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27 May, 2014

‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’: The Funeral Train

By Peter Kinder


Wells, Vt.:  Lilacs, dooryard, farm house.  Memorial Day, 2014

Wells, Vt.: Lilacs, dooryard, farm house. Memorial Day, 2014

          The lilacs are in full bloom in Vermont.  Their blue, white and purple bring joy to the eyes and sadness to the heart.

           A line I think the best in American literature captures my ambivalence about lilacs.  In this post, I’ll write about the line’s historical and political context, in the next, some thoughts about lilacs and cellar holes.


 When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.


 In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

           No poem, no single line better captures the profound sadness of the spring the Civil War ended than Walt Whitman’s ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’.

          I hear in these first and third parts of Whitman’s mourning hymn to Abraham Lincoln a lament for the hosts who would never see their dooryards again.  But in the accompaniment I sense a keening for young America, for the land of yeomanry the Civil War transformed into a nation of capital and labor.


           Whitman’s ‘western fallen star’ had died the morning of April 15, 1865.

           On April 21, Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train began its slow progress through the awakening spring heading first north to Philadelphia and New York City and Albany, then west across the Empire State to Cleveland, from there south by southwest to Columbus and onward west northwest to Chicago and finally south to Springfield, where he was buried on May 4.

           The funeral train had traversed the heart of the Union.  But ‘the past is a foreign country’.  The train’s itinerary between Cleveland and Columbus lists 22 names; 16 (e.g., Cardington, Ashley, Eden, Berlin, Lewis Centre) on this familiar route are places unknown to me.

           During the next seven and half hours it took to reach Columbus, it must have passed hundreds of ‘dooryard[s] fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings’.

           How many of those houses held families grieving soldiers buried from Gettysburg to Vicksburg?  The War had thousands of ‘western fallen stars’ which is what makes Whitman’s first verse so unforgettable.  He captured them all in the one and centered grief in the most familiar of settings.

           How sad that first spring of peace must have been, North and South!  How poignant the Decoration Days that would follow with their late spring blooms of lilacs then peonies.


           But look at the route of the funeral train, and another deeply political message appears both for post-Civil War America and for the country today.

           Those who take I-95 or Amtrak along the seaboard from Boston to Washington rarely think how difficult that journey was 200 years ago.  We speed over (or under) the mouths of the Connecticut, Hudson and Delaware rivers as if spanning a rivulet.

           Not the least astonishing achievement of the Revolutionary generation was the creation of a north-south nation with its immense barriers to communication.

           A generation later in the north and the old Northwest Territory, canals and steam engines – propelling boats and railcars – imposed a political will on a resistant landscape.  That will had brought Abraham Lincoln, railroad lawyer and Whig-Republican politician, his fortune.

           The funeral train rolled slowly north across tamed – if not conquered – rivers to the nation’s former capitals, Philadelphia and New York.  Then to Albany it ran along the Hudson, the great pipe down which flowed the grain and produce from the heartland and whose return brought industrial products from the fall line.

          At Albany, the funeral train turned west toward Buffalo on the New York Central line parallel to the Erie Canal which had first tapped the agricultural riches of the west for the cities of the northern littoral.

           In Cleveland, the funeral train passed onto the tracks of the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Rail Road which had united Ohio northeast to southwest as no river or canal could.  From Columbus to Indianapolis, the rails paralleled the National Road, which similarly, had united this most important state east and west.

           The National Road (US 40, I-70) was the young nation’s first great experiment in unification by internal improvements.  No issue except slavery – with which it was intertwined, not surprisingly – so defined the first American republic as the fight over whether the Federal government should plan and pay for projects that made easier the transport of goods, people and ideas through and between states.

           Generally, the north and old northwest wanted internal improvements; the south didn’t.  The fate of the southern rebellion was determined by the improvements the north had made and the industrial development that followed.

           Such was the message of the funeral train.


           Lincoln’s four years in office affirmed the northern ascendency in arms, industry and education.  They committed the second republic – dominated by the north as the south had the first – to unification by transcontinental railroad, by Land Grant universities and by the thousands of aftershocks from the earthquake of the War of Rebellion.  (For my thoughts on reconciliation between north and south, see here; internal improvements, see here; education, see here.

           The heirs of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson had lost the wars – military and political – over the nation’s future.  Indeed, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, ‘this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom’.

           Into this new reality past dooryards alive in lilacs in the spring of 1865 the troops trudged homeward.


          In American politics there are ‘no final victories’, as the Kennedy-Johnson insider Larry O’Brien titled his memoirs published during the Ford administration.

          Today’s third American republic seems destined to abandon the unifications of the second – from race to education to law to internal improvements – that do not depend on coercion or flag-waving.

          The heirs of Jefferson and Jackson and the southern rebellion are again ascendant.  To my ears, ‘When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d’ is a dirge for gains lost, for the seeming futility of it all.

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Category: Abraham Lincoln, Agriculture, American Character, American Civil War, Communities, Community & Society, Education, Poetry, Public Higher Education, Social Change, US History, US Politics, Victorian Era - US

17 May, 2014

Gambling & Socially Responsible Investing: Four Quotations

By Peter Kinder


Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Square Mayfest  5/4/14

Cambridge, MA: Harvard Square Mayfest 5/4/14

          For as long as I’ve been involved with Socially Responsible Investing, its practitioners have declined to invest in gaming stocks.

           Digging through files looking for some ideas on the current casino chaos in Massachusetts, I found three quotations that shed some light on another controversy:  divestment of fossil-fuel stocks.


          In the first, the novelist (my all-time favorite) describes a character whose villainous investment (and how he came to make it) was less ambiguous when she wrote than it might be now:

On one point he may fairly claim approval at this particular stage of his career; he did not mean to imitate those philanthropic models who make a profit out of poisonous pickles to support themselves while they are exposing adulteration, or hold shares in a gambling-hell that they may have leisure to represent the cause of public morality.

George Eliot, Middlemarch [1872] (New York: Bantam Classics, 1985), p. 133.


          I’ve used the next quotation in another piece on gaming (‘The Sands of (Our) Time’, Oct. 26, 2012)).  It retains its bite:

Degrees of separation between gangsters and friends of gangsters, between homicidal goons and corporate hustlers, are some how less meaningful now that gambling stocks owned by Harvard University and the California State Employees Pension Fund are part of what the authors call a “grand alliance of upperworld and underworld.”

James McManus, “Profiles In Corruption,” New York Times Book Review, April 15, 2001, p. 10. McManus is referring to Sally Denton and Roger Morris, The Money and The Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001).


          So how did we get to the point where such investments are acceptable?  Perhaps it comes down to one of the most complicated, most subtly influential public figures of my lifetime.  Here was a man who changed norms.

Frank Sinatra, the greatest vocalist in the history of American music, elevated popular song to an art.  He was a dominant power in the entertainment industries — radio, records, movies, gambling — and a symbol of the Mafia’s reach into American public life.  More profoundly than any figure, excepting perhaps Elvis Presley, Sinatra changed the style and popular culture of the American Century.

Benjamin Schwarz, “His Second Act,” Atlantic, July 2007, p. 113.


           Frank Sinatra paid no apparent price for his status.  Far more importantly, I think, he made us tolerant – even accepting – of that corruption in our lives, if not our portfolios.

           A less attractive character, though no less great in his field, paid an enormous price for gambling.  But when you read the following on Pete Rose, think about the compensation schemes for American executives and the incentives for management governance norms have baked into business:

In sports, the people that participate in the games cannot gamble on the games for reasons that are somewhat obvious to most people who aren’t serving a lifetime ban from baseball.

Norman Chad, “The Book on Rose,” Boston Globe, January 12, 2004, p. C3.

Stock options and stock performance-based bonuses look even less benign in the context of Pete Rose.

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Category: American Character, Baseball, Business, Community & Society, Crime - Organized & Not, Education, Ethics & Morality, Finance & Financial Services, Harvard University, Modern Life, Music, Social Change, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), Sports, Vices-Gaming

12 May, 2014

On My Father’s 95th Birthday

By Peter Kinder


Cleveland, OH:  Anne Kinder's wedding.  June 1942

Cleveland, OH: Anne Kinder’s wedding. June 1942

          My father, Gordon T. Kinder, Jr., was born on May 13, 95 years ago.

           The picture accompanying this post was taken in June 1942.  My father in his dress uniform, a second lieutenant, had come to Cleveland from Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for a family wedding.

           As at least two generations of men in my family regularly did, he sits at the feet of his cousin and great friend, Anne Kinder.  His brother, George, in a blazer, sits to my father’s right.

           The photographer – the album where this picture resides proves him extraordinarily talented – caught the three dear friends as I choose to remember them:  in boisterous, good-humored conversation.

           But with rare and treasured exceptions, my memories don’t picture my father like this during the 30 years after I was born in 1946.

           With the lucky ones who survived the war, my father returned from Austria to catch up on his schooling, then practise law working long hours (with no real vacations for more than a decade) on things for which he wasn’t particularly suited, supporting his wife and four sons while tending devotedly his aged parents.  His health was always fragile, his back always prone to excruciating trauma.

           I think of him in those years as weary, impatient, present but absent, often bedridden.

           Only in his mid-50s could he grasp an opportunity to build up manufacturing businesses, something he loved.  Shortly thereafter, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack.

           Of course, he stopped – cold turkey – smoking two plus packs a day, began exercising – something one of his sons should have done at the same time.  But more importantly, without announcing it, he set out to become a model father, an indispensable part of his adult sons’ lives.

          His actions spoke clearly.  He earned his place with wisdom when – and only when – asked, with money when needed, and with regular phone calls.  Like me, he hated picking up the phone, but he did it.  His business advice, I can testify, was always good, often brilliant.  Even at a distance, he knew character.

          From that time into his 90th year, friends and acquaintances called him ‘youthful’, ‘joyful’, even while he endured diverticulitis and kidney failure and other banes of aging.

           His wit, his love of people, and his engaged conversation shone and were examples to his sons, in laws and grandchildren.  These had returned.

           When I look at the picture with this post, I see the man I didn’t know and the one I did, before and after.  How he loved parties!  How he loved his family!  How much fun he was!

           And, there’s a back story.  The night before the picture was taken, he’d met one of Anne’s bridesmaids, a classmate from Vassar, at drinks before the rehearsal dinner.  He then shot into the dining room and rearranged the seating cards so he’d sit beside her.

           Twelve months later, they married.

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Category: Family - Mine

7 May, 2014

Amidst Political Gloom, Gold Finches of Happiness

By Peter Kinder


Gold Finch in budding Cherry Tree, E. Dorset, VT  5/7/14

Gold Finch in budding Cherry Tree, E. Dorset, VT 5/7/14



Red-headed Woodpecker in cherry tree, E. Dorset, VT  5/7/14

Red-headed Woodpecker in cherry tree, E. Dorset, VT 5/7/14

           Dies irae, dies illa’.  ‘Day of wrath, day of anger’.  That line from Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor greeted me when I turned on ABC Classic FM a bit ago.

           I’d awakened still feeling the anger and pain I’d went to bed with.  I’d read too many blogs about ‘post-Constitutional America’ and the Federal courts’ craven acquiescence to legislation allowing our military to imprison people – Americans, too – indefinitely without any obligation to offer the person counsel, a hearing before a judge or a phone call to his/her family.

           And then there was Pres. Obama’s appointment of Harvard Law Professor David Barron to the US First Circuit Court of Appeals.  Joining the line of former prosecutors – people complicit in the perverted Justice system of the Bush II/Obama presidencies – the president of hope denied has appointed the author of the classified memorandum justifying the murder by drone of Americans abroad.

           US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is right (bet you never thought you’d see those words in this blog!) to insist on the memorandum’s release.  He’d be more right to urge his Senate colleagues to reject nominees, like Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee (author whilst at the Bush II Justice Department of an infamous ‘torture’ memorandum) who have destroyed the spirit of the laws they swore to uphold and, I fear, damned us.

           Add to Barron the two men with very disturbing views on women, voting rights and secession Obama has nominated to the US District Court in Georgia, I wonder if breaking the filibuster was worth the effort.  What a legacy Obama is leaving us!

           Then there’s the prosecution and conviction on Monday of Occupy Wall Street protester, Cecily McMillan, in what appears to have been a kangaroo court in all but name.  Another craven performance by Manhattan prosecutor, Cyrus Vance, Jr….

           Dies irae, dies illa!

           But then I looked at the bird feeders next to the cherry tree outside my office window.  Greeting me this first morning in Vermont in two months were a dozen gold finches – my favorite birds since childhood – who’ve shed their winter drab for brilliant summer coats, a half dozen red polls, a red-headed woodpecker and a blue bird.

           Beyond them, a field of daffodils – yellow, orange and white – shake in the breeze.  The willows in the middle ground have moved from yellow toward green and hints of green one can discern amongst the buds on other deciduous trees which still appear – all the way to Mt. Graylock – winter purple and gray.

          So, instead of bemoaning our lost world, let’s revel in the new one spring brings.

           Gaudete!  Rejoice!

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Category: Classical Music, Community & Society, Crime - Organized & Not, Environment, Ethics & Morality, Future, Imperialism & Empire, International Criminal Law - UN, Modern Life, Peace & War, US Criminal Law, US Department of Justice, US Politics, Vermont, War on Terror

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 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