New England

Trump move against colleges' affirmative action on race is good news for affluent white students

Dartmouth Hall at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth is one of the four Ivy League universities in New England. The others are Harvard, Yale and Brown.

Dartmouth Hall at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth is one of the four Ivy League universities in New England. The others are Harvard, Yale and Brown.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

That the Trump administration has decided that the federal government will no longer encourage colleges and universities to use race in the admissions process, reversing Obama-era guidance meant to promote diversity, will have the least effect on the nation’s richest, most prestigious and thus hard-to-get-into colleges and universities, of which New England has a lot. They get so many applicants and have so much financial aid to give out that they can easily create very diverse classes.   The schools want to show such diversity in part because it reinforces their position as national and even international institutions. They want their students’ faces to look like the, well, world.

Using race as one criterion among others also has socio-economic-diversity effects– e.g., African-American and Hispanic students tend to come from poorer families than white and many Asian families.

Meanwhile, the Feds are investigating Harvard for alleged racial bias after complaints from some Asian-Americans that the admissions process is skewed against them.

Harvard has argued that it “does not discriminate against applicants from any group, including Asian-Americans’’ and notes that this group currently makes up a hefty 22.2 percent of students.  But some rejected applicants say that’s too low considering their high marks and other indicators of future success.

We should leave  to the colleges what sort of mix they  need and want.  Barring provable racial bias,  the Feds shouldn’t try to manage colleges’ decision-making.

Trump’s policy, which will appeal to his mostly white base, will mean that poorer schools (public and private) will be less likely to offer admission to minorities. They’ll become whiter even as the Ivy League  and other highly selective colleges maintain their affirmative-action programs. Poorer, less prestigious schools could try to maintain racial diversity indirectly, especially by providing more financial aid on the basis of a family’s finances – again, African-Americans and Hispanics tend to be considerably poorer than whites – but in a time of fiscal austerity for many colleges and universities and a shrinking number of overall applications because of demographic change, don’t bet on it.

The Trump policy will tend to favor affluent whites and widen the class divide.





Wood is actually a bad source of energy for New England



From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

'New England has lots of woodland and so we’re tempted to see biomass as a good source of “renewable energy.’’ The theory goes that, yes, burning wood, notably in the form of wood pellets, releases carbon dioxide but growing trees absorbs it and so the whole process can be seen as “carbon neutral’’.

But a report from an outfit called Not Carbon Neutral says that CO2 emissions far exceed the absorbing capacity  of the living trees planted or maintained as future fuel sources.  The report’s author, Mary Booth, told ecoRI News journalist Tim Faulkner:

“This analysis shows that power plants burning residues-derived chips and wood pellets are a net source of carbon pollution in the coming decades just when it is most urgent to reduce emissions.’’ She included in her calculations the fossil-fuel emissions from the shipping and manufacturing of wood fuels.

Southern New England gets some electricity  from burning wood in northern New England.

The report reminds me of the wood-burning mania in New England during the energy crises of the ‘70s. It was handy to have all that wood available  for heating in New England to offset a little the swelling price of heating oil, but the wood stoves caused serious air pollution in many parts of our region, including in rural areas once noted for their clean air.

So wind, solar and hydro are the way to go in New England’s energy future.

To read Mr. Faulkner’s article, please hit this link:

July a foggy month along the coast

''July can be the foggiest time of the year, as residents of the New England coastal areas know well. Many summer vacationers, attracted by the refreshing coolness of the ocean breezes, complain when sea fog obscures the sun and spoils a beach day for sun-bathing and swimming. {That's because} in July the greatest contrasts exists between the relatively cool ocean waters and the hot air masses from the continent.''

From The Country Journal New England Weather Book, by David Ludlum

Warren: Trump budget would whomp New England's economy

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D.-Mass.) remarks to the New England Council last week included her saying that:

President Trump's  proposed budget cuts would be “devastating” to Massachusetts, such as the "meat axe'' against the National Institutes of Health. Massachusetts is a huge bio-tech center.

She said that Mr. Trump’s executive actions on immigration “threaten how we have really built an economy in New England going forward”.

“It’s a serious problem because it hurts our families, it’s a serious problem because it has the potential to hurt our economy, but it’s a serious problem because it threatens how we have really built an economy in New England going forward, with our colleges and our universities, with our innovation economy, with our tourism economy.''


New England as future center of U.S. manufacturing

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' column in

The future of American manufacturing may lie far more in such high-wage, high-tax, high-tech places as Massachusetts and Silicon Valley than in Rust Belt heavy  industry, whose current and former employees President Trump appealed to so successfully in his unlikely ‘black swan’’ presidential campaign. Mr. Trump told his fans that foreign competition has been a disaster to jobs in such old-line sectors as steel. But in fact about 85 percent of the manufacturing jobs lost in the past few decades was due to automation and (related) computerization, not to globalization/imports.

That will not change, whatever the president’s protectionist promises. Companies will continue to seek to maximize profits for shareholders, which of course generally include senior corporate managements. Mr. Trump, who has shown himself fabulously greedy, must understand, whatever his rhetoric. The fewer people you have to pay to make the same products, the more money for shareholders. With artificial intelligence now coming on strong, the evisceration of the traditional workforce can only intensify.

In any event, governments that invest in good K-12 and college education and have other good public services will grab most of the new manufacturing jobs because those positions will require far more knowledge of science and technology than did working in, say, old-fashioned steel, auto and glass plants. There won’t be all that many of these new jobs, but those who have them will be very well paid.

Thus New England, where much of American manufacturing began, may become in the next few decades a manufacturing center that eclipses the 20th Century industrial powerhouses in the Upper Midwest. (I have followed this for many years, as a business editor and as someone part of whose family was in such  Midwestern industries as steel.)

New England's shoe-business redux

In the B.F. Spinney & Co. shoe factory in Lynn, Mass. , in  1872.

In the B.F. Spinney & Co. shoe factory in Lynn, Mass., in 1872.


From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' column in

From the late 19th to the middle of the 20th Century, Massachusetts was often called “The Shoe Capital of the World’’ because of its many shoe factories, most notably in Brockton but also in towns north of Boston, particularly Lynn.  Most of the factories were closed as the companies either went out of business or moved their operations south in search of cheap labor, aided by new industrial air-conditioning. Same thing with the textile companies.

But the Bay State and New England in general have been pretty good at reinventing themselves. Even in shoes.  Nowadays footwear companies are drawn to (or stay in) Greater Boston because of the increasingly rich design, marketing, manufacturing technology (such as robotics) and other expertise available there. Consider the following companies with headquarters operations in the area: New Balance, Puma, Alden of New England, Wolverine, Clarks, Earth Brands, Reebok, Vibram, Rockport and Converse.

A particularly evocative development is the recent move by British-owned Clarks Americas into the former Polaroid factory in Waltham. In its glory days in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Polaroid, the instant camera and film company, was considered a leader among the Massachusetts technology companies that were spouting up along the recently built Route 128. The company was called a “juggernaut of innovation.’’  (There’s been a minor revival lately of using Polaroid cameras. Like vinyl records?)

A big change since the ‘60s is that many tech companies now prefer to be in Boston and Cambridge because the executives, and their younger workers, find them more stimulating than the suburbs. The most dramatic recent example, of course, is General Electric deciding to leave its  boring Fairfield, Conn., corporate campus and move to Boston’s trendy waterfront.

Gary Champion, president of Clarks Americas,  succinctly explained to The Boston Globe the lure of Greater Boston:

“The skill is what brings us here, even still.’’

Having spent summers in high school working for a trucking company in Boston (on the then grubby and arson-rich waterfront) much  of whose business was servicing the shoe and related business, I find  this comforting.

Massachusetts’s jobless rate in December was 2.9 percent and the state’s average wages are among the highest in the nation. Massachusetts employers need more skilled workers to staff the many well-paying and sophisticated jobs available in the Bay State. That its public schools are probably the best in America, and that the state hosts world famous colleges and universities, helps to churn out great workers. But so successful are so many Massachusetts companies that they’re desperate for more highly skilled workers. In a sense, a nice problem to have!


Quite enough people

.From Robert Whitcomb's Dec. 29 "Digital Diary'' column in

SomeNew Englandpublic-sector economic-development officials and business leaders say that they’re worried about slow population growth in New England; in Connecticut the population has actually slipped a bit in recent years. Well, we can always use more highly trained people to staff the many sophisticated enterprises in our region, and we need more young adults, but I have  heard these tales of woe about New England’s sluggish population growth –among the lowest of any states in America – for decades and yet New  England continues to be among the the richest parts of the U.S.

And it’s hard to argue that the world needs more people! Indeed, the swelling human population is destroying the planet’s eco-system at an accelerating rate. One of the nice things about New England is that it has less of the new sprawl and mess of the rapidly growing South, most of which remains the poorest part of the country and whose sparse social services are heavily subsidized by the richer, better run and more humane Northeast.

Rhode Island, for its part, is likely to lose a congressional seat because of its sluggish population growth.  That’s just as well. The state would be better off merged with Massachusetts anyway.

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Pearl Macek: N.E. ocean fishermen worry about sector's sustainability


Via ecoRI News (


Fishermen, scientists and interested citizens gathered in mid-April at Rhode Island College for a panel discussion about whether commercial ocean fishing is, or can be, sustainable.

The panel consisted of six speakers who discussed the current state of fish populations within U.S. waters, climate change and its impact on fish stocks, and the current rules and regulations imposed on commercial fishermen. The discussion was often heated, and it was obvious that the fishermen, both on the panel and in the audience, weren’t happy with current catch quotas and monitoring regulations.

Panelist John Bullard, the Northeast regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said commercial fishing is “definitely sustainable.” But fishermen David Goethel and Mark Phillips, also on the panel, believe the more important question to explore is  whether fishing communities are sustainable. Both fishermen said catch quotas and the crippling expenses fishermen have to face both to run their boats and pay catch monitors are making fishing as a way of life all but impossible.

“The smell of fish is gone, replaced by burnt coffee,” Phillips said about the traditional fishing docks of New England.

NOAA regulates the fishing industry, and both Phillips and Goethel are involved in a lawsuit against the federal agency regarding the costs incurred by New England fishermen who now have to pay monitors about $700 a day to be on their boats.

Traditionally, the monitoring system was federally funded, but commercial fishermen now have to pay the monitors’ wages, a burden that many fishermen believe will push them toward bankruptcy. The lawsuit was filed last December in federal district court in Concord, N.H.

The audience clapped almost every time Phillips and Goethel spoke about the need for less regulation and more freedom to continue the tradition of small-scale commercial fishing. Phillips bemoaned the fact that U.S. fishermen are only allowed to fish one-third of Georges Bank, one of the most valuable fishing grounds off North America and easily accessible by New England fishermen.

He said fish stocks follow a natural cycle completely independent of fishing, and that every 15 to 20 years a fish population crashes and then rebounds. Phillips also said that when fishermen aren’t allowed to harvest a particular fish stock, the population often times dies off because of disease caused, at least in part, by overpopulation. He claimed there are more fish in the Atlantic Ocean than there were 20 to 30 years ago.

NOAA recently released its annual report to Congress on the status of U.S. fisheries and the numbers are fairly promising: the number of stocks listed as subject to overfishing or overfished remain near an all-time low, with only 9 percent of stocks subject to overfishing and 16 percent of stocks being overfished. Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught then the population can replace; overfished means the current population is 35 percent or below the estimated original population. A fish population can become overfished for reasons outside of fishing, such as disease, natural mortality and changes in environmental conditions.

The topic of climate change also came up frequently in the conversation.

“Climate change is a big problem we have to face,” said Jake Kritzer, director of the Fishery Solutions Center team at the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. He noted that a reduction in salinity and nutrients in ocean waters has caused a decrease in the production of plankton.

“Every fishery management plan has to take climate change into consideration,” Bullard said. He also spoke about whole species of fish and marine crustaceans moving further north as New England’s coastal waters get warmer. In recent years, Maine lobstermen have experienced a glut of lobster, which drove prices down to the point that fishermen refused to harvest them until prices increased.

“Fisherman should be advocates,” said Graham Forrester, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island, as he tried to be a unifying voice on a panel that was bitterly divided between fishermen and scientists. “We are struggling in the scientific community to understand these problems.”

At the beginning of the discussion, each member of the audience was given an electronic remote control with which they could answer if they thought fishing was sustainable. At the beginning of the discussion, 69 percent of the audience said yes; by the end of the discussion, that number increased to 78 percent.

In the panelists’ closing remarks Bullard extended a metaphorical olive branch to the fishermen both on the panel and in the audience by saying that regulating the fishing industry needed to be improved, because fishermen have the “hardest job in the world” and “we are making their place of business a hostile environment.”

Pearl Macek is a contributing writer for ecoRI News.


Border-jumping cougars in N.E.

ThinkStock ---- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

By BILL BETTY for ecoRI News

Sue Morse is an expert in natural history and one of the top wildlife trackers in North America. A recent article about her caught my attention. She believes the northern counties in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York would be ideal places for migrating cougars to reoccupy. These areas have what pumas need to survive: prey, open space and cover.

Morse, the founder of Keeping Track, believes that South Dakota cougars will spread to Manitoba and then to Ontario. Their descendants will eventually reach New England.

Besides Ontario, it’s likely the origins of these recruits to New England will be from Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. Mountain lions have already been identified there. Ontario has them as well, and Morse’s Manitoba trekkers will only add to the number of free-ranging North American genotype cougars now  found in the province. Since all North American subspecies are virtually indistinguishable, this will hardly make any difference in their genetic makeup.  And we’ll still call them eastern cougars no matter what anyone says.

The Ontario Puma Foundation has estimated the number of mountain lions at 550. One has been shot, another captured and about 24 confirmations have been made. Nearly 500 pieces of evidence have been recovered. Despite this, obstructionists continue to issue denials, suggesting that all of these cougars are males — hence no natural reproduction.

Studies by Marc Gauthier and Anne-Sophie Bertrand during the past two decades have confirmed 19 mountain lions in New Brunswick and Quebec. Gauthier’s latest estimate of an existing population in Quebec is 10 to 100 pumas. Three mountain lions have been killed in Quebec, including a lactating female cougar that was hit by a truck near the New Hampshire border.

Advocates who favor restocking the Northeast by releasing Western cats into the region reject any suggestion that natural reproduction is taking place in the East because it undermines their raison d'être.

Five Nova Scotia events would be categorized as “class II” discoveries elsewhere, including the 1986 incident where the Bower family carried an unconscious cougar to the side of the road — similar incidents have happened in New England. Nova Scotia officials have classified this knockdown as “virtually certain.”

In addition, a number of provincial employees, including the head of the province’s Endangered Species Division, have reported sightings or found evidence.

In short, what we have sitting across the Canadian border is  Montana is an enormous tract four times the size of Texas where mountain lions are present in sufficient numbers to persist. If pumas can drift down here from Ontario, they can just as easily wander into northern New England from Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Many dispersers from eastern Canada will not go very far and will end up establishing home ranges nearby, but a few of these young cats will head south and trickle into New England. For a mountain lion, the Northeast is a hop, skip and a jump from New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario, as opposed to the Black Hills, which are 1,800 miles away and a 22-month cat walk.

Morse and I hold similar views on this subject. Eastern Canadian migration is, in fact, what I have been suggesting for the past decade. She believes this dispersal of cougars to New England and New York may take as long as 30 years for a breeding population to return. Judging by the number of reports recorded and the evidence collected in the Northeast, it’s my view that this migration has been ongoing for decades. It’s possible that we already have a number of mountain lions in New England with ancestry from Quebec or nearby provinces. Others here may be from Michigan and other Midwest states.

Northern New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have brutal winters, deep snow and the lowest deer population in the Northeast. If Morse believes  that these are ideal are conditions for puma, then what about Spencer, Mass., Pomfret, Conn., or Stanford, N.Y.? They all have relatively moderate weather, less snow, more deer and plenty of open space. These places also have farms, gardens and orchards. It’s where people have chosen to live, and now mountain lions are being seen there.

Maurice Hornocker, the dean of mountain lion researchers, has a simple theory that explains the urban cougar phenomenon. He believes “people attract deer” by providing food for them in the form of flowers, vegetables, fruits trees and the like, and the “deer in turn attract cougars.” Hornocker told me  that he thought cougars would “start showing up in New England.”

Much of the evidence confirming lions has been discovered near settled areas. In 2011, a cougar was road killed on the Merritt Parkway, which runs through Connecticut’s Fairfield County. A million people live there. So do 30,000 deer. Pumas have been discovered in places such as Greenwich, Conn. Cougars of the Valley, a nonprofit based in Canton, Conn., has enlisted the help of local houndsmen to locate cougars using specially trained scat dogs.

Michael Keveny at Clark University analyzed potential sites for cougar reoccupation in Massachusetts and concluded that many parts of the state had adequate habitat for pumas to survive. Some like Cape Cod and Bristol County, Mass., he considered the “best.” Sport hunting zones around Boston have kill totals that are five times higher than those from the state’s three western counties.

In New York State, it’s much of the same story. John Laundre has identified the Adirondacks as a potential site for cougar reoccupation. He believes that the area could support as many as 390 pumas. Western New York could support a lot more. Deer kills in some southern and western New York counties, for example, are more than 10 times higher than in the Adirondacks. With a million whitetails, New York is a fertile hunting ground for apex predators.

Maine’s highest deer harvest was reported in the Midcoast region, where many  of the state’s residents live. Deer kills in these five districts far exceed those from the interior. In fact, 100 northern townships had zero sport hunting kills last year. One person who presumably is watching all of this is Nathan Webb, a carnivore specialist and mountain lion expert with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, who was recruited from Alberta, Canada.

If Burlington, Vt., and Lake Placid, N.Y., are ideal habitat for mountain lions in Morse’s opinion, then the towns and cities in New England and Atlantic Canada surely meet the definition of cougar heaven. There have been reported sightings of large cats in Rhode Island. The urban/woodland interface on the outskirts of coastal settlements have everything  that mountain lions need to survive: numerous whitetails, small mammals, song birds and waterfowl; adequate edge habitat in the form of fields and clearings; and abundant patches of woods and brush that provide excellent cover.

Ontario dispersers will show up in New England or New York at some point if they haven’t already. It’s possible some of the recruits that establish home ranges in the Northeast will be migrators from Nova Scotia, Quebec or New Brunswick. A few that pass through northern New England will probably continue on to more hospitable places such as New Milford, Conn., or Rochester, Mass. Their arrival will not go unnoticed by other members of their species.

Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera, lives in Connecticut. He believes there is a small population in the region that is maintaining itself and breeding. He doesn’t accept the explanation that every cougar wandering the edges of suburbia is a former pet that managed to escape. If he’s right, then some local mountain lions must be border jumpers that found their way to southern New England from their natal ranges in eastern Canada by following rivers or hugging the coast.

We should celebrate the arrival of mountain lions in New England. Vermont has done so by putting the face of a catamount on its license plate. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife has taken a step in the right direction by stating that “a large cat would be safeguarded under state statute — a welcome visitor, like any other indigenous animal (other than threat situations).”

Acknowledgement of mountain lions in their jurisdictions will be the next step for all of the New England wildlife agencies. I’m not optimistic  that it will happen soon. Some states have sent officers to tracking schools in Wyoming or exchanged personnel with western states to learn firsthand about pumas. Others have circled the wagons. Money and manpower are issues.

The odds of this apex predator surviving and reproducing along the coast in Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island or in the rolling hills in southern Vermont or New Hampshire are much better than in the hinterlands of New England. Abundant resources make these locations a predator’s paradise. And you don’t have to be one of the puma illuminati to figure this out.

Bill Betty is a Richmond, R.I., resident.

Robert Whitcomb: Where we can win; childlessness; water wars

  The metastasizing Mideast chaos and violence have shown yet again the limitations of American power there. We’re backing and opposing groups in a fluctuating toxic religious, ethnic, tribal and national stew and frequently contradicting ourselves as we do.

Some neo-cons want us to go in with massive military intervention. We tried that. Now consider that the Sunni fanatics called ISIS use American weaponry captured from the Iraqi “army’’ to attack “Iraq’’ -- whatever that is -- an ally of longtime U.S. enemy Iran, which has joined in the melee against ISIS, even as Sunni Saudi Arabia fights its long-time foe and fellow dictatorship Shiite Iran in Yemen. And in Libya and Syria, the civil wars go on and on in permutations and combinations.

The U.S. must occasionally act quickly in the Mideast to rescue its compatriots and to protect the region’s only real democracy – Israel. But after all this time, we should know that the Mideast has so much confusion, fanaticism and corruption that a heavier U.S. role won’t make things better. The best we can do is to marginalize the region as much as possible, such as by reducing the importance of Mideast fossil fuel by turning more to renewable energy in America and Europe, while, yes, fracking for more gas and oil.

We must focus more on Europe, where a scary situation is much clearer. Our Mideast projects have dangerously diverted resources from countering the far greater threat to our interests posed by Vladimir Putin’s mobster Russian regime.

Now that it has seized Crimea from Ukraine and occupied a big slice of the eastern part of that large democracy, Putin’s fascist police state is firing off yet more threats to “protect’’ ethnic Russians in what he calls “The Russian World’’ (i.e., the old Soviet Empire) from bogus “persecution’’ by the majority population in the Baltic States and Poland -- NATO members and democracies. Latvia is coming under particularly hard Russian pressure now. Hitler used the same strategy against Czechoslovakia with the Sudeten Germans. It’s past time to re-energize NATO to thwart Russian aggressio


Regarding an April 4 New York Times story headlined “No Kids for Me, Thanks’’:

My mysterious father used to say ruefully that “your friends you can pick, your family you’re stuck with.’’ He had five children.

From observing my childless friends, I’d say that contrary to an old social cliché, they are generally happier than those who have children – so far. A simple reason: They have more money, time and freedom to do what they want.

Arthur Stone, a professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University who’s co-authored a study comparing childless adults’ happiness and those with kids told CNN: “They {parents} have higher highs. They have more joy in their lives, but also they have more stress and negative emotions as well.’’

CNN said he found “little difference" between “the life satisfaction of parents and people without kids, once other factors -- such as income, education, religion and health -- were factored out.’’ Yes, but how do you ‘’factor out’’ income? Paying for children causes a lot of anxiety.

People tend to be more self-absorbed these days, and so less enthusiastic about sacrificing so much for, say, children. But this presents a problem that some childless Baby Boomers are already experiencing: Who will take care of them when they get really old? If they think that younger friends will feel as compelled to squire them through old age as their children, they’re in Fantasyland.


The California dream of always-green lawns in McMansion developments in the desert is being revised as drought deepens. (Probably global warming.) The land of Silicon Valley, Cal Tech and Hollywood has more than enough intellectual firepower to address the conservation challenge. (“Dehydrated water – just add water’’?) However, don’t expect many new L.A. Basin golf courses. Californians will see more cactus and less lawn. Meanwhile, places with lots of fresh water -- e.g., New England and the Pacific Northwest – may now be in a better competitive position.

Regarding Golden State water-wars, see the movie “Chinatown’’.


Robert Whitcomb  ( oversees New England Diary. He's a partner at Cambridge Management Group (, a healthcare-sector consultancy, a  Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, a former editorial-page editor and a vice president at The Providence Journal and a former editor at The Wall Street Journal. 


Get ready for oil/gas drilling off the Northeast?


By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

From EcoRi News

When the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its notice of intent to scope an environmental review for Atlantic Ocean oil and gas leases in January, it left little room for public comment at meetings. Using an open house-style meeting, BOEM’s Web site states the meetings “will not include a designated session for formal oral testimony.”

But by the third meeting, held Feb. 17 in Wilmington, N.C., 400 people had signed up to speak and 150 protesters convened at the meeting site, opposed to opening up any part of the Atlantic Ocean to the potential impacts of a BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The scoping sessions stem from BOEM’s 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program (DPP), released last month. Five-year plans are prepared under the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Lands Act.

However, this DPP calls for opening up sectors off the Mid-Atlantic  states and off the Southeast  to oil and gas drilling for the first time since 1983, triggering a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Atlantic Ocean OCS leases expired in the mid-1990s, after exploratory wells came up empty. Forty-three exploratory wells were sunk off the Northeast, one off the Mid-Atlantic  states and seven off the Southeast.

BOEM contends those studies are outdated, and against strenuous objections from environmentalists, commercial and recreational fishing industries, state and federal legislators, and tens of thousands of individuals, BOEM approved a PEIS for geotechnical and geophysical (G&G) studies in the Atlantic last summer. BOEM is now working with coastal states and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to secure permits, including incidental “takes” of marine mammals and endangered species of turtles. Eight G&G contractors haveapplications pending for the work.

Back in the mix Two years after congressional restrictions expired in 2008, the Atlantic OCS planning areas were put into the 2012-2017 plan. A PEIS published in early April 2010 included only the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic planning areas. But just as Northeast coastal communities breathed a sigh of relief, BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploratory oil rig exploded, creating the nation’s worst environmental disaster in its history.

In December 2010, the Atlantic planning areas were excluded from the final program plan. Six months later, governors in several Southern states formed the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, to expand areas for offshore energy development and regional revenue sharing. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Party, also joined the coalition in asking for oil and gas drilling in the Mid-Atlantic.

Environmental groups, such as the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club and the South Carolina Conservation League, had been protesting against use of the Atlantic OCS for three years. But U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said that it was Governors Coalition’s lobbying for opening the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic that convinced her to include these areas in the 2017-2022 DPP.

At the Feb. 20 Governors Association Conference in Washington, D.C., the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition discussed putting legislation through Congress for federal-state sharing of royalties, bonus bids and rents from Atlantic offshore oil and gas development.

In opposition Virginia Congressmen Gerald Connolly, Bobby Scott and Donald Beyer have written Jewell asking her to exclude the Mid-Atlantic from consideration.

“Drilling on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (AOCS) is a source of considerable debate in the Commonwealth. It threatens local economies, ecosystems, natural resources, and poses significant national security concerns,” the congressmen wrote.

The letter went on to say that the action puts at risk 91,000 tourism, recreation and fisheries jobs that represent $5 billion of Virginia’s GDP for “a few days’ worth of national oil and gas supply.”

This month’s public protests are a small segment of a much larger public outcry. Federal and state leaders, environmental NGOs and some 285,000 individuals have written in opposition. Senators Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-signed a letter in opposition with five other senators.

Rep. David Price, D-N.C.,  wrote a letter co-signed by 36 other members of Congress, which read in part:

“We believe that the circumstances that informed the exclusion of Atlantic planning areas under the existing Five-Year Program remain unchanged. Additionally, significant federal, state, and local resources have been expended in an effort to improve the health of Atlantic fisheries, protect endangered and threatened species that rely on the Atlantic Ocean and coast, and ensure the continued economic vitality of coastal areas through recreation and tourism. We believe that allowing oil and gas development in the Atlantic would be inconsistent with and contrary to these ongoing efforts.”

Upon release of the 2017-2022 DPP last month, Markey, with senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., held a press conference seeking administrative withdrawal of the Atlantic planning areas.

Areas can be excluded one of three ways: by presidential administrative withdrawal, as has happened with the North Aleutian planning area in Alaska; by a congressional moratoria, which protected the East Coast from consideration until 2008 and now protects the Eastern Gulf of Mexico; or by the secretary of the interior.

Markey has noted that the existing 2012-2017 DPP utilizes 75 percent of all U.S. oil and gas reserves currently available, yet less than a quarter of all leases are actively developed. Addition of the Atlantic Ocean planning areas proposed would only increase accessible reserves by 5 percent, according to Markey.

Citing a recent Oceana economic analysis comparing offshore drilling and wind energy, Markey said:

“Offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries. A spill off the coast of North Carolina could affect Massachusetts. We saw what happened after the BP spill. My state’s fishing and tourism industry can’t afford that kind of tragedy.”

Noting there has never been a tragic wind-energy spill, Markey went on to say that Congress has yet to enact key drilling safety reforms, such as raising the liability cap for an offshore spill and increasing the civil penalties that can be levied against oil companies that violate the law.

Currently, the liability limit is set at $73 million for damages caused by an offshore oil spill.

The latest cost estimate for the BP spill is $46 billion in clean-up efforts and damages. In 2012, BP pled guilty to 11 felony charges in the deaths of 11 workers killed in the explosion and paid $4 billion. Last September, BP appealed a federal court ruling that 4.2 million barrels were spilled, claiming a much lower 2.5 million barrels flowed from its damaged well. The court may award damages of up to $4,300 per barrel under the federal Clean Water Act.

The most recent incident data available for the Gulf of Mexico indicates there have been 22 loss-of-well-control incidents, 461 fires/explosions, 989 injuries and 11 fatalities between 2011-2014. There were three major spills in 2011 and eight in 2012.

Public comment The last two Atlantic region meetings on the environmental scoping document are scheduled to be held March 9 in Annapolis, Md., and March 11 in Charleston, S.C.

There are two separate documents in progress — the 2017-2022 DPP and the scoping for the PEIS. Comments submitted to one will not be automatically included with the other. Comments will be accepted until March 30.

For the 2017-2022 DPP, submit online or in writing to Ms. Kelly Hammerle, Five-Year Program Manager, BOEM (HM–3120), 381 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170.

To comment on the scope of the PEIS, submit online or mail in an envelope labeled ‘‘Scoping Comments for the 2017–2022 Proposed Oil and Gas Leasing Program Programmatic EIS’’ to Mr. Geoffrey L. Wikel, Acting Chief, Division of Environmental Assessment, Office of Environmental Program (HM 3107), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 381 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170–4817.

Portions of this article used reporting by the Wilmington (N.C.) Star and The Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Sun News.

Robert Whitcomb: Another trap in the energy cycles

A few years ago I co-wrote a book, with Wendy Williams, about a controversy centered on Nantucket Sound. The quasi-social comedy, called Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Energy, Class, Politics and the Battle for Our Energy Future, told of how, since 2001, a company led by entrepreneur James Gordon has struggled to put up a wind farm in the sound in the face of opposition from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound — a long name for fossil-fuel billionaire Bill Koch, a member of the famous right-wing Republican family.  An amusing movie, Cape Spin,  directed by John Kirby and produced by Libby Handros, came out of this saga, too. Mr. Koch's houses include a summer mansion in Osterville, Mass., from which he doesn’t want to see wind turbines on his southern horizon on clear days.

Mr. Koch may now have won the battle, as very rich people usually do. Two big utilities, National Grid and Northeast Utilities, are trying to bail out of a politicized plan, which they never liked, forcing them to buy Cape Wind electricity. They cite the fact that the company missed the Dec. 31, 2014, deadline in contracts signed in 2012 to obtain financing and start construction. Cape Wind said it doesn’t “regard these terminations as valid” since, it asserts, the contracts let the utilities’ contracts be extended because of the alliance’s “unprecedented and relentless litigation.” Bill Koch has virtually unlimited funds to pay lawyers to litigate unto the Second Coming, aided by imaginative rhetoric supplied by his  very smart and well paid pit-bull  anti-Cape Wind spokeswoman, Audra Parker,  even though the project has won all regulatory approvals.

It's no secret that it has gotten harder and harder to do big projects in the United States because of endless litigation and ever more layers of regulation. Thus our physical infrastructure --- electrical grid, transportation and so on -- continues to fall behind our friendly competitors, say in the European Union and Japan, and our not-so-friendly competitors, especially in China. Read my friend Philip K. Howard's latest book, The Rule of Nobody, on this.

With the death of Cape Wind, New Englanders would lose what could have helped diversify the region’s energy mix — and smooth out price and supply swings — with home-grown, renewable electricity. Cape Wind is far from a panacea for the region’s dependence on natural gas, oil and nuclear, but it would add a tad more security.

Some of Cape Wind’s foes will say that the natural gas from fracking will take care of everything. But New England lacks adequate natural-gas pipeline capacity, to no small extent because affluent people along the routes hold up their construction. And NIMBYs (not in my backyard) have also blocked efforts to bring in more Canadian hydro-electric power. So our electricity rates are soaring, even as many of those who complain about the rates also fight any attempt to put new energy infrastructure near them. As for nuclear, it seems too politically incorrect for it to be expanded again in New England.

Meanwhile, the drawbacks to fracking, including water pollution and earthquakes in fracked countryside, are becoming more obvious. And the gas reserves may well be exaggerated. I support fracking anyway, since it means less use of oil and coal and because much of the gas is nearby, in Pennsylvania. (New York, however, recently banned fracking.)

Get ready for brownouts and higher electricity bills. As for oil prices, they are low now, but I have seen many, many energy price cycles over the last 45 years of watching the sector. And they often come with little warning. But meanwhile, many Americans, with ever-worsening amnesia, flock to buy SUV's again.

Robert Whitcomb oversees New England Diary.

Nicole Schepker: Educating N.E.'s next manufacturers

This comes courtesy of the New England Board of Higher Education (


Manufacturing typically conjures images of dimly lit dirty and dangerous factories crowded with workers, the kind seen in photos of New York City’s garment district in the early 1900s and in some developing countries today. But because of advances in technology, the field of manufacturing—what we make, how we make it, where and by whom—is rapidly changing. As access to technologies continues to pervade our world, the opportunity for everyone and anyone to become a “maker,” inventor, hobbyist or entrepreneur is greatly increased, changing the definition and perception of what it means to be a manufacturer.

Maker Spaces, Fabrication Labs, Hacker Spaces and Tech Shops have been popping up throughout the states and across the globe for several years, democratizing technology, education, art and design with tools such as computer aided design (CAD) software and 3D printers. The buzz has grown so loud around making that the president got involved. Last month, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire celebrating makers, tinkerers, inventors and entrepreneurs, declaring June 18 a National Day of Making. With science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), critical thinking and problem-solving abilities high on the president’s list of skills that must be attained by American youth to succeed in the 21st Century global economy, it is easy to see why Obama would embrace the Maker Movement, which promotes entrepreneurship, creativity, exploration, innovation, failure (yes, it’s OK to fail!), teamwork and self-directed learning.

“Alongside our partners, my administration is getting tens of thousands of young people involved in making,” wrote Obama in a presidential proclamation declaring a National Day of Making. “We are supporting an apprenticeship program for modern manufacturing and encouraging startups to build their products here at home.”

U.S. manufacturing is viewed as crucial to innovation, productivity, jobs, the economy, exports and national security. Obama has championed the manufacturing and “advanced manufacturing” sectors as viable, rewarding career paths for Americans, launching a plan to create a network of up to 15 regional Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs) as part of a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

For New England—a historical manufacturing hub that lost 60% percent of its manufacturing jobs over the past three decades—the return of American manufacturing along with the demand for advanced manufacturing solutions is a critical growth opportunity for the region, according to James Brett, president and CEO of the New England Council (NEC).

The region is not alone. A 2011 report conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting indicated that 600,000 manufacturing jobs had gone unfilled nationwide, while 80 percent  of manufacturers interviewed for the report anticipated an increase in vacancies in senior-level staffing due to the  retirement of Baby Boomers.

NEC reports that despite the decline in manufacturing jobs across New England, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut now boast manufacturing concentrations, or clusters, far exceeding the national average. And with the region’s strengths in education and research, Brett posits that New England is well-poised for resurgence in the sector, and particularly in advanced manufacturing, which has been defined as “manufacturing that entails rapid transfer of science and technology into manufacturing products and processes.”

A poll by Northeastern University as part of the report the Innovation Imperative: Enhancing the Talent Pipeline, released in April 2014, found that the vast majority of C-Suite executives surveyed believe that colleges and universities should expand opportunities for experiential learning (97 percent) and teaching about entrepreneurship (89 percent). Faced with industry’s concerns that college graduates are ill-prepared to enter the workforce, many institutions of higher education are embracing industry partnerships, while companies view investing in education as a direct action they can take to prepare future employees.

To this end, the New England Board of Higher Education  ( has been forging industry-education connections for over a decade. Through its Professional and Curriculum Development program, NEBHE has partnered with industry since 2006 to develop problem based learning (PBL) curricula with companies in optics and photonics, sustainable technologies, and advanced manufacturing. NEBHE’s Problem Based Learning (PBL) Projects, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program, turn real-world problems that partner companies actually faced into multimedia case studies called "Challenges” used in secondary and postsecondary STEM courses across the U.S. The PBL Projects conduct professional development workshops with groups of high school and college STEM faculty, teaching teachers how to implement PBL in the classroom. Access to the PBL Projects’ Challenges is free and open-sourced.

Students of PBL become active participants in their own learning as they encounter new and unfamiliar learning situations where problem parameters are ill-defined and ambiguous—just like in the real world. When using the PBL approach, learning occurs collaboratively in small groups, problems are presented before any formal preparation has occurred (the problem itself drives the learning) and new information is acquired via self-directed learning. Research shows that compared with traditional lecture-based instruction, PBL improves student understanding and retention of ideas; critical thinking and problem-solving skills; motivation and learning engagement; the ability to work in teams; and the ability to transfer skills and knowledge to new situations.

NEBHE'S  Advanced Manufacturing Problem Based Learning (AM PBL) project focuses on New England’s advanced manufacturing sector, and has partnered with companies to develop Challenges in advanced quality systems, medical devices, nanotechnology, semiconductors and sheet-metal fabrication.

“Problem based learning is such an important aspect of career development and skill development, and it’s not something that is fully utilized in classroom settings,” said Kelli-Marie Vallieres, president and CEO of Sound Manufacturing, in Old Saybrook, Conn., an AM PBL Challenge partner on a sheet-metal fabrication problem.

“Students don’t always understand the practical aspects of what they’re learning—like how important the math is connected to what they are actually going to do in the workforce,” said Vallieres. “Without problem based learning, that disconnect continues, and it impedes the interest that some people have to move into certain careers.”

If we are to pursue a national mantra that says we must graduate global citizens and 21st Century learners, then educators need to graduate to a style of 21st Century teaching, leaving behind our one-size fits all, sage-on-the-stage approaches. In an age when students can access any information they choose from the palm of their hand, teachers are becoming valued more as mentors and guides than absolute fountains of knowledge.


The amount of knowledge available coupled with greater accessibility to information makes it even more imperative that educators connect what students are being taught in the classroom to the real world. This is exactly the reason that problem based learning is successful. Not only do students drive their own learning, they are exposed to new concepts, careers and real-world applications while gaining the skills needed to become lifelong learners who can succeed in a variety of fields.

“One challenge we have, as a growing technology company in a really high-growth industry, is hiring,” said Jamie Beard, counsel and director of operations for FastCAP Systems, a Boston-based AM PBL partner with whom the project developed a Challenge around manufacturing high-powered batteries using nanotechnology. “We can hire associate degrees, we can hire master’s degrees, undergraduate degrees, PhDs. We can use all of those types of people, but the one thing that they need to have is a broad science, technology, and engineering background and a good foundation of math.” She praised the program for getting kids “excited about science, technology, engineering and math,” noting those skills will underlie “the jobs of the future.”

Heather Dunn, senior director of special programs at CIRTEC Medical Devices, another AM PBL Challenge partner, echoed the sentiment: “From CIRTEC’s perspective, because we need good quality, technical personnel, anything that we can contribute to science education, and particularly local science and engineering education, is valuable to us.”

The project developed an AM PBL Challenge with CIRTEC in East Longmeadow, Mass., on dramatically increasing production of a power pack used in a lifesaving implantable medical device.

To see more of what Kelli, Jamie, Heather and other AM PBL Challenge partners had to say about the value of industry-education partnerships, visit the PBL Projects Gallery.

The Challenges developed with NEBHE’s industry partners were first used with participating educators at the AM PBL project’s weeklong professional development Institute at Boston University’s Photonics Center. Thirty-three STEM educators and teacher education faculty members from each of the six New England states were selected through a competitive process to participate in the Institute. More than half participate with a partner at a secondary or postsecondary institution to promote pathways to higher education and careers in STEM for their students.

Of course, NEBHE is not the only institution working directly with advanced manufacturers. The Connecticut College of Technology’s Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing develops and provides resources to educators and students interested in learning new technologies in manufacturing. New Hampshire’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships in Education (AMPed) is also an example of a statewide program developing curriculum and training to prepare students to enter the growing advanced manufacturing sector. In Massachusetts, the online resource AMP it up! informs students, parents, guidance counselors and other stakeholders about the state’s burgeoning advanced manufacturing sector and the jobs available to graduates. Support for these kinds of direct connections  between education and industry will lead to an increase in STEM, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and students’ pursuit of STEM careers.

Ultimately, no one knows the current and future needs of industry better than industry members themselves, making it imperative that advanced manufacturers and other STEM professionals continue to work with educators to develop curriculum, provide guidance and opportunities for students and teachers that will make STEM education relevant, while preparing students to succeed in the ever-changing workplace of tomorrow and today.

Nicole Schepker is project coordinator for the PBL Projects.

John Smith's 'virtual colonization' of 'New England'











John Smith's version of New England in  his 1616 map,The map is in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, at Yale University, in New Haven.


Michael Blanding has written a delightful piece for the June 15 Boston Globe about English explorer/entrepreneur John Smith's fantastical map of New England, published in 1616 and based on Mr.  Smith's expedition of 1614. The map was the first document to call the region "New England''.  Other English place names were plunked in on the order of the then crown prince of England, Charles (as in the Charles River).

You'd never know from the map that most of the region was woods and  that the settlements were Indian, with, of course, Indian names. But then, Mr. Smith apparently really did think  that a freer, happier version of Olde England could be planted in "New England,'' and rather rapidly.

I  (Whitcomb) love the scorpion tail of "Cape James'' (named after the English king of the time, James I, Charles's father) now known as Cape Cod.

As Mr. Blanding noted: {T}he scale of Smith's fictitious landscape was an unprecedented act of virtual colonization, drawn before a single permanent English settlement had been founded'' in New England.

But by associating the region so closely with England with these names, he helped draw the English here to take over. They were lucky, if that is the word, that a series of epidemics of diseases  introduced into the region by European traders and sailors, probably operating mostly along the Maine coast, about the time of the map wiped out the majority of the Indians, whose settlements had quite different names than the Plimouth, etc.,  that Mr. Smith gave them to drum up business. The Indians had no immunity from these  Eurasian diseases, which included smallpox.

Thus southern New England has a mixture of Indian and English  place names.




'Botanical archaeology'


"Highway Into the Void'' (oil on canvas), by PETER WATTS, in his June 20-July 6 show at the Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown.

The blurb for his show says that "he is always aware of the history of human touch that nature quickly covers over.'' The gallery calls his approach "botanical archeology.''

It said that Mr. Watts, who lives in Wellfleet, "sometimes paints houses based on his knowledge of local history coupled with discoveries like a long-abandoned cellar hole....A stand of pines on top of a knoll is a former pasture returned to seed, surrounded by the oak forests that will one day conquer it.''

Of course, much of New England, especially mostly densely populated southern New England, was once farmland. Despite the overall increase in the region's population, much of it has gone back to scrub or woods, leaving layers of ghosts.

The rise of "locavore'' agriculture, whose products are targeted at affluent suburbanites and urbanites, seems unlikely to return much of this land to open farmland, as popular as those farmers' markets, heavy laden with "organic'' produce, seem to be.

Through all this are what Mr. Watts sees as "nature's changing patterns and the patterns that repeat themselves.'' He said he used to be "more interested in the landscape itself. Now I look at how an abstract element of a landscape feels.''

This reminds me (Robert Whitcomb) of Alan Weisman's eerie coffee-table book The World Without Us, a nonfiction book about what the human-built environment might look like when humans disappear.

Relatively springlike



"Everything Is Relative,'' by MIMO GORDON RILEY, in her current show at the Providence Art Club.

For growers of flowers and vegetables this is a edgy time of year. On the one hand, you want to get the tomatoes, etc., in the ground, on the other, your fear a late frost. Even the more tropical parts of  southern New England are vulnerable well into May. This gives a great excuse to put  off the work and sleep late on weekends. Growing things is very satisfying  but also very tiring, especially when the weeds get going and you can't afford yard crews of undocumented aliens.

By August, a lot of us are longing for the first frost, though that feeling doesn't last long.

You think of summer as a relaxing time but if you're growing things, there's always that pressure to get back to work, albeit outside and not in front of a computer screen. And it's politically correct to grow vegetables because that is seen as harkening back to principles of self-sufficiency, however  basically bogus your ambitions in this mission may be since it's much more efficient and usually much cheaper just to buy the products of agribusiness at the supermarket. You can even  get "organic'' produce there, if you believe that  it actually is. (How can you really find out?)

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Layers of reminders


 "#14 Swimmers'' (painted wood sculpture), by MARK LITTLEHALES, at Ann Coleman Gallery, Wilmington, Vt.

I swim most mornings, usually early, It would seem to be boring going back and forth staring at the lane lines below. But repetitive motion in 84-degree water is remarkably soothing. The paradox of exercise is that up to a point, it gives you more energy than it subtracts. And you get into a kind of Zen state.  I find the idea of sweating in a gym with a lot of other people (with whom you might have to talk) off-putting. Running is better in that you're outside, with plenty to look at, especially the changing seasons, getting vitamin D from the sun and so on. But the knees go. (I was quite a runner in school and so had a head start in the knee-destruction business.)

It's one of those mornings that reminds us of weather's energy in New England. Yesterday it was warm and tropically humid. This morning  snow and ice lay on the ground, and I had to  pour windshield-wiper fluid on  car windows to speed my exit. Here we are, close to the Gulf Stream but wide open to the winds from Hudson's Bay.

But the buds and blossoms are still  swelling, and out of the wind, the sun warms your face.  The flowers seem to be thriving this morning; indeed the thin layer of snow may have protected them from being flash-frozen. And the layer of moisture can only help them once it warms up a bit.

But our little rescue dog from San Antonio,  whose genes probably include those of Brittany spaniels (he has freckles), wanted his  man-made coat back on, as a Manhattan dog would.

Meanwhile, in  eastern Ukraine, the Russians continue their invasion, reminding us that dreams that dictators in Europe would no longer cross borders are dead, as if Putin hadn't already given plenty of warning that he would try to reestablish a variant of the Soviet empire that murdered so many people. But then, he has said the end of that empire was a "catastrophe''. And this former KGB  counter-espionage officer  himself has ensured that political foes' life expectancy is below the average.

Then there's the phenom of countries getting smaller. There's an outside chance that might happen in the United Kingdom. David Speedie, a Scottish native, gave a talk last Thursday at the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations speculating that there's about 45 percent chance that the Scots will vote to split off from  the U.K. in a referendum later this year. He also suggested that Scotland would do very well economically by itself, in part because of North  Sea oil and gas and f its growing tech sector. ("Silicon Glen'').

That seems unlikely to me, given the wealth creation based in the Home Counties around London. That wealth, I'd guess, would be less available to Scotland if it were independent and most Scots know that. Still, the romanticism of the Scots is feeding the independence movement, as is, of course, resentment about English arrogance, real and perceived. Romanticism is something I'm well aware of from my own crazy (and often drunk) Scottish relatives. They read too much Robert Burns and believed in many conspiracies. One curious one was  that the Pope and Stalin were allies.

Still, when you enter Scotland, you pick up their sense of nationhood, which makes the expression "the Scottish nation'' plausible. I remember when there a bit of a sense of that when you'd enter Quebec, back in the '60s. You'd feel more that you were entering Quebec than entering Canada.  Of course in those days it was as easy to drive into Quebec as it was to drive from New Hampshire across a Connecticut River bridge into Vermont.

With all the information technology we have these days, with all the ability to transport ourselves via electrons, in many ways we seem more constrained.  A good side, I supposed, is that we are harshly denounced for engaging in such bad habits as smoking (which seems to be one of the few pleasures left to the unemployed poor, whatever the vast cost of cigarettes), drinking while driving and so on. But travel has gotten tougher and the very same information technology that permits such time wasters as Facebook threatens to eliminate most jobs, and a lot sooner than many might think.


The way he wanted life to look


Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “The Bridge Game,” 1948, oil on canvas, published by Saturday Evening Post, May 15, 1948 cover Image Courtesy of National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI., cover image © SEPS:

There’s another picture below.(Rerunning this posting from the pre-renovation version of New England Diary a few weeks ago.)

The New York Times seems to be on a Norman Rockwell kick, with a long review of a new book out about him and a travel piece about Arlington, Vt., where he lived for a long time.

That was before he moved to Stockbridge, Mass, in the Berkshires, to, among other things, be closer to Austen Riggs, the mental hospital identified with many celebrity patients.

As Deborah Solomon (who also wrote the travel story) writes in “American Mirror: The Art and Life of Norman Rockwell,” his life was far more complex and darker than most of his beautiful art. That he was a troubled man (who ain’t?) is not news, but Ms. Solomon puts it together very well indeed.

He was apparently conflicted about homosexual longings, had three troubled marriages and was a lifelong hypochondriac. The Thoreau line about “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” comes to mind. Still, he obviously found much comfort and joy in his studio. Do too many writers these days make too much of sexual conflicts? Maybe a highly creative person’s biggest trauma is the difficulty of finding meaning in a seemingly chaotic world, a torturous search for ultimate meaning.

Some of this reminds me of the strange story of Robert Frost, whose public image as a sort of quaint, folksy, friendly rural poet was so false. In fact, Frost, a kind of Modernist, used his New England settings to explore existential quandaries; and he could be a very nasty man.

Many of his poems were dark, dark, dark. Take a look at his poem design “Design”.

But, in part because his folksy image got him many lucrative lecture gigs, he played along with it, to a point (while winking).

But then, behind almost family’s door is conflict and mental illness of varying seriousness. In some way, maybe imaginative repression and diversion, Rockwell got great popular art done despite, or because of, his problems, through vast technical skill, knowledge of other masters’ work and a rich visual imagination.

The Rockwell renaissance also reminds me of how much many of us miss the golden age of magazines, such as The Saturday Evening Post, for which Rockwell did so much work. The weekly arrival of pubs such as The Post and Life magazine was a joy that I, anyway, have never found with TV, the Internet and newspapers (with the possible exception of the beautiful old New York Herald Tribune).

That is probably ungrateful, since newspapers paid for most of my upkeep for almost 44 years.

Speaking of the past, I was pleasantly surprised to see that John Wilmerding, my art-history professor of almost a half century ago at Dartmouth, was the reviewer of Ms. Solomon’s fine new book. Mr, Wilmerding, an heir to great Havemeyer sugar fortune in New York, also has one of America’s greatest collections of American art, much of which he is giving away.

The best places to see Rockwell work are the National Museum of American Illustration, in Newport, and, the Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge.


Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), ”Volunteer Fireman,” 1931, oil on canvas, published by Saturday Evening Post, March 28, 1931 cover image Courtesy of National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI. Saturday Evening Post cover image © SEPS: