James P. Freeman: Mogul August Belmont Jr. and the digging of the Cape Cod Canal

The Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, with the Canal Railroad Bridge in the distance.

The Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, with the Canal Railroad Bridge in the distance.

This article first appeared in Cape Cod Life.

August Perry Belmont Jr. was a product of his age, in an age that needed his products.

The Gilded Age—a period roughly from post-Civil War Reconstruction (1865) up to the first Progressive Era (early 1900s) was marked by energetic entrepreneurship, industrial vitality, technical invention and innovation. Commerce was transformed by new developments in steel, petroleum, electrification, transportation and finance. Engineering advances produced the transcontinental railroad, the telephone and the light bulb. New technologies yielded elevators, skyscrapers, trolleys, subways, bridges and canals.

With little regulation and fierce allegiance to laissez-faire capitalism, vast monopolies and interlocking trusts were created by such titans as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan. 

Nearly forgotten is August Belmont Sr. Belmont was among the defining figures of the Gilded Age. He emigrated from Prussia in 1816 and later founded August Belmont & Company, a Wall Street firm. He was a fixture of New York’s high society and his lavish lifestyle reportedly was the inspiration for Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920). By the time of his death, in 1890, he left  the huge sum for the time of $50 million to his wife and four surviving children.

Belmont’s second son, August Belmont Jr., was a builder and financier. He built New York City’s first subway route (Interborough Rapid Transit) in 1904 and was a major figure in thoroughbred racing (New York’s Belmont Racetrack). He also served as a major in the U.S. Army during World War I, in his 60s. But, arguably, Belmont’s crowning achievement was the Cape Cod Canal.

In Images of America: Cape Cod Canal, Timothy T. Orwig wrote that the need to find a shortcut across Cape Cod was “ancient.” Given its treacherous currents and shifting shoals, passage around the Outer Cape was fraught with danger and known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Ever since the Sparrowhawk went down in 1626 off Orleans, over 2,700 wrecks and 700 lost lives have been recorded around the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Not to mention untold tonnage in cargo.

As early as 1623, Miles Standish, military leader of Plymouth Colony, advocated building a canal. In 1697, a Massachusetts General Court resolution called for “a passage [to] be cut through the land at Sandwich from Barnstable Bay.” Remarkably, in 1776, George Washington authorized the first of many surveys to consider the feasibility of such an undertaking. And by the late 1800s, President Chester Arthur saw the prospect of a canal as a military asset and considered coastal waterways among his highest priorities. 

Nevertheless, nearly three centuries of legislative ineptitude combined with virtually no heavy industry, made the project impossibly impractical. That is until the early 20th Century saw a coalescing of financial power, industrial power and will power. 

Technically, a crude canal  had already sliced through the peninsula. That distinction belonged to what was known as “Jeremiah’s Gutter” (also known as “Jeremiah’s Dream” and “Jeremiah’s Drain”). It formed naturally after The Great Storm of 1717 and made travel between Orleans Town Cove (fed from the Atlantic Ocean) and Eastham’s Boat Meadow Creek (fed from Cape Cod Bay) possible. In 1804 a canal was first dug over this periodically flooding lowland owned by Jeremiah Smith. According to Robin Smith-Johnson, in Cape Cod Curiosities, “It was also used as an escape route by local boatmen in the War of 1812.” But by 1817, 100 years later, it was effectively impassable.  

Belmont was perfectly suited for the gargantuan task at hand. Construction of the new canal was a personal as well as professional endeavor for him. Author and historian J. North Conway makes the connection in his wonderfully engaging book, The Cape Cod Canal: Breaking Through the Bared and Bended Arm.

While Belmont was motivated by profit—improving transport of raw materials and finished products in and out of New England via shipping through a toll canal—he had personal ties to the Cape, despite his New York roots. “Part of Belmont’s… reason for involving himself in the digging of the Cape Cod Canal,” writes Conway, “was due to his deep affection for his maternal grandfather, Commodore Matthew Perry, who lived on Cape Cod.” Perry is credited with opening trade with Japan to the West in 1854. So it was appropriate that the ceremonial first shovelful of earth marking the start of the Cape’s Big Dig occurred on June 22, 1909 at the Perry farm in Bourne. 

The sheer scale of the undertaking and associated disruption was not without controversy. Harper’s Weekly in 1908 lamented that “the new conditions which must prevail on the peninsula will cause the disappearance of the simple and unaffected people.…” The magazine did recognize that “40,000 vessels pass around the Cape annually… while only between 3,000 and 4,000 ships traverse the Suez Canal during the same length of time.” A year and a half later, the same publication  wrote more approvingly of “The Conquest of Cape Cod.” Shortening the trip by 74 miles between Boston and Southern ports, “it is in the saving of lives, ships and cargoes that the canal will be chiefly valuable.”

Belmont, like  other businessmen of his day, insisted that the project not involve government intervention. His chief engineer, William Barclay Parsons (Belmont’s engineer for the New York subway and a member of the Panama Canal Commission), underscored such sentiments before the Boston Chamber of Commerce in May 1910. “This is a private enterprise,” Parsons said, “supported by private capital invested under a state charter… asking for neither federal, nor state, nor municipal aid.” And it should come as no surprise that Belmont employed Gilded Age financing structures to make the canal a reality. His Boston, Cape Cod and New York Canal Company bid out a contract to build the canal. Cape Cod Construction Company was the winner: a company controlled by Belmont.

The Bourne Bridge was finished in May 1911 followed by the Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge (November 1911) and Sagamore Bridge (February 1913). An engineering and picturesque marvel spanning 13 miles, the new canal was 25 feet deep and roughly 125 feet wide. It cost over $11 million to build. Over 16 million cubic yards of sand, stone, clay and glacial boulders were removed. And six men lost their lives.

The new waterway opened to great fanfare in a ceremony on July 29, 1914. Among the dignitaries in attendance was Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even President Woodrow Wilson wrote a “hearty congratulations.” 

World war and a new progressive direction in America changed everything. Just the day before the grand opening, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, leading to World War I. At President Wilson’s direction, the United States Railroad Administration took control of the canal in July 1918. After the war, in April 1919, the government filed a petition to begin condemnation proceedings to formally acquire the canal. 

August Belmont Jr. died in December 1924. After years of legal, political and financial haggling, the sale of the Cape Cod Canal took place in April 1928. The Belmont estate received a mere $4.5 million in proceeds. And based upon Belmont’s overall investment, J. North Conway estimates the estate lost nearly $5 million.

Congress gave authority to the United States Army Corps of Engineers to take over operation and maintenance of the canal. Work began to effect badly needed improvements: widening and deepening the canal, and constructing new bridges. The modernization of the Cape Cod Canal became a public-works program. Leisure would complement commerce. A sprawling federal government acted like a die grinder to temper the sharp edges of the Gilded Age. Power shifted away from unbridled titans to Washington bureaucrats. 

The new and improved canal was squarely a byproduct of progressive policies put into place during the Great Depression. Such New Deal programs as the Public Works Administration, Emergency Relief Act and Rivers and Harbors Act in the mid-1930s helped finance the $37 million cost. Several hundred workers helped build the two distinctive vehicular bridges and unique vertical-lift Railroad Bridge, still standing and functioning 84 years later. Toll free. 

Perhaps fittingly, a black and white postcard of the sparkling new Sagamore Bridge dated June 22, 1935 (the official dedication of the rebuilt canal) noted that “Mrs. August Belmont parted the ribbon.” 

Mark Twain’s novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today was a biting satirical commentary about a by-gone age. His work exposed the appearance of gross materialism, political corruption, corporate greed and widening social inequality just beneath the surface of glossy, heady progress. 

Twain actually traversed Cape Cod before Belmont’s canal became reality.  

“‘This, gentlemen,’ said Jeff, ‘is Columbus River, alias Goose Run. If it was widened, and deepened, and straightened, and made, long enough, it would be one of the finest rivers in the western country.’”

James P. Freeman is a New England-based  columnist and financial adviser and a former banker.

The drawbridge over the canal that was replaced by the Sagamore Bridge.

The drawbridge over the canal that was replaced by the Sagamore Bridge.



David Warsh: The work revolution and the changing mix of cities

David Square, Somerville, which has become a boom town casting off its blue-collar history.

David Square, Somerville, which has become a boom town casting off its blue-collar history.


I hadn’t driven far beyond this city before I came across what seemed to me to be the future, in the form of a Waffle House beside the Interstate highway. These restaurants are ubiquitous across the South; in method, if not in menu, they are equal and opposite to McDonald’s.

At McDonald’s, nearly all the workers are in the back, tending the machines. At Waffle House, everybody is out front: 10 or 12 staffers standing around behind a counter, everybody from the manager to a pair of griddle cooks whose backs were turned to me. The little restaurant contained a dozen counter seats and perhaps a dozen booths.

I was thinking about the lecture that I had heard 36 hours before at the annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Associations, “Work of the Past, Work of the Future,’’ by David Autor, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Autor is best-known for his description, with David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, of the geography of the rapid decline of U.S. manufacturing work, especially after China entered the World Trade Organization in 2000 (“The China Shock”).

Ben Bernanke, former Federal Reserve Board chairman and incoming American Economic Association president, had invited him to speak. The Ely lecture is one occasion at the meetings, apart from the AEA presidential address, when nearly everything else comes to a halt.

Autor began by reminding listeners of the shrinking middle of the wage structure since 1980. Employment in high-skill categories has been steadily rising since then (management, professional, technician), and in low-skill jobs (health and personal services, cleaning and protection, operator/laborer); but more steadily declining in middle-skill employment (production, office administration, and sales). Middle-skill work had has been disappearing mainly in the cities, as workers have been replaced by software of one sort or another.

Next he described his surprise at the geography of the trend. Historically, rural areas were younger than the cities. He knew that the average population of rural areas had grown older. He had not known, until 72 hours before, that cities had become relatively younger than the countryside.

“I was so amazed by the figure that Juliette [Fournier, his co-author] and I did a complete clean room operation and reconstructed all the data from the get-go, just to be sure that there was not an error.”

There wasn’t. In the 1950s, rural counties were an average five years younger than cities. By the 1990s, city and country were about the same. But by 2010, cities were six years younger than rural areas. Rural counties had aged twelve years in the second half of the twentieth century, thanks to the emptying-out of the young; cities had aged an average of only two.

Why? Because the kids who used to move to cities for school, only to leave for the suburbs or for home, were now staying there – perhaps because cities are safer than they used to be, perhaps because wages are higher there, perhaps because opportunity is greater. That’s great, said Autor, but it is not clear there is a similar set of opportunities anywhere for less-educated workers of any age.

Autor asked whether new jobs coming into existence might fill in the middle, or contribute further to the bifurcation. It is not as easy to categorize new jobs as it sounds. Using a new measure based on periodic revisions to occupational classifications collected by the Census Bureau, Autor sorted emergent work into three broad categories: “frontier jobs”; “wealth work”; and “last-mile” jobs.

The terms were his; the method was developed a decade ago by economist Jeffrey Lin, of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The Census tracks 500 or so broad occupational groups, but underlying are some 36,000 job titles within them.

Frontier work, or Jetson jobs, after the early ‘60s sitcom of a family living in the distant future, are what you would expect: high-wage jobs requiring much education, usually predominantly performed by men. The frontier keeps moving: in the 1980s, the category included word-processing supervisors and drone pilots; today, molecular physicists, wind-turbine technician and echo cardiographers.

Wealth work involves catering to the comfort and well-being of the affluent, A large or larger set of jobs than frontier, requiring low to moderate education, a majority of them performed by women. New jobs in the 1980s included gift wrappers and hypnotherapists. By the 1990s, family marriage counselors, fingernail formers, and baristas had appeared. In the Oughts, oyster openers and sommeliers appeared in sufficient numbers to rate a mention.

Last mile jobs take their name, not from the distance to someone’s front door, but rather from the length of time before artificial intelligence software takes over the task completely. These are the husks of jobs that for the most part already have been automated, said Autor; Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a Global Underclass, is the title of Microsoft anthropologist Mary Gray’s forthcoming book. From tamale-machine feeders in the 1980s to vending-machine attendants in the 1990s to Amazon packagers and underground cable locators today, these jobs are grueling, low paid and most probably won’t be around for long. Often they can be done almost anywhere in the world.

Wages? The new work doesn’t pay much differently than old work in the present day: $18.78 an hour for the average of all workers; $26.89 for workers in frontier jobs; $18.49 for wealth Work, and $15.28 for the last mile trades. In short, said Autor, it is a great time to be young and educated, but it isn’t clear where a land of opportunity is to be found for adults with no college.

Some of this will be familiar to readers of The New Geography of Jobs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), by Enrico Moretti, of the University of California at Berkeley. That book had same galvanizing effect on impressions of the changing landscape of opportunity, as did Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (Anchor, 1991), by Joel Garreau. Moretti vaulted to the editorship of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Where Autor went an important step beyond, it seems to me, is in his assessment of rural opportunity. Work in nonmetropolitan areas is changing much more slowly than elsewhere, he said: Job structure, skill structure, wage structure, are all more stable. “People often say… I’ve said it myself, Why aren’t people moving out of Tennessee to some big city where they could get higher wages? Well, it’s much less obvious to me than before that the opportunity really exists….”

He concluded with a conjecture: “I suspect the fall in geographic mobility means something different from what I used to think – barriers of some sort, costs in the way. Increasingly I see it as a slowing of the moving out of places because they were thought to be unattractive, [because] increasingly, they are [attractive].

And that’s what I saw in the Georgia Waffle House, and the rural and semirural counties around it. Wealth is a relative phenomenon, and as long as you can afford cable television and $5 for a waffle, some sausage, and a cup of coffee, life in the countryside may be preferable in many respects to work in the office towers of downtown Atlanta. If you can afford to, you might as well stay home.

Returning to Somerville, Mass., a rapidly gentrifying city of 100,000 next to Cambridge and just across the Charles River from Boston, I heard one phrase in particular of Autor’s lecture ringing in my ears – to the effect that heightened pursuit of opportunity in cities had implications for politics and social structure there. He said:

"In a Democratic primary in Massachusetts’s Seventh Congressional District last September, Ayanna Pressley defeated Michael Capuano. Capuano was a 10-term progressive congressman well positioned in the Democratic Party’s’s leadership. Pressley was a Boston city councilor who had successfully led a campaign for more city liquor licenses. Here is what one veteran political analyst had to say about the race.

"Before Election Day, experts had pegged the probable turnout at between 50,000 and 80,000 – the kind of turnout that in this district is historically older and white, an advantage for Capuano. In fact, he won 42,000 votes, a total that in any other year would have meant a win. This time it meant an 18,000-vote drubbing

"Why? 106,000 people showed up to vote in this primary, in effect at least 25,000 new voters. And given where turnout surged, it’s clear the bulk of these voters came from Millennial and Gen X outposts, where voters were primed to vote for a candidate like Pressley – young, female and African American and, in their minds, the true progressive in the race.

"Somerville, Capuano’s hometown, is one such outpost. Formerly a blue-collar city known derisively as Slummerville, today it is home to soaring real estate prices, trendy restaurants and a largely white hipster and tech worker population. Eighteen thousand people voted in a city that generally sees 10,000 or 12,000 for a primary or municipal election. {Thus} Capuano, who played an instrumental role in transforming the city as mayor in the 90’s’’ was defeated in “in the thriving city he helped create.''

Trump’s misogyny and racism did the rest. The changing composition of superstar cities is a big story on every beat.

David Warsh, a veteran columnist and economic historian, is proprietor of Somerville-based, where this piece first ran.

Chris Powell: Conn. inauguration day needed more than giddy gush

Connecticut’s new governor, Ned Lamont.

Connecticut’s new governor, Ned Lamont.

Democrats were entitled to celebrate on Inauguration Day in Hartford. Going into the recent election their record of eight years in control of state government was so much against them that no one of any standing in the party thought its nomination for governor was worth the trouble. So the nomination was left to two-time loser Ned Lamont on the understanding that he would finance his campaign with his own money, at least sparing the party the expense.

Whereupon, thanks to President Trump and an excess of political neophytes dividing their primary vote, Connecticut's Republicans self-destructed. So the Democrats simply repudiated their record and were rewarded with another term.

The forthcoming patronage and plunder would have intoxicated the Republicans too. But the giddy gush of Inauguration Day was a bit too much, from the invocation exalting political correctness, to the appeals to optimism and believing in the state despite its chronic insolvency and decline, to the new governor's emptily proclaiming to the General Assembly, "Let's fix this damn budget once and for all!"

Three of Lamont's four immediate predecessors as governor, who sat in the front row at the inauguration, might have wondered, "How's that again?" For fixing the budget [ITALICS] even once [END ITALICS] had been nearly impossible for them, and fixing it forever will be impossible as long as Connecticut has more special interests than civic virtue.

Saying he'll welcome "any good idea," Lamont advertises openmindedness and bipartisanship. But there is no shortage of ideas, and the basic ones are contradictory. From the start of the campaign last year right through the inaugural address there has been instead a shortage of people in authority able to distinguish the good ideas from the bad ones in any way that comes close to balancing revenue and expenditures.

People already know the choices and how politically inconvenient they are; that's why candidates avoided them. The optimism and good fellowship touted on Inauguration Day are nice but without a couple of dollars they won't buy anyone a cup of coffee at the Legislative Office Building cafeteria next week unless he has something to offer in return. Politics will devour optimism and good fellowship.

Lamont's gee-whiz manner -- Heaven help him if it is really his nature as well -- seems to have prevented him from saying what Connecticut needed to hear on Inauguration Day.

Becoming chief executive when the very survival of his country was in question, Winston Churchill offered only "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." Even so, he would add: "Do not let us speak of darker days. Let us speak rather of sterner days" -- days in which the country might be saved.

Though his times were not that stern, President Kennedy also famously demanded something of the people: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

But on Inauguration Day the new governor barely managed a scolding: "Please don't tell me you've done your share and it's somebody else's turn. It's all of our turns."

It sounded like the policy of the discredited governor who had just gone out the door, Dannel P. Malloy -- "shared sacrifice" -- that is, raising taxes again to keep government employees happy. But why not? The Democrats are back in charge.

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

Always looking for work

The cover of poet Sandburg’s only novel , published in 1948, was by Paul Sample, a Norwich, Vt.-based painter. The scene here is based on countryside near Sample’s home.

The cover of poet Sandburg’s only novel , published in 1948, was by Paul Sample, a Norwich, Vt.-based painter. The scene here is based on countryside near Sample’s home.

“Hard work was not only necessary, but it was also noble; and to avoid it would lead to disgrace, dishonor, and probably, to Hell itself. If a true Yankee ran out of work, he was expected to look for more.’’

— Lewis Hill, in Fetched-Up Yankee (2001), a memoir of the author’s Depression era boyhood in rural Vermont.

Rise and freeze


In the cold I will rise, I will bathe

In waters of ice; myself

Will shiver, and shrive myself,

Alone in the dawn, and anoint

Forehead and feet and hands;

I will shutter the windows from light,

I will place in their sockets the four

Tall candles and set them a-flame

In the gray of the dawn; and myself

Will lay myself straight in my bed,

And draw the sheet under my chin.

— “The Lonely Death,’’ by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914)

Senator Warren's campaign

Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

‘Stranger things have happened, but it seems highly unlikely that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren can win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination; she has staked out some admirable (if maybe unrealistic) positions on addressing yawning income inequality, on breaking up increasingly monopolistic  companies in the tech and some other sectors; on the need for close oversight of the financial-services sector, parts of which engage in massive fraud and out-of-control speculation from time to time, and where some institutions have become “too big to fail,’’ and she backs some kind of “Medicare for all.’’ She has positioned herself as a latter-generation New Dealer.

But she can come across as strident, and coming from Massachusetts is not particularly beneficial for a  national candidate.  Senator Warren also is often seen  as “anti-business,’’ although she calls herself  “a capitalist to my bones.’’ She, at 69, is also old, as are some other possible Democratic candidates (and Trump). I’m leery of people over 70 assuming the presidency; at that stage of life you could be seemingly very healthy one minute, and fall apart in the next, mentally and/or physically. (Yes, I know that Ronald Reagan was in his 70s when he served. Thank God  that he had a superb staff in his second term….)

The Democrats would do best to nominate someone like  Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown or Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. They’re both very smart, have engaging personalities, and, importantly, can’t be accused of being “East Coast elitists,’’ which is how Senator Warren is labeled despite the fact that she comes from a poor family in Oklahoma and has long fought for the socio-economically disadvantaged.

Whether or not Trump runs for re-election, the Democrats should have a good chance of winning back the White House. While congressional gerrymandering and the power of business lobbyists in Washington have usually suppressed reforms sought by liberals, the majority of Americans think that the rich have too much power in Washington and are very concerned about income inequality; support Medicare-for-all; favor raising taxes if necessary to preserve Social Security, and like labor unions.  There’s not as much polarization on policies as you might think. And it bears noting that Democratic presidential candidates got more popular votes than Republican nominees in four of the past five elections.

Then there’s the strong likelihood that we’ll have a recession, perhaps a deep one, between now and the 2020 election. The GOP will be blamed for it, as it was in the 2008 financial crisis.

Llewellyn King: Perhaps Trump should consider a beautiful ha-ha wall.


President Trump has sought to conflate walls with wheels. In a call-in to Fox and in several tweets, he declared both as having been around for a long a time and that they’ve proven themselves.

In a tweet last month, he said, “Democrats are trying to belittle the concept of a WALL, calling it old fashioned. The fact is there is nothing else’s that will work, and that has been true for thousands of years. It’s like the wheel, there is nothing better. I know tech better than anyone. ….”

I’m with Trump on wheels. I’m a fan of wheels. They work, walls less so; walls are heavily invested in failure, as a psychiatrist might say.

You can get by without wheels, but you’d be ill-advised. The Incas built a great civilization without the round things. Amazing. Don’t try it. Likewise Great Zimbabwe, the center of a Southern African civilization in medieval times, was also wheel-free and has some beautiful walls, all built without grout. The stones just sit there, collaborating if you will. This construction isn’t recommended where stone-throwing is prevalent. You’ll get your wall thrown in your face.

When it comes to wheels, we are so deep into the wheel culture that one’s head goes round and round. The greatest invention of the last few years was, without doubt, adding wheels to luggage. What took so long? Well, the wheels do have super nylon bearings and are better than the old wheels, but even so …

There’s a downside: Bellhops, porters and others have been, well, wheeled away. Sort of like grain-grinders before the mill wheel sent them back to wherever old mortar and pestle people go -- probably into building walls.

There are forever new uses for wheels, like giant flywheels that can store untold amounts of energy. Nifty eh? These are the solution to the “alternatives,” like wind and solar, making too much electricity when everyone is at work or asleep. Downside: this wheel, with as much energy as hundreds of locomotives, is also an inadvertent weapon of mass destruction. If it gets loose and goes wandering through your town, wheelie mayhem.

Walls are really without equal for houses and buildings. After that, their history has been troubled. Emperor Hadrian, something of an architect, built a wall in order to keep undesirables out of Rome’s Britannica province. It stretched from sea to sea across northern England, only 174 miles. Yes, he had the army build it along with a ditch. They put it up -- using stone, earth and wood -- in six years. Its greatest use has been as a tourist attraction.

Ditto the Great Wall protecting northern China. A lot of China’s enemies, like the Mongols, Japanese and British, found it easy to get over or to come by sea. It, too, is a big tourist attraction nowadays. The story of walls is they pay for themselves, if you can wait a couple of thousand years.

As for the purpose of keeping people in or out, the Berlin Wall must get a prize. It was a great concrete-and-barbed-wire job, but the thing that made it work were the shoot-to-kill guards. No rushing it a second or third time.

In Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Israel walls have been erected to keep people apart. Trump wants keep people out and apart, but he has no idea how this will stimulate people to get around, over, under or just to find new access.

Most walls that have stood the test of time have been built of masonry because it lasts. Steel has a short life: It rusts and requires constant expensive painting or maintenance.

All references to the Trump wall suggest that it sticks up, maybe 30 feet. He might investigate a ha-ha wall. They are the wall equivalent of infinity pools. The ground looks level and verdant, but a deep ditch or trench faces an impregnable vertical wall below the surface level. These were favored around Australian lunatic asylums in the 19th Century. When the poor inmates tried to make a break they were, in fact, walled in – hence, the ha-ha. Maybe it’s what we need on the southern border, inconspicuous and effective.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., and his email address is

Ha-ha protecting the lawn at    Hopetoun House   ,    West Lothian   , Scotland. Note how the wall disappears from view as it curves away to the left of the picture .

Ha-ha protecting the lawn at Hopetoun House, West Lothian, Scotland. Note how the wall disappears from view as it curves away to the left of the picture.

By the book

This library, like many across America, was partly funded by money from steel mogul Andrew Carnegie. It was built in 2008.

This library, like many across America, was partly funded by money from steel mogul Andrew Carnegie. It was built in 2008.

 Adapted from Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean, is a riveting mystery story, a history of Los Angeles and most of all a love story about  public libraries  everywhere and the key civic role they play around America, through an exploration of the Los Angeles Public Library, with its Art Deco central building and the passionate people who carry out its mission in starring roles.

You come away from reading Ms. Orlean’s book with a keener appreciation of how important –in some ways more important than ever – public libraries are as learning and community centers in a time of privatization and online personal insularity.

New England, for its part, is fortunate to have such great urban institutions as the Boston and Providence public libraries as well as many beautiful small-town libraries, many dating back to the 19th Century.

Pushing back against gentrification of Boston's Chinatown

“Two Sisters’’ (oil on reprographics on wood), by Wen-Ti Tsen, in his show “Mister,’’ at Milton Academy’s Nesto Gallery, in Milton, Mass., through Feb. 22.    The show focuses on his series “Home Town: Re-presenting {Boston’s} Chinatown as a Place of People’'. The artist is known for addressing such topics as migration, identity and politics, and “Home Town’’ is no exception. The series is a visual pushback against the gentrification of Chinatown, drawing attention to the part of Chinatown that matters most to him: its people.

“Two Sisters’’ (oil on reprographics on wood), by Wen-Ti Tsen, in his show “Mister,’’ at Milton Academy’s Nesto Gallery, in Milton, Mass., through Feb. 22.

The show focuses on his series “Home Town: Re-presenting {Boston’s} Chinatown as a Place of People’'. The artist is known for addressing such topics as migration, identity and politics, and “Home Town’’ is no exception. The series is a visual pushback against the gentrification of Chinatown, drawing attention to the part of Chinatown that matters most to him: its people.

Todd McLeish: Efforts to save New England cottontails pick up steam

New England cottontail.    — Photo by M. Poole, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

New England cottontail.

— Photo by M. Poole, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

From ecoRI News (

More rare New England cottontails were raised at Roger Williams Park Zoo, in Providence, and the Queens Zoo, in New York City, and released into the wild than ever before, according to conservation officials. The success is a positive sign , populations of the region’s only native rabbit, which had declined precipitously in recent decades because of habitat loss, hunting, and competition with the introduced eastern cottontail.

Seventy-seven New England cottontails were raised and weaned at the two zoos in 2018, almost double the number weaned in each of the past few years. Including animals taken from a breeding colony on Patience Island in Narragansett Bay, about 100 cottontails were released into the wild in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine last year.

“Our goal is to breed as many rabbits as we can throughout the breeding season, but it’s challenging,” said Lou Perrotti, the director of conservation at the Roger Williams Park Zoo and the coordinator of the zoo’s cottontail breeding program. “They don’t always breed like rabbits.”

The reason for the tremendous breeding success in 2018 is still a mystery, however.

“I wish I knew why it was so successful,” Perrotti said. “We didn’t do anything different.”

“We’re somewhat baffled ourselves,” added Heidi Holman, a wildlife biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and chair of the New England Cottontail Population Management Working Group. “We’ll continue to review our data in more detail to see if we can tease out a variable, but there doesn’t seem to be any particular thing we can put our thumbs on just yet to explain it.”

The breeding program began in 2010 with six cottontails collected from a wild population in Connecticut. Since then, 163 litters have resulted in 301 weaned cottontails, mostly raised at Roger Williams Park Zoo. The Queens Zoo joined the effort in 2015.

Once the rabbits are about 35 days old, they are removed from the zoos and brought to what the biologists call “hardening pens” at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, in Charlestown, R.I., or the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in New Hampshire, to become acclimated to natural conditions. After they spend several weeks or months adjusting to the environment, gaining weight, and learning to hide and forage, they are released into the wild.

Decisions about which animals are released in which location are based largely on their genetics.

“We’re trying to diversity the gene pool and track who’s successfully mating so we’re not over-representing particular genes in any one population,” Holman said.

Representatives from each state in the region submit what Perrotti called “a wish list” of how many cottontails they would like to release in their state annually, and based on the number of animals available and their genetic makeup, the rabbits are divvied up and delivered.

New Hampshire and Maine have experienced the largest decline in their New England cottontail populations, so they receive animals each year for release. Cottontail populations in Massachusetts and Connecticut are more robust, and wildlife officials there believe they may be able to increase the populations by manipulating habitat rather than augmenting the population with captive-bred rabbits.

In Rhode Island, New England cottontails were initially released on Patience Island, which at last count had between 56 and 90 animals, according to T.J. McGreevey, a researcher at the University of Rhode Island who serves as the wildlife geneticist on the cottontail project. A total of 51 rabbits from Patience have been released elsewhere in the past three years, including in the Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area in West Kingston.

“The Patience Island population is being managed to prevent it from reaching carrying capacity,” Holman said. “It could crash from disease or starvation if it grew too high, so we’re managing it to keep the population healthy. That’s why we remove some animals from there.”

Another sign of the success of the breeding program is documentation that some of the released animals are reproducing in the wild. New England cottontails released at the Bellamy River Wildlife Management Area in New Hampshire have been reproducing since 2013. Reproduction was documented among the cottontails released at the Great Swamp in 2017.

As successful as the program has been during the past eight years, it’s still well below its target of releasing 500 cottontails annually. To increase breeding capacity, the researchers plan to establish a new breeding colony this year on Nomans Land, a 612-acre uninhabited island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Other islands are being considered for similar colonies in the future.

In addition, the Bristol County Agricultural High School, in Dighton, Mass., has offered to provide assistance in rearing cottontails for the project. The school has successfully raised several varieties of rare turtles for release in the wild since 2012. Other partner organizations will likely be added in the future.

“We’ve set the bar at 500 per year, and we’ll see if we can get there,” Holman said. “But we’re just getting started. The conservation strategy we’re following will continue through 2030. We’re still out there actively trying to create more habitat, and some of that habitat is just getting ready to have rabbits. We should have more places to release them very soon. And we’re continuing to collect information on how they survive and make sure we adapt our protocols to improve that success as much as we can.”

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

So 'fake it that you love me'


Proposal to Professor Superstar

Come marry me! Come be my love

(Or fake it that you love me).

The job I crave is at your school,

But others rank above me.

The old boy system didn’t die.

It took a new direction.

Today the favored form of pull

Is marital connection.

To hold you fast when we’re a pair,

They’ll surely want to hire me.

When I get tenure, we can split —

There’s no way they can fire me.

— Felicia Nimue Ackerman

Liz Szabo: Dartmouth study shows ever-swelling flood of money into medical marketing


From Kaiser Health News

Hoping to earn its share of the $3.5 trillion health-care market, the medical industry is pouring more money than ever into advertising its products — from high-priced prescriptions to do-it-yourself genetic tests and unapproved stem cell treatments.

Spending on health care marketing nearly doubled from 1997 to 2016, soaring to at least $30 billion a year, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Marketing drives more testing. It drives more treatments. It’s a big part of why health care is so expensive, because it’s the fancy, high-tech stuff things that get marketed,” said Steven Woloshin, co-director of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth {College} Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, based in in Hanover, N.H., and co-author of the study, which captured only a portion of the many ways that drug companies, hospitals and labs promote themselves.

Advertising doesn’t just persuade people to pick one brand over another, said Woloshin. Sophisticated campaigns make people worry about diseases they don’t have and ask for drugs or exams they don’t need.

Consumer advocates say that taxpayers pay the real price, as seductive ads persuade doctors and patients alike to order pricey tests and brand-name pills.

“Whenever pharma or a hospital spends money on advertising, we the patients pay for it — through higher prices for drugs and hospital services,” said Shannon Brownlee, senior vice president of the Lown Institute, a Brookline, Mass., nonprofit that advocates for affordable care. “Marketing is built into the cost of care.”

High costs ultimately affect everyone, because they prompt insurance plans to raise premiums, said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit that provides medical information to consumers. And taxpayers foot the bill for publicly funded insurance programs, such as Medicare.

“These ads can be amazingly persuasive, and they can exploit desperate patients and family members,” said Zuckerman, who was not involved in the new study.

Drug companies spend the bulk of their money trying to influence doctors, showering them with free food, drinks and speaking fees, as well as paying for them to travel to conferences, according to the study.

Yet marketers also increasingly target consumers, said Woloshin, who wrote the study with his wife and longtime research partner, Dartmouth’s Dr. Lisa Schwartz, M.D., who died of cancer in November.

The biggest increase in medical marketing over the past 20 years was in “direct-to-consumer” advertising, including the TV commercials that exhort viewers to “ask your doctor” about a particular drug. Spending on such ads jumped from $2.1 billion in 1997 to nearly $10 billion in 2016, according to the study.

A spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical industry group, PhRMA, said that its ads provide “scientifically accurate information to patients.” These ads “increase awareness of the benefits and risks of new medicines and encourage appropriate use of medicines,” said Holly Campbell, of PhRMA.

The makers of genetic tests — including those that allow people to learn their ancestry or disease risk —also bombard the public with advertising. The number of ads for genetic testing grew from 14,100 in 1997 to 255,300 in 2016, at a cost that year of $82.6 million, according to the study. AncestryDNA spends more than any other company of its kind, devoting $38 million to marketing in 2016 alone.

Some companies are touting stem cell treatments that haven’t been approved by federal regulators. The Food and Drug Administration has approved stem cell therapy for only a few specific uses — such as bone marrow transplants for people with leukemia. But hundreds of clinics claim to use these cells taken from umbilical cord blood to treat disease. Many patients have no idea that these stem cell therapies are unapproved, said Angie Botto-van Bemden, director of osteoarthritis programs at the Arthritis Foundation.

Stem cell clinics have boosted their marketing from $900,000 in 2012 to $11.3 million in 2016, according to the study.

In recent months, the FDA has issued warnings to clinics marketing unapproved stem cell therapies. Twelve patients have been hospitalized for serious infections after receiving stem cell injections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical advertising today goes beyond TV and radio commercials. Some online campaigns encourage patients to diagnose themselves, Woloshin said.

The Web site for Restasis, which treats dry eyes, prompts patients to take a quiz to learn if they need the prescription eye drops, said Woloshin, who co-wrote a February 2018 study with Schwartz on the drug’s marketing strategy. The Restasis Web site also allows patients to “find an eye doctor near you.”

Many of the doctors included in the Restasis directory have taken gifts from its manufacturer, Allergan, Woloshin said. The doctor directory includes seven of the top 10 physicians paid by the company, his study says.

In a statement, Allergan spokeswoman Amy Rose said the company uses direct-to-consumer advertising “to support responsible disease awareness efforts.” The ads “do not displace the patient-physician relationship, but enhance them, helping to create well-informed and empowered consumer and patient communities.”

Drug sites don’t just lead patients to doctors. They also provide scripts for suggested conversations. For example, the website for Viagra, which treats erectile dysfunction, provides specific questions for patients to ask.

The Web site for Addyi, often called the “female Viagra,” goes even further. Patients who answer a number of medical questions online are offered a 10- to 15-minute phone consultation about the drug for $49. Patients who don’t immediately book an appointment receive an email reminder a few minutes later.

“This is more evidence,” Brownlee said, “that drug companies are not run by dummies.”

But sell the reservoir?


From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

‘Congratulations to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration for ending fiscal 2018 with a $9.2 million surplus, for the third surplus in as many years. This leaves a modest rainy day fund of $11.3 million.

Mayor Elorza’s chief of staff, Nicole Pollock, said “This surplus was achieved primarily through realistic budgeting practices, a steady increase in tax collections, a hiring freeze on nonessential employees, better departmental revenue and reduced operational expenses.’’

But the last few years have been relatively prosperous. What happens in the next recession? And what about the city’s unfunded pension liability of $1 billion?

So the city should continue to investigate whether it can sell the Scituate Reservoir for several hundred million dollars.

Olivia Alperstein: Trump's EPA seeks to weaken mercury rules



While Americans were quietly preparing to ring in the New Year, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency gave families a deadly present to start the year off wrong.

On Dec. 28, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal that would effectively weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which protect American families from mercury and other harmful air pollutants emitted by power plants.

The EPA “proposes to determine that it is not ‘appropriate and necessary’ to regulate” these emissions, the EPA wrote in a statement. This means that the regulations will lose the necessary legal mechanism that actually enables them to actually be enforced.

These regulations save a lot of lives — 11,000 every year, according to the EPA’s own data — and they prevent 130,000 asthma attacks annually. Stripping this regulatory power virtually guarantees more asthma attacks and more preventable deaths.

For families, those aren’t just numbers.

At any age, exposure to even small amounts of mercury can lead to serious health problems. The worst health impacts include irreparable brain development defects in babies and young children, and cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and premature death among people of all ages.

Infants, young children, and pregnant mothers are particularly vulnerable to mercury — as well as to arsenic, lead, dioxin, and acid gases, which are also regulated by MATS.

Before MATS, coal-fired power plants were the largest source of these pollutants. American families paid the price for lack of federal regulations.

I’m a fairly young person — I grew up with dire warnings about exposure to these chemicals. Yet despite overwhelming evidence of their health effects — and the longstanding availability of proven control technologies — it took over 20 years after the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments to establish federal regulations on power-plant emissions of these harmful substances.

Through the MATS program, Congress identified approximately 180 hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, and directed the EPA to draft regulations governing their emissions from power plants.

The impact has been enormous. A significant majority of top power companies have already complied with MATS, for a fraction of the originally estimated cost. It’s estimated that over 5,000 emergency and hospital visits and 4,700 heart attacks have been prevented each year as a direct result of these vital regulations.

In fact, one of the EPA’s own resources on the program highlights its widespread benefits: “The benefits of MATS are widely distributed and are especially important to minority and low income populations who are disproportionately impacted by asthma and other debilitating health conditions,” it notes.

Undoing critical health and safety standards and putting more Americans in danger goes against the very purpose of the EPA. Even utility companies, who invested in complying with the standards, are calling for the EPA to keep MATS fully intact.

Younger generations deserve to grow up protected from these harmful and deadly substances. The EPA wants to make mercury and air toxics deadlier again. We can’t let that happen.s

Olivia Alperstein is the media relations manager at Physicians for Social Responsibility, which is a party to current litigation to protect and strengthen MATS.