'Scent of a dying garden'

"September,'' from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

"I have come to a still, but not a deep center, 
A point outside the glittering current; 
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river, 
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains, 
My mind moves in more than one place, 
In a country half-land, half-water. 
I am renewed by death, thought of my death, 
The dry scent of a dying garden in September, 
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire. 
What I love is near at hand, 
Always, in earth and air."


--  Theodore Roethke, "The Far Field''    

Some more wet energy for New England?

Excerpted from Robert Whitcomb's  Digital Diary column in GoLocal Prov.

The old line, at least since New Englanders stopped using waterpower to run most of its mills, has been that New England has little in the way of energy sources. That’s been changing for the past few years, with wind turbines and solar arrays popping up. For a while, of course, people held out hope that fracking for natural gas from relatively nearby places, particularly Pennsylvania, would conveniently help address environmental issues and help maintain the region’s energy stability.

 

But it turns out that the fracking process releases so much methane into the air that it will make global warming  considerably worse, although of course it’s less obviously dirty than oil and coal.

An additional source of energy for New England is wave power.  (Tidal power is also being worked on.) I used to write about wave power years back when I worked for The Providence Journal. Nine finalists for a U.S. Energy Department award of $1.5 million for wave-energy innovation have been having their technology tested at a Navy wave tank in Carderock, Md.

The DOE estimates that wave power that might be developed off U.S. coasts could provide almost a third of America’s annual electricity use.  God knows that the New England’s coastal waters have heavy-duty waves, excluding the bays. Let’s hope that New England-linked companies, such as Sea Potential, with U.S. operations based in Bristol, succeed in getting a big hunk of this business, aided by our local research and development companies and universities. Of course launching these new sources of electricity will pose a challenge to maintaining the region’s electricity grid, which has been based on big gas, oil and nuclear plants.

xxx

The con men promoting casinos as “economic development’’ are relentless, as is the wishful thinking of locals who think that long-run prosperity (and low taxes) will come from hosting a casino in their community.  A tour of  most casino towns would disabuse them of this idea, an idea that becomes ever more misleading as the gambling market is fragmented by more casinos and the coming of heavy-duty gambling on the Internet.

It should not take a genius to figure out that casinos are parasites sucking money from households and local businesses and sending it to far-away investors. The way to create local wealth is to make, grow or invent stuff, not to get locals to spend their money in a casino. Perhaps this will become clearer to the people of Tiverton, now considering having  a casino in that now mostly pretty town.

Tivertonians would do well to drive around some casino towns before they succumb to casino promoters' pitch.

-- Robert Whitcomb

James P. Freeman: Boston's role in the saga of U2

 

“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but even at this stage, I do feel that we are meant to be one of the great groups”

                                                -- Bono, as told to Rolling Stone, 1981  

No one could have imagined the significance of that first gathering, held in a kitchen, over the north side of Dublin, on a Saturday… Sept. 25, 1976, to be precise. Equipped with makeshift instruments and make-believe invincibility -- admittedly with more ambition than ability -- four teenage friends, known simply as Paul, Dave, Larry and Adam, formed a collective that would eventually be called U2.  

Forty years later, still friends and known universally as Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam, and still intact as a band, U2 remains rock music’s most enduring super group.

As Bruce Springsteen said in March, 2005 -- while recalling seeing U2 perform in the early 1980s -- during his marvelously reverential Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, “I was listening to the last band of whom I would be able to name all of its members. They had an exciting show and a big, beautiful sound. They lifted the roof.”

That sound has sold 157 million records worldwide and won 22 Grammy awards in America.

Still, after all these years, there is something uniquely appealing about U2 today. Certainly, there is the romantic idealism of their music (the “plangent sensuality” of Bono’s voice and “radiant lyricism” of The Edge’s guitar) along with their quest for social justice through global activism. But that only partially explains it. Perhaps most importantly, they embrace a transcendent spirituality that is captured in all their work.

“From the start,”  reasons The Rolling Stone Files, “U2’s post-alienationist rock has stressed communion over segregation, compassion over blame, hope over despair.” Just this past week on the PBS program, Charlie Rose, Bono insisted that music is the “language of the spirit.” U2’s work is the “beautiful arc” of melodies and ideas. And in U2’s post-punk vernacular, their spirituality is “pure joy as an act of defiance.”

In many respects, U2 has been defined by defiance. They are the sound of defiance. Defying odds, critics, trends, tones, politics, celebrity and mortality.

Boston figured prominently in U2’s long history of melodies and ideas. 

What were the odds that an aspiring, but largely unknown, deejay named Carter Alan from the progressive radio station WBCN-FM, would stumble across two nondescript import forty-five singles on a hot August day in 1980, at Kenmore Square’s New England Music City store, by an Irish outfit named U2? The singles were “A Day Without Me” (beginning with the line “Starting a landslide in my ego”) and “11 O’Clock Tick Tock.” Soon, an import copy of their first full album, Boy, would be featured on the station.   

In his book, the wonderfully engaging Outside Is America, U2 in the U.S., Alan quotes U2’s then-manager, Paul McGuinness, after the band’s first Boston concert on December 13, 1980: “In fact, since you are already playing it [Boy], you can consider yourself to be the first American station to do so.” Their Boston debut -- and just seventh American performance -- occurred at the old Paradise Theater (now known as Paradise Rock Club) on Commonwealth Avenue, where 150 people attended to see U2 support a Detroit band known as Barooga. U2 played 10 songs total, including two encores and “11 O’Clock” was played twice.

Overall, according to U2gigs.com, a kind of Elias Book of Baseball Records for U2 geeks, the group has played 44 concerts in Massachusetts (Boston, Worcester, Foxboro, Somerville, and Amherst) from 1980 to 2015 (their last tour). Since 2005, they have played the venue now sporting the TD Garden name 15 times. The two most-performed songs in Boston are “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (tied at 32 times each). Boston-proper ranks 6th in the top 25 played cities worldwide.

And what were the odds that the lead singer of U2 would give the Class Day Address at Harvard University on June 6, 2001?

With a charming irreverence -- often times silly and serious -- and inspired bravado, Bono spoke of his efforts at debt cancellation for the world’s poorest countries (Jubilee 2000), antiretroviral AIDS drugs for Africa, and the challenges faced by popstars and politicians with a cause (a “new level of ‘unhip’ for me”). There, he asked, “Isn’t ‘Love thy neighbor’ in the global village so inconvenient?”

He also raised this idea: “Civil Rights in America and Europe are bound to human rights in the rest of the world. The right to live like a human. But these thoughts are expensive – they’re going to cost us. Are we ready to pay the price? Is America still a great idea as well as a great country?”

On Charlie Rose, Bono also suggested that U2 is driven by forward movement. “We always think where we’re going,” he said. That is rare for any group of people in business for such a long time who might be more inclined to see where they have gone, not where they are going. Bono at times has intimated that U2 will end when they stop being relevant. So far, they have defied being irrelevant too.

What does the future hold for a band about to enter its fifth decade together?

The song “40” (named after Psalm 40, a song actually played live 400 times, surely a sign of grace over karma) contains a lyric that might lead the way.

“He set my feet upon a rock
“And made my footsteps firm
“Many will see
“Many will see and hear

“I will sing, sing a new song.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and a former Cape Cod Times columnist.

 

 

John Harney: At Business Innovation Factory, inspiration, ideas and personal stories in the face of the 'isms' holding us back

Every September, I get a new fix of inspiration at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) summit of innovators, in Provide. Last week, I was at BIF’s 12th summit, my sixth.

My main inspiration this year came from Dave Gray. The founder of the strategic design consultancy XPLANE, co-founder of Boardthing and author of Liminal Thinking gave a simple message: Shut off autopilot. As he said, the only place we can make change is in the now. Problem is we don’t often think about now because we’re on autopilot.

 

First piece of advice then: Shut off autopilot and do something different. In an organization, he added, one cog shutting off the dance can change everything. We all talk about disruption a lot, he said, but we don’t disrupt ourselves.

Well, it’s hardly a disruption (a word you hear a bit too much in innovation circles), but I vowed to do one thing different from the past, and not write exhaustively about every speaker I heard. For the ones I left out, it’s not them, it’s me. Happens that the stories that really hit me included the starter and the closer.

The starter was Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company. He researched his new book by seeking outextraordinary stories in ordinary places—not Silicon Valley or Kendall Square,  in Cambridge, but retail banks, insurance companies, even parking garages. He told, for example, of the “Megabus effect” that had replaced up-to-then drab bus experiences with modernized double-decker busses complete with big windows, GPS so  that it would be easy to avoid traffic backups, wifi for device-beholden passengers, seatbelts so riders felt safe and smooth ticketing via the internet.

Taylor also spoke of Lincoln Electric, an Ohio company founded in 1895 that makes welding systems and thinks progressively. In 1948, company leaders said Lincoln will never lay off an employee and it never has, not even during the Great Recession.

A sign over the factory gate says, “The actual is limited; the possible is immense.” A sort of BIFy take on the proud, "Through these gates pass the best shipbuilders in the world” motto at Bath Iron Works (which by the way, can’t claim Lincoln’s no-layoff promise).

The closer was Ross Szabo. On the outside, everything looked fine for the class president, varsity basketball player with a 3.8 GPA. But he was hardwired for mental- health problems. At age 11, he visited his older brother in the hospital after the sibling had a manic episode. Ross himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16.

Over the jokes of classmates, he started to talk about his disorder ... and classmates started listening. But in his 20s, he attempted suicide, began heavy drinking and experienced psychotic episodes. He dropped out of American University, then returned four years later and earned a degree in psychology. He recently developed a mental-health curriculum for college that is now used in college fraternity life, orientation and athletics programs. We need to normalize mental health, he said. “Mental health isn't for when things go wrong. It's something you build, like physical health.”

Videos of the storytellers will begin to be released starting in mid-October atwww.bif.is/summit. Jessica Esch did telling sketches of the BIF proceedings.

Among tidbits between Taylor and Szabo, Matt Cottam, co-founder and chief design officer at the Providence-based design firm Tellart, spoke of Tellart’s exhibit at the “Museum of the Future: Machinic Life” in Dubai showing how robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will augment human experience.

One example: replacing the uncomfortable aspects of airport security with soothing warm towels that can immediately be scanned for pathogens and other threats. Or automatically adding vitamin C to drinks when a certain number of office workers come down with a cold. Or building a game in the Dubai arcade that requires people to be active and delivers biometric information. Or building an algorithm that takes a 1,000-year view on environment risks, rather then the current shortsighted focus on just a few generations. As machines become better at reading our emotions, Cottam asked, will we naturally employ them to take better care of us? Will we trust AI enough to have avatars be our nannies?

New demographics

Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, noted that around 1900, U.S. life expectancy was 47. But half of American babies born in 2007 will live to 104. Coughlin credits the gains not only to doctors, but also to civil engineers, noting that clean water has done more than anything else to add to life expectancy.

In Japan, more people are buying adult diapers than kids’ diapers. Coughlin pointed out that the fastest-growing part of the population is the 85 and over group. And Gen Z people should prepare not just for five to eight jobs, but for five to eight careers. Your kitchen will be able to monitor what food you’re running low on. Smart toilets will tell you whether you took your medicine. Smaller grocery stores with lower shelves and more compact parking lots will cater to the aging, childless shoppers.

Longevity could mean a lot of time for retirement. And perhaps for loneliness? Kavita Patel, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital Community Physicians and healthcare-policy adviser, said loneliness is the single most preventable public health epidemic today. People often feel alone, she said, but loneliness is a feeling that no one cares about you. And loneliness worsens other diseases, she said. She told of a study in Australia finding that 37 percent of early teenagers and young children say they only feel more alone when they get on social media.

 She cited the longitudinal Framingham health research, famous for its heart study, which also studied loneliness and found lonely people tend to affiliate with other lonely people. And people who are not lonely would actually become lonely if their networks were made up of lonely people. What can we do? Screen for the condition, for starters, she said. And change views. Hospital chiefs brag about private rooms, but such rooms are very isolating and presumably make people lonelier, according to Patel. Also reach out and touch people! (To be sure, that's a tall order in a society poisoned by political correctness, fear of lawsuits, fear of infection and fear of condescension.)

Out of this world

Kava Newman, deputy administrator at NASA, said she expects to see humans within the orbit of Mars in the 2030s. She believes that if Mars had life 3.5 billion years ago, then something went terribly wrong, that could teach lessons about life on Earth. (I had seen her a few years earlier at BIF when she was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, talking about the pressurized, skin-tight Bio-Suit she developed that gives astronauts unprecedented flexibility in space.)

Irwin Kula, a rabbi who talks about disruptive innovation, is president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership described as a “do-tank” committed to making Judaism a public good. Kula noted that “nones” are the fastest-growing religion. As disruption guru Clayton Christensen would put it, the “incumbents” are in trouble. True, 40 percent of Americans say they go to church, but observers found it’s more like 23 percent. A lot of people think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, Kula said.

We need an innovation ecosystem in area of religion, suggested the rabbi. (I had also seen Kula a few years earlier at BIF with his moving Jewish chants set to voice messages from people about to die in the 9/11 attacks.)

Stowe Boyd is a “work futurist” who coined the term hashtag. He said ism’s are holding us back.

Anywhereism is about mandating work anywhere, Boyd said. But most companies are actually decreasing square footage of offices to save money, even if many people are less happy and less productive in open spaces. Airspace, he noted, bring similar open plans, glass walls, communal table-desks, high ceilings and artisan touches not only to offices, but also to cafes, hotels and home. 

Workism and the cult of leadership go back to the fact that organizations are not democratic. 

Horizontalism suggests that a bossless organizational model would seem to liberate us, but, Boyd suggested, moving away from hierarchy without making other changes is like a mob tearing down a dictator’s statue, but not ousting dictator himself. It’s just a new business model where we become managers and the managed. 

Techism tells us that using more tools, we’ll be more productive, but we’re actually less productive.

Darden Smith, an Austin-based singer, is the founder and creative director of SongwritingWith: Soldiers. He sang and played guitar at the BIF summit. Folky, he made references to hearing Bruce Springsteen as a kid, being influenced by Dylan and Elvis Costello. But he said (repeatedly) that he doesn’t believe in cynicism anymore; he believes in love. (Never mind that smart cynicism empowered those musical heroes!)

New starts

Coss Marte started selling pot at 13, then other drugs. He said he came up with a different way to sell drugs. He and his 20 or so assistants all started wearing suits, and the operation grew to be a multimillion-dollar business. Then he got busted and ended up jailed in a 9’x6’ cell. Told by doctors that he was dangerously overweight, he started working out and lost 70 pounds in six months.

After his release, he developed a unique fitness program based on the one that had worked for him in prison. With that program, he launched a prison-style fitness bootcamp on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called ConBody. He built his own gym to look like a prison cell and staffed the operation with other formerly incarcerated people. To scale up, he then began offering online videos, where he said, exercisers can feel safe learning from a convict who’s not physically there.

Roberto Rivera, president and “lead change agent” of The Good Life Alliance, spoke of how he went from being a dope dealer to being a hope dealer. He found out he was learning-disabled, which he came to see as learning differently. Rivera started his own clothing line. Did a rap: I know you love it/freestyle here at the storyteller summit. He created his own major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called “Social Change, Youth Culture, and the Arts.” “And this person who was told he was LD is now getting his Ph.D in education.”

As he noted, “Standard educational goals can produce high-achievers who go to Ivy League schools, earn their MBAs, join blue-chip corporations, and devise brilliant financial schemes that build immense wealth for the few on Wall Street, and chaos for everyone else. ... We want all kids on both sides of the gap to have a moral compass, to think critically, and to make the institutions that they’re a part of and the communities that they serve to be more just and more humane.”

Kare Anderson was diagnosed as “phobically shy” as a child. Classmates prevailed on her to run for student body president in fourth grade. She said she won because students had less positive views about the two other contenders (a cautionary tale?).

She is a “synesthete”—a person who sees colors when she hears sounds and that she has no sense of direction. She felt out of sync in many situations and was overly sensitive to stimuli. The upside is that the way her brain works has allowed her to help others go “lower and slower” as they become accessible to those around them and ask lot of questions. That questioning habit led her to a successful job as a reporter with The Wall Street Journal.

John Harney is executive editor of the New England Board of Higher Education.

 

William Morgan: An architectural gem and a mysterious postcard

 

It is amazing how much history we can glean – or maybe imagine–from a postcard (in this case, one purchased for $3 in an antiques shop in Chatham on Cape Cod).

The back of the card reads: "Sept. 17. Hope you are getting along all right at home. Hope to get along the road quite a piece today. Will write again tonight. Anna''

 

The card was sent from Kingston, N.H.,  in 1906 to a family member back in Everett, Mass. Anna, the writer, promises to write at the end of the day. Where is Anna going? She has only been 40 miles or so from home, yet she feels the need to report on her progress into the New Hampshire borderlands. Is the addressee, Mattie Colline, a sister who is holding the fort with an invalid or maybe alcoholic parents? Or perhaps Anna has eloped?

The postage is but a penny, and the stamp rightfully memorializes the U.S. Postal Service's  founder, Benjamin Franklin. Anna is secure in the belief that wherever she is that night, the post office will efficiently get her next missive off to Everett.

While Miss Anna is able to get a lot of message on the front of the postcard, she exhibits no curiosity at all about Kingston (supporting our theory that she was just passing through). The attractive village was named for King William III, who gave the town its royal charter in 1694. It was also the home of Dr. Josiah Bartlett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (One suspects that Anna Colline was not the kind of lady to search the local cemetery for such an ancient notable's final resting place.)

Neither Anna nor the postcard says anything about the Nichols Memorial Library (above) itself. Built in 1898, this architectural gem is one of many small New England book repositories that paid homage to the late great Boston architect, Henry Hobson Richardson. Some of the most satisfying works by the designer of Trinity Church in Copley Square were his Romanesque-style libraries in Quincy, North Easton, and Woburn. 

The architect here was important in his own right. Joseph Everett Chandler was an authority on colonial architecture, and is best remembered for his restoration of such early Yankee landmarks as the Paul Revere House, the House of Seven Gables, and the Old Corner Bookstore. But there was so much more, as Prof. Timothy Orwig has catalogued more than 500 projects by Chandler, and as the Nichols Library attests.

Joseph Everett Chandler.

Joseph Everett Chandler.

 

Providence-based architectural historian William Morgan has written extensively about New England buildings. Among other books, he has published The Cape Cod Cottage and Monadnock Summer: The Architectural Legacy of Dublin, New Hampshire.

 

Chris Powell: Trump didn't even try to act presidential

Who won the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday night?    For simple demeanor, Clinton did. Both candidates scored some blows against the other personally.

When national policy issues managed to break through the muck,  Clinton was more familiar with them, if not exactly persuasive.    Trump was himself -- incorrigible, blustering, always interrupting, rude,  bullying, disjointed, unresponsive, changing the subject, falling back on generalities, falsely denying past statements he has made, and completely without respect for others.   

Clinton was sometimes smug and even robotic as she struck certain poses obligatory for Democrats but at least she followed the rules and didn't interrupt or bully.   

As for the issues, such as they were: Trump blamed the decline in well-paying jobs on China's devaluing its currency and Mexico's imposing a tax on imports. He didn't recognize the role played by the U.S. dollar's imperial status as the world reserve currency, which allowsAmericans to run huge trade deficits with borrowed money and to purchase from abroad what they really didn't earn, thereby exporting those jobs.   

Clinton said the country needs a tax system that "rewards work and not just financial transactions," forgetting her subservience to Wall Street and that of her husband, the former president. Then she faulted Trump for having got started in business with money from his father, as if she and her husband won't be providing a big inheritance to their daughter.   

Clinton got the better of their exchange over Trump's refusal to disclose his tax returns as all recent presidential nominees have done. Trump made the strange pledge to disclose his returns when Clinton disclosed the semi-official e-mails lost or deleted from her improper email system when she was secretary of state. The pledge was effectively a confession to Clinton's charge that Trump was hiding "something terrible" -- probably that he pays no federal taxes.

Atleast Clinton admitted that she had been wrong to maintain a private e-mail system.   

Trump scored by contrasting the federal government's huge debt against the country's "Third World" infrastructure.  

 Clinton scored by raising Trump's business bankruptcies and his cheating his contractors.

Trump had no good defense against this, arguing only that he had availed himself of the law.   

Clinton acknowledged the racial tensions in criminal justice without offering any specifics for solutions. Trump only struck a pose for "law and order," as if "law and order" excuses police shootings of unarmed black men.   

Clinton knocked Trump's reckless comments about Muslims for insulting importantU.S. allies. Trump responded that as secretary of state Clinton had helped worsen the morass of the Middle East, particularly with Iraq, Iran, and Libya --  incisive criticism that he failed to develop.   

Trump dissembled pathetically about his longstanding and recent pursuit of President Obama's birth certificate to establish that Obama was constitutionally disqualified for the presidency.

Clinton plainly was more familiar with the specifics of national issues by virtue of her decades of experience in politics and government.

Trump disparaged Clinton's experience as signifying her responsibility for the country's decline.  Indeed, the country senses its decline and is angry about it and wants change even if it doesn't know exactly what sort of change it wants.  

 Trump has not yet gone beyond reflecting the anger. His opportunity Monday night was to calm down, move beyond the bluster, sharpen his focus, master some issues, and show himself capable of the sobriety, dignity and expertise needed to be a successful president -- to earn trust. Astoundingly and lazily, he didn't even try.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester,  Conn., and a longtime essayist.

Floored by the debate

"Asleep'' (oil on wood panel and video projection) by Bahareh and Farzaneh Safarani, in the twins' show "Projecting Her,'' at Addison Galleries, Boston, through Oct. 30. Raised in Tehran, they have been painting together since they were 13. Their subject matter seems to "allude to a conversation about identity.,'' especially as Iranian women, says Addison.

David Warsh: Historicizing the economy

As a newspaperman, I’ve been writing about the global economy and its national components practically since I began. They’re familiar concepts. But where did such constructs come from? And what exactly do they mean? I was happy to have a couple of days to spend last week at a conference at Harvard University, “Historicizing ‘The Economy.’”

This was news to me.  Heretofore what time I’ve had I’ve spent historicizing economics – that is, following historians of the field. This was economics from the outside, an interdisciplinary group of scholars including many relatively recent arrivals: anthropologists, sociologists, ethnographers, philosophers. There were around 60 of them, one-third PhD students, one-third post-docs and junior faculty, one-third tenured professors.

Timothy Mitchell, a political theorist and historian in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University, was there.  In “Fixing the Economy,” in Critical Inquiry, in 1998, Mitchell argued that the concept of “the economy,” as a self-contained whole of production and consumption, as distinct from all the rest of life, emerged only in the years between the 1930s and 1950s, mostly in the form of systems of national income accounting. Others, including sociologist Michael Emmison, and philosophers Karl PolanyiMichel Foucault, and Ian Hacking had said as much before, dating the emergence of a disembodied economy somewhat earlier.

But Mitchell caught the wave, and since then a great deal of work has been done on the subject of national income accounting. Perhaps the best known consists of a trio of well-received books by Columbia University historian J. Adam Tooze:  Statistics and the German State 1900-1945: The Making of Modern Economic Knowledge (2001); Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2006); and The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (2014)

Margaret Schabas, of the University of British Columbia, was there as well.  In 2005, inThe Natural Origins of Economics (University of Chicago), Schabas argued that “the economy” in its present sense, as a creation of human agency, of selling and buying, began to enter economic discourse in the early years of the nineteenth century.  Before that, she wrote, most economic phenomena – money, trade, population growth – were understood as part of the natural order and were understood in terms of the ancient Greek notions of stewardship. This much now seems inarguable.

A collection of interesting papers were presented: Adam Leeds on “The Socialist Origins of the Capitalist Economy” in the New Economic Policy of Bolshevik Russia; Hannah Appel on the discovery of “the economy” of Equatorial Guinea soon after oil was discovered off its shores in the 1990s; Timothy Shenk on the political origins of the American economy in the 1930s as discerned in sudden lexical shifts; Tripp Reprovick on the shift from “the market,” governed by rational laws about which merchants,  financiers and business people possessed special knowledge, to “the economy,” which requires measurement and management by the state. Quinn Slobodian supplied a benediction:  three different conceptions of “the economy” flourished within the “wild interdisciplinarity” of the conference: the economy as the object of expert management; the economy as the subject of discursive dualism; and the economy of modular types, of stages and differing scales.

This wasn’t economics as I usually understand it, a young science, conspicuously imperfect, but still better than any alternative body of knowledge at describing and analyzing changing patterns of the division of labor.  Nor was it economic history, meaning the history of the global division of labor. But it was certainly interesting.  I made a note to read historian Tooze (I’ve had that first book on my shelf for fifteen years!), and to write a column about him. Then, like everyone else, I went home to read about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

David Warsh is a longtime financial journalist and economic historian and proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this piece first ran.

           

 

An old-fashioned newspaperman

I was asked to write a tribute to the late chief editorial writer of the Albany Times-Union, Jim McGrath. Here it is.

-- Robert Whitcomb

I was born a decade before Jim McGrath but he always seemed a member of my generation ofthe dwindling group we usually called “newspapermen’’ (not “journalists’’). And that’s not just because of his, shall we say, relaxed sartorial standards and love of certain watering holes as venues for creative conversation and fact-finding.

He was from Boston (where his father was a newspaper printer!) and his dedication to making anews story, a column or an editorial  as good as it could be in the face of unforgiving deadlines, along with his conviviality and sense of humor, reminded me of what I first experienced during my time as a Boston newspaperman for two now-long-dead newspapers – the Record American and Herald Traveler. We had a lot of joy despite the daily work pressures  in those days, albeit often doing things not recommended by the American Medical Association

 (I suppose there will soon be very few city newspapers --- which is good news for crooks of all kinds but particularly for political crooks, whom Jim was expert at identifying, inAlbany and elsewhere.)

 To some extent, Jim remained a Boston Irishman his whole life, in his unusual mix of tough, skeptical observer and romantic, about his beloved Red Sox and some other things. And I’d guess that his rigorous education at the famous Boston Latin School helped make him the disciplined writer and editor he became.

Jim was also an old-fashioned newspaperman in that he worked for a bunch of papers before he settled down at the Times Union. “Itinerant newspaperman’’ used to be a common creature.

We had mutual friends, but I didn’t get to know him until he started writing occasional columns for The Providence Journal, where I was editorial page editor for a couple of decades.

As I started following his career, I found he could do it all – write with elegance  and controlled passion, edit and rewrite with great precision, lay out pages and do a bunch of other stuff needed to put out newspapers every day. But then, he spent his entire working career in the business, enjoying  its last 20 years of prosperity before the Internet and ever more myopic newspaper chain ownership started to destroy it.

His columns for me (and everyone) ranged over a very wide range of subjects – he could  comment on almost  any topic with clarity, concision and lasting persuasiveness – aided by his immense reading and astounding recall. But politics and government (and the need for constant vigilance thereof), the environment, sports and history were major areas. While he could joke around with the sort of cynicism often associated with veteran journalists who had seen too much bad behavior, his drive for finding the truth,  explaining it to citizens and laying out to them the best ways to respond to it never wavered. Think of how much healthier our civic life would be if we had many more people like Jim McGrath.

Jim could be voluble and shout an argument but he was a softie – an affectionate man devoted, of course to Darryl, his wife, and his wider family but also to an extraordinarily wide range of friends of all walks of life. I do like to think, however,  that he had a particular affection for other journalists, and especially those like us who had had ringside seats to so many good and bad times over the decades.

Chris Powell: Why are we letting in immigrants from the totalitarian, bigoted Islamic World?

 

Maybe the bombings in New York and New Jersey and the mass stabbing at the shopping mall in Minnesota, the former attributed to a naturalized Afghan, the latter to a naturalized Somali, will suggest a few things:

* The totalitarian culture of much of the Islamic world -- a culture that oppresses women and homosexuals and monopolizes religion -- does not wash out quickly but seeps down through the generations.

The suspect in the bombings is reported to have traveled back to Afghanistan several times and to have been “radicalized” there.

Minnesota has thousands of Somali immigrants and refugees, and many of their young men have been recruited by Middle Eastern terrorist groups, though fortunately they have left the country.

* Millions of people around the world are striving to get out of their countries for economic or political reasons and do not come from cultures that despise democratic  and humane values.

* Screening immigrants for the risk of political terrorism is nearly impossible, especially since their native or ancestral country or culture can reassert itself at a great distance in time. 

* Admitting immigrants and refugees is an entirely discretionary matter.

So with so many candidates for admission, why is the United States accepting any immigrants at all from Religious Crazy Land? Who needs the risk? How does it benefit the country?

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SO WHAT IF MALLOY WANTS TO KNOW?: Connecticut Gov.  Dan Malloy's office, according to The Hartford Courant, recently instructed state agency publicists to make a daily report detailing inquiries from news organizations. This has prompted much snickering from Connecticut's ever-diminishing number of journalists that the governor's office is trying to put its spin on everything state government does, the more so since civil-service protections for the publicists were recently removed and their jobs were made political appointments.

But is it really such a scandal that the governor should want to know promptly what news organizations are looking into so he can be prepared or even look into the same things and possibly avert or shorten problems? Is it such a scandal that he should want to oversee the messages being conveyed by the agencies for which he is responsible? Or that he deems himself entitled to have particular confidence in spokesmen for his administration? (After all, the problem with state government is not that too many people can be fired for cause or even fired at all.)

The Malloy administration has not been especially friendly to freedom of information. But then left on their own, state government agencies have not been especially friendly to freedom of information either. So the new procedure of notifying the governor's office won't necessarily diminish transparency. It will depend on how the procedure is used -- on whether the governor's office will use its greater knowledge of journalistic inquiries to facilitate or obstruct or just to prepare to be accountable.

If the choice is obstruction, it will remain the work of journalists to exact a price for it by making a stink about it.

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FAULTY SCHOLARSHIP AT UCONN: Only self-serving nonsense can be expected from Connecticut's liquor industry in defense of its anti-competitive privileges in state law. But more might have been expected from the University of Connecticut professor and the UConn doctoral student who argued in a newspaper essay the other day that the state's minimum alcohol-pricing system saves lives by discouraging consumption of a product that causes health problems.

The professor and his student failed to note that the extra revenue from the pricing system flows only to the liquor distributors, wholesalers and retailers. If higher prices are to be imposed by law in the name of social policy, the government should get the extra money.

Chris Powell is the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn., and a longtime essayist, mostly on social, governmental and political matters.

A Providence Guatemala Summit

On Oct. 11-16, the City of Providence will host the Providence Guatemala Summit. Dignitaries from Guatemala, led by Former Guatemala President and now Guatemala City  (the nation’s capital) Mayor Alvaro Arzu, will visit with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and other city and state dignitaries and sign a Sister City agreement between Providence and Guatemala City. The dignitaries will also help broker relationships between business counterparts from both nations.  Mayor Elorza’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala.

This agreement will expand economic, cultural, and academic exchanges between Providence and Guatemala, as well as acknowledge the substantial Latino(a) community in Providence and, more broadly, in southern New England.  Note that Providence hosts the Guatemalan Consulate for New England.

Former President Arzu negotiated an agreement in 1996 to end a bloody 36-year civil war.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace pact, Mayor Arzu will speak on Oct. 12 at noon to 1 p.m. in the Joukowsky Forum at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, on Thayer Street, Providence, in a conference titled “Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of the End of the Guatemalan Civil War, and Thoughts on Guatemala’s future.’’  See Watson_institute@brown.edu or call (401) 863-2809 for further information.

Llewellyn King: Novel revives Vietnam War memories and lessons

 

The Vietnam War was much with me. I never made it to Vietnam during the war. But the war came to me in every job I had between 1961 and 1973.

It is not that I did not try to get to Vietnam as a correspondent, or even as a soldier. I registered for the draft when I arrived in the United States in 1963, but I was rejected because my eyesight was poor, I was married, and I was too old.

I started my long-distance association with the war when I was working for Independent Television News in London in 1961, and continued it when I moved over to the BBC. I was always selected as the writer for the Vietnam segments.

At The Herald Tribune in New York, on my first night, I was asked to pull all the files together for the lead story: Vietnam. Later at The Washington Daily News and The Washington Post, Vietnam always found me.

Now comes a novel and the war finds me again, as I read about correspondents David Halberstam and Peter Arnett; U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin, who was delusional about the situation; Nguyen Van Thieiu, the president of South Vietnam until his ouster. It is all as fresh as if it were the file coming off the teleprinter today.

The novel is Escape from Saigon and its authors, Michael Morris and Dick Pirozzolo, tell the last, desperate days of Saigon in 1975. It is a novel where the end is known, but not known; where the tension ratchets up each day of the countdown to evacuation on April 29.

In Washington, Congress had refused President Gerald Ford’s last attempt to bolster aid to South Vietnam with a final $722 million. The major U.S. military participation ended with the peace treaty of 1973. For two years, the South Vietnamese had struggled on with U.S. support but without ground troops. The North Vietnamese would roundly violate the peace, and the South Vietnamese would live in hope that the United States would not let them be overrun. Forlorn hope.

The United States had lost interest in the war, after it had been so torn apart by it, and wanted no more part of a land war in Asia, or at that time, a land war anywhere. More than 58,000 Americans and an untold number of Vietnamese had perished.

Lessons? You draw them: secret plans, ground troops, aerial war, insuperable U.S. military might. These ideas are flying again about other regions of the world. Beware. Read this novel.

I have often thought that if the Kennedy brain trust had read The Quiet American, Graham Greene’s masterful novel about Vietnam, published in 1955, things would have turned out differently. We might have shunned involvement on the election of Jack Kennedy.

Escape from Saigon has the same ring of authenticity. It should: the authors both served in Vietnam. Morris was sent to Vietnam when he was just 19 years old and, as an infantry sergeant in Northern 1 Corps, he saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war. He was wounded and his bravery was rewarded with a Purple Heart.

Pirozzolo was an Air Force information officer in Saigon. Perhaps that is why the city is so well described, from the watering holes to hotels, like the Caravelle and the Continental, where so many journalists stayed and drank. Drinking was a part of Saigon in war.

When I finally made it to Vietnam, in 1995, I traced the war from Hanoi, replete with its French boulevards down through Da Nang, Hue and China Beach. All so peaceful, after so much bloodshed. Battlefields are that way.

Escape could be a sad book, or a book of recrimination, or an attack on the American role. Instead, it is a novel of facts told through the lives of the people: journalists, a bar keeper, a priest, a CIA official, South Vietnamese who worked for the Americans and sometimes betrayed them, and those who fled by plane and boat.

The novel is exceptional in authenticity. Its portrait of a city in extremis is chilling and completely engrossing. It will take many back and some forward -- forward to new foreign involvements.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com) is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle,” on PBS. 

Raimondo's road reality: Tolls are the fairest way to pay to fix them

Excerpted from the Sept. 15 Digital Diary column in GoLocalProv:

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is (sadly) quite right to drop the very expensive ($595 million) plan to create an attractive boulevard to replace the ugly Route 6-10 Connector and knit some neighborhoods back together. She rightly says that the priority must be on fixing the dangerously decrepit bridges there as soon as possible. This is, after all, one of the region’s busiest stretches of highway.

It is, of course, too bad that this decades-old  highway project split apart neighborhoods when it was built. This was typical of the highway mania of the time, before pedestrians, bicyclists and public-transportation started to gain more respect for environmental and socio-economic  reasons.

The late Massachusetts Gov. Frank Sargent deserves much credit for his refusal back in the ‘70s to let Route 95 be plowed straight through Boston,  which would have ripped many neighborhoods. At the time, many said that his action would hurt Boston by making it less highway efficient. But in fact by saving  well-functioning neighborhoods and encouraging mass-transit use, it made the city more attractive and prosperous.

The 6-10 Connector crisis reflects our slob culture: While public officials like to ribbon-cut new bridges and other public projects, they don’t want to take the heat for the taxes needed to pay to maintain them.

Similar things happen in the private sector, especially at colleges, universities, museums and hospitals. Rich people want their names on buildings whose construction they help finance but they tend not to be interested in giving money for the boring and mostly anonymous work of repair. So institutions often find themselves in a fiscal bind within a few years of a building a “naming opportunity’’ that is starting to fall apart.

And, of course, the politicians are loathe to take the heat for imposing or increasing tolls, even though tolls, as user fees, are the fairest way to pay for transportation-infrastructure upkeep. And many in the public are just as myopic. Recall the uproar when Governor Raimondo mostly successfully proposed a system of  truck tolls to help pay for repairs, and yet trucks do 80-90 percent of the damage to Rhode Island’s highways and bridges.

As for the 6-10 Connector, one can hope that as the bridges are repaired that some new roadside landscape can make the stretch less depressing.

-- Robert Whitcomb

 

Chris Powell: Subsidize social disintegration and blame Walmart

MANCHESTER, Conn.

Some Connecticut state legislators are just wringing their hands and shrugging about the latest court decision in the latest school-funding lawsuit. That may be enough, since state Atty. Gen. George Jepsen is appealing the decision, considering it judicial overreach, and may prevail at the state Supreme Court.

Other legislators express concern that, because of state government's deteriorating finances, any extra state money for failing school systems will have to be taken from successful school systems, terminating the longstanding political consensus that it's OK for state government to put zillions more into failing schools without accomplishing anything as long as appropriations are maintained at current levels for successful schools -- the "hold harmless" policy.

But ending the "hold harmless" policy might be the best thing that Connecticut could do. For change may come only when more people have to start paying more for educational failure.

If, for example, West Hartford, Fairfield, Woodbridge, and Middlebury were told that they must lose millions in state grants so the money can be given to Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury and New Haven, where education never improves no matter how much more is spent -- because most city students lack the prerequisite of education – PARENTS -- then Connecticut's focus might start changing.

People then might be less inclined to accept poverty and child neglect as a way of life and a business. People might be more inclined to demand results and accountability from the cities and their residents, and, upon realizing that good results are impossible when policy is only to subsidize social disintegration, they might clamor to change policy so it discouraged rather than fostered child neglect.

Indeed, while that school funding decision, issued by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher, overreached as a matter of law, it should prompt Connecticut to reconsider far more than school funding. It should prompt Connecticut to reconsider its whole political economy. Apart from subservience to the government employee unions, that political economy consists mainly of three things:

1) State government taxes people who took education seriously, gained work experience, achieved self-sufficiency, lived responsibly and married before having children.

2) State government transfers that money to people who disregarded education, learned little but were advanced from grade to grade and given high school diplomas anyway, and, though uneducated, unskilled, unmarried and incapable of self-sufficiency, had children in the confidence that state government would give them EBT cards, food credits, housing vouchers and medical insurance.

3) And when the "illiterates" -- the judge's candid term -- grow up and can find only menial employment that won't support families, the state's intelligentsia blames Walmart and McDonald's for not paying their employees enough.

A century ago Theodore Roosevelt, while regarded as a flaming liberal, nevertheless argued that the first duty of a citizen is to pull his own weight. The collapse of schools, cities and the state itself is what happens when public policy disagrees.

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MORE REGIONALISM, ANYONE? Last week Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin pitched his plan for more regionalism during an interview on a radio station in New Britain -- the city whose minor-league baseball team Hartford stole last year by promising to build it a $50 million stadium, only to make a mess of construction and prompt litigation that may cost the city a lot more money.

Also last week a court ruled that Hartford must pay $6.3 million in damages for failing to comply with state law on assisting people displaced from their homes, a ruling that came with a contempt finding against the city administration.

Mayor Bronin has yet to explain why anyone else should want to pay for the city's incompetence, nor how there can ever be any accountability if someone else does pay.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer,  in Manchester, Conn., and  a long time essayist on political and socio-economic matters.

Chuck Collins: In New England and elsewhere, anti-gas-pipeline activism picks up

Thousands of Native Americans at Standing Rock in North Dakota are protesting a pipeline project that puts their water supply at risk, threatens to plow up their sacred sites, and would worsen climate change.

Their rallying echoes hundreds of local struggles across the U.S. that question the prudence, safety, and necessity of thousands of new gas pipeline projects.

The gas industry tells us these projects promote energy independence and meet local gas needs. But the driving force behind most of these billion dollar infrastructure projects? Gas export.

Big gas is desperate to get their cheap shale gas to global export terminals — and they’ve dug up millions of backyards to do it. Fortunately for the industry, they have a subservient federal agency that grants them the power of eminent domain to take those backyards.

The anti-pipeline movement brings together mayors, state officials, and engaged neighbors concerned about health and safety, unnecessary rate increases, and the environmental irresponsibility of constructing new fossil-fuel infrastructure. They’re fed up with a system that allows the profits of private energy corporations to override local concerns and dictate our future.

Many politicians remain stuck in the “gas as a bridge fuel” perspective. But growing scientific evidence shows that methane from gas extraction and transportation poses a greater short-term climate change risk than burning carbon fuels like coal and oil.

We should be rapidly shifting away from all new fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, and investing in fixing existing gas leaks and using renewable energy like wind, hydroand solar. This shift will create millions of high-paying jobs in the new energy economy.

The anti-pipeline movement is gathering steam. Residents have mobilized to stop pipeline projects in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and have stalled others in Kentucky.

But not all anti-pipeline efforts have been successful.

In the Boston neighborhood of West Roxbury, residents have vigorously opposed a high-pressure pipeline that arcs into the heart of a densely populated neighborhood and terminates across from an active blasting quarry. All of Boston’s elected officials unanimously oppose this project — but big business is still winning.

The Texas-based Spectra Energy sued the city and took their streets by eminent domain. The city of Boston is still trying to block the project in court, but construction is almost complete. In the last year, almost 200 neighbors and religious leaders have been arrested for blocking construction.

How is this possible in a democratic society?

The answer lies with a little-known and unaccountable agency called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under the Gas Act of 1938, FERC may grant private corporations the power of eminent domain over local jurisdictions.

Maybe this was necessary in 1938 to build a modern energy system. But today, we need an energy agency that’ll balance a wider set of considerations, not just the interests of a politically powerful gas industry.

In the last few years, FERC has rubber-stamped just about every project the natural gas industry has sought to build. These include high-pressure pipelines running next to nuclear power plants, across fragile water supplies, and across traditional Native American lands.

In the words of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., FERC is a “rogue agency.” The U.S. Senate should convene oversight hearings to examine FERC overreach. Congress must modernize the Gas Act to protect communities and reduce carbon and methane emissions. And an independent agency should assess our nation’s real energy needs.

Decisions about our energy future shouldn’t revolve around a self-interested gas industry and investor-owned utilities. For the sake of the planet and our democracy, other voices must be at the table.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he co-edits . He is author of Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home and Committing to the Common Good. Distributed by OtherWords.org.