trail, and the record was his.

I like to think that it was the measure of Mike’s maturity that he came to learn, as many men never do, that heroism is the impetus to try fresh things and not the residue of recognition we expect from them.

And I think that it was in this spirit that he undertook his subsequent expedition to become the first North American to windsurf above the Arctic Circle. He’ll make a fine Councilman.

Combating Hypergrowth

Every summer like clockwork, Peapack-Gladstone municipal officials prepare an annual tax bill for property owners. Among other things, the bill tells us how municipal expenditures will be allocated in the next Borough budget and reminds us again of civic priorities for the year ahead. A helpful graph illustrates where our money is going, with colorful pie-chart slices staking out so much for schools, so much for emergency services, another bit for libraries, and so on.

Helpful as they are, what these bills don’t say are the reasons why our residential property taxes seem to go up every year. Nor do the charts tell us how one of the tiniest line-items, the local Open Space Tax first authorized by voters in 1998, is paying for itself many times over today by helping regulate those bigger chunks, the ones that represent our rising public schools tuition attributable to ever-higher enrollments and our costs of providing borough services.

At tax time, even our most civic-minded neighbor will be forgiven for scoffing at the notion that there is any such thing as a “good” tax. And calling our Open Space tax a giant-killer may be slightly exaggerated. But the record in our community as elsewhere in New Jersey is that public Open Space purchases are tax-smart public policy and among our most cost-effective tools when it comes to regulating municipal expenditures. That’s because municipal, county, and state Open Space trusts address the single largest problem facing New Jersey communities today: runaway growth in residential construction. Voters are learning that when it comes to taming sprawl, the best Defense may very well be a good Offense.

Planners claim that every time the sun rises over New Jersey, another fifty acres of open land has fallen to development. New houses, office parks, roadways and public buildings are quickly displacing pastures, woodlots and forests. Already, 40 percent of the Garden State’s land area is developed, making New Jersey the most densely-developed state in the nation and even more densely populated than India or Japan. Preservationists estimate that development consumes another 18,000 acres of open space every year, and that, in the decade between 1985 and 1996, fully five percent of the state’s remaining open land was developed. At that rate, Rutgers scholars project that it will take just 40 years for the entire state to mirror the land-use density of urban Hudson County. It may be unprecedented in American experience, but reaching full build-out on a statewide basis is entirely conceivable within the lifetimes of current NJ taxpayers.

With all that growth comes demand for more seats in more schools, additional teachers, more buses, greater traffic and sewer capacity, more police and emergency services—in sum, more of all those things that our property taxes subsidize. Given this economic scenario, it’s neither inaccurate nor inhospitable to point out how new neighbors cost everybody more. Nobody advocates hauling in the proverbial welcome mat, but after too many years of spiraling property taxes, concerned voters are demanding new remedies for sprawl. Regulating development and property taxes are undeniably hot political issues for our community as they are all over New Jersey.

Fortunately, courts, legislatures, and politicians are taking notice. Their response has been the introduction of an array of policies that put our communities—including Peapack-Gladstone—at the very forefront of national land-use management and preservation practices.

Communities fight back
Most home owners are familiar with the functions and statutory authority of their local Land Use Boards, municipal bodies charted with the regulation of zoning and other restrictive public covenants. Land Use boards guide municipal officials in adopting desirable zoning plans and then weigh individual development proposals against their likely impact on a community through the negotiation of variances. A significant characteristic of this system is that whatever is not explicitly prohibited by ordinance is deemed permissible. So, both changes to a municipality’s zoning regulations as well as the applications of those restrictions to particular properties require careful jurisprudence. Determining whether grounds exist for a variance or whether an application has been heard fairly is an adversarial process that often results in expensive litigation. With multi-million dollar properties at stake and in a real estate market undergoing hyper-growth, small communities like Peapack-Gladstone are often overmatched.

Recently, neighboring Bernardsville successfully defended its imposition of ten-acre residential zoning against a property-owners’ lawsuit. In upholding Bernardsville’s policy, state courts gave further encouragement to community efforts to regulate sprawl. Nevertheless, it is a truism that public policies won through litigation only inspire more litigation, and that boards of voluntary regulators are ill-equipped to administer booming markets from a defensive perspective.

Enter the Offense
An increasingly popular alternative is to control endangered property by acquiring rights pro-actively via open market competition. This is where Open Space Trusts excel.
Open Space Trusts, those tax-funded capital accounts earmarked for acquisition of undeveloped real estate, conservation easements, and other restrictive land-use covenants, are now in use in over 200 New Jersey municipalities. They are very popular with voters. According to Princeton University’s Policy Research Institute:

From 1996 through 2004, 320 local open space initiatives appeared on the ballot in New Jersey and 271 were approved, allocating around $6 billion for land acquisition and preservation. No state had more such questions on the ballot and only California voters approved more conservation funds. Since New Jersey’s first program began in 1961, state efforts and more than 200 local trust funds (mostly at the municipal and county level) have protected 1.1 million acres.

A primary vehicle for this effort is New Jersey’s Garden State Preservation Trust, a financing authority that provides the funds to preserve forests, watersheds and wildlife habitats, parks and sports fields, working farms, agricultural landscapes and historic structures. Supported by state Sales Tax receipts, the Trust will generate $341 million in fiscal 2005 alone. Through its combination of dedicated funds and bonding, it will average nearly $200 million a year for open space (with $80 million dedicated to farmland) over the program’s lifetime.

Localities like Peapack-Gladstone participate in the Trust’s mission by establishing a qualified local tax authority and raising money that the trust matches through grants administered by its three primary funding agencies: the NJ Green Acres Program, the Farmland Preservation Program, and the Historic Preservation Program.

At present, Peapack-Gladstone has $637,639 in its Open Space Trust and expects to raise an additional $226,000 in 2005 tax receipts. These amounts represent direct investments by borough taxpayers in preserving our community’s open spaces, currently $.03 per $100 in assessed valuation. Three cents is a drop in the bucket of what’s required, but thanks to aggressive solicitation of matching grants, our story doesn’t end there.

When you add the $1,069,219 in our Borough’s Green Acres Planning Incentive Account plus another $575,000 that has been awarded for 2005, our modest $.03 contributions qualify us to compete much harder in the fair market for developable properties. In fact, this year our taxpayers will benefit from additional grants including $500,000 from the Morris Land Conservancy, a non-profit regional preservation group, and potentially another $1,000,000 from Somerset County’s Open Space Partnership program. All of this money will be used to preserve open spaces that would otherwise sprout new subdivisions, school bus stops, and more traffic.

What do these matching grants mean in terms of your leverage? To command the same purchasing power using local tax receipts alone would require another $.42 per $100 in 2005 assessed value! For a median homeowner assessed at $500,000, that’s nearly $2,100 in additional property tax obligations! Clearly, leveraging our Open Space kitty by tapping available matching sources is tax-smart program management.

Since 2000, the Borough’s Open Space tax authorization and matching resources have enabled the retirement of 29 acres of residentially-zoned property from the market, with further projects on the horizon. This accomplishment may seem unremarkable until you understand the tax implications of eliminating over 100 new houses from our public school enrollments. Calculate future tuition costs to educate those new neighbors year after year and the program’s $.03 share of property taxes is indisputably a municipal bargain!

Despite these signs of progress, New Jersey’s 45-year battle against sprawl will be waged for decades to come and nobody forecasts an easy road ahead. Just as surely as there will be new people who cherish our friendly neighborhoods and green valleys, it is not unrealistic to look ahead to a day when there is no more open land in Peapack-Gladstone to subdivide. If they’re very, very fortunate, voters who repeal the borough’s open space taxing authority on that future date will assess how well our “tax-smart Offense” did its job by how little else changed here.