Woodrow Wilson was an ambivalent man who harbored great hopes for humankind along with deeply ingrained personal racism. This is a fine piece of historical writing. I enjoyed it and I hope so will you.
One hundred years ago yesterday, on January 8, 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson gave an address to Congress, setting out the main aims of American policy in the First World War and the basis on which he thought peace could and should be concluded. Fourteen statements, which have echoed in classrooms ever since, first made their way into the newspapers and on the lips of the world. As foreign policy aims, the Fourteen Points were fair, even-handed and progressive. Countries shouldn’t have secret treaties with each other and should arrive at their covenants openly. The seas should be free for navigation. There should be free economic trade and no barriers. Arms and weapons should be reduced. Former colonial societies should be transitioned to just independence. Wilson’s Fourteen Points were thought of as a breath of fresh air, of hopeful idealism in a world that had, by the beginning of 1918…
The snow began before sunrise this morning. Expressions like “Snow Bomb” were coined by meteorologists to describe its impact. It was quite a storm. I know because I was out there shoveling, then taking pictures.
Originally, we thought we’d get off with under a foot of snow, with most of the storm hugging the Atlantic coast. Storms don’t watch television and rarely listen to the weather reports. To no one’s surprise — at least to no one’s surprise who has lived in this region for any length of time — the storm didn’t stay on the coast. More accurately, it did serious damage to the coast and significant damage inland, too.
This was a big storm. Not as big as the Blizzard of 1978, but very few storms will ever match the power of that one. This was big enough to take down power lines and cause the worst flooding in Boston anyone can remember. This, on top of the longest period of deep cold in the almost 150 years of recorded weather history. And the cold is coming back without giving us a break to clean up the mess from the storm.
There’s about a foot and a half out there on the ground. It’s hard to tell exactly how much. The wind has been powerful — strong enough to knock down a grown man and bitterly cold. The good part? We don’t have the massive amount of snow on the roof we sometimes have because the wind blew it around. At least we don’t have to worry about the roof collapsing.
I shoveled the front walk because we have small dogs and they can’t maneuver in deep snow. Even Duke who is comparatively long-legged found himself bogged down. Bonnie and Gibbs have to stick to shoveled areas. I’ll have to go back and shovel again after dinner.
It’s dark now. The storm is almost over, or at least that’s what they are saying on television. The winds will die off and we’ll be cleaning up for the next few days. We have a full tank of oil and plenty of food, so until we get plowed, we’re home with the dogs.
You know how great retirement really is when you realize … you don’t have to go anywhere. The world is snowed in and so are you, but it’s okay. We aren’t on a schedule. We don’t have appointments to make. We are retired. And aren’t we glad we are!
THE BLIZZARD OF 1978 – THE BIG ONE! – GARRY ARMSTRONG
This is the time of year when big snowstorms hit this region. It was one month short of forty years ago when a massive winter storm moved into eastern Massachusetts. It had already done significant damage all over the Midwest, but its dangerous journey was far from over.
On the afternoon of February 6, 1978, thousands of people were let out of work early so they could get home before the storm hit. Too little and too late for many people, the storm hit harder and faster and more intensely than anyone imagined possible.
Traffic was heavy and the snow began falling at more than an inch per hour. It continued to fall for more than 24 hours. More than 3,000 automobiles and 500 trucks were stranded in rapidly building snowdrifts along Rt. 128 (also Route 95). Jack-knifed trucks and drifting snow soon brought traffic to a complete standstill across the state. Fourteen people died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they huddled in trapped cars.
Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.
There are so many incredible scenes that remain clear in my memory from the great Blizzard of 1978. I was in the middle of it from the beginning, one of the few reporters who was able to get to the TV station without a car. I lived down the street and was able to plod through the snow to the newsroom. I found myself doing live shots all across Massachusetts and in other parts of New England.
I would like to give a special shout out to my colleagues who ran the cameras, the trucks, set our cable and mike lines, kept getting signals when it seemed impossible and worked nonstop under the most dire and difficult conditions. All I had to do was stand in front of the camera or interview people. I recall standing in the middle of the Mass Turnpike, the Southeast Expressway, Rt. 495 and other major arteries doing live shots.
There was no traffic. There were no people. Abandoned vehicles littered the landscape. It was surreal. Sometimes it felt like Rod Serling was calling the shots. The snow accumulation was beyond impressive. I am (or was) 5 foot 6 inches. I often had to stand on snow “mountains” to be seen. My creative camera crews used the reverse image to dwarf me (no snickering, please) to show the impressive snow piles. No trickery was needed. Mother Nature did it all.
Downtown Boston looked like something out of the cult movie “The World, The Flesh And The Devil”. The end of the world at hand. No motor traffic, very few people — just snow, as high and as far as the eye could see.
Ironically, people who were usually indifferent to each other became friendly and caring. Acts of generosity and compassion were commonplace, at least for a few days. Those of us working in front or back of the camera logged long hours, minimal sleep. Drank lots of coffee, ate lots of pizza, and intermittently laughed and grumbled. There are some behind the scenes stories that will stay there for discretion’s sake.
The Blizzard of ’78 will always be among the top stories in my news career. It needs no embellishment. The facts and the pictures tell it all. We have since had deeper snowstorms, but none which packed the punishing winds and extensive damage as that monumental storm.
The question was: “Would you, if your day-to-day responsibilities were taken care of and you could throw yourself completely behind a cause, what would it be?”
The answer is … I wouldn’t. In the immortal words of Phil Ochs, “I ain’t marchin’ anymore.”
I marched against war and for peace.
I marched for civil rights.
I campaigned for universal health care and free care for anyone who needs it.
I marched against evil and for justice for my entire adult life and though the world has fallen into a terrible place, I’ve served my time and done my job. I’m tired. It’s time for the younger generations — those with stronger backs — to do the marching.
The worst part of this time is I’m not sure, after all the marching, if I accomplished anything other than making denim a fashion fabric. I think I’ve probably accomplished more blogging than I did by marching. There’s an irony in there and maybe I’ll find it. Eventually.
I have discovered that the world spins on its axis and night follows day, whether or not I march. I do the best I can with the means at my disposal … which means I have a platform and I write. Every now and then, I dig a little money out of the emptiness of our “family wealth” and give $5 or $10 to someone who is fighting for a better world.
If you are going out there to do battle, fight the good fight. Know my best wishes and hopes go with you. Also, take sandwiches, something to drink, and wear your most comfortable shoes.
I recently watched the movie “Darkest Hour”. I was blown away. The movie focuses on Winston Churchill’s initial period as Prime Minister of England in 1940. Shortly after he took power, Belgium and France fell to the Nazis. Literally all of Britain’s 300,000 plus troops were stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk as the Nazis advanced on them, poised to push them into the sea. They were in serious danger of being totally annihilated.
The Nazi armies seemed invincible. Britain stood alone, with few resources and no allies, to fight the German Goliath alone. The U.S. could not provide any military support because we were pledged to be neutral in the fight. A German invasion of England was anticipated, as was a massive air campaign against them.
Watching the movie was gut wrenching. We knew that England survived and that Hitler was eventually defeated. But putting yourself in the mindset of England in May and June of 1940, was devastating.
I remembered something my mother told me about living through World War II. Through hindsight, the defeat of Nazism seems inevitable to us today. It was not inevitable to the anyone at the time. The people living through World War II, day in and day out, had no way of knowing how things would turn out. And for a long period of time, it really looked like it was inevitable that the Axis would successfully conquer and reshape the entire western world.
I didn’t actually understand how dire England’s plight was in the spring of 1940. No one could have predicted the miraculous rescue at Dunkirk. This was only accomplished when 850 civilian pleasure boats formed an armada and crisscrossed the English Channel for nine days, from May 26 to June 4 of 1940. Amazingly, over 300,000 men were safely returned to England. It was one of the greatest and most improbable wartime rescues in history.
Even after Dunkirk, the odds were heavily stacked against England. All of the news was bad, for Europe as well as for Great Britain. The future looked unimaginably terrifying.
My parents lived through this time safely in New York City. Nonetheless, they were horrified at the possibility of a world ruled by the Third Reich. My parents and their families were Jewish, so their fear was magnified. My grandmother, like many Americans, also had family trapped in Europe. So there was a whole other level of fear and anxiety.
I don’t think I understood, on a visceral level, the emotional toll that World War II took on the people in the allied countries. Many allies fell to the Nazis. So the others didn’t have to imagine what life would be like for them under Nazi rule. Unless you were a fascist collaborator, things would not be good for you.
I wouldn’t dream of comparing the Trump presidency with the Nazi conquest of Europe. But this is the first time that I have ever had to worry about democracy as we know it, ending in America. For the first time, I am not certain that all our cherished rights and liberties will survive. Free and unbiased elections may be in danger, as are the financial safety nets our government provides for those in need. The values that I cherish in my country are under attack and may not prevail long-term.
The level of panic I feel when I read an ominous news report is miniscule compared to my parents’ reactions to the headlines they had to read every day in the early years of the Second World War. But I think I finally ‘get’ what it meant to live through the early 1940’s as an anti-fascist and as a targeted minority. I wish I could let my mother know I finally understand what she was trying to tell me about the nightmare of those years.
I also have a new level of appreciation for Winston Churchill and the British people. They vowed to fight Hitler down to the last man. And they meant it. They vowed never to surrender their country to a fascist regime. Now I realize how much courage that took. I understand how real the threat of death or capture was for every Englishman.
I have boundless admiration and gratitude for the brave people of Britain who rose to fight for their values and for their country’s way of life. I hope, if the time ever comes for America, that I will have the courage to “man the barricades” for my country and my values.
For a few days, I hooked up with a Boston Globe group. Its purpose was supposedly to address racism in Boston. Though we don’t live there anymore, we did live there a long time and we lived in Roxbury, the darkest part of the dark part of Boston. We lived there for ten years and they were ten of our best years. If that condo had anything other than electric heat — electric heat in New England is not really heat; it’s just burning money to take the chill off — and there was a way to get from the ground floor to third floor bedroom, and they hadn’t decided to redesign every road in Boston, AND we had somewhere to exercise our dogs, we’d have stayed. But I could see the future and a 3-story walk-up condo didn’t look like a good choice for us. Especially not for me.
I found this house online. It was the right price. It had land and two fireplaces. The house needed work, but seemed structurally sound otherwise. It was in the whitest place I’d ever seen, so we found ourselves moving from the darkest area of Boston to the whitest area in central Massachusetts.
Having lived as a mixed couple in Boston, I thought we might have some interesting feedback to offer the group.
It turned out, this group was exactly like talking to a bunch of Republicans, but from another part of the spectrum. These were people who made pronouncements like “Black men have a lifespan in Boston of just 21 years and everyone hides their children.”
We lived on Circuit Street which is right in the middle of Roxbury. Garry was a lot more than 21 and so were all our neighbors — none of whom hid their children. It was a safe place to live because everyone watched out for everyone else. The crazed drive-by shooters never drove by our place. Probably half the men in the complex were police officers, sheriffs and a reporter, so it was probably just as well. I never felt unsafe walking the streets, though I have always preferred to avoid gangs of teenage boys. I have a firm belief that gangs of teenage boys are inherently dangerous, no matter what their class, color, or ethnicity. They are hormonal and quite probably, insane. They will not become sane until their mid twenties when the hormones slack off a bit and their brains clear.
Otherwise, I walked downtown and to the post office. I liked my neighbors and I think they like me. We had block parties with great food, music and laughter. It was a jolly place to live. I miss it.
So when whoever it was said “Men are doomed to die before age 21 and everyone hides their children,” I took umbrage. It was just like Trump telling Black people that they might as well vote for him because “what did they have to lose?” In fact this guy who was supposedly “fighting” racism was essentially going out of his way to prove all the crap people like Trump say, is right. Sometimes, you have to step back and consider what you are really saying to the world.
Making racism the whole story is stupid and not true. Most people in “the hood” live normal lives. Those reputed heavily armed tanks full of crazed shooters don’t roam the streets. In the ten years we lived there, NO ONE shot at me, near me, or threatened me. I wasn’t raped, assaulted, or propositioned. Men were polite and helpful. Women were charming and funny. No one tried to break into our house. No one stole our cars, which is more than I can say for living on Beacon Hill where both of our cars were stolen.
There’s racism in Boston as there is everywhere. In my humble and apparently insignificant opinion, the serious racists don’t live in Boston. They live in the white, wealthy suburbs. Those liberal places where everyone tells everyone tells everyone else how they many wonderful Black Friends they have, but you never see any of those friend around. They don’t visit — or get visited. Scratch that thin, brittle liberal surface and you’ve got a butt-load of racism underneath.
In fact, every state in the continental United Stateswith the exception of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermonthas had lynching casualties.
Boston is a real city. Black neighborhoods, many mixed neighborhoods. In fact, most neighborhoods are mixed. Some a lot, some just a bit. There’s a lot of intermarriage. Kids go to school together and it stopped being a big deal a long time. If Boston isn’t the most diverse city in the U.S., it is also very far from the most racist.
Boston is a complicated city. People in Boston are often surprisingly casual about race. People work together, walk together, shop together. And — Boston has never had a lynching.
So I was in that group and just a few days later, I resigned from it. I can’t talk to people whose minds are rigidly made up. If there’s no chance of anyone changing his or her opinion, there’s no point in talking.
At some point in time, everyone will have to stop and hear what other people are saying. Otherwise, there will never be any problems solved in this land of ours
It was my anniversary present — from me to we. I am not searching for my ancestors because I more or less know who they were. Interesting, not fascinating. Not the kind of things you write very long saga tales about. More, I was curious about the very ancient ancestors — the Neanderthals and other early humans and what, if anything, do they have to do with me and mine?
Turns out, I still don’t know. Because MyHeritage DNA doesn’t tell you any of that. Nothing. If you want that information, you have to go somewhere else and search, or pay a lot of money to MyHeritage for the opportunity to connect with people who are at most, very mildly interested in your existence. To be fair, I didn’t feel all that excited about it either. But I was curious, so I paid the money and got nothing much.
We sent them our DNA and discovered what we already knew. Garry is widely mixed with European and African ancestors and I am Jewish. Very Jewish. As far as MyHeritage is concerned, back to the dawn of time which is illogical because no one was anything to the dawn of time. Otherwise, there wasn’t a surprise in the package.
I am almost entirely Ashkenazi with a wee bit of Sephardi and a hint of Baltic — probably the guy no one talks about. I had been hoping for something more entertaining and certainly more information. Some minimal analysis would have been a nice touch. What we got were numbers and a map. No analysis. Not even a summary paragraph. Nor reference material or links or anything to work with.
Garry was more entertaining than me, but not exactly shocking. We knew about his Irish grandparents. We expected — and found — lots more Europeans and many more Africans, almost equally mixed. And we expected that. Garry’s DNA is a broad brush across Europe and Africa.
Garry even has a 1.7% Ashkenazi Jewish in there (maybe we’re related?) … and a 2.1% Middle Eastern component. I, on the other hand, am Jewish. Except for that tiny bit of Baltic. So where does my weird B+ blood type come from?
I was disappointed. The results are skimpy. Within the limits of what they did, I suppose they are accurate — but it doesn’t feel like they did anything much. No depth to this material and the lack of any kind of analysis? Really? If you want real information, they want a lot more money. But if this is all the information they can retrieve from the DNA, more money isn’t going to get us deeper analysis. To get deeper analysis, you’d need deeper information gathering and that’s missing. What they really want to do is run your family tree information against other family trees to look for matches. If that’s what you want, join Ancestry.com. You’ll get more information there.
They offer links to “relatives” here, but if you want to get in touch with them, that costs more. Of course. There were more links for me than for Garry, but that’s because Ashkenazi Jews are closely related and have been studied more than most groups. Otherwise, the information MyHeritageDNA gets seems more dependent on how much data you give them than anything they retrieve from your DNA.
MyHeritageDNA doesn’t dig for information. If what you are looking for is something that will agree with what you know, this might be just what you need. If you are looking for a deeper or broader understanding of your ancestral history … well … this ain’t it. 23andMe gets better reviews for about the same price. Ancestry.com gets reviews just like this one, but provides nominally more analysis of results — but at a price.
Of course, any analysis would be more than I got. Also, there a very new one called Insitome DNA Test Kit: Neanderthal Genetic Traits Profile (Ancestry) powered by Helix which sounds potentially interesting. But I’m not paying up front again. Once was enough.
Inheritance. Now I know that I already knew it. Whoo hoo!
It was pointed out to me that there’s a lot we don’t know about the people who came before us.
How — why — they dressed and spoke and related to each other as people in their society. We are fuzzy about a lot of cultural material and mostly, we take our best guess as to what they were thinking as they lived from one day to the next in whatever capacity they lived it.
We have no clue about how our great-grandfather confessed his love to great-grandmother. We don’t know the words they used, or their tone of voice. We don’t know if their moment of passion happened at all. We don’t know because they left no evidence for us. They spoke differently, yet surely they held the same emotions we do — and we base all our fiction on that assumption. But of course, we could be entirely wrong. It’s just guesswork.
On the other hand, we know precisely — anyone could know this because it’s easy material to find — that the people who drew up our Constitution precisely understood how deeply wrong slavery was. They knew — fully and completely — that failing to remove this horror would cause a war. A big war.
Many expressed gratitude they would not live to see it.
They knew right from wrong.
They spent agonizing hours, weeks, months and years writing about it. Discussing it. Keeping notes about what they said and what others said. They didn’t for a minute think building a nation on slavery was “okay.” Abigail Adams, for one, didn’t want to live in the White House — not merely because it wasn’t finished, but because slaves built it. Yet without the compromise of making slaves three-fifths of a person — a person who would never vote or have anything to say about his own life — there would not have been a Constitution or a country. Getting the country to be a country was, ultimately, what mattered. Under this devil’s decision lay the future in which we are now living.
We didn’t get here by accident. It wasn’t one bad election or a few unfortunate choices. The path on which we are walking was being laid out for us before there was a United State. The issues we now face have always been there.
For all the northern objections to slavery, it wasn’t as if there weren’t any slaves in New England or New York. Southern plantations bought slaves, but New England sea captains brought them here. The first port of call for southern slave owners were the slave markets of New York and New England. Until the Constitution when northern slavery was formally abolished, there were plenty of slaves up north, too.
About those Native Americans from whom we grabbed this land and who we slaughtered so we could keep it? Of course we knew it was wrong. Maybe not every unread slob understood it, but anyone with a modicum of education got it. We still know it, even if we have tried our best to tuck the information as far from “common knowledge” as we can. We don’t want to think about what we did to get this place — and what we are still doing.
Did our ancestors understand this?
But you see — they wanted this country. They wanted it and they wanted it beyond any moral compunctions. If that meant slaughtering entire tribes — see Andrew Jackson for more on that — so be it. Why should “those savages” get this rich and beautiful country? They didn’t deserve it. It should be ours. To make this righteous, we made up a bunch of crap about white being better than not white, but we didn’t get that from anyone’s religion. We quite simply made it up because we needed to believe it.
So, as has happened throughout history, we did what we wanted. We took everything, killed anyone who got in our way and have more less continued to do that ever since. Was it the first or last time an invading group of foreigners stole a nation from its native inhabitants? Obviously not.
I do not buy any concept which says “we didn’t understand what we were doing.” We knew just fine. Our ancestors — your ancestors — might not have talked the way we do, but they were much better at acknowledging good and evil.
Again: How do we know this? Let me reiterate.
They wrote about it. At great length. In documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books. We don’t have to guess: they told us. Whether or not great granddad Josiah proposed in flowery English to great grandma Elizabeth may be a guess, but that Josiah thought our behavior toward slaves and Natives was wrong — we do know that.
The reason the Trump White House can do what it is doing is because there is so much hatred in this country. All he needed to do was play to the haters and leave the windows open. We don’t know what our so-called “leaders” believe, but we know who and what they hate. I don’t care in how many other countries this same ugly scene is happening. That doesn’t justify it happening here. If the whole world needs to clean up its act? So be it.
The majority is not necessarily right.
For my entire life, I believed this country — my country — was getting better. Was becoming more of what it said it wanted to be. That we were struggling, but trying to become a moral light in the world. I’m not seeing that anymore. Not on a national level. Are there many individuals who are still fighting the good fight? Sure. But nationally, as a nation, that isn’t what I see. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing I find this.
How is your conscience doing these days? Having a bit of a rough patch?