July 7, 2022

A Special ‘View From My Porch’ in Recognition of Independence Day: CT’s General Israel Putnam was a ‘Man of Legendary Courage’, a Brooklyn ‘Rock Star’

Major General Israel Putnam, during the American Revolutionary War. Public Domain.

Prelude:

The June 9 edition of The Day reported that the team of Tessa Grethel and Sophia D’Amico — both Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School seventh graders — took first place in Connecticut in the junior group exhibit category of the National History Day Contest with their project titled “Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Origins of Atomic Diplomacy.”

Phil Rizzuto would have exclaimed “holy cow” for a homerun like that! 

Introduction:

I reported in my last essay that Connecticut legend credits General Israel Putnam with “increasing the popularity of cigars in New England after he returned from an expedition to Cuba with thousands of Havana cigars.”

In trying to corroborate that claim with an additional source, I discovered that there is substantial folklore surrounding the General’s life and his acclaim as a warrior and military hero. (To avoid any misinterpretation of this essay’s title, note that I use “Rock Star” to express high praise.) 

Kerri Provost, writing in “Real Hartford”, refers to Putnam as “Connecticut’s first authentic folk hero”. I am not suggesting that his story is historic fiction, just something worthy of a friendly review. All that said, he was very cool, and a fascinating American patriot, who had significant influence on freeing New England from the Redcoats, and Connecticut from predatory wolves. 

I have also considered other Connecticut Revolutionary War heroes in previous columns, including Ezra Lee, who was the first man to command a submarine in an attack on the enemy; and David Bushnell, who invented “The Turtle”, which was used by Lee in his 1776 assault on the British flagship, “HMS Eagle”, in New York harbor.

Israel Putnam was born in 1718 into a wealthy farming family in what is now Danvers, Mass. and moved to Connecticut in 1739 to establish his own farm, a “500-acre spread just south of what is now Pomfret, Conn. He had 10 children with his first wife; and much later, in 1767, established a “house for the general accommodation of the public” (i.e., a tavern) in Brooklyn, Conn. with his second wife.

He owned a slave, and as we have learned through the “Witness Stones” Project, that was not unusual in Connecticut at that time.

The Hartford Courant reported that “Israel Putnam defied the image of a classic American hero. “Stout, if not fat, he was unreserved, a man of many words who reveled in racy ballads and rum-fueled stories.” So, I guess that he bore more resemblance to Ben Franklin than George Washington. 

Putnam and the Wolf:

In 1742, after he and his neighbors had suffered repeated losses of sheep from wolf attacks, Putnam organized watches in an effort to protect the flocks and to help track the wolf back to its den. They spotted the wolf at dusk on a winter’s day and followed it to the den, a cave with a very narrow and shallow entrance.

Absent another volunteer, Putnam attached a rope to a yoke around his ankles and crawled into the cave with a lighted torch, trying to determine whether he could get within musket range of the animal … and he did come within yards of the snarling wolf. 

He signaled, and was dragged out; and then crawled back in with torch and musket and shot the wolf. His neighbors drew him out again, nearly overcome by smoke. 

After being revived, he crawled back into the cave a third time, where he grabbed the wolf by the ears; and the dead wolf and the live farmer were hauled out together. Putnam had dispatched Connecticut’s last wolf with a single shot.

The Colonial Warrior:

I’ll review a few of the notable battlefield events that contributed to Putnam’s legendary status with the following historical vignettes; and then identify some of the memorials and public works of art associated with those events. He became known for his natural leadership ability and reckless courage; and rose steadily through the ranks, ultimately gaining the rank of brigadier general before the Battle of Bunker Hill.

This is not a skirmish-by-skirmish list; just a few highlights.

French and Indian War:

In 1755, he joined Rogers’ Rangers, a New Hampshire-based militia company affiliated with the British. The Rangers were a “highly resourceful force trained in irregular warfare tactics” and stealthy reconnaissance. Ranger companies were developed because the English Regulars (i.e., the British foot soldiers) were so unaccustomed to frontier warfare. 

Rogers’ is considered as the precursor to the U.S. Army Rangers.

Putnam is said to have excelled at that form of frontier fighting. He was captured in 1758 by French-allied Mohawks while on a military mission near Crown Point, N.Y., and was saved from the ritual burning allegedly exacted by Mohawk warriors on their enemies through the intervention of a French officer. 

Putnam was then taken as a prisoner of war to a camp near Montreal. Note that many former Rogers’ Rangers’ officers eventually defected from the British ranks to fight for the Continental Army against the British.

The Siege of Havana:

He was freed from the French in an exchange of prisoners, and sailed in 1762 with a British mission that captured the Spanish garrison at Havana harbor and assumed control of the Caribbean Spanish fleet. He had survived a shipwreck during that expedition and may have been part of the British occupying force that remained on the island until the “Peace of Paris” ended the seven years of the French and Indian War in 1763. 

Putnam returned to his Connecticut farm after Cuba, and prospered.

He became a prominent member of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty and a leader in the opposition to the 1765 Stamp Act, which imposed a substantial tax on the colonies to fund the cost of the French and Indian War. He led the mob of former soldiers that forced the Mass. Colony’s Stamp administrator in Boston to resign.

The Battle of Bunker Hill:

Now 57years-old, Putnam was working in his fields with his son, Daniel, when a messenger rode into the village and proclaimed that the British had fired on the militia at Lexington, killing six men; and were on the march. This advance by the Redcoats on Lexington, and then Concord, marked the beginning of the American Revolution. 

Putnam left his plough in the field, and without changing from his working clothes, departed immediately on horseback for the home of Governor Trumbull in Lebanon, Conn., who ordered him to sound the alarm with the militia officers and the patriot assemblies in the neighboring townsm and then continue on to the conflict.

Putnam proceeded to Cambridge, where several colonial militias had encamped, and set up his headquarters. He began preparing what were untested fighters for the inevitable battle with the British. Their ranks comprised militiamen from several colonies, former soldiers, and farmers, who had signed on with “the cause”.to the revolution. 

The British ships controlling Boston’s harbor began firing their cannons on the Americans on the morning of June 17, 1775; and soon after, landed soldiers in preparation for attack.  

After General Warren, the American commander, had been seriously wounded, Putnam assumed command and then served as commanding officer in the battle. As the British approached the poorly-supplied militiamen, he ordered them to conserve their ammunition, and “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

The colonists repelled the first two British assaults, but ran out of ammunition during the third attack and were forced to abandon their position, returning to their lines outside the battle perimeter. The entire time, Putnam rode his horse up and down the lines, setting an example of courage and steadying the troops.

Although the battle was a tactical victory for the British, it came at a terrible price. Nearly half of the 2,200 Redcoats who entered the battle were killed or wounded in the two hours of fighting — twice as many casualties as the Americans had suffered, including many of the British officers. 

The Americans’ fierce defense demonstrated their ability to fight “toe-to-toe” with the British, and provided an important confidence boost, convincing them that they could overcome the superior power of the British military. 

Although usually referred to as the Battle of Bunker Hill, the battle actually took place on Breed’s Hill.

The Aftermath:

“The loss we have sustained is greater than we can bear,” wrote British General Thomas Gage. After the battle, patriot leader Nathanael Greene remarked “I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price.” 

George Washington arrived and assumed command of the new Continental Army in Cambridge and stayed on to direct the ongoing campaign at Boston. Afterwards, he moved the Army to New York, and Putnam was given command at Long Island.  

Unfortunately, Putnam was “outflanked, out-maneuvered and out-smarted” in the Battle for Long Island”. Washington never blamed him for the loss, but it was clear that he was past his prime as a battlefield commander; and was delegated less important commands. If Bunker Hill was Putnam’s high point, then the Battle of Long Island was his lowest. 

The Die Is Cast: 

The Americans had long felt that relations with the British were nearly irreconcilable. The bloodshed at Bunker Hill, however, virtually eliminated any chance for reconciliation and pointed the colonies on the path to independence.

When King George III received the news of the battle in London on August 23, 1775, he issued a proclamation declaring the colonies in a state of “open and avowed rebellion.” Further, in the wake of Bunker Hill, Benjamin Franklin penned a letter to an English friend and member of Parliament that he closed with, “You are now my enemy and I am yours.” Finally, the high price of victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill made the British realize that the war with the colonies would be long, tough and costly. 

Israel Putnam Public Art and Memorials:

Substantial public space has been dedicated to memorializing Israel Putnam.

The Israel Putnam Wolf Den, the site where he killed the last wolf in Connecticut, is now maintained in Mashamoquet Brook State Park in Pomfret, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A bronze Marker, installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution on Lake Road in Crown Point, N.Y. is inscribed, “182 feet north of this spot stood the oak to which Israel Putnam was tied and tortured by the Indians in 1758”.

The image of Putnam leaving his plough in the field after learning of the British attack on the Americans at Lexington, is carved on the east façade of the Connecticut State Capitol Building, one of five tympana on the east façade portraying the founding of Connecticut and the Revolutionary War.

Putnam’s actual plough and saddle are on display in the Entrance Hall of the Hartford Armory.

John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze of Israel Putnam, completed in 1874, was one of the first public sculptures dedicated in Bushnell Park; and the first of six Revolutionary War memorials executed by Ward. Putnam is depicted striding forward, with his sword held under his arm. 

His remains are buried in the base of an equestrian monument on the Brooklyn Town Green. The monument was created in response to the deteriorated condition of Putnam’s original grave marker; and was funded by the Connecticut state government with the provision that it also serves as a tomb for Putnam.

Upon its completion, Putnam’s remains were reinterred under the monument.  The dedication was held on June 14, 1888 and included the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island. The equestrian monument was criticized by contemporary reviewers, who especially criticized the horse, with one reviewer  saying  that the horse appeared to be suffering from bone spavin (i.e., Osteoarthritis).

The original grave marker is under glass and can be seen in the north alcove of the Connecticut State Capital in Hartford; his epitaph was “He dared to lead where any dared to follow”.

A statue of William Prescott was installed next to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Mass.

Some Final Thoughts:

I want to say up front that I see absolutely no parallels between what I have presented in this essay and the activities of January 6th. 

I have read history since I got my first library card from the Darwin R. Barker Library in Fredonia NY; and not because I thought that ” those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” (see https://lymeline.com/2021/02/a-view-from-my-porch-the-marquis-groucho-sam-and-me/ )

I still read history and I realize that it helps me re-confirm the honor, courage, heroism and eloquence of Americans. 

Clearly, my essay presents a Connecticut-centric view of Putnam’s exploits.  

However, William Prescott (Mass.) shared leadership responsibility with Putnam on the battlefield. “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” has also been attributed by some to Prescott. Historians have not reached agreement on whom is responsible for that exact quote.

Regarding the original question: I still cannot confirm whether Putnam brought a cache of Cuban cigars with him on his return to Connecticut; and my original statement did come from a legitimate source, However, as a successful farmer, it is more likely that he returned with tobacco seeds; and I have since found several sources supporting “tobacco seeds”.

Finally, Robert Rogers created the ” 28 “Rules of Ranging”, a series of procedures and guidelines, in 1757 during the French and Indian War. A modified version of the “Rules” is still followed by the 75th Ranger Regiment, (i.e., the U. S. Army Rangers), and they are considered as “standing orders” for Ranger activities.  

Sources:

Niven, John. Connecticut Hero: Israel Putnam. American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut. 1977.
Leavenworth, Jesse. Israel Putnam, A Man of Legendary Courage. Hartford Courant.  May 24, 2014.
(Note that the following two sources are available from that omnipresent online bookseller with all the blue vans):
Goodrich, Samuel G. A Tale of the Revolution: and Other Sketches. Peter Parley Children’s Series.1845
Marsh, John. Putnam And the Wolf, Or, The Monster Destroyed: An Address Delivered At Pomfret, Connecticut Before The Windham Co. Temperance Society.  October 28, 1829.

Editor’s Notes: (i) The photo above is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a08971.

(ii) This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

 About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco — The Finale

Tom Gotowka digs deeper into The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco. Photo by Shaun Meintjes on Unsplash.

It’s been a little while since the publication of Part 1 of The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco , but during that hiatus, there has been other remarkable news covered in the media.

Decisions regarding COVID mitigation were moved to municipal leadership, including school superintendents. Judge Ketanjii Brown Jackson, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Biden, was confirmed by the Senate, and became both the first African-American woman and native Floridian to serve on the “highest court” in the U. S. Federal Judiciary. 

Without provocation, Russia brutally and relentlessly attacked Ukraine; arousing support for the courageous citizens defending their homeland by nearly the whole of the free world, and the emergence of President Volodymyr Zelensky as a leader somewhat reminiscent of a wartime Winston Churchill.

Locally, Old Lyme announced the availability of American Rescue Plan economic recovery and community initiative grants for small businesses and non-profits.

Finally, and much closer to my home, my son landed in Bahrain on an extended U.S. Navy mission with a multi- national coalition task force charged, “to provide reassurance to merchant shipping in the Middle East.” On some days, reciting the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain …” is a good distraction for his parents, along with, “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”

Part 1 Redux:

The prior essay provided some historic context for the development of tobacco farming in Connecticut. I reviewed the initial stages of the international tobacco trade, beginning with the early voyages of the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the “Age of Discovery”. I considered how the English developed their insatiable appetite for what King James I called a “noxious weed.”

I reflected on England’s dependence on Spain as their primary source for tobacco; which resulted in a substantial trade deficit that has been cited by many historians as a precipitating factor in the decision by King James to establish a permanent colony in the Americas in 1607.

Unfortunately, the Jamestown, Va. colony was nearly doomed to fail when the settlers disembarked onto a swampy and infertile peninsula infested with malaria – carrying mosquitos; and absent the wealth and riches that the Spanish brought home after looting the Aztec empire; nearly became a financial disaster for investors.  

The colony was on the brink of disaster by1610, when John Rolfe arrived in a convoy with additional settlers and supplies. Rolfe began cultivating tobacco and developed the colony’s first profitable export. His tobacco proved immensely popular in England; and by 1617, the colony’s tobacco exports had broken the Spanish monopoly, and strengthened the colony’s economy. 

In this essay, I review the expansion of English settlements into New England, focusing on how tobacco developed as an important cash crop in Connecticut; and discuss how Martin Luther King, Jr.’s experience on a tobacco farm in Connecticut’s Farmington River Valley in the 1940s so remarkably impacted his life.

I’ll consider both the key features of the tobacco farms landscape that we observed near West Simsbury; and the romanticization of Connecticut tobacco in literature and cinema. 

The Connecticut Colony:

Connecticut began as several separate settlements by the English separatist Puritans (the “Pilgrims”) from Plymouth, Mass. and England; all of which united under a single royal charter as the Connecticut Colony in 1663. 

One of the earliest of these adventurers was William Holmes, who in 1633 brought a party of traders from Plymouth aboard the colony’s “great new barke.” After sailing up the Connecticut River and past a hostile Dutch fort downstream from what is now Hartford, he established the first English settlement in Connecticut at the convergence of the Farmington and Connecticut rivers at present-day Windsor. 

Despite the challenge of smallpox and some sporadic combative relations with local native Americans, the Windsor settlement succeeded, and eventually contained what later became the “daughter towns” of Barkhamsted, Bloomfield, Enfield, the Granbys, Litchfield, Simsbury, Suffield, and others. 

Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley:

When the first settlers came to the Connecticut River Valley, tobacco was already being grown and consumed by native Americans (i.e., the Podunk peoples), who used it in pipes. The Windsor area’s exceptionally fertile sandy loam soil and hot, humid summers were perfect for growing tobacco; and, in less than 10 years, the settlers had imported tobacco seeds from Virginia and harvested their first tobacco crop.

The earliest Connecticut tobacco variety, ‘shoestring,’ was mainly for use in pipes, but, given the settlers’ English heritage, was also brewed and consumed as a tea.  

By 1700, tobacco was being exported to European ports; and in the mid-19th century, Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley, which runs from Hartford to Springfield, had become the center for tobacco agriculture in the state. Note that tobacco farms also flourished in Connecticut’s Farmington River Valley towns, westward from Windsor to Simsbury.  

Cigars:

Photo by Alexandre Trouvé on Unsplash.

The origin of cigars has been traced back to the 10th century Mayan civilization in Central America. There is no record of the Mayans trading with the early Windsor settlers.

Connecticut folklore credits General Israel Putnam, of Brooklyn, Conn., who fought with distinction at the Battle of Bunker Hill, with increasing the popularity of cigars in New England when he returned from an expedition to Cuba in 1762 with thousands of Havana cigars.

“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is often attributed to Putnam at Bunker Hill.

‘Shoestring’ was replaced with ‘Broadleaf,’ a variety from Maryland, favored because the leaf was much larger, produced greater crop yields, and was suitable for cigars — although used primarily for the two outside layers, the binder and the wrapper.

Note that most cigars are comprised of three separate components: the shredded filler, the binder leaf that holds the filler together, and a wrapper leaf, which is often the highest quality leaf used.

Connecticut ‘Broadleaf’ was grown in direct sunlight, which toughened the leaf and produced a more rugged look — much rougher in texture and appearance. This eventually put Connecticut farmers at a disadvantage against others producing a more pristine leaf for cigars. 

The Origins of Connecticut Shade Tobacco:

By the turn of the 20th century, cigar makers were using tobacco from Sumatra, which competed fiercely with Connecticut-grown wrapper tobaccos, and threatened the livelihood of Connecticut growers.

Science:

W. C. Sturgis, a Connecticut botanist, had already grown Sumatra tobacco from seed in 1899, reproducing the thinner leaf. During the initial trials, natural sunlight scorched the leaves. Learning that the tobacco-growing season in Sumatra occurred predominantly in overcast weather or under jungle shade, however, he erected cheesecloth tents over the experimental crops to block direct sunlight.

Botanists from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also began experimenting with tropical tobacco varieties. 

Marcus Floyd, the USDA’s leading tobacco expert at the time came to Connecticut to oversee the first crop of this experimental tobacco, now known as “shade tobacco.”

Results exceeded expectations; the tobacco leaves were more refined, and a golden leaf emerged after curing and aging; and today is considered the gold standard of cigar wrapper leaves.

Connecticut appropriated $10,00 in 1921 (over $158,000 today) for the Tobacco Research Station in Windsor to investigate cigar wrapper tobacco production and disease control. 

Note the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the first such operation in the United States, had been established in 1875.  

Connecticut’s Transition to Shade:

Connecticut farmers were accustomed to the simple cultivation process and single harvest of broadleaf tobacco. In contrast, Connecticut tobacco historian, Dawn Byron Hutchins estimates that each shade tobacco leaf is handled 12 times before it becomes part of a cigar.

She describes the cultivation of shade-grown tobacco as more labor-intensive and more complicated. To wit, the growing season begins in May with weeding and transplanting seedlings. As the plants grow, they are fastened to guide wires, and then cloth tents are spread over them to increase humidity, protect the tender plants from direct sunlight, and maximize the short New England growing season. 

The remainder of cultivation takes place by hand. Field workers spend weeks in high humidity and extreme heat moving among the rows, pulling off shoots and tobacco worms. Multiple harvests of leaves are brought to barns, where workers sew the leaves together to string on wooden lath. The laths are then hung in the rafters of barns to cure.

After curing, the tobacco is moved to sorting sheds and warehouses, where processing continues throughout the rest of the year.

“Working Tobacco”:

Prior to the First World War, the Greater Hartford-Springfield area was able to fulfill the need for seasonal tobacco workers with residents and immigrants. When war broke out, however, many workers were drafted, while those remaining home took jobs at munitions and other defense-related plants, which promised higher wages.

Consequently, Connecticut’s tobacco farms began to employ migrant laborers from the South and the Caribbean. 

The Connecticut Tobacco Company advertised in the New York World in 1915 for “500 girls to work as sorters”. The planters “gathered up 200 girls of the worst type, who straightaway proceeded to scandalize Hartford” (sic). The blunder was managed and Emmett J. Scott, secretary-treasurer of Howard University, included the incident in his 1920 book, “Negro Migration During the War”.

The Company then sought assistance from the National Urban League (NUL), who already served as a clearinghouse and civil rights advocate for African American migrants to the North. They placed advertisements in African American newspapers like The Chicago Defender, which was circulated in the South. Unfortunately, this program was similarly unable to produce a reliable labor force. 

Marcus Floyd (see USDA above), president of the Connecticut Tobacco Company since 1911, then began investigating recruitment of a special group of Southern workers: college or college-bound students. At that time, students from historically black colleges were already accompanying their professors north to work seasonal service jobs at New England resorts.

College students provided Connecticut growers with an English-speaking, educated work force, “who, as seasonal workers, would have only limited impact on the local communities”. 

The NUL introduced Floyd to Dr. John Hope, the first black president of Morehouse College. A deal was struck, and Floyd recruited the first Morehouse students for the 1916 season at Hazelwood plantation on the Windsor/East Granby border.

The Hartford Daily Courant reported in August 1916 that “students were paid $2.00 per day, and, in turn, paid $4.50 per week for room and board. Students could clear $100 for the entire summer,” which is equivalent in purchasing power to more than $2,500 today. Roundtrip transportation was covered for those who completed the entire season.

Recruiters also sought student workers from other historically black colleges, including Florida A&M, Morris Brown College, Howard University, Livingstone College, and Talladega College. Growers minimized their labor problems by developing residential camps or building dormitories on their tobacco farms and providing religious and social opportunities.

A Morehouse dormitory was built in 1938 in Simsbury, and was expanded in 1946. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Martin Luther King, 1964. Photo by the Nobel Foundation. Public Domain.

After qualifying for early admission to Morehouse College, MLK left the South to work the summers of both 1944 and 1947 on the Cullman Brothers tobacco farm in Simsbury to earn money for tuition. 

“For him and a lot of the students, it’s their first time out of the South and away from segregation,” said Clayborne Carson, senior editor of “The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.,” which included MLK’s teenage letters home describing the liberating experience of escaping the segregated South.

He was struck by the distinction between the segregation on the train ride from Atlanta to Washington D.C. and the freedom he experienced after changing trains for Connecticut. “After we passed Washington, there was no discrimination at all,” he wrote to his father; adding that up North, “We go to any place we want to and sit anywhere we want to.” 

He wrote in his autobiography, “It was a bitter feeling going back to segregation after those summers in Connecticut. It was hard to understand why I could ride wherever I pleased on the train from New York to Washington and then had to change to a Jim Crow car (i.e., racially restricted) at the nation’s capital to continue the trip to Atlanta. I could never readjust to the separate waiting rooms, eating places, and rest rooms; partly because the “separate was always unequal”; and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.”

Corey Kilgannon wrote in the New York Times that the dream of equality that MLK first glimpsed in Simsbury helped reshape his world view. He adds, “It was during those summers that King began his path to becoming a minister. He decided to attend Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, and explained in his 1944 application that he felt, “An inescapable urge to serve society.”

He was ordained as a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1948. 

Literature and Cinema: 

The 1952 novel, East of Eden, by John Steinbeck is set primarily in the Salinas Valley, although an early portion of the novel is set on a Connecticut tobacco farm.  This is a very cruel story and describes the overlapping fates of several generations of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons; and the toxic relationship of bible-thumping Cyrus with his sons, Adam, and Adam’s violent half-brother, Charles.

Many reviewers cite East of Eden as Steinbeck’s best work and an allegory for the story of Cain and Abel. The 1955 movie, which is based on the fourth and final part of the novel. starred James Dean and Raymond Massey. 

The 1958 novel, Parrish, by New London native, Mildred Savage, tells the story of the shade tobacco industry in the Connecticut River Valley in the 1940s and 1950s, and the violent conflict between the established growers, who had owned vast farms for generations, and a ruthless outsider, Judd Raike, who threatened them through hostile and underhanded acquisitions of their farm lands.

Parrish McLean and his mother work for the Sala Post tobacco farm, which is engaged in a brutal conflict with Raike. Mrs. McLean marries Raike, who then insists that the recalcitrant Parrish learn the business from the ground up; and the story proceeds from the point of view of Parrish, who still has a relationship with Sala. 

The 1961 movie starred Troy Donahue (as Parrish), Claudette Colbert, and Karl Malden. It was filmed in Windsor and includes some amazing aerial panoramas of the shaded fields and farm landscapes of the time (available via Phoebe.)

I can’t close the book on Windsor without mentioning the 1941 Joseph Kesselring Broadway play and 1944 Frank Capra movie, Arsenic and Old Lace, starring Cary Grant. Arsenic was based on events at the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids on Prospect Street in Windsor, Conn. Sixty men died between 1907 and 1917 while in the care of Amy Archer-Gilligan. Most were proven to be victims of arsenic poisoning.

Tobacco Farms Landscape:

I mentioned last time that I was first introduced to tobacco farming when I did several years of active duty in the late 1970s at a Naval Hospital in Southern Maryland. I “mustered out” to Connecticut, and we settled in West Simsbury. We had anticipated dairy farms, and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, but we also got fields of shade tobacco. I reminisce a little on our initial impressions in what turned out to be our final stop in an unplanned odyssey amongst the tobacco-centric regions of the eastern United States.

Making the Shade:

Tobacco fields are arranged in a grid pattern, set with posts and connecting wires. Cheesecloth was stretched across the top and along the sides. Currently, nylon mesh is used in lieu of cheesecloth. The shade diffuses sunlight, encapsulates heat and humidity, and creates an environment whose temperature is much higher than outside the shade. 

Tobacco Barns:

Tobacco barn in Simsbury, Connecticut used for air curing of shade tobacco. By Sphilbrick – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11530818

Adjoining the fields are very distinctive, vertically-sided weathered barns, raised for curing tobacco, which is hung on stalks in the barn’s rafters. The barns are constructed with long narrow boards, which are hinged at the top. Called “Yankee hinges”, they are designed to swing open when needed in order to lower the temperature and increase air flow in the barn.

Note that there are barn designs other than the “Yankee hinges,” which are also used for curing tobacco. They include horizontal siding with top-hinged vents and gable-end doors, or a series of large doors along one of the long sides of the building with the other sides of the building vented.

Epilogue:

Tobacco production in Connecticut today is a fraction of what it was at its peak in the 1930s, when 30,000 acres of farmland grew tobacco; reflecting an overall decline in cigar smoking from a century ago, and greater public awareness of smoking-related disease.  At present, just over 2,000 acres are dedicated to tobacco production. 

The method of growing tobacco under shade is now common in many areas, including the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

Connecticut seed tobaccos are also grown in a number of other countries; most notably, Ecuador.

The three-story Morehouse dormitory, mentioned earlier, which originally housed hundreds of tobacco workers, was still in service when we arrived in West Simsbury, but was weathered and in the early stages of disrepair and dilapidation. It was destroyed by fire in 1984 as part of a training exercise for volunteer firefighters.

In spring 2021, the vacant 288-acre site of the 1940s Cullman Brothers tobacco farm in Simsbury, then called Meadowood, was slated for a development of hundreds of homes. As noted above, MLK worked the summers of 1944 and 1947 on the farm.

Richard Curtiss, a history teacher at Simsbury High School, initiated a student project to investigate what was then a local legend. Research not only included books and old newspaper articles, but gathering oral history from people like 105-year-old Bernice Martin, who said that MLK attended her church in Simsbury, The First Congregational Church; and had been recruited to sing in the choir.

The students put their findings in a video, Summers of Freedom, which was covered by the CBS Evening News and other major outlets; and residents then followed with a grassroots citizen petition process and special town meeting that put the question of the Meadowood purchase on a referendum in May 2021.

Residents authorized $2.5 million for the purchase and preservation of the 288-acre Meadowood property by a resounding 87 percent. The property has since been nominated for historic designation.

The stage had already been set for that referendum on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January, with the unveiling of a permanent MLK memorial. The memorial was made up of five glass panels representing the different stages of MLK Jr.’s life. It was made possible by groups of Simsbury High School students, who raised $150,000. It will now be listed as a destination on Connecticut’s Freedom Trail. 

If you have read any of my past columns, you know that I enjoy reading history; and especially enjoy ferreting out instances of the unique. I anticipate expanding on the folklore that surrounds the life of General Israel Putnam, cited above as an “influencer,” who played a significant role in increasing the popularity of cigars.  

A prominent member of the expat community and chronicler of the local zeitgeist lamented, after publishing the first essay in this series, “The British role in the whole [tobacco] business is not a glorious one”! 

All that said, I have never used any tobacco product.

Sources: 

  • Connecticut Valley Tobacco Historical Society
  • Connecticut Valley Agricultural Museum
  • Preservation Connecticut
  • Simsbury and Windsor Historical Societies
  • The Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station
  • Holt’s Cigar Company
  • Cigar Aficionado
  • New York Times,  Nov. 12, 2021; article by Corey Kilgannon

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

 About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch — The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco, Part 1: The Age of Discovery to the Jamestown, Virginia Colony

The Shady History of Connecticut Tobacco. Photo by Shaun Meintjes on Unsplash.

It’s been a while since my last View, which was A Primer on The American Rescue Plan. Since then, I have spent some time thinking about tobacco; and frankly, that’s a subject on which I have rarely, if ever, reflected.  Then again, it’s not COVID, or its aftermath; and has nothing to do with the events of Jan. 6, 2021, or their aftermath.

George Burns in 1961. American comedian, actor, singer, and writer.  NBC/photographer-Elmer W. Holloway. 

To explain, Christina and I saw an excellent production of Say Goodnight, Gracie late last year at the venerable Ivoryton Playhouse with a CDC-compliant and COVID-cautious audience. 

Goodnight is a one-man play based on comedian George Burns’ reminiscences of his life with Gracie Allen. George was usually seen with a cigar in hand, and it became one his trademarks; and a prop in the Ivoryton production. If your knowledge of vintage television extends no further back than Seinfeld, the Burns and Allen Show was broadcast from 1950 to 1958; and Burns used “Say goodnight, Gracie” as the sign-off at the end of each episode.

Moreover, the New York Times carried a story by Corey Kilgannon in mid-November regarding a group of Morehouse College students, who traveled from Atlanta in the early-1940s to earn money for tuition by working on tobacco farms in Connecticut’s Farmington River Valley. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those students; and, in January, the United States commemorated what would have been the civil rights leader’s 92nd birthday.

If you’ve read any of my past columns, you know that I enjoy reading history; and especially enjoy ferreting out what’s unique. All that said, I have never used any tobacco product. 

My treatise on CT tobacco, which is presented in two parts, is not a review of the well-documented health risks associated with first- or second-hand tobacco smoke; but, ultimately, an historic review of how tobacco became a cash crop in Connecticut.

In doing my research, I was amazed at how often tobacco intersected the course of history. 

I became acquainted with tobacco farming in the late-1970s while serving my active duty at a Naval Hospital in Southern Maryland. At the time, there were several large farms growing “sot weed”, as it’s also been called, in both Calvert and St Mary’s counties; much of it in the latter by Amish and Mennonite farmers, who grew it both as a market commodity and for personal use.  

To provide some context for Part 2, which explores tobacco farming in CT, I am going to examine–albeit at a high level–the development of the international tobacco trade, beginning with the early voyages of the European explorers.

Discovery of Tobacco in the New World

Spanish and Portuguese explorers were introduced to Nicotiana tabacum in the late 15th and early 16th centuries by the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean, who had already cultivated, consumed, and traded it for hundreds of years. The explorers returned to Europe with bales of tobacco and, more significantly, began large scale tobacco cultivation and export from their colonies in the New World.

Note that tobacco was unknown to Europe before those voyages. 

The English were probably first introduced to tobacco by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586, on his return with the settlers rescued from the ill-fated Roanoke Island colony. However, it is likely that the use of tobacco had been passed onto British sailors by Spanish and Portuguese sailors well before the Roanoke rescue.

“Raleigh’s First Pipe in England” – an illustration included in Frederick William Fairholt’s Tobacco, its history and associations. 1859. 

Sir Walter became an avid and influential advocate of tobacco, and many other English nobles then also indulged. He is said to have presented tobacco to Queen Elizabeth I; and, of course, smoking then became the rage in the Royal Court.

Recreational use of the addictive stimulant soon covered England and much of Europe in smoke; and, unfortunately, many believed that it had health benefits and that smoking cured all manner of illnesses, including gout, hysteria, and cancer; and when applied externally, could be used for bites from poisonous reptiles and insects, ringworm, and to increase the growth of hair. 

Pipe-smoking then grew rapidly across all levels of English society and the English demand for tobacco became the greatest in the Old World. One historian described it as a “insatiable.” Note that the use of cigarettes as the primary vehicle for consuming tobacco did not become commonplace until well after the Industrial Revolution. 

However, the English had a serious problem — availability of tobacco. By the late 1500s, not a single English tobacco plantation existed in the New World, which meant that obtaining it relied on trade, smuggling, or capturing vessels bound for Portugal or Spain. This supply problem is cited by many historians as one of the precipitating factors in the decision to establish a permanent colony in the Americas. 

King James I, in his 1604 “Counterblaste to Tobacco,” voiced his opposition to the “noxious weed” and his concern that tobacco smoking had serious social and health implications. He then raised the taxes on tobacco in an effort to reduce use.

The Tobacco Mystique

Despite the King’s “Counterblaste,” tobacco developed an “aura” amongst the “smoking public.” For example, the opening speech of Moliere’s Don Juan begins, “There is nothing like tobacco. It’s the passion of the virtuous man; and whoever lives without tobacco isn’t worthy of living.”

A century later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle continued in that vein in The Red Headed League, wherein a contemplative Sherlock Holmes, while considering a complex problem, informed Dr. Watson that, “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”

Finally, in World War I, General John Pershing appealed from France: “You ask me what we need to win this war”; and I answer “tobacco, as much as bullets.”

The King Addresses England’s Tobacco Deficit

In 1606, King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Company of London to establish permanent colonial settlements in the New World. Although their primary motivation was the hope of reproducing the wealth and riches that the Spanish brought home after they looted the Aztec empire; the Company also supported the English national goals of offsetting the expansion of other European nations abroad, finding a sea passage through the New World to India and Asia, and converting the indigenous peoples to the Anglican religion.

Their journey began that December and in May,1607, three ships with over 100 male colonists and another 40 crew members arrived in the New World to start a settlement at Jamestown, which they named after their king.

Location, Location, Location

Jamestown was selected because its waters were deep enough to enable the English to secure their ships at the shoreline, its position was defensible, and there was no native inhabitation. The reasons for the latter quickly became obvious.

The settlement was on a mosquito-infested, swampy peninsula, downstream from nearly 15,000 native Algonquians, who lived in more than 100 villages, and were ruled by a powerful leader, Powhatan (the “Powhatans.”)

Immediate Problems

The settlers arrived without sufficient food supplies and an inadequate group of skilled farmers, skilled tradesmen, and laborers. Their group included a large number of wealthy members of the gentry, whose background did not include much manual labor. 

Their water source was brackish and unsanitary, and they developed typhoid and dysentery. Worse still, mosquitoes in the marsh carried malaria. Their governing council, which was proscribed by the king, lacked authority and was ineffective. 

They had landed during a prolonged drought, which made finding fresh water and planting any crops at all very difficult. 

Relations with the Powhatans, whose harvests were also impacted by the drought, were tenuous; and degraded into open conflict, as the English, who were forced to rely on them for most of their food; eventually escalated from trade, to raiding the smaller villages. 

By the end of 1607, Jamestown was close to failing, and only the periodic arrival of supply ships from England held the colony together.

At this point, I am going to change tack from this play-by-play analysis of the trials and tribulations of the settlers, and discuss the activities of some key people who made the venture succeed (spoiler).

Captain Christopher Newport

Newport was an English seaman and privateer, who was captain of the largest of the three ships that carried the earliest settlers to Jamestown; and in overall command of the convoy on that first voyage. He also made several supply trips between England and Jamestown, which, as noted above, “held the colony together.” 

In 1609, he became Captain of the Company’s newly launched “Sea Venture,” which was the flagship of a new larger convoy carrying settlers, provisions, and the first group of government officials to Jamestown. On that voyage, the “Sea Venture” sailed into a fierce storm, ran aground, and was forced to temporarily land in Bermuda to make repairs.

Captain John Smith

Smith became the colony’s leader in 1608, the fourth in a succession of council leaders. His administration had the advantage of the King’s second charter, which created a much stronger form of governance under the now “Governor” John Smith, and included a period of military law that carried harsh punishments for those who did not obey.

Smith quickly instituted the policy: “He that will not work, will not eat.” Unfortunately, he was injured in late-1609 and returned to England. His departure was followed by a period of warfare with the Powhatans and the deaths of many settlers from starvation and disease.  

John Rolfe

Rolfe arrived in Jamestown in 1610 with the “Sea Venture” convoy along with 150 other settlers. He began cultivating tobacco, using seeds from Trinidad, or the West Indies, and began development of Virginia’s first profitable export. Note that how Rolfe came by the tobacco seed is not known.

In 1614, Rolfe married Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas. The couple traveled to London in 1616 with their infant son Thomas, with the expectation of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. Pocahontas, who was christened Rebecca before the voyage, was presented to English society as an example of the “civilized savage.”

She died before returning to Virginia. Their marriage created a climate of peace between the colonists and the Powhatans; which continued for eight years as the “Peace of Pocahontas.”

Virginia Tobacco was an Unqualified Success

Rolfe’s new and milder tobacco proved immensely popular in England, helping to break the Spanish monopoly and creating a stable economy for the colony. 

By 1617, the colony was exporting 20,000 pounds of tobacco annually; doubling that amount in the following year. Historian Lee Pelham Cotton estimates that by 1640, London was importing nearly a million and a half pounds of tobacco per annum from Virginia.

James I’s “noxious weed” had become the economic staple of Virginia; and would ensure the survival of the colony.  By the beginning of the 17th century, the Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America, which was probably the impetus for commissioning further settlements in the New World.

Indentured Servitude and Slavery

From the beginning (i.e., about 1500), the Portuguese had enslaved the indigenous natives in their colony of Brazil to work on their sugar cane, cocoa, and tobacco plantations The import of African slaves began mid-16th century, but the enslavement of indigenous peoples continued well into the 17th and 18th centuries. 

The British hesitated to establish slavery in Virginia because they relied on indentured servants for the grueling labor in the tobacco fields. However, the growing demand for Rolfe’s tobacco resulted in a huge need for more field laborers; and, unfortunately, coincided with declining numbers of indentured servants willing to emigrate from England. The number of slaves increased significantly thereafter.

Author’s Notes:

In Part 2, I will review the expansion of English settlements into New England, with particular focus on how tobacco developed as a cash crop in Connecticut

I will also consider Martin Luther King, Jr.’s experience in the early-1940s as a college student “working tobacco” in the Farmington River Valley.

I will present the literature and the cinema that romanticized Connecticut tobacco; and finally, contrast the 1998 Tobacco Settlement with the more recent Opioids Settlement 

However, before I close this essay, I wish to share my opinion that Disney got it all wrong. 

The 1995 production of “Pocahontas” tells the story of Captain John Smith’s romance with Pocahontas, which progresses, much to the disapproval of her father, Chief Powhatan. Smith’s fellow Englishmen plan to rob the Native Americans of their gold. As the story continues, her father tried to execute Smith by clubbing him to death. Pocahontas prevented the bloody killing by resting her own head on his.

Of course, I could not corroborate any of this; but, refer you to the section above on John Rolfe.

What’s troubling is that, given Disney’s probable incorrect review of history, it may also be possible that Davy Crockett was not the “King of the Wild Frontier.”

Editor’s Note: i) This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.
ii) The photo published above of George Burns is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1927 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright notice.
iii) The photo published above of Sir Walter Raleigh is available from the New York Public Library’s Digital Library under the digital ID 1107712: digitalgallery.nypl.org→digitalcollections.nypl.org. {{PD-US}}

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

 

A View From My Porch: A Primer on the American Rescue Plan, What’s Happening to the Money in Old Lyme

Over the past several months, the regional media have covered American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding decisions made in several Southeast Connecticut communities. On July 26, the New London Day carried the headline, “American Rescue Plan Funding Floods Southeastern Connecticut.”

Even before that, on June 15, Old Lyme’s First Selectman Timothy Griswold reported, “The American Rescue Plan will pay the Town about $743,000, with an additional $1,419,000 share of the payment to New London County, totaling about $2,162,000.” 

I will discuss the fundamentals of ARP in this “View”; and then review the approach being taken by Old Lyme to decide how best to distribute those funds.

My objective in this essay is that readers gain some understanding of this important legislation. Note that this is not an exhaustive analysis of ARP, just what I consider the important highlights.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. The goal of the ARPA is to “accelerate the nation’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” It is actually the sixth federal COVID relief bill passed in the last year and a half; and may be the largest, in terms of funds designated for Connecticut. 

The Plan includes $65.1 billion in direct, flexible aid to every county in the United States; and then, via the counties, additional funds to some cities, towns, and villages.

Connecticut towns and cities will receive $2.55 billion, with $1.56 billion earmarked for “general government” (i.e., vital public services), and $995 million for boards of education.

Approved Uses: The Department of the Treasury has issued guidance regarding appropriate use of these funds; and will provide continuing oversight as funds are disbursed.

Eligible uses fall into five categories:-

  1. Supporting the public health response, including mitigation and medical expenses
  2. Addressing negative economic impacts, which may include assistance to households, small businesses, and non-profits; or aid to impacted industries, like tourism, travel, the arts, and hospitality
  3. Investing in water, sewers, and broadband infrastructure 
  4. Premium pay to essential workers
  5. Replacing lost public sector revenue.

Old Lyme ARP Activities:

Old Lymes’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) has appointed a committee* charged with developing and recommending (to the BOS) an approach for the distribution of ARP funds to Old Lyme residents and businesses who have been impacted by the COVID pandemic. This committee is comprised of individuals with broad expertise in public health, business, municipal infrastructure, social services, emergency services, arts, and tourism. 

The first real “hands-on” introduction to this group by residents will be over the course of the next several weeks, when the committee conducts a survey of the impact of COVID on our community. Those survey results are very important, because they will provide a framework for an estimate of Old Lyme’s collective need, and help set priorities that will be included in the recommendation to the BOS. A funding process may then be developed and publicized.

CARES Act:

Many Old Lyme residents and business owners may have already benefited from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020 by then President Donald Trump, also for emergency relief of the economic impacts of COVID. 

CARES’ $2 trillion included one-time cash payments to eligible individuals, expanded unemployment benefits, direct payments to eligible families, and the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided grants and, “forgivable” loans to small businesses (i.e., “forgivable” when used for eligible payroll costs).

Some Final Thoughts:

Old Lyme’s ARP funds are, at present, kept in an “interest-bearing account” in a local bank. Note that those funds, including interest, must be obligated or awarded by Dec. 31, 2024.

Among regional towns and cities, Norwich received the most overall funding, nearly $30 million, followed by New London with more than $26 million. 

East Lyme, Montville, Stonington and Waterford each received more than $5 million. Lyme received $685,421.56.

A complex methodology was used to determine funding levels; I won’t try to do justice to it within the confines of this essay.

That said, the federal government used a modified version of HUD’s old Community Development Block Grant formula, with total grant size for “non-metro cities” capped at 75 percent of the municipality’s most recent budget” (i.e., as of Jan. 27, 2020). The revised formula also considered total population and the rate of local unemployment.

In closing, the Committee anticipates publicizing the survey mentioned above through the local media and other channels directly reaching residents.

*Editor’s Note: Old Lyme ARP Committee members elected the author as chairman at their first meeting.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Continuing the Tikka Saga — with Slides of Trips to the UK

The London skyline by night with St. Paul’s Cathedral at center left. Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

Clearly, we all need a break; this lighter essay is mine.

In August, LymeLine published a recipe for chicken tikka masala from Lee White cooked in an “Instant Pot.” We made the dish, pictured below, with her recipe and found it to be an authentic and tasty interpretation of the “British staple.”

Christina and I enjoy the aromatic spices, and have some “history” with cilantro. We added steamed celery, carrots, and peas to Lee’s dish; as we often do with curries.

Coincidentally, chicken tikka masala is my “go-to” entrée in Indian restaurants, since it can be spiced mild to medium. Christina has a much more adventurous palate, and has been known to order a curry, “India spicy”, which usually piques the interest of the restaurant staff, who may hover nearby until she tastes the dish. I’ll eat all the naan; she won’t need it.

We were introduced to tikka on our first trip to England, where we visited my daughter, Erin’s (then) home in the Roman walled city of Chester, which also served as our base for Liverpool, London, and the broader countryside. 

There is no shortage of restaurants highlighting the cuisine of the subcontinent in London. Our choice was just over the London Bridge, near the entrance to the Borough Market; which, alone, is worth a visit.

I look to Madame Editor to corroborate or correct the following: former British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, described “tikka” as “the true British national dish.” Erin agreed, but not wholeheartedly; and went further and informed us that legend has it that the recipe actually originated in Glasgow, by Bangladeshi chefs, who created it to provide an alternative to their traditional, spicier dishes for the milder Scottish palate. 

I was surprised with the above, because I would have assumed that the national dish would be bangers and mash, fish and chips, or a bacon bap from a vendor in a train station.  I’ll defer to Madame Editor.

Author’s Notes: For the unfamiliar, an Instant Pot (IP) is, a relatively new small kitchen appliance that houses both a pressure cooker and a slow cooker. As Lee noted in her recipe, you can also sauté or brown meats in the IP. In our household, we use it once or twice a month

Here are a few vacation slides; actually, the captions.

  • We walked the Roman Wall in Chester and watched a lacrosse match at the Queen’s School for girls, which was founded in 1878, and renamed in 1882 as the “Queen’s School”, by decree of Queen Victoria, the school’s first patron
  • We were regularly within sight of the Queen Victoria Clock Tower at Chester’s East Gate. Built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, it is said to be the most photographed clock in England (after Big Ben).
  • We strolled along the canals in Chester and were impressed with the “fleets” of narrow boats, which are canal boats serving both as cruisers and residences.  
  • We visited both Penny Lane and the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The former has a famous barber; while the latter is known as the birthplace of the Beatles.
  • We visited the Roman Baths in Somerset, constructed in 70 A.D., and now considered one of the best-preserved historic sites in Roman Britain.
  • We visited the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral.
  • We saw the Rosetta Stone and the Pompei exhibit at the British Museum.
  • We shopped in Harrods and viewed the memorial to Princesss Diana and Dodi Fayed, which has since been removed. 
  • We visited the Churchill War Rooms, including the broadcast room where the PM recorded his wartime messages to the British public.
  • We visited some magnificent gardens on country estates, and much smaller, but meticulously maintained home gardens, whose gardeners were very willing to discuss local horticulture with we yanks. 
  • On Anglesey Island, in Wales, we were surprised to see moored sailboats with their keels resting on the seabed at low tide. We visited a church on a small off-shore island accessible only at low tides.

We want to return to the UK. And spend more time in Wales with Erin and her husband, RAF Squadron Leader Rugg, and perhaps fit Scotland into the itinerary.

Editor’s Note: i) This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

ii) Growing up in England during the second half of the 20th century, there is no doubt that during my early years fish and chips, bangers and mash, or roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding were variously regarded as the national dish. Mr. Gotowka is correct that by the 70’s or 80’s curry in all its forms had become a major feature of the British culinary landscape. I am honestly not sure what would be considered the national dish at this point … I will consult with friends and family still located there and report back!

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: Not Your Grandma’s Community Hospital

Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash.

The healthcare landscape has changed remarkably in Connecticut.

You may have noticed some name changes, new signage, and that “opportunities” for care have increased to a level that rivals access to coffee. In this essay, I’m going to review this new landscape, and consider why it developed. My goal is to help the reader make sense of Connecticut’s new, and still evolving, hospitals roster.

I begin this review in Hartford, where healthcare system changes are really representative of the industry’s overall transformation. In addition, because I was a member of Saint Francis Hospital’s attending and management staff for 10 years in an earlier part of my life, I know the players.

In the mid-1970s, Hartford was well-served by three independent hospitals in, what appeared to be, a stable healthcare environment. The oldest, Hartford Hospital, was founded in 1854 by the local medical society, actually in response to an industrial accident — a steam boiler explosion. Saint Francis Hospital, which was established in 1897 by the “Sisters of Saint Joseph”, is now the largest Catholic hospital in New England. A third, smaller hospital, Mount Sinai, was founded in 1923 to provide a facility for Jewish doctors, who were unable to obtain staff privileges in the other two.

Then, an extraordinary makeover of that local system of independent hospitals began in1995 when Mount Sinai merged with Saint Francis, which was one of the first occasions in the United States of a formalized relationship between stand-alone Catholic and Jewish hospitals. The facilities that once housed Mount Sinai became the Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital.

By 2015, Saint Francis had already become part of Trinity Health of New England, an “integrated health care delivery system”, with five hospitals; which, in turn, is a member of Trinity Health, a Catholic health system with 93 hospitals in 22 states! 

Drivers of Mergers and Affiliations:

Such deals are growing across the United States. Some of the motivation can be attributed to the hospital industry’s response to healthcare reform and managed care, both of which often involved negotiated reimbursement schemes and utilization review programs. Clearly, larger hospital groups are in a stronger position to negotiate compensation rates with payors and regulators. 

In addition, smaller independent hospitals may also consider some sort of affiliation with a larger organization to both improve their capacity to secure capital for programs and facilities, take advantage of resultant economies of scale; and to attract and retain, or simply get access to, physicians in some of the more arcane medical specialties.

Although I had knowledge of the events discussed below, as they occurred, reviewing them as a continuum is really stunning and demonstrates the great breadth and scope of the two major Connecticut hospital groups.

The Hartford Juggernaut: 

The front entrance of Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, United States. Public Domain photo by Elipongo.

In 1994, Hartford Hospital began its transformation from local independent hospital into a “statewide, integrated health system”, when it merged the venerable Institute of Living — founded in 1822 as a private, residential psychiatric hospital — into the hospital’s Department of Psychiatry. The Institute had gained some international notoriety for its treatment of silent movie stars like Clara Bow, errant clerics, and an early adoption of a science-based model of care.

Further, in 1996, pediatric patients from Newington Children’s Hospital, the University of Connecticut Health Center, and Hartford Hospital were all relocated to the new Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, constructed contiguous to the Hartford Hospital campus. 

Planning for this new hospital had actually begun in 1986, when Newington and Hartford agreed to construct a new facility. Extraordinarily, this new alliance was designed to span care from infancy, through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood; and finally transitioning to adult care.

Last October, the Hartford Courant reported that the Hartford HealthCare system now, “… serves 185 towns and cities and is within 15 miles of every Connecticut resident.” It includes seven hospitals, roughly stretching diagonally across the state from Windham and Backus Hospitals in the northeast to St Vincent’s in the southwest.  The data are daunting: almost 30,000 employees, nearly 2,500 licensed beds, and operating revenue of $4.3 billion. 

The Yale Dreadnought:

Aerial view of the campus of Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, including Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven and Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. Photo taken in 2010 by YNHHEditor. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Development of the “grandmother of all CT hospitals” began in 1826, when the Connecticut General Assembly authorized 10 incorporators to establish the General Hospital Society of Connecticut, which was chartered as the first Connecticut hospital in New Haven, and the fourth voluntary hospital in the United States. (i.e., a private nonprofit hospital.)

A new 13-bed hospital opened in 1833; and served as the primary teaching hospital for the Yale medical school, which was founded in 1810 as the Medical Institution of Yale College.

In 1884, the hospital’s name was changed to New Haven Hospital, reflecting the name that was commonly used at the time; and then, in 1945, Grace-New Haven Hospital, to acknowledge an affiliation with neighboring Grace Hospital. And finally, in 1965, as the relationship with the University became more formalized, Yale New Haven Hospital. 

Now moving forward, perhaps Al Jolson described it best in the 1927 film “The Jazz Singer” … “you ain’t heard nothing yet”. 

In 1996, the hospital began its transformation into the “Yale New Haven Health System” (YNHHS), when it entered into a partnership with Bridgeport Hospital; and further expanded in 1998, with the addition of Greenwich Hospital. 

In 2012, they acquired the assets of the Hospital of Saint Raphael, which was founded by the “Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth” in 1907, and also located in New Haven. 

In 2016, ownership of New London’s Lawrence and Memorial Hospital was assumed by YNHHS, which also included L&M’s earlier acquisition of Westerly Hospital, consummated in 2013.

The Yale data are equally daunting: a year ago, YNHHS reported 2,681 licensed beds, 28,589 employees, and total assets of $6.5 billion. The system now includes five acute care hospitals, the Smilow Cancer Hospital, Yale New Haven Children’s, and Psychiatric Hospitals, and a multispecialty medical group with more than 1,000 physicians; yielding a sphere of medical influence along the shoreline from Westchester County to Westerly, RI. 

Independent Stand-Alone:

Middlesex Health, which is centered around Middlesex Hospital and an extensive network of community-based outpatient services, remains independent. Middlesex joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network in 2015, which enables their medical staff to easily consult with and take advantage of the broad expertise of the Mayo Clinic in diagnosing complex cases. The relationship with Mayo Clinic is not an acquisition or a merger, but an intellectual partnership (my words).  They are the first hospital in CT and only the second hospital in New England to join the network. 

Satellites:

Most patient encounters with these hospital systems will occur in outpatient settings outside the hospital campus. These can include urgent care centers, blood draw and diagnostic imaging centers, group practices; and more comprehensive sites like the Pequot Health Center (L&M/YNHHS) in Groton, which provides primary care services on a walk-in basis. diagnostic imaging, blood tests, and same day surgery (e.g., cataracts).

The growth of these outpatient sites has been facilitated by electronic medical records and digital radiographs. These records can be shared across different health care settings. via secure enterprise-wide information systems. This technology would also enable the type of relationship that Middlesex has with Mayo. 

I was surprised that Hartford Healthcare has opened eighteen “Go Health” urgent care centers from Montville to Torrington. Go Health Urgent Care is a national company headquartered in Atlanta; with nearly 200 urgent care centers in AK, CA, CT, DE, MO, NY, NC, OK, OR, and WA “through partnerships with market-leading health systems”.

Author’s Notes: Hospital mergers and acquisitions show no signs of slowing down in the United States., and, as economic, regulatory, and operational challenges continue, many community hospitals will consider whether or not they should remain independent, or affiliate with another hospital or health system. 

There are a range of affiliations that a hospital’s leadership can consider, from a fairly simple cooperation agreement among hospitals for group purchasing, to an acquisition of one facility by the other, in which all control is surrendered to the acquiring entity. In the above, I used news reports from the “Hartford Courant”, “New Haven Register”, the “Providence Journal”, and information published by the hospital group, to define the type of affiliation. 

In closing, there is an additional wrinkle to hospital transformation. This morning, while watching the News, Dr. James Cardon came on and did a commercial for CarePartners of Connecticut, a Medicare supplemental insurance company formed in 2018, by two leading organizations; Hartford Healthcare and Tufts Health Plan. “When doctors and a health plan work together, it simplifies patients getting the care they need. That’s what CarePartners of Connecticut is committed to.”

For me, this addition is beyond “stunning.”

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: An Extra Inning for ‘I See Great Things in Baseball’ — The ‘Phenom’ and More Thoughts

For the love of the game … Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash.

This has been an unusual summer. Christina and I have been very “COVID – cautiousand, of course, fully vaccinated. We’ve postponed or canceled trips, missed Brimfield, both May and July, and probably Sept. And so, I retreated to my secure baseball space, and drafted this essay. There’s a lot of baseball jargon here.

In 2019, LymeLine published a series of essays on baseball; the final essay was published a few months before America’s first COVID case was identified in Washington state.

Inevitably, as the United States became consumed by COVID, Major League Baseball (MLB) curtailed its 2020 season; not reopening until late this past spring, albeit with restrictions (e.g., no spitting (really!), masks in dugouts, reduced crowd size, and some controls on snack and beverage sales).

Then, in mid-June, after 20 baseball clubs reached MLB’s 85 percent vaccination target, some protocols were loosened; e.g., all fully vaccinated players and staff may stop wearing masks in dugouts, bullpens, and clubhouses.

Nonetheless, in mid-July, the Colorado Rockies experienced a burst of COVID on their roster; and a Yankees v. Red Sox game was cancelled, not by weather, but because there was concern about a COVID outbreak on the Yankees.

Arguably the greatest rivalry in MLB, the century old Red Sox – Yankees conflict coincidentally began at the end of the 1918 influenza pandemic, and was actually connected to the first Broadway production of “No, No, Nannette”. Red Sox owner and theatrical producer, Harry Frazee, used the proceeds from the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees to help finance several Broadway productions, including the aforementioned “No, No,”. Tickets for the games are handed down in families

If you are one of the few New Englanders unfamiliar with the impact of that sale, I recommend Dan Shaughnessy’s The Curse of the Bambino.

Some of America’s past sentiment for the sport was best expressed by James Earl Jones, who, as Terence Mann in Field of Dreams, said of baseball: it’s a part of our past, and it reminds us of all that once was good and could be good again.” I know that my dad felt that way, and he passed some of it on to me. Note that the Mann character was actually J. D. Salinger in the novel, Shoeless Joe, which was adapted for the movie.

The “Phenom”:

My inspiration to extend the 2019 series into an extra inning really came from some highlights of a Red Sox loss to the Angels, during which the reporter described an Angels’ player, Shohei Ohtani, as MLB’s new “phenom”, which is sportscaster jargon for a player with phenomenal ability.

Sports Illustrated described Ohtani as a once-in-a-century player; a ballplayer in the most fundamental sense of the word. He pitches, hits and runs, and does all of it with the irrepressible joy and purpose of a Little Leaguer.

So, despite the hyperbole, he does have a 100 mph fastball, and was selected as both a starting pitcher and designated hitter for the AllStar Game on July 13th. He’s currently the American League home run leader, and the first player in MLB history to have (both) 37 homeruns and 15 stolen bases by the end of July.

MLB’s Dependence on international players:

It is ironic that this essay’s title is derived from a Walt Whitman piece, who, as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the mid-1840s, wrote: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, – the American game.”

In 2018, Forbes Magazine reported that nearly 30 percent of active players are foreign born (and increasing). Five Latin American countries have consistently provided the largest portion of these players; including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, the Puerto Rico territory, and Mexico.

Contributing Factors:

MLB began an expansion in 1961 that eventually increased the number of teams from 16 to 30; and, at the same time, began to eliminate affiliations with many of their minor league teams, which have always served for development of players not yet ready for play at the highest level.

Further, colleges and universities discovered the revenue potential of football and basketball, which may have also led to fewer athletic scholarships offered in baseball. Thus, MLB teams were compelled to look farther afield for talented players.

Noteworthy players born outside our borders:

Ohtani is not the first Japanese born MLB star. He is a successor to Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, who were both outstanding players in Japan and the United States.

Players from the Latin American countries have had substantial influence on the game. The following includes profiles of a few recognizable players who have impacted the sport; selected only from the group of Latin players, who have already been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Puerto Rico native, Roberto Clemente, played 18 seasons (1955 –) for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in 15 All-Star games, was National League MVP in 1966, the batting leader in four seasons, and a Gold Glove Award winner (fielding) for 12 consecutive seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, shortly after he died in a plane crash, while on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua, taking critical supplies to earthquake survivors. He was the first Caribbean and Latin American player to be so honored. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dominican native, Juan Marichal, was a starting pitcher for the Giants, Red Sox, and Dodgers from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s (1960-). Considered one of the most intimidating pitchers of all time; in 1983, he became the first Dominican player to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He is also remembered by baseball historians as one of the epic heroes in the 1963 “Greatest Game Ever Pitched”, dueling with another future Hall of Famer, Warren Spahn, in a 16 inning 1 to nothing win.

Venezuelan native, Luis Aparicio, played shortstop for the White Sox, Orioles, and the Red Sox in a career that spanned 18 seasons (1956-). He was known for his exceptional defensive and base-stealing skills. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Venezuelan to be so honored. He was nominated, in 1999, to the MLB All-Century Team (i.e., the 100 greatest players).

Panama native, Rod Carew, had immigrated at age 14 and joined his mother, in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. He was not a homerun hitter, although he is considered one of the greatest hitters of all time. He was known for his ability to make contact with the ball and get on base.  He was selected for 18 All Star teams in his 19 seasons with the Twins and Angels (1967-). Of the baseball elite, only Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner have more batting titles than he. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1991. Notably, Carew attributed his discipline as an athlete to his six years’ service in the USMC Reserve.

Cuban native, Tony Perez, recruited while working in a Cuban sugar factory, played 23 seasons at first and third base (1964 -), most notably as a key member of the Cincinnati Reds, who dominated baseball in the 1970sPerez was a team leader, and, during his career, accrued more than 2,700 hits, 379 home runs and two World Series championships. He entered the Hall of Fame in 2000.

Dominican native, Pedro Martinez, is considered one of MLB’s most dominant pitchers; with the highest winning percentage of any 200 game winner in the “modern era” (i.e., post WW2). In his 17 seasons (1992-), he played for five teams; most notably, for me, the Red Sox. He is a three-time Cy Young Award winner, and the only pitcher to compile over 3,000 career strikeouts in fewer than 3,000 innings pitched. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Although not yet in the Hall of Fame, I’ve added Mexican native Fernando Valenzuela to this list of notables. He pitched for six teams over 17 seasons (1981-), but was probably best known for his time with the Dodgers. He will be remembered for both his unusual windup and the “Fernando-mania” that accompanied him to games. He was an All Star in each of his first six seasons, and recorded an extraordinary five shutouts in his first eight starts as a major leaguer.

Cuban Baseball Pre- & Post-Revolution:

Cuba is important (in this essay) because it became the nidus for baseball development throughout Latin America.

Two Guillo brothers, who were educated at Spring Hill College in Mobile, returned to Cuba in the late 1860s with a ball and bat and an interest in bringing baseball to the island. They formed the Habana Baseball Club, and became one of three founding members of the Cuban League, which was formed in1878.

The Cubans took their sport to Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the eastern coast of Mexico, which were also areas with some American influence.

Then, in 1898, the Spanish-American War expelled Spain from Cuba and provided opportunities for Cuban teams to play against teams touring from the United States. Note that Spain had opposed baseball and promoted bull-fighting.  

The Cuban League admitted black players in 1900; and many of the best players from the American “Negro Leagues” were playing on integrated teams on the island, and Cuban players also played in the “Negro leagues”.

Professional baseball in the United States excluded the majority of Latin Americans because of their skin color, just as it barred African Americans.

Then, fueled by money from the sugar, tobacco and fruit industries, the Cuban League evolved into professional teams , who competed on the island and beyond its shores. There were also well-organized local amateur teams, comprised of workers from those industries.    

Americans were introduced to Cuban baseball via the minor leagues: i.e., the Havana Cubans in the “Florida International League” (1946-53), and the Cuban Sugar Kings, in the higher-level International League (1954-1960).

Finally, Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” in 1947. and opened opportunities in the major leagues for non-white players. At that same time, the Cuban League entered into an agreement with MLB, and, as the “Cuban Winter League”, was used by them for player development and enabled recruitment of talented Cuban players.

Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos are shown in this photo wearing the shirts of the Barbudos, that is, ‘The Bearded Ones.’ Photo by unknown author – Public Domain.

On New Year’s Day, 1959, Cuban Dictator, Fulgencio Batista, was overthrown by revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro.

Hostile to the United States, who had backed Batista, U.S.-Cuba relations became strained; and Castro, a mediocre pitcher at the University of Havana who had no love for MLB; ended professional baseball in Cuba and forbade Cuban players from playing abroad. In 1961, Cuba replaced the professional system with new amateur baseball leagues. and organized the sport on a socialist model.

Castro’s view was that baseball, played by amateurs, was an important part of Cuba’s soul and identity. Consequently, baseball, almost by decree, became the Island’s national sport. His “Cuban National League” now includes 16 teams, comprised wholly of Cuban natives.

However, since these were all amateurs, supported by Castro’s socialist government, players were not paid very well. Baseball stars made less than $2,000 per year, and, of course, many defected to the United States.  Castro acknowledged that “you cannot win if you have to compete against six million dollars with 3000 Cuban pesos.” He was correct, and the following are a few examples of what inspired Cuban baseball stars to defect.

  • Rey Ordóñez defected in 1993 and signed a four-year $19 million contract with the Mets.
  • Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez defected in 1997 and signed a four-year, $6.6 million contract with the Yankees.
  • José Contreras defected in 2002 and signed a four-year $32 million contract with the Yankees.
  • Jose Abreu defected in 2013 and signed a six-year $68 million contract with the White Sox.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash.

Baseball is alive and well in Connecticut:

Southeastern Connecticut is home to several strong inter-scholastic programs. In addition, Babe Ruth teams in both Waterford and New London were competitive in the 2021 post- season tournaments; and, at a parade this past week, Efrain Dominguez, president New London’s City Council, said that “New London is a city of champions”; we’re here to honor and celebrate each other.”

Further, UConn finished the 2021 MLB Draft with five players selected, the most in the first 20 rounds of the draft since 2011.

Of special note, 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, Jeff Bagwell, was a standout on the soccer pitch at Xavier High School in Middletown, and still holds the school’s single-season scoring record. A multi-sport “phenom”, he was then “one of the most productive hitters in University of Hartford baseball history”; and left UHART as New England’s all-time leader in batting average and slugging percentage.

He was the Eastern League MVP in 1990, while playing for the minor league New Britain Red Sox.

Finally, he began his 15 seasons with the Houston Astros (1991-) as the “Rookie of the Year”, was selected unanimously, as league MVP in 1994, and hit 449 home runs over the course of his career. Some have compared his 1990 trade from the Red Sox organization to the Astros with the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920. As some may recall, New Britain was a minor league team affiliated with the Boston Red Sox for much of the 1980’s through the early 1990’s.  

Author’s Notes: I admit, this may be maudlin, but Roy Hobbs said it best: “God, I love baseball”. Regrettably, Americans may no longer claim that baseball is our national pastime. That distinction probably now belongs to both Japan and Cuba. At present, most American sports fans might say that football, especially NFL football, is our national pastime.

I said earlier that this essay was inspired by a sports reporter, who described Shohei Ohtani, as MLB’s new “phenom”.

Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 by an American educator, Horace Wilson, who was there to assist in the modernization of the Japanese education system. The first professional competition occurred in the 1920s, and there are now two “major” leagues in operation; i.e., the Central and the Pacific Leagues, each with six teams.

However, high school baseball is particularly strong in Japan, with an amazingly ardent fanbase and a solid public image; perhaps like college football and basketball in the United States.

Japan’s national high school baseball championship is held each August over two weeks, with crowds approaching 50,000 per game, and broadcast live nationwide.

In closing, I have always felt that a classic 4-6-3 double-play is baseball ballet; Here’s one of the best.

Ozzie jumps over runner to turn double play – Bing video

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: Epic Poems of Folk and Rock Part 3 — The Rock and Roll War

Editor’s Note: This is the third column by Tom Gotowka under the heading, ‘Epic Poems of Folk and Rock.’ Find Part I  at this link and Part II at this one.

I continue the “epic poems” theme in this essay, but shift to the epic works of conflict; focusing on the rock and roll genre, as influenced by the Vietnam War.

In review, Part 1 presented several works of folk music that, I felt, were the natural successors of the epic poems of antiquity. In Part 2, I considered how America became entangled in the Vietnam War, as a prerequisite for this review of the music of that war.

Epics of the Vietnam War Era:

As noted last time, Stars and Stripes” called Vietnam “the first rock and roll war”. I present, in the following, some of the music that supports that contention. I provide some context for each song, and include a sample of the lyrics, trying to ensure that the sample still conveys the original message.

Some of the lyrics are a little gritty, and the context may be troubling, but they’re included to fully illustrate the era, not to offend the reader. So, here’s the war in six songs.

“Fortunate Son”: Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

Photograph of Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968). L-R: Tom Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and John Fogerty.

When John Fogerty wrote the song, draft deferments were undoubtedly on every teenaged American boy’s mind. His lyrics support the men who served in Vietnam, but condemn the “children of privilege” (i.e., “millionaire’s son”), who used that privilege to “dodge” the draft.

Pulitzer Prize winning Vietnam War correspondent, David Halberstam, reported that the ways in which draft-age men received deferments favored those who were wealthier and more educated. For example, able both to remain in college full-time, and then pursue advanced degrees after graduation; and thus, qualifying for student deferments. 

In addition, those same young men could obtain deferments for physical problems, even untreated bone spurs, more easily than could poor or working-class men; and, “rather than trying to convince a draft board that they were physically unable to serve in the military, they could just get a note from their family doctors”. 

“Some folks are born, made to wave the flag;
they’re red, white and blue.
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”,
they point the cannon at you, Lord!
Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand;
Lord, don’t they help themselves?
But when the taxman comes to the door,
the house looks like a rummage sale.
It ain’t me, it ain’t me;
I ain’t no millionaire’s son.
I ain’t no fortunate one”.

“Feel Like I’m Fixing’ To Die Rag”: Country Joe McDonald ​(1965)

In this dark parody of the war, Country Joe (and the Fish) demonstrate the hopelessness that many Americans felt toward the War. The artist touches on, albeit, sarcastically, several important war themes in the full seven verses: the government notion that going to war was in the country’s best economic interest; and, consequently, the support from Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, and an “overly aggressive” Pentagon. 

The song also has the distinction of having been performed twice at Woodstock, and I have corroboration from a very reliable eye witness, my wife, Christina, who was present at those “3 Days of Peace & Music” in the Catskills, in 1969.

“Well, come on all of you big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam, way down yonder in Vietnam.
So put down your books, and pick up a gun,
we’re going to have a whole lot of fun.
And come on mothers throughout this land, pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on pops, don’t hesitate, send them off before it’s too late.
And then, it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.
Next stop is Vietnam!
And it’s five, six, seven,
open up the pearly gates.
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all going to die.”

“Revolution”: The Beatles (1968)

Trade ad for Beatles’ 1964 Grammys. Public Domain.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song to demonstrate their strong objection to the increasingly violent protests that had occurred in response to the war.

To illustrate, in April, 1965, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), held its first national protest march in Washington, DC. Co-sponsored by Women’s Strike for Peace, 25,000 attended.  After this peaceful protest march, SDS grew increasingly militant, and their tactics then included the occupation of college administration buildings on campuses across the country. The 1968 violence at Columbia University is covered in “The Strawberry Statement”, by James Kunen (both book and movie).

On Oct. 21, 1967, over 100,000 protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial; and later that same night, over 35,000 of the group marched on to the Pentagon for a second rally, where they sparked a violent confrontation with the soldiers and U.S. Marshals protecting the Pentagon complex. Nearly 700 demonstrators were arrested. 

Notably, the demonstrations produced the famous “flower power” photograph of a protester placing a flower in a paratrooper’s M14 rifle barrel. 

On March 17, 1968, 10,000 protesters demonstrated in Trafalgar Square against American action and British support in Vietnam. This was followed by 8,000 protesters marching to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square; where a fierce battle with riot police and mounted officers ensued.

In August 1968, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, bore witness to a series of riots, involving tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters, both during and before the convention. Eight protest leaders were tried on charges of criminal conspiracy and incitement to riot. 

The eight eventually became the “Chicago Seven”, after convictions were overturned because of procedural errors and Judge Hoffman’s “overt hostility to the defendants”.

Tragically, on May 4, 1970, just four days after President Nixon announced the escalation of the war into Cambodia, four students at Kent State were shot by National Guardsmen during a protest.

“You say you want a revolution.
Well, we all want to change the world.

You say you got a real solution.
Well, we’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution.
Well, we’re all doing what we can; but, 

if you want money for people with minds that hate;
all I can tell you is, brother, you have to wait.
When you talk about destruction,
don’t you know that you can count me out?
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao;
you aren’t going to make it with anyone, anyhow.”

“Ballad of the Green Berets”: Barry Sadler (1965)

The United States Army Special Forces, the “Green Berets”, are the Army’s special operations group, whose mission extends well beyond conventional warfare. 

In May 2004, a plaque was dedicated at Fort Campbell, honoring the 695 Green Berets killed in action, and the 79 missing in action during Vietnam.  Of the MIA, only three soldiers have been recovered. 

“Ballad” is a patriotic tribute to our soldiers in Special Forces, and one of the few popular songs of the Vietnam War era that portrays the military in a positive manner. 

Sadler served as a medic with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and his song, written to boost morale among our troops in Vietnam, also served as the inspiration for the John Wayne movie, “The Green Berets”.

“Fighting soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die.
Men who mean just what they say; the brave men of the Green Beret.
Silver wings upon their chest; these are men, America’s best.
One hundred men we’ll test today, but only three win the Green Beret.
Trained to live off nature’s land; trained in combat, hand-to-hand.
Men who fight by night and day, courage peak from the Green Beret.”

“I Ain’t Marching Anymore”: Phil Ochs (1965)

Ochs was the “iron man” of “protest” singers; and, in his career, performed, as a “regular” at anti-war, civil rights, organized labor, and women’s rights events. 

I believe that this is his best; or at least his best- known anti-Vietnam War song; and it became an “anthem” at rallies and protests. 

The song is really a treatise on the entirety of American conflict, and he casts himself as a tired soldier, who has fought in each American war, beginning with the battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. And on through both world wars.

He performed the song in August 1968, during the violent protests outside the Chicago Democratic National Convention, and, it is claimed, inspired hundreds of young men to burn their draft cards (really). He later described it as the highlight of his career.

“Oh, I marched to the battle of New Orleans,
at the end of the early British wars;
the young land started growing, and
the young blood started flowing,
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

I’ve killed my share of Indians, in a thousand different fights.
I was there at the Little Big Horn;
I heard many men lying, I saw many more dying;
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

Chorus: It’s always the old who lead us to war;
it’s always the young to fall.
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun.
Tell me, is it worth it all?

I stole California from the Mexican land,
and fought in the bloody Civil War.
I even killed my brothers, and so many others;
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

I marched to the battles of the German trench,
in a war that was bound to end all wars. 

I must have killed a million men, and now they want me back again;
but, I ain’t marching anymore.

I flew the final mission in the Japanese skies, and
set off the mighty mushroom roar.
I saw the cities burning, and 

I knew that I was learning;
that I ain’t marching anymore

Call it peace or call it treason,
call it love or call it reason;
but I ain’t marching anymore.”

“Born in the USA”: Bruce Springsteen (1984)

Bruce Springsteen performing at Roskilde Festival 2012. Photo credit: Bill Ebbesen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I present “Born” as the anchor of the song list because Springsteen’s focus is on America’s poor treatment of returning Vietnam War veterans. The lyrics are an account of the disrespect those veterans faced on their return home to a society that was largely opposed to the war. 

This song may be one of the most misinterpreted songs in rock and roll history. Since its release, the song’s chorus has been omnipresent at political rallies; and heard as a celebration of American life. The anti–war message is rooted in the verses, and may have been lost early on, because the song was released about a decade after the war ended.

The song is consistent with what I noted last time in “Working-Class War”, by Christian Appy; who observed that the typical U.S. soldier in Vietnam was from a poor or working-class family; a large portion were from the inner cities and factory towns. 

In the first verse, Springsteen introduced the story of a young man, born into a failing American town, who was apparently abused by his family. In some trouble, he is ordered by the courts to enlist rather than serve time. His brother, or close friend, is killed in action. 

He returns home after the war, can’t find a job, and is treated with indifference by the V.A. The final verse describes his progression into despair.

“Born down in a dead man’s town; the first kick I took was when I hit the ground.
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much,
until you spend half your life just covering up.
Got in a little hometown jam; so, they put a rifle in my hand.
Sent me off to a foreign land; to go and kill the yellow man.
I had a brother at Khe Sanh, fighting off the Viet Cong.
They’re still there, he’s all gone.
I came back home to the refinery; hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”.
I went down to see my V.A. man; he said “Son, what don’t you understand”?
In the shadow of the penitentiary; out by the gas fires of the refinery.
Nowhere to run, and nowhere to go.”

Author’s Notes:

Unlike Bruce Springsteen, I am not certain whether the courts can, or ever did, require enlistment in lieu of serving time for a criminal infraction.  If so, I can’t imagine that these individuals would be considered high value recruits. A large portion of the opposition to the war was the onus of the draft. I was not able to find reliable data on the portion of draftees, versus voluntary enlistees, in Vietnam, as opposed to prior, or subsequent (e.g., Afghanistan) wars.

I only included works that I could directly attribute to the writer’s reaction to the war. Clearly, there was a wealth of additional music that was popular at the time and was probably listened to regularly by soldiers in Vietnam.   For example, I included nothing by the Rolling Stones; and did not consider “We Gotta Get out of this Place”, by the British group, The Animals, although the song has been part of the sound tracks of many productions about the war. 

If you want to explore a very realistic production, I recommend “Hamburger Hill”, which is a highly accurate 1987 movie about the 1969 assault by the Army’s “Screaming Eagles” Battalion on a well-fortified enemy mountain position. The editors dramatically incorporated the music of the day into their soundtrack.

I was a “fortunate one” — the United States Navy and the military provided financial support and enabled deferments for over 10 years of advanced education. I had agreed, up front, to repay that support in service, which I’ve previously said was at a Naval Hospital.

My next “View” will be of the remarkable changes that have occurred in CT’s hospital and healthcare landscape I think that hospital advertisements on local newscasts now exceed those for replacement windows. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Epic Poems of Folk and Rock Part 2 

In my previous essay, I discussed a few contemporary works of folk music, that, in my opinion, are natural successors to the epic poems of antiquity. I continue the “epic poems” theme in this essay, but shift to the epic works of conflict; focusing on the rock and roll genre, as influenced by the Vietnam War, which remains in my memory as a chaotic and tragic period of American foreign policy history. 

However, discussions regarding ending the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest war, are again underway; and so, it may be a good time to revisit how we ended what will, consequently, become “America’s Second Longest War”. 

Returning to the original theme, songs that were inspired by past conflicts include “Yankee Doodle” (mid-1700s); “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (1863); “Over There” (1917); “We’ll Meet Again” (1939); and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (1941).

In advance of reviewing the songbook of the Vietnam War, I provide, in the following, an overview of how the United States became entangled in Vietnam. 

However, my goal is to present the War at the “boots on the ground” level; i.e., from the perspective of the “grunts and jarheads”. Note that these are not insulting terms. In Vietnam, ‘grunts’ were U.S. Army and Marine Corps infantrymen, or foot soldiers. ‘Jarheads’, on the other hand, are USMC personnel of any rank; and the term is an homage to the high and tight haircuts worn by Marines.

I don’t feel that you can appreciate the music without understanding the war.

Vietnam: The War formerly known as “America’s Longest” (1954 to 1975)

The war in Vietnam was extraordinarily unpopular with Americans. There was no “Pearl Harbor” or “Nine-Eleven” at its beginning; and most Americans probably had only limited knowledge of that part of Asia. Vietnam was the first truly televised war. Camera crews were on-site almost continually; and journalists often recorded their coverage right in the field. Thus, Americans had a very realistic view of the devastation and violence of the War. 

The Threat of Falling Dominoes:

This map shows the partition of French Indochina after partition under the 1954 Geneva Conference. This file by SnowFire is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 license.

After armed forces led by communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, defeated French colonial forces in 1954, and ended nearly 75 years of French colonial rule, world and regional leaders passed the Geneva Accords, which divided Vietnam into the communist North and a more democratic South. 

President Eisenhower warned that the situation in Vietnam was like, “a falling domino, whose loss would lead to rapid and widespread communist victories in neighboring countries.”

Ho Chi Minh then sought to unify the two Vietnams under his communist regime; and precipitated the conflict that placed North Vietnam, with its Viet Cong allies in the South, against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. 

The United States provided funding, armaments, and training to South Vietnam’s government and its military. Unfortunately, tensions rapidly escalated into widespread armed conflict, and President Kennedy expanded our military aid and committed to deploy soldiers to the region.

In his 1961 inaugural address, Kennedy had stated his belief that “U.S. security may be lost piece to piece, country by country, as the result of the domino effect”.

After Kennedy’s death in 1963, his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, continued down the same path, and further increased troop deployments. 

“Domino” was then used by successive administrations to justify continued escalation of our involvement in Vietnam. Note that Congress never declared war, and never formally gave the President the authority to escalate our presence in Vietnam until early 1964; and only after the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”, during which the North Vietnamese fired on two American ships in international waters. 

At the same time, the Soviet Union and China were pouring weapons and supplies into the North; and providing combat troops for North Vietnam’s campaign against the South. 

By 1969, more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam, and the bulging costs and casualties of the war finally proved too much for Americans to endure, and a poorly-conceived peace agreement was negotiated by the Nixon Administration’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, in 1972.

The Paris Peace Accords resulted in the withdrawal of all U.S. and allied forces, the release of Americans who were prisoners of war, and a very loose cease fire, which was almost immediately violated.

The end of the Vietnam War actually occurred on April 30, 1975, after the Saigon government surrendered to the North. Over the next 12 months, North and South were formally united under the control of North Vietnam’s communist government, becoming the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Vietnam has estimated that nearly 2 million civilians (i.e., both North and South) perished; and over a million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters were killed. The U.S. military estimates that nearly 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war.

The American Soldier in Vietnam:

Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2.2 million American men from an eligible pool of about 27 million. Historian, Christian Appy, observes, in “Working-Class War”, that the average U.S. soldier was 19-years-old, and from a poor or working-class family, and had not attended college.

A large portion of U.S. troops were African-American men from the inner cities, boys from farming communities, and the sons of immigrants from factory towns. Many of these men enlisted or were drafted right out of high school. 

These young soldiers found themselves in a land of intense heat and humidity, flooded fields, and dense jungles. It could rain nonstop for days at a time during monsoon season. 

They were not welcomed by the local farmers and villagers, but viewed with distrust or hostility. To the Vietnamese, this was the “Resistance War Against America”. 

The fighting conditions in Vietnam were “dreadful” and strained our military tacticians. Unlike past conflicts, Vietnam combat was not “conventional”; rather, it was guerrilla warfare; and the jungles made this form of attack very effective. Tactics included ambushes, sabotage, “hit-and-run” raids on our supply operations, and booby traps. Some civilians, including women and children, actively assisted the Viet Cong guerillas.

A US “tunnel rat” soldier prepares to enter a Viet Cong tunnel. Public domain.

An additional problem was the extensive underground system of tunnels, which was used by the Viet Cong; and “tunnel rat” became an unofficial specialty for those who cleared and destroyed enemy tunnel complexes.

The final Vietnam War tally was 58,148 killed and 75,000 severely disabled. Of those killed, nearly two-thirds were younger than 21-years-old; and the Marines accounted for a third of all American casualties.

Many of our servicemen were exposed to the chemical defoliant, Agent Orange; and hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans have died from their exposure to dioxin, the deadly toxin in Agent Orange. Dioxin can cause multiple cancers, peripheral neuropathy, and has also been linked to an elevated risk for Parkinson’s Disease. 

Epics of the Vietnam War Era:

“Stars and Stripes”, the daily independent news source for the military, named Vietnam “the first rock and roll war”. It was the Sixties, these were young men, and the songbook was immense. 

In the next essay, I will review a series of songs from that era that provide some insight into how many Americans responded to the War and expressed their opposition. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Author’s Notes: On April 25, 2021 the New York Times reported 571,753 COVID deaths in the United States; nearly a ten-fold increase over our Vietnam War combat deaths. I recall how intense our response was to Vietnam casualty reports, which were eventually updated almost daily on the then still-trusted evening news. I don’t believe that we’ve ever mourned COVID deaths with that same passion.

Anti-Vietnam War protests increased remarkably in the United States through the 1960s, and the draft became the focus of organized resistance. Despite our technological advantages, larger forces, and better weapons, the Viet Cong were able to hold us off and prevent the United States from achieving any sort of victory in Vietnam from winning.

The public was never really in support of the war.

Tragically, our returning soldiers were often treated with contempt. These servicemen usually did a one-year tour of duty. Men came back from Vietnam by themselves rather than with their units; and, as one soldier shipped out, another returned home.

I served during the Vietnam War era, but the entirety of my active duty was at the Naval Hospital at NAS Pax River, MD. My patients were primarily Naval Aviators, and their ground or flight deck support, returning from or going to the war zone.

At the very least, in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., inscribed with the names of 57,939 members of U.S. armed forces, who had died or were missing as a result of the war.

My close childhood friend was killed in action, and his name, Gary John Shea, is engraved on Panel 61E Line 2 of the Memorial. I have seen the engraving.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Epic Poems of Folk and Rock, Part I

In this essay, I posit that many works of contemporary folk and rock music are the natural successors of the epic poems of antiquity. In support of that hypothesis, I begin with a brief review of the epic genre; and then, discuss a few contemporary works that I feel meet the epic standard. 

The Epic Poem:

An epic is a long, narrative poem that chronicles the extraordinary deeds and adventures of courageous men and women. The earliest epic poems generally had no discernible author, and were probably developed in the pre-literate era. Those epics were conveyed orally, usually in brief episodes, either to an audience, or to another storyteller. However, epics were also created by a clearly-identified author. 

At the Mindszenty School, where I was a college prep student many years ago, we studied epic works of both sorts. 


First page of Beowulf in Cotton Vitellius A. xv. Public domain.

“Beowulf” was written anonymously in old English, and set in the 6th century in what is now Denmark and Sweden. The hero, Beowulf, came to the aid of the Danish monarch, whose kingdom had been terrorized by the monster Grendel, who was notable as a descendent of Cain.

Although losing some of his warriors to Grendel, who then drank their blood; Beowulf finally slays the monster in a bloody encounter, and hangs the monster’s arm and claw over the rafters of the king’s great hall as proof of its death.

In a final act of heroism, Beowulf also kills Grendel’s avenging mother, though requiring a magic sword. 

The “Odyssey,” which is a sequel to Homer’s “Iliad,” is a Greek epic poem, written near the end of the eighth century BC.  The poem relates the activities of Odysseus, the hero, during the final year of the siege of Troy, and his 10-year, and epically perilous, journey home to Ithaca, after Troy’s fall.

We also considered Milton’s 17th Century “Paradise Lost,” but, absent a monster, and temptations from three sirens, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden drew only limited interest. 

Clearly, the most noteworthy characteristic of an epic poem is its length. The “Odyssey” has 15,000 lines., “Paradise” over 10,000. Further, the epic hero (or heroine) is a great warrior, and willing to engage in intense combat.   

In the following compositions, the title is followed by the author’s name and the publication date. A second name, when included, is, in my opinion, the best cover artist. A single name and date indicate that the author also performed the work. 

I provide context for each work, and include abridged lyrics. I took care in my abridgement to ensure that the song’s sense and message remained clear. The original lyrics, in their entirety, are available on the internet.

I’ve included a song by Woodie Guthrie (see number III below), who is considered one of the most influential figures in American folk music. School children are often introduced to Woodie with his song, “This Land is your Land”.

1. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” — Gordon Lightfoot (1976)

Album cover of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ by Gordon Lightfoot. This image qualifies as fair use under the copyright law of the United States.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American freighter that, when launched in 1958, was the largest ship on the Great Lakes, nearly 800 ft. long and  weighing more than 13,000 tons without cargo. She hauled iron ore from mines in Minnesota to iron works in ports on the Great Lakes.

The skipper, Captain Ernest McSorley, was very experienced, and well-respected by his contemporaries and his crew. The ship sank on Nov. 10, 1975 in a storm on Lake Superior, with the loss of the entire crew of 29 men. The bodies were not recovered. 

In true epic poem style, one of the prevailing theories regarding its sinking is that it was hit by a series of three consecutive “rogue” waves, a phenomenon called “Three Sisters” on Lake Superior. Their tendency to occur without warning, and with huge force makes them especially dangerous. 

Gordon Lightfoot’s lyrics are a “play-by-play” of the disaster. Be sure to note the cook’s role in the progression of events. 

Abridged Lyrics:

The legend lives on, from the Chippewa on down; of the big lake they call ‘Gitchee Gumee’.
Superior, it’s said, never gives up her dead, when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore, twenty-six thousand tons more,
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and crew, was a bone to be chewed,
when the gales of November came early.
The ship was the pride of the American side,
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait,
when the gales of November came slashing.
When suppertime came, the cook came up top;
saying, ‘fellas, it’s too rough to feed you’.
At seven p.m., a main hatchway caved in;
and he said, ‘fellas, it’s been good to know you’.
The captain wired shore that ‘he had water coming in;
and the good ship and crew were in peril’.
Later that night, when her lights went out of sight,
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
And a church bell chimed, until it rang twenty-nine times;
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

2. “Charlie and the MTA” — Steiner and Hawes, (1949) / The Kingston Trio

A formal publicity shot of the original line-up of the Kingston Trio (l-r) Dave Guard, Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds. Image published under under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

The song was originally composed for a “left-wing” mayoral campaign in Boston’s 1949 election, to protest the five-cent fare increase by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).  Fighting the fare increase was an important plank of the Progressive Party candidate, Walter A. O’Brien Jr.’s platform. He had also advocated the removal of the complicated entry/exit fare structure, and opposed the tax-funded bailout of the system’s previous operator. 

O’Brien’s campaign had no funds for radio advertising, so he commissioned campaign songs from local folk artists, covering his themes; and played recordings from a loudspeaker on a truck driven throughout Boston.

The 1949 mayoral election was a raucous affair, with five candidates, including the amazingly popular, and notoriously corrupt incumbent, James Michael Curley, whose campaign song began, “Vote early and often for Curley”.

O’Brien finished last; and was routed by John B. Hynes, who then remained Mayor of Boston until 1960. Bostonians also approved a change in the structure of future mayoral contests (i.e., select two final candidates in advance of each general election).

Abridged Lyrics: 

Well, let me tell you the story of a man named Charlie, who on a tragic and fateful day;
put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family, and went to ride on the MTA.

Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned; and his fate is still unknown.
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston; he’s the man who never returned.

Charlie handed in his dime at the Kendall Square Station,
and he changed for Jamaica Plain.

When he got there, the conductor said, ‘one more nickel’;
Charlie couldn’t get off of that train.

Now, all night long Charlie rides through the stations, crying, ‘what will become of me’?
‘How can I afford to see my sister in Chelsea or my cousin in Roxbury?’

Charlie’s wife goes down to the Sculley Square Station every day at quarter past two,
And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumbling through.

The Kingston Trio’s original version of the song began with a spoken introduction: “The people of Boston have rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, the MTA, is attempting to levy a burdensome tax. Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you.”

In 2004, the “Charlie Card” was introduced as the payment method for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

3. “Deportee — Woody Guthrie (1948) / Joan Baez 

Woody Guthrie in 1943. World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller. Public domain.

Guthrie said that the inspiration for “Deportee” was the radio and newspaper coverage of the Los Gatos Canyon plane crash, which provided the names of the flight crew and the security guard, but not the farm workers, who were also on the flight; referring to them only as “deportees.”

The crash resulted in the deaths of 28 migrant farm workers, who were being transported back to Mexico at the end of their braceros contract. The bodies of the migrants were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, Calif. The grave was marked only, “Mexican Nationals.”

The Bracero Agreement:

During World War II, the United States negotiated a series of treaties with the Mexican government to recruit Mexican seasonal workers, all men and without their families, to work on short-term contracts on farms and in other war industries (braceros.)

The program was developed because of severe labor shortages caused by the war. The labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the Mexican border.

The first Mexican bracero workers were admitted in September, 1942, and by the program’s end in 1964, nearly 4.6 million Mexican citizens had been hired to work in the United States, mainly on farms in Texas, Calif., and the Pacific Northwest.

Abridged Lyrics: 

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting;
the oranges are piled in their creosote dumps.
They’re flying you back to the Mexico border,
to pay all your money to wade back again. 

Some of us illegal, and others not wanted,
our work contract’s out and we have to move on.

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita;
adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
you won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane;
all they will call you will be ‘deportees’.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon;
a fireball of lightning, that shook all our hills.
Who are these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, ‘They are just deportees.’

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?

Author’s Notes: First, I want to acknowledge the persistence of Messrs. Jakubowski and Corsi, English faculty at the Mindszenty School, who never assigned required readings that were also available in “Classics Illustrated” comics.

It is ironic that the United States has not yet addressed, in a bipartisan and humanitarian manner, immigration from Mexico, especially because we welcomed millions as migrant workers during and after World War II, (described above in “The Bracero Agreement”). 

Our policy seems to remain: “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves,” which is also a Guthrie lyric.

Even American television recognized braceros. You may recall a late 1950s, and early ‘60s television series, “The Real McCoys”, which included a character, Pepino, who, I now realize, was a bracero worker on the McCoy farm in the San Fernando Valley. 

We all first heard the Ojibwe term: “Gitchee Gumee” in Longfellow’s 1855 epic poemThe Song of Hiawatha”. 

If Madame Editor agrees, I will continue this “epic poems” theme in the next essay, where I consider contemporary epic poems of conflict.

Editor’s Note to Mr. Gotowka: She agrees.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch:  Is it Time for Americans to Acknowledge Climate Change?

Last April, LymeLine.com published a “Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change

Since that time, there has been a change in Presidential leadership; and, in January, the United States transitioned from a science-averse, to a science-centric Executive Branch, which may have an impact on how the Country views climate change. 

This essay is a “refresh” of the April essay, and reviews a few recent weather events, in light of the consequences predicted by climate scientists; and lays out the climate priorities proposed by the Biden Administration. My goal in this essay is logically and concisely to present the issue of climate change for the reader’s consideration. 

The Fundamentals:

Global warming is one symptom of the overarching phenomenon of climate change. The “side effects” of that warming include some significant shifts in weather patterns, and an increase in the frequency of abnormal and severe weather events. 

The Paris Carousel:

In 2015, representatives of 196 nations negotiated the Paris Climate Agreement under the auspices of the United Nation’s Convention on Climate Change. The goal, when signed in 2016, was to strengthen the international response to climate change mitigation. 

The Obama Administration pledged that, by 2025, the United States would cut carbon emissions by 26 percent below 2005 levels. He hailed our leadership in developing this Agreement as one of his major accomplishments.

His successor, Donald Trump, announced, in mid-2017, that the United States would terminate all participation in the Paris Agreement. He stated, “The climate deal was less about the climate, and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore.” 

As the first and only country formally to pull out of the Agreement, his decision stunned our allies. He also then went on to roll back or loosen many of America’s key environmental policies and regulations.

President Biden signed an Executive Order soon after his inauguration that initiated the process for the United States to reenter the Paris Agreement. In February, Secretary of State Tony Blinken called it, “A good day in our fight against the climate crisis,” and promised that the United States would, “Waste no time in engaging our partners around the world to build our global resilience.”

The Focus on Fossil Fuels:

Burning carbon-rich fossil fuels produces water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and trace gases like methane and nitrous oxide, which are collectively referred to as “greenhouse” gases, Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash.

Since the mid-20th century, human activities have had an extraordinary impact on the Earth’s climate; and scientists have concluded that burning carbon-rich fossil fuels, like oil, coal, and natural gas, is the largest driver of that impact.

When they burn, fossil fuels produce water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and trace gases like methane and nitrous oxide, which are collectively referred to as “greenhouse” gases.

Their accumulation in the atmosphere is responsible for the “greenhouse effect”, which is the warming that occurs when these gases trap heat in the lower atmosphere; i.e., in a manner that’s similar to the heat-trapping glass on a greenhouse.

The most important of these gases is CO2. Although it absorbs less heat per molecule than methane or nitrous oxide, it is remarkably more abundant and remains in the atmosphere much longer. 

Data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory show that we now add about 40 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere every year, mostly by burning fossil fuels. Scientists estimate that this increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

In 2019, coal accounted for 40 percent of global CO2 emissions, oil for 34 percent, and natural gas, 20 percent. Note that, worldwide, China and the United States rank first and second, respectively, in annual volume of CO2 emissions. 

Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in recorded history. According to Princeton University-led research published in the journal “Nature Climate Change,” even if we immediately stop all new CO2 emissions, the carbon dioxide that is already in the Earth’s atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years. 

It’s been well said by Theodor Geisel: “How did it get so late so soon?”

Recent Unusual Weather Events:

I have selected a few events to illustrate the outcomes predicted by climate scientists.

You might argue that these examples do not really reflect climate change, but are more akin to changes observed by, and often attributed to, Mark Twain: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

The Lefthand Canyon fire, pictured above, started on Oct. 18, 2020. The fire burned 460 acres of brush and timber approximately one mile west of the town of Ward in the area of Lefthand Canyon and Spring Gulch in Boulder County, Colorado.

Last year, five of the six largest fires in California history, and three of the four largest in Colorado history, all burned.

By the end of the year, more than four percent of California’s landmass had been consumed by fire, making 2020 the worst wildfire season in California’s modern history. The U.S. Forest Service observed that California’s mean air temperatures have risen since 1980, resulting in increased evaporation, drier brush, and, with concomitant reductions in rainfall through recent decades, had generated one of the worst “megadroughts” in California history. 

A “perfect storm” of weather events, which included a prolonged heat wave followed by a remarkable and unprecedented lightning siege of over 10,000 strikes over several days, finally precipitated the conflagration. 

Earlier this year, the Texas “deep freeze” brought the coldest temperatures in over a quarter century to the state. Most of the state was covered with snow, a freak event, and their under-prepared and poorly-designed power grid was brought down for almost 4.5 million Texans, many of whom were forced to remain in poorly insulated, freezing homes for more than a week.

At least one elected official decided to flee to Mexico.

Extreme weather events have also been on the increase in the northeastern United States. Major winter storms impacted the region in both December 2020 and February 2021; and a study recently published in the journal, “Nature Climate Change”, reported that the 27 major Northeast winter storms that occurred in the decade spanning the winter of 2008-9 through 2017-18, were three to four times the totals for each of the previous five decades. 

The Administration’s Climate Agenda:

President Joe Biden

In January, President Biden said, “We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis, we can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes. We know it in our bones, and it’s time to act,” (Come on, Jack!)

He ordered a pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters, setting a goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean waters over the next 10 years. He also added new regulations targeted at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and directed federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

He reiterated his daunting climate goals. I’ve listed the highlights of his $2 trillion plan in the following:

  1. Achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. (i.e., we can still produce some emissions, as long as they are offset by activities that reduce greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere (e.g., planting new forests.)
  2. Make the electricity sector free of carbon pollution by 2035.
  3. Make all new U.S.-made buses zero-emissions by 2030.
  4. Create jobs for construction workers, scientists, and engineers to build electricity-producing sources from wind and solar. 
  5. Develop an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard for utilities and grid operators.
  6. Create a climate research agency that works to make nuclear reactors safer and more efficient.

Final Thoughts:

The issue of mitigating climate change will be very contentious, and it appears that Republicans are already digging in against the President’s plans. 

For example, Wyoming’s Senator John Barrasso (R) has said, “I’m not going to sit idly by, or my colleagues, if this administration enforces policies that threaten my State’s economy …” As a point of reference, Wyoming produced 102.1 million barrels of crude oil in 2019, up from 87.9 million barrels in 2018.”

In contrast, the President insists that a shift to clean energy will create better paying jobs, saying, “We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing our water systems, transportation, and our energy infrastructure.” 

I just don’t know, after more than a year of dealing with COVID, whether a divided United States will have the mettle for climate. The biggest hurdle I see is transportation. Americans are buying more cars and driving more miles. We’ll soon be flying more. Prior to the pandemic, air travel had been up 5 percent a year over the past few years. 

Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular, but there is no equivalent for air travel. Photo by Ernest Ojeh on Unsplash.

Unlike the promise of electric cars, there is no electrical alternative for long distance air travel. 

Further, in Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future, the authors observe, “Many Americans view the findings of climate science through a partisan or ideological lens. For those who reject the scientific consensus, their views are based more on emotional reactions than rational responses. It is of course also true that some people who accept the consensus are doing so for reasons that are not exclusively rational.”

I mentioned “planting new forests” above. I realize that climate mitigation efforts like planting trees may be a long-term and certainly idealistic solution, but there is also the option of slowing down or putting a halt to deforestation. We should probably do both.

In closing, my next essay considers the epic poems of folk and rock music.

In starting the transition, I wonder how Dylan would revise the lyrics of Subterranean Homesick Blues to reflect climate change. Would he still say, “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows”?

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: The Marquis, Groucho, Sam … and Me

There are several events in American history for which I will always recall where I was, and what I was doing, on those dates. I just added the Jan. 6, 2021 violent attack on the Capitol by domestic terrorists, provoked by a defeated president at the end of his term, to my personal list of infamous events.

Given the above, I decided to reconfirm my values; and so I am looking inward in this essay, which is a tribute to a unique small town. Please bear with me as I share my nostalgia. 

I grew up in Fredonia, N.Y., a college town that sits in the midst of New York’ s western lakes district (my own geographic description). My hometown is less than an hour from three lakes, each of which contributed to my developing world view and sense of history.

Three Lakes

Chautauqua Lake, N.Y. Photo from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau website.

The first, Chautauqua Lake gave rise, late in the 19th century, to the “Chautauqua Movement”, which became a national forum for discussion of public issues, international relations, literature, and science. William Jennings Bryan, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Earhart have all spoken there. 

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his historic “I hate war” speech at Chautauqua on Aug. 14, 1936: “I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war”.

The second, Cassadaga Lake, was home to the Lily Dale Assembly, which was a camp and meeting place for Spiritualists and “Freethinkers”. The purpose of the Assembly was to further the science, philosophy, and religion of Spiritualism.

Finally, the third, Lake Erie, produced a generation of environmentalists and ecologists. My experience on its shores began with kayaks, small sailboats, and water skiing. However, in my last summers before leaving for University, the lake was declared “dead” and inaccessible for recreational use. 

Erie was surrounded by agriculture and dairy herds. Its waters became overloaded with nutrients from fertilizer runoff, cattle manure, and poorly managed waste water. Its warm waters became a breeding ground for bacteria that contaminated drinking water and created oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that destroyed the fresh water fishing industry. 

This disaster, coupled with several other similar disasters across the United States, like the June, 1969 oil slick fire on the surface of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River; and the hyper-polluted Charles River in Boston, (featured in the hit song, “Dirty Water”, by the Standells); finally ended with the creation of the EPA in 1970, and the passage of the Clean Water Act, and the joint Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada, in 1972; all of which resulted in strict regulations on pollutants, sewage treatment, and fertilizer.

These laws also led to eliminating phosphates in laundry detergents and phosphorous in fertilizers.

There has since been some discernible improvement in Lake Erie’s water quality, but, unfortunately, full recovery to a less-spoiled state will still require decades of careful management.

The Marquis:  

The Marquis de Lafayette by Gilbert du Motier. Public Domain.

One could not be a regular patron of Fredonia’s public library without gaining an appreciation for the Marquis de Lafayette’s role in our War of Independence, which included command of American troops at the battle of Yorktown. 

In 1824, at the invitation of President Monroe, he began a farewell tour of the then 24 states, of the United States, travelling by horse-drawn coach and steamboat. 

He arrived in Fredonia on June 4, 1825 to a hero’s welcome.  On his arrival, the Leverett Barker mansion, which eventually became the community’s library, was lighted with several candles at each window. A window sash was scorched. Never repaired or re-painted, a brass marker still commemorates Lafayette’s visit. Ironically, the visit coincided with the ceremonial re-lighting of a gaslight connected to America’s first natural gas well. 

The restored house remains much as it was in 1825, and the library has expanded via a large attached contemporary wing. 

From Fredonia, Lafayette proceeded to Buffalo, via a steamboat on Lake Erie, and he was greeted by a large crowd in the public square that now bears his name; and then, to Boston, where he participated in the 50th anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill.

Groucho: 

The Marx Brothers made the movie ″Duck Soup″ in 1933, which was set in the mythical kingdom of Freedonia (note the spelling); and the then Fredonia Mayor, Harry B. Hickey, complained to Paramount Pictures: “it is my duty as mayor to question your intentions in using the name of our city in your picture”. 

Groucho Marx in ‘Copacabana (1947).’ Public Domain.

The Marx Brothers quickly and eloquently replied: ″Our advice is that you change the name of your town. It is hurting our picture. What makes you think you are mayor of Fredonia? Do you wear a black moustache, play the harp, speak with an Italian accent or chase girls, like Harpo? We are certain you do not. Therefore, we must be the mayor of Fredonia, not you″. Thus, an historic connection was formed between them and my home town. 

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini also had concerns with the movie, and banned the film in Italy.  Indeed, the Brothers had intended the film to be a farcical representation of fascist regimes, like Mussolini’s.

In 1987, the annual “Freedonia Marxonia: Marx Brothers Film Festival and Symposium” began at The State University of New York at Fredonia.  Each year, in the fall, and near Groucho’s October 2nd birthday, activities are held to honor the Marx Brothers and their relationship to local, national, and film history. The two-day event includes presentations by film historians, “re-interpretation” of movie scenes and locally produced short films by members of the performing arts departments; and the movie themselves, in the restored 1891 Fredonia Opera House. Freedonia Marxonia 2020 was a virtual event.

Sam:

Mark Twain by AF Bradley. Public Domain.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was part owner and editor of the “Buffalo Express” newspaper from 1869 to 1871. Twain fell in love with Fredonia as an invited speaker in January,1870 at the Normal School. After that lecture, he initiated a move to Fredonia for his mother, sister and niece.

He told his sister “I went in there by night and was out by night, so I saw none of it, but I had an intelligent, attractive audience” for my lecture, “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands”; and so, his decision to move his family was based entirely on how that audience had responded to his lecture. 

His family moved to Fredonia in the spring of 1870, and Twain and his wife were frequent visitors. Twain’s sister, Pamelia was one of the first women to join the Woman’s Christian Association in Fredonia, and worked to open the WCA Home for Aged women in 1892. Today, the home still operates as an assisted living facility

Unfortunately, Twain’s memories of life in Fredonia weren’t all positive. Charles L. Webster, of Fredonia, was his business manager, and was eventually named the head of Twain’s publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Co. of New York. It was with Webster and the bankrupting of their shared publishing company that his relationship with Fredonia went awry. 

Scholars believe that the village became the setting for Twain’s novella, “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg”, which was written in 1898. “Hadleyburg enjoys the reputation of being an “incorruptible” town known for its responsible, honest people that are trained to avoid temptation. However, at some point the people of Hadleyburg manage to offend a passing stranger, and he vows to get his revenge by corrupting the town”.

Author’s Closing Thoughts:

My sources for this essay were The Darwin R. Barker Library and Historical Museum, and the archives of the Dunkirk Evening Observer, where, as a twelve-year-old, working in distribution, my interest in journalism first began to develop. If I was maudlin in the above, you can also review another treatise on the subject at John Mellencamp – Small Town Lyrics – Bing

And now, returning to reality, it is my opinion that “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” can no longer hold claim to that distinction. Sadly, some members of Congress have been censured for “voting their conscience.” And finally, there are others, who need to search their souls, and then determine whether they helped fuel this siege on the Capitol by perpetuating the notion of a fraudulent election.

God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: Thoughts on the Occasion of the Inauguration

The White House on Inauguration Day. All photos by Erin O’Donnell.

At noon on this past Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, President-elect Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated in a ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol. This was the culminating event in what has been a hostile transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Biden. 

The Environment:

The then President Trump had claimed, repeatedly and without evidence, that the election result was fraudulent and “stolen” from him. Regrettably, many of his supporters have yet to acknowledge that this claim was untrue.

Consequently, there was a violent and dystopian siege on the Capitol by domestic terrorists, incited by his “Big Lie,” just two weeks before the Inauguration.

Unexpectedly, on Tuesday night, the then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell affirmed that “… the president and other powerful people,” had provoked the violent attacks on the Capitol building. I am uncertain how firm he is in his conviction.

Fortunately, amidst all that turmoil, the Inauguration proceeded forward, albeit with immense security and what was  described officially as a “show of force” in place well in advance of the 20th. 

My outlet, in such chaotic and troubling times, has always been reviewing historic accounts of great men and women. I am a fan of the spoken word. A masterful presentation always stirs me. 

Motorcycles lead the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue following the Inauguration.

I’m going to reflect on the Inauguration in this essay; but, first, I’ll share a few written works and speeches that buoyed me during this chaotic period.

In 2005, a self-described “skinny Kid with a funny name” asserted to the American Library Association’s Annual Conference assembly that “the moment we persuade a child to cross the threshold into a library, we’ve changed their lives forever, and for the better.” The then-Senator Obama also said that “librarians are the ones who’ve been on the frontlines of the fight for privacy and freedom. Libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.” 

Likewise, Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library Director Katie Huffman has noted, “Libraries have long served as stewards of free speech, and we are proud and passionate to be a part of that tradition.”

One of my family’s most enduring favorites is “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame; in which he recounts the adventures of four friends, Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and the irascible Toad; on the river and in the wild woods. 

A particularly memorable passage, which is slightly abridged here, occurs when Rat convinces land-bound Mole to step into his boat and enjoy a day on the river.

Rat says, “Believe me, my young friend; there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In them, or out of them, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter; that’s the charm of it. Whether you arrive at your destination, or you reach somewhere else; or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy.”

Memorable Commencement Speeches:

In his 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin, retired Four-Star Admiral, William McRaven, provided this advice to the graduates: “If you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed.”

He added, “You will have completed the first task of the day. That little sense of pride and achievement will encourage you to complete another task; and another, and another. And that will reinforce the fact that even the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things well, you won’t do the big things well.” 

Prior to appointment as Chancellor of The University of Texas System, his career included service as Head of the U.S. Special Operations Command; where he is known for orchestrating the mission, and leading the Navy SEAL team that conducted the successful 2011 raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

An international celebrity, and another amphibian, gave the 1996 commencement address at Long Island University’s Southampton College School of Environmental Science. After acknowledging the importance of the environmental sciences in preserving the world’s ecosystems, Kermit the Frog (yes, really!) advised the graduates, “Never lose sight of the fact that you are not just saving the environment; you are saving the homes and lives of so many of my relatives.” He closed his address with the challenge, “You are no longer tadpoles. The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave this swamp.”

President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden walk up Pennsylvania Ave. after the Inauguration on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Reflections on the Inauguration:

There were several points in this two-day event at which I felt tears welling in my eyes. Thank you, Mr. President, and Madame Vice President. We needed that. 

I have been impressed with President Biden’s religious piety, and his pride in his family’s working-class background. He has experienced great loss in his past. His ability to convert that loss into honest and sincere empathy was demonstrated in his words on Tuesday evening, as the 400 lights around the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool were lit to remember and honor the 400,000 Americans, who have died from COVID-19.

“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said. His predecessor, in contrast, never really acknowledged the tragic loss of life. 

In addition, a magnificent illuminated display of 200,000 American flags stood in the National Mall, to honor the COVID deaths. They were also in recognition of those thousands and thousands of people unable to attend the Inauguration in person amid the pandemic, and due to the intense security put in place after the violent attack on the Capitol.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff (third from left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (fourth from left) and their families walk up Pennsylvania Avenue after the Jan. 20 Inauguration.

President Biden was joined on the Capitol platform by former President(s) Barack Obama, George W. Bush, William Clinton, and former Vice President Mike Pence along with the former First (or Second) Ladies. President Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who are age 96 and 93, respectively, were unable to attend the Inauguration, but had called then-President Elect Biden the night before.

President Trump refused to attend the Inauguration and bear witness to the ceremonial transfer of power, thus becoming the first outgoing president in over 150 years to leave the city before his successor had been sworn in. 

In his inaugural address, President Biden recognized the attempted insurrection, but asserted, “Democracy has prevailed.” He called for Americans to unite and confront the perilous challenges before them:- a deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil and divisions over American leadership.

The then-President-elect had told supporters as he departed from Delaware on Tuesday for Washington and the Inauguration, “These are dark times, but there’s always light.”

Marine One flies over Washington DC carrying former President and First Lady Donald and Melania Trump for the last time.

My hopes for this new Administration:

The President has promised to use the Defense Production Act and redouble the federal government’s support of COVID testing, vaccine production, and vaccine distribution.

He has also promised that the COVID-relief package passed at the end of 2020 was only a down-payment and that greater relief would be on the way. Keep your eye on the ball, Mr. President.

I hope this Administration will move beyond governance by Executive Order and actually pass some legislation.  

Finally, it is time to restore America’s greatness, its dignity, and its world leadership.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines, Part 2.5: Where Are We With Vaccines? CT’s Distribution Plan, Immunity Questions & More

Editor’s Note: This is a previously unplanned third of three parts of a highly topical essay titled, “A Primer on Vaccines,” by Thomas D. Gotowka. Part 2.5 reviews Connecticut’s readiness to distribute the vaccine, identifies some of the side effects that may be experienced, and considers the acquisition of individual immunity. Read the previous parts of the essay at these links:
A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines: Part 1; “Still Running to Daylight”

A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight”

When Part 2 of this series was published in mid-December, only the Pfizer vaccine had received emergency use authorization (EUA); the FDA then granted Moderna’s EUA on Dec. 18. As a result, we are now in the earliest stages of a massive vaccination campaign that will span the United States; and millions of Americans will reach the vaccination on-deck circle in 2021. 

The COVID “playbook” is still evolving; and guidance will change as the scientific and medical communities discover more about this virus and its reaction to the vaccines. That’s a good thing. 

The COVID Data Remain Troubling:

The first autopsy-confirmed COVID-related death in the United States occurred on Feb. 6, 2020 in Santa Clara County, Calif. Just 10 months later, i.e., by year’s end, over 345,000 Americans had been killed by the virus; and, incredibly, we surpassed 20 million cases, with an increase of more than a million cases in the last week of the year.

Unfortunately, this trend will continue through this dark winter; and, by this morning, Jan. 7, we’ve reached nearly 364,000 American fatalities. Finally, COVID hospitalizations are increasing in Connecticut, and may be evidence of another post-holiday spike.

New Vaccines:

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash.

Last week, Great Britain became the first country to authorize the use of Astra Zeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, a promising vaccine candidate from Johnson & Johnson is proceeding through clinical trials. However, for the foreseeable future, Americans will receive the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines, both of which require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively.

Poorly Executed Federal Vaccine Rollout:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that Operation Warp Speed’s promise to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December fell remarkably short of goal; and only about 2.8 million people were provided the vaccine — primarily front-line health care workers, and nursing home residents.

Earlier in December, General Gustave Perna, COO of Operation Warp Speed, apologized for a “planning error” that caused dozens of states to receive substantially fewer vaccine doses than were originally promised.

Predictably, the outgoing Administration then announced that, like testing, vaccine distribution will now be the responsibility of the individual states. Transition to the states occurred rapidly, and with only limited assistance and oversight.  There is no plan for logistical support.

They essentially told the states that “this is now your responsibility, figure it out.” Many states will have significant difficulty in meeting this challenge. However, the Coronovirus Relief Bill, which was reluctantly signed into law by the outgoing president at the end of December, includes some financial assistance for the states’ vaccination rollout.  

Vaccine Distribution in CT:

Connecticut began preparing for vaccine distribution well before the candidate vaccines were on the threshold of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization. 

Governor Lamont had appointed a broad-based Vaccine Advisory Group, who worked with the state’s Department of Health (CT DPH), the local health departments, CDC, and a group of providers and healthcare institutions to develop a phase-based program, which the Governor presented last October. The Governor also stated, at that time, that the state’s goal was to have everyone in the state “who wants a dose” to be vaccinated by early fall of 2021.

You can review the details of CT’s vaccination plan at Phases (ct.gov)

At present, Connecticut is vaccinating people who meet Phase 1a eligibility, which includes front-line healthcare workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. CVS Pharmacy teams began to administer the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Connecticut skilled nursing facilities on Dec. 21. 

By the end of that month, they had administered more than 50,000 vaccine doses. The role of CVS in Connecticut’s vaccination program is reviewed in: A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight” (LymeLine.com)

By the end of December 2021, more than 50,000 vaccine doses of Coronavirus vaccine had been administered. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash.

Phase 1b:

The Governor has confirmed that Connecticut remains on track to complete Phase 1a by the end of January; and the CDC recently reported that Connecticut is ahead of most states in vaccine distribution. Phase 1b is expected to begin immediately after completing Phase 1a objectives, and will probably extend into June. 

The Governor’s Vaccine Advisory Group has just recommended that Phase 1b target frontline essential workers, residents of congregate settings and those aged 75 and older. This will include teachers, grocery store workers, police officers, food service workers and sanitation workers. 

Congregate settings include homeless shelters, prisons, psychiatric facilities and group homes. The Advisory Group has not yet decided whether this next phase will also include residents, who are under the age of 75, but have underlying health conditions that place them at high-risk of serious illness from COVID-19. It appears that heathy people, ages 65 to 74 years old, may, otherwise, be deferred to Phase 1c.

Side Effects:

The most common side effects for both vaccines include pain and swelling in the arm where you received the injection; fever, chills, fatigue, and headaches, and muscle and joint pain. There was some early concern regarding a few claims of “Bell’s Palsy” following receipt of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in the clinical trials. (“Bells” is a condition that causes temporary and mild weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles).

This was not considered significant, however, because the incidence rate of the condition in the clinical trial was very comparable to the incidence of Bell’s Palsy in the general population.

Note that the CDC and FDA are monitoring adverse reactions, using a national data collection system. Healthcare professionals are required to report certain adverse events; and vaccine manufacturers are required to report all adverse events that come to their attention. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) (hhs.gov)

Even you have received the first shot of vaccine, keep wearing your mask until one to two weeks after your second dose.  Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash.

Immunity ETA:

As noted above, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively. Based on the current literature, you will have some protection about 12 days after the first dose. 

However, you will not receive the strongest immunity until after the second dose — at least seven days after the second for the Pfizer vaccine; but at least 14 days after the second for the Moderna vaccine. Therefore, it is important that you continue wearing a face mask, practice social distancing until one to two weeks after your second dose.

Questions (Always) Remain:

There is still a need for continuing study. We do not yet know how long vaccines will confer immunity. Although the vaccine may be more than 90 percent effective in blocking the symptoms of COVID-19 at the individual level; it is still unclear whether it will reduce transmission and stop the symptomless spread that accounts for a large portion of cases

Some Final Thoughts:

Vaccinations for the general public are not expected to begin until late-summer but, by then, vaccines will be available in a wide range of healthcare sites: physician’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers, and other locations that would normally administer influenza vaccines. Note that Connecticut is not mandating vaccination.  So, it’s an extremely important public health program that requires we “rely on the kindness of strangers.”

As I write this, I am distracted by the televised play-by-play of a violent attack on the Capitol by a group of domestic terrorists, which was apparently instigated and applauded by the outgoing Executive Branch. 

All that said, I believe that Connecticut is well-prepared to carry out this massive vaccination program. Other states are woefully unprepared. For example, Florida has what appears to be a poorly organized, “first come, first served” program.

We must make certain, however — and especially as other states reach readiness — that the vaccine supply line is continually sufficient to meet immediate requirements. 

I’ll close by paraphrasing Queen Elizabeth II: 2020 was without question an “annus horribilis.” Let’s not allow its ‘horrible-ness‘ to spill over any further into 2021.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight”

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts of a highly topical essay titled, “A Primer on Vaccines,” by Thomas D. Gotowka. Part 2 considers the complexities of reaching vaccine distribution. The author’s goal is that the reader obtains a fundamental understanding of the vaccine approval process, and recognizes that Americans will be provided a vaccine that is safe and effective. Read the first part of the essay at this link.

The Good News First:

On Dec. 10, an independent Advisory Panel to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), comprised of scientists and medical experts, voted overwhelmingly to endorse Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) request. This brings the US to the threshold of a massive vaccination effort against a virus that has now killed over 300,000 Americans.

The Panel concluded that the vaccine appears safe and effective for emergency use in adults, and teenagers, 16 years, and older. Specifically, the Panel ruled that the vaccine’s potential benefits outweigh its risks. 

A day later, FDA staff scientists, as expected, corroborated the Panel’s endorsement, and “greenlighted” use of the Pfizer vaccine.

UPS and FedEx trucks left Pfizer’s Michigan facility at Kalamazoo Sunday morning (Dec. 13), and began delivering the vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the United States; the states began receiving the vaccine early this week. Moderna’s EUA request will be considered on Dec. 17. 

The Panel’s endorsement came, despite allergic reactions observed in two individuals who received the vaccine after Britain launched their emergency vaccination program. A Panel member, Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “There are still some unknowns, but in an emergency, the question is whether you know enough.”

Pfizer has said they have seen no signs of allergic reactions in their trial.

The President-elect called the FDA decision, “A

bright light in a needlessly dark time.”

Distribution Factors:
i) Cold Storage

Although all three of the leading vaccine candidates (i.e., Pfizer, Moderna, and Astra Zeneca) must be kept at low temperatures. Pfizer’s vaccine presents some challenges; and must be kept at minus 94 degrees F, or lower. 

ii) Quantity of Vaccines Available/Number of Doses Required

Both the Pfizer and the prospective Moderna vaccines require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively.

Because the results from clinical trials were so favorable, both Pfizer and Moderna began production and warehousing of their vaccines in advance of FDA approval. Pfizer has said it will have about 25 million doses of the two-shot vaccine for the U.S. by the end of December.

Initial supplies will be limited and reserved primarily for health care workers and nursing home residents, with other vulnerable groups next in line until the vaccine becomes more widely available, which will probably not happen until the spring. Moderna will have 20 million doses available. These have been very fluid predictions. 

Distribution Plans:

Last September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), released a plan for distribution of vaccines across the United States. HHS has contracted with about a dozen pharmacy chains to administer the vaccination programs. 

CVS and Walgreens will be involved in the early stages of the rollout to help vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities. Other participating pharmacies are expected to start later, when more doses become available. Working with pharmacies, most of which already have local patient relationships, will facilitate community-based vaccination programs. 

As in mitigation, the states will have a very large role in vaccination. Governor Lamont presented CT’s plan for distribution of the vaccine on October 3rd. CT’s goal is to have everyone in the state “who wants a dose” to be vaccinated by early fall of 2021. The plan was developed by his Vaccine Advisory Group, with oversight from CT DPH. CT DPH has also been actively working with local health departments to organize CT’s distribution and vaccination plan. 

Preparing to vaccinate. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash.

From Here to Immunity:

The World Health Organization has indicated that 70 percent of the population of the United States must be immunized to reach “herd immunity; but because the vaccines are not effective all of the time, the threshold would likely need to be nearly 80 percent, in order to reach a 70 percent rate of successful vaccination.

However, we also know that, even assuming full participation, and full compliance with the two- dose regimen, it will not be until the end of 2021, or early 2022, before we have been able to vaccinate that much of the U. S. population. 

During that extended period, Americans will continue to die unless we stop the spread by simply observing the behaviors that our medical and public health experts have stressed for nearly a year: wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, disinfect common surfaces, avoid crowds, especially indoors, and keep a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your own household.

I believe that individuals can assume that immunity will occur about two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine. 

Pfizer has said it will have about 25 million doses of the two-shot vaccine for the U.S. by the end of December. Initial supplies will be limited and reserved primarily for health care workers and nursing home residents, with other groups next in line after the vaccine becomes more widely available, which will probably not happen until the spring.

Unanswered Questions:

We do not yet know how long vaccines will confer immunity. The Panel stressed that, although the vaccine’s efficacy is very high, and may be more than 90 percent effective in blocking the symptoms of COVID-19 at the individual level; it is still unclear whether it will reduce transmission and stop the symptomless spread that accounts for a large portion of cases.

The vaccine trials excluded pregnant or breastfeeding women; and largely excluded children under 12 years old.  Consequently, it is not yet clear when the immunizations would be safely available for them. 

Pfizer will provide six months’ follow-up data about safety and side effects as it pursues full approval. “Americans want us to do a scientific review, but I think they also want us to make sure we’re not wasting time on paperwork, in lieu of moving forward to the decision,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said before the Pfizer EUA review meetings.

Was it Too Fast?  

This was not “miraculous.” Rather, “the speed is a reflection of years of work that went before,” stated Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Long before COVID-19 was even on the radar, the groundwork was laid in large part by two different streams of research, one at the NIH, and the other at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, scientists had already learned a great deal about other coronaviruses from prior SARS and MERS outbreaks. 

“Science and data guided the FDA’s decision,” Commissioner Hahn recently said. “We worked quickly, only because of the urgency of this pandemic, not because of any unwarranted external pressure.” (see below.)

What Happens Now?

The FDA and CDC will monitor the use of the vaccine long after its release, and conduct “active surveillance” of the health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities who were early recipients of the vaccine. The purpose of this monitoring is to identify the rare side effects and adverse reactions that were not seen, even in the very large clinical trials conducted by Pfizer. 

Further, because the trials excluded some groups who might have different types of side effects (above), monitoring enables an additional review of those excluded trial groups who actually then received the vaccine as distribution expanded, presumably with medical advice.

Some Final Thoughts:

America’s systems worked. Teams of scientists and medical experts made vaccine development their highest priority early in this pandemic; and America’s highly respected public health agencies, which include NIH, FDA, and CDC, also stepped up, and acted as though we were in the midst of this century’s greatest threat to the nation’s health. 

This was “deep state”, with all its expertise, moving ahead at optimum speed, despite an Executive Branch throwing brickbats, and unable to acknowledge the growing number of dead Americans. 

Again, we need to develop education and communication strategies to overcome “vaccine hesitancy” (sometimes called anti-vaccination or anti-vax”), if we are ever to reach the threshold required for “herd immunity”.

There has been some concern that vaccine approval was accelerated to fulfill a political goal; and, unfortunately, the outgoing Administration did make threats regarding the timing of the approval.

The Commissioner had already stated “Let me be clear; our career scientists have to make the decision, and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call”.

After the Panel’s endorsement was announced, The President-elect said “I want to make it clear to the public: You should have confidence in this. There is no political influence. These are first-rate scientists, taking their time, looking at all of the elements that need to be looked at,” Biden told reporters Friday at an event introducing several members of his Cabinet and White House staff.

I am concerned that maskless states like South Dakota, who was content with last week’s 47 percent test positivity rate, will make no effort to educate and encourage vaccination.

The new Administration will also need to deal with the availability of therapeutics for Americans. Some of these experimental drugs, which have been occasionally used on political celebrities, are in such short supply, that some states have set up lotteries to determine which patients would receive a dose.

In closing, we should acknowledge the tens of thousands of volunteers who participated in clinical trials. Pfizer had 44,000; Moderna, 30,000; and Astra Zeneca, 23,000.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines: Part 1; “Still Running to Daylight”

When will the first COVID-19 vaccine be given in the US? Great Britain began their vaccination program, Tuesday, Dec. 8. Photo by CDC on Unsplash.

This essay begins an examination of the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

Part 1 reviews the key terminology that one may encounter in the media; and the intense evaluation and approval process that is required for these vaccines before they can be used on Americans. I also identify the important developers and discuss their progress.  

My goal is that, after these two essays, the reader has a basic understanding of the vaccine development process, and recognizes that Americans will be provided vaccines that are safe and effective. Part 2 will cover the complexities of distribution.

The Current Environment:

At the end of November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its national “ensemble forecast”, which predicted that COVID deaths in the United States will surge to between 294,000 and 321,000 deaths by Christmas. Further, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield stated that “this winter could be ‘the nation’s most difficult time in our public health history.” 

Nevertheless, there is some very good news ahead. Teams of scientists and medical experts in the United States and Europe made vaccine development their highest priority early in this pandemic and vaccines are on the near horizon. Note that the speed at which these teams progressed from the first cases identified in the United States to vaccine delivery, a little less than a year, is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, recently estimated that the first American vaccinations may occur before the end of December, and then continue through the end of 2021. 

The CDC’s advisory panel of medical experts has drafted recommendations regarding groups considered high priority for vaccination. Clearly, there’s more to come on this, but expect that higher priority will be given to those who face the greatest risk: first responders and frontline healthcare workers first; then, residents of long-term care facilities, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions; and finally, those involved in essential and critical industries.

Admiral Brett Giroir of the U.S. Public Health Service, stated, “We have to immunize for impact; the rest of America will get it in the second, or third quarter of 2021, but we can maximize our impact right now.” 

Some Important Terminology:

An “ensemble forecast” (above) is a sophisticated analytic technique that combines several independently-developed forecasts into one single, aggregate prediction; which increases the forecast’s reliability and statistical power.  It is similar to a “meta-analysis,” which also combines results from several independent studies to determine overall trends. Note that these both are widely-accepted methods of analysis, and not “smoke and mirrors.”

A “vaccine” stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies in a manner that’s similar to being naturally exposed to the disease; and so, immunity to that disease develops. Vaccines may contain the same causal agents that produce the disease; but in either weakened or dead form (e.g., measles vaccine contains the measles virus.) Some vaccines may contain only a part of the microorganism’s genetic or physical structure. 

“Immunity” is simply protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you are able to resist it, and can be exposed without becoming infected. 

Vaccine “efficacy” is a measure of how well a vaccine works to prevent disease among vaccinated persons, as compared to those who were not vaccinated, but in well-controlled clinical trials.  A 95 percent efficacy means that 95 out of 100 people who received the vaccine in that clinical trial were protected. Another important measure is “effectiveness”, or how well the vaccine actually achieved protection in the real world, with all its vagaries. This may be a lower number.

“Clinical trials” are studies performed by scientists with human subjects, and are aimed at assessing a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention.

Achieving “herd immunity” is the goal of these vaccine programs; and will occur when a “significant” portion of the population (the “herd”) has been vaccinated. 

Vaccine experts say that the threshold at which enough people have been vaccinated or naturally infected by the virus to reach a herd immunity, won’t be achieved if only 40 or 50 percent of the population receives the vaccine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), herd immunity against measles requires that 95 percent of the population be vaccinated; for polio, the threshold is closer to 80 percent. They have also stated that 70 percent of the population will need to be immunized to reach “herd immunity” for COVID-19. 

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER):

The CDER is the nation’s primary watchdog for vaccine development. 

Before a drug or a vaccine can be tested in people, the pharmaceutical company must perform laboratory and animal tests to determine how the proposed vaccine works, and whether it’s likely to be safe and work well in humans. If those results show promise, CDER will then authorize a series of tests in people.

Once the test vaccine has been cleared for human tests, at least three additional phases of clinical trials are conducted on volunteers to test vaccine efficacy, determine appropriate dosage, and to assess adverse side effects, etc. The last phase may involve a test group comprising thousands of human volunteers. Note that the Center doesn’t actually test drugs or vaccines itself.

An expert team of physicians, statisticians, chemists, pharmacologists, and other scientists reviews the company’s data; and if this independent review establishes that the vaccine’s health benefits outweigh its risks, the vaccine is approved for use. 

After approval, the FDA will continue to closely monitor the vaccine; and may review batches of the vaccine through the production process, and evaluate the facilities for safety. The FDA will also continue to track vaccine reactions and side effects.

COVID-19 Vaccine Developers:

There are currently three leading candidates competing for FDA approval. The front runners include:

  1. Pfizer, and its German collaborator, BioNTech, whose (BNT162b2) vaccine has an efficacy of 95 percent.
  2. Moderna, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company, whose (mRNA-1273) vaccine also reports an efficacy of 95 percent.
  3. AstraZeneca, collaborating with Oxford University in England, whose (ChAdOx1) vaccine has reported an efficacy of 90 percent, based on “interim results” from trials in the UK and Brazil.

The above three are among nearly a dozen companies that had the opportunity to receive some financial support from United States taxpayer dollars for vaccine development as part of “Operation Warp Speed” (OWS). Government financial support was available both to subsidize research and development, or to subsidize production of the vaccine. It has been reported that Moderna received some funding for R&D whereas Pfizer did not.

Current Status:

Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) from the FDA for their respective vaccines; which, although short of a full-scale approval, is an accelerated review process that would allow them to distribute their vaccines during this public health emergency. The FDA is scheduled to convene on December 10th to consider this the Pfizer request, and a week later for Moderna. 

EUAs are temporary; and the process to receive full FDA approval continues, irrespective of the EUA. 

Some experts had initially expressed concern about using an EUA for a vaccine that would be given to millions of people; but their fear has become more muted as the pandemic continues to kill thousands of Americans. 

The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has just approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use and is expected to quickly initiate their vaccination program in Great Britain. See the Editor’s Note below for latest news on the British vaccination program.

Some Final Thoughts:

This past week, COVID-19 surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death in United States; and today, Johns Hopkins University reported 285,564 Americans dead from the virus. Despite the calendar, we have been in the midst of what Dr. Fauci referred as a “bleak, dark winter”. 

The courage exhibited by many State governors must be acknowledged. Many implemented those inconvenient mitigation behaviors, while the Executive Branch, in apparent public denial, was sending out conflicting messages that actually endangered State officials. There was no doubt that “the buck stopped there,” right in the State House. 

We will also need to develop strategies to overcome “vaccine hesitancy”, which is sometimes called anti-vaccination or “anti-vax”. This reluctance, or refusal to be vaccinated, or to have one’s children vaccinated against contagious diseases, was identified in 2019 by the WHO as one of the top 10 global health threats. 

To set the record straight:

  • Pfizer did not alter its development schedule and hold their announcement until after the Nov. 3 election.
  • The FDA has not lengthened their review process to postpone vaccine distribution until after the inauguration.

Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner, stated unequivocally, “Let me be clear; our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision”.

Finally, in the best of all possible Americas, the outgoing president should re-focus his energy through the remainder of his transition out of the White House towards informing us all that we should prepare to receive the vaccine, even if it occurs during the next Administration. 

As always, God save the United States of America.

Editor’s Note: Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old British grandmother, became the first person in the world to receive a fully-tested COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. She was given the Pfizer/BioNTech shot and that event marked the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in the history of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service ever to be undertaken. 

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: The ‘Aristocrat of the Silent Screen’, the ‘Bee & Thistle’ … and Other Thoughts

Plans have been announced for the former ‘Bee and Thistle Inn’ to become the new home of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center. But do you know how this gracious residence ever came to be an inn?  If not, read on …

The recent announcement that the Connecticut Audubon Society had reached an agreement to purchase the Bee & Thistle Inn, and plans to renovate it as the future headquarters for the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, piqued my curiosity regarding the Inn’s history.

This essay briefly reviews the life of an individual who was fairly instrumental in its founding, the talented and infamous Elsie Ferguson. Note that I had originally written “notorious,” but I believe only one woman in our recent history is deserving of that descriptor. My goal with this essay is to provide readers with something light, given the dismal news regarding the COVID crisis, but please read to the end as I feel obliged to return to that topic there.

Known as “The Aristocrat of the Silent Screen,” this (Public Domain) photo shows Elsie Ferguson in 1913. Image by Herman Mishkin – The Theatre, Vol. 18, July 1913.

Ms. Ferguson was considered by many as the leading Broadway and silent screen actress for much of the first half of the 20th century. She made her debut as a chorus girl in 1900 at the Madison Square Theatre in the musical comedy “The Belle of New York.”

She then starred, or was a cast member, in a remarkable number of productions on Broadway and in London, becoming known as one of the most beautiful and talented women ever to appear on the American stage. She became “the aristocrat of the silent screen”, partly because so many of her roles were elegant society women, and also for her utterly arrogant attitude. 

During the first world war, several Broadway stars organized a campaign to sell Liberty Bonds, both before performances and at events occurring at important New York City venues. Ms. Ferguson once sold $85,000 in bonds in less than an hour, which is about a million and a half today!

After appearing in “The Merchant of Venice” in 1916, she signed her first movie contract with Paramount Pictures, and in a 1917 release, made her silent screen debut in “Barbary Sheep.” After some 25 films made between 1917 and 1929, she made her first and only “talkie”, “Scarlet Pages”, in 1930. 

She was definitely “divaesque” and working with her was difficult. She actually dabbled in socialism in the 1920s, and once stated in an interview, that “… people are struggling and fretting their lives away over questions of food and education. When a man has accumulated more than, say, a million, the moneys made should revert back to those who have contributed to the amassment.” This was ironic, because she was very well-compensated for her work, and had “amassed” a large fortune.

Her personal life was marked with some turmoil; and she was even involved, albeit on the periphery, in events that triggered the murder of architect Stanford White, an utter scoundrel; the news of those events contributed to the novel and eventual Broadway musical, “Ragtime”.

Connecticut:

In 1934, the then 51-year-old Elsie Ferguson married her fourth husband, the wealthy Irish “sportsman” Victor Egan. They bought a farm in Connecticut that same year. They also maintained a home on the French Riviera, splitting their time between the two. 

The Ferguson Farm:

A “Profile” of Ms. Ferguson, published in 2013 by the Florence Griswold Museum, tracked her life to some “welcome seclusion” on that scenic 100-acre estate in East Lyme, “White Gate Farms.” She told a reporter from “The Milwaukee Journal” that she sold 150 of her farm’s eggs each day to the Government. The reporter described the surroundings as “bucolic and luxurious.” During her tenure at White Gate, she was known only as Mrs. Victor Egan. 

When the World War II theater blackout on Broadway lifted in 1943, she made her final appearance, at the age of 60, in “Outrageous Fortune”, which was written by an East Lyme neighbor, Rose Franken. She told the reporter covering her return to the theater that “once people [in Connecticut] recognized her, she would have to be very careful about how she looked; hair and all that sort of thing.”

Victor Egan died in France in 1956, and ‘Widow Ferguson’ spent her remaining years in Connecticut.

The Bee and Thistle Inn:

Her friend and contemporary, Henrietta Greenleaf Lindsay, a Hartford designer, had opened a shop in Old Lyme, and lived nearby in a large home just north of what is now the Florence Griswold Museum. She was also a widow, and rented a few extra bedrooms to guests. Ms. Ferguson suggested that Ms. Lindsay formalize her guest room business and convert her gracious home wholly to a hotel. 

Ms. Lindsay followed that advice, and opened an Inn to the public. In recognition of her friend’s encouragement, the Ferguson Clan’s crest, which included a bee on a thistle, gave the inn its name.”

Elsie Ferguson died in November, 1961, aged 78, at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London with no surviving heirs. Her will directed that her $1.5 to $2 million estate be divided primarily amongst several animal welfare organizations, including NYC’s Animal Medical Center, Bide-A-Wee Home, the ASPCA, and Orphans of the Storm.

She is interred in Old Lyme’s Duck River Cemetery and her grave marker includes the first few lines of Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty.”

Some Final Thoughts

I began this piece on Nov. 19, when we had just passed the one-quarter million mark of Americans dead from COVID-19; and were looking forward to a very “low-touch” Thanksgiving. 

My next essay, “A Primer on Vaccines and Vaccination,” will be the first, in a series focusing on our response to COVID-19; and each successive column will be a thoughtful analysis of the implications of the data published in LymeLine and other media and as such will be the “color commentary.”

We have a massive public health problem, and it’s worsening daily. As I complete this essay on Monday, Nov. 23, We’ve reached 260,402 dead Americans; and yesterday, there were 142,732 new confirmed cases. The seven-day rolling average of 170,856 new cases per day grew nearly 50 percent from two weeks ago. The prediction of a “dark winter” is playing out.  

We are fortunate, however, because vaccines are approaching distribution; but unfortunately, the still-current president remains unwilling to even acknowledge this crisis and model behaviors in front of his constituency that will assist in curbing the further spread of the disease. 

There’s finally some good news regarding the election. Despite the unrelenting and outrageous interference, the states have all certified the election results, and the recalcitrant GSA Administrator has finally checked her math and enabled the formal transition. So, the President-elect finally really is the President-elect.

John Cleese couldn’t have scripted a more ridiculous theater of the absurd than the “The Bad Loser’s Guide to A Peaceful Transition,” which has been shown nearly constantly in primetime before and since the election. 

I pray that Americans’ trust in the election process has not been irrevocably damaged, and that there has been no damage done to the new administration.

As always, God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: A Letter to President-Elect Biden

An Open Letter to President-Elect Biden:

Why do you even want this job?

To the best of my knowledge, you don’t play golf or enjoy tooling around in a golf cart. I feel that, if you did play, you would probably walk the course, anyways. I doubt that you even anticipate weekends and evenings off. 

When you communicate with us, please use the spoken word, which appears to be one of your strengths; many Americans don’t tweet. I know that, given your family’s sacrifice, the words “suckers and losers” would never, ever come from your mouth. Further, always be truthful with us; let’s reassign some “fact checkers” to productive research. 

Your White House transition doesn’t seem to be moving as fast as it should at this point.

I remember President Obama’s welcome to the then incoming electee just about four years ago. You need to build your team and come up to speed on security issues. 

This is a critical time, and if the current president continues to undermine the election result, it could be a dangerous time. 

I feel that the current president’s post-loss dystopian behaviors and attempts to discredit voters are embarrassing to the United States.

You have identified that getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control is your highest priority; and you’ve already announced that team. As you certainly know, we recently experienced a pandemic-high 126,000 new COVID cases in a single day, nation-wide. We have surpassed 240,000 dead Americans, and well over 10 million infected. Those numbers are increasing across the country as I write this letter.

You will need to rally the many thousands of recalcitrant and selfish Americans, who have been encouraged by the Executive Branch to ignore the recommendations of scientists, and many governors on how to best control the spread of this disease. Fortunately, there are vaccines on the horizon.

You may be presented, if both the current president and some of your former colleagues in the Senate are successful in invalidating the ACA, with the loss of health insurance by millions of Americans — without any replacement plan.

You need to convince our governing bodies that their zero-sum posturing. (i.e., if you gain, I lose) is destructive to the United States. Of course, you have promised that you will be President for all Americans. 

I know that you recall that Majority Leader McConnell demanded in 2010 that Congressional Republicans unite by stifling President Obama on everything, even things Republicans support, saying, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Kind of ironic.

Perhaps his attitude will change after your inauguration. Can we expect agreement on anything? Or at least agree that a hierarchy of governance should be, “What’s good for America,” first and foremost; not, “What’s good for the Party,” and never, “What’s good for me.”

Isn’t he also majority leader for all Americans?  

I am comforted that you have been raised with a strong faith and a strong moral code; and that you can rely on those values and your family in times of difficult decision- making.

I am even comforted that Champ and Major will accompany you and the First Lady to the White House. 

We are counting on you and your team to return America to its former greatness; to regain our status as a world leader, and as a country that stands by its promises and agreements. 

God save the United States of America.

Sincerely,

Thomas D. Gotowka,
Old Lyme.

P.S. The Associated Press (AP) just reported that, after hearing two hours of oral arguments yesterday (Tuesday, Nov. 10), the Supreme Court seemed highly likely to leave the Affordable Care Act including protections for preexisting health conditions and subsidized insurance premiums largely intact.

Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who sit among the Court’s conservative justices, were again unwilling to strike down the entire law a Republican goal repeatedly failing in Congress and the courts. This is regardless of the original Law’s now weakened individual mandate, or statutory requirement to purchase health insurance.

The AP estimated that the Law affects 23 million Americans.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View From My Porch: Make America Safe Again, A Primer on Herd Immunity 

Is herd immunity the answer to the current pandemic crisis? Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash.

A lot of people recently started saying, “Herd immunity.”

So, to get up to speed, I reviewed some of my old textbooks and learned (again) that “herd immunity” occurs when a substantial portion of the population (i.e., the “herd”) has, at least in our contemporary medical era, been vaccinated (e.g., MMR.)

This eventually provides protection for vulnerable individuals because, as the number of vaccinated (and presumably immune) persons grows, the likelihood that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infectious person drops; and the chain of infection is broken. 

In the last few weeks, it has been reported (e.g., NYT, WAPO) that the White House has apparently embraced a strategy of enabling deliberate infection of Americans to achieve herd immunity. Campaign rallies?

This approach was proposed in early October in “The Great Barrington Declaration” by a group of “pseudo-scientists”, who argued that government authorities should allow the virus to spread among young, healthy people, while, “in some way”, protecting the elderly and the vulnerable.

So, only people who are at high risk of dying from the disease would be, “somehow”, protected from infection. In other words, achieve a state of “herd immunity” via massive infection, rather than a vaccine. 

The “Declaration” states that those at lower risk of death from infection can, and should, resume normal activities, socialize in crowded bars and restaurants, and gather at sports and other events; and thus, facilitate a rebound of the economy. There is no mention of masks, physical distancing, testing, or tracing.

The “Declaration” was sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research, whose past work has denied climate change, denied the importance of face masks during this pandemic, and supported personal freedom and limited government. 

Note that, as I write this, the COVID test positivity rate is 38 percent in South Dakota, where personal freedom appears to reign over community safety.  

The White Huse may be aligning itself with this particular “herd immunity” strategy because it supports their false portrayal of mainstream public health experts as supportive of very harsh restrictions, and argues against any and all COVID-related limits on Americans, including face masks. 

Public health and medical professionals do not support this strategy. Dr. Anthony Fauci emerged from exile and called the concept “total nonsense”. 

Others, including the World Health Organization, have stated that the strategy is especially dangerous because it would be nearly impossible to shield those who are medically vulnerable. 

In a letter recently published in The Lancet, 80 scientists stated that “the idea that the public can infect its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence”. They acknowledged that pandemic restrictions have led to demoralization, but stress that controlling community spread of the virus is the best way to protect the population and the economy until vaccines and treatments are developed.

The scientists continue, “Any pandemic management strategy relying upon ‘immunity from natural infections’ for COVID-19 is flawed.” They add, “Such a strategy would not lead to the end of COVID-19, but result in recurrent epidemics, as was the case with numerous infectious diseases before the advent of vaccination.”

Both the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet have published editorials highly critical of the White House’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. This was unprecedented for these two prestigious, peer-reviewed medical journals.

COVID-19 cases are increasing in several Connecticut hot spots, and deaths are rising at near-apocalyptic levels across much of the United States, with new cases frequently exceeding 50,000 per day. Public health experts have been warning for months that fall and winter could lead to a spike in cases, and the United States remains unprepared and without a common national strategy. 

Let’s put the idea of natural and uncontrolled infection-based herd immunity behind us.

I believe that safe and well-tested vaccines are on the horizon, maybe by early to mid-2021.  There is also significant activity in the development of therapeutics that could be available for widespread and economical use across the population.

Until then our primary public health strategy remains one of mitigation — slowing the spread now that the virus is so firmly established within the population. 

Continuing restrictions will probably be required in the short term. These non-pharmaceutical methods are simple … you already know them!

Wear a mask and observe physical distancing protocols.

Wash your hands frequently and disinfect work surfaces.

Avoid densely packed crowds, especially indoors.

Expect that some capacity restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

And for goodness sake, get your information from reputable public health sources. 

And finally, God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A View from My Porch: Great Leaders, Great Speeches; The Finale: Collapse of the Soviet Union.

Editor’s Note: This the sixth and final part of Thomas Gotowka’s series titled “Great Leaders and Great Speeches.’ The previous four parts can be found at these links:

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1: Washington’s Farewell through Theodore Roosevelt

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2: Nazi Aggression through “A Rain of Ruin from the Air” on Hiroshima

A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 3: The Cold War 

A View from My Porch: Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 4: The Cold War Heats Up

A View From My Porch: Great Leaders and Great Speeches. Part 5: Cold War “Visual Aids” 

I will wrap up my Cold War treatise with a review of the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and apparent end of the Cold War.

I think that Madam Editor is cooling on Cold War nostalgia, and my wife, Christina’s, “Sounds great!” is less enthusiastic. So, I am going to lay this out as an annotated timeline of many of the key events that track the Soviet Union’s progression towards its dissolution and get right to a conclusion. 

I change focus in the next column to works by or about the denizens of our waters.

On Nov. 4, 1956, Soviet tanks and troops invaded Budapest to crush a national protest that began a few weeks before. The protesters had demanded a more democratic political system and freedom from Soviet oppression. 

Prime Minister Nagy was arrested and executed two years later. The Soviets put Communist leader, János Kádár, into the “vacated” position, where he remained for 32 years. Nearly 3000 Hungarians were killed or wounded, and 200,000 fled as refugees. 

The West was shocked by these actions. Earlier that year, Nikita Khrushchev had pledged a retreat from the Stalinist policies and repression of the past. 

In August,1961, the German Democratic Republic (i.e., Soviet-occupied East Germany) erected the Berlin Wall to keep “Western fascists from undermining the socialist state.” The wall mainly served to prevent mass emigration from East to West. Note that the Wall was not funded by West Berlin.

In October, 1962, as noted in an earlier essay, the Soviet Union was compelled by President Kennedy and United Nations outrage to remove their missiles and offensive weapons from Cuba. They then began a massive nuclear arms and military buildup to reach parity with the United States. 

On June 26, 1963, JFK spoke in West Berlin in support of West Germany. His “Ich Bin ein Berliner” address is widely regarded as one of the most powerful anti-communist speeches of that Cold War period. “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in; to prevent them from leaving us”. 

“While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, we take no satisfaction in it; for it is, an offense, not only against history, but against humanity.” 

“All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin; and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”

On Oct. 15th, 1964, Nikita Krushchev left office, and was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, who remained as general secretary for 18 years. In 1968, he introduced a new foreign policy, the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” which asserted that “any threat to socialist rule in any state of the Soviet Bloc was a threat to all, and justifies military intervention.”

During the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning tank in Prague. Public domain photo from “CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting” For more information, visit the CIA’s Historical Collections page.

On Aug. 20th 1968, Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact military forces invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the “Prague Spring” political reforms initiated by Alexander Dubcek, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He was arrested, and then resigned. The invasion force included 200,000 ground troops and 5,000 tanks. Warsaw Pact troops seized control of television and radio stations.

Journalists at Radio Prague refused to surrender, and more than 20 were killed before it was finally shut down. Some stations went “underground” and succeeded in broadcasting for several days before their locations were discovered and brutally shut down. Much of Czechoslovakia’s intellectual and business elite fled to the West.

On Sept. 7,1978, the Western world witnessed another tool that has been used frequently since then by Soviet successors to stop resistance. 

Georgi Markov was a dissident novelist and playwright in Bulgaria. He had defected to the UK in 1968, and worked as a broadcaster and journalist for the BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe, and “Deutsche Welle.” He used those media to criticize the Bulgarian Communist regime. 

In an incident worthy of a spy thriller, Markov stood waiting for a bus on Waterloo Bridge in central London, on his way to the BBC. He was stabbed in the back of the leg by a man wielding an umbrella with a sharpened tip, who then ran off. Markov became very sick and was rushed to a hospital, where he died a few days later; the autopsy revealed that the cause of death was poisoning from a tiny pellet filled with ricin, an extremely potent toxin. 

Just recently, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was released from a Berlin hospital, where he was being treated for Novichok nerve agent poisoning. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had facilitated Navalny’s transfer to a Berlin hospital for treatment, and stressed, “In view of the findings and his prominent role in the political opposition in Russia, I urgently call upon authorities to investigate this crime in full transparency.” The G-7 countries condemned Navalny’s attack.

Note that this was the same agent used to poison ex-Russian spy (and “double agent”) Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK in March 2018. Amazingly, both ultimately survived after extended hospital stays. That attack was actually developed into a BBC thriller “The Salisbury Poisonings.”

On Dec. 24th 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan to preserve the collapsing Communist government that had been established there in the early 1970s. 

Soviet Intelligence remarkably under-estimated the fierce resistance they would face from the mujahideen warriors who defended their country.  

The Soviets were ineffective in their use of conventional tactics against the well-trained and highly-motivated Afghan guerillas.  The tide of the war turned against the Soviets when American shoulder-launched infrared-homing missiles were introduced. The Stinger missiles enabled the mujahideen to shoot down Soviet planes and helicopters almost at will. The invasion evolved into a war of bloody Soviet attrition, although their military remained there for 10 years.

The United States and many allies boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics in July, 1980 in protest against the Soviet invasion. Some countries, including Great Britain, participated under the Olympic flag rather than their own national flags.

On March 8, 1983, President Reagan, speaking to a religious convention in Orlando, Fla., referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and “the focus of evil in the modern world.” He had already alluded to that theme the year before in a speech at the British House of Commons, where he also declared that, “The Soviets must be made to understand that “We will never compromise our principles and standards.” The term “evil empire” was inspired by the movie, “Star Wars”. 

In July, 1984, the Soviets and 13 allied countries retaliated by boycotting the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, which was, of course, in President Reagan’s home state.

Mikhail Gorbachev. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

On March 11th 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, and began a withdrawal from Afghanistan, which then continued through early 1989. More than 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed, and about 35,000 wounded. Two million Afghan civilians were killed in that decade-long conflict.

Note that the war also created a breeding-ground for terrorism and the rise of Osama bin Laden, who founded Al Qaeda in 1988.

On April 26th 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine resulted in the worst nuclear disaster in history. Scientists have indicated that the disaster was the product of a flawed reactor design that, against Western standards, was both poorly staffed and maintained. 

Almost 80,000 square miles were contaminated; including some 8,000 square miles of Europe. Although Soviet officials initially put the number of fatalities at just 31, the United Nations estimated that several million people were ultimately affected. 

The Chernobyl disaster had other consequences: The disaster has been estimated to have then cost some $235 billion in damages. The economic and political toll hastened the end of the USSR and fueled a global anti-nuclear movement. 

In June, 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev announced his intention to follow a policy of glasnost – openness, transparency, and freedom of speech; and perestroika, the restructuring of the government and economy. He also advocated free elections and ending the arms race. That same month, President Reagan had called for Gorbachev to open the Berlin Wall: “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Gorbachev’s policies relaxed centralized control of much of the Soviet economy, and farmers and manufacturers could now determine what and how much to produce; and what to charge for products. Although Gorbachev had instituted these reforms to accelerate a sluggish economy, they had the opposite effect. Market prices soared to unaffordable levels, Government spending and Soviet debt skyrocketed, and worker demands for higher wages led to dangerously high inflation. 

In 1988, he announced to the United Nations that Soviet troop levels would be reduced, and that the USSR would no longer interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries. 

The Collapse: The Soviet Union was increasingly viewed as a rogue nation by the West. Their economy could not sustain the huge costs of their nuclear weapons buildup, the Afghan Occupation, over 30 years of distant warfare that began in the early 1950s, and Chernobyl. 

President Reagan had actually refused to provide Gorbachev with Marshall Plan-type economic support (similar to the aid provided to rebuild Europe after WW2). 

Then, in the late-1980s, and certainly inspired by the failed perestroika and glasnost reforms, independence movements began to swell in the Soviet sphere; and then, the speed of the collapse of communist rule in Soviet satellite countries stunned the “Free World.” 

On Dec. 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union was dissolved and divided into 15 separate and independent countries. Russia (i.e., formally the “Russian Federation”) was considered the successor state of the Soviet Union, which meant that it kept almost all of their nuclear weapons and the seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. 

The collapse also resulted in the rise of the “Russian Oligarchy”, which, probably too simply, is almost a parallel government of powerful individuals, who accumulated enormous wealth during Gorbachev’s market liberalization and the period of dissolution. 

The failing Soviet state had left ownership of the State’s assets in question, and allowed for “informal” opportunistic deals with former Soviet officials in Russia and Ukraine as a means of “distributing” State property.

The conventional political wisdom (at that time) was that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some Final Thoughts: Unfortunately, Brunhilde never sang. (i.e. “it ain’t over ‘til …”) 

The Cold War only paused after the 1991 Collapse. The battlefield and rules of engagement changed, but, otherwise, it’s the same thugs under a new flag (I apologize for “thugs”, but it seems appropriate.)

Vladimir Putin has served as either Prime Minister or President since 1999, in both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.  His key cabinet members and senior department heads largely came with him from the Soviet Union. 

A brilliant tactician, the Stalinist Putin is former KGB, and popular with much of the Russian citizenry, many of whom resent the collapse and the apparent change of Russia’s international standing. He has been described as “the Despot’s despot.”

In his annual address to the Russian Federation in 2005, Putin said ,”The collapse of the Soviet Union was the major geopolitical disaster of the past century. Millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots find themselves outside Russian territory.” He pledged to turn the economy around and restore their status in world affairs.

Putin had already “deked” the West in 2003 by allowing Paul McCartney to perform before thousands of Russians in Red Square, his first-ever concert in Russia. The Beatles had been banned in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, declared to be “an enemy of the Soviet people” by Nikita Kruschev; their music “caused delinquency, alcoholism, vandalism, and rape”. 

I am absolutely certain that my eighth-grade math teacher, Sister Thomas Ann, was unaware that she shared Mr. Kruschev’s opinions on rock music. In Sir Paul’s own words: “The Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the west behind; and Moscow girls make me sing and shout, and Georgia, …”.

The Reboot of the Cold War

Hacking and leaking: It is widely accepted and reported by our Intelligence Agencies that Russian agents have interfered in democratic elections across Europe and in the United States. Besides offering assistance to the 2016 campaign of one candidate, they also gained access to voter rolls in two Florida counties. This last breech was revealed by the Florida governor in May, 2019. 

Even more concerning is one conclusion by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee that former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort appears to have been directly connected to the hacking operations conducted by the Russian agents, which exposed large files of internal emails belonging to the DNC.

On Aug. 31, the CIA published an assessment of Russian efforts to interfere in this November’s election in their CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review. CIA analysts compiled the assessment with input from the NSA and the FBI. 

The assessment provides details of the activities of a Ukrainian lawmaker to disseminate disparaging information about candidate Biden to lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts close to the President. 

Some good, old- fashioned provocation: In late August, USAF  F-22 fighter jets, supported by KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft, intercepted three groups of two Russian Tu-142 patrol jets that entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone.

In early September, two Russian jets flew within 100 feet of a USAF B-52 bomber in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner”, while the pilot was conducting routine training over international waters in the Black Sea. 

In his recent address to the UN’s General assembly, Putin stressed the need for multilateral cooperation against the pandemic. He also argued that ending “illegitimate sanctions” against countries like his could boost the global economy and create jobs.

I am going to conclude with something that might give you some comfort: A short time ago, in a video conference with elected heads of the Russian regions, President Putin called for “an agreement between Russia and the United States to guarantee not to engage in cyber-meddling in each other’s elections. He called for a “reset” between Russia and the United States and said he wanted an agreement between the two countries to prevent incidents in cyberspace”. What’s done is done?

God save the United States of America.

The era did produce a new literary genre; and, if you have the interest to re-visit those years in fiction, I recommend the novels of John LeCarre’. Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, and Nelson DeMille.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.