Tuesday, December 31, 2019

TIME TRAVEL | A. E. (George William Russell), Irish Futurist Poet

George William Russell ("A.E.")
George William Russell was an Irish poet, born in Lurgan, Ulster on April 10, 1867. He used as his pseudonym the letters A.E., signifying the diphthong "AE" as in Aeon. 

The following notes are based primarily on the entry for A.E. by JC in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and the entry by JE and JC on A. E.'s friend Joseph James O’Neill.

Much of A.E.’s work reflects a mystical agenda that he shared with William Butler Yeats. In 1886 they helped found the Dublin Lodge of the Theosophical Society

A. E.'s first book was a collection of supernatural tales, The Mask of Apollo, and Other Stories, published by Whaley in Dublin and Macmillan in London in 1904.

I have a copy of the first edition of The Mask of Apollo, illustrated by hand by my mother, Hilda van Stockum, in 1956, when we had left Ireland (having lived in the Dublin area for three years 1951-54 and in Paris for one, 1954-55) and were living again in Montreal. I am thinking of publishing the book with my mother's drawings. The book itself is now in the public domain, but not my mother's drawings.

Another book by A.E., published 18 years later, is described by JC as "more coherent" than The Mask of Apollo. It is called The Interpreters (Macmillan, 1922), set in a great City in the indeterminate future, as a long-lived Pax Aeronautica dissolves into factional warfare involving great Airships; those captured in this schism then engage in philosophical debates.

In another, later book set in a future Ireland, The Avatars: A Futurist Fantasy (Macmillan, 1932), two supernatural beings hauntingly invoke a vision of a world less abandoned to materialism. Their seductive discourse draws the protagonists to "the margin of the Great Deep", as Monk Gibbon puts it. Gibbon’s long, informative essay on A.E.’s work introduces The Living Torch (collected, Macmillan, 1937), a posthumous volume of nonfiction. "The House of the Titans", the long narrative tale that dominates The House of the Titans and Other Poems (a chapter in Macmillan’s 1934 collection), inhabits similar territory.

A.E. wrote an introduction to Joseph James O'Neill's book Land Under England (1935). A. E. takes the book to be a Satire on Hitlerian totalitarianism, an impression strengthened on the appearance of Day of Wrath (1936), a Future-War novel which describes the destruction of civilization in 1952 by advanced aircraft following a coalition between Germany, Japan and China (see Pax Aeronautica; Yellow Peril). 

A. E. died at 68 in Bournemouth, Dorset, July 17, 1935, at the height of his powers.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

NIXON SIGNS ECO LAW | Endangered Species Act, Dec 28

Nixon Looking on as William Ruckelshaus
becomes the first EPA Administrator, 1970.
December 28, 2019 – On this day in 1973, President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act.

In 1970 he created the Environmental Protection Agency and put it in the capable hands of the late William Ruckelshaus.

In 1972 he sent his environmental program to Congress, developed by the new EPA. Nixon said of it:
"This is the environmental awakening. It marks a new sensitivity of the American spirit and a new maturity of American public life. It is working a revolution in values, as commitment to responsible partnership with nature replaces cavalier assumptions that we can play God with our surroundings and survive."
He asked for the new Endangered Species Act to identify and protect threatened species. It also made hunting or capturing endangered species a federal offense. In 1973, the House and Senate versions were combined, and it was passed unanimously by the Senate and in the House by a vote of 355 to 4.

BIRTH | Marlene Dietrich, Dec 27

Marlene Dietrich
December 27, 2019–This day was born in 1901 the film actress and cabaret singer Marlene (originally named Marie Magdalene) Dietrich, in Berlin.

Her family called her “Lena”. Her father, Louis Otto Dietrich, was a former military officer who became a police lieutenant under the Kaiser. Her widowed mother married her husband’s best friend, Eduard von Losch, who was killed in World War I.

Lena Dietrich and her older sister Liesel were tutored at home in Germany, learning French, English, ballet, violin and piano. They attended the Augusta Victoria School for Girls. Lena also took up playing the mandolin.

When an injury precluded her pursuing a musical career, Dietrich pursued an acting career. continued acting in a diverse range of small roles before American director Josef von Sternberg discovered her in 1929 and put her in his famed film, The Blue Angel (1930), as Lola-Lola, the seductive cabaret singer in a top hat and silk stockings over whom a professor becomes obsessed.

Dietrich was appalled by what was happening in her beloved Germany in the 1930s and applied for U.S. citizenship in 1937. Adolf Hitler approached her and offered her a lavish income to return   to Berlin. She refused and Hitler banned her films and burned all copies of The Blue Angel, except for one he kept for himself.

In the United States, she spent time at the North Shore resort of Asharoken on Long Island (between Northport and Fort Salonga). It is where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry stayed on vacations, self-exiled, during the war years when he was writing The Little Prince. Eugene O'Neill was another artist who stayed there.

She decided to join the U.S. war effort, recording anti-Nazi broadcasts in German and taking part in war-bond drives. She entertained half a million Allied troops across North Africa and Western Europe. The troops loved her. She slept in dugouts and played a musical saw. Of her war efforts, she said, “This is the only important work I’ve ever done.”

THE LITTLE PRINCE | Still inspiring

The Little Prince, 1943.
December 27, 2019 – 75 years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French novelist-pilot, came to New York after his country was crushed by the Nazi occupation. He wanted to fly a military airplane to fight Hitler but was rejected because of his age.

Instead, he moved to New York City at the end of December 1940. He also stayed at Asharoken, on the North Shore of Long Island.

He lobbied for the United States to join the war, and in 1942 wrote Le Petit PrinceThe Little Prince, one of the most popular books ever written, selling 140 million copies in 300 languages.

In The Little Prince, the pilot-author describes himself as downed with his plane in a remote desert, when suddenly the Little Prince appears and asks: "Dessine-moi un mouton,” “Draw me a sheep.”

The pilot tries, but the Little Prince is dissatisfied with all of the drawings. Exasperated, the pilot just draws a box and tells the Little Prince that the sheep is inside.

Now the Little Prince is ecstatic.

Moral: Reality is not as powerful as Imagination, something fashion designers have always known.

Another moral of the book, a distrust of abstraction, is limned in Adam Gopnick's review of Saint-Exupéry's book in The New Yorker during the time of the 2014 exhibit of the book's original manuscript at the Morgan Library and Museum.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

FELIX ROHATYN | Rescued NYC from Bankruptcy in 1975

L to R: Felix Rohatyn (1928-2019) and
NYS Governor Hugh Carey (1919-2011)
December 24, 2019 – Felix George Rohatyn died ten days ago in New York City. He is credited with the financial innovation that engineered the rescue in 1975 of the City of New York from bankruptcy. Creditors had refused to roll over NYC’s expiring bonds. As it was, many bondholders who couldn’t afford to wait through the process sold their bonds at a significant loss. 

Rohatyn was chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation from 1975 to 1993, appointed by Governor Hugh Carey. Known as "Big MAC", it had authority over the City budget and served as chief negotiator between the city, its labor unions and its creditors. Its authority was exercised in part through the Financial Control Board, which lost its budget powers in 1986. MAC itself sold $10 billion in bonds before it was voted out of existence when the debt was repaid in full in 2008. However, the Control Board still exists as of 2019 and continues to monitor NYC’s finances.

Rohatyn was concerned about the risks created by derivatives, and in the 1990s described them as "financial hydrogen bombs, built on personal computers by 26-year-olds with M.B.A.s".

Born May 29, 1928 in Vienna, Rohatyn’s family left in 1935 for safety in France, moving again in 1940 when the Nazis occupied France, traveling first on a Brazilian visa from Marseilles to Casablanca and ending up in the United States. He said later that all they could take out of France was a few hidden gold coins and he added: “Ever since, I’ve had the feeling that the only permanent wealth is what you carry around in your head.”

He attended Middlebury College and landed at Lazard, where he prospered in the mergers and acquisitions business, arranging many transactions in the four decades from the 1960s through the 1990s. Rohatyn later became co-chair of the Commission on Public Infrastructure to raise funds for public works, including the effort to create a national infrastructure bank. After Hurricane Sandy he was appointed co-chair of the New York State 2100 Commission to rebuild New York City in the context of climate change. From 1997 to 2000, President Bill Clinton (after having considered Rohatyn as a possible Treasury Secretary) appointed him U.S. Ambassador to France.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

PAUL VOLCKER | Former Federal Reserve Chairman

Paul A. Volcker
The following obituary of Paul Volcker was written by 2020 Vision, an economic policy monitoring and advocacy group in Washington, D.C. headed by Dana Chasin. I am posting it by permission: 

Volcker, Inflation Conqueror 

Paul Volcker served as the 12th Chairman of the Federal Reserve from August 1979 to August 1987. He is widely credited with bringing down skyrocketing inflation levels and putting the U.S. economy on more stable ground early in his tenure. When President Nixon ended the gold standard in 1973, the dollar tanked in value, import prices rose, and along with it, inflation. 

Enter President Carter and his new Fed Chairman, Paul Volcker, who undertook then-extreme measures to meet the national emergency. Through gumption and steadfast commitment to his monetary theories, Volcker cemented himself in history as the Fed Chair who fought inflation and won. Annual inflation peaked at 14.8 percent in March 1980; by 1986, it plateaued at a healthy two percent. 

Today, politicians and economists from across the political spectrum celebrate Volcker’s tenure at the Fed, but progress at the time was painful. When Volcker took over at the Fed, unemployment stood at six percent. After his monetary tightening, joblessness peaked at 10.8 percent in 1982. Interest rates surpassed 20 percent, hindering growth. 

Volcker was responding to a national crisis as a nonpartisan and public servant. His views on the Fed were steadfast, original, and unpopular — he took that resoluteness into the rest of his life in public service.

Volcker, Public Advocate

Volcker dedicated his post-Fed life to improving the quality of governance. In 2013, he founded the Volcker Alliance, a New York City-based nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting more effective government management — from the local to federal level. The Alliance partners with educational institutions and business groups to sponsor research of government performance and recommend policy. 

Volcker also took a particular interest in financial regulation and systemic risk. In 1987, once inflation was tamped down and the country entered a prolonged period of economic expansion, President Reagan viewed Volcker as an impediment to financial deregulation. Reagan instead chose Alan Greenspan to succeed him as Fed Chair. Throughout the 1990s, Volcker levied harsh criticism of the modern financial industry and the opaque world of derivatives. 

In this, Volcker was prescient and re-emerged into the public spotlight after the 2007 financial crisis. President Obama appointed Volcker to be chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board from February 2009 to January 2011. Volcker helped draft the "Volcker Rule," which limited the types of trading that banks could do with their own proprietary accounts. The Volcker Rule became law as part of the Dodd Frank and Wall Street Reform Act. 

A Distinguished Life

Outside of good governance and monetary policy, Volcker’s altruistic approach to public service was evident. He chaired the commission to look into dormant Swiss bank accounts of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, recovering $1.25 billion. He also chaired the independent commission that inquired into the notorious oil-for-food scandal during the second Gulf war. 

More than anything, Volcker’s life should be remembered as a life dedicated to public service, with a legacy of independence and intellectual and moral integrity. In an age of demagoguery and cults of personality, he will be remembered as a decent and gifted man who materially advanced the causes of good government and self-government.  

BREXIT | Sir Ivor Crewe

Sir Ivor Crewe (L) with Univ Old Member
The Rt Hon Sir Alan Moses Law.
WASHINGTON, D.C., December 14, 2019–Last month, Sir Ivor Crewe visited Washington and spoke to the Oxford University Society branch about Brexit. 

He is the Master since 2008 of University College, Oxford – one of the three oldest colleges at Oxford. It was the residence of Bill Clinton when he was a Rhodes Scholar. 

Sir Ivor is also the President of the Academy of Social Sciences. 

He pioneered in polling in Britain since the 1970s and predicted that the Labour Party was losing its base. 

He was certainly proven right this week, as the (well-deserved) rejection of Jeremy Corbyn means a continuation of Brexit. This outcome is not favorable for academic institutions in Britain because it inhibits exchanges of students and faculty. Some worry that the Scots will in due course secede from the United Kingdom.

None of this is so surprising when one appreciates the depth of the historical divisions within the United Kingdom. Some of that is covered in my book, Oxford College Arms, because the history of Britain is intertwined with the history of the coats of arms of the Oxford colleges.

After Sir Ivor's talk, I gave him a copy of my book, which includes illustrations by an excellent heraldic artist, Lee Lumbley. Sir Ivor wrote back (I include his comment here by permission):

Thank you for your gift of Oxford College Arms, which I enjoyed reading on my return flight today from San Francisco. I can confirm that there isn’t even the tiniest of errors in your account of Univ, which gives me complete confidence that your entries for all the other colleges are reliably informative. I imagine it was a labour of love to produce this fine book.

Since I have been in Washington working for the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress in 2019, I haven't had much opportunity to travel to Oxford branches to talk about the book, but I did give one slide show presentation in 2019 to the Oxford University Society of Washington, D.C., following the talks I gave in London, Oxford and New York City the previous year.
How to Order the Book. I have recently been asked how to order a copy of the book. I just type "Oxford College Arms" in my browser and it takes me straight to the Amazon landing pages for my book. Or click on the short web site address here:

If you want to keep bookstores thriving by giving them your business, they can order the book for you through Ingram. All you need is the ISBN Number, which is 978-0-9845232-3-8 (the ISBN number is also on the Amazon site). As of today, Amazon says they will deliver books by Christmas, but that window is closing.

More about the book here:

Thursday, December 12, 2019

MOUNT INEZ | Name Change Is Official

The new official map of Lewis, showing Mount Inez. Photo by
Duffy Campbell, used here by permission.
Mount Discovery, it used to be. 

In 1916, after the death of Inez Milholland Boissevain, the Town of Lewis, N.Y., decided to honor their prominent citizen, Inez.

They renamed Mt. Discovery after Inez, i.e., Mt. Inez. However, the maps themselves never were changed.

Now Nancy Duff ("Duffy") Campbell, an attorney in Lewis, has done something about it. She noted that for official maps to change, action needs to be taken in Washington, DC. 

She pursued the matter. She got the Town Board to vote on it, since the last vote was in 1916. The authorities in Washington care about these things. I posted about this earlier when the Board was considering the matter:

Now, Duffy has been successful. Here is the news story:

Inez has her due! Thank you Duffy and Town of Lewis!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

ECO-HERO | William Ruckelshaus, 1932-2019

Obama awards Ruckelshaus (1932-2019) the Medal
of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor.
William D. Ruckelshaus died yesterday. He is someone I have looked up to all my life. In 1955 I entered Portsmouth Abbey (then Priory) School, in Rhode Island, four years after he graduated.

He was at Princeton, class of 1957, when I was at Portsmouth. He was enrolled at Harvard's Law School for two of the four years I was a Harvard undergraduate.

As a young lawyer in the 1960s, Ruckelshaus became a savior of Portsmouth Abbey School. With a Federal law suit, he fended off the siting of an oil refinery on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay, opposite the school. He eventually slayed, or at least kept at bay, that oil company dragon.

It was not surprising that President Richard Nixon would appoint him, as a 38-year-old  lawyer, to lead the new Environmental Protection Agency in 1970-73 – or that he would return under President Ronald Reagan to run the EPA again in 1983-85. Ruckelshaus was a Republican and a conservationist by family tradition.  His grandfather was Chairman of the Indiana Republican Party in 1900.

What was surprising was Ruckelshaus's becoming one of the two heroes of the 1973 "Saturday Night Massacre". He had been recruited from his perch at the EPA by Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson to become the AG's top deputy. The Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox, had subpoenaed nine White House tapes. On October 23, Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. The order then went to Ruckelshaus, as next in command. Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned.

The third in command, Robert H. Bork, then followed orders, firing Cox and abolished the office of Watergate prosecutor.

The next day, 300,000 telegrams of outrage descended on the White House. Nixon decided to release the nine tapes after all. Three GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee who had voted against Nixon's impeachment–Reps. Charles Sandman (N.J.), Charles Wiggins (Calif.) and David Dennis (Ind.)–reversed themselves after hearing the tapes. They said they would vote for impeachment on the floor of the House. Nixon resigned before that could happen.

Not long after the Massacre, when Ruckelshaus was back in private practice of law, he kindly took me to lunch at the Hay-Adams Hotel to share with me his front-row experience of the events. In describing the President, he used the term "Unindicted Co-conspirator." I was deeply impressed with his courage and serenity in the face of all he had been through.

In the years that followed, it became clear in news reports that Ruckelshaus was increasingly distressed at the steady decline of the progressive wing of the Republican party. He ended up supporting Barack Obama for President and supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Ronald Reagan once said that the didn't leave the Democratic Party; it left him. Ruckelshaus expressed similar sentiments about the Republican Party.

President Obama awarded Ruckelshaus the Medal of Freedom in 2015 for his environmental achievements. The race to succeed Obama was already under way and Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio were sparring for the GOP nomination. A few days before the Medal of Freedom ceremony, the Guardian interviewed Ruckelshaus and quoted him as follows:
"The Republicans aren’t helping, they are just responding to the convictions of the base that climate change isn’t a real problem and feeding that back to them – it’s a vicious cycle. Instead of treating it as a serious problem they are going through all the stages of denial. They are now at the stage of saying that it’s too expensive to do anything about climate change, which is no solution at all, they may as well just deny it’s a problem.
“I don’t know what Trump actually knows about climate change, I don’t think Trump thinks much about many of the issues. Rubio shifts around a lot because he hears a lot of different messages from his constituents but what he’s essentially saying is that climate change isn’t a big enough problem to address. That comes down to not dealing with it. It’s concerning and I don’t understand why they don’t see this as an opportunity rather than something to be denied.
“There was huge resistance from the auto industry, they pushed back very hard. The difference from then until now is that the public demanded something be done about pollution and the government listened. The four major auto companies sent their CEOs to lobby against the Clean Air Act and they got about three votes in the Senate and not many more in the House. They thought they’d get it reversed in the Senate.
“In those days you could smell and touch the pollution, it was a bit like how China’s cities are today. That had a galvanizing effect. The greenhouse gases of today, you can’t see or taste or feel them. And it’s got way too partisan. The atmosphere today is completely different to the 1970s; Republicans’ arguments are all partisan driven, they aren’t based on any legitimate analysis of science.”
Some Presidents' Records on the Environment, Since Nixon

President Nixon. In 1970, green issues then had bipartisan support. Clean Air Act amendments to the original 1963 Act created the EPA, William Ruckelshaus became its first head, and new water-pollution laws were passed after two years. But  OPEC's decision to create an oil shortage meant that inflation cascaded through private and public prices and economic concerns overtook environmental ones. The GOP took on the mantle of environmental deregulation in the name of promoting economic growth, although significant instances of environmental progress have occurred under Republican leaders since Nixon.

President Reagan. He cut social and environmental budgets, including one-third of EPA spending, but in his second term he noted the high cost of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases and he promoted a worldwide reduction via the 1987 Montreal Protocol. This Protocol has been described as the most successful international convention ever, signed by 197 countries and the European Union, and it has stopped the growth of the ozone hole although some aerosol substitutes, such as hydrofluorocarbons, continue to contribute to global warming even though they don't damage the ozone layer.

President George W. Bush. During most of his administration, Bush 43 was, like Reagan, antagonistic to environmental regulation. He did support greater energy efficiency. Also, toward the end of his presidency he championed significant conservation initiatives that became law.

President Barack Obama. Obama made solid appointments–Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy and Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. He supported climate-change proposals at Copenhagen. He put energy efficiency and renewable energy on state agendas, with a $90 billion investment in green jobs in the stimulus bill, encouraging states and localities to focus on needed environmental initiatives. His EPA twice raised auto fuel-efficiency standards, using Nixon's Clean Air Act as the basis for the EPA's higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy ("CAFE") standards, first requiring 35.5 mpg fuel efficiency by 2016 and then 54 mpg by 2025. He regulated carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. His EPA won a major victory in June 2012 when the U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed EPA's ruling in 2009 in favor of  measures to regulate carbon emissions. He saved the U.S. auto industry and its technology-generating capacity, keeping the United States as a strong player in electric-car technology and in the campaign to generate more efficient batteries. He used federal purchasing power to reduce carbon emissions.  He supported four rounds of the ARPA-E program for energy technology research. The Advanced Research Projects Agency made awards for research on electrofuels, carbon capture, batteries, electric grid, thermal energy storage, and rare earth substitutes. Obama faced the BP oil spill early in his first term, which discouraged offshore oil drilling. The Fukushima nuclear meltdown discouraged further nuclear power development, constraining his options. Most important, the Republican House of Representatives adopted a totally negative stance, especially after the 2010 Midterm elections,  toward the President's climate-change goals.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

IN LIEU OF FLOWERS | In Nov. 23 NY Times, p. B12

Death Notice, November 23, 2019.
Saturday, November 23, 2019 – This morning I circled this obit for Perry Janoff, who died earlier in the week at the age of 100. (The NY Times calls this an  "Announcement of Death.")   

Alice sent it around to a few friends. 

One recipient has already requested that his death notice include the same message, if still relevant.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

BIRTH | 130 years ago, Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble
This day was born in 1889, 130 years ago, Edwin Powell Hubble, an American astronomer after whom was named the most powerful telescope hitherto sent into space, the Hubble Space Telescope. A model is displayed in his home town of Marshfield, Missouri.

Hubble received a scholarship to  the University of Chicago in 1906 and worked as a lab assistant under Robert Millikan, who won a Nobel Prize later for his work in physics. 

In his senior year at Chicago, Hubble was voted a Rhodes Scholarship, one of the first,  So after graduation in 1910, he enrolled at Queen's College, Oxford, where for three years he studied law and philosophy. He earned a bachelor's degree in jurisprudence. Sadly, about that time, his father, John Hubble, died.

Edwin Hubble helped establish the field of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology and is one of the most important astronomers ever. Hubble discovered that many objects previously thought to be clouds of dust and gas and classified as "nebulae" were actually galaxies of their own, beyond the Milky Way of our galaxy. He used the strong direct relationship between a classical Cepheid variable's luminosity and pulsation period, discovered in 1908 by Henrietta Swan Leavitt, for scaling galactic and extragalactic distances.

Hubble provided evidence that the recessional velocity of a galaxy increases with its distance from the Earth, a property called Hubble's Law, though it had been formulated and demonstrated two years earlier by a Jesuit priest, Georges Lemaître, at the University of Louvain. The Hubble–Lemaître law implies that the universe is expanding from a "Big Bang". A decade before, the American astronomer Vesto Slipher had provided the first evidence that the light from many of these nebulae was strongly red-shifted, indicative of high recession velocities. Hubble died September 28, 1953.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

SONNETS TO MATURITY | by Shakespeare and Brigid

Sonnet 73: That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold 
by William Shakespeare
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’ d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long. 
(Public Domain) 
Sonnet to John and Alice by Brigid Marlin 
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves do drop and mess the floor
I cling to wraps, as I do shake with cold.
I wonder if, perhaps, I'm getting old?
My voice doth croak when sweet I wish to sing
The twilight of my looks is quite a sting;
As I sit faded in the ever-rainy day,
The ashes of my fire are turning gray. 
The fire that Father wished to light up in our belly,
A fierce ambition, is now but turned to jelly.
Still, a new fire flickers from the jel, 
That wakes me from my dolorous spell.
It is the flame that burns for all my kin and friends,
I love them more, knowing ere long it ends. 
(© 2019 by Brigid Marlin) 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

R.I.P. | Elijah Cummings, 1951-2019

Your blogger received this tribute to Elijah Cummings from Douglas M. Clemmons, an attorney whose life was changed by his interaction with the late Congressman:
I am sad at the passing of a tireless warrior for the rights and aspirations of all Americans, the Honorable Elijah Cummings. 
In 2010 I met him when I was a volunteer coordinator for the Democratic Party campaign in Maryland. 
The numerous candidates, especially incumbents who had acquired gravitas, made a great impression on me – I was a young person with no previous political experience and few ties to the State of Maryland.  
During the campaign I was given significant responsibility and opportunity to meet political leaders at every level of government. One was  Rep. Cummings’ chief of staff, Mr. Vernon Simms. 
After the 2010 election, which of course went badly for the Democratic Party, I was greatly discouraged. Fortunately, a good friend suggested I push back against my discouragement by looking ahead and volunteering for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Fortunately, that’s what I did. 
One evening at a phone bank in Baltimore, where I now live, Mr. Cummings appeared with several local, state and federal candidates to give the 50 of us a pep talk. The speakers established the local atmosphere, an interesting blend of animus and optimism. Baltimore is a closely knit place where people know their political representatives. 
Then Mr. Cummings spoke. He did not need to campaign, given his immense popularity. He was the last to speak to us. I had not heard him before. 
He told us how he grew up blocks from where we were in South Baltimore, in the heart of the inner city. His parents were sharecroppers. He told us about his infamous high school career adviser, who told him not to bother applying to college, because “You won’t ever amount to anything.” He told us about his years in college, and then in law school, and his rise through the ranks in Congress and the tasks that faced him and the nation. He enjoyed showing why that high school adviser was not doing his job, and that we need to do our jobs even though others fail us.
When he finished, the crowd rose to its feet with applause, and no one sat down again.  Suddenly, strangers became the closest of friends. You could feel the intensity of their hopes of an all-inclusive, well-run government that transcends race and class.  
In the warmth of the moment, there was Mr. Simms again, still the Congressman’s chief of staff. He had remembered my face and my work with the campaign and he asked what I was doing. I told him of my discouragement. He said that because the Democrats lost the House, he couldn’t put me on his staff, but he said he would “throw your name around and let’s see what happens.” 
Then Mr. Cummings himself came by, his suit damp with perspiration, brow furrowed from exhaustion. It was well past 11:00 pm. Mr. Simms introduced me. Mr. Cummings shook my hand and said a few things about the campaign. Then he took my hand and looked me in the eye and said: “We are living in marvelous times, with President Obama. People will read and write about this moment in history for years to come. But what are you going to do?” The entire time he did not release my hand. I was too awed to answer his question, and just smiled and thanked him, as he moved on to attend to the others waiting to talk with him.
That night I thought about what he said. The word “marvelous” struck me as an interesting word, since on the surface it seems frivolous. Being a child of the 1980s, I thought of Billy Crystal, but then I considered that to “marvel” is to look at something with appreciation and respect and then I realized that this moment was indeed worthy of capturing the imagination of any young man uncertain of his future in America. To this day I remember that moment, and its echo of President Kennedy’s inaugural speech (“Ask not…”). The onus of facing the future was placed where it belonged, in my hands. I felt a sense of empowerment that had been missing from my life for a while. I found out later, as I did the rounds, that Mr. Cummings left this feeling with many others who came in contact with him. 
In the next few weeks, as I looked for a paid position by following leads from Mr. Simms, I told people about the campaign and how impressed I was with Mr. Cummings, though I never did work for his Congressional office. It didn’t matter. One person interrupted me mid-sentence and said, “Son, we all work for Mr. Cummings.” I finally landed an internship with another prominent congressman. 
In those days, being in the minority was a contentious time for Democrats and Mr. Cummings took the brunt of many attacks. However, he never failed to give a voice to the needs and hopes of those who did not have his eloquence or power. His voice combined the fervor of a southern Baptist minister with the knowledge gained from his seniority on powerful House committees.
Never, during my time in Washington, did I hear one ill word spoken about Mr. Cummings, from either side of the aisle. And though I eventually left Washington to work in the private sector, my association with his name, his legacy and many of his friends has continued, and will continue, to nurture and guide my path. Knowing that the Honorable Elijah Cummings was on my side, and was for a great moment in time my friend, has sustained me. May he rest in well-earned peace, or keep doing his great work from a new vantage point.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

MOUNT INEZ | 100 Years Later, Lewis Makes Name Change Stick

From the Elizabethtown Post, December 7, 1916.
October 9, 2019–Yesterday evening, the Lewis (Essex County, NY) Town Council voted to rename Mount Discovery. The new name is "Mount Inez".

The mountain is named after Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886-1916), who spent her childhood and summers here and is buried on a hill in the graveyard behind the Lewis church.

This is the fulfillment of a name change made after Inez's  death in 1916, by the then-owner of the property, John E. Milholland, her father. 

The commitment was at that time apparently formalized by the then government of the Town of Lewis. It was announced in the Elizabethtown Post on December 7, 1916, and was featured on the front page of the New York Times a few days later. 

However, the name change was not forwarded to and memorialized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (USBGN), part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, or the New York State Board on Geographic Names.  

Through diligent work by Nancy Duff Campbell, a century later this error was yesterday rectified as a vote was taken by the Lewis Town Council in favor of the name change. Your blogger sent the following letter to the Lewis Town Council in advance of the meeting, and to the USBGN. That evening, the Lewis Town Board formally approved the name change. The last stop in the process will be at the USBGN.
October 8, 2019 
To the Lewis Town Council, Lewis, NY 
Dear Supervisor Monty and the Lewis Town Council, 
This is to support renaming Mt. Discovery as Mt. Inez. 
I am a huge fan of Inez Milholland. She was married to the brother, Dutchman Eugen Boissevain of my grandmother (Olga Boissevain). My mother met Inez when Inez was first married in 1913 and the couple went to visit Eugen's relatives in Holland. My mother described Inez to me in great detail, how sweet-smelling she was and how she brought with her a gift of a Kewpie Doll (the doll with little wings in the back), which was the rage at the time. 
Inez proposed to Eugen on the Cunard ship Mauretania and they were married in the Kensington Town Hall in London on Bastille Day 1913. The idea was they wanted to go to Holland as a married couple, not just engaged. They were going to keep it a secret from Inez's father, John Milholland. By this time Inez was already a national figure, having led the suffrage parades in New York and Washington, DC. She was also well known in London as a disciple of the Pankhursts (she was proud to call herself a Suffragette, as the Pankhurst followers did, not just a suffragist). 
So the attempt to keep the wedding a secret was futile. It was featured on the front page of all the newspapers and that's where John E. Milholland read about it in the New York Times the next day. He wanted Inez to marry Guglielmo Marconi, the radio guy, who actually proposed to Inez on another Cunard ship when Inez was not yet in college. Inez accepted, but Marconi's Irish mother (a cousin of Eugen's Irish mother) was distressed that Inez would go to the United States and talked her son out of it. Inez later said she loved the radio but didn't want to marry it. 
In an effort to keep the memory of Inez memory alive, I wrote a play about her that was produced as a staged reading in the Lewis church where she is buried (it was also staged in six other locations). I maintain a website about her, I was the secretary and organizer of a national committee to pay for the restoration of the iconic painting of Inez that hangs in the Belmont-Paul building next to the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington ( The Committee was headed by members of the Boissevain (notably Al Boissevain, Eugen's nephew) and Milholland families and included Margaret Gibbs of the Essex County Historical Society. The painting was restored to the highest standards. 
A century ago, the Lewis Town Council reportedly decided to rename the mountain. It's not too late to make good on the promise. The world owns the memory of Inez Milholland, but only Lewis owns her gravesite and the mountain that your predecessors in office promised to rename in her honor. As the logline of a recent movie, "The Silent Soldier and the Portrait," puts it, "If the Universe offers you a second chance, take it."
John Tepper Marlin, Ph.D.                                                             . personal cell: 646-250-4915

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

GUN SAFETY | Chicagoans Ride for the Cause, September 25, 2019

A bus filling up in Chicago for the long ride to Washington.
Photo by Ricky Gandhi.
September 24, 2019 – On August 12, Michael Bloomberg editorialized about the need for public outrage over continued mass shootings.

In his Bloomberg magazine that day, he said: "We cannot let this moment pass."

Riders find their bus. Photo by
Ricky Gandhi.
Tomorrow, two back-to-back events in Washington are focused on new gun safety laws:
  • At about noon, a dozen busloads of people from Chicago are coming to the #EndGunViolence rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
The buses are traveling through the night to Washington to be at the  rally.

Chicago activist Father Pfleger kicks off the ride to Washington. Chicago Sun-Times photo. 
One of the leaders of the Chicago participants in the rally is the longtime anti-gun-violence activist, Father Michael Pfleger. His foster son was killed in a gang-related burst of gunfire.

The buses are organized by members and friends of his church – St. Sabina parish in Auburn Gresham, Chicago. Other anti-gun-violence organizations are participating, with social media under the #EndGunViolence hashtag.

Excitement builds, as does the settling in
for the long, 11-hour ride from Chicago
to Washington. Photo by Ricky Gandhi.
After the rally, the buses head back to Chicago, where  most of them have jobs to get back to. 

The 70-year-old Fr. Pfleger said at a news conference in the basement of his church:
Until we have some federal gun laws, we’re going to continue to see this mass murder going on not just around the country but on the streets of Chicago. We want to ban assault weapons, we want universal background checks and we want to title guns like cars. It is time, it is past time, to pressure the capital, the legislators of this country, to get some strong gun legislation that protects our citizens.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

R.I.P. | Ron Blackwell, 1946-2018

Ron Blackwell, 1946-2018
Having recently tried to track down Ron Blackwell in pursuit of information about the apparel industry, I was shocked to find out he had died.

Ron worked in NYC for ACTWU, the men’s equivalent of the ILGWU, but as apparel jobs steadily left New York City, his union merged with the ILGWU and other unions to form UNITE.

Ron became its Chief Economist and went on to Washington as Chief Economist of the AFL-CIO until he retired in 2012. He suffered from several illnesses before his death last year in Sibley Memorial Hospital.

I knew him in the 1970s. He was the first person I hired at the Council on Municipal Performance, where I was President in 1973-1988. He was smart and diligent and displayed  great strength of character, as evidenced by his willingness to do time rather than accept alternatives to military service offered to conscientious objectors who were drafted during the Vietnam War.

Here are four well-deserved eulogies for Ron:

1. Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO: Ron Blackwell Left Behind a Strong Legacy on Behalf of Working People Ron Blackwell, the retired chief economist of the AFL-CIO and pioneer in the labor movement, passed away on Sunday night. From his Alabama roots to his role as chief economist at the AFL-CIO, Ron was defined by his unshakable courage and conviction. Whether it was his choice to go to prison rather than go to war in Vietnam or charting new paths for our economy while serving on the board of the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Ron was always true to himself and working people. After teaching economics at the New School for Social Research in New York City, Ron began to leave his mark on the union movement. He joined the staff of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, where he quickly established his complete devotion to the rights of working people. At the AFL-CIO, Ron advised the leadership of the labor movement and fundamentally changed the way we thought about the economy. His legacy will live on through programs he created like Common Sense Economics—a radically different approach to economics that provides training and education for working people by working people—and that remain at the core of the AFL-CIO’s work. In addition to his work in economics, Ron was a recognized leader on issues of trade, globalization and corporate governance. He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Janet, and millions of working people around the world whose lives were improved by his decades of tireless work on our behalf.

2. Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO Former AFL-CIO Chief Economist Ron Blackwell died Sunday, February 25, in Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., after a series of illnesses. Ron began his service to the AFL-CIO in 1996 as the Director of Corporate Affairs. He was appointed Chief Economist at the Federation in 2004, and retired in 2012. “He was highly respected not only in the AFL-CIO, but among union economists around the world,” said Marge Tracey of the National Capitol Area Union Retiree Club, where he was a member. “We will all miss tremendously his wisdom, generosity, and friendship.” At Ron's request, no public memorial service is planned.

3. So Long, Ron! A Farewell to Ron Blackwell, “Common Sense” Economist for the Labor Movement, Tom Croft, Managing Director, March 14, 2018
“No doubt this attack on democracy reflected the rise of a wealthy minority…which called itself the Oligarchical Party, and denounced democracy as an incompetent sham.”   
This passage, from back in the day, might have been a tongue-in-cheek quote from Mark Twain about the raw, wild west violence of the robber barons of the Gilded Age, or maybe by Thorsten Veblen, the author who wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class and coined the term “conspicuous consumption,” about the rigged greed of the Roaring ‘20s.
Wrong.  It was actually a quote from a book by philosopher Will Durant, who was writing about the counter-attack on the democracy at the time, several hundred years BC, in Athens, during the time of Socrates.  Many Americans, including silver-haired business lions, feel we are returning to the Gilded Age and Roaring ‘20s, when financial and corporate barons ruthlessly worked to destroy their competition and remove the early vestiges of labor unions and business regulation. …

It is with these thoughts in mind that we mourn the recent passing of Ron Blackwell, who, most recently, served as the Chief Economist of the AFL-CIO.  Ron had a deep understanding of how current oligarchies have betrayed the country, and he had a progressive populist view that we—the 99%—need to fight back.  Ron would still be raging about the wars on working people and the resultant demolition derby that has been rolling across our land, hurting people and communities. …

During his years at ACTWU (the former men’s clothing and textile workers’ union), Ron and Bill Patterson established the LongView Funds, through Amalgamated Bank, which, for over 25 years have taken an activist approach to investing with ESG criteria.  At the AFL-CIO, Ron helped design and helm the corporate affairs department, and helped launch the Office of Investment and “Common Sense Economics.”  In that capacity, he was also a founder of the global CWC. I interviewed Ron for our Responsible Investor Handbook. As we said in the book, over the years, global labor leaders and capital stewards increasingly recognized the importance of coordinated activist engagements and investment collaboration. This led to the establishment of global labor networks that coordinate shareholder and political actions and provide mutual support. …

Last, as a country economist, so to speak, from Alabama, Ron related to those of us who were part of the plant closure and unemployment movements in the 1980s and ‘90s.  While at ACTWU, he and his union were a pivotal co-sponsor for the 1989 Industrial Renaissance Conference, along with our friends at the Steelworkers and our national network.  Ron was there, and he spoke at that event, one of the first stabs at presenting a national, sustainable industrial policy from the ground up. If you’ve followed the smart economic policy papers coming out of the Century Foundation “High Wage America” coalition and our ongoing Heartland Cities Tour, you’ll see that original, path-breaking Renaissance Conference outline.

After moving to the AFL-CIO, Ron whole-heartedly supported the break out of the Heartland Labor/Capital Network in the mid-1990s.  He supported alternative economic strategies and campaigns to the hilt.  Ron wanted to understand what worked, and he lent his name to our many-faceted, mutual struggles to take back America. In these times, we face a dangerous new Oligarchical Party.  When we fight back—for our jobs and dignity, for our families and communities—we are following the proud legacy of Ron Blackwell.   He was a warrior for workers, as Bill Patterson told me.  We are eternally grateful for the wit, wisdom and work of Ron Blackwell.“Common-Sense”-Economist-for-the-Labor-Movement

4. Jeff Faux, Economic Policy Institute Raised in Alabama, Ron Blackwell was a steadfast defender of the rights of working people and a life-long enemy of economic injustice in its many forms. He was the rare man of principle who actually had the courage of his convictions. As a young man, he chose to go to prison rather than submit to those who were waging the unjust and terrible war in Vietnam.

Also: C-Span Videos Ron Blackwell has six videos in the C-SPAN Video Library; the first was taped at a 1993 Forum.