FortLeft is moving

No, not the blog, just physically.  We are moving off the hill in Roxbury (Boston) to a hill in Brattleboro, VT.  As one of my Vermont friends said, “Welcome to Bernieland!”

You may – or may not- have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new in quite a while but things have been a little crazy what with house hunting, getting loans, etc.  And now that we have a target closing date there are all the details to deal with.  Home inspection, insurance, changing everything to another state and finding contractors when you are not on the scene is a challenge.  My advice is to have a good broker.  And then there is packing.

Packing up 20 years of stuff spread out in a 14 room house is quite an experience.  At least we are moving to another large house with attic and a basement that is dry and are sorting and culling rather than downsizing.  The trick is to imagine where things will go in the new house.  That’s what I do at 3 am when I can’t sleep – along with worrying about what kinds of quirks the new house will have.  My grandson said the other night that he thinks it will take at least a year to know all about the new house.  He’s 10.

I’ve been sorting though papers and have found a lot of treasures in piles and boxes. For example, I found some old letters and emails from two of my best friends.  One of them died of a rare form of cancer, the other now has a form of dementia.  We were all so happy and cheerful 12 and 15 years ago.  And then there are all the loose photographs from back when there was actual film. Remember, people would take pictures and then send prints of the best ones so a lot of them are still in envelopes which assists in identification.  And then there are all the ones my husband and I have taken.  At one time I did try to put them in albums, but that fell of the radar early on.  Now they are just loose or in the envelopes they came back from the developer in.  They will mean something some day.  My husband and I are our respective family historians so we have many of the old family albums.  It was a wonderful moment to find the picture I had thought was lost: My grandfather, the Reverend Kyogoku, with his friend, D.T. Suzuki.  (A subject for a future post.)  That photograph is now digitized and saved in several places.

I am an admitted pack rat and had saved old Christmas cards carefully bundled by year.  I ditched the cards, but saved the pictures.  One long Vermont winter I will pull them out to group chronologically by family.  I also had papers from a lot of the big projects I’ve worked on over the years in Boston.  I kept the final products but have recycled most of the work papers.  I have program books and announcements and copies of speeches from (to mane a few) the Jackson Square redevelopment (the early years); “Women on the Edge of Time”, the annual conference of the National Commissions for Women held in Boston in 1999; the creation of the Massachusetts Commission for Women; the first statue of women on Commonwealth Avenue; grants I helped write for domestic violence efforts; and booklets I put together for the Boston Housing Authority on civil rights issues. When I last  moved 20 years ago, I did the same thing with my stuff from Richmond which is still in neatly labeled boxes.  I also have political stuff from the various campaigns I’ve worked on – from George McGovern to Elizabeth Warren.  My lesson learned is to try to file things as you go along.  At least I’m starting with good intentions but I think I had them after Richmond.  Oh, well.

And then there are the books.  All 7,000 or so that are moving with us.  A small library.  I’ve been cataloging them on LibraryThing, for the last two years, but I’m only about half finished.  (LibraryThing is a great way to keep track of your books even if you just have a few.)

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

There is lots of excitement and anxiety on Fort Hill these days.  The cats are confused by all the piles of boxes and things that keep getting moved around as we pack. We talk to them and try to explain, but all they know is that things are different and they aren’t happy about it.  Mr. Bunter cries and Harriet eats Kleenex out of the boxes.  They are just as stressed out as their humans.

I will continue to write about life in a new place, living in a small town, and – always national politics.  My location will change but FortLeft will endure – perhaps a little irregularly for a while, but I hope not with as long a gap as just occurred.

 

 

 

Are starlings taking over?

According to a recent story on the BBC, the answer is “yes, they are.”

“Starlings are lean and mean. In the industry they’re often called feathered bullets,” says Michael Begier, National Coordinator for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Airports Wildlife Hazards Program.

“They’re a particular problem at airports because they flock in very large numbers, and compared to other birds their bodies are very dense. They are about 27% more dense than a herring gull which is a much larger bird.”

When a flock of starlings strikes an airplane the effects can be devastating. In 1960 they caused the most deadly bird strike in US aviation history

The birds flew into the engines of a plane as it took off from Boston’s Logan Airport, and it crashed into the harbour, killing 62 people on board.

Starlings also cost US agriculture an estimated $1bn (£595m) a year in damage to crops – particularly fruit trees.

They can even cause milk production to drop at dairy farms because they steal the grain being fed to cows.

Taken on a recent visit to Central Park, NYC, these fellows are direct descendants of those first 80 to 100 first starlings.

Taken on a recent visit to Central Park, NYC, these fellows are direct descendants of those first 80 to 100 first starlings.

 

If you look at any bird book or website you can see that they are common all across the United States.  We have a few in our neighborhood and for many years I’ve watched from the bedroom window as a pair (probably not the same ones!) nest in an air vent in the house next door.  OK, so they are kinda mean and can be a problem but they are beautiful up close and fun to watch when they occasionally visit our feeders.  The purplish black spotted bird is technically the European Starling.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology it all begins with Shakespeare.

First brought to North America by Shakespeare enthusiasts in the nineteenth century, European Starlings are now among the continent’s most numerous songbirds. They are stocky black birds with short tails, triangular wings, and long, pointed bills. Though they’re sometimes resented for their abundance and aggressiveness, they’re still dazzling birds when you get a good look. Covered in white spots during winter, they turn dark and glossy in summer. For much of the year, they wheel through the sky and mob

  • All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds [the BBC says there were 80] set loose in New York’s Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned. It took several tries, but eventually the population took off. Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and many people consider them pests.
  • Because of their recent arrival in North America, all of our starlings are closely related. Genetically, individuals from Virginia are nearly indistinguishable from starlings sampled in California, 3,000 miles away. Such little genetic variation often spells trouble for rare species, but seems to offer no ill effects to starlings so far.

So why are starlings Shakespearean?  The BBC says they are mentioned in Henry IV Part 1

Hotspur is in rebellion against the King and is thinking of ways to torment him. In Act 1 Scene III he fantasizes about teaching a starling to say “Mortimer” – one of the king’s enemies.

“Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion,” Shakespeare wrote.

This might actually not be so much of a fantasy as they, like the Northern Mockingbird are mimics according to the ornithologists at Cornell.

Starlings are great vocal mimics: individuals can learn the calls of up to 20 different species. Birds whose songs starlings often copy include the Eastern Wood-Pewee, Killdeer, meadowlarks, Northern Bobwhite, Wood Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, American Robin, Northern Flicker, and many others.

So maybe Henry could have taught a starling to speak the name of Mortimer

Close-up of a handsome starling

Close-up of a handsome starling

Photograph of flock:  Robert L. Wyckoff

Photograph of single starling:  Lisa Bradley for the BBC.

New England, St. John’s College and the War of 1812

What do you know about the War of 1812?  If you live in Boston, you know about the U.S.S. Constitution capturing the HMS Guerriere  early in the war.  If you live near the Great Lakes you know about Captain Oliver Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie.  Everyone knows about the Fort McHenry and the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” as well as Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans.  And who can forget Dolley Madison saving the portrait of George Washington,  But do you know why the war was fought in the first place?

In the Sunday Boston Globe, Ted Widmer had a long piece in the Ideas section titled “The silent bicentennial:  In 1814, the US experienced everything you’d want to forget about a war.  Which is exactly why we should be thinking about it now.”  Although written from a New England perspective, Widmer has a number of interesting observations surprisingly relevant to national politics today.

After the fact, it was hard to remember exactly why war had broken out at all. The American Revolution had established the United States as an independent nation, but relations with England remained vexed—many Americans resented the motherland for its condescension, but also valued the memory of a shared heritage. In the years leading up to 1812, American tempers began to flare over the many ways the British conveyed their lack of respect for the upstart country, forcing American sailors to work on their ships and encouraging Indians to attack settlers in the interior.

Though serious at times, these irritants did not add up to grounds for war. England was America’s principal commercial partner, and wielded the greatest navy on earth. To anyone who participated in the maritime economy—as most of New England did—it was the height of folly to risk everything over a few insults.

Yet rhetoric, so easy to dish out, can be hard to take back. Driven by exuberant talk from Western and Southern politicians, Congress proposed a war measure in June 1812. New England and New York voted overwhelmingly against it, but it passed the Senate 19 to 13, and on that wobbly basis, the United States lurched into war. Its rationale was vague; its goals (which included some hope of gaining territory in Canada and Florida) were not entirely selfless; and it never resembled the kind of homegrown cause that had united the Colonists in 1775. On village greens around New England, church bells tolled in mourning.

Wars that are declared badly are often fought badly, and it soon became apparent that the United States was ill-prepared to wage a war against the world’s preeminent military power, whose troops had been toughened by years of fighting against Napoleon. The Republicans clamoring for war had balked at paying taxes, and voted down efforts to build up the Navy. Debt tripled. The War Department could never raise an army to even half the strength it sought, and had to resort to only 10,000 soldiers, who enlisted for a single year.

The young “War Hawks” in Congress were better at speeches than fighting. Henry Clay promised that he could conquer Canada with Kentucky militia; in the end, Kentucky only furnished 400 men. Among the many delusions was a belief that Canadians would surrender as soon as Americans appeared. They did not—in fact, many Canadians were former New Englanders who fought just as courageously as their cousins did, and to this day, memories of defeating the American invaders are as important to Canadians as Lexington and Concord are to Americans.

Sound kinda familiar?

It seems that despite voting against declaring war, New England ended up providing much of the money and manpower including Captain Perry and the Constitution.

Washington was burned and the “Star-Spangled Banner” written in late summer and early fall of 1814.  But New England was tired and was looking for ways out.

Thoughout the fall, gloom settled around New England. In Boston, many leading citizens became furious at a stupid war going badly and began to threaten action. The Boston Gazette wrote, “If James Madison is not out of office, a new form of government will be in operation in the eastern section of the Union.” Madison was hanged in effigy in Augusta, Maine. Huge rallies filled Faneuil Hall. The Massachusetts House voted 406 to 240 to denounce the war as “awful” and “revolting.” The governor of Massachusetts, Caleb Strong, sent out secret feelers to his counterpart in Halifax. A new kind of flag was occasionally seen around New England, with five stars and five stripes—the five states of New England (Maine was then a district of Massachusetts). Throughout the interior, town meetings expressed deep feelings against the war—in much the same way that earlier generations had protested British tyranny. From these currents came a call for the New England states to convene a meeting at Hartford to consider options. The Hartford Convention began in December 1814, and to its credit, stopped short of any activity that might have led to New England breaking away from the United States. But it was a close call.

Another New Englander, John Quincy Adams, negotiated the Treaty of Ghent signed in December 1814 ending the war.  Andrew Jackson didn’t hear about the Treaty until after the Battle of New Orleans.  Just think, with modern communications, Jackson might not have become a hero and might not have become a two-term president.  The war also had other unforeseen consequences.

The war had other unexpected legacies as well. Abraham Lincoln would later cite the heroism of African-American soldiers at New Orleans as an important precedent for allowing them to fight for the Union cause. Native Americans, on the other hand, were the clear losers of a conflict that did not produce much victory for anyone. Without the British to protect them, they were helpless before the relentless advance of settlers across the continent. That is not the most triumphant note for an anniversary reflection to end on. But how else do we commemorate a near-defeat, a conflict with an ally, and New England’s flirtation with secession? Perhaps by acknowledging the fragility of history itself, the fickleness of the forces that separate “victory” from “defeat,” and the many possible results in between.

Cover of sheet music for "The Star-Spangled Banner", transcribed for piano by Ch. Voss, Philadelphia: G. Andre & Co., 1862

Cover of sheet music for “The Star-Spangled Banner”, transcribed for piano by Ch. Voss, Philadelphia: G. Andre & Co., 1862

 

My class at St. John’s College in Annapolis will be holding its 45th reunion in September.  Francis Scott Key was an alumni and we will be marking his anniversary by singing his anthem and setting of some fireworks.  But I’ll also be thinking of the War of 1812 and unintended consequences.

 

 

Maps, urban planning, and open space: the saga of Long Wharf

When I was working, I would often take a walk from the office down to Long Wharf and look out at the harbor.  There is a small open shelter and some benches at the end.  Walking with co-workers, we talked about the plan to build a restaurant and wondered how it would change the peaceful quiet that one found there.  Years passed and nothing happened which was fine with us.

A bit of background.  According the National Park Service,

Construction of Long Wharf began in 1710, though the idea of building a new wharf over the remains of the Barricado—a 2,200 foot long defensive wall/wharf of stone and wood piles that encircled the harbor—had been discussed as early as 1707. The wharf extended from the base of King Street (now State Street) and provided direct access to the commercial center of colonial Boston. By 1711 a number of warehouses had been built atop the wharf, and by 1715 the last 600 feet of wharf were completed.

In its heyday, Long Wharf was 1,586 feet in length and 54 feet wide, providing docking facilities for up to 50 vessels. In the 18th century, Boston was the leading colonial port (it would be surpassed by both New York and Philadelphia by the end of the century). Long Wharf was the nucleus of Boston’s maritime trade—by the end of the 18th century it reigned pre-eminent among Boston’s 80 wharves, handling both international and coastal trade. Its extraordinary length allowed large ships to dock and unload directly into warehouses without the use of   small boats. Because the wharf served   private merchants and the public, who could buy directly from the warehouses and stores on the wharf, it was a marketplace long before the construction of Faneuil Hall (Quincy Market) in the 1820s.

In addition to the economic importance of the wharf, it was also associated with the military history of Boston. Among the events that occurred here were the landing of British troops in 1770 to enforce the King’s laws and the evacuation of the same troops in March 1776; the landing of a vessel from Philadelphia bringing news of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; and during the Revolution, privateers and blockade runners sailed from Long Wharf and military stores were kept in its warehouses.

And today, the NPS describes Long Wharf this way

The Long Wharf and Custom House Block, a National Historic Landmark, is located at the end of State St. and east of Atlantic Ave. in Boston Harbor. The wharf buildings have been converted to residential, commercial and office spaces. On the northwest side of the wharf, a wood planked walkway is lined with benches, and at the end of Long Wharf, there is a large plaza, a covered shelter and a pink stone compass rose, which is  set into the ground. Various tour boat operators are located on the wharf and dock their vessels here.

The plans of the BRA to build a restaurant on the historic wharf may have been ended by the discovery of a National Park Service map.  The story of how the map was found is a fascinating one.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority was so close to realizing its vision of a restaurant on the tip of Long Wharf that you could almost smell the fried clams.

For nearly five years, BRA officials had fought a group of determined North End residents who had raised objections in administrative hearings and state courts.

The BRA spent close to a quarter of a million dollars on legal bills. Last year it finally won a Supreme Judicial Court decision almost certainly clearing the way for a private company to build Doc’s Long Wharf restaurant on the dramatic public space jutting into Boston Harbor.

But it seems that BRA officials, in their zeal to promote waterfront dining, failed to take into account an old map outlining the edge of Long Wharf as protected space. According to a 1980s agreement, the BRA had promised to forever preserve it for outdoor recreation.

Map of Long Wharf with the proposed restaurant marked.

Map of Long Wharf with the proposed restaurant marked.

It took a retired National Park Service employee to read an earlier Globe story, get a map from archives and bring things to a halt.

A retired National Park Service manager, reading about the controversy in the Globe, remembered the map and made a call. Sure enough, the Park Service found the 1980s map in a federal archive in Philadelphia, prompting a state judge to put the restaurant plans on hold in late December and leaving the BRA with ketchup on its face.

“The strange manner in which the [newly discovered map] came to light requires this court” to allow the map into evidence “in the interests of justice,” Suffolk Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey wrote in voiding the restaurant’s state environmental permit and calling for the BRA to reapply, this time using the correct map.

But the  BRA being so convinced that no one else can ever be right seems to be pushing on.

Opponents of the proposed restaurant, many of them neighbors untrained in the law who spent countless hours preparing legal briefs to counter the BRA, said Fahey’s ruling probably settles a debate that should never have begun in the first place. “To us, discovery of the right map means we definitely should win,” said Sanjoy Mahajan, an MIT electrical engineering professor, a former neighbor of the site, and a restaurant opponent. “We think this undercuts the entire BRA case. We only wish it had come to light earlier.”

But the BRA appears determined to plow on. It requested court permission to conduct its own investigation into the map, describing it in court filings as a mere “sketch” and as a “roughly drawn rendering” made by “an unknown individual . . . allegedly found” in archives.

BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said: “We are following the process in good faith, and we will get to the bottom of this. Our mission is to get people to enjoy the waterfront, and not let a few neighbors trump the public interest.”

But people do enjoy the park.  On a nice day to sit and watch the boats and the gulls while the breeze blows and it is quiet is a wonderful thing.  I understand the goal of the BRA is development, but one does not have to build everywhere.  When I was working for the City of Somerville, there was a fire and a house was destroyed.  Someone asked Mike Capuano, the Mayor at the time, what he thought should be built there.  His response, “Probably nothing.”  Somerville was, at the time, the most densely populated city in Massachusetts, if not the United States.  It needed some green space and the lot became open space.  Once does not need to build on every square inch of land.

“I don’t know what map they were using before, but I provided them with the one we have on record for that project,” Jack W. Howard, a National Park Service manager, said in an interview.

The new map, pulled from National Park Service files, shows that the proposed restaurant lies squarely within the bounds of a park financed under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. Federal law prohibits such restaurants in these federally funded parks with few exceptions. Apparently no one had previously asked the Park Service for a copy of the map.

Edward Rizzotto was a young National Park Service manager in the 1980s when a deal was struck for the federal government to provide almost $1 million to clean up the tip of the wharf. He says — and documents later uncovered by restaurant opponents bear this out — that the BRA agreed to record an easement guaranteeing it to be open space for 99 years.

“This was always intended as public open space in perpetuity,” Rizzotto, 70, said during an interview on the park site.

The park reaches into wind-swept Boston Harbor, a 35,000-square-foot plaza paved with granite flagstones, with a bronze plaque proclaiming Long Wharf Park and bearing the BRA’s  name. On one side of the site is an open air brick pavilion that provides shade for summertime picnickers.

More than 25 years passed before the BRA decided in 2006 that more people would enjoy one of the city’s premier outdoor spots if the pavilion were converted into a restaurant and tavern. Agency officials envisioned indoor and outdoor tables, live entertainment, takeout service, and food and alcohol until 1 a.m.

After years of hearings and a pile of legal briefs, a story on the restaurant battle published on the front page of the Globe on Oct. 10, 2012, caught the eye of Rizzotto, he said. He wondered why the restaurant plan had gotten so far when he recalled that the entire area was protected. Rizzotto eventually contacted Howard, the National Park Service manager, with whom he once worked. A search of the archives dredged up the one-page map now central to the case.

By then, the case had been argued before the Supreme Judicial Court but had not been decided. The map circulated among the Park Service, the Environmental Protection Department, the BRA, and restaurant opponents, but no one informed the court of its discovery. Fahey, who ruled on remaining state issues in the restaurant fight nine months after the SJC decision, noted that the BRA did not alert the SJC “that the material it was then considering may be incorrect.”

The Long Wharf area already has the Aquarium and hotels.  I hope that the end of the wharf remains the equivalent of open space.  As I learned 18 years ago, there is no need to build on every square inch of land.

Mayor Marty Walsh has called for a financial and programmatic audit of the BRA.  I hope the auditors look at this incident and ask why so much tax payer money was spent of legal fees.  Maybe it could have been spent on some new benches instead.

Map is from court filing and published in the Boston Globe.

Robert Livingston: forgotten man of the Revolution

A couple of days ago, I read a story in the New York Times about the discovery of a draft of a letter written in July 1775 to the British people from the American revolutionaries that was a last ditch effort at reconciliation.  While the name Robert Livingston rang a faint bell, I did not remember learning anything about a letter back to England.

According to the Times story

It was lying in a drawer in the attic, a 12-page document that was not just forgotten but misfiled. Somehow it had made its way into a folder with colonial-era doctor’s bills that someone in the 1970s decreed was worthless and should be thrown away.

Luckily, no one did. For when Emilie Gruchow opened the folder last summer and separated it from the doctor’s bills, she recognized it as a one-of-a-kind document.

Ms. Gruchow, an archivist at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, was an intern at the museum in Upper Manhattan when she made her discovery. The mansion served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War. She realized the document was the draft of an urgent plea for reconciliation from the Continental Congress. It was addressed to the people of Britain, not King George III and his government, and began by mentioning “the tender ties which bind us to each other” and “the glorious achievements of our common ancestors.”

The letter, which Ms. Gruchow found last summer, was written in 1775 by the New York jurist Robert R. Livingston.

The letter, which Ms. Gruchow found last summer, was written in 1775 by the New York jurist Robert R. Livingston.

A little searching led me to Yale University’s Avalon Project and the discovery that there had been two letters:  one to the King and one to the “FRIENDS, COUNTRYMEN, AND BRETHREN!”.  Both were from the Continental Congress.  The letter to the King does not list all of the colonists grievances, but mentions them more generally.

We shall decline the ungrateful task of describing the irksome variety of artifices, practiced by many of your Majesty’s Ministers, the delusive presences, fruitless terrors, and unavailing severities, that have, from time to time, been dealt out by them, in their attempts to execute this impolitic plan, or of traceing, thro’a series of years past, the progress of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and these colonies, which have flowed from this fatal source.

The open letter to the British people is a precursor to the Declaration of Independence with a list of grievances.  For example this mention of Boston

We could wish to go no further, and, not to wound the Ear of Humanity, leave untold those rigorous Acts of Oppression, which are daily exercised in the Town of Boston, did we not hope, that by disclaiming their Deeds and punishing the Perpetrators, you would shortly vindicate the Honour of the British Name, and re-establish the violated Laws of Justice.

That once populous, nourishing and commercial Town is now garrisoned by an Army sent not to protect, but to enslave its Inhabitants. The civil (government is overturned, and a military Despotism erected upon its Ruins. Without Law, without Right, Powers are assumed unknown to the Constitution. Private Property is unjustly invaded. The Inhabitants, daily subjected to the Licentiousness of the Soldiery, are forbid to remove in Defiance of their natural Rights, in Violation of the most solemn Compacts. Or if, after long and wearisome Solicitation, a Pass is procured, their Edects are detained, and even those who are most favoured, have no Alternative but Poverty or Slavery. The Distress of many thousand People, wantonly deprived of the Necessaries of Life, is a Subject, on which we would not wish to enlarge.

Became

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

and

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

as well as

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

Robert Livingston

Robert Livingston

Which brings us to Mr. Livingston.  According to the Times

Until Ms. Gruchow found it, only the final, printed version from July 1775 had been known to exist. She consulted with Michael D. Hattem, a teaching fellow and research assistant on The Papers of Benjamin Franklin at Yale. He analyzed the handwriting on the yellowed pages of the manuscript and did textual analysis that led to an unexpected conclusion: The document was written by Robert R. Livingston, a prominent New York jurist who had been on the fence about whether to support independence for the colonies.

The following year, Congress tapped Livingston to draft the Declaration of Independence along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman.

Curiously, Mr. Livingston (1746-1813) did not actually sign the Declaration because he was recalled to New York before he could do so.  I’ve searched, but could find no reason for his recall.  He did go on to administer the oath of office to George Washington and, under the Jefferson administration, to help negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.  And now we know that it is his list in a letter to the British people which likely inspired the list in the Declaration of Independence.

Photograph of Document: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Predicting 2014

I don’t have a crystal ball and haven’t thrown the I Ching, so I can’t really say what will happen. but Mark Bittman had an amusing column in yesterday’s New York Times about years ending in four.  Bittman seems to be of the opinion that nothing much that is good happens during such years, but we can hope that he just has a selective memory.

Bittman begins with 1944, but I’ll add 1914.  That was the year Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia to begin World War I. On the plus side, the Panama Canal opened and the Boston Braves won the World Series.
Bittman writes

1944 Those of us who don’t remember this year are lucky; a soldier cited in Rick Atkinson’s brilliantly horrifying saga of the last two years of the war in Europe, “The Guns at Last Light,” quotes King Lear: “The worst is not, So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’ ” The end of the war was in sight; getting there was the trick, and millions were killed in the interval. Things have not been this bad since.

1954 If there was a golden era of United States foreign policy, it ended here, as Eisenhower warned against involvement in Vietnam while espousing the domino theory. Good: Joe McCarthy’s power began to ebb. Not good: The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

1964 The last year of the baby boom was mind-blowing. In the 28 months beginning that January, Bob Dylan made five of the best albums of the era — and there were the Beatles.

Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, and Lyndon Johnson single-handedly sent everyone into a tizzy by signing the Civil Rights Act, sending more “advisers” to Vietnam, talking about bombing North Vietnam and proposing the Great Society. Huh? The first anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and draft-card burnings took place. Pot smoking officially began. (Not really, but sorta.)

1964 was also the year my husband graduated from high school.  I’ll call that a plus.

Skipping to 1994

Whoa: Not only did Nelson Mandela not spend his life in jail, but he became president. The Brady Law went into effect, and Bill Clinton signed the assault weapons ban. (It expired in 2004.) O. J. Simpson spurred a national obsession. Four bombers were convicted of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

Reagan was implicated in the Iran-contra cover-up, but it seemed more important to torture the Clintons over a bad real estate investment. (Still, Paula Jones wasn’t the Republicans’ fault, was she?) Clinton fired Joycelyn Elders for discussing masturbation.

The first credit default swap was created. Nearly everyone in Rwanda became either a killer or a victim, or so it seemed. And there was that messy thing in “the former Yugoslavia.”

Netscape Navigator was released.

1994 was an important year for me.  We got married and I moved to Boston.  Thomas Menino was mayor but not yet The Mayor.

Which brings us to 2004.

2004  Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic convention and there seemed reason for hope; then John Kerry went windsurfing and W., incredibly, became president again (what were 62 million of us thinking?) several months after endorsing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which Massachusetts had already legalized. (By 2013, even Utah is on the right side of this issue.) W. also promised to improve education and access to health care; we all know how that worked out. Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France; we all know how that worked out, too.

And also in 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years ending the mythical curse of Babe Ruth.

So, 2014.  I know what I hope for:  the Democrats retain control of the Senate and, at a minimum, creep closer to a majority in the House. I hope the ACA enrolls so many people who like their benefits that we don’t have to listen to Ted Cruz reading “green eggs and ham” again.  I hope, though it seems unlikely, that we get tax and immigration reform.  I hope that President Obama has a better year. And I hope everyone comes home safely from Afghanistan.  I wish Marty Walsh all the best as he becomes mayor and I hope that Michelle Wu gives up her crazy idea of voting for Bill Linehan for City Council president and picks Tito Jackson instead.  Most of all, I hope that all of us have a safe and healthy year.

2014

The more things change…

the more they stay the same.  I’m reading “The Mansion of Happiness” by Jill Lepore, a collection of essays arranged so they comprise a history of life and death which is the book’s subtitle.  Lepore is an historian and essayist.  (We heard her lecture on her newest book about Jane Franklin and my husband came home and ordered all of his books.)  One chapter is titled Mr. Marriage.  In it, Lepore recounts a number of things including the history of marriage counseling and the history of eugenics.  I bet you didn’t know they were connected; I certainly didn’t.

Cover of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"

Cover of Can This Marriage Be Saved?

When I was a kid, my mother used to subscribe to the Ladies Home Journal and I would read “Can this Marriage Be Saved?”.  I wonder how many of my generation got some of their ideas about marriage from reading this feature.  In any case, Paul Popenoe who wrote the column was the father of marriage counseling.  He was also a leader in the movement to sterilize the “unfit” to prevent them from having children.  Lepore writes, ” He considered marriage counseling the flip side of compulsory vasectomy and tubal ligation:  sterilize the unfit; urge the fit to marry.”  The early eugenicists  were influenced by Darwin and the theory of evolution.  If one could breed better plants and livestock, why not better people?

Lepore writes

…In the United States, what come to be called social Darwinism provided conservatives with an arsenal of arguments in favor of laissez-faire economic policies, against social welfare programs, and in support of Jim Crow. “The Negro”, it was argued, was “nearer to the anthropoid or pre-human ancestry of men” than any other race, a living missing link; only slavery had prevented the extinction of the black American; if not for the peculiar institution, natural selection would have led to the death of the entire race.

I guess they ignored the fact that many, likely most, African-Americans had a white ancestor in the family tree.  No matter, Paul Popenoe thought about 10% of the population should be sterilized.  This would have been determined in part by the IQ test that was relatively new at the time and, of course, by race. In 1918, Popenoe wrote a book with Rosewell Hill Johnson titled “Applied Eugenics”.

Popenoe and Johnson deemed miscegenation “biologically wrong” because “the Negro lacks in his germ-plasm excellence of some qualities which the white races possess. For poverty, Popenoe and Johnson blamed the poor, citing a study reporting that 55 percent of  retarded children belonged to the laboring class.  The solution to want was to sterilize the needy.  Following Terman [Lewis M.], Popenoe and Johnson opposed old-age pensions, minimum-wage legislation, and child-labor laws: by helping the biologically and mentally unfit, these programs perpetuated a poor gene pool, just as slavery had protected blacks from extinction.

Echoes of the eugenicists can be heard in the current efforts of certain members of the Republican party who only wanted to fund programs they liked during the recent government shutdown.  And the intense dislike, maybe hatred isn’t too strong a word, of President Obama perhaps isn’t just because he is black, but because he is the product of a an African father and white mother.  You hear it in the effort to defund the Affordable Heath Care Act.  As my husband pointed out when I was reading Lepore and ranting, Ron Paul stated during a Republican Presidential debate the if someone couldn’t afford care or didn’t have a policy that would be their own responsibility.  (Going back to the transcript, Paul didn’t actually say that person should be left to die, but that nonprofits like churches would help after the hospital provided medical care, that having health insurance should be a private decision, and provision of health care should not be a governmental responsibility.  Actually, given the current state of the economy and the finances of nonprofits these day, it is the equivalent of letting someone die.)

I will listen to the arguments in the upcoming budget fight with great interest and I bet I will hear more echoes of Paul Popenoe.  The more things change…

Kittie Knox: Bicycle Racer

Never heard of her?  Me either until this morning when the Boston Globe carried a front page story by Dan Adams about the ceremony putting a headstone on her long forgotten grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

Kittie Knox

Kittie Knox

Knox, a seamstress born in 1874 to a free black father and a white mother, became a prominent and accomplished cyclist by the 1890s in Boston. But her mixed racial heritage raised eyebrows, as did her insistence on riding a man’s bike and wearing pantaloons of her own design instead of the long, heavy skirts prescribed by Hopkins and her ilk.

And if that weren’t enough, she excelled at the sport: Knox completed multiple 100-mile rides and placed 12th out of 50 male and female cyclists in a major national race, “far ahead of her lighter-hued sisters,” one magazine reported.

Knox had seemed doomed to obscurity. But six years ago, author Lorenz Finison stumbled across her name while researching a forthcoming book on Boston’s cycling history. Passing references to Knox in cycling books prompted Finison to search local newspaper archives for more information.

“I found an article saying she won a cycling costume contest in Waltham,” said Finison, a teacher at the Boston University School of Public Health and a cofounder of Cycling Through History, which develops bike routes between African-American heritage sites. “I thought, that’s really amazing. Why, given the racial climate of the time, would she have won a contest out there? I thought I should look into it more.”

Kittie Knox faced not only sexism but also racism.

Finison eventually unearthed a trove of stories about Knox. While many articles were preoccupied with her race and appearance — “a beautiful and buxom black bloomerite” was one reference in Referee Magazine — he learned that Knox had been a member of Boston’s only black cycling group, the Riverside Cycle Club, before joining the Boston-based National League of American Wheelman in 1893.

Knox soon found herself at the epicenter of a fight over whether blacks could join the league, he said. After a Southern faction of league leaders successfully politicked in 1894 to make the group for whites only, Knox’s appearance at the league’s 1895 national meet in Asbury Park, N.J., caused an uproar. Trouble began upon her arrival, when, rather than appease critics, “Miss Knox did a few fancy cuts in front of the clubhouse and was requested to desist,” The New York Times reported.

Then, when Knox went to register for the meet and presented her membership card, the credentials were rejected.

“[Knox’s] entrance today, in the parlor of the Asbury Park wheelmen, caused wild consternation among the ladies gathered there,” wrote a San Francisco paper, according to Finison’s manuscript. “She was politely told that she was in the wrong house. To their utter surprise she produced a league membership card and declared that no exception had ever been taken to her color by wheelmen or wheelwomen. After asserting herself to that extent, Miss Knox walked defiantly out with her wheel.”

Even after members of the Massachusetts delegation intervened to ensure her participation, successfully arguing she had been admitted before the color bar, Finison writes that anger persisted: A group of white women cyclists threatened to quit in protest; dozens walked out of a League dance when Knox partnered with a white man; a Southern paper slammed League leaders for permitting “this murky goddess of Beanville” to ride.

Don’t you love it?  “[M]urky goddess of Beanville”.  A dig at Knox’s race and at Boston.   Good for the Massachusetts delegation for standing up for her.

Much of the Globe’s coverage of early Boston cycling clubs, as cited by Finison, betrays blatantly racist and sexist attitudes common in that era. But one Globe report from  the event in 1895 at Asbury Park trumpeted Knox’s abilities, perhaps to point a finger at Southern papers that had decried her participation.

“The leaders tried to lose Knox during the eighteen mile run but she was game, and when the big crowd entered the town on the return trip she was up with the leaders, sailing with the best of them,” the Globe wrote. “She was not to be consigned to the tribe of ‘also rans,’ and today all the League members are anxious to see her. And when she appears in the street she receives more attention than a half dozen star racing men.”

Kittie Knox died in 1900 at the age of 26, but through Finison’s efforts, her family was found and she was honored on Sunday,

Three generations of Kittie Knox’s relatives attended a ceremony dedicating a new headstone at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Three generations of Kittie Knox’s relatives attended a ceremony dedicating a new headstone at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Another remarkable woman has been rediscovered.
Photograph:  Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Increased violence. Another consequence of global warming?

I read a lot of mystery stories.  Old ones, new ones, ones set in times past and ones set it the future.  A common thread is it is summer and a heat wave so crime is up.  You hear this every spring from the Boston Police and the Mayor – we need to prepare for the combination of hot weather and school being out.  So is this just an urban myth?  Maybe not.  A new study to be published in the journal, Science, was summarized in Sunday’s New York Times.

But researchers are now quantifying the causal relationship between extreme climate and human conflict. Whether their focus is on small-scale interpersonal aggression or large-scale political instability, low-income or high-income societies, the year 10,000 B.C. or the present day, the overall conclusion is the same: episodes of extreme climate make people more violent toward one another.

In a paper published this month in the journal Science, we [MARSHALL BURKE, SOLOMON HSIANG and EDWARD MIGUEL] assembled 60 of the best studies on this topic from fields as diverse as archaeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science and psychology. Typically, these were studies that compared, in a given population, levels of violence during periods of normal climate with levels of violence during periods of extreme climate. We then combined the results from those studies that concerned modern data in a “meta-analysis,” a powerful statistical procedure that allowed us to compare and aggregate findings across the individual studies.

We found that higher temperatures and extreme rainfall led to large increases in conflict: for each one standard deviation change in climate toward warmer temperatures or more extreme rainfall, the median effect was a 14 percent increase in conflict between groups, and a 4 percent increase in conflict between individuals.

Global mean surface temperature difference fro...

Global mean surface temperature difference from the average for 1880–2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The study went beyond the present day, back to the collapse of several civilizations:  The Maya, Angkor Wat and the Akkadian in Syria.  Climate appears to have played a role in the collapse of each.

Our findings held at very high levels of statistical confidence. To illustrate the consistency of the results: of the 27 quantitative studies we looked at that examined a link between temperatures and modern conflict, all of them found that higher temperatures were associated with more violence. This sort of pattern in the results was extremely unlikely to happen by chance. (Imagine trying to get 27 “heads” in a row when flipping a coin.)

What explains the strong link between climate and conflict? Different mechanisms are most likely operating in different settings, but the two most important factors appear to be aggression and scarcity. The aggression factor is intuitively easy to understand (again, recall summer in the city), and it probably underlies the finding that anomalously hot months have significantly higher crime rates in cities in the United States. As for scarcity, the logic is only slightly more complex. In low-income countries largely dependent on agriculture — like those in much of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America — when the rains fail and temperatures scorch, crops wilt and die. This leaves many people dangerously close to the edge of survival, which can lead to social strife and even civil war.

So besides gearing up for more shootings, stabbings and homicides on the summer streets, what are the implications?  The study concludes

Our findings help us better understand both the past and the present, but they are particularly important for what they imply about the future. Many global climate models project global temperature increases of at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) over the next half century. Our results imply that if nothing changes, this rise in temperature could amplify the rate of group conflicts like civil wars by an astonishing 50 percent in many parts of the world — a frightening possibility for a planet already awash in conflict.

Decision makers must show an understanding that climate can fundamentally shape social interactions, that these effects are already observable in today’s world and that climate’s effects on violence are likely to grow in the absence of concerted action. Our leadership must call for new and creative policy reforms designed to tackle the challenge of adapting to the sorts of climate conditions that breed conflict — for instance, through the development of more drought- and heat-resistant agricultural technologies.

As we contemplate intervention in Syria and look at the increasing and never-ending violence in Africa, we also need to ask ourselves some questions about violence here at home.  Will global warming lead to increased domestic violence?  What do we do with this knowledge and all the guns on the streets?  And will anyone pay any attention?