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Resources for OLLI Course: “A Walk Through Berkshire History” Spring 2019

Here is a list of links to the slides I used in my classes, as well as various blog posts, articles, and other resources that have been referenced during my lectures, or mentioned in my emails to the OLLI students, or that came to mind as I was preparing this list.

Background

Here is a brief introduction to the course.

Please note that nearly all of the material here is copyrighted, either by me or by my sources, and is intended to be used solely for educational purposes. I have tried to acknowledge all the help I received, from my students and others. Apologies to anyone I may have inadvertently failed to thank. The course turned into a larger undertaking than I had originally envisioned, and I probably learned more than my students did, since I sorted through an enormous amount of material before deciding how to condense it into class presentations.

Slides

  • Session One [Mahican-Mohawk Trail]
  • Session Two [Ice Glen and Laura’s Tower] (some overlap with Session One, since the discussion of the Mahican-Mohawk Trail continued in Session Two, before taking on the Laurel Hill Association properties in Stockbridge)
  • Session Three [segue from Stockbridge to Monterey] (again, some overlap and review, since the discussions of properties didn’t fall neatly one into each session, and there was more interest in the Mohicans than I had anticipated)
  • Session Four [Bidwell House]
  • Session Five [Alford Springs and Parsons Marsh]
  • Session Six [Keystone Arch Bridges] plus some review, additional information, and answers to questions raised in prior sessions

Articles mentioned and Other Resources that might be of interest

Other related (and somewhat more personal) information:

  • Land Acknowledgement: the idea for this came from Simon Winchester, who did a similar thing in Sandisfield, where he is the Town Moderator. My specific application to Alford was informed by the research I had done for the OLLI course.
  • A little humor to avow My Disqualifications: I wanted to be sure my students knew I didn’t take myself too seriously. I’m not an historian, and I relied on the work of others to provide the information I conveyed.
  • And just in case you think I’m being too modest and don’t know how to brag, this (partial) list of my accomplishments should disabuse you of that notion!
  • My rather verbose introduction to myself and the course.
  • Edwin Curtis Bidwell, my grandmother’s grandfather.

I’m sure there are more items, so I’ll add to this list from time to time, as I notice them. If you have any questions about anything here (or that I omitted) feel free to contact me. Those in my course know my email address, others can leave a note here.

Wealth Inequality: Causes and Cures

… only a carefully designed mechanism for redistribution can compensate for the natural tendency of wealth to flow from the poor to the rich in a market economy.

Is Inequality Inevitable?

The “natural tendency” mentioned here ^ is the hypothetical outcome of a random process. It is remarkable that, in a market economy, although there are structural barriers to randomness, the end result of wealth distribution seems to follow a “power law” in which very few people end up with most of the wealth.

Only by conscious action can a society choose to counteract this tendency for wealth to be concentrated within a small minority of people. One solution, as mentioned, is to have a method to redistribute wealth before it becomes too lopsided. Another approach is to rely less on a market economy. Examples abound of failures of command economies, but there are success stories as well. Native American cultures may have much to teach us in that regard.

I became aware of power laws † (although I don’t recall that term being used) back in the early 1970s, when I was doing research on security prices.

Stevens’s power law is … named after psychophysicist Stanley Smith Stevens (1906–1973). Although the idea of a power law had been suggested by 19th-century researchers, Stevens is credited with reviving the law and publishing a body of psychophysical data to support it in 1957.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevens%27s_power_law

It seems that the concepts of power laws have been known and studied for centuries, but that term came into common use only in the past few decades, often in connection with what has come to be called the science of complexity. But I digress…

In my research in the security markets, in the early days of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, I became aware of differing attempts to explain and describe movements in stock prices. In my industry (security analysis), it came to be generally accepted among us academic-types (quants, short for quantitative analysts), that stock prices followed a random walk, and changes in stock prices could be modeled with formulae from physics, including Brownian motion and heat-diffusion (the latter being the basis of the highly influential Black-Scholes option-pricing model).

The emphasis then shifted to analysis of risk, rather than the prediction of stock prices. In an efficient marker, higher risk was compensated by higher rates of return, but it also carried with it a higher chance of losing money. The idea was to balance the risk and return in such a way as to maximize return while minimizing the risk of loss. One of my early tasks was to provide investment advice to small-business pension funds, operating within a complex regulatory environment. In those early days of ERISA, I worked for an insurance company, so that, in addition to IRS regulations, we had to be aware of constraints placed on us by insurance regulators. Within that framework, I was able to model the best “asset mix” of stocks, bonds, and cash.

During this work, I became aware of Gibrat’s Law of Proportionate Effect (published in 1931), that proposed (among other things) that the growth rate of firms in an economy was independent of their size. This formulation, along with numerous more recent variations, have provided insight into the power laws that seem to regulate the distribution of a wide variety of phenomena. Such things as the size of cities, and the number of species in a given land area, seem to follow this pattern, which is best described in statistical terms as a lognormal distribution.

Which brings us back to wealth inequality. The Affine Wealth Model (AWM) is one variation on this general theme, that growth (or dispersion) in a random process will create a power-law distribution of outcomes. To oversimplify (and perhaps to somewhat mischaracterize), and without getting into particulars, this Model purports to show/predict the effect of a market economy on the wealth accumulation of its participants. Its premise seems to be that, when goods are exchanged, the exchange does not always happen at fair value, so that for (at least) some transactions, there are winners and there are losers. Even if no skill is involved (meaning that the win/loss is a random outcome), the result is a lognormal distribution of wealth.

Carried to its logical conclusion, such a model, in its raw form, would suggest a concentration of wealth far in excess of what is observed, so a modification is introduced to allow for some arbitrary redistribution of wealth (which may come by way of taxation or other means). All of this (and more) is explained quite well in the Scientific American article quoted at the beginning of this post.

All of this is well and good (and interesting), but I have a couple of major quibbles (which I guess is oxymoronic). One is that the AWM describes the outcome of the process, but is not based on the actual process. The real world is much more complex than a bunch of random transactions. There are issues of skill, cheating, privilege, unfair regulations, and so on, to name a few. The other objection I have is that wealth is not completely measured by the sum total of one’s physical, tradeable possessions.

Wealth, in a broader sense, includes many intangibles, such as a sense of well-being and community; access to cultural and recreational activities; feelings of self-worth and accomplishment; and much more. The richest person may very well be the one whose every need is met. Needs spring not from a market economy, but from within a person, and cannot be measured in dollar terms. True wealth is, in many ways, the absence of desire.

So, where does that leave us in trying to find a cure for the inequality of wealth, that, at its extreme, seems to violate our sense of fair play? Just as the problem is complex (life is not a 3-parameter process), the solution(s) will also be complex. Clearly, the “free” market is not to be trusted. But we already know that, which is why there really is no “free” market, but one that is constrained on all sides by laws and regulations designed to mitigate its worst offenses. Economists have long pointed out the distorting effect of “externalities” — those costs to society that are not priced into the market economy. We could benefit from more efforts to bring those costs into the market system, such as a carbon tax, as one example. Beyond that, we probably need more ideas on how to work outside the market model. We already have many successful examples, such as our system of public parks, and private land trusts. We need more such common actions that benefit all members of society; not just those with the money to buy access.

Rewilding

On a planet increasingly dominated by people—even the deep oceans today are being altered by humans—it probably makes sense to think about wilderness, too, as a human creation.

Elizabeth Kolbert, in “Recall of the Wild”

When I read Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature, back in 1989 (it first appeared in The New Yorker), it had the same impact on me that Silent Spring had when that first came out, in 1962. In that earlier instance, bluebirds made an environmentalist out of me, when Rachel Carson explained why my favorite birds were gradually disappearing. Later, when I read McKibben’s essay, I came to the realization that there is no longer such a thing as wilderness, at least if it is envisioned as an unspoiled place such as existed before the arrival of humans.

This is a theme that has been taken up by other authors, such as Bill Cronon, in his 1995 essay The Trouble With Wilderness, in which he describes wilderness as a state of mind.

To think ourselves capable of causing “the end of nature” is an act of great hubris, for it means forgetting the wildness that dwells everywhere within and around us.

In Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2012 essay on rewilding, she gives much detail about a particular project in the Netherlands, named Oostvaardersplassen. It is a large park, on land reclaimed from the sea (and below sea level), which is being used to house large populations of animals thought to resemble those of ancient times, prior to the age of human agriculture. Similar efforts are underway elsewhere. She mentions Rewilding Europe as an example, and I’m aware of similar projects in North America, where lands in the West are being restored to their “original” (i.e. prior to the arrival of Europeans) grassland species of both flora and fauna.

None of these efforts can truly recreate habitats that are identical to ancient landscapes. The world has gone through phases of climate change, including the Little Ice Age and our current period of global warming. Species have been lost because of over-hunting, habitat loss, and other human-induced changes. Despite their limitations, I applaud these efforts. They do represent an increased awareness that we humans are destroying much that has value, and at the very least they are an attempt to attenuate that process.

An Evening of Abenaki Stories, Music, Language

Thanks to a heads-up from BEAT, I was able to enjoy a session of Abenaki culture, with well over 100 people in attendance. Jesse Bruchac put on quite a show, and I learned many things. I also came away with 4 books and 4 CDs, so I expect to learn even more as I have time to study them, as part of my preparation for my next OLLI course, to be offered in the Spring of 2020, on indigenous culture.

Some of the things I learned are:

  • The “3-2-1” rule of pronunciation, which says that the 3rd syllable from the end of a word receives the emphasis. A good example is the very word Abenaki, which in English is generally pronounced “Ah-ben-AH-key” but in the original is pronounced “Ah-BEN-ah-key”
  • I asked Jesse if this applies to all Algonkian languages, and he said yes. Not having any training in linguistics, I’m not sure if these tongues (such as Mohican, Munsee, and so on) are considered languages (part of the Algonkian group) or dialects.
  • He told a story about the origin of the traditional design of the hat he was wearing, with large turkey feathers in the front, and smaller (split) feathers in the back.
  • He told many other stories, including creation stories and trickster stories. These stories reminded me of the Uncle Remus stories, which I think had African origins. They seem to me to be attempts to understand the world, and also to impart social values to young listeners. Many of them are quite fantastical, and obviously (to me) not to be taken literally. The English colonists, however, often derided the indigenous stories as evidence that the people were “primitive” and needed to be “saved” by the Christian religion. Of course, they also believed that Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, but that was the Word of the Lord.
  • “OLLI” in the Abenaki language means “good” (although I think the pronunciation is more like “oo-lee”).
  • People’s names were fluid, and could change over time. If they did something valiant (or foolish), they could be renamed for their deeds.
  • “Abenaki” means a person (human being) from the East. Literally, from the land (aki) of the dawn (wôban).

I have much more to learn, and I’m very excited to be off to such a good start!

Here is the write-up that attracted my attention, as linked to at the beginning of this post:

For over 10,000 years, Native Americans tribes maintained an ecologically vibrant settlement on the banks of the Connecticut River in Greenfield near the Great Falls. As our present-day culture faces climate catastrophe, we ask: “How did they manage that?”
The Pollinator Protection Program of The Nolumbeka Project is bringing Native storytellers, the traditional Native American “teachers,” to Franklin County schools. The Bruchac family of storytellers are among the best, and the public is invited to hear Jesse Bruchac share Abenaki stories and music on Wed, Nov. 6 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at an event sponsored by The Nolumbeka Project and The Great Falls Discovery Center. A Nulhegan Abenaki Citizen, Jesse’s performance art weaves the telling of traditional stories with flute music, drums, and playful language games to share a glimpse of Northeastern Native American culture with audiences of all ages. The event is free; family friendly; and books, CD’s and crafts will be offered for sale.
According to Jesse, “Native languages offer speakers a window into an indigenous worldview.” He is one of the last fluent speakers of Western Abenaki and works vigorously to revitalize the language. His efforts have led to the creation of a website for Western Abenaki language study, a YouTube channel, a Facebook group, and a number of bilingual publications.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Joseph Bruchac, Jesse has been visiting schools and universities to share Northeastern Native American traditional stories, music, language, history and culture for over two decades.
As a musician, Jesse has produced several albums of Abenaki music. These include collections of traditional songs of drum and rattle and Native American flute music. He has opened for such notable acts as The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and at Woodstock ’94.
He won the Best Storyteller Competition at Indian Summer in Milwaukee in 1995. In 1996 he toured Europe as a member of the Abenaki Drum from the Odanak reservation in Quebec. Jesse has also acted as consultant, translator, composer, and language coach for programs on AMC, National Geographic, and PBS.
For more information: see www.nolumbekaproject.org or call 413-475-3605

https://www.thebeatnews.org/BeatTeam/event/an-evening-of-abenaki-stories-music-language/

They also have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nolumbekaproject/

Tribute to Scott Davis 1945-2017

Two and a half years have passed since I lost one of my best ever friends, Scott Edward Davis, to heart failure. I have finally been able to pull myself together enough to collect some photos and to relate some memories.

I’ll start with a copy of his obituary and some photos I came across. I’ll add to this post as I find more things I want to share.

Scott in California, on a trip we took to the Reno area in the summer of 1992.
A page from my photo album, showing the days before GPS and cellphones. Remember phone booths? That’s Geoff, trying to find our destination, which was about an hour east of Sacramento. Once we were finished there, we traveled on to Reno, where he and Scott and I did enough gambling to be comped for room and food at Harrah’s. It was one of my more successful trips to the craps table, where I won over $2,000.
The duck on my t-shirt is the Drake in the Drake Hill River Run, a 10K race that went by Scott’s house in Simsbury Connecticut. At the time of this picture, Brooke and Scott both worked (as did I) at Connecticut General Life Insurance Company in Bloomfield, and we shared our love of sports, drinking, and gambling.

Gun Violence: Blaming the Victims

I post here the statement issued by ASAN opposing the legislation introduced into the US Senate to blame gun violence on “mental illness” when the problem, it is plain to see, is too many guns. People with mental health disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. 

ASAN Opposes the RESPONSE Act

October 23, 2019

ASAN condemns the introduction of the RESPONSE Act in the Senate. While this bill frames itself as an attempt to prevent gun violence, in reality, this legislation does not address gun violence at all. Instead, it yet again scapegoats people with mental health disabilities. It is impossible to address the issue of gun violence when these conversations come at the cost of the civil rights of the 1 in 5 Americans with mental health disabilities. 

The RESPONSE Act, in fact, is not a meaningful response to gun violence at all. It focuses almost solely on expanding and funding coercive mental health programs, while failing to address virtually any factors that actually contribute to gun violence. The legislation instead focuses on making it easier to surveil and institutionalize people with mental health disabilities who are deemed a “threat” to others. The bill proposes funding for forced treatment of people with mental health disabilities, and sets the groundwork for expanded “threat assessments” in schools. “Threat assessments” are inherently discriminatory attempts to identify students seen as at “potential risk” of committing gun violence and use “behavioral intervention teams” to continually discipline and surveil these students. These practices have already been shown to marginalize students of color and students with disabilities, forcing students out of school and further contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. None of these proposals will impact gun violence; they will only cost people with disabilities our civil rights.

The evidence is clear: there is no relationship between mental health disability and gun violence. By conflating these issues, the Senate is distracting from efforts to create real change on gun safety. ASAN calls on our allies in Congress to hold the line, educate their colleagues about how this legislation harms people with mental health disabilities, and ensure this bill never moves forward. The time has come for our elected officials to stop scapegoating the disability community and work towards real change to end gun violence.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization run by and for autistic people. ASAN was created to serve as a national grassroots disability rights organization for the autistic community run by and for autistic Americans, advocating for systems change and ensuring that the voices of autistic people are heard in policy debates and the halls of power. Our staff work to educate communities, support self-advocacy in all its forms, and improve public perceptions of autism. ASAN’s members and supporters include autistic adults and youth, cross-disability advocates, and non-autistic family members, professionals, educators, and friends.

1980

I moved from Hartford to New York, to take a job with Bankers Trust. 

I found an apartment I liked within walking distance of 280 Park Avenue, but it was new construction, and would not be ready for a few weeks. The bank put me up in an apartment in the 60s, just off Madison Avenue. A tiny studio apartment, but in a swanky neighborhood, and a brisk 20-block walk from the office.

These four photos are all dated “JUL 80” on the back. The first two are views from my East 39th Street apartment; the one on the right looking southeast over the East River, where seaplanes often landed, and the Macy fireworks barges were anchored on the 4th of July each year; the other looking southwest, framed by the ConEdison building and Two Park Avenue South.

The second two photos are looking south from a location I can’t identify, both having Saint Bartholomew’s church on Park Avenue in the foreground, and the Twin Towers in the distance.

1955

I came across this yellowed and torn newsprint, probably ripped from the Berkshire Eagle by my mother and stashed away amidst the scrapbooks and mementos she kept about me.

I don’t have any specific memory of this event, or how it came to be that I was lying in a sand trap. My guess is that my mother and I were out for a walk in town, and were approached by an enterprising photographer, looking to pose an eye-catching shot for the newspaper (back in the days when each town had a reporter assigned to it, and a gossip column written daily).

When I came upon this picture, I wondered how old I was at the time. I turned the paper over to see if there was a date on it, and (lo and behold), there was a reference to another kind of trap! but no date.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I was able to locate a reference (on collectors.com) to an old playbill, and that gave me the approximate date (August 1955).

OLLI University Day: Civic Engagement Panel

I gladly accepted an invitation to participate in a panel discussion on Civic Engagement for the OLLI University Day program on August 15, 2019.

Here is a link to the Panel Presentation Outline I prepared for the program.

I was allotted five minutes to share my thoughts before entering into the panel discussion. This post is an expanded version of some of the things that might be covered in the ongoing conversation, or just as more examples of things I’ve done, the stimulate ideas among my readers. 


My Life in Civic Engagement; What I have Done; What I have Learned

What is Civic Engagement? The word “civic” implies “local” community, but, in my mind, I have always extended its interpretation to include our wider society. As the saying goes, “Think Globally, Act Locally!”

Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.

Lessons learned in a long life:

  • The popular phrase “inside/outside” describes two different ways to effect change: outsiders demand change and make suggestions by way of public demonstrations, rallies, marches, letter-writing, and the like. Insiders are people in power who have the ability to influence change directly. Both are needed, and I’ve practiced both. In my elder years, I have focused my energies more on passive approaches to effecting change. This means being on the inside, on boards and other positions of responsibility, but it also means trying to influence those in power with persuasion, not demands.
  • Any organization or group is made stronger by the presence of a diverse set of participants. We learn and prosper from our differences. Do not hesitate to join in on a good cause, just because you don’t have relevant credentials or training. Traditional cultures around the world recognize that wisdom comes with age. You can learn facts and rules, but only experience will bring you wisdom, that mysterious ability to see patterns and predict outcomes. Diversity of perspective and opinion is highly valuable.

My life has been all about bringing people together.

We can minimize the psychoanalysis for now, although I am eternally curious about why I am the way I am. My guess is that my desire for an inclusive world results from my innate wiring, and is connected in some way with my autism (feeling separate and left out, yearning to be included), but this is not the place to delve too deeply into that.

All my life I have known that I am different. Some of my earliest memories involve feeling isolated by my difference, and I remember my intense longing to be included. Perhaps that is why I have always wanted to create a more inclusive world, and strongly empathize with those who are excluded in any way.

Whatever its cause, my desire to smooth over differences has led me into a life of diplomacy, reconciliation, pacifism, and organizing. I’ve learned that people must be treated as the individuals they are; each person has a unique set of skills and interests — the challenge for a good manager or organizer is the find ways to break up tasks into small jobs that can be parsed out to people who enjoy them and are good at them.

I have inserted my management talents into all that I do, often unknowingly, and my skills have been recognized and rewarded by a society seemingly bent on conflict. In the business world, I found that giving subordinates the ability to succeed made them into fiercely loyal employees, and their productivity made me look good. Similarly, in political or civic organizing, helping people to shine and giving them public credit makes the hard work enjoyable for everyone.

EARLY LIFE

I don’t remember when I began to demand special treatment. But for as long as I can remember, I refused to eat white bread or fish. The seafood thing was clearly an olfactory accommodation; I just couldn’t stomach the smell of the stuff. In the days of Wonder Bread, the aversion to the gooey substance may have been, at least in part, a tactile aversion.

In one of my earliest childhood pictures (before school age), I stand glowering at a toy on a table. I’m all dressed up in new overalls, and the photographer had tried to make me smile by playing with stuffed animals, but I was having none of it.

My isolation and differences made kindergarten a challenge for me. Things that seemed easy for others were not simple for me. I remember two of my classmates making fun of the way I was playing with blocks. I didn’t know there was anything particular one was supposed to do with them. One of them pointed at me and said to the other, “Look! He doesn’t know how to play with blocks!” Many years later, I was able to laugh with Suzie and Izzie about this, but at the time it puzzled and hurt me.

One of the requirements for successfully completing the kindergarten year was to be able to tie your own shoes. Despite numerous attempts on my part to learn, I just could not get it. I was terrified that I would not be allowed to ever leave kindergarten. One day, by accident, I discovered a way to tie my shoes a different way. When the final exam came, I was careful to use my method when the teacher wasn’t looking, since I thought it was cheating. I passed!

Years later, I told this story to an autism conference, as an example of the learning differences inherent in autism. I described my method in detail. Later, I was told by teachers and other professionals who had been in attendance that they had conveyed my method to some of their autistic students who were having the same difficulty, and who were relieved and excited to be able, at long last, to tie their own shoes. Nearly 70 years ago, I thought I was the only one; now I know I wasn’t stupid or broken, just different.

Part of my early practice as an organizer came from being the eldest of five siblings. Although I always tried to arrive at consensus, it fell to me to be the final arbiter of what game we would play that day. If it was to be cowboys and Indians, I got to decide who was which, and who got the cap guns. If it was building roads in the driveway (not favored by the girls), I got to choose who was in charge of the dump truck.

MORE EARLY LIFE

  • Boy Scouts (Eagle Scout at age 14)
  • Church youth group
    • Locally: prepared Christmas cards to send to Indian reservations
    • Statewide: I was once elected at a conference to deliver the closing prayer (quite an honor, I was told)
  • Civil Rights movement
  • National President, Student World Federalists (Vietnam era, anti-war, pro-UN)

BUSINESS CAREER (CFA, QUANTITATIVE FINANCIAL ANALYST)

LOCAL, STATE, and NATIONAL POLITICS

  • Started Berkshires for Dean
  • Which became Berkshires for Progressive Change
  • Merged with Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts (PDM) and I became a member of the governing committee
  • Accepted invitation to join the Steering Committee of the Berkshire Brigades
  • co-founded Berkshire Win Without War (BWWW) to protest the 2003 invasion of Iraq
  • Chair, Alford Democratic Town Committee
  • Elected (on Presidential Primary Ballot) State Democratic Committee
  • Patrick, Obama, Warren campaigns (among others)
  • Served on Governor Patrick’s Transition Team, for Economic Development

AUTISM

  • VP Board AANE
  • Board President, Autism Connections
  • Massachusetts Special Commission Relative to Autism
  • Executive Committee, Advocates for Autism in Massachusetts (AFAM)
  • Other task forces (e.g. data project at Shriver Center of UMass Medical)
  • Speaker/Panelist at many conferences
  • Facilitated support groups (for couples and for individuals) for many years
  • Cross-Disability Advocacy Committee (CDAC) of the Massachusetts Disability Law Center (DLC)

TOWN GOVERNANCE

  • Conservation Commission (wrote Berkshire Scenic Mountain Act regulations)
  • Town Moderator (2004 to present)
  • Chair of Fact-Finding Committee
  • Board of Massachusetts Moderators Association (6 years)

EDUCATION (teaching, speaking)

  • OLLI
  • Boston Security Analyst Society (BSAS) (taught CFA prep courses on asset allocation, portfolio theory, and foreign exchange)
  • Commencement Addresses at BU + UMass Medical
  • Bay State (gave several classes on legislative advocacy)
  • Elms College (taught graduate courses in the autism program)
  • Columbia University Business School (guest speaker)

VOLUNTEER

  • Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) — trail work, historical research, trail-side talks
  • Mass Audubon
  • many others