Genius in sound

Symphony Hall in Boston, said to have the best acoustics of any major performance venue in America and to be one of the three best in the world.

Symphony Hall in Boston, said to have the best acoustics of any major performance venue in America and to be one of the three best in the world.

"We did experiments with the Boston Symphony for many years where we measured the angles of incidence of sound arriving at the ears of the audience, then took the measurements back to MIT and analyzed them.''

-- Amar Bose

Mr. Bose was an American academic and entrepreneur. An electrical engineer and world-famous sound engineer, he was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.. He was also the founder and chairman of Bose Corp.

 

 

'An imperial infliction'

coldair.jpg

"There's a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference –

Where the Meanings, are –

 

None may teach it – Any –

'Tis the seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

 

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, 'tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –''

 

-- Emily Dickinson

Streets full of water, please advise

U.S. Courthouse on Fan Pier, on the Boston Waterfront.

U.S. Courthouse on Fan Pier, on the Boston Waterfront.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

 realize that builders, property managers and city and state officials have taken steps to mitigate the effects of sea rise caused by man-made global warming in Boston’s newly glitzy Seaport District. But are companies, such as General Electric, that plan to move there having second thoughts after the Feb. 4 tidal surge, which put some waterfront streets under water? Then there’s the Back Bay, which is filled land and hardly above sea level, where some GE execs now live.

But apparently Amazon ain’t afraid:

It’s in talks to lease 500,000 square feet of office space in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood,  on the waterfront, with an option to double the space also being discussed, reported The Boston Globe. This has, of course, intensified the idea that Boston might become the site of the retail  behemoth’s  ballyhooed “second headquarters.’’

To read more on Amazon and Boston please hit this link

I give credit to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for raising awareness about, and planning responses to, sea-level rise, which may drown such areas as Newport’s Point neighborhood in the next few decades. And watch out Barrington, R.I., much of which is almost as low at Venice.

 

Frank Carini: Vertical farming for downtown Providence

Vertical farming of lettuce.

Vertical farming of lettuce.

 Via EcoRI News (ecori.org)

Two decades ago the installation of an award-winning art sculpture sparked WaterFire. This now-hugely popular event is a tourist attraction, destination event for locals and a vital piece of the city’s economy. The idea ignited the revival of the city’s riverfront and gave Waterplace Park its mojo.

A vertical farm could do the same for the I-195 land the city and state are so desperate to develop, at least according to Lisa Raiola, founder and visionary behind the Warren-based culinary incubator Hope & Main.

“It would be model for all of New England,” she told ecoRI News earlier this year. “It would be an urban living space with agriculture. It would attract funding and tourism ... a living-learning experiment that could be the future of local food.”

Such a multistory facility, complete with a family-attracting fish farm, would instantly become a curiosity to highway motorists — a billboard, sans an oversized head of a personal-injury lawyer.

Besides drawing more people into the city, such a development would grow local food, help local farmers and food producers, educate consumers, and would be a small step toward making Rhode Island more food secure.

The farm would generate tax dollars, create jobs and spur innovation. In fact, it would be much more than a farm and far more interesting than, say, privatized student housing. Such a complex could include unique urban office and living space, a brewery with space to grow hops, and local shops and restaurants. Chains need not apply. Visitors would come to tour the hanging gardens and stay to shop and dine. Build it with public transportation in mind, and make it pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

Growing the local economy requires 21st-century thinking, not stale ideas regurgitated from the past. Baseball stadium? Rhode Island already has a good one, packed with plenty of history. Student housing? Enough already.

Why are we spending so much time and effort trying to entice out-of-state companies to relocate here by offering them tax breaks? There are plenty of hard-working local businesses that could use a helping hand, and likely won’t pack up and move when another city or state inevitably offers a bigger and better tax deal.

We should be building our local economy by working with existing businesses, preferably ones who weren’t lured here by the promise of not having to pay their fair share of taxes.

Rather than wait for a Dallas-based developer to propose building more student housing, or some other company to consider handing over taxpayer money to build a private baseball stadium, why can’t state and local officials be proactive and sincerely work with those who have a true passion for local investment?

The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and Gov. Gina Raimondo should be working with people like Raiola, Nat Harris and Leo Pollock at The Compost Plant, and David Dadekian, founder of EatDrinkRI. Dadekian wants to create something similar to New York City’s Chelsea Market or San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace here in Providence.

The commission and city and state officials should be collaborating with Farm Fresh Rhode Island and the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership to develop the economic opportunities afforded by the relocation of Route 195.

A vertical farm would be the perfect centerpiece to promote local food. We should be putting more time and energy into making Providence the epicenter of New England food tourism, rather than having the city used as a storage center for liquified natural gas.

Job creation and employment opportunities are without a doubt vital, but do we need to continue to rely on the expansion of fossil fuels and the building of a misleadingly named Clear River Energy Center to put people to work? The 10-mile river that had its name stolen isn't going to benefit from another power plant built near its banks. These fossilized remains of the past aren’t clean, despite all the greenwashing.

The new Burrillville energy center, to be owned and operated by Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, promises to help “solve New England’s energy needs by creating a 900+-megawatt clean energy center in Rhode Island.” This facility will largely be powered by natural gas. Natural gas isn’t clean. Cleaner than coal perhaps, but hardly worth bragging about.

Put local builders to work constructing a food campus/tourism hub that incorporates a vertical farm and a marketplace for New England products and artisans. Power the facility with renewable energy — an array of rooftop solar panels would be eye-catching from the interstate — and infuse the area around this hub with 21st-century ideas and technology. Then boast about job creation. Building more pipeline miles shouldn’t be applauded.

While we have plenty of self-proclaimed “thought leaders,” what we’re really missing are ideas — like WaterFire. In 2005, the Providence Business News reported that WaterFire attracted more than 1.1 million visitors to Providence in 2004 and had a direct economic impact of $33.2 million that year, including some $2.5 million in sales tax from WaterFire events. It’s popularity and economic punch haven’t waned.

Vertical farming, like the local food movement in general, is a growing industry that needs to be better embraced by our local leaders. Vertical farming also addresses the issues of finite arable land and human population growth, by enabling more food to be produced with less resources used. A vertical farm in Japan, for example, with rows of thin soil bases controlled to the tiniest variable for temperature, humidity and light, allows the facility to harvest 10,000 heads of lettuce in a single day while using 40 percent less power and 99 percent less water than traditional farms, according to Foundation Earth.

Sky Greens, a Singapore vertical farming company, employs a growing system that allows plants to be rotated on recycled water-powered aluminum frames and exposed to water every eight hours. For densely populated places such Singapore, vertical farming addresses the issues of limited real estate and the high cost of this said real estate. For the record, Rhode Island is the second-most densely populated state.

In fact, vertical farming is so efficient that there is growing belief that this type of urban farming could move beyond a niche market and become a solution for food insecurity. Some even believe vertical farming could be the future of agriculture.

The Association for Vertical Farming claims crops require an average of 98 percent less water and 70 percent less fertilizer. There are, however, challenges. Maintenance costs for vertical farming are high. Hydroponic systems require nutrient replenishment, not all plants can be grown in such a system and pollination must be done by hand.

Just an idea. But it would be a refreshing — and needed — change to see Rhode Island's power brokers address job creation and economic development by investing their time and our money into ideas that address food security, climate change, the environment and the prosperity of future generations.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.

Matt Robinson: Using brain research to better promote learning

BOSTON

From the New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org):

As English language and math skills continue to be touted as priorities, and as the assessment of related skills takes up more and more time in many schools, teachers are left with less time to share ideas with each other or with their students. In the realm of higher education, where more is being left to adjuncts and part-time staff, communication is limited within departments, let alone across them.

That is what makes Berklee College of Music Prof. Pratt Bennet's Training Transformational Teachers program so remarkable. The program uses research from a number of fields to help educators better understand how the brain learns best, then shows them classroom-tested strategies to boost student interest, retention and creative applications of what they’re learning.

“Participants learn to shift their focus from covering more content to going into it in greater depth,” Bennet observes, suggesting that participants learn to transition from being the “sage on the stage" who knows everything to a “guide on the side” who helps students direct their own learning process and find practices and examples that are meaningful and relevant to them.

Through its full-semester programs and workshops (each of which ends with a celebration at which participants share with each other and with the community), TTT engages faculty from a wide range of departments, disciplines and even schools to come together to learn and develop best practices around improving student engagement, comprehension and retention, and overall outcomes. In the process, it is inspiring teachers in many institutions to develop their own more effective ways of teaching their students and inspiring their colleagues.

“In the second year of the program, we began to realize that people came to their greatest breakthroughs when interacting with people from other disciplines and schools, especially when ideas crossed over the humanities-sciences divide,” explains Bennet, a career coach trained in the neuroscience of learning and decision making.

By inviting and integrating faculty from multiple schools, Bennet’s program was able to encourage interactions across departments and across Boston. Among the most profound results has been a visual syllabus that involved collaborations among faculty in the Harmony Department at Berklee College of Music, the Design Department at Boston Architectural College, and the Communicative Speech Disorders Department at Emerson College.

“There was an explosion of ideas,” Bennet says, recalling how the first program in 2011 hosted 15 people and how it is now being used throughout the academically rich Boston area and also being considered by the Advanced Academic Programs arm of Johns Hopkins University.

“Pratt’s TTT classes have informed and inspired me to keep my classes fresh, exciting and student-centered,” says fellow Berklee Professor Mark Kohler, listing such specific benefits as greater student buy-in, improved attendance and increased retention.

A multi-institutional platform

According to Boston Architectural College (BAC) Director of Liberal Arts Studies Victoria Hallinan, what makes TTT stand out is its multi-institutional platform. “Working with a [mixed] population, rather than simply the population of a single institution, creates a real opportunity for instructors to recognize similar innovations and challenges in teaching regardless of discipline and a fruitful space for creative pedagogical thinking,” Hallinan observes.

“The varied perspectives that emerge in dialogue about teaching have a wonderful impact on our teaching,” notes Emerson College marketing Prof./ Roxana Maiorescu.

These varied perspectives are enhanced by the diversity of the program’s participants, who not only come from various schools and departments, but also from different cultures and backgrounds.

“I am very inspired and challenged by the massive diversity of teachers and classes we end up talking about,” observes BAC Professor Peter Atwood, who also notes how TTT reveals and encourages similarities among the participants’ diverse curricula and practices. In fact, Atwood suggests, the greatest impact of TTT is “the realization that teaching is an incredibly diverse field of which there are very fundamentally similar challenges.”

It also inspires participants to vary their own practices. “During a Saturday TTT session,” Atwood recalls, “we talked about getting students to stand up, walk around and get the juices pumping.” Though he admits to being against the idea at first, as he was so used to staying behind his a computer screen in front a projector, Atwood eventually embraced the course's "do something different" attitude.

“It encouraged me to figure out how we could get up move around and still do software demos,” he recalls, explaining that his classes now involve students taking turns in what they call a “captain’s chair” behind the screen, from which they each orchestrate the class for a time. “It was really fun and … we covered all the same material in approximately the same amount of time!”

After engaging in TTT, Emerson marketing Prof. Doug Quintal was similarly motivated to try new approaches. “I had been … getting bored with my own materials,” admitted Quintal. “This workshop made it evident to me that, while I thought I was making it relatable, it wasn’t always the case.” Since taking TTT, Quintal has found his material is much more engaging, both to himself and to his students. “I can now introduce concepts and have students take ownership through their experiences,” Quintal explained. “This has made it much more tangible and understandable, especially when each of them feeds off the others.”

Emerson Provost Michaele Whelan attended her first TTT event at Berklee four years ago, at which a few visiting Emerson teachers presented breakthroughs around improving the quality of student writing, allowing students to design part of their own midterm, and encouraging students to take more risks both in and outside of the classroom. She was inspired to bring the full program to her institution. She also decided to follow the example of Berklee’s program by sponsoring participants from other schools so that Emerson faculty would get access to an equally diverse range of ideas.

“It was apparent to me from the first TTT showcase that the faculty had made meaningful changes to their courses and were excited to share their learning with colleagues,” Whelan says. “The interdisciplinary perspectives across the [institutions] created a unique faculty-development program focused on pedagogy. Emerson's faculty, both affiliated and full-time, have reported significant benefits from participating in this learning community.”

Cross-curricular

The cross-curricular impact impressed New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Deputy Director James Mooney. “In my work with NEASC,” Mooney explains, “we focus on accreditation and particularly on school improvement. There is no question that Pratt's work with TTT could be of significant value to high school teachers across New England as they seek their own paths of transformation.”

In addition to helping teachers reach students more effectively and encourage more student success, TTT helps teachers become better at their craft by designing and refining monthly teaching experiments that apply what they learn in the TTT program to their classroom.

“I think the opportunity to talk about teaching with colleagues from different disciplines and different institutions is tremendously useful,” says Emerson Assistant Vice President for Faculty Affairs Carol M. Parker, who notes that there is usually a waiting list to participate in. Parker also suggests that TTT offers “not only a wider perspective on possible teaching strategies but also an invitation to reframe understanding about one's own particular teaching challenges.”

In fact, when asked why he became involved with TTT, Berklee songwriting professor Ben Camp, who has been through the program multiple times, replies, “I really wanted to dive into honing my teaching skills.”

Simple, illustrative, colorful and cohesive

During the recent event at Emerson, participants were divided into three groups. In each one, a TTT graduate (some of whom have gone on to become assistant coaches with Bennet) presented a story about which tool helped them reach their greatest teaching breakthrough that semester. Among the topics discussed were how to use what TTT calls simple, illustrative, colorful and cohesive—or “SICC”—visuals to engage and educate, create student success from the first day of class, and engender a “can do” attitude in teachers and students alike and also to tie together not only disparate topics, but a department’s entire undergraduate and graduate curriculum with what TTT calls a “central unifying metaphor.” Among examples of this open-ended unifying tool were Camp’s use of DNA images to explain the segments that make up many popular songs, a “cognitive cake” used by a professor working with students with brain injuries, and a syllabus that was laid out like the map of the Boston subway system.

“TTT has changed not only what we think about our own classes, but about our entire curriculum!” says Emerson speech and language pathologist Jena Castro-Casbon.

After each session, Bennet encouraged participants to "be the type of student you want in your class" and to raise their hands, ask questions and offer comments without being prodded. "Think about how you can use some of this,” he suggests.

In the process of the very open discussions that continued long after the official celebration was over, many participants revealed how, even if they were not in a particular presenter’s field, they could understand and take things away from their presentations.

While the benefits of the program are exciting, they can also be demanding. In addition to the 40-60 hours they invest in training, coaching and experimentation, many teachers end up abandoning ideas, protocols and curricula to which they have clung for decades.

“They are taking an enormous risk in stepping outside of their comfort zones to try new approaches,” Bennet notes, “but when they do, they get energized by the big boost in student engagement and responses. Often, the students’ responses inspire further experiments that get even better results.”

The “dream” suggests Bennet, “is to get to a place where the class becomes something you could never have imagined.”

Matt Robinson is a freelance writer who serves as the editor of the Advocate, published by the AFT MA (American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts). He is also an adjunct professor of writing and literature in the Boston area. He can be reached at matthewsrobinson@mac.com.

 

Great news for pawn shops!

pawn.JPG

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

As GoLocal has reported, states  are awaiting with great interest a  Supreme Court ruling in a case, Christie v. NCAA, that will presumably determine whether online betting is to be legalized.  The justices are supposed to decide if the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is constitutional. This law outlawed sports betting, except in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana and licensed sports pools in Nevada.

With Rhode Island and many other states facing budget deficits that must be addressed annually, their powerful temptation will be to heavily mine tax online betting, especially as more state lotteries and brick-and-mortar casinos report revenue declines.  (All states except Vermont mandate a balanced state budget; even Vermont always balances its budget – Yankee rectitude.) The proliferation of casinos in southern New England is leading to cannibalization of the market.

If the Supremes clear online sports betting, of course, revenues, and thus states’ take, might fall off sharply at the physical casinos and state lotteries, but that would probably be more than offset by taxing the Niagara of revenue from online betting,  which is so easy to do in the comfort and privacy of home, sweet home.

I doubt that opening up yet another venue in which people can gamble would improve society. It would probably lead to thrown games and other corruption in sports. But online betting would be great news for pawn shops and loan sharks. Invest early!

 

 

Jim Hightower: Battle the plutocrats to save middle class

Ever since 1776, the “common yeoman” — America’s middle class — has been hailed as the virtuous heart and backbone of our nation.

How ironic, since it took 150 years before we actually created a broad middle class. Before the 1930s, most Americans were poor, or near poor.

And, yes, “created” is the correct term for how our middle class came to be. It was pushed by two historic forces of social transformation.

First, the devastation of the Great Depression created a grassroots rebellion of labor, farmers and others against the careless moneyed class that caused the 1929 crash. These forces produced FDR and his New Deal of union rights, Social Security, and other tools that empowered ordinary Americans to begin rising up from poverty.

Second, the government’s national mobilization for World War II created an explosion of new jobs and opportunities for millions, opening people’s eyes, boosting confidence and raising expectations.

A post-war rise in unionism, the passage of the GI Bill, a housing program, and other progressive actions led to a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years, creating a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans by the late 1970s.

Then — phfffft — Washington’s commitment to a middle class suddenly fizzled.

In the 1980s, Reagan Republicans — and many Democrats — switched from supporting egalitarianism to backing the elitism of their corporate donors. Ever since, they’ve steadily disempowered workers and enthroned the rich, thus imposing today’s abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.

Just as progressives deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today’s economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it. That’s the momentous struggle that calls us to action in this political year.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

Romney picks another state

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,''' in GoLocal24.com:

It’s good news that 2012 GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to run  for the Senate from Deep Red and Mormon Utah to succeed the super-annuated Orrin Hatch, who since Trump was elected has cast off much of his self-respect and independence to become a slavish suck-up to the president, rivaling the pathetic Mike Pence in the sycophancy department.

Some readers may remember these remarks by Mr. Romney in 2016:

"Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

Mr. Romney, who was a very competent governor and highly successful businessman (helped by being born on third base), will almost certainly win this seat in November in Deep Red Utah. We can expect that he’ll be a thoughtful, well-informed and calm right-of-center voice and will show occasional flashes of political independence.

It may be particularly interesting to see what role he plays in healthcare reform since he signed into law as governor a near-universal-coverage health-insurance system that provided a template for the Affordable Care Act.  But then, much of the ACA had its origins in GOP ideas dating from the early ‘90s and promoted by the Republican think tank and lobbying group the Heritage Foundation. I talked in detail with the Heritage folks about their health-insurance proposals way back then. The proposals included the hated “mandate’’ to buy insurance.

But when the Dems adopted those ideas, the increasingly right-wing Republicans turned against  them.

David Warsh: Robots will wipe out many jobs and may reduce population

Pick and place robot in factory.

Pick and place robot in factory.

 

SOMERVILLE, MASS.

The latest in a series of alarming papers emanating from the Economics and Urban Studies departments of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to have made a splash is “Robots and Jobs: Evidence from U.S. Labor Markets’’.

Last year it was “The China Shock:  Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade.’’ Next, perhaps, “The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms.’’ And soon after that, “Computers and Populism: Artificial Intelligence, Jobs, and Politics in the Near Term’’.  But for now, “Robots and Jobs” is bad news enough for one day. 

To cut to the chase, have a look at the map in Thomas Edsall’s account in his New York Times online column last week, “Robots Can’t Vote, But They Helped Elect Trump’’.  If you’ve seen something like it before, it is because you have studied the China Shock map in Bob Davis and Jon Hilsenrath’s painstaking account of the findings in David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson’s landmark paper.    

The robot study is a joint product of MIT thought-leader Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, a rising star at Boston University. The authors quote Nobel laureate Wassily Leontief, writing in 1952: “Labor will become less and less important… more and more workers will be replaced by machines.  I do not see that new industries can employ everybody who wants a job.”  At last, they imply, the wolf may have arrived at the world’s door, thanks to computers.

Their paper consists of the usual careful application of a model to data, in this case commuting zones, with a view to estimating the effect of robots on employment and wages.  They conclude that each additional robot reduces local employment by 6.2 workers, and that an additional robot per thousand employees reduces area wages by a little less than 1 percent (relative to other zones with no such exposure).  Aggregating cautiously, they calculate that each additional robot costs a loss of between 3 and 5.6 jobs nationally.

 

So far the number of jobs lost due to robots has been modest – between 360,000 and 670,000 in the U.S., out of a labor force of more than 160 million people. But robots are expected to be employed much more widely in the next 20  years, they say, with the world stock as much as quadrupling by 2025, in one study’s scenario of rapid diffusion.  The harm to employment and wages could accelerate once robots exceed a critical level, they say, as spillover effects dampen demand for housing, retail, and services.  

All this has happened before.  In 1870, almost half the U.S. population was working on farms. By 2008, less than 2 percent of the work force, around 2 million people, were directly employed in agriculture. There was plenty of turmoil along the way. Meanwhile, the share of manufacturing employment has been declining as well, from 32 percent of nonfarm jobs in 1910 to less than 9 percent in 2010.  Eight million persons worked in manufacturing in 1910, when the U. S.  population was 92 million; 12 million in 2015, when the population had grown to 323 million. Growth in service-sector jobs, broadly defined, accounts for the rest of the 126 million full-time workers today. 

Further economic growth can do only so much.  If there is a way out of the seemingly inevitable journey to idleness and discontent, it works through demographics. This much is intimated in “When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage Market Value of Young Men’’, another paper by “China Shock” authors Autor, Dorn and Hanson.  Job losses stemming from globalization between 1990 and 2014, they found, elevated premature mortality among males, and reduced marriage and fertility; it raised the share of unwed mothers and children living in poverty as well.

Something like this has been happening in Europe, where population is shrinking, in Bulgaria faster than anywhere else. Population  growth declining in China as well, where for 30 years one child per family was the rule (increasingly loosely enforced).  Fewer jobs may ultimately mean fewer people around the world. But what a lot of heartbreak on the way.

David Warsh, a veteran financial and political columnist and an economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

 

 

Don't erase this

From the current "Erase Me'' exhibition, by Tariku Shiferaw, at Vermont College Fine Arts, Montpelier. The city, with about 8,000 people, is the smallest state capital, but remarkably lively, including with many artists and some very good restaurants. Its main drawback is that parts of it tend to flood in the spring.

From the current "Erase Me'' exhibition, by Tariku Shiferaw, at Vermont College Fine Arts, Montpelier. The city, with about 8,000 people, is the smallest state capital, but remarkably lively, including with many artists and some very good restaurants. Its main drawback is that parts of it tend to flood in the spring.

 

'Ordinary days were the best'

lily.jpg

    'Always the weather,

writing its book of the world,

returns you to me.

Ordinary days were best,

while we worked over poems

in out separate rooms.

I remember watching you gaze

out the January window

into the garden of snow

and ice, your face rapt

as you imagined burgundy lilies.''

-- From "Letter with No Address,'' by Donald Hall, of Wilmot, N.H., a  former U.S. poet laureate. He refers to his late wife,  the poet Jane Kenyon.

'An alien guest'

 

"For one brief golden moment rare like wine, 
The gracious city swept across the line; 
Oblivious of the color of my skin, 
Forgetting that I was an alien guest, 
She bent to me, my hostile heart to win, 
Caught me in passion to her pillowy breast; 
The great, proud city, seized with a strange love, 
Bowed down for one flame hour my pride to prove." 

-- "The City's Love,'' by Claude McKay

Materials found at AS220

"Compass Rose'' (acrylic on cardboard with rubber and fabric), Margie Butler, in the show "Counterbalance,'' at AS220, large downtown Providence arts center. Ms. Butler uses a broad range of organic and found materials.

"Compass Rose'' (acrylic on cardboard with rubber and fabric), Margie Butler, in the show "Counterbalance,'' at AS220, large downtown Providence arts center. Ms. Butler uses a broad range of organic and found materials.

AS220 explains that it offers artists "opportunities to live, work, exhibit and perform in its facilities, including: four rotating gallery spaces, a performance stage, a black box theater, a print shop, a darkroom and media arts lab, a fabrication and electronics lab, a dance studio, a youth program focusing on youth under state care and in the Rhode Island juvenile detention facility, 47 affordable live/work studios for artists, and a bar and restaurant. For more information, please visit as220.org/january-gallery-openings.''

AS220's facility in an old commercial building in downtown Providence.

AS220's facility in an old commercial building in downtown Providence.

Llewellyn King: Bumping up against the 'mortarboard ceiling'

Franklin University, in Columbus, Ohio, features a giant steel mortarboard suspended over the street as a landmark.

Franklin University, in Columbus, Ohio, features a giant steel mortarboard suspended over the street as a landmark.

WEST WARWICK, R.I.

Horace Greeley, founder and editor of The New York Tribune, famously said, “Go west, young man, and grow with the country.”

In the movie The Graduate  the character played by Dustin Hoffman is advised to go into “plastics.” Nowadays, young men and women are being advised to go into the “trades”: There’s work for people who can weld, read a grade level, work a lathe or follow site drawings.

There’s a severe shortage of skilled labor, from carpenters to steel fitters. And it’s beginning to be a brake on the economy.

Some are heeding the call. One young man who grew up in San Francisco, call him Jeremy, whose parents are college-educated (his mother is an Ivy League college graduate), has decided he’ll forgo college — although his parents can well afford it — and become a welder. Bravo!

But the road to a happy life through the trades hasn’t been cleared of the debris left by our passion for college degrees. The aspiring young welder and hundreds of thousands of others who’ll be tempted to give up the pleasures of four years in college for the rigors of as many or more years in an apprenticeship will likely find themselves marked for life as “second rate.”

Jeremy can find work aplenty in today’s job market and good wages, too. But he’ll be binding himself to a world where many will look down on him; where the values of his upbringing are scarce in the workplace, with its dictatorial foremen and rough-and-ready society; where he’ll have a sense, ever present, of being low on the social and work totem pole; and where he’ll encounter many closed doors if he wants to leave welding for some other kind of work.

Jeremy or an equivalent young woman, call her Jane, could leave welding as their interest declined or simply because, with the passage of years, he or she couldn’t handle the physical demands of the trade. But what to do? With a wealth of experience, how about teaching? No way with no degree.

Supposing Jane, at age 25, decides that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life in a world of arcs and acetylene, burns and fumes. She’s young enough to learn to fly and become a pilot. But she’ll never fly for an airline: They require pilots to have a college degree of some sort. Management in a hotel chain? Not as such. They like degrees for anything above housekeeper or waiter.

Jeremy and Jane will come up against the “mortarboard ceiling,” as I’ve called it. I know many who’ve bumped up against it. A useless degree from a mediocre college is still better than great life experience when it comes to career.

When I arrived in the United States from Britain, I hit my head on the mortar board ceiling many times. Although I had worked for ITN and the BBC in England, I couldn’t get an interview with a U.S. television network on the grounds that I didn’t have a college degree. The human resources departments were adamant.

Insanely, The New York Times told me that I’d never be a writer on the paper, but they had an opening for an editor. I went, almost literally, around the block to The Herald Tribune and signed on there as a rewrite man on the foreign desk. They didn’t ask and I didn’t tell.

It’s important that people going into artisan work, for all of its camaraderie and job fulfillment satisfaction, know that it’s still fair weather work. Little or no sick leave, no lifetime guarantees and pension, unless it is a union job. You clock in and clock out: the devil take the hindmost.

Time was when the trades offered a future: A meat cutter could open a butcher shop and become self-employed, a baker a bakery, etc. That line of entrepreneurship is essentially foreclosed in today’s winner-take-all world of big companies.

But mostly, Jeremy and Jane need to know that the future for the non-college worker is still inferior. Society still looks down on the horny-handed sons and daughters of toil — and there’s no change in sight. Meanwhile, we’ll have too many graduates and too few people who can build and repair.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com) is a veteran publisher, editor, columnist and international business consultant. He's the executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a frequent contributor to New England Diary, among other outlets. He is based in Rhode Island and in Washington, D.C.


On Twitter: @llewellynking2

Don Pesci: Please spare Connecticut from more 'heroic' governors

              

Connecticut has had three “heroic” governors within the past four gubernatorial election cycles. Lowell Weicker was the first. His legacy is inseparable from his income tax, and it was his income tax. In a rare moment of humor, Weicker suggested that the tax should be named after his lieutenant governor, Eunice Groark, who broke a tie in the state Senate, assuring the passage of the income tax bill through the General Assembly sausage-making process. Groark declined the honor.

His was a campaign risen from the dead, after conservatives in his state, notable among them William F. Buckley Jr., indirectly supported the candidacy of then state Atty. Gen. Joe Lieberman to run against Weicker for the U.S. Senate. Weicker had been on the outs with his own state party for years. At one point he mused, “Why doesn’t someone take over the (state) party? It’s so small,” and, to Weicker’s way of thinking, dispensable and insignificant. Weicker’s senatorial run was indistinguishable from that of U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and, during his last years in office, his Americans for Democratic Action rating was higher than Dodd’s. Weicker supported the presidential candidacies of both New Jersey Democratic  Sen. Bill Bradley and Vermont Gov.  Howard Dean, also a Democrat.

Following his senatorial defeat, Weicker, like Achilles, retired to his tent. Then, running in a three-way race for governor on a throw-away party ticket, he returned with a vengeance. Having signaled in unambiguous terms in his campaign that he would not look favorably on an income tax -- please don’t pour gas taxes on the state’s simmering recession -- he proceeded as governor to ram an income tax bill through Connecticut’s cowardly, spending-addicted General Assembly, thus saving state government the necessity of prudent and necessary cost saving measures.

Connecticut ran a surplus for a few years, after which spending increased threefold by the time Gov. Dannel Malloy had been sworn into office. Weicker declined to run for a second term as governor for reasons that were obvious to anyone who did not regard his signal achievement, the income tax, as heroic. He was given a “Profile in Courage” award by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for having exhibited moral fortitude in forcing an income tax upon his state.

Weicker was followed in office by Gov. John Rowland, who gave indications during his own campaign that, were Connecticut citizens brilliant enough to vote Rowland in, he would abolish the new income tax. This did not happen, though Rowland, attempting to cut costs, did exhibit some courage in laying off state workers when he could not reach an accommodation with union leaders on work and benefit contracts. Rowland went to prison for corruption. Sometime later, Connecticut’s left leaning Supreme Court reversed Rowland's executive action, for which the Court has yet to receive a “Profile in Courage Award” from the JFK Library.

Governor Jodi Rell -- denounced by the state’s media as a do-nothing, caretaker Governor, the Snow White of Connecticut -- replaced Rowland and created no public disturbances. She was followed in office by the least popular Connecticut Governor in modern times, Dannel Malloy, who hiked Weicker’s income tax twice, both the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history. The heroic Malloy was, like the heroic Weicker, full of bluster; both led the state into recessionary thickets and deepening debt.

Such are the heroic strongmen governors of Connecticut, full of sound and fury, signatories of the state’s downward spiral – little more than blustering, politically privileged egotists, men who took the easy road usually followed by timid cowards and responsibility shirkers.

Connecticut likely will not survive such heroes in the future. The path upward in Connecticut is tediously straight and simple: 1) Reduce the costs of state labor permanently by eliminating state union contract negotiations  and allowing salaries and benefits to be set by statute ; 2) restore the dignity and recover the constitutional prerogatives of Connecticut’s law-making body from "heroic" chief executives and unelected autocratic appellate court justices; 3) institute term limits that will have the beneficial effect of restoring some of the power state political parties lost through enfeebling campaign finance reform laws; 4) privatize all possible governmental functions; 5) cut state regulations on business to the bone; 6) throw off wealth inhibitors – costly regulations and revenue enhancers -- and begin a movement from income to consumption taxes; 6) deep six all attempts to retain and attract businesses through polite chief executive bribery;  7) institute a flat or fair tax that will make everyone in the state investors in Connecticut’s recovery; and always 8) beware of Trojan governors bearing gifts.

What Connecticut needs at this most critical juncture is a courageous governor and workmen-like legislators who recognize the limits of political power and who are resolved to restore in the Constitution State an ordered republic without which the state cannot recover its political place in the sun and advance the public good.    

 Don Pesci (donpesci@att.ne) is a columnist who lives in Vernon, Conn.

 

 

'I'm not myself here'

branch.JPG

"Ice petals on the trees.
The peppery black sparrows pour across
the frozen lawn.
The wind waits patiently behind the barn.

Though I’m not myself here, that’s okay.
I’ve lost my name,
my last address, the problem
that has kept me up all night this week in winter.''

-- From "Below Zero,'' by Jay Parini, a well known poet and professor at Middlebury College, in Vermont.

Josh Hoxie: Past time for a sociopathic generation to leave the political scene

Baby Boomers watching TV in the late '50s.

Baby Boomers watching TV in the late '50s.

 

Via OtherWords.org

Historians won’t look fondly on 2017.

The news cycle was dominated by sexual assault, widespread anxiety, the unedited musings of a mentally unstable president, rising economic inequality, and an opioid epidemic. And in case you forgot, the planet is still on track to boil.

In short, things were bad.

This year, it’s time to transition from despair to action.

We saw the beginnings of this transition as hundreds of political newcomers came out of the woodwork to run for state and local office last year. And thousands more started the process to run in 2018 and beyond.

Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, and it’s good to see a younger generation more politically engaged than their parents. Unfortunately, the younger folks will have many messes to clean up left by their elders.

Bruce Cannon Gibney goes so far as to depict Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, as sociopaths in his book, A Generation of Sociopaths: How The Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

Not all of them, of course.

Gibney limits his analysis to mostly white, native-born, powerful Baby Boomers — the ones in position to make decisions on behalf of everyone else. At each critical juncture, Gibney argues, these Boomers looked after themselves at the expense of everyone else.

Thanks. For. Nothing.

We saw this play out most recently in the tax cut package just passed by Congress. Regardless of the bluster coming from the White House, this bill was nothing more than a wealth grab by the already ultra-wealthy. Over 80 percent of the tax cuts go to the top 1 percent.

Poll after poll showed the majority of Americans understood this. Yet congressional Republicans chose to work on behalf of their donors instead of their constituents.

We see this playing out again as they threaten the Medicare and Social Security of future beneficiaries. That’s millennials they’re targeting, not Baby Boomers. That’s not a coincidence.

In case you couldn’t tell by the abundance of wrinkles and white hair on C-Span, the people making the decisions in Washington are not young. The average age in the Senate is 61, eight years older than 1981. More than a quarter are over 70. The last four presidents have all been Baby Boomers. They oversaw the greatest expansion in economic inequality in modern history.

Young people are inheriting an economy in which it’s all together common to start adulthood tens of thousands of dollars in debt, thanks to a higher education system rooted in exploitation. Meanwhile wages are generally stagnant, and the federal minimum wage falls below the cost of living of every major city in the country.

Young people are rightfully outraged at this inequality and are ready to take bold action to address it. Or, as legendary Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it, millennials are “terrifyingly liberal.”

Naturally, age isn’t everything. Paul Ryan, born after the Baby Boomers, wants to completely destroy the social-safety net. Bernie Sanders, technically too old to be considered a Boomer, might be the biggest advocate for young people in Washington.

Bernie also has massive support among youths. More Millennials cast a ballot for him in the 2016 presidential primary than both Clinton and Trump combined. Unfortunately, Sanders is the exception, not the rule, among his cohort in Washington.

Young people are ready, willing, and able to take a leadership role in healing our deeply broken society and environment. It’s time for the “olds” in Washington — either of age or of ideology — to make way for the rising generation.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

A devotion to reclamation

"RePOPART,'' by Liliana Marquez, in her show of the same name at Jamaica Plain (a section of Boston) Branch Public Library, through Jan. 25. She was born and raised in Caracas,  and has a background in graphic design. RePOPART reflects  her interest in mass production and reuse. Her artistic devotion to reclamation produces a bold body of abstract work.  After decades of decline, Jamaica Plain, had,  the turn of the 21st Century, begun to lure many college-educated professionals, political activists and artists. The elimination of redlining and the stabilization of the real estate market starting in the late 1970s and the redevelopment of the Boston's Southwest Corridor set the stage for gentrification that began in the 1990s.  In addition, Hyde, Jackson, and Egleston Squares have large Spanish-speaking populations mainly from the Dominican Republic, but also from Puerto Rico (which has grown sharply since Hurricane Maria)  and Cuba.  Indeed, In 2016, the neighborhood between Jackson Square and Hyde Square was officially designated the "Latin Quarter" by the City of Boston. The area has many Hispanic-owned businesses  and Hispanic-related festivals, churches and activist groups.

"RePOPART,'' by Liliana Marquez, in her show of the same name at Jamaica Plain (a section of Boston) Branch Public Library, through Jan. 25. She was born and raised in Caracas,  and has a background in graphic design. RePOPART reflects  her interest in mass production and reuse. Her artistic devotion to reclamation produces a bold body of abstract work. 

After decades of decline, Jamaica Plain, had,  the turn of the 21st Century, begun to lure many college-educated professionals, political activists and artists. The elimination of redlining and the stabilization of the real estate market starting in the late 1970s and the redevelopment of the Boston's Southwest Corridor set the stage for gentrification that began in the 1990s. 

In addition, Hyde, Jackson, and Egleston Squares have large Spanish-speaking populations mainly from the Dominican Republic, but also from Puerto Rico (which has grown sharply since Hurricane Maria)  and Cuba

Indeed, In 2016, the neighborhood between Jackson Square and Hyde Square was officially designated the "Latin Quarter" by the City of Boston. The area has many Hispanic-owned businesses  and Hispanic-related festivals, churches and activist groups.

 

 

 

 

Putting America behind you

Old Harbor Life Saving Station, in the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Old Harbor Life Saving Station, in the Cape Cod National Seashore.

"What are springs and waterfalls? Here is the spring of springs, the waterfall of waterfalls. A storm in the fall or winter is the time to visit it; a lighthouse or a fisherman's hut the true hotel, A man may stand there and put all America behind him.''

-- From Cape Cod, by Henry David Thoreau

"East of America, there stands in the open Atlantic the last fragment of an ancient and vanished land. Worn by the breakers and the rains, and disintegrated by the wind, it still stands bold."

-- From The Outermost House, by Henry Beston