Alford 2020 Annual Town Meeting

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Town of Alford
Town Moderator
Michael F. Wilcox
mfw {at} mfw(.)us

Alford Town Meeting 2020 Advisory Committee

In Formation as of May 8, 2020

I have begun the process of forming an advisory committee to assist me in my role as Town Moderator. I will need the help of many people to plan for and then to execute our Annual Town Meeting (ATM), which, as we all know, will be held under unusual circumstances.

Our Select Board has postponed our 2020 ATM from its originally scheduled date of May 12th to June 23rd.

There are several scenarios as to how the ATM might be conducted, and these will be discussed at the Select Board meeting of May 11th. I expect that the first meeting of this ad hoc Advisory Committee will be held via the Zoom platform sometime later in that week.

I welcome the participation of community members. Anyone interested in helping out can contact me at the email address given above. As of this date, the following people are among the folks who I think would be helpful. Some of these people have already accepted my invitation to join this effort, others I have not yet heard back from, and still others I have not yet been able to contact.

  • Charlie Ketchen, Chair, Select Board
  • Peggy Henden-Wilson, Town Clerk
  • Roxanne Germain, Treasurer and Tax Collector
  • Monty Green and/or TJ Horrigan, Highway Department
  • Tim Roy, Alford Police
  • Joan Rogers, Chair, Finance Committee
  • Jayne Smith, Public Heath Agent
  • Steve Berkel and/or Joe Morandi, Fire Department
  • Tim Ortwein and Jim Hall, AlfordLink Commission
  • Jeff Blaugrund, School Committee Representative
  • Shirley Mueller, Community Volunteer

Any other suggestions or volunteers are welcome.

Protected: A Moral Dilemma

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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).