Todd McLeish: An early-warning system for toxic algae

  Toxic algae in a “red tide.’’

Toxic algae in a “red tide.’’

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

When a large bloom of harmful algae appeared in lower Narragansett Bay in October 2016, and again in early 2017, Rhode Island’s testing methods weren’t refined enough to detect it before the toxins produced by the algae had contaminated local shellfish.

That scenario isn’t likely to happen in the future, now that the Rhode Island Department of Health’s laboratories have acquired new instrumentation and analytical tests to detect the toxins early and to determine when they have dissipated enough so shellfish harvesting may resume.

“It’s an improved early-warning system so we don’t have to worry about future problems with harmful algae blooms,” said Henry Leibovitz, the chief environmental laboratory scientist at the Department of Health. “We’re trying to safeguard public health, safeguard our shellfish economy, and safeguard the state’s shellfish reputation.”

The new testing system was approved in September by the Food & Drug Administration’s National Shellfish Sanitation Program, which regulates the interstate sale of shellfish.

The 2016 and 2017 blooms, which Leibovitz said were the first harmful algae blooms to occur in Narragansett Bay, forced the closure of parts of the bay to shellfishing and required that some previously harvested shellfish be removed from the market. It was caused by the phytoplankton Pseudo-nitzschia, which, when concentrated in large numbers, can produce enough of the biotoxin domoic acid to contaminate shellfish and cause those who eat the shellfish to contract amnesic shellfish poisoning.

Another kind of plankton, Alexandrium, produces a biotoxin that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning. Both Pseudo-nitzschia and Alexandrium occur in Rhode Island waters year-round, but they are only harmful when concentrations are high and the toxins they produce reach 20 parts per million.

According to Leibovitz, the state’s previous testing system was “a primitive screening test” somewhat like a pregnancy test: it could determine whether the toxins had reached the limit, but not how far over or below that threshold they were. And it wasn’t sensitive enough to detect the lower concentrations of the toxins that would signal that the bloom had dissipated and shellfish harvesting could begin again. To reopen shellfish beds to harvest, the state had to send water and shellfish samples to a private laboratory in Maine, the only lab in the country capable of conducting the test at the time.

Now that Rhode Island has an FDA-approved lab, it’s offering its services to nearby states.

The state’s Harmful Algal Bloom and Shellfish Biotoxin Monitoring and Contingency Plan directs the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to collect weekly water samples from areas of the bay where shellfish are harvested. The samples are tested in the Department of Health laboratory. If large numbers of harmful algae species are found, the plankton are tested to determine the concentration of toxins they are producing. If toxin concentrations are high, shellfish are then tested and a decision is made whether to close particular areas to harvesting.

The problem of harmful algae blooms has been an annual concern along the coast of Maine for many years, and scientists speculate that it could be a more frequent problem in southern New England in coming years, too.

“We think the problem is knocking on our door,” Leibovitz said, “and we need to be prepared for it, not only for public health but to protect our strong shellfish economy. Imagine the damage that would occur to our reputation if contaminated shellfish was identified as coming from Rhode Island. People have a long memory for something like that.”

Public awareness of the risk from harmful algae blooms was raised this year as a result of the months-long red tide in Florida, which killed fish and marine mammals and sickened many people. It was the result of a bloom of a plankton species that produces a toxin called brevetoxin, causing neurotoxic shellfish poisoning in people who eat infected shellfish.

What triggers the algae to bloom is what Leibovitz calls “the $60,000 question.”

“A lot of people are studying it, including some at the University of Rhode Island, and there are a lot of theories behind it, but there’s nothing conclusive. There’s speculation that the cleaner bay means that the harmful species don’t have the competition that they used to have, but that hasn’t been proven,” he said.

The bloom of harmful algae in Narragansett Bay in 2016 and 2017 led Rhode Island Sea Grant to fund research to try to answer some of the questions raised by the bloom. Researchers from URI and elsewhere are investigating whether bacteria that accompany the plankton may influence the amount of domoic acid produced; whether nitrogen from the sediments may fuel the blooms; and whether nutrients from outside the bay played a role.

“The fact that we had our first harmful algae bloom doesn’t mean we’ve had our last,” Leibovitz said, “not with it happening every year in Maine. But now we’ll be way ahead of the curve in recognizing when there’s a problem developing.”

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

David Warsh: Economist's worst-case stance on global warming

  California’s disastrous Camp Fire as seen from the    Landsat 8    satellite on Nov. 8.

California’s disastrous Camp Fire as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite on Nov. 8.

SOMERVILLE, MASS.

At first glance, it might have seemed anticlimactic, even crushing. The two young men had arrived together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964, one from Swarthmore College, the other from Yale University. They completed their graduate studies three years later and, as assistant professors, taught together at Yale for the next five years. Then one returned to MIT and later moved to Harvard University, while the Yalie remained in New Haven. For the next dozen years, they worked on different problems, one on resource economics, the other on economies in which profit-sharing. as opposed to wages, would be the norm; until sustainability and global warming took over for both, far-seeing hedgehog and passionate fox.

Now the hedgehog had been recognized with a Nobel Prize that the fox had hoped to share, and the newly-announced laureate was speaking at a symposium to mark the retirement from teaching of the fox.

Don’t worry, you haven’t heard the last of Harvard’s Martin Weitzman. William Nordhaus, of Yale, shared the Nobel award this year for having framed the world’s first integrated model of the interplay among climate, growth, and technological change. But unless you believe the problem of global warming is going to go away, you are likely to meet Weitzman somewhere down the road. It just isn’t clear how or when.

At the moment, Weitzman is associated mainly with his so-called Dismal Theorem. The argument concerns “fat tailed uncertainty” or, as he describes it, the “unknown unknowns of what might go very wrong … coupled with essentially unlimited downside liability on possible planetary damages,” The structure of the reasoning was apparently well-known to high-end statisticians. Weitzman applied it first as a way to explain the so-called equity premium (why stocks earn so much more than bonds). Then, in 2009, introduced it to the global warming debate. Others have applied it since to fears about releasing genetically modified organisms.

Those unknown unknowns call for a more expensive insurance policy against their possibility than would otherwise be the case, Weitzman says, in the form of immediate countermeasures, You can hear him expound the case himself in an hour-long podcast with interviewer Russell Roberts. Better yet, read Weitzman and Gernot Wagner’s uncommonly well-written book Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet (Princeton, 2015).

(Copy editor: This seems a bit dashed off. EP: it is, too much so. I did a much better story about Thomas Schelling 25 years ago [“The Phone that Didn’t Ring”]. But I worked for a daily newspaper then, and I had less faith in the prize committee.)

On the other hand, if you have reservations about the worst-case way of framing policy choices, as does Nordhaus (along with many others), Weitzman has made other distinctive contributions, four in particular, which constitute tickets in some future lottery of fame.

The first has to do with a series of conceptual papers on “green accounting,” which involve ways of incorporating depreciation of natural resources into accounts of economic growth. The second involves contributions to the debate about the choice of discounting rates and intergenerational equity. The third concerns pioneering work on the costs and benefits of maintaining species diversity (the Noah’s Ark problem, the contribution Nordhaus gauged his most profound). The fourth has to do with his analysis of the means and risks of deploying various geoengineering measures to combat rapid warming – particularly injecting particles into the upper atmosphere, volcano-style, to shade the Earth from solar rays. And of course there is “Prices and Quantities,’’ from 1974, his most-cited paper, a durable contribution to comparative economics.

Global warming is a problem of staggering complexity. Economic activity caused the problem; economic analysis will be an important part of the response. If you believe the science, expect that this year’s laureates, Nordhaus and Paul Romer, of New York University, are only the first economists whose contributions will be recognized by the Swedes. Fat tails or not, time is God’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.

David Warsh, a columnist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com, based in Somerville.


‘Like smoke’

 — Photo by  Vinc3PaulS

— Photo by Vinc3PaulS


”In the cloud-grey mornings
I heard the herons flying;
And when I came into my garden,
My silken outer-garment
Trailed over withered leaves.
A dried leaf crumbles at a touch,
But I have seen many Autumns
With herons blowing like smoke
Across the sky.’’

— “Hoar-Frost,’’ by Boston’s Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

Democrats' takeover of House might presage greener light for Mass. rail-service expansion

  The now-derelict place where the proposed Fall River MBTA station would go.

The now-derelict place where the proposed Fall River MBTA station would go.

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

Readers notice and maybe complain that I put a lot of public-transportation stuff in these columns. That’s because of its centrality in the prosperity of southern New England.

It’s good news for passenger-train expansion that the Democrats took the House in in mid-terms. Such pro-mass transit Massachusetts congressmen as Richard Neal and James McGovern will be in a position as committee chairmen to push for federal aid to boost such projects as rail service between Boston and Springfield and Boston and Fall River and New Bedford. Those would ease highway traffic and wear and tear on our roads, saving taxpayers time and money, and lift our region’s economy.

  Purple lines show routes of proposed new MBTA lines to Fall River and New Bedford.

Purple lines show routes of proposed new MBTA lines to Fall River and New Bedford.

It will be tough to get anything helping New England through the GOP-controlled Senate, but a foundation (or rail bed) can be laid for when the political environment changes, perhaps after the 2020 elections.

Would Trump and the narrowly GOP Senate cooperate with the Democratic-run House in enacting a bill that would include the aforementioned projects? In his campaign, Trump talked up a huge infrastructure program but once in office pretty much dropped the subject and concentrated on giving himself and his pals a big tax cut and trying to kill the Affordable Care Act. But then the current version of the GOP sees tax cuts, particularly favoring the rich, as virtually their only domestic policy.

Still, a swelling federal deficit, an aging population, crumbling infrastructure and increased military spending pose huge challenges. My guess is that in the next few years, the top marginal federal income tax rate will have to be raised to around 50 percent to pay for the services the public wants (if not needs) and to address the rapidly swelling national debt and associated higher interest rates. The bond and stock markets are without mercy. We can’t live in financial Fantasyland forever.

Readers may email rwhitcomb4@cox.net to make comments.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman: A Narrow Fellow in the Glass

(First appeared in The Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin)

A narrow fellow in the glass
Is what I yearn to see —
But much I must forgo, alas
To make a slimmer me —

No cookies, brownies, cake, or pie —
I may become unstrung.
The pleasure healthful foods supply
Is zero at the tongue.

— Felicia Nimue Ackerman

William Morgan: Beauty, coziness and an unsettling mystery near Monadnock

Thanksgiving is the quintessential picket-fence New England holiday – Christmas without the gifts and the guilt.

This year my wife and I braved 14º temperatures and barely plowed lanes to spend the holiday with friends in Dublin, N.H., at Mountain View Farm, known for having been the summer rental of Mark Twain in 1906. It sits at the base of the magnificent sleeping-lion form of Mount Monadnock.

snow1.jpeg

At night, the only lights visible from here are those illuminating the ski slopes at Mount Wachusett on the southern horizon. A city dweller can get reacquainted with seemingly zillions of stars in the firmament.

Inside, burning fires, lots of good books, food and friends tamed the winter.

table.jpeg

Our tribute to the holiday did include the smallest of Black Fridays in the nearby town of Peterborough, where we bought a book on wooden houses from The Toadstool, one of the region's great independent bookstores.

A further contribution to the local economy was a 50-cent purchase from a box of miscellaneous photographs at Bowerbird, an antiques shop.

group.jpeg

This surprisingly bizarre document shows two couples, at the shore of a lake. The women's white dresses tell us that the picture was taken in the summer, and the Sunday-best clothes are from a particular year; "1925" penciled on the back of the photo might be a clue to the identity of these somewhat somber-looking vacationers.

Reminding one of a nearly century-old murder, the face of one of the women has been violently exorcised from the picture with scissors. Beyond the obvious mystery of why the lady was relegated to oblivion – divorce, another kind of breakup, jealousy? – is the creepier fact that the image was saved. Did the picture's owner paste it in an album, to bring out, perhaps on Thanksgiving, as a memory to be shared with family?

William Morgan, an essayist and architectural historian, taught the history of photography at Princeton University and is the author of Monadnock Summer: The Architectural Legacy of Dublin, New Hampshire, among other books.

Readers may comment on this and other New England Diary articles by emailing to:

Rwhitcomb4@cox.net







Nice words for nuclear power

  The Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, in southeastern New Hampshire.

The Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, in southeastern New Hampshire.

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

‘That the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Mass., many of whose members have long opposed nuclear energy, now urges that measures be taken to keep financially troubled nuclear-power plants operating shows the increasing anxiety about global warming. Nuclear-power plants emit very little greenhouse gases.

Fossil-fuel-burning power plants would have to provide most of the electricity generation lost when nuclear power plants close. It will take a long time for wind, solar and other green energy to meet the demand. It’s a serious issue in New England, which gets more than a quarter of its electricity from nuclear-power plants!

Ken Kimmell, the organization’s president, released a statement that said:

“These sobering realities {about global warming} dictate that we keep an open mind about all of the tools in the emissions reduction toolbox — even ones that are not our personal favorites. And that includes existing nuclear power plants in the United States, which currently supply about 20 percent of our total electricity needs and more than half of our low-carbon electricity supply.”


Stephanie M. McGrath: N.E. colleges -- falling enrollments, higher tuitions

  Presque Isle, Maine, site of the most remote state university campus in New England.

Presque Isle, Maine, site of the most remote state university campus in New England.

From the New England Journal of Higher Education, a service of the New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org)

Tuition and fees across New England have risen by 16 percent ($734) at community colleges and 10 percent ($1,001) at four-year public institutions since 2012-13, according to NEBHE’s 2017-18 Tuition and Fees Report.

The report, published annually by NEBHE’s Policy & Research team, takes an in-depth look at the tuition and required fees published by public two- and four-year postsecondary institutions across New England. It explores emerging trends by providing a historical analysis of tuition and fees in the region to shed light on college prices, as well as legislative and institutional initiatives that seek to address affordability challenges.

In New England and across the U.S., it has never been more critical to hold a postsecondary credential to be able to fully participate in the workforce and earn a sustainable wage. Roughly 90 percent of the jobs available in four of the nation’s five fastest growing occupational clusters require some form of education beyond high school, according to research at the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce. The same study estimates that 63 percent of all jobs available nationwide in 2018 require a postsecondary degree. As a result, employers will need approximately 22 million new employees with a postsecondary degree.

However, in recent years the cost of a college degree has risen precipitously resulting in rising tuition and fee charges–often prohibitively expensive for far too many Americans to attend college. As postsecondary education becomes increasingly important for the vitality of New England’s economy and its workforce, the growing cost of higher education has garnered substantial critical attention from the public and from policymakers. New England’s public colleges continue to be the most affordable and financially accessible option for most individuals in the region. Their primary mission is to serve their state’s residents. Tuition and fees at public colleges are of particular interest to both students and state policymakers.

Among other key findings in the NEBHE report:

  • From 2015 to 2016, enrollment at New England’s public colleges and universities declined by 1.8 percent, or 8,036 fewer undergraduates — a trend that is expected to continue in years to come due to a projected 14 percent decline in the number of new high school graduates in New England by 2032.

  • On average, in 2017-18, the federal Pell Grant covers approximately 49 percent of tuition and fees at four-year institutions for students in the lowest income quintile ($0-$30,000 annual household income).

  • Since 2012-13, increases in tuition and fees at New England’s two-year colleges (16 percent) and four-year institutions (10 percent) have outpaced increases in the maximum Pell Grant (6.25 percent), leaving a widening gap for low- and moderate-income families to offset with additional aid and/or family resources.

These trends are putting pressure on institutions and systems to find creative solutions to ensure that college is affordable for students, maintain enrollment and meet the needs of regional employers, who increasingly demand workers with postsecondary credentials.

In Massachusetts, a state known for its high in-state tuition prices, Gov. Charlie Baker announced in his 2018 State of the Commonwealth Address that the Bay State will increase college scholarship funding by $7 million so that the state’s lowest-income community college students with an unmet financial need can have the remaining balance of their tuition and fees fully covered.

Connecticut passed legislation during its 2018 session to allow undocumented students who attend one of its public colleges and universities the opportunity to qualify for the state’s financial aid. Previously, these students were not granted access to the financial aid system by state law but had been offered in-state tuition.

The University of Maine System launched a promise initiative in which, beginning in fall 2018, first-year Maine students who qualify for a federal Pell Grant are able to attend the University of Maine campuses at Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Augusta, and Machias free of having to pay any out-of-pocket tuition and fees. Beneficiaries of the initiative must commit to take a minimum of 30 credit hours each academic year and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. As of October 2018, the initiative has resulted in a 2.5 percent increase in enrollment at these institutions over the previous year.

Click below to view individual state data used in the report:

Stephanie M. McGrath is NEBHE’s policy & research analyst.

Readers may comment on this and other New England Diary articles by emailing to:

Rwhitcomb4@cox.net

As X-Mass nears, atheists acting up in Bethel, Conn.

 P.T. Barnum Fountain and Square, in Bethal, Conn., circa 1914.

P.T. Barnum Fountain and Square, in Bethal, Conn., circa 1914.

Christmas is approaching, not the discordant commercial enterprise we see all around us at this time of year, but the real Christmas – a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the sovereign lord of the Christian heart. Atheists, those who do not believe in God or religion, have been in the habit of seizing the occasion to celebrate an obverse Christmas by spreading ashes on the joys of the Christian heart and obliterating the season through the application of free and equal graffiti.

In Bethel, Conn., atheists are especially interested this year in ridding the town’s P. T. Barnum Square of its nativity scene. For the benefit of those atheists who do not always follow the niceties of Christianity, it should be noted that the bones of Barnum’s family are buried in the quiet graveyard abutting the Congressional church not a stone’s throw from Barnum Square.

Barnum himself subscribed to the Universalist Church. He told New York Sun reporter in an 1864 interview, “I believe there is a great Creator, infinite in his attributes of wisdom, power, and mercy: that His name is Love. I believe He is a God of all justice, and that He will chasten every person whom He ever created sufficiently to reform him, in this world, or some other." Barnum was not an atheist.

For two years, Barnum edited his own newspaper in Danbury, the Herald of Freedom, and combatted what he viewed as sectarian attempts to bring about a union of church and state.

Barnum’s views on a national or state church mirrored those of the Founders and the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It should be noted that the strictures of the First Amendment are satisfied when the law making body of the federal government refrains from making laws that a) establish a state supported church, and b) prohibit the free exercise of religion. The two clauses are joined together in the amendment. And in matters of constitutional interpretation, courts especially should be mindful that what the Constitution has joined together no judge should “therefore put asunder.” Both clauses should be equally weighed in every judicial finding on the great question of state-religious relations.

Indeed, the clauses “inform” each other: A judicial ruling concerning the meaning of the “establishment clause” cannot, under a just interpretation, effectively repeal the “free exercise” clause. And the balance established between the two clauses is best achieved when the law making body refrains from producing enactments affecting either the establishment of a state church or the free exercise of religion.

It is very clear that the amendment opens a wide door to religious liberty, even as the same amendment opens a wide door of liberty to a free press and the expression of political opinion. Church and state are effectively “separated,” in the true Jeffersonian sense, when the state refrains from making laws or edicts that prohibit the free exercise of religion or constitutionally abuse its secular power for the purpose of establishing a national or state church.

The town’s name, incidentally, has a biblical meaning. Bethel is called “the house of God” because it was in Bethel where “God talked with him” (Hosea 12:4 Hosea 12:5 ), after which Jacob built an altar, calling the place El-beth-el. In times of trouble the Jewish people traveled to Bethel to take council with God. The Ark of the Covenant was kept there for a long time under the care of Phineas, the grandson of Aaron (20:26-28 ). Barnum’s first name, also incidentally, is Phineas.

It is not possible for atheists to drive Christians back to the catacombs, where once they gathered to worship the lord of their hearts far from the murderous glances of pagan emperors. There is no national church in the United States. Under the aegis of the Constitution, the Congregational Church of our forefathers -- in essence a national church -- has been effectively disestablished. Connecticut disestablished the Congregational church in 1818. We are left with a potpourri of religious establishments. Barnum himself drifted from Congregationalism to the Universalist Church.

On a Christmas morning, bells sound from Catholic spires, wounding the ears no doubt of Scrooge-like atheists shouting their humbug in the public square. Firm in their unbelief, we must not suppose atheist demands can be easily accommodated.

But really, the sectarian and constitutional difficulties in “the House of God” will be settled when the good people of Bethel make a distinction between a religious establishment, governed by the First Amendment, and a self-professed irreligious establishment, atheism, that seeks to cover religious displays with atheist graffiti.

One must suppose that Barnum, an avid trickster like his father, might have provided room in his circus for this amusing display of historical revisionism.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.



bethel.png



In the 'in between'

  “Ascending’’ (oil on panel), by Samantha Morris, at Fountain Street galleries, Boston, through Nov. 25 in her joint show with Marcia Wise (some of whose work can be seen below.)

“Ascending’’ (oil on panel), by Samantha Morris, at Fountain Street galleries, Boston, through Nov. 25 in her joint show with Marcia Wise (some of whose work can be seen below.)

Fountain Street says:


”Samantha Morris focuses on the idea of an individual traveling through a space; exploring place through architecture and landscape, abstracted through line, shadow pattern, contrast, and negative space. She is interested in dynamics, what can and can’t be seen. The seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life, one light shining through the square of a window frame, or the corner of a plant casting shadow on glass. Influenced by photography and film, her work investigates the stillness of night; the frozen moments before something happens. It exists in the ‘in between’, the time when your eyes adjust to the contrast of natural illuminated light and the depth of darkness. Samantha feels immersed, traveling through such spaces. Each of her pieces has reference to an environment, while existing in its own space.’’

Marcia Wise art and video below

Acceso.jpg

'Like a huge jewel'

  Polished moonstone.

Polished moonstone.

‘’The house lit by moonlight

On the snow, glows inside

Like a huge jewel, a moonstone

Or opal.

The whole house

Shimmers with its freight

Of living souls, and the souls

Of disembodied memory’’

-- From “Another Full Moon,’’ by famed Maine poet Kate Barnes (1932-2013). She was the daughter of Henry Beston, whose book The Outermost House, set in Cape Cod’s dunes, is a classic of nature writing. Her mother, Elizabeth Coatsworth, was a distinguished poet, among other writings.

Jim Hightower: Forget Bezos and Cyber Monday -- Shop at local stores

  Shops along Water Street in Stonington, Conn.    — Photo by    Pi.1415926535

Shops along Water Street in Stonington, Conn.

— Photo by Pi.1415926535

Via OtherWords.org

“Cyber Monday” is coming up — get out there and buy stuff!

You don’t actually have to “get out there” anywhere, for this gimmicky shop-shop-shop day lures us to consume without leaving home, or even getting out of bed. Concocted by Amazon, the online marketing monopolist, Cyber Monday is a knock-off of Black Friday — just another ploy by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to siphon sales from real stores.

Seems innocent enough, but behind Amazon’s online convenience and discounted prices is a predatory business model based on exploitation of workers, bullying of suppliers, dodging of taxes, and use of crude anti-competitive force against America’s Main Street businesses.

A clue into Amazon’s ethics came when Bezos instructed his staff to get ever-cheaper prices from small-business suppliers by stalking them “the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.”

John Crandall, who owns Old Town Bike Shop in Colorado Springs, is one who’s under attack. He offers fair prices, provides good jobs, pays rent and taxes, and lives in and supports the community.

But he’s noticed that more and more shoppers come in to try out bikes and get advice, yet not buy anything. Instead, their smartphones scan the barcode of the bike they want, then they go online to purchase it from Amazon — cheaper than Crandall’s wholesale price.

You see, the cheetah is a multibillion-dollar-a-year beast that can sell that bike at a loss, then make up the loss on sales of the thousands of other products it peddles.

This amounts to corporate murder of small business. It’s illegal, but Amazon is doing it every day in practically every community.

So, on this Cyber Monday, let’s pledge to buy from local businesses that support our communities. For information, go to American Independent Business Alliance: www.amiba.net.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer and public speaker.

Looking to build up the kelp crop

kelp.jpg

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

Kudos to David Blaney, who’s starting the Point Judith Kelp Co., which, in a saltwater 2.75-acre farm, will grow a seaweed useful as a food, as fertilizer for land crops, for cosmetics and that absorbs nitrogen (which in large doses, such as runoff from lawns, can be a very bad pollutant) and carbon dioxide. In his project, he’s joining other local companies that are growing kelp.

There was a charming profile of Mr. Blaney in ecoRI News on Oct. 13. As man-made climate change warms coastal waters, some fish species will move away. It’s important that we find alternate crops that can thrive in southern New England waters. Mr. Blaney, ecoRI reports, thinks about the water eventually getting too warm for kelp. But such warmer-water plant species as Irish moss and sea lettuce are a hedge. As global warming proceeds, we’ll need all the diversification we can get.

To read the Blaney profile, please hit this link.

It’s such small enterprises that take advantage of Rhode Island’s location and other comparative advantages, that hold out hope for Rhode Island’s long-term prosperity as it tries to recover from its far too long dependence on old manufacturing industries and low-paid service jobs.

Charles Pinning: Family Thanksgiving dynamics on an Aquidneck farm

  The farm of the author’s maternal grandparents.

The farm of the author’s maternal grandparents.

The farm overlooked Green End Pond in Middletown on the island of Aquidneck, which also comprised Newport and Portsmouth. It was a place of immigrants new and old, as well as money, new and old, some and none. The same could be said for the levels of education.

It was not unusual at Thanksgiving for a local spinster or educator, or even a black sheep socialite to join the family, happily putting aside their inbred aversion to “kitchen smells,” to wallow in the steaming redolence of Portuguese chourico and caldo verde, fritters, as well as the traditional turkey and blunderbuss load of stuffing and cranberry sauce. More people than you might think have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving and my paternal grandparents welcomed all.

Past willows weeping into the pond and black and white Holsteins the Pontiac shaked, rattled and rolled down the gullied lane and up between the two towering maples to the farmhouse. I’d tried to cajole my father into bringing the .22 to shoot cans and bottles off the stone wall, but my mother scotched that.

In addition to my aunts and uncles and cousins from nearby, and other off-island relatives from Bristol and Warren, there was Madame Soubirous, my French teacher at Miss Collings School as well as Arthur Harrington, a professor of earth sciences at Brown who owned a black Checker, the floor of the rear seat covered with an Oriental rug.

A whiskery Portuguese, five feet tall, who helped my grandfather at hay-bailing time and whom we only knew as “Pachute” arrived by bicycle, and there was the cat, Jelly Bean, who slept under the table on my grandfather’s foot.

“I simply never understood how Hemingway, sensitive as he obviously was, could shoot defenseless wild animals,” said Madame Soubirous.

“Probably because he liked to!” cut in my Uncle Arsenio enthusiastically, a man who’d never read a word of Hemingway, but had seen his picture many times.

I was allowed one glass of wine, made by my Uncle Manuel from his own backyard grape vines in Bristol. He brought it in gallon jugs, and my Nana said it had been blessed for me.

Uncle Freddy saw fit to announce: “I love it when Eileen gets undressed at night and flings her clothes across the room to the chair. I tell her, ‘Eileen, you should have been a stripper!’”

Everyone, except my grandparents, burst out laughing, and Eileen, his wife said, “Thank you for sharing that with everyone, Freddy.”

“Why not sweetheart? You look great!”

My grandfather, my Voo, took the occasion to excuse himself from the table and head out to the barn to check on the cows.

“There’s no need for guns,” said Professor Harrington. “Humans are doing a fine job killing off each other, and it will only get worse. Too many of us to begin with, and when the oil runs out and all the water is polluted, and the air and every piece of land is built upon….”

I slid off my chair and joined some cousins outside kicking a soccer ball around. Professor Harrington came out after awhile and lit one of the long, unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes he smoked.

“Around and about,” he said watching us, taking a deep drag and exhaling. “Around and about.” Young though I was, I understood his commentary upon our activity encompassed the ongoing efforts of all humanity.

The ball got booted down the slope of the lane and I chased it bouncing toward the placid pond just as the sun slipped below the trees on the far bank and the ball rolled into the water. A swan glided by the ball wondering who-knows-what, and I turned to see if anyone saw, looking back at the white farmhouse that is no longer there. No more barn or cows or Nana, Voo, or Jelly Bean. Just new buildings, businesses. Instead of the narrow lane by the pond, a two-lane highway.

As my mother was fond of saying about her girlhood: “ I thought we were poor growing up on the farm, but I now I know how good we had it.”

Charles Pinning is Providence-based essayist and novelist.


Chris Powell: Liberals embrace war contracting in Conn. They should read Ike

  Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters, in East Hartford.

Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters, in East Hartford.



Control of the U.S. House of Representatives by a new Democratic majority is expected to yield a military contracting bonanza for Connecticut, whose House delegation, like its Senate delegation, is entirely Democratic and has much seniority.

The 1st District's Rep. John Larson, first elected to Congress 20 years ago, may gain more military jet engine contracts for the Pratt & Whitney division of United Technologies Corp. in East Hartford.

The 2nd District's Rep. Joe Courtney, who has been in the House for 12 years, may become chairman of a subcommittee on sea power and thereby may arrange still more nuclear submarine business for the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics in Groton.

The 3rd District's Rep. Rosa DeLauro, first elected 28 years ago, will be in a better position to steer military helicopter contracts to the Sikorsky Aircraft division of Lockheed Martin in Stratford.

The 4th District's Rep. Jim Himes, in office for 10 years, has many constituents who work at Sikorsky and likely will help DeLauro help Sikorsky.

Being a new member of the House, the 5th District's Jahana Hayes may have to rely on her Connecticut colleagues to accomplish the contract-mongering ordinarily done by seniority. Since her district has no large military contractor and since she has been a teacher, Hayes may monger for federal grants in the name of education.

But even as Connecticut's military contracting interests are imagining new largesse, a study published the other day by Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs estimates that the United States has spent or committed itself to spend nearly $6 trillion on wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other God-forsaken countries since 2001. These wars are estimated to have killed nearly a half million people and to have displaced 10 million as refugees without achieving victory on the battlefield.

Of course, if victory is calculated instead by the livelihoods drawn from military contracting, Connecticut's members of Congress may be spectacular successes. But they also present themselves as liberals and often complain about unmet human needs at home, from medical care to transportation. The U.S. war in Afghanistan against -- what, exactly? -- is in its 18th year without complaint from those members of Congress, nor any complaint from Connecticut's other leading liberals. They have accepted perpetual war as a normal part of life.

Since much of that estimated $6 trillion cost of war has been extracted from countries that feel compelled to purchase U.S. government bonds to sustain the dollar as the world reserve currency, advocates of perpetual war may dismiss its financial expense. But there is still the human cost, both abroad and at home.

President Dwight Eisenhower, a military hero, described that cost in 1953: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."

How quaint Eisenhower sounds today as the United States is intervening militarily in more than 70 countries.

Of course the country needs a strong military. But when will its wars and other military interventions be audited for results? And if our supposed liberals won't audit them, who will?

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

Llewellyn King: Let's hope that blockchain lets us keep our messy humanity

  Depiction of a “smart cit   y’’    — an    urban area    that uses electronic    data-collection    sensors to supply information that is used to manage assets and resources efficiently.

Depiction of a “smart city’’ — an urban area that uses electronic data-collection sensors to supply information that is used to manage assets and resources efficiently.

Blockchain, the decentralized, open-ledger system that can record permanently multiple transactions, is about to come into its own as the world’s cities move towards digitalization. It portends the kind of urban revolution that cities haven’t seen since water-borne sewage enhanced city livability.

These “smart cities” of the future, big and small, will compete to be the most-wired, most-attractive places for high-tech talent and investment. From Orlando to San Antonio and from Boston to Seattle, the race is underway.

The big telephone companies such as AT&T and Verizon want to wire cities for their 5G and universal WiFi, involving new “short towers.”

Smart cities are cities that are getting ready for the future. The infrastructure that needs to be developed and deployed includes:

An electric grid that senses and manages demand instantly; that allows for two-way flows, as from a self-generator into the utility grid or a customer who wants green power only.

5G technology which will operate on any device and carry city communications to a new level, such as knowing the location of every ambulance and which traffic lights must change to speed one through without hitting a firetruck barreling toward the same destination.

Traffic lights that dim when there is no one on a street, or street lighting that dims when the moon is full or when there is no traffic.

Monitors linked to computers that can identify potential failures in old water or sewer pipes.

Holding it all together -- the sinew of smart cities -- will be blockchain. It’ll be the recording system that will tell whether electricity is flowing from a community generating facility (like a solar farm) and how it’s blending with the utility company’s own generators to the amount of power flowing to street lights.

Blockchain is set to become the ledger of everything, from the billing for your local taxes to keeping track of parking tickets. It will also be a data treasure trove for future planning.

Blockchain is associated with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. That’s because it’s not only the system on which those cryptocurrencies were based, but it’s also a powerful tool with multiple uses far beyond them. The original developer of bitcoin, believed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, used blockchain to guarantee the integrity of the new money.

Some blockchain enthusiasts, including many in the big tech companies like IBM, believe and have often said that it can be a bigger disrupter than the Internet. They’re passionate about the blockchain future, as are the big financial institutions where use will speed and verify transactions.

Others, working in the trenches of bringing about the blockchain revolution, are more cautious. Chris Peoples, founding and managing partner of the Baltimore-based innovation strategy firm PP&A, says that one must be wary of the hype. Blockchain, he says, “does promise to open new avenues of value for both organizations and the common good. However, with the technology still undergoing rapid development in the areas of speed, consensus and scalability, it will require the continued support from industry and government to reach its full potential.”

The smart city upside: Cities will become more livable, more manageable and the quality of life for all should improve. The downside: All the sensors and electronic surveillance could represent a new and very real threat to privacy.

There are also questions how much of the brave new urban world we want to have. Proponents of smart cities believe that a time will come when, with autonomous vehicles, the family car will disappear in favor of driverless, ride-sharing vehicles. An app on your phone will summon one and off you’ll go, probably reading your emails as you’re driven safely, thanks to artificial intelligence and blockchain, to your destination. Maybe. People haven’t abandoned their own cars for public transportation.

My view is people want their own stuff in a car -- the old newspapers, the box of peppermints and the fury dice hanging from the mirror. A blockchain-enabled future of smart cities is dandy if we can keep our inefficient humanness.

We aren’t all yearning to be efficient in everything. We treasure a bit of muddle. I hope we can teach that to the computers and put it into immutable blockchain.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a veteran publisher, columnist and international business consultant. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com and he’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Art from a priory

  White ceramic vase made by a monk at Weston Priory. On view through Nov. 25. at Dedee Shattuck Gallery, Westport, Mass.

White ceramic vase made by a monk at Weston Priory. On view through Nov. 25. at Dedee Shattuck Gallery, Westport, Mass.

Weston Priory is a community of Benedictine monks in Weston, Vt., founded in 1952. They are particularly known for the songs they have contributed to Roman Catholic worship over the decades, missionary work in South America and the pottery produced at the monastery.

  The Weston Priory’s chapel.

The Weston Priory’s chapel.