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16 April, 2014

The Art of Junkanoo Now at the NAGB

By Peter Kinder

Nassau, Bahamas:  National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, Junkanoo Eagles (2013) 4/15/14

Nassau, Bahamas: National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, Junkanoo Eagles (2013) 4/15/14

          Junkanoo can’t really be explained.

           Junkanoo can only be experienced, whether in the ten-hour parades marking Boxing Day and New Years in the Bahamas or in the casual rushes celebrating an event such as last night’s opening at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) in Nassau.

           At the turn of the year, it is an experience that combines dancing, drums, music, human-powered floats, all elaborately costumed for one parade.  The drums drive through your chest; the whistles and cowbells pulse in your ears; and the trumpets, coronets and tubas add a melody line.

           Whether on Bay Street or Shirley Street or amongst the crowds lining them, Junkanoo both requires and creates community.  The vast bands, the hordes of dancers, the floats and costumes demand organisation and a focused, collective creativity.

           I think as I watch that half this nation of 550,000 spread across 700 islands must be in the parade; everyone else must have worked on the costumes and come out to watch them go by.  

           An essential element of Junkanoo is the rivalry amongst the Saxons, the Valley Boys, One Family, the Prodigal Sons and other groups for the parade championship.  Judges evaluate performers as they pass Parliament.  Their tally sheets for each unit used to go into gray boxes pulled down the street accompanied by at least two police.

           The arcane judging often produces litigation extending Junkanoo’s joys for some weeks after the New Year.

           This year, both parade championships went to the Valley Boys, a result that seemed fitting as their co-founder and leader for 45 years, Winston ‘Gus’ Cooper, lay dying.  A revered figure, Cooper is generally credited with bringing about Junkanoo as it’s now experienced.

           The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas has always recognised the art of Junkanoo.  It took the occasion of Cooper’s death to remember him with a show celebrating this rarely preserved art and the communities that create it.

           The Ace of Spades’ – Mr. Cooper’s hard-earned title as the top card – is an exceptionally well-organised and informative show.  A long, crowded wall traces the modern history of Junkanoo following the unrest of the Depression and WWII when it was prohibited.  The irony of Mr. Cooper’s given names – Winston Roosevelt – goes unnoted.

           The next room recreates a portion of the Valley Boys’s ‘shack’ where they design and create – in greatest secrecy – their costumes for the year’s end.  Cardboard filled with sketches covers the walls.  The thought of drawings of such quality ending in the rubbish would make a gallery owner weep.

           A small alcove presents one of Boxing Day 2013′s most spectacular costumes.  To its left and right are snaps of the progress of its construction which proves it to be far more complex even than the exquisite detail suggests.

           The balance of the well-mounted exhibit displays additional costumes and details from floats.  Set apart and spaced generously, one can appreciate the genius of the individual efforts, something hard to do in the noise and movement of a moment on Boxing Day.  A mural captures themes from Valley Boy designs which have the complexity of Mayan ‘glyphs.

           As I looked at the mural, I thought of the inadequacy of museums and historical sites.  They preserve these wonderful artifacts but in isolation from the colors, pageantry and sounds that gave them collective significance.

           Yes, each art work rewards the time spent with it – especially the way the NAGB presents them.  But how inadequate they are emptied of the people who wore them, separated from the other costumes that surrounded them, mute and immobile.

           Outside, we joined the rush.  Perhaps 50 Valley Boys marched to the Gallery.  No costumes.  Just the joy of whistles and bells, drums and horns.  And people.


          For some pictures I’ve taken of Junkanoo: one, two, three, four, five, six.


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Category: Art, Bahamas, Music

11 April, 2014

Lessons from Harvard’s Fossil-Fuel Divestment Letter: Elect New Trustees

By Peter Kinder


Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Yard 12/6/10

Cambridge, MA: Harvard Yard 12/6/10

          Harvard’s produced an interesting week for those pushing for fossil-fuel free investments.

           On Monday, its president, Drew Gilpin Faust, posted a long email justifying the University’s positions and offering a small – but important – sop to divestment types.  On Thursday, more than a hundred Harvard faculty endorsed a pointed rebuttal.

           These events overtook my blogging on my reactions to Hampshire College’s superb conference on Intentionally Designed Endowments and to Pres. Faust’s letter.  For a blogger, that’s an uncomfortable situation.  In my case, it worked for the best.  I realised the forces for change require a new point of attack: electing university trustees.

           I’ll start with my conclusion and then proceed to the writing that got me there.

                           Socially Responsible Investing & Endowments

           Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) is a simple concept that’s sometimes difficult to practise.

           SRI expresses the aspiration for consistency in our lives, individually and in community.  Bringing what we own into alinement with our ethical or religious beliefs can be hard for many reasons, often non-financial, emotional.  But within our tolerance for inconsistency, we almost always can achieve it.

           Choosing not to invest or divestment are just two of many means to the end of alinement.  In times of social stress constituents often press institutions to divest.  Then the objective of alinement becomes paired with the desire to mark the bounds – publicly, explicitly – of what is socially tolerable behavior.

Institutional Reaction & Commitment

           Institutions, like Middlebury College or Harvard University, that see themselves as on the right side of the climate issue in their educative functions, building standards, recycling and transportation can’t understand why their constituents won’t cut them slack where the endowment is concerned.

           Their constituents can’t understand why, metaphorically speaking, their institutions have circled armored personnel carriers (Ohio State actually has one) around their endowments.

           Put me on the constituents’ side.

           SRI has within it many tactics other than divestment.  As with engaging companies on climate, they require more effort, more thought than divestment and therefore more commitment, which is why endowments don’t use them.  Lack of commitment.

 The Trustees:  Where Change Can Come

           This posture leaves institutional constituents with no option to advocate but the simple one: divest now.  Since the first South Africa divestment resolution in the fall of 1969 to today …. 45 years of battle, about as long as the Drug War.

           No small part of the constituents’ frustration has come from talking with the wrong people.  Rarely do they discuss their objectives with the people who actually control the university’s investments: its trustees (or their equivalents) and, more particularly, the trustees on its finance committee.

           But there’s an alternative.

           It’s long past time to change the boards of trustees who set investment policies and employ the presidents and investment managers who carry them out.  Let’s do what shareholder activists, like Carl Icahn, do when they want to maximise the value of a company for its shareholders.

           Let’s elect us some trustees!

                              New Faust Letter on Climate & Divestment

           President Drew Gilpin Faust’s latest letter, date April 7, addressed to ‘Members of the Harvard Community’ on Climate Change and Harvard’s investments reminds me of my 1-L Torts exam.

           I had 36 (sleepless) hours to analyze a 1500-word fact pattern:  long mushy sentences woven into immense sponges of paragraphs.  Its confusing syntax, irrelevant facts and diversionary humor concealed a couple of GPA-determining points.

           Pres. Faust’s letter similarly uses 1470 words – without the humor.  While ploughing through it, I recalled ‘Politics & the English Language’ (1946) in which George Orwell drew his first two (of five) examples of bad writing from professors, Harold J. Laski and Lancelot Hogben.

           Pres. Faust has won the Bancroft (2009) and Parkman (1997) prizes for her books in history.  I’d add for her April 7 letter an Orwell.  He reminded us:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed … to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

           I will spare you two thirds of her apologia, tangled in long, Latinate-larded sentences built of political language, but I will quote in full her discussion of divestment and social investment.

           Of the appearance of solidity in Prof. Faust’s letter there can be no question.  But is there an answer ‘blowing in the wind’?

 Faust’s Text

           Pres. Faust has offered a seemingly significant sop to her critics:  Harvard University will become a signatory of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) climate change program.

           To set the scene, after 942 words of Harvard-justification and a pitch for more money for Harvard’s $6.5 billion Campaign, Pres. Faust announces:

           Third, in addition to our academic work and our greenhouse gas reduction efforts, Harvard has a role to play as a long-term investor. Last fall, I wrote [link added] on behalf of the Corporation [Harvard’s equivalent of a board of trustees] to affirm our judgment that divestment from the fossil fuel industry would not be wise or effective as a means for the University to advance progress towards addressing climate change. I also noted that, with the arrival of a first-ever vice president for sustainable investing at Harvard Management Company [which runs Harvard’s endowment], we would strengthen our approach to how we consider material environmental, social and governance factors as we seek robust investment returns to support our academic mission.

           Today I am pleased to report that we have decided to become a signatory to two organizations internationally recognized as leaders in developing best-practice guidelines for investors and in driving corporate disclosure to inform and promote sustainable investment.

           Specifically, Harvard’s endowment will become a signatory to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). The PRI joins together a network of international investors working to implement a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for integrating environmental, social and governance factors into investment analysis and ownership practices aligned with investors’ fiduciary duties. Harvard Management Company will manage Harvard’s endowment consistent with these principles.

           In addition, we will become a signatory to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) climate change program. The CDP is an international nonprofit organization that works with investors to request that portfolio companies account for and disclose information on greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and carbon risks associated with their business activities in order to increase transparency and encourage action.

           Both these significant steps underscore our growing efforts to consider environmental, social and governance issues among the many factors that inform our investment decision-making, with a paramount concern for how the endowment can best support the academic aspirations and educational opportunities that define our distinctive purposes as a university. [Bracketed material and links therein added.]

           What in these 319 words did Pres. Faust commit Harvard’s endowment to do?  Yes, PRI and CDP are important – very important – organisations doing significant work.  But like Oliver Twist we’re left holding our gruel bowl pleading, ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

 Significance of Endorsing the PRI & CDP

           To its credit Harvard is the first university endowment to subscribe to the PRI or, so far as I can tell, the CDP. 

           Whether Harvard is, in Alex Beam’s sardonic phrase, the World’s Greatest University (WGU) one may debate but not whether its $32 billion is the world’s greatest university endowment.  (That number does not include the value of Harvard’s campuses, patents, art, copyrights, etc., etc., etc., which, logic suggests, dwarfs its endowment.)

           Where Harvard leads, it is safe to follow, generally.  Other universities, responding to pressure to divest carbon-fuel companies, will add their names to lists of PRI and CDP signatories.

           That’s a very big deal when climate deniers control two of the three branches of the Federal government and all branches of more than half the state governments.  That grip will likely become tighter come the fall.

Scepticism Bred of Experience

           As Pres. Faust notes, endorsing the PRI commits Harvard to

voluntary principles that provide a framework for integrating environmental, social and governance factors into investment analysis and ownership practices aligned with investors’ fiduciary duties.

 Whether Harvard does something positive with its endowment depends on how it defines those last five words.

           The news’s placement in Pres. Faust’s letter – buried – signals, I fear, its unimportance to those who run Harvard.  The absence in university-generated copy of any supporting quotations from members of Harvard’s Corporation or its Board of Overseers (its trustee-equivalents) or from Harvard Management – much less, an investment policy – deepens my suspicions.

           After all, Harvard fought divesting from South Africa for more than 20 years, never fully divesting.  Ten years after Nelson Mandela invited companies to reinvest, Harvard students urged the University to divest from companies supporting the Sudan regime.  The Harvard Crimson reported in December 2004:

So far, however, the campaign has done little to change the University’s position.

Jack Meyer, the [then] president of the Harvard Management Company … told The Crimson in November that divestment would only eliminate jobs for the Sudanese people.

 “Divesting is not an effective way to make social change,” he said.

 Pres. Faust shows no sign she disagrees with Jack Meyer.

           Until Harvard’s trustee equivalents adopt meaningful investment policies,  such as the corporate engagement the PRI suggests, and Pres. Faust and Harvard Management commit themselves to implement them, Pres. Faust’s letter can only be said to ‘give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

$120 Million is What % of $6.5 Billion?

          I quoted all 319 words of Pres. Faust’s third point on SRI.  Just below are the 196 words of her first point.  Keep in mind that the Harvard Campaign to which she refers is a $6.5 billion fund drive that, rumor has it, is halfway to its goal.

           First, and at the heart of our mission as a university, is research. Our research across Harvard—in climate science, engineering, law, public health, policy, design and business—has an unparalleled capacity to accelerate the progression from nonrenewable to renewable sources of energy. The Harvard Campaign has identified energy and environment as a priority, and we have already raised $120 million to support activities in this area. As part of this broader campaign focus, I intend to catalyze the aspects of that research specifically focused on shaping and accelerating the transition to a sustainable energy system.

           I challenge our talented and dedicated faculty and students to identify how their efforts can propel societies and individuals along this path. And I challenge our alumni and friends to assist me in raising $20 million for a fund that will seed and spur innovative approaches to confronting climate change, as an element of our broader campaign efforts in energy and environment. To launch this new Climate Change Solutions Fund, I will immediately make available $1 million in grants to be allocated at the outset of the coming academic year. (Please see here for further information on this fund and the application process.)

           ‘$120 million to support activities in this area’ doesn’t compare well to $6.5 billion.  And, $1 million of new grants seems pretty short money.

           We know it’s all about the money.  And, it’s the trustees who control it.

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Category: Climate Change, Coal, Community & Society, Economics, Education, Energy, Environment, Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG), Ethics & Morality, Fiduciary Duties, Finance & Financial Services, George Orwell, Harvard University, Ohio State University, Principles for Responsible Investment, Social Change, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), Sustainability

2 April, 2014

Thinking About the Fullers: Arthur, Buckminster & Margaret

By Peter Kinder


Cambridge, MA:  R. Buckminster Fuller headstones, Mt. Auburn Cemetery 3/30/14

Cambridge, MA: R. Buckminster Fuller headstones, Mt. Auburn Cemetery 3/30/14



Cambridge, MA:  Margaret Fuller monument, Mt. Auburn Cemetery  3/30/14

Cambridge, MA: Margaret Fuller monument, Mt. Auburn Cemetery 3/30/14

          On a filthy March afternoon, a group gathered at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge to look at the Cemetery’s restoration of monuments to Civil War dead.  One could not pick a more gloomy day to look at the stones of men who’d died violently in their prime.

           But, there was much to discover about our times as well.


           Our second – and, due to rain and chill, last – stop was at a handsome monument to Arthur Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller had died at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 11, 1862.

           Fuller, an ardent Unitarian minister, had served the 16th Massachusetts Regiment of volunteers as a chaplain.  His term of service had ended on December 10th, but he’d remained in camp because of an impending battle.

           The following morning, he volunteered to take up a rifle for the assault on Fredericksburg.  He died at 41 leaving a widow and four children.

           Spend enough time in greater Boston and you’ll learn about some very brave, self-sacrificing Unitarians: Civil Rights workers in Alabama and Mississippi; medics in the World Wars; and abolitionists and soldiers in the Civil War.

           Arthur Buckminster Fuller was one, but one of many


           That middle name….  I circled behind the marble monument and found two unpretentious granite stones, one noting the presence of R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) and his wife.  The second repeated a line from the first, but attributed it: “‘Call me Trimtab’ – Bucky”

           Since a geodesic dome in outline graced his name, this had to be the resting place of the man who shaped architecture, urban planning and ecological thought.  But what did the Moby Dick-like quotation mean?

           A search of the web led me to this quotation (in several places) but never with an ultimate source:

           Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trimtab.

          It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around.  Takes almost no effort at all.  So I said that the little individual can be a trimtab.    

           Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

           So I said, call me Trimtab.

Bucky Fuller was Arthur’s grandson in more than just name.  But perhaps in his musings on rudders and ocean liners, there was another, more personal dimension, a wish he could alter a tragic past.


           Damp and cold, we moved down a slope toward the road leading back to the Bigelow Chapel.  I looked back toward Arthur Buckminster Fuller’s stone.  Just below it was a somewhat larger stone with a bronze plaque.

           It recalled Arthur’s sister, Margaret Fuller, who died, returning from Europe, with her husband and young son in a shipwreck off Fire Island, New York, in 1850.  She was just 40 years old.

           The Margaret Fuller Bicentennial website, which the Unitarians sponsored in part, modestly summarizes her significance:

           Today we consider Margaret Fuller one of the guiding lights of the first-wave of feminism. She helped educate the women of her day by leading a series of Conversations in which women were empowered to read, think and discuss important issues….

           Among her accomplishments:

 • First American to write a book about equality for women [Woman in the Nineteenth Century]                      

 • First editor of The Dial, [the] foremost Transcendentalist journal, appointed by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 • First woman to enter Harvard Library to pursue research

 • First woman journalist on Horace Greeley’s New York Daily Tribune

 • First woman literary critic who also set literary standards

 • First woman foreign correspondent and war correspondent to serve under combat conditions [paragraphing and punctuation altered]

 And so much more!

           Margaret Fuller’s importance – actual and symbolic – to how we live today, to our concepts of equality and social justice, to how women and men work together, can’t be overstated.

           The inscription on her memorial at Mt. Auburn, I think, best captures her spirit.  It dates to 1854, long before her legacy was realised.

By birth a child of New England
By adoption a citizen of Rome
By genius belonging to the world

In youth
An insatiate student seeking the highest culture

In riper years
Teacher, writer, critic of literature and art

In maturer age
Companion and helper of many

Earnest reformer in America and Europe


           Something else caught my attention as I researched this post.

           The event that catalyzed Margaret Fuller’s future was her the death of her father, US Rep. Timothy Fuller, in 1835, from cholera.  At 25 she had to become the breadwinner for a family in very straitened circumstances.  Her brother, Arthur, had just entered his teens.

           Eleven years later, Arthur’s wife, Elizabeth, also died of cholera.  In 1859 he married Emma Reeves.  Her son, Richard Buckminster Fuller, was just 22 months old when his father died at Fredericksburg.  He died on his namesake’s 15th birthday in 1910.

           Bacterial diseases spread by fecal contamination of water supplies; shipwrecks; deaths at early ages; the Civil War.  None of those fit my image – or imaginings – of Bucky Fuller.  He seemed to embody progress, the future.  So he did.

           But the future comes with a past.


H/T: The staff at Mt. Auburn and the restorers who worked on the Civil War graves project for a fascinating two hours on March 30.

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Category: American Character, American Civil War, Cambridge, Mass., Community & Society, Environment, Families, Future, History, Literature, Massachusetts, Medicine & Illness, Modern Life, Religion, US History, Writing

28 March, 2014

Grace Note: Richard Griffiths & Alan Bennett

By Peter Kinder

Cambridge, MA:  Mt. Auburn Cemetery, 'Edith' 10/7/13

Cambridge, MA: Mt. Auburn Cemetery, ‘Edith’ 10/7/13

          The late Richard Griffiths is best remembered here as Vernon Dursley in the ‘Harry Potter’ films.

           But, Griffiths was most notably a stage actor who excelled in plays written by the best of his generation.  I had the great good luck to see him in roles he debuted created by Tom Stoppard and Alan Bennett.

           In ‘Heroes’ (2005), three aged poilus of the Great War – Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott – fill the walled garden of a veterans home with their dreams and their affection for one another.  Tom Stoppard adapted a French play, ‘The Wind from the Poplars’ into this tragi-comedy.

           I thought ‘Heroes’ moving and lovely with Griffiths leading a cast of peers.  The play and the three performances have not left my memory.

           Not everyone agreed on the play   (See it for yourself, if you’re in the vicinity of West Springfield, Mass. where a professional production runs through April 4.) No matter the plot, the stars carried it off.

           Of Griffith’s collaboration with Alan Bennett on ‘History Boys’ (2004), we have a film record.  It captures something of Griffith’s genius, but film flattens his affect, as it does in the TV series ‘Pie in the Sky’.

           Seeing ‘History Boys’ in London, even at a considerable distance from the stage, Griffith’s vibrance, his intense interaction with the other actors and the script left me awestruck.

           Bennett and Griffiths were both Yorkshiremen rose from straitened – and worse – circumstances.  They shared intellectual curiosities of breathtaking ranges.  What gives Griffiths’ role as Hector, the inspired and inspiring teacher, some of its poignancy is that the boys, not the teacher, represented his youth, his life.

           A hint of Bennett’s affection for Griffiths comes in entries from his 2013 Diary published in the London Review of Books for Jan. 9, 2014.  I have no doubt Griffiths would have played the scene well.

3 May. I am reading Neil MacGregor’s Shakespeare’s Restless World. It’s very good, even overcoming my (A.L. Rowse generated) prejudice against reading about Shakespeare. I hadn’t realised at Richard Griffiths’s funeral in Stratford that Shakespeare’s father had been buried in the churchyard, the whereabouts of the grave now unknown. So when, waiting for the service to start, I went out for a pee under one of the yews in a sheltered corner of the cemetery I may well have been pissing on Shakespeare’s dad’s grave. More decorously, Richard’s massive coffin was resting where presumably Shakespeare’s coffin rested, a notion that would have pleased him though at the service it goes unremarked.

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Category: British Films, Literature, London, Modern Life, Movies, UK, Writing

4 March, 2014

John Hay: Present at the Creation of Lincoln’s & Roosevelt’s America

By Peter Kinder


Cleveland, Ohio:  Lake View Cemetery, John Hay Memorial 5/22/10

Cleveland, Ohio: Lake View Cemetery, John Hay Memorial 5/22/10

          John Hay’s is one of those names from the late 19th century one recognises without quite knowing why.  He deserves to be remembered.  For he altered our national character.

          Hay served as Secretary of State from 1898 until his death in 1905.  So, he was present at the creation (pace Dean Acheson) of the American empire by Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt.

           Brown University has a portrait of its distinguished alumnus painted by John Singer Sargent.  It is like a high Renaissance portrait of a long-forgotten noble.  Hay appears an elegant man in his 50s (the picture is undated) with a Van Dyke beard, very far from the stiff, formal portrait one might expect of a secretary of state.  In Sargeant’s hands, Hay looks the captain of every drawing room, which he was.

           But the overwhelming sensation is of keen intelligence.

           When you go to Washington, you may pass the Hay-Adams, a hotel close by the White House.  It stands where H.H. Richardson, the most important architect of the age, created two neo-Romanesque townhouses, one for John Hay (1884), the other for his great friend, Henry Adams.

           Adams was certainly the great American intellectual of the 19th century, if he did not retire the title.  He is one of those rarest of historians whom one reads with profit 100 years after their death.  But for all the magnificence of Adams’s nine-volume history of the early republic (1889-91), Hay’s ten volumes (with John Nicolay) on Abraham Lincoln (1890) have had a greater, longer influence.

           David M. Shribman, in reviewing Joshua Zeitz’s Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay & the War for Lincoln’s Image (2014), quotes its author:

Americans today understand Abraham Lincoln much as Nicolay and Hay hoped they would.  Theirs was a deliberate project of historical creation.

           Theirs was a homage to the president they served as secretaries while in their early 20s.  Of their 15-year project, Shribman says:

           In repeated consultations with Lincoln’s son Robert, who would retain final editorial discretion, and with no formal historical training of their own, the two created a narrative – one that endures and defies revisionism.

           …[C]omprising 1.2 million words, it was, as Zeitz puts it, “the unofficial Northern, Republican Party interpretation of the Civil War.’’

 And, it lasted.  Few creation myths have survived as Nicolay and Hays’s.  Fewer still have served their cultures as well.

          Hay married well.  His wife, Clara, the daughter of Cleveland industrialist Amasa Stone, brought a fortune with her which allowed him to spend most of his career in trusted positions in government.

          Unlike his friend, Henry Adams, Hay died before his wife.  Adams had commissioned the great sculptor, August Saint-Gaudens, and the near-great architect, Stanford White, to construct a memorial to her.  Known popularly as ‘Grief’, the Adams Memorial in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery is breathtaking.

          Hay rests in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, a few yards from his father-in-law, as tragic as Hay was effortlessly successful.  The statue (by James Earle Fraser) presiding over Hay’s grave is less distinguished, more modest in its setting than ‘Grief’.  A picture of it accompanies this post.

           Still, the Archangel Gabriel astride his memorial suggests Hay as a paladin of the reincarnated United States brought forth by the Republican Ascendency from Lincoln through Taft.  John Hay’s is a name to be remembered, a life of the first order.

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Category: Abraham Lincoln, American Character, American Civil War, Architecture, Community & Society, Henry Adams, Historians & Economists, History, Imperialism & Empire, Peace & War, Social Change, Spanish-American War, US History, US Politics, Victorian Era - US

27 February, 2014

Philip Roth: Within the American Canon & Among Enemies

By Peter Kinder


Columbus, Ohio:  Schmidt's Sausage Haus 3/12/12

Columbus, Ohio: Schmidt’s Sausage Haus 3/12/12

          When the Church declares a person – always dead – to be a saint, s/he’s canonised.  The books of the Bible the Church long ago established as scripture are called the canon.  By extension, literary works of time-tested worth are said to have joined the canon.

           Either for canonisation or for the inclusion of his works in the American canon, the author of Portnoy’s Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth is an untimely, unlikely candidate.

           In a wonderfully written – sometimes surprising – review of Roth Unbound by Claudia Roth Pierpont, ‘In the Egosphere’ (London Review of Books, Jan. 23, 2014), Adam Mars-Jones observes:

           Time pardons the renegade….  And in 2005 the Library of America started publishing Roth’s work in a uniform edition.  It wasn’t the first time a living author’s work had been honoured in this way:  Eudora Welty and Saul Bellow went before him.  But being received into the canon is normally a Moses deal.  You may be able to see it in the distance, but you don’t get to go there yourself.  All the more surprising in Roth’s case, since he is known for his rough handling of the tablets of the law.  There’s something very odd about finding Portnoy’s Complaint in a volume of the Library of America….  It’s like learning that a vintage inflatable sex doll has been bought by the British Museum. The problem is not that the institution is debased by acquiring such a thing but rather that the artefact loses its meaning when stripped of disreputability.

           Mars-Jones’s lengthy (and largely favorable) appraisal of Roth is worth a careful read.

           Among Mars-Jones’s many telling points is one that deserves to stand alone, without further comment.  That is, however posterity judges Philip Roth as a writer, it must not forget his books earned him that greatest of contemporary accolades:  the catalysing of enemies in the highest places. 

           One of the high points of Roth Unbound is the extract from the [White House] tapes (recorded on 3 November 1971) in which [President Richard] Nixon considers [with his Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman] his anti-Roth strategy:

 NIXON: Roth of course is a Jew.

HALDEMAN: Oh yes … he’s brilliant in a sick way.

NIXON: Oh, I know –

 HALDEMAN: Everything he’s written has been sick …

 NIXON: A lot of this can be turned to our advantage … I think the anti-Semitic thing can be, I hate to say it, but it can be very helpful to us. I mean you hear a singer even as brilliant as [Metropolitan Opera star] Richard Tucker and he’s a Jew.


NIXON: He’s pushy …

HALDEMAN: There are a lot more anti-Semites than there are Jews, and the anti-Semites are with us generally and the Jews sure aren’t.

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Category: American Character, Art, Ethics & Morality, Nixon & Watergate, Religion, Sixties History, US History, Writing

26 February, 2014

Fernandez v. California: ‘Search & Seizure’ Restrictions Narrowed Yet Again

By Peter Kinder


Cherry Valley, NY:  Jack Howard Potter, 'Pulling III' 7/28/12

Cherry Valley, NY: Jack Howard Potter, ‘Pulling III’ 7/28/12

          Back when my law degree’s ink was damp and Richard Nixon had just begun what proved to be less than ‘Four More Years!’, the Supreme Court under Warren Burger started scaling back the burden on police to obtain search warrants in the war on drugs to show it was tough on crime. 

Here’s the troublesome, if pretty straight forward, Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

           The Court began by allowing cops to search cars in traffic stops.  No expectation of privacy in your car, you see, not like your house or body.  The holdings didn’t make any more sense then.

           Forty years later, we have asset forfeiture alleys in places like Nashville where police prey upon travelers to support their department budgets.  Scenting marijuana is always a good excuse.

           The Conservative Ascendency’s assault on the Fourth Amendment has continued unabated.  Adam Liptak reported today in the New York Times:

           The case about searches followed a confrontation at the Los Angeles home of Walter Fernandez, who was suspected of a role in a robbery. “You don’t have any right to come in here,” he told police officers. “I know my rights.”

           Under a 2006 decision, Georgia v. Randolph, that objection was enough to bar a search of his home without a warrant even if another occupant consented, at least so long as Mr. Fernandez remained present.

          The police arrested Mr. Fernandez on seeing that he had apparently beaten his domestic partner, Roxanne Rojas, who was also there. An hour later, with Mr. Fernandez at a police station, the police returned, and Ms. Rojas let them in. They found weapons and evidence linking Mr. Fernandez to the robbery.

           He was convicted on robbery, gun and domestic abuse charges after the trial judge refused to suppress the evidence collected at his home, and he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

           The question for the justices was whether the police should have obtained a warrant in light of Mr. Fernandez’s objection. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said no.

           The general rule, he said, is that any occupant’s consent is sufficient. The 2006 decision, he added, was limited to objections from people who were physically present. Expanding that exception after the objecting occupants were gone, even at the hands of the police themselves, he wrote, “would raise a plethora of problems.”

           Among them, Justice Alito wrote, was how long the objection had to be respected. “A week?” he asked. “A month? A year? Ten years?”

           Now Justice Alito is widely regarded as so much smarter than you and I that it must be disrespectful to respond, ‘Long enough to get to the squad car and call an assistant district attorney who then can get a warrant authorized by a duty judge.  So, maybe a couple of hours.’ 

           I have a genuinely disrespectful response that more befits Justice Alito’s question:

           ‘There’s no “plethora of problems” here.  In fact, there’s none.  Your question assumes, in a situation where neither hot pursuit nor the imminent destruction of evidence exists, a limit on how long an officer denied entry need wait under the Fourth Amendment before searching the house without a warrant.  Even for one who’s not an Originalist, it’s hard to read it that way.’

           The Times continues:

           In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, wrote that “the police could readily have obtained a warrant to search the shared residence.”

           “Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it, never mind ample time to secure the approval of a neutral magistrate,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

           Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission momentarily illuminated for all the restructuring of American civil society begun by Richard Nixon and his appointees to the Court.  In the hundreds of obscure cases, like Fernandez v. California, we see the details of our new relationship with power.

           As I’ve said before, read Ingo Müller’s Hitler’s Justice (Harvard Univ. Press, 1991) on how the German judiciary paved the way for Hitler and then abetted his worst.

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Category: American Character, Community & Society, Crime - Organized & Not, Future, Judges & Legal Scholars, Law - Criminal, Nazi Era, Shoah, Social Change, US Criminal Law, US Politics, WWII

23 February, 2014

To Jonas Salk & Anti-Polio Campaigners: An Inadequate ‘Thank You’

By Peter Kinder


Brookline, Mass.:  Congregation Kehillath Israel, Rabbi Carrying Torah 10/3/13

Brookline, Mass.: Congregation Kehillath Israel, Rabbi Carrying Torah 10/3/13

          Today with great reverence I wish to thank Dr. Jonas Salk and those who preceded and followed him in the struggle to control polio.  For as The Writer’s Almanac for Feb. 23 reminds us:

It was on this day in 1954 that the first mass inoculation of children for polio began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For to adapt a phrase from its most famous sufferer, of polio before Dr. Salk there was much more to fear than fear itself.


           I first encountered the Salk vaccine, I think, a year later.  It was a three-shot series.  The first two shots in the arm had hurt like hell.  My mother had told me to stop by the St. Clairsville Clinic after school to get the third.

          I’ve no idea why I’d told my schoolmates what I had to do.  It resulted in a day of teasing and pinching and unrelenting reminders of what 3:30 would bring.

           I trudged slowly from school to the clinic.  I was shown into Dr. Bob Porterfield’s office.  I don’t recall what happened next, but seconds later I was flying about the office with the bespectacled, chain-smoking doctor puffing behind.

           Somehow he caught me, administered the shot, and I then returned to my paper route with an aching left arm.

           I expected something far worse when I got home.  But nothing happened, and Dr. Bob never referred to the chase over the next 25+ years when he treated three generations of my family.  It was my first experience, I now realise, with doctor-patient confidentiality – and mercy.


           My gratitude to Dr. Salk in that moment and five years later when I got a booster shot – a memorably painful one – was quite limited.  It isn’t today.

           Now I think about the family across the street who were quarantined during the summer of 1952.  The older son and younger daughter bore signs of their polio ever after, as did the entire family.

           My beloved cousin, Anne, contracted polio the year before I was born.  She depended on a wheelchair for the next 45 years.  As I came to know her in the 1960s, I glimpsed the hard work it took to keep the muscle strength she’d rebuilt.  Of polio’s hourly humiliations, there was no way to avoid knowing.  It made remarkable the near silence of this powerful, strong-voiced woman about polio’s frustrations.

           Beyond their life-long affection for their care in Warm Springs, Georgia, and the support of their fellow patients, Anne shared much with the most famous polio sufferer, Franklin Roosevelt.

          Both had contracted the disease as adults.  It usually struck children in the summer which made for their parents anxious – not carefree – seasons.


           Polio, we’ve learnt from Joni Mitchell’s experience, is not something one gets over.  It can return with a vengeance, as it did with my cousin.  It is unrelenting which makes the fears of my parents and their peers all the more tangible.

           The Writer’s Almanac reports something I don’t remember (I was 8 ½):

On April 12, 1955, the monitors of the [Pittsburgh] test held a press conference…:  the vaccine was safe and effective. The announcement was a huge national event.  Stores broadcast the event on loudspeakers, and judges even stopped trials in the middle so that everyone could listen.  After they heard the news, churches across the country rang their bells, factories took a break for a moment of silence, and spontaneous celebrations broke out all over the country.  It was 10 years to the day after the death of Franklin Roosevelt.

           According to the Salk Institute website:

In the two years before vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000 [in a population of 165 million].  By 1962, that number had dropped to 910.  Salk never patented the vaccine, nor did he earn any money from his discovery, preferring to see it distributed as widely as possible. [Link added.]


           So, thank you to Dr. Robert Porterfield, Dr. Jonas Salk, the March of Dimes and the millions who worked hard to remove the fear of polio from parents.  And, thank you to the survivors of the more than 30 anti-polio campaigners killed in Pakistan by the Taliban since July 2012.

           For as Dr. Salk said, ‘Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.’

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Category: Community & Society, Eastern Ohio, Families, Family - Mine, Fifties History, Folk & Acoustic Music, Future, Joni Mitchell, Medicine & Illness, Modern Life, Religion, US History

19 February, 2014

All Join: ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy’

By Peter Kinder


Boston, Mass.:  Near Faneuil Hall 6/15/12

Boston, Mass.: Near Faneuil Hall 6/15/12

          Since childhood, I’ve thought ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ was among the most ridiculous of patriotic ditties.  But the song has a meaning that makes it just right for our political time.

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni.

           The greater meaning of this ludicrous song hadn’t troubled me enough to research it.  That is, until this morning when, in an essay by Karl Miller in the London Review of Books, I read, “‘Macaroni’ was then [in the 1810s] an English word for a dandy prone to foreign expressions.”

           So, I thought, the ditty is ridiculous – in the sense of ridiculing – of the people now singing it loudly.  I turned to the Wikipedia entry on ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ which claims:

Traditions place its origin in a pre-Revolutionary War song originally sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian War [in Europe, the Seven Years War].

 In the 17th and 18th centuries, a ‘doodle’ was a simpleton.

           As relations between the colonists and the British military worsened, the lyrics evolved into those sung today.  They had specific, cutting meanings.

           Take the feather called macaroni.  Says the Wikipedia entry on the song

The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became contemporary slang for foppishness.  The Macaronis were young [aristocratic] English men who adopted feminine mannerisms and highly extravagant attire, and were deemed effeminate. They were members of the Macaroni Club in London at the height of the fashion for dandyism, so called because they wore striped silks… – and a feather in their hats….  Their love of horse racing at Cheltenham and Bibury … can still be recognised today….  [Footnotes omitted.]

Hence, the ‘riding on a pony’ is an unflattering comparison to the English aristocrats’ fanaticism about horses and racing.

           But there’s more.  A very interesting website, Gay History & Literature: Essays by Rictor Norton, contains an online source book, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England.  In an essay on the Macaroni Club in 1772, Norton contends the Macaronis were never an actual club.  Rather, it was a reference to style:

More literally, a ‘macaroni’ was a small tricorn hat placed on top of a high wig. Hence, when Yankee Doodle ‘stuck a feather in his cap, and called it macaroni’, it was the entire cap, not just the feather, that constituted a ‘macaroni’, and which symbolized him as a Dandy and a bit of a buffoon.

            ‘Macaroni’ was also an allusion to homosexuals of an especially flamboyant type.  Reports Norton:

In so far as the macaronies aped ladies’ fashions, they were deemed to be effeminate and sexually indeterminate:

But Macaronies are a sex
Which do philosophers perplex;
Tho’ all the priests of Venus’s rites
Agree they are Hermaphrodites.
(‘The Vauxhall Affray’, a 1770s print)

 It is astonishing that a song with these references should have become the flag-waver it is.

          But now knowing this, I suggest we all join James Cagney in serenading the Kansas state Senate, as it considers legalising discrimination by Kansas businesses against same-sex couples, with George M. Cohan’s ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy’ .

          It’s the only fitting sentiment.

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Category: American Character, American Colonial Era, American Revolution, Community & Society, Music, Thirties/Forties Comedies, US History, US Politics

30 January, 2014

Pete Seeger: Secular Saint & Sinner

By Peter Kinder


Weston, VT:  Before a summer storm 9/5/11

Weston, VT: Before a summer storm 9/5/11

          ‘Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases.’  So begins George Orwell’s ‘Reflections on Gandhi’ (1949).

           Pete Seeger, who has died at 94, has received many obituaries offering him up for secular canonisation – but some not.  I won’t digest them here, but I do want to riff on a couple of points.

 Seeger the Populariser

           Many people didn’t much like Seeger’s voice or banjo picking.

           Rather, it was his genius – marked always by patience, generosity and credit where it was due – for adapting, synthesising and presenting that kept me, for one, listening to him and reading him for 55 years – on music, politics, the environment and the ethics of living.  Rolling Stone and the New York Times especially got this.

          Into great old age, it was his tirelessness advocacy and deep understanding of his audience that made Seeger a consumate political figure – for such he was.

           My favorite Seeger musical performance, by far, is his version of ‘Banks of Marble’, a song Woody Guthrie (whose lasting fame Seeger did much to assure) would have been proud to write.  (It is, ironically, best appreciated in an article on Leonard Cohen’s approach to the same song.) Written by his neighbor across the Hudson, Les Rice, an apple farmer, it is as powerful a social justice anthem as any I know.  And Seeger nails it.

 Ive travelled round this country
From shore to shining shore.
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.

I saw the weary farmer,
Ploughing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A-knocking down his home.

 But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the farmer sweated for.

Seeger & Communism

           In Boston parlance, Pete Seeger was ‘a stand-up guy’.  Not only did he speak out and sing out, he stood out for the progressive causes and the kinds of music I support.

           But one thing he stood up for was utterly wrong.

           Even his laudatory obits mentioned his allegiance to Stalin’s version of Communism (which the Communist Party USA supported) enduring well past the time its nature was clear.

           In my mind, it was one thing to be a Comintern Communist before the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Non-aggression Pact that led, nine days later, to the Nazi attack on Poland and seventeen days to the Soviets taking what remained.  It was a very different thing to be one ten years later.

 Before HUAC

           Nonetheless, I find much to admire in Seeger’s involuntary appearance before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1955.  The questions it asked, which Seeger declined to answer, related to his appearances on behalf of the Communist Party USA in 1947-49.

           Dahlia Lithwick (one of the best journalists around) wrote in Slate of Seeger’s testimony before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1955.  She reprints (as others have) this exchange between Seeger and HUAC Chairman Francis Walter (D-PA):

 MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.

 (Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours … that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

 CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don’t you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?         

 MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

 CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don’t want to hear about it.

           On this exchange, I’ve said elsewhere, ‘The reason [Pete Seeger] means so much to us, to me, is because he set the bar so high for himself, for us, for me.  In this exchange, he said all that had to be said.’

           I was wrong.  For in Seeger’s full testimony, which Lithwick reprints, there is much more which speaks to us today.

           But the transcript also reveals a witness well prepared for his audiences – that in the hearing room and the much larger one who’d read his words.  For all the substantive merits of Seeger’s positions, we’re reading a performance by an artist/politician who knew the importance of sticking to his lines.

 Seeger’s Hammer

           Toward the close of his HUAC testimony comes this:

MR. SEEGER: I shall [be] glad to answer about the song [‘If I had a Hammer’], sir, and I am not interested in carrying on the line of questioning about where I have sung any songs.


 CHAIRMAN WALTER: You may not he interested, but we are, however. I direct you to answer. You can answer that question.

 MR. SEEGER: I feel these questions are improper, sir, and I feel they are immoral to ask any American this kind of question.

           I admire Seeger’s answers.  They’re right; they’re what I believe should be the law.  But with the Patriot Act and its aiding terrorist groups felonies, a Seeger of today would be facing a seven plus year term in the Super Max, as I wrote here.

           After a couple of readings, Seeger’s testimony feels a bit like the speaking of Truth to power by soon-to-be martyrs in the religious books of my childhood.  There is even an echo of Christ before Pilate.  I never found those speeches convincing, so Seeger’s testimony leaves me with gnawing reservations.

No Fifth Amendment Refuge

           Early on, Seeger had told the Committee:

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

 Later comes this:

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question [about whether he’d played at a US Communist Party event in 1948].

 MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer, sir.

 MR. [GORDON H.] SCHERER [(R-OH)]: Let me understand. You are not relying on the Fifth Amendment, are you?

 MR. SEEGER: No, sir, although I do not want to in any way discredit or depreciate or depredate the witnesses that have used the Fifth Amendment, and I simply feel it is improper for this committee to ask such questions.

 Very brave, very honorable, that.  And, he makes an emphatic assertion about the innocence of his actions.

           Seeger must have known to the audience that mattered – the public – asserting one’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate oneself under oath was an admission of guilt.  He took a huge gamble by refusing to answer outside the Fifth Amendment’s shield.  Because he didn’t answer in 1955, says Lithwick:

Seeger was later indicted by a federal jury on 10 counts of contempt of Congress.  He was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 10 concurrent one-year prison terms, which he never served.  In 1962, the convictions were overturned. [Links added.]

           Had he lost this gamble on innocence, he might have joined the blacklisted whose careers were ended.  Instead, he won.  The payoff was a magnificent career of service.

The Times, They Had Changed

           But, I remain troubled.

           Not long ago, I read Karl Schlögel’s Moscow 1937 (2012) about the first year of Stalin’s Great Terror.  I wrote about it here.  In preparation for a long piece on Moscow 1937, I reread sections of Roy A. Medvedev’s Let History Judge (1971), on its publication a shocking treatment of the Stalin era by a Soviet historian.  I have been too shaken to write the piece I’d planned.

           In 1947-49, Stalin still ruled the Soviet Union.  Evidence of his evil was everywhere about Seeger:  from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940) to the stories of displaced persons coming from camps across the American, British and French zones of occupied Europe to the refugees arriving in New York….

 Saints & Guilt

           That long commitment to Stalinism taints Pete Seeger’s legacy, just as anti-Muslim bias poisons Mohandas Gandhi’s.  Still, Orwell’s final sentence on Gandhi in 1949 applies equally to Seeger:

…one may reject the claims of sainthood made on his behalf (he never made any such claim himself, by the way), one may also reject sainthood as an ideal and therefore feel that Gandhi’s basic aims were anti-human and reactionary: but regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!

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Category: American Character, Crime - Organized & Not, Environment, Ethics & Morality, Fifties History, Folk & Acoustic Music, George Orwell, Music, Religion, Social Change, Soviet Union, US Criminal Law, US History, US Politics, WWII