Thursday, March 14, 2019

Who says life has to be fair? The rise and fall of broadcasting’s Fairness Doctrine

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, January 14, 2019, by Brad Spear

The headline in the Saturday, December 22 Washington Post article said it all, “‘This Is Tyranny of Talk Radio Hosts, Right? ‘: Limbaugh and Coulter Blamed for Trump’s Shutdown of Portions of the Federal Government.” Here we are 23 days later, and the “partial shutdown” of the federal government continues.

Two days before, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and conservative podcaster Ann Coulter separately ridiculed the President over a compromise that had been reached with Senate Democrats to avoid a government shutdown by partially funding the construction of a wall at the Mexico-US border. Upon hearing the ridicule, Mr. Trump suddenly reversed his position, thereby closing the federal government on Friday, December 21. According to the Post article, CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin was quoted as saying, the reason for the President’s reversal of position was because Limbaugh and Coulter “had questioned his manhood.”

Have these two pillars of right-wing talk radio always had such sway over the nation’s affairs? The answer is “no;” at least not until the repeal in 1987 of a longtime tenant of American broadcasting: the Federal Communications Commission’s “Fairness Doctrine.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

The most hated man in America

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, March 4, 2019 by Martin C. Langeveld

During much of the time between the two World Wars, if you had asked an average person on the street, or the average journalistic pundit, who they considered to be the most hated person in America, ranking high among the possible answers would have been the name of Grover Cleveland Bergdoll. But why?

Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, the playboy scion of a Philadelphia family of beer brewers with German roots, was born in 1893. After the Wright brothers set up their first school for airplane pilots, at Huffman Prairie near their home base of Dayton, Ohio, Grover enrolled in April, 1912 and became one of the first 119 people who learned to fly there. Once proficient, he purchased from the Wrights a 40-horsepower Model B flyer, for the sum of $5,625 (nearly $150,000 in 2019 dollars). (The young man, just 18 years old and a student at the University of Pennsylvania, had been receiving a $5,000 allowance annually since he was 15.) The Model B was the first Wright plane to have wheels, enabling it to take off on its own rather than with the catapult system used until then.

Within a few months, Grover was entertaining large crowds in Philadelphia by making exhibition flights. At the time, flying was quite a hazardous pursuit. In 1910, the Wright Brothers had assembled a team of nine expert exhibition pilots to demonstrate their planes around the country — by the end of 1912, six of the nine had been killed in airplane crashes. But Grover was not only fearless but highly proficient. While still working to qualify for a pilot’s license in the spring of 1912, he was offering rides to friends, buzzing crowds, reaching altitudes of 2,000 feet, and staying aloft as long as 34 minutes. That summer, with a passenger on board, he flew from the suburban air field to Philadelphia’s downtown City Hall, circled the statue of William Penn atop its dome three times, and flew low over a westbound train for 22 blocks before revving his engine and passing it. In August, he flew from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, reaching altitudes over 7,000 feet, the first flight between the two cities. After more flights, in September, just five months after his first lessons, Grover passed the necessary trials and was awarded a pilot’s license. He was the 169th person in the U. S. ever to receive one.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

E = mc2: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

INTELLIGENCE — Photo by David Bruce, used under Creative Commons License. (Inscription carved by Roger Babson at Dogtown Common, Gloucester, Massachusetts, about 1930)

Presented to the Club by David Noyes on Monday evening, November 26, 2018

NEWS FLASH from the front page of the Boston Globe May 21, 2018:

“Massachusetts ponders hiring a computer to grade MCAS essays. Each year, students generate more than six million essays requiring a small army of graduate students, educators, and other professionals to read and score them — a laborious task that takes most of the summer. In an effort to speed up the delivery of the MCAS results to schools and families, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is exploring the option of replacing human test scorers with a computer program. This technology would help the state deliver the results in the summer instead of the fall so that schools could analyze the results and make any necessary adjustments before the school year begins. “

Yes, that’s correct. It’s possible that no human eye would ever see a student’s effort. Can you imagine the Board of Trustees of the Nobel Prize Committee submitting their choices for the Literature Prize to the same algorithm!

Last year Martin gave an intriguing, thought provoking, yet somehow, disquieting presentation about Artificial Intelligence. Tonight, I would like to discuss: Native Intelligence.

I can distinctly remember being in seventh grade, studying what was then called “New Math”. (To this day, I really can’t explain what was “new” about it) We had a two-inch thick paper back workbook with lessons, examples, and problems to be solved. I can even remember our teacher — Mrs. Mansfield. She was spry, agile, and always impeccably dressed. But we took turns guessing what color her otherwise naturally white hair was going to be on Monday morning. Sometimes it had a slight pinkish tone — other times a blue pattern. Once, I recall her head having a distinct green halo.

I soon discovered that I had a knack for this subject and relished the challenge. But I was also struck by how non-universal that experience was. For the first time, I recall being mystified that another student struggled to understand a concept which seemed so obvious to me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Rabbi Harold I. Salzmann, Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Anshe Amunim, Pittsfield, Mass.

The Monday Evening Club has lost its longtime member and secretary-treasurer, Rabbi Harold Salzmann. Here is his obituary. He had been a member of the Club since 1955.

Rabbi Harold  I. Salzmann, 96, died peacefully on Tuesday September 25, 2018 at Mt. Carmel Care Center in Lenox. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1922, Rabbi was the son of Bernard Leopold and Rae (ne Busch) Salzmann. The son and grandson of traditional rabbis trained in the religious schools of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today’s Slovakia), as a youth he received a very thorough training in Biblical Hebrew and Talmud-Torah studies. Eager to explore newer avenues in Jewish thought, Rabbi Salzmann pursued his rabbinical studies in the Reform Movement at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where he was ordained in 1950. Throughout his life, he continued his scholarship in theology and as a teacher who trained bar and bat mitzvah children as well as adults. An amateur historian, he collected antique postcards of the Berkshires, possessed a wealth of knowledge about the postal service of British Mandate Palestine, and had begun to write a history of the Jewish community of the Berkshires before his death.
Before joining the US army as a  chaplain at the rank of Second Lieutenant (and later an Army Reserve Captain), he and his wife Audrey (ne Pastor) whom he married in 1950, held a pulpit in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His time as a chaplain for the Western Area Command took him to Germany and Belgium; in Luxembourg, he took part in a dedication ceremony to honor General George Patton.  Turning down a full time commission in the US Army, he returned to civilian life in 1954. He frequently remarked that it was the natural beauty of the Berkshires and his ability to be active in both Jewish and secular life that made him turn down other job offers at larger congregations in New York and Rhode Island.
Over the past 64 years, Rabbi Salzmann dedicated his life to building his Reform Jewish community in Pittsfield. He raised funds and along with the Temple board, engaged an architect to design and to build the new synagogue that is currently home to Congregation Anshe Amunim on Broad street in Pittsfield. The Temple’s membership grew and gained new financial stability through the generosity of congregants who shared his vision. Although he retired early, he remained active as the emeritus rabbi, often stepping in to replace his younger colleagues to conduct services, funerals and weddings.  The Temple honored both the Rabbi and his wife, recently renaming the religious school in their honor. Nationally, he was recognized by his alma mater, the Hebrew University of Cincinnati, with an honorary doctorate in 1975.
At least in equal measure, Rabbi devoted himself to the civic life of the Berkshires, as a citizen and one of its most dedicated religious leaders. Shortly after coming to Pittsfield, he became a member of the Rotary Club. In 2012, fellow Rotarians  recognized his many decades of service to Rotary and the community with the Paul Harris Award.  One of the longest serving members of the clergy in the Berkshires, he delivered more invocations at parades and high school graduations than any other rabbi, priest or minister in the county.  Active in many other capacities in the city and county, from the board of trustees of the Berkshire Medical Center to the committee that restored the World War I memorial in Veterans’ Park on South St.  A longtime member of the Berkshire Clergy Association, he embodied the civic spirit of the Kennedy-era. In addition to his love of collecting books and stamps, he remained the secretary-treasurer of the Monday Evening Club whose members included his dear friend, Norman Rockwell, well into his 90s.
Rabbi Salzmann is survived by his wife and rabbinical partner, Audrey, with whom he would have celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary on October 8, 2018; a daughter, Dr. Ariel Salzmann of Kingston, Ontario Canada, a son, Joshua Salzmann of London, UK. and five grandchildren Zachary (and his partner Carrie), Francesca, Asher, Natasha and Jordan. The Salzmann family wishes to express their gratitude to our extended Berkshire mishpacha, Jewish and non-Jewish, who frequently visited rabbi as his health declined as well as to express our thanks to the nurses, aides, and staff of Mt. Carmel for the high quality of care and many kindnesses they showed him in his final months of life.
Salzmann, Rabbi Harold, age 96, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Anshe Amunim, died Sept. 25, 2018 Funeral services will be held FRIDAY, Sept. 28 at Temple Anshe Amunim at 12:00 Noon with Rabbi Liz, P.G. Hirsch, spiritual leader of the Temple, and Rabbi Josh Breindel, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, Mass., officiating. Burial will follow in the  Pittsfield Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations in Rabbi Salzmann’s memory may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center through the Devanny-Condron Funeral Home which has been entrusted with his care.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Bridge: An appreciation of George Gershwin

George Gershwin in 1937. Photo by Carl Van Vechten.

Presented to the Club  on Monday Evening March 19, 2018 by Albert E. Easton
The Triborough Bridge connects the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens. Basically it’s a bridge from the Bronx to Manhattan, with an offshoot connected to Queens. George Gershwin built a bridge too, basically from popular music to classical, but connected in is a bridge that already existed from popular music to jazz. We wouldn’t be at all surprised today if a classical piano program included some pieces by Gershwin, and we could probably stand the shock if there was a little jazz thrown in.
Gershwin’s parents came to the United States in the 1890’s from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Rose Burkin came first and was living in Manhattan when a couple years later, Moise Gershowitz (who later changed his name to Morris Gershvin) arrived and asked her to marry him. Both came from fairly well off families in Saint Petersburg and had known each other there. They married in 1895, and in December 1896, their first son Israel (who later changed his name to Ira) was born. Almost two years later, in September 1898, their second son Jacob, who was always called George, was born.
The Gershwin family was fairly well off, and always had a maid. Morris was an entrepreneur at heart and bought and managed several businesses: cigar store, restaurant, several Turkish baths and many others. Each time he took on a new business, he moved his family to be near it. If I told you George Gershwin was a product of the lower East Side, like so many famous Jewish Americans, I wouldn’t be lying because he did live there sometimes, but he also lived lots of other places. In all, the Gershwins had over 20 addresses in Manhattan and three in Brooklyn while George was growing up. Religion and Jewish tradition did not play a very important part in their lives, although they always celebrated the seder at Passover.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Fur Seals of Alaska (an 1892 paper by Henry Laurens Dawes)

Alaska Fur Seal — photo by US Fish & Wildlife Service — Used under Creative Commons license
One of the members of the Club in its early years was Henry Laurens Dawes, United States Senator representing Massachusetts, who lived in Pittsfield. Dawes himself was the subject of this 2015 paper.

Here's a paper by Dawes, delivered to the Club in 1892, entitled "Fur Seals of Alaska." The original is among the Dawes papers in the National Archives. Dawes himself was the subject of this 2015 Club paper.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fatal Choice: Choosing no longer to live

Photo by Alberto Biscalchin, used under Creative Commons Licens

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, Dec. 4, 2017 by William P. Densmore

One day in March, 1981, a short obituary appeared in the Chicago Tribune about a fatal choice — the suicide of Earl Russell Marshall, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It mentioned that Mr. Marshall was a supervisor at the Tulsa maintenance base of American Airlines.

Colleagues of Mr. Marshall at American Airlines had also made a fatal choice two years earlier, a choice primarily responsible for the deaths of 271 people.

Those 271 people had been passengers May 25, 1979 on an American DC-10 jumbo jet which dropped an engine and crashed on takeoff from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The engine had been worked on at American’s Tulsa maintenance two months earlier. The day after his death, Mr. Marshall, then 47, was to have been questioned by lawyers for the aircraft maker.
The airline said Marshall had no involvement with the accident aircraft. The Tulsa World newspaper talked to Mr. Marshall’s widow in 2004, 25 years later. “He had very bad guilt feelings, and the accident gave him something to attach his feelings to,” Marilyn Marshall to the daily. ‘He was a casualty of that crash.”

DC-10 maker McDonnell Douglas Corp. and American sued each other after the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board investigated. The companies and the government learned that a maintenance work shift ended on one of the nights the DC-10 was in Tulsa and the crew left a 15,300-pound wing engine and attached pylon hanging overnight partially disconnected from the wing – and supported only by the forklift’s hydraulics. The result – a hidden, 13-inch crack formed in one of the three attachments of the engine to the wing.