Me — Then ’til Now

Recently I’ve decided to change doctors. I have decided to see a physician that has more knowledge about the specific needs of those of us who are aging. The medical history form for the UNC Geriatric Clinic requested that I tell them about myself. It is probably a bernieonstjohnlittle more lengthy than they required. Somehow it morphed into a blog post! So here goes.

I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on January 7, 1928 at 25 minutes to midnight at 4 lbs/10 oz. Arriving two months earlier than expected, I had to be fed with an eye dropper. I went down to 3 lbs/13oz. before my weight started to pick up. I was told that I was wrapped in absorbent cotton and put into a cigar box. (I must admit I don’t remember any of it, but I guess that’s because of my aging.)

The family moved to Queens in New York City when I was six months old, first to Jackson Heights and then, in 1936, to Flushing. My younger brother, Arnie, was born when I was three. Like most other Queens kids most of those early years were spent in public schools. Summers were spent at camp. At 12 I became a Boy Scout in Queens Troop 45. The next three summers were spent at Ten Mile River Scout Camp Keowa in the Adirondacks. In my second year I was chosen for the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s honor society. I became a Star Scout, but never made it to Life or Eagle Scout.

In June 1941, I completed the first half of the eighth grade. In September I was accepted by and went on to high school at Fieldston School in Riverdale. Fieldston is the educational arm of the Society for Ethical Culture. To avoid the long daily commute from Flushing to Fieldston, I boarded with a family in Riverdale during the week.

Continue reading “Me — Then ’til Now”

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I’m Sorry?

sorry

Last Friday was a beautiful afternoon. I went over to check out the progress that had been made at the Farmer’s Market site. They have been working to improve existing structures and create new ones to make the farmer’s market more enjoyable, no matter what the weather is. I walked into the construction area and my foot got caught on a piece of plastic sheeting. I tripped and fell, hitting my head on the concrete floor. I was bleeding from the cuts on my head and nose and my right shoulder was painful. Phil, the manager of the site, gave me a hand and was very helpful. I called Erin to let her know what had happened. She did not pick up.

Erin called back later and said “I’m sorry.” As she explained, what she meant was “I’m sorry that you fell”. The unspoken portion of her reaction was ‘that you fell’. Knowing Erin has I do, that was her way of expressing deep concern. Moreover, I heard it in her voice.

Saying (or hearing) “I’m sorry!” in response to an accident or event that caused injury or harm makes no sense to me. That is especially true when the person saying it was in no way involved in what happened and is not apologizing for their role in it.
Continue reading “I’m Sorry?”

I’m Back!

Hi folks. It’s been a while. But I’m back! In the interim I turned 90. Things are fine. I’ve been busy, good busy, but busy. Since the last post my time has been taken up by a number of things. I’ve recently BK_headshotpublished a book entitled Making Space for Yourself that I co-authored with Erin Coyle. I provided the sayings and she created the images. It is the first of a series entitled “Drawing from the Well”. You can check it out on our website: drawingfromthewell.net. The book is available through Amazon. Looking forward to your comments. There’s more to come.
I’ve also just finished the manuscript for what I thought of as a paper entitled, “Making the Poor Richer: The Causes, Consequences and Suggested Remedies for the Greater Inequality in the Income Distribution”. The paper begins at the end of World War II,  just after I graduated from high school at Fieldston, and explains how the significant changes since then have brought us to where we are now. For those of you who are not aware, TVs had just come on the market and there were no computers, no Internet , no GPS and no Apps. Can you imagine? The book also provides some suggestions on how to correct the problems the changes brought about. At 150 pages long I have to admit that the paper morphed into a book. I’m trying to figure out what forms the book should take and how to reach the audience that might be interested in this day and age. Any suggestions?
In my time away I’ve come up with some more ideas for blog posts. They will be coming your way shortly. Thank you all for taking the time to tune in. I’m looking forward to another productive year.

Basketmaking on the Island of St. John (Video)

virgin_islands_national_park__virgin_islands_usIf you have been following my blog then you already know that I moved to St. John, USVI in the summer of 1987. As an economist, I was always fascinated by isolated small communities that were able to survive over generations, and even centuries, with very limited resources. I have also had a long-term interest in fine art and fine crafts partly in thanks to Prof. Clemens Sommer, professor of Art History at UNC Chapel Hill. He had a saying that always stuck with me: Art is a product of the culture.

When I got to St. John I realized how important basketry had been to this very small, 19½ square-mile isolated island. They were known for the fine quality baskets they produced for generations. I was fascinated by the baskets and their history. Not only were the baskets sold on the other Virgin Islands and throughout the Caribbean, they were exhibited and sold in the United States and Europe from the late 1890s and into the 20th century. That is quite an accomplishment when you realize that at the time the movement between islands was by boat under sail, and to the States and to Europe on steamboats.

It didn’t take long before I met and became friends with the Island’s premier basketmaker-teacher, Mr. Herman Prince. When I told him of my interest in writing about St. John basketry, he said, “You can’t write about them without learning how to make them.” I took him up on his suggestion and took his course. Boy, was he right. Not only did I learn how to make the baskets, I learned about the skills required and the culture that gave rise to them.

During my 18 year stay there, I met and worked with many other basketmakers. I helped them showcase and market their baskets and acquired a collection of 25 St. John baskets and related items. One of Mr. Prince’s baskets entitled, “St. John Market Basket” is at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum as part of The Cole-Ware Collection. It is virtually identical to one of his baskets in my collection. I also wrote about “Basketmaking on the Island of St. John” for The Clarion, America’s Folk Art Magazine.

To honor the St. John basketmakers, their baskets and the culture that gave rise to them, I have documented my experience with the St. John basketmakers in this video, entitled, “Baskets from the Island of St. John.” I invite you to take a look at it.

I hope you enjoy it. And I certainly look forward to hearing your response.

Thanks to Grace Camblos Media for video production and editing of this project.

A Memo to Pro-Lifers

Rather than take an adversarial position, those who are Pro-Life could adopt a more proactive approach, one that would advance their cause. Their understanding is that life begins at conception. Consequently, from their perspective any induced abortion constitutes murder and is illegal.

It follows that the first thing to do, is to do everything possible to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, the first step in the Pro-Life agenda would be to promote the use of contraceptives. Make all forms of them available to those women who at this stage in their lives do not want to have a child.

One important way for Pro-Life advocates to accomplish that would be to set up and fund clinics to help women (and men) who do not want to have a child to get whatever form of contraceptive they prefer and to provide the funds necessary to accomplish that objective. In that way, Pro-Lifers would significantly help. Fewer women would be placed in a position where they would choose abortion as their best option.

Since that would not prevent all unwanted pregnancies, the next step would be to provide counseling at the clinics. It would inform pregnant woman about the costs and benefits of various procedures, including one which the clinic provides: to assist her through all stages of the pregnancy and the birth and to make arrangements for the infant’s adoption once it has been successful delivered. All costs, including the support of the woman during the pregnancy, would be covered by the Pro-Life group.

The group’s objective would have been met. Once the child is born it would be placed in a family that wanted it. An induced abortion would not have happened. This Pro-Life approach would have prevented that from happening. Moreover, the pregnant woman would be less likely to be placed in a position where she would consider an abortion as her best option and she would be fully supported during her pregnancy. Along with that she would know that the child would be well taken care of. It has the additional advantage that a family that wanted and would otherwise not have a child, has one. In addition, the Pro-Life advocates were instrumental in making that happen.

It will lead to fewer women who consider abortion as their best option. Moreover, whatever time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) that the anti-abortion advocates commit to the program will further their primary objective. Furthermore, they are less likely to cause resentment and hostility and to alienate others in the process.

Civilians and Assault Rifles: An Economist’s Perspective

Why don’t those who insist on, and benefit from the policies they propose pay for the damage those policies cause?

Let’s begin with assault rifles. Saturday’s devastating attack at an Orlando night club is a classic example: 49 people were killed and some 50 more wounded in attack by a single shooter with an assault rifle — an AR-15 — and a five shot pistol.

It is hard for me to understand the value of anyone having an assault rifle in a civilian setting. I am not challenging the value of owning a pistol for self-protection or a rifle for hunting game or for target and sport shooting. An assault rifle is something else entirely. Yet there are those who are against prohibiting anyone from having one, or placing any restrictions on those who do.

What we saw Saturday, and in the numerous incidents that preceded it, is a civilian using an assault rifle to kill and injure a large number of individuals. The loss is painful to victim’s families, loved ones, friends, the community of which they are a part, and to all of us. Moreover, the community, including those of us who are opposed to allowing anyone outside a military setting to have an assault rifle, must bear the cost of the damage caused to the victims and the injured.

It seems reasonable to me that those who benefit from such policies such as: the manufacturers of the assault rifles, clips and ammunition; the wholesalers and retailers who supply them to the public; the Gun Lobby that promotes that position; and all those in favor of it, should be the ones to pay for any damages.

Those damages include reimbursement for

• The death, pain and suffering of the victims and those, who by their very presence at the time, were affected by the incident

• The first responders; the police, including the costs for the subsequent investigation and prosecution; and any personnel and facilities that provided assistance after the incident

• The hospitals and the medical and support personnel who treated the victims, including those who require follow-up psychological support

• Those who donated blood, including reimbursement for their time

• Any other costs that are the direct result of the shooting incident

None of those costs would have been incurred if the incident had not happened. And it would not have happened in the way it did if the assault rifle and the ammunition were not in the perpetrator’s hands.

Therefore, those who promoted a policy that made the incident possible should take responsibility for it and cover the costs that their position made possible.  The rest of us who are opposed to allowing civilians to have assault rifles should not have to bear those costs.

“In Retirement”

People often ask me, “What have you done in the 30 years since you retired?” My answer is always the same. I tell them that I’m a nominally retired economist.

For the first two years I traveled around the Country in my Ford Aerostar van. I had reconfigured it so I could live in it or out of 5454351244_55150d2b32_oit. During the day the curtains came down so that I wouldn’t miss any of the beautiful scenery much of which was new to me. As an East Coast kid, I was used to seeing the sunrise and the horizon over water. But I had never seen it over land, the spectacular mountains, or the sunset over the ocean. What a majestic experience!

Whenever there was a craft show in the area I’d be there. I gave up on the economics of the health-care system (that’s another long story) and turned to the Economics of Fine Art and Fine Craft. I specialized in the study of the high-end craft market from an economist’s perspective. Among others, I attended the Baltimore American Craft Council Show, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, the Smithsonian Craft Show, the New York SOFA show and Wendy Rosen wholesale shows. There I met and became friends with a number of fine craftspersons from all over the country. I studied the market’s characteristics, met and worked with the artists, and lectured on issues that concerned them. They included: ‘Pricing your work’; ‘Choosing your marketing venue’; ‘Functional and aesthetically pleasing vs. solely ornamental’; and ‘Your markets and its submarkets’ .

After two years on the road, I decided it was time to settle down. Initially, I thought I would go back to Chapel Hill. That’s not the way things worked out. I spent part of the two years taking care of my mother. She spent the eleven months before she died at the end of November 1986 in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. (Another long story.) When I wasn’t on the road I lived in her apartment and experienced the hubbub the of the Village.

After her death I needed to get away. I’d been to St. Thomas in the USVI with my ex-wife, many years earlier. (Another long bernieonstjohnstory.) But I had never been to St. John. I decided that it would be the ideal place to go. Never did I know! So my son Paul and I took a trip down there.

St. John turned out to be quiet, peaceful, beautiful, warm, sunny, a tropical island with a saltwater pool they called the ocean. But mostly it was the people, the locals, the St. Johnians who I really liked. They were so friendly, so accepting, so welcoming.
On the boat back to St. Thomas to catch the flight up to the States, I turned to Paul. Before I could say a word he said, “Yes, I know Dad.” Six months later I moved to St. John and never expected to leave. For the 18 years I lived there, every time I took the ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay I felt like I was going home. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of my story.

Even as a teenager, when we moved from Queens in New York City to Wonderful Western North Carolina, I was fascinated by relatively isolated communities. I called them ‘island communities’. For me it opened up the question, How were they able to survive, often over generations, given the limited resources that were available and with little contact with the outside world? What was their way of life?  What could we learn from them?

Initially I decided to work on a project I called “The Living History of the Caribbean”.documenting the people, their culture and their crafts and products. During earlier times they made a number of important items locally. They included the boats, dwellings, stonewalls, fish pots, baskets and musical instruments. All were made from local materials using simple tools and their fine skills that they developed over generations.  My intention was to find the skillholders who were still around that knew how to produce them. I wanted them to produce the product so I could document and preserve the techniques of production; showcase the quality of their work; and show how their products contributed to the local economy. That way the process would be preserved for future generations. Once the skillholders were gone their process would be lost with them.

Mr. Herman Prince's, St. John Market Basket.
Mr. Herman Prince’s, St. John Market Basket.

As a starter, after I settled there and developed a friendship with Mr. Herman Prince, St John’s premier basketmaker-teacher, I decided to study St. John baskets.  He said that I couldn’t write about them until I learned how to make them. So taking his advice, I took his class. Not only did I learn how to make the baskets, I learned about the St. John history and culture that made them possible. It led to the article I published in The Clarion: America’s Folk Art Magazine, published by The Museum of American Folk Art entitled, “Basketmaking on the Island of St. John” (Summer, 1990, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 52-59) In it you can see a picture of Mr. Prince. You can also see an image of his fine handiwork in A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets by Nicholas R. Bell (p. 144). His basket is now part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection.

Along the way, I put together a collection of 25 baskets. Included are some exceptionally fine baskets made by Mr. Prince, Capt. Victor Sewer and Ms. Louise Sewer. Their other baskets  are more elaborate than Mr. Prince’s St. John Market Basket in the Smithsonian collection. My hope is to create a video that documents the collection and honors the baskets and their basketmakers, all of whom have since died.

Bernie and his good friend, Mr. Guy H. Benjamin (Benji), who he met while living in the USVI.
Bernie and his good friend, Mr. Guy H. Benjamin (Benji), who he met while living in the USVI.

Working with the elders revealed that an independent, self-sufficient  free black community had existed on St. John’s East End from the late 1700s. That was 50 years before emancipation! It also led to my twenty-five year friendship with Guy H. Benjamin (Benji). He was acknowledged by all as St. John’s elder statesman. Benji and I spent many, many wonderful hours together until his death in at the age of 98 in 2012. We collaborated on a detailed study of the East End community from the 1790s to 1956. 

I promised not to tell you any long stories but I do have to tell you a short one. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. St. John was home. I never intended to leave there. In January 1999 I was in  the “bush” at Cinnamon Bay collecting hoop vine with my friend, Ralph Prince. Ralph has a sideline — basketmaking. For those of you who don’t know, “hoop” is what St. John baskets are made from. We were gathering it for his dad, Herman Prince.

I developed back pain and went to see my chiropractor, Dr. Alex Politis. He didn’t like what he was seeing and suggested that I go to the Clinic — the Myra Keating Smith Clinic. (Be careful Bernie, that’s another long story or two or more, in fact.) The short of it is that Dr. Barrett suspected I was having a heart attack but did not have the enzymes necessary to test for it. So she sent me off to the hospital on St. Thomas. (I had to get in an ambulance, an ambulance boat, then another ambulance before I could get there.) Their conclusion, at about one in the morning, was that I had a liver problem and they sent me home. After taking a taxi to Red Hook, I had to wait for the next ferry to Cruz Bay. It left at six in the morning. The next day I was diaphoretic, so drove myself to the clinic and was sent back to the hospital on St. Thomas. I went through the same routine all over again. This time they put me in intensive care.

I had had a heart attack. When I was released from the hospital, a friend accompanied me to the States. The long story short, at Duke University Hospital I had a CAB4X, a four vessel coronary bypass operation. After recovering I went back to St. John and split my time between there and Chapel Hill for a while. Although I never intended to leave St. John, I eventually decided to move back to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. The health-care was better there. That’s the short version.

Initially, I intended to continue working on the economics of high-end craft. However, based on my recent experience with the health-care system, I decided to resume my study of it. After returning to the States, I met Erin Coyle, an herbalist, massage therapist, wellness counselor and yoga teacher. Those are just some of her talents, as you will see. We found each other, developed a friendship and a fine working relationship.We decided to work together on a book entitled, “The Imperfect Health-Care Market: Making it work for you”, (remember imperfect markets is my specialty). Along the way we put together a website to let people know what we were doing. Check it out — www.imperfecthealthcaremarket.com.

We soon realized, however, that the health-care system was seriously broken. It was in the control of the stakeholders who had manipulated the legislative process to their benefit. Whatever we had to say would not be heard. So rather than waste our time, we went back to each of our true passion — Art. We have just published “The MiniBook: A Guide to Self Care, Volume I”. It is based on sayings that come from my experience and images to go along with them based on hers. It has been well received. There’s more to come. Volumes II-V are on their way!

Erin also convinced me that I should start “blogging”. My first response was “Blog? What’s a blog?” Obviously, I took to the idea and very much enjoy writing posts and getting feedback from my readers. (Thank you, very much.)

That’s how I spent my first 30 years in retirement. If you’re interested in seeing what I am doing now and planning for the next ?? years, check out my blog post entitled, “At 87”.

Some people say to me, “You call this ‘retirement’?” And I say, “Yes, it certainly is.” Do you know why? Because my definition of retirement is doing what I want to, when I want to do it. Retirement has given me the opportunity to take care of myself and it keeps me involved and engaged. I particularly enjoy working with the younger generations, sharing experiences, learning from them and using my training and experience to help them understand and cope with the world, their world. What could be better than that?