William Morgan: The evolution of the Mass. license plate from decorous to colorful kitsch


It has been a long time since the Massachusetts license plate was a model of good design. The Commonwealth was one of the first states to issues plates back at the beginning of the 20th Century, and during that early porcelain tag era was one of the few states that actually manufactured its own.

  One of the porcelain tag makers in the early days of the automobile.

One of the porcelain tag makers in the early days of the automobile.


With the exception of the plates with the codfish logo in 1928 and 1929, most Bay State plates have been decorous, no-nonsense affairs.


From my college years, I remember the simple MASS plate. The background color was rotated every other year from black, to cranberry, to a rich dark green. The numbers were embossed and legible.


But 20 or so years ago, Massachusetts adopted the reflectorized surface, started to play with various "Olde Tyme" typefaces, and added the motto:“The Sprit of America’’. (Since Americans are fuzzy about the meaning of Lexington and Concord, one could be forgiven for thinking the moniker meant some kind of booze.)

While still way behind, Massachusetts seems to be trying to catch up with those states that crank out dozens if not hundreds of specialty license plates, complete with puppies, space disasters, endangered animals, household pets, sports teams, political slogans, various cancers and everything in between. Some recent Massachusetts offerings celebrate Cape Cod & Islands, Nantucket and vegetables.


While we Americans manufacture irony by the bucketful, we rarely appreciate its nuances. A recent appearance is a plate that that touts the need to conserve white sharks. One doubts that family and friends of Arthur Medici, the 26-year-old who was killed earlier this month by a Great White while swimming off Cape Cod, will be applying for this plate.

(Will there be a Save the Seals plate soon? Seals are a favorite food of sharks.)


From a design standpoint, one of the most egregious plates is the recent issue, LOVECAPEANN.COM. Who does not love Cape Ann? Yet an area known for brave fishermen and noted artists deserves more than this trite graphic disaster.


The Cape Ann Community Foundation, which will use the extra plate fee for promoting economic development and education, had a contest to find a design. The winner was Annalei Babson, a native of Rockport, who calls herself a branding specialist.

She gave the plate four wee pictograms–from Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Manchester, along with an artist's palette. The triteness of the presentation makes one shudder to think what the other love fest schemes looked like.

But there is a more positive – or at least, happy – take on one couple's LOVECAPEANN plate. Susie and Don, who live in Hamilton, applied for the number 143, as in I love you, for Susie's Hyundai. Don went one better and got 1432.

Mass. Cape Ann, Don & Susie's

William Morgan writes on architecture and design from Providence. His Rhode Island license plate is OX. He’s the author of, among other books, The Cape Cod Cottage and Monadnock Summer.

Feds say no to Mass. attempts to negotiate for cheaper drugs

  The Massachusetts State House, with its famous gold dome.

The Massachusetts State House, with its famous gold dome.


For Kaiser Health News

States serve as “laboratories of democracy,” as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said. And states are also labs for health policy, launching all kinds of experiments lately to temper spending on pharmaceuticals.

No wonder. Drugs are among the fastest-rising health-care costs for many consumers and are a key reason that health-care spending dominates many state budgets — crowding out roads, schools and other priorities.

Consider Vermont, California and Oregon, states that are beginning to implement drug-price transparency laws. In Nevada, the push for transparency includes the markup charged by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). In May, Louisiana joined a growing list of states banning “gag rules” that prevent pharmacists from discussing drug prices with patients.

State-based experiments may carry even greater weight for Medicaid, the federal-state partnership that covers roughly 75 million low-income or disabled Americans.

Ohio is targeting the fees charged to its Medicaid program by PBMs. New York has established a Medicaid spending drug cap. In late June, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program was approved by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to begin “value-based purchasing” for some newer, more expensive drugs: When drugs don’t work, the state would pay less for them.

But around the same time, CMS denied a proposal from Massachusetts that was seen as the boldest attempt yet to control Medicaid drug spending.

Massachusetts planned to exclude expensive drugs that weren’t proven to work better than existing alternatives. The state said Medicaid drug spending had doubled in five years. Massachusetts wanted to negotiate prices for about 1 percent of the highest-priced drugs and stop covering some of them. CMS rejected the proposal without much explanation, beyond saying Massachusetts couldn’t do what it wanted and continue to receive the deep discounts drugmakers are required by law to give state Medicaid programs.

The Medicaid discounts were established in 1990 law based on a grand bargain that drugmakers say guaranteed coverage of all medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration in exchange for favorable prices.

The New England Journal of Medicine dives into the CMS decision regarding Massachusetts and its implications for other state Medicaid programs in a commentary by Rachel Sachs, an associate professor of law at Washington University, in St. Louis, and co-author Nicholas Bagley. They dispute the Trump administration’s claim that Massachusetts’ plan would violate the grand bargain.

We talked with Sachs about Massachusetts’s proposal and the implications for the rest of the country. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why do you think states, such as Massachusetts, should be allowed to exclude some drugs, a move the pharmaceutical industry has said would break the deal reached back in 1990?

In our view, there’s a way to frame it where the bargain has been broken and Massachusetts is simply trying to restore the balance. The problem is that the meaning of FDA approval has changed significantly over the last almost 30 years. Now we have a lot more drugs that are being approved more quickly, on the basis of less evidence — smaller trials, using surrogate endpoints — where the state has real questions about whether these drugs work at all, not only whether they are good value for the money.

Q: You suggest that Massachusetts could make a reasonable case if it chose to challenge the CMS denial. How?

CMS did not explain why it didn’t grant Massachusetts’ waiver. It needs to give reasons for denying something that Massachusetts, in our view, has the legal ability to do. CMS’ failure to give reasons in this case resembles their failure to give reasons in a number of other cases that have recently led courts to strike down actions by the Trump administration for failure to explain the actions that they were taking.

(Note: A spokeswoman for Health and Human Services in Massachusetts says the state is not going to challenge the CMS decision.)

Q: While CMS blocked the Massachusetts experiment, it has approved the value-based purchasing plan in Oklahoma, and New York has capped its Medicaid drug spending. Aren’t those signs of flexibility for states?

In some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. New York passed a cap on state Medicaid pharmaceutical spending. But once the state hits that cap, it doesn’t mean the state will stop paying for prescription drugs. It just means the state is empowered to negotiate with some of these companies and seek additional discounts. They didn’t need CMS approval for this. New York doesn’t have the ability to say “If you don’t take this deal, we’re not going to cover this product.”

Oklahoma is pursuing outcomes-based pricing, which is of interest. It’s the first state to express interest in doing so. However, there are a lot of observers who are skeptical that outcomes agreements of this kind will materially lower prices or if they just provide companies cover to charge higher prices in the first instance.

Q: So what options do you see ahead for states given what happened in Massachusetts with the Medicaid waiver?

Unfortunately, states are quite limited in what they’re able to do on their own, in terms of controlling prescription drug costs — both costs that are borne by the state in its capacity as a public employer and its capacity as an insurer for the Medicaid population. and then more generally for the many citizens who are on private insurance plans throughout the state.

This is a real problem, this concern of federal pre-emption where states’ ability to go beyond federal law is often limited. So what we’re seeing now is more states like Massachusetts and Vermont taking action that forces the federal government to do something or say something. States are increasingly putting pressure on the federal government because they know that their ability to act on this problem of drug pricing is limited.

This story is part of a partnership that includes WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Trees singing to us

  The Casco Bay Bridge (which the poet refers to below), which links Portland and South Portland.

The Casco Bay Bridge (which the poet refers to below), which links Portland and South Portland.

‘’It’s all language, I am thinking

on my way over the drawbridge to South Portland,

driving into a wishbone blue, autumn sky, maple

red, aspen yellow – oaks, evergreens

stretching out in sunlight. Isn’t this all

message and sign, singing to us?’’

— From “Today, the Traffic Signals All Changed for Me,’’ by Martin Steingesser, of Portland.

Greentown Labs given role in promoting American-Made Solar Prize


From The New England Council (newenglandcouncil.com)

“Greentown Labs was recently selected as one of five organizations that will help grow the American-Made Solar Prize. The Solar Prize was created to facilitate competition to revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing and as a Power Connector, Greentown Labs will be awarded $100,000 to ensure the Solar Prize’s success.

Somerville, Mass.-based Greentown Labs, the largest clean-tech incubator in the country, has long dedicated itself to supporting the development of technology that simultaneously provides energy to our growing population while minimizing our impact on the environment. It has cemented itself in the center of the industry, where it can harness the combined power and capabilities of clean-tech startups, innovators, investors and experts. This network allows Greentown Labs to provide immense support to the American-Made Solar Prize and to the American solar industry at large. In May 2019, Greentown Labs will host the ‘Go! Contest’ at the conclusion of the final competition. Along with an array of competitors, the event will feature distinguished judges and stakeholders, to help move the competitors’ innovations forward.

Dr. Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, said, ‘The American-Made Solar Prize incentivizes the nation’s entrepreneurs to rapidly discover, research, iterate, and bring new solutions to market to expand solar manufacturing in the United States. Our team is working to help startups bring their hardware-focused innovations to market faster through our startup-oriented programming and we’re eager to support more early-stage companies in their solar manufacturing efforts.’

The New England Council congratulates Greentown Labs, a NEC member, on this partnership with the American-Made Solar Prize and commends it for its support of entrepreneurs working to transform the future of energy.

State law declares abortion illegal in Mass.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

You probably think of Massachusetts as one of the most liberal states. So you’d be surprised to know that a 173-year-old state law declares abortion illegal there, despite Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that created a federal right to abortion across America.

The Bay State law prohibits “procuring a miscarriage.’’ To address that, the Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women Act would remove the statute; Governor Baker says he’d sign the measure into law.

Massachusetts is one of 10 states that still have old abortion bans – albeit unenforceable -- still on the books; all pre-date Roe v. Wade. But the Republican-dominated Supreme Court might reverse Roe in the next year or two and limit abortion-law making to the states, which, after all, traditionally had control of such things. Because of Roe, the state law obviously can’t be enforced now but with growing chances that Roe will be overturned, there’s a strong impetus in some states to get rid of these old anti-abortion statutes fast.

Llewellyn King: The rush to become 'smart cities' is on around the world

  View toward the waterfront of Boston, considered the second “smartest’’ city in America, after New York.

View toward the waterfront of Boston, considered the second “smartest’’ city in America, after New York.

Ireland was a country that thought, before the 1990s, that could not compete. Its rail system was primitive, its ports were outdated and small, and its roads were problematic — mostly you had to share them with sheep or tractors hauling peat wagons.

It looked as though Ireland was doomed to be one of the least competitive countries in Europe and would continue to have “structural” unemployment of 20 percent and higher.

Then a miracle: Ireland combined its greatest assets — literacy and superior education system — with the computer revolution, and it became a boom country. Ireland, rather than depending on exporting bacon, butter and linens, started exporting services by internet.

It became a computing center for Europe, and American and Asian companies flooded in. Galway, a university town, was ground zero for top computer companies.

Ireland went from nowhere to wearing the crown of “Celtic Tiger.” Businesses around computing, and those serving the foreign executives, boomed. Ireland shook off the dead weight of centuries.

There are lessons in the Irish experience for cities as they struggle to become “smart cities” and to compete as the smartest cities in livability and business friendliness. Can some ailing Midwest or city in Upstate New York burst the bonds of their Rust Belt past and find new futures as smart cities, attracting investment and technology-based business?

Largely unseen, cities from Rochester, N.Y., to San Antonio are seeking the title, even though the full dimensions of what makes a city smart are still being thrashed out.

A global study, undertaken by the Singapore-based Eden Strategy Institute, puts London at No. 1 and Singapore at No. 2 in the world. New York leads in the United States, closely followed by Boston; Rochester, N.Y., is on the list. Out of 50 world cities, just 12 U.S. cities make the list.

But many U.S. cities are in the race to be the super-smart, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to San Antonio. Smart cities are a place where the old world of bricks and mortar meets the new world of artificial intelligence.

The players, besides the cities themselves, are the telephone giants (especially AT&T and Verizon), the electric utilities, a wide variety of software vendors and consultants. They are vying with each other for business at the city and county level.

The telephone companies are hoping to use their emerging 5G technology as the way in which machines and systems will talk to each other. IBM is interested in all aspects of the city of the future, including the use of blockchain as the primary record-keeper. Amazon wants to begin smart deliveries, maybe by drone.

Even law firms — and Dentons, the world’s largest, is out front — will be needed to write the contracts and guide their clients. Clinton Vince, who heads the U.S. energy practice at Dentons, says the firm has taken the unusual step of establishing a “think tank” within the firm to work on smart cities.

Smart cities implementation needs local political approval and encouragement; the action is in the city councils and mayors’ offices, and county boards, not in Washington.

As with so many things, it is technology that may change our lives as much or more than policy. Already, the effect of computing in the way we live in cities can be seen everywhere — from those pesky scooters that are on the streets of many cities, and which rely on computer networks and GPS, to Uber and Lyft ride-sharing and Airbnb.

Down the road, smart technologies will have to decide how electric cars are to be charged and where; how autonomous vehicles will operate in cities and where they will park themselves between assignments.

The building blocks are electricity and telephony. They will also be the managers of the old infrastructure, surveilling pipelines, water systems, roads and even traffic lights. The idea is to slave the old infrastructure to the new infrastructure for efficiency and instant response to problems.

Some cities will lead, but none will be unaffected. Smart is coming fast and will be here to stay. Will those who do not catch the wave become “stupid cities”?

Llewellyn King, based in Washington and Rhode Island, is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.


On Twitter: @llewellynking2

Cryptic Beaked whales make supersonic sounds

  The operating area for the recent Beaked whale survey in U.S. and Canadian waters is shown in the orange box. The black line from the far eastern coast of Maine out to sea is the U.S.-Canada maritime boundary known as the Hague Line. The lighter curved lines from lower left to top right mark depth    — Map by Danielle Cholewiak/NOAA Fisheries)

The operating area for the recent Beaked whale survey in U.S. and Canadian waters is shown in the orange box. The black line from the far eastern coast of Maine out to sea is the U.S.-Canada maritime boundary known as the Hague Line. The lighter curved lines from lower left to top right mark depth

— Map by Danielle Cholewiak/NOAA Fisheries)

  A True’s beaked whale on the surface. These deep-diving marine mammals are difficult to study.    — Photo by Robert Pitman/NOAA Fisheries)

A True’s beaked whale on the surface. These deep-diving marine mammals are difficult to study.

— Photo by Robert Pitman/NOAA Fisheries)

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

A month-long survey of the deep waters from Georges Bank to the continental shelf south of Rhode Island has turned up an unexpectedly large number of a little-known whale, and scientists are excited that they were able to tag one of the animals for the first time.

True’s beaked whales were first identified in 1913 by Frederick W. True and have seldom been observed anywhere in the world since then. But researchers from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass., saw and heard several of the elusive animals almost daily during their expedition from July 20 to Aug. 19.

“Deep-diving cetaceans such as beaked whales are difficult to study due to their cryptic nature and their offshore distribution. But they are an important part of the deep-water marine ecosystem,” said Danielle Cholewiak, the chief scientist on the project. “Beaked whales are an extraordinary group of species, adapted for an extreme lifestyle. They dive to incredible depths to forage and spend long periods of time deep underwater.”

Portsmouth native Annamaria Izzi, one of the biologists participating in the expedition, jokingly described True’s beaked whales as looking “like ugly upside-down dolphins” with no teeth inside their mouth but two teeth sticking outside their mouth that males use to fight with each other.

Every day during the research cruise, Izzi and her colleagues deployed an array of hydrophones — underwater microphones — that were dragged behind the ship to listen for whales.

“We went from knowing nothing about them to having interesting clicks on the hydrophone and a couple visual approaches that cued us in to what they look like and sound like,” Izzi said. The clicking sounds were created by the whales using their echolocation abilities to navigate in the darkness of the deep water. “Beaked whales are similar to bats in their use of echolocation,” she added.

This year’s expedition was a follow-up to similar efforts in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in the discovery of what Izzi called “hot spots of acoustic detection of beaked whales,” mostly near the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument south of Cape Cod. (Two years ago this month, this area became the first marine national monument off the Atlantic Coast, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is considering opening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts to commercial fishing.)

“The noise they make is supersonic; you can’t hear it, so you have to see it,” Izzi explained. “A computer program takes in the sounds detected by the hydrophone and gives a visual representation of it.”

One of the main accomplishments of the expedition was the tagging of one True’s beaked whale using what scientists call a digital acoustic recording tag attached to the whale with a suction-cup. The device recorded the movements and acoustic behavior of the whale for about 12 hours before it came off and was recovered.

“The data from this tag gives us the first detailed glimpse into the underwater behavior of True’s baked whales,” Cholewiak said. “We are excited about the new insights we can glean about this species.”

The scientists will soon compare the diving behavior they recorded of the True’s beaked whales to the behavior of other species of beaked whales.

Izzi said the expedition raised a lot of new questions.

“I’m focused on the acoustic aspect of these whales, so I’m really interested in learning more about what we’re recording with the towed array,” she said. “The hydrophones are at the surface while the whales are diving deep, and they’re only clicking when they’re down deep. I know I’m not getting all the clicks they’re emitting, so I wonder what part of the diving sequence I’m picking up. What am I hearing and how is that different from what they’re actually producing?”

The scientists also collected water samples in the immediate vicinity of where the beaked whales swam in an effort to collect bits of whale DNA.

“Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is DNA left in the environment when an animal passes through it,” Cholewiak said. “It’s an exciting tool that may provide a better understanding of species identity and population structure, just from sampling water.”

A dozen eDNA samples were collected by the scientists and paired with biopsy samples and whale photographs to match the DNA samples to specific animals.

Why are True’s beaked whales being found in good numbers in the waters off southern New England? Izzi said it’s because the whales prefer the habitat around small island chains or underwater mountains, and the edge of the continental shelf and the seamounts in the new marine monument provide that unusual habitat.

“A lot of previous studies have been around the Canary Islands, the Bahamas, or around San Clemente Island off Southern California,” she said. “We don’t have any deep-sea islands around here, but we do have deep-sea seamounts, which are a good place for upwelling and primary productivity, where there’s more prey availability that can support large populations of whales.”

Izzi said the next step in studying True’s beaked whales in the region is to place more tags on the marine mammals.

“We have information that gives us a first look at the species, but it’s only based on one tag for 12 hours. Every whale is different,” she said. “We really need to get more tags on more whales. Our chief scientist is interested in looking at group structure and creating a photo ID catalog of individual whales based on their unique scar patterns. And we want to keep working with this eDNA approach to see if it works for beaked whales.”

The research is being conducted as part of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, an annual survey sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess the populations of marine mammals in area waters. The program focuses on the collection of seasonal data on the abundance, distribution, and behavior of marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds in the Atlantic Exclusive Economic Zone.

Rhode Island resident and author Todd McLeish runs a wildlife blog.


Providence's Urban Innovation Project

  On the Woonasquatucket River, in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood.

On the Woonasquatucket River, in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood.

From The New England Council (newenglandcouncil.com)_

“The City of Providence recently announced a partnership with anchor institutions to drive urban innovation. Mayor Jorge O. Elzora explained that this partnership would revitalize two innovation districts in Providence, one in the Jewelry District and another along the Woonasquatucket River Corridor, by prioritizing public and private investments in those areas.

Providence’s Urban Innovation Partnership echoes a model embraced by many other cities across the country, where city governments are considering how to thoughtfully partner with local businesses. Officials believe that partnering to grow the economy in Providence in a way that serves the diversity of the city will ensure a collective success. In efforts to advance their vision, the City of Providence has selected Boston-based Venture Café Foundation to serve as “Urban Innovation Districts Maker Incubator Program Manager” to help organize collaboration between various local institutions.

Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza said in his announcement, ‘Through the Urban Innovation Partnership we’re making a commitment to work collaboratively because we know that Providence’s future success requires that our diverse anchor institutions join us at the table. Our city has so many existing resources and strengths and to truly advance them we must work shoulder to shoulder to support innovation and job growth in our capital city.’

Magical thinking in coastal flood zones

  Damage in Westerly, R.I., from Hurricane Carol, which struck on Aug. 31, 1954.

Damage in Westerly, R.I., from Hurricane Carol, which struck on Aug. 31, 1954.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Consider the Federal Flood Insurance Program, which before Hurricane Florence arrived was $20 billion in debt. The program – the primary source of flood insurance in America -- is in need of deep reform.

The basic problem, besides the fact that Congress and the White House try to put as much stuff as possible on our collective credit card, rather than paying honestly with tax revenue: The federal government, to please affluent homeowners, especially along the seacoast, and campaign-contributor developers and real-estate agents, blithely subsidizes rebuilding in flood-prone areas – areas becoming ever more vulnerable because of the effects of global warming caused by fossil-fuel burning.

“They have not dealt with the gorilla in the room which is proactively addressing these types of disasters for the future,” Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg News. “Too much of the U.S.’s response to natural disaster is completely reactionary: We throw a bunch of money after it happens.”

Indeed, after a hurricane slams a coastline, private and public rebuilding money pours into devastated areas, leading to the construction of more building in some places than were there before the hurricane!

Moore said that Congress should direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the insurance program, to focus on strongly discouraging building in the areas most vulnerable to flooding as well as mandating that less exposed but still somewhat vulnerable structures be raised. The taxpayers have helped to rebuild some coastal-flood destroyed structures five or more times.

Last week it was the Carolinas, some late summer or early fall it will be southern New England when the eye of a northward-accelerating hurricane roars up the Connecticut Valley, exposing the coast of eastern Connecticut, all of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts to a disastrous tidal surge. Most of us prefer not to help pay to rebuild a lot of McMansions on the dunes.

Regarding Florence, note that Orrin Pilkey, a retired Duke University coastal geologist, complained in a recent op-ed in the (Raleigh) News & Observer that the Tar Heel state hasn’t acted with the same rigor as, for example, the communities in Virginia and New Jersey, to prepare for rising sea levels.

Migrants and yardbirds

Photos (below) and commentary by Thomas Hook

I’ve noticed that in September comes a day or two that always feels like the end of summer with autumn soon arriving. On Sept. 17, the remnant of what had been Hurricane Florence was approaching my town of Southbury, Conn., from the west-southwest. It was warm and humid but it felt as if change was in the air.

Birds who migrate rarely stick around, but that afternoon some stayed in the trees in our front yard feeding rather than passing through. Perhaps anticipating the heavy rains due to fall on Southbury the next day, they were trying to get in a meal before taking cover.

The first two photos below are of a Northern Parula and a Red-eyed Vireo, birds that I normally only see in the spring. They were  heading south, way south. 

I also saw a pair of cardinals that I thought at first they were leucistic (an abnormal condition of reduced pigmentation) but in fact they were simply molting. So the third picture is of a male, looking bedraggled but hopefully healthy enough otherwise. The Cardinals are yardbirds and won’t migrate. This guy will stick around.


‘Like a stairway to the sea’

  New Harbor, Bristol, Maine, about 1905.

New Harbor, Bristol, Maine, about 1905.

She fears him, and will always ask
      What fated her to choose him;
She meets in his engaging mask
      All reasons to refuse him;
But what she meets and what she fears
Are less than are the downward years,
Drawn slowly to the foamless weirs
      Of age, were she to lose him.

Between a blurred sagacity
      That once had power to sound him,
And Love, that will not let him be
      The Judas that she found him,
Her pride assuages her almost,
As if it were alone the cost –
He sees that he will not be lost
      And waits and looks around him.

A sense of ocean and old trees
      Envelops and allures him;
Tradition, touching all he sees,
      Beguiles and reassures him;
And all her doubts of what he says
Are dimmed with what she knows of days –
Till even prejudice delays
      And fades, and she secures him.

The failing leaf inaugurates
      The reign of her confusion:
The pounding wave reverberates
      The dirge of her illusion;
And home, where passion lived and died,
Becomes a place where she can hide,
While all the town and harbour side
      Vibrate with her seclusion. 

We tell you, tapping on our brows,
      The story as it should be –
As if the story of a house
      Were told, or ever could be;
We'll have no kindly veil between
Her visions and those we have seen –
As if we guessed what hers had been,
      Or what they are, or would be.

Meanwhile we do no harm; for they
      That with a god have striven,
Not hearing much of what we say,
      Take what the god has given;
Though like waves breaking it may be
Or like a changed familiar tree,
Or like a stairway to the sea
      Where down the blind are driven.

— “Eros Turannos, by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), born in Head Tide, Maine.

  Robinson’s boyhood home, in Gardiner, Maine.

Robinson’s boyhood home, in Gardiner, Maine.

Sneak attacks on winter moths

  A winter moth caterpillar, above, and the moth as a, well, moth beiow.

A winter moth caterpillar, above, and the moth as a, well, moth beiow.


Adapted from Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

In happy environmental news, there’s good news for maple, oak and other trees, as well as blueberry bushes, defoliated by winter moths, aka Operophtera Brumata L.

A University of Massachusetts at Amherst scientist named Joseph Elkinton, working with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has developed a “biocontrol’’ method of killing the moths without pesticides with Cyzenis Albicans flies. The flies lay eggs on leaves eaten by winter moth caterpillars. The eggs hatch inside the caterpillars, and then the flies’ larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out. Delightfully macabre, eh?

The winter moths are an invasive species that arrived in New England in the 1990s, with the spread associated with global warming. New England’s big trees are one of our region’s glories; it’s nice to know we can save more of them now without toxic chemicals.

Autumn vapors

  — Photo by M. Rehemtulla

— Photo by M. Rehemtulla

‘’{W}e had to conclude that something in the September combination of waning sun and increased humidity released vapors a stronger sun or an earth more parched would have beaten down or imprisoned and that the fragrance was indeed a distillation of all the things it suggested – of the late flowers in the meadows and the low, matted tangle of the half-rotted undergrowth, of the turning grape and of the falling apple and of the ragweed and the breath of the trees and the September rose and of the ripe brown body of Autumn herself.’’

— From In Praise of Seasons, by the late Connecticut essayist and editor Alan H. Olmstead

'Street art' in rich Manchester

  “Coastal Bowl, Night Sky’’ (detail), by Matt Seasholtz, in the current show “Thriving Spaces: Street Art Meets Glass,’’ at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester.    The gallery says the show includes “never-before-seen works of glass and street art created for this unique exhibit.’’

“Coastal Bowl, Night Sky’’ (detail), by Matt Seasholtz, in the current show “Thriving Spaces: Street Art Meets Glass,’’ at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester.

The gallery says the show includes “never-before-seen works of glass and street art created for this unique exhibit.’’

  Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln.

Hildene, the estate of Robert Todd Lincoln.

Manchester is an affluent resort and second-home town in the southwestern part of the Green Mountain State, well known for hosting such high-end retailing as Orvis, the fishing-gear company. Departed industries include iron mines, marble quarries, mills, lumber companies and sheep for the burgeoning New England woolen business of the 19th Century.

Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, helped Manchester famous by building Hildene, his grand country place, now a museum. He was drawn to the town by the gorgeous countryside and the grand Equinox House hotel, which is still there.

  The Equinox House.

The Equinox House.

  “View of Manchester, Vermont,”   by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle (1870)

“View of Manchester, Vermont,” by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle (1870)

Jill Richardson: Why many women don't report sex assault

When Christine Blasey Ford came forward to report that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, sexually assaulted her in 1982, you could cue the response: Why didn’t she speak out then? Why didn’t she go to the police?

There’s a long, long list of reasons why a woman wouldn’t speak out even now, and no doubt it was even more difficult in the pre-Anita Hill world of 1982.

I can’t speak for everyone who has faced sexual assault, but I can speak for myself.

1. At first, I didn’t know that what happened to me was a crime. My first assault occurred in college, 18 years ago. He lived in my dorm. I knew what rape was and didn’t think I’d experienced that. But I didn’t know that sexual violations without consent that aren’t sexual intercourse are also a crime.

2. I couldn’t talk about it. Even now, I can’t describe what happened to my therapist in any detail. What happened involved body parts that are too private to discuss with those closest to me — let alone the police, a judge or a newspaper. Talking about a past trauma can be re-traumatizing. Some of us cope by staying silent.

3. I blamed myself. I physically resisted for a while and then I froze and it happened. At the time, I told myself that if I really didn’t want it, I would’ve kept fighting. I didn’t know that freezing is a normal human response in a traumatic situation.

4. Afterward, I wanted him to be my boyfriend. My therapist said this was my way of trying to improve the situation. If he was my boyfriend, then what happened could be reinterpreted as meaningful. It’s a perverse response, but it’s apparently not uncommon.

5. I know someone who reported a rape to the police and had a traumatic experience of testifying in court and getting cross-examined by her rapist’s lawyer in front of her rapist. And then the rapist was found innocent. I don’t want that to happen to me.

6. Now, 18 years later, the man who assaulted me is an instructor of neurology at a prominent children’s hospital. He did a terrible thing to me, once, nearly two decades ago. Should I attempt to ruin his career because of it?

The answer to that is: I don’t know. If I thought he was still assaulting women and my speaking out would contribute to making him stop, I would in a heartbeat.

What he did to me 18 years ago still hurts so much that I would only revisit that assault and expose him publicly if there was a very clear purpose to doing so.

I expect if I did attempt to expose him, I’d be attacked. People would say that it wasn’t an assault because I wanted him to be my boyfriend afterward. They would say I wanted it because I froze and stopped fighting. There are good odds I wouldn’t be believed.

I’ll tell you this: Like Christine Blasey Ford, if the man who assaulted me was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court, I’d speak up. I don’t think a man who violates a woman that way is qualified to rule on cases of violence against women, or any other aspect of their well-being. I don’t think he could be impartial.

When a victim of sexual crimes comes forward, even if it’s decades after the crime took place, we shouldn’t use her past silence against her as “evidence” to discredit her. That urge to discredit is exactly why it takes so long for some to come forward in the first place.

Jill Richardson is an OtherWords columnist.

Post-newspaper news-gathering

  An advertisement in 1896 for The Boston Globe.

An advertisement in 1896 for The Boston Globe.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Local newspapers continue to shrink and disappear (the Trump administration’s recent lowering of its very high tariffs on Canadian newsprint might provide a small reprieve). This has encouraged an increase in costly local corruption as the ranks of reporters rapidly diminish as does local civic engagement; newspapers have long been important parts of the public square, acting as crucial sources of laboriously collected and edited information and as convenors for public discussions of important issues.

With the monopolistic Facebook and Google draining away ad revenue, things probably won’t get better for news on paper, unless the Feds start enforcing antitrust laws for a change.

Otis White, the president of Civic Strategies Inc., writing in Governing.com, reports on a very well run community – Decatur, Ga., an Atlanta suburb – where local leaders are trying to fill the civics-knowledge gap, albeit imperfectly. The City of Decatur mails out a monthly newsletter called Decatur Focus updating stuff going on in city government. It’s well done but in effect promotes the interests and status of city officials, elected and otherwise. Decatur also has a program called Decatur 101, which seeks to develop informed and involved citizens. And there’s its Citizens Police Academy, which focuses on how the police department enforces laws.

All very nice, but all communities need independent, private-sector news gatherers. Their demise is jeopardizing local democracy. To read Mr. White’s piece, please hit this link.

David Warsh: If only Obama had become the Great Explainer of the Panic of 2008



Ten years after the Panic of 2008 began, the hardest thing is dealing with the might-have-been in its immediate aftermath. What if President Obama had better understood the situation he inherited?

He might have emulated Franklin Delano Roosevelt and begun his term as explainer-in-chief. He might have devised some modern equivalent of FDR’s “fireside chats” – the 31 radio broadcasts the president made in 1933 and 1934.

Obama then could have proceeded to explain what had happened in the previous few months, what the Federal Reserve Board, the Bush administration, and Congress had done about it and why, and what steps his administration would take next.

He would have said that, in the days after Sept. 15, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. had suffered an uncontrolled banking panic, the first such since the Panic of 1907 – not just the United States, but the entire global banking system.

He would have explained how the 1907 panic, halted the old-fashioned way by a syndicate of wealthy bankers led by J.P. Morgan, was so severe that it led Congress to create the Federal Reserve System as lender of last resort in such emergencies.

He would have explained that a panic after 1929 had paralyzed the inexperienced Fed in the early 1930s, and that Roosevelt had been able to ease the fears with that first chat. He might have told, as an aside, how Roosevelt’s Fed Chairman Marriner Eccles had diagnosed the paralysis, and, drafting the Banking Act of 1935, centralized lending decisions with the seven-member Board.

Obama would have explained that only after the panic had commenced did Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and New York Fed President Timothy Geithner understand the intricacy with which the shadow banking system (as it would become known) was connected to the familiar banking system. He might have commended the Paulson eventual valor (if not his foresight) and explained that he was asking Tim Geithner to lead his Treasury Department, that he would nominate Bernanke to a second term as well.

He could have explained that, while a decline in home prices was the proximate cause of the crisis, it was better understood as an increasingly frenzied search for safe assets coming near the end of a global boom that had begun in the early ‘80s.

Therefore, he might have said, there was no reason to take the crisis out on homeowners. His administration, he would have told listeners, had begun an urgent search for a way of freezing subprime mortgages at their teaser rate for however long was required to avoid mass foreclosures.

Only then would he have moved on to the difficult topic of stimulus – the deficit spending he was asking Congress to authorize to counteract the rapidly deepening recession, which had been aggravated by a breathtaking if quickly reversed decline in world trade. And he would have warned that similar difficult choices lay ahead for members of the European Union.

True, the leaders who halted the stampede — Bernanke, Geithner, Paulson and their respective teams—didn’t understand themselves at first what they were up against. No one had seen a banking panic in the U.S for many years. They were thought to have become impossible. Four days were required to get government departments on the same page; another two weeks to persuade Congress it had no choice but to act.

But by Inauguration Day, those who had battled the panic had a pretty good idea of what had happened and why. Bernanke, Paulson and Geithner told their stories last week at the Brookings Institution in a remarkable two-day conference on the 10th anniversary of the panic.

Obama, on the other hand, either did not have a good grasp of the situation, or he did and chose to ignore it. Obama had hired Hillary Clinton’s campaign economic adviser, Jason Furman, after he defeated her in the spring; he signed former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers as his chief adviser on the Friday after Lehman.

That’s not to say that Summers is a bad economist. But he clearly does not share the Bernanke-Paulson-Geithner view of what was distinctive about the crisis. Summers helped persuade Obama to support the gauzy Troubled Asset Relief Program appropriation (TARP) that President Bush requested that Friday morning. And Obama never reversed himself on the campaign trail. But he had little or nothing to say about the rescue of the financial system

Instead, “stimulus” had become the mantra of the Obama team even before the election. The only question was how much could Congress be expected to approve? The Congressional Republicans, who had no better version of what had happened to take to voters than did the Obama team, hit the warpath.

Much has been said about the utter failure of “new classical” economics to give an account. But “new Keynesian” thinking was not much better (though it was better). Read Larry Summers’s first major speech about the crash, in March 2009.

“How should we think about this crisis?… [I]t was the central insight of Keynes’s General Theory that two or three times each century, and now is one of those times, the self-equilibrating properties of markets break down as stabilizing mechanisms are overwhelmed by vicious cycles, as the right economic metaphor becomes not a thermostat but an avalanche, and that is what we are confronting today.’’

To see what Summers thinks today, check out “The financial crisis and the foundations for macroeconomics,” his op-ed article in The Washington Post last week. Or wait, if you like, for A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama’s Defining Decisions, by Reed Hundt. (Rosetta, February 2019). Hundt, another star of the Clinton administration (think Internet) and a veteran policy entrepreneur, was one of the would-be advisErs who was cast aside after the election, along with campaign economist Austan Goolsbee, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chief Sheila Bair, and Fannie Mae receiver Herbert Allison. His is the best account yet of what went on behind the scenes in those first six months.

Perhaps Obama would have done better to stick with Goolsbee, the economist who had come with him to the dance, rather than rely on Summers. With his University of Chicago connections, and his modest professional ways, Goolsbee would have brought fewer preconceptions to the job. He might have negotiated a more genuinely bipartisan economic stance with which to begin the Obama administration – one that put the panic at the center of his account and acknowledged that the main event had been boldly and satisfactorily resolved by Bush administration appointees four months before Obama’s term began.

Hindsight is twenty/twenty. We’ll never know. The meeting at Brookings last week, a joint undertaking of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy and the Program on Financial Stability at the Yale School of Management, was terrific. It took 10 years to happen, instead of 10 weeks in the autumn of 2008. But, even now, we may hope for a better understanding of the crisis than the one we have today.

David Warsh is proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this column first ran.

Chris Powell: Those UConn tourists; unfair to DMV

  Tourists at the Trevi Fountain, in Rome.

Tourists at the Trevi Fountain, in Rome.

Bad news has been piling up quickly in Connecticut’s state government this month. Among the examples: 

-- A department head at the University of Connecticut at Storrs resigned after getting caught approving more than $100,000 in travel expenses and paid time off for his administrative assistant so that she could travel with him internationally in the name of attending conferences but actually for sightseeing and companionship. The department head was already earning more than $320,000 annually and during the last two years received another $125,000 in compensation for "research." Simultaneously UConn President Susan Herbst blamed a reduction in its state appropriation for the university's modest decline in a national ranking of colleges. 

-- State Atty. Gen. George Jepsen announced that he is suing 13 current or former state employees for defrauding state government's employee prescription drug plan of $11 million through a kickback scheme with a pharmaceutical company in Florida.

-- A toy chicken hanging from a noose was found in the office of a black employee of the state Department of Developmental Services in Torrington. Dozens of the department's employees long have been complaining about racial discrimination in the department. 

-- And the state Education Department announced the dismal results of the latest round of standardized tests of students in Grades 3 through 8 in the public schools. The results showed that there has been no closing of the "achievement gap" in the performance of minority and impoverished students in the last four years, during which state government has spent tens of millions of dollars in the name of closing the gap. 

So what did Gov. Dannel Malloy do about these things? Nothing. Instead this week he flew off to San Francisco to attend a conference on climate change, as if there aren't plenty of people already attending to that issue. But who is attending to state government's lack of management? Nobody until, maybe, the next governor takes office and changes Connecticut's political climate. 

A JOKE ON BOTH PARTIES: Ned Lamont, the Democratic candidate for governor, told a joke the other day in the course of making proposals to improve the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Customer service at department offices, Lamont said, has been so bad that people might enter as Democrats and exit as Republicans. 

Catchy as the joke was, it wasn't really fair, for clunky as the department remains in some respects, it has improved gradually in recent years, if not enough. More of its functions have been enabled on the Internet, and department employees now strive to route people to the right windows as soon as they enter the office so they don't waste time in the wrong lines. 

Besides, for the 16 years prior to the current Democratic administration, Lamont's joke could have been told with the parties reversed. Govs. John G. Rowland and Jodi Rell, both Republicans, showed less interest in the Motor Vehicles Department than Governor Malloy has shown. Indeed, the most notable frustration with the department in recent years resulted from an upgrading of its computer system that should have been implemented long before Malloy took office. 

The Republican candidate for governor, Bob Stefanowski, proposes privatizing more of the department's operations. Anything that reduces state government's direct employment may save money, but improving service is something else. That may require some investment, which will be hard to find in state government for a long time. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.