Monday, April 24, 2017

Memories of My Dad

Jack Crumb 1924-2017

Remarks at memorial service for Jack Crumb, April 22, at First Baptist Church, Interlaken, NY

As many of you may know, my father didn’t much like Democrats—but he managed to tolerate his John Kerry-buddy-Al Gorish-Obama-supporting-Hillary-uggh-voting oldest son. My Dad had very strong beliefs—until confronted by confounding facts. He loved American cars—Fords, Chevvies, Hudsons, you name it, he loved tinkering with it—until he discovered Toyotas. He didn’t much like Japan, having served in World War II, but he loved Toyota’s cars.

My father was a complicated man. He didn’t attend college, but he filled our house with books. And he seemed to have read them all—plus piles of magazines, newspapers, tourist brochures, and maps. My Dad had a map for virtually every state, and every county in upstate New York—in many cases, maps going back to the 1930s, when his father was a highway engineer and state parks engineer. On one old map, Dad noted the route he and his brother Ed took in riding their bikes from Jacksonville around Seneca Lake and back home—in time for supper, if I recall the story right.

My Dad also liked to collect calendars with photos of airplanes, cars, waterfalls, covered bridges, flowers, wildlife. He also liked to collect old tools, old license plates, old bicycles, and anything else that caught his eye at a lawn sale.

From the time he was a kid, Jack loved to drive cars. In “retirement,” he drove cars for Maguire and other car dealerships—cars that needed to be taken for trade to other dealerships across New York state, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New England.

Many of us here may recall the time my Dad said “let’s go for a drive”—and, as he narrated the history of everything of interest we passed, we’d end up at Niagara Falls, or Oswego on Lake Ontario, or Harris Hill, “the soaring capital of America,” where gliders swooped over the magnificent terrain near the Pennsylvania border.

As everyone knows, my Dad loved to tell stories. No doubt, you have at least one favorite story you heard him tell.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Saving the Earth is Up to Us

Sign at Sierra Club rally in support of  environmental protection
outside EPA labs in Edison, NJ (photo/Jan Barry)

The new administration in Washington is determined to roll back environmental protection regulations and dismisses global climate change as a hoax. As a nation poisoned by industrial pollution, we’ve been there before.  But more people today have the means to learn what they can do about it. There are good models of effective civic actions all over this country.

A group of residents in a rural corner of New Jersey organized a campaign that saved a large wetland area called the Great Swamp from being paved over for a proposed airport, before there was an environmental protection agency.  A larger group of residents in towns along the New York-New Jersey border waged a campaign that saved Sterling Forest, a headwaters area for drinking water for millions of people, from being paved over to create a new city. An even larger coalition of civic groups waged a campaign that transformed the Hudson River from an industrial and municipal sewer into a much cleaner estuary.

Those are three examples I highlighted in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, a book published in 2000 based on my newspaper reporting on effective civic actions. Back in the day, federal environmental protection laws such as the clean water act were enacted because of a nationwide campaign that turned out 20 million people on the first Earth Day in 1970. And that was done the old-fashioned way, before the Internet or cell phones. What is needed now is a sustained campaign to focus what people can do working together to be as meaningful as that first Earth Day event.

Recently, a statewide coalition convinced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban hydraulic fracking for oil and gas to protect New York City’s water supply streams and reservoirs in the Catskills and water supply aquifers across the state. In Philadelphia, PA a citywide coalition named Green Justice Philly convinced Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to back a plan for a greener expansion of port facilities, rather than a gas fracking company’s proposed project.

On the West Coast, San Diego, California, is implementing a plan to dramatically reduce greenhouse gasses by shifting to renewable energy.  This is a result of the work of a diverse coalition of elected officials, business leaders, labor unions, environmental, social justice and community organizations. San Diego’s Climate Action Campaign reports on its website that it is now “engaged with thirteen other municipalities in San Diego and Orange Counties to develop and pass similarly transformative plans.” 

At a Sierra Club rally outside Environmental Protection Agency labs in Edison, NJ a few days ago, commercial tractor trailer truck drivers repeatedly honked in support of signs such as “Global Warming Is Real It’s 70 Degrees in February” and “EPA is for Environmental Protection, not Corporate.”  Among the signs brandished by a vocal crowd of citizen activists was US Representative Frank Pallone and state and local elected officials. “We need to protect Americans’ fundamental right to clean air, clean water and a safe environment to raise their families,” Pallone said. “I am proud to stand with the Sierra Club and committed citizens against President Trump’s dangerous environmental policies.”  It was a scene that has flared up and fired up people for years in New Jersey, where civic campaigns have forced cleanups of toxic sites and saved large swathes of the state from destructive development.

For more information:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Heart of the Finger Lakes

Taughannock Falls, Fall 2016   (photo/Jan Barry)

Communities across the scenic landscape of central New York state lay claim to being "the heart of the Finger Lakes." I grew up in one among many. Glancing through photos I snapped during a visit home last fall, my niece Melissa Baldwin Pennington discovered that my digital camera had recorded the very spot: Taughannock Falls, framed in a ❤ shaped phenomenon created by autumn leaves.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In Memorium, Jack Crumb

Jack Crumb with my mother Virginia and me, summer 2016

My father died the day before my 74th birthday. He was 92. In the obituary it notes that he was married to my mother for more than 74 years. There was no fuzzy math in those days: They were 17, as my mother proudly confirmed on Facebook, when they got married in 1942. I came along not long after. After months of uneasily assisting the hospice care under the guidance of compassionate and very competent home health aides, hospice nurses, social workers and volunteers—in rotation with my sister Eda and her family and under my mother’s wary watch—I was fated, it seems, to be there at the end. And then I went to work doing what I know how to do. First, from newspaper days, writing an obituary. And then, from my poetry musings, a poem.

John H. "Jack" Crumb

INTERLAKEN– John H. "Jack" Crumb died on Wednesday (January 25, 2017) at home in Interlaken, after a long battle with cancer.
A memorial service is being planned for the spring to honor his life.
US Navy veteran of World War II, Jack was 92 and loved to talk about cars, road trips and history. Born in Seneca Falls, N.Y. on November 14, 1924, Jack grew up in Jacksonville, N.Y. and graduated from Trumansburg High School. He was married for more than 74 years to Virginia Graham Crumb. An automobile mechanic, Jack enjoyed fixing up pre-owned cars for friends and family members. In "retirement," he drove cars for Ithaca area dealerships that were being transferred for trades or auction. A veteran of Navy aviation ordinance assignments stateside, he enjoyed attending air shows and visits to the former Sampson Naval Training Station grounds at Sampson State Park in Romulus.
Survivors include sisters Anne Crumb of Amarillo, Texas, and Carolyn Margeson of Israel; a son, Jan Barry Crumb of Teaneck, N.J.; daughters Janet Case of Spokane, Wash., and Eda (Jonathan) Baldwin of Rome, N.Y.; ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Jack was predeceased by a son, Ted; his parents, and brothers Edwin and Damon. 
For additional information, please contact Covert Funeral Home at 1-877-828-3411 or visit

Death Watch

A girl in one of my college classes
Came to school zonked like a zombie—
She’d been designated by the family, she said
In a soul-wrenched whisper, to sit nights
With a dying relative.
I sat nights with my father as he lay dying
In a hospital bed set in the living room—
In rotation with home health aides,
Changing his diapers, spooning him
Slivers of ice cream and popsicles for water—
And toward the end, when he’d cry out,
Shattering a restless slumber, administering
Hits of morphine from the hospice kit.
Doctor said he had six months to live,
So planning ahead to when he couldn’t get around
He signed up for hospice, in mid-October—
He died early in the morning on January 25.
I walk around like a zombie, trying to do the math.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Be a Peacemaker

Vietnam vet Frank Wagner protesting war in Iraq
for umpteenth year  (photo/Jan Barry)

Sorry, Bob Dylan, but the times are not a-changing very much. With the US military still engaged in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in a seemingly endless war on “radical Islamic terrorism,” consider where we were in world affairs back in the days of the previous Republican regime in Washington. Here’s the dilemma for progressives that I outlined in a talk at the Unitarian Church of Montclair, NJ on October 24, 2004.

Remember the famous military recruiting poster where Uncle Sam sternly points his finger and says “I want you!” Imagine a new updated version in which Uncle Sam says “I want you…to be a peacemaker!”

Wouldn’t that be something. Well, I’m not Uncle Sam—but I am here to ask you to join a life-and-death campaign, to reach out across the battle lines, here at home and overseas, and be a peacemaker. On this beautiful Sunday morning, America is at war, as our national leaders repeatedly remind us. Peacemaking has practically disappeared from the national radar screen and our television screens. Yes, our religious traditions proclaim “blessed are the peacemakers.” But our radio and television talk show hosts, who set the tone for national discourse, dismiss peace talk as unpatriotic, wishy-washy liberal folly. Calls to get tougher militarily have risen to such a pitch that the leading candidates for leading this country sound like rival boot camp drill instructors

War is in the saddle and riding relentlessly with the other three horsemen of apocalypse. Whatever the outcome of our presidential election, the war in Iraq will still be booming the next day. War between Israelis and Palestinians will still be exploding. Russians and Chechens will still be killing each other. Pakistan and India will still be rattling nuclear weapons at each other. Civil wars in Africa will still be destroying entire societies.

And here at home, there is a virtual civil war between patriots who support the war in Iraq and patriots who oppose the war in Iraq. Furious battles have erupted between veterans refighting the Vietnam war. One of the most startling scenes last week was a wire service photo of a burly man in Pennsylvania grabbing another burly man by the throat. “Both men Vietnam veterans seem to symbolize a nation bitterly divided over war,” the photo caption read. It’s a tough time to be a peacemaker.

When was it ever a good time? Twenty years ago, when this church was dedicated as a peace site, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a Cold War death-grip. Each side had thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at each other’s cities, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice. There were simmering tensions over a Soviet jet shooting down a Korean airliner whose casualty list included a US congressman, over US moves to put a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe aimed at Moscow, over rumors and reports of spies amidst us and plots against us, over our president calling the Soviet Union the evil empire. We lived each day minutes away from potential doomsday.

This church, with other institutions in Montclair, played an historic role in helping to change that. Some of you may remember the Soviet visitors who spoke at a public meeting here in Fletcher Hall in 1987. Outside on Church Street there was a picket line of angry anticommunists, who shouted that talking with the enemy was traitorous. Where is the John Birch Society these days, any way? The citizen diplomacy campaign that arose in communities across America and the Soviet Union successfully defused the emotional landmines of the Cold War.

How’d they do that? By reaching out to people here to work together to reach out to people over there to work together to prevent nuclear war. In Montclair, peace sites were dedicated at the Religious Society of Friends, the YWCA, Glenfield Middle School, the New Jersey SANE (now Peace Action) headquarters, and at this church as symbolic and practical centers for instituting nonviolent conflict resolution. Hundreds of peace sites were dedicated across the United States and in other countries, hosting an astonishing array of activities.

Most effectively, Montclair’s peace sites helped launch a US-USSR Bridges for Peace citizen exchange project that sent a town council member, BJ Ricker, and me, representing the Essex County Office on Peace, in a New Jersey delegation to the Soviet Union in September 1986. The exchange visit in March 1987 by Soviet citizens, who were hosted by community groups from Bergen County to Cape May, sparked an amazing transformation in attitudes, which led to more exchanges. Montclair gained a sister city in Russia, Cherepovets. So many personal friendships and professional relationships grew from those citizen exchanges that we could fill this hall if there were a reunion.

So many exchange visits sprang up in so many communities between American and Soviet citizens—students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, war veterans, artists, athletes, religious groups, women’s groups, business groups, it literally thawed the Cold War era. The US State Department called the work done by the citizens’ campaign “track II diplomacy.” The head of the US Information Agency personally thanked leaders of that citizen diplomacy campaign for opening the door for President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev to meet in Moscow in 1988 and officially end the hostilities that had divided the world into warring camps for most of my life.

Counter-Productive Campaign

Now we are facing another division of the world, into us vs. Islamic terrorists, a virtually holy war that Pentagon officials have predicted might last 30 years. One of our military leaders during the Cold War, General Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander, argues that we indeed need to prepare for a long engagement, but he maintains that our government is waging a counter-productive, ill-conceived campaign in Iraq based on a distorted view of the causes of the demise of the Soviet Union.

“This dream of engineering events in the Middle East to follow those of the Soviet Union has led to an almost unprecedented geostrategic blunder,” General Clark wrote in a recent article in Washington Monthly. “One crucial reason things went wrong, I believe, is that the neoconservatives misunderstood how and why the Soviet Union fell and what the West did to contribute to that fall. They radically overestimated the role of military assertiveness while underestimating the value of other, subtler measures. … The truth is this: It took four decades of patient engagement to bring down the Iron Curtain, and 10 years of deft diplomacy to turn chaotic, post-Soviet states into stable, pro-Western democracies. To achieve the same in the Middle East will require similar engagement, patience, and luck.”

Among the diplomatic actions General Clark is calling for are “broader, deeper relationships with Muslim countries through student and cultural exchange programs and organizational business development.” General Clark, meet Hassan Fahmy, a borough councilman in Prospect Park in Passaic County. Since 9/11, Fahmy, who grew up in Egypt, has been working to develop sister city ties between communities in New Jersey and the Middle East. In a recent letter to the editor in the Herald News, Fahmy wrote: “Let us respect each other as human beings. God created us not to kill each other, but to love and to cherish and to help each other in this disadvantaged world. Tolerance cries out to be heard.”

Here, I believe, is the solution to the vicious cycles of violence convulsing the Middle East that have spilled into America: teaching and sharing tolerance of people with different faiths and ways of life. One way to bolster tolerance is to bring disputing parties to live for awhile in New Jersey. We have people from all over the world living side by side in this state. We have a vibrant history of outreach to other parts of the world via student exchanges, cultural exchanges, and international business relationships. And, for good measure, this is where peace sites grew from an idea proposed by a concerned citizen, Lou Kousin of Cranford, into an international network of community centers for fostering peaceful solutions.

So consider the state of the world today and what you would like to leave as a legacy. With war being waged in our name, with the spiral of violence growing more horrendous with each tit-for-tat military maneuver, what better time than now to be a peacemaker.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Carl Douglas Rogers, RIP

Carl Douglas Rogers, cancer survivor, June 2015

My friend Carl died over the weekend at home in Los Angeles from cancer. We first met as ex-GIs protesting the war in Vietnam. As a chaplain’s assistant, Carl Douglas Rogers didn’t engage in combat in the war, but he spent the rest of his life fighting for many good causes.

As noted in The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, “Upon his return to the United States, Rogers went straight to the peace movement: ‘I wanted to do whatever I could to end this war.’ ... ‘Rogers, who could step tomorrow into a Wheaties ad (he wears a crew-cut and teaches Sunday school at New York’s Presbyterian Church) has been in the news since his return from Vietnam,’ observed Commonweal magazine in 1967. He marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and became the subject of feature stories in the New York Post, the New York Times Sunday Times Magazine, Redbook, and Eye, a magazine oriented toward the nation’s youth.”

Helping launch VVAW shortly after arriving in New York City from his hometown of Chardon, Ohio to hold a press conference announcing his dissent as a veteran against the war, Carl dove into the peace movement, doing publicity work for Negotiations Now, working with Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, founding Vietnam Veterans for McCarthy and serving on Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign staff, and organizing GI-Servicemen’s Link to Peace, which provided support for antiwar GI coffee houses set up near military bases.

In later years, he helped organize events in support of numerous causes in California. When he was diagnosed 23 years ago with kidney cancer, which later spread to other organs, he became a cancer patient activist.

“I fought for life over cancer and ended up better off because of it,” Carl stated in a profile in New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors, published last year. “As a patient advocate, I’ve been honored to serve for several years now on a National Cancer Institute editorial board dealing with complementary and alternative medicine.”

At a reunion in Chicago in 2007 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of VVAW’s founding, Carl greeted the gathering with exuberant tales of the early days of organizing vets to protest the war we served in. In the 40th anniversary booklet, Carl recalled the April 1971 morning when hundreds of Vietnam vets threw their war medals onto the front steps of the U.S. Capitol in protest of the war that never seemed to end. “The words and emotions that poured out were the most poignant and angry words I had ever heard in opposition to that dirty stinkin’ rotten little war… I walked away from that moment in tears, but never more proud to have been a part of the founding group of brothers who created VVAW.”

During a walk through Grant Park near the VVAW reunion site at Roosevelt University, Carl was still outraged as he recalled when Chicago police officers stormed through the area in August 1968 beating bystanders with batons, as well as antiwar protesters, journalists and staff members of Senator McCarthy, who was seeking the Democratic Party convention’s nomination for president.

And in quieter moments, Carl implored me and other now-aging vets to get regular checkups for any signs of prostate cancer. He didn’t dwell on his cancer treatments, but his voice conveyed a sense of urgency.

In December 2014, Carl and his wife Debrah visited New York to see old friends while he could still get around. His cancer prognosis was grim. Even so, he was full of cheer to be back in Manhattan strolling streets in the Big Apple where we had run around together back in the day.

When I visited Carl in LA in June 2015, he was full of enthusiastic plans for the future. Another round of cancer treatment seemed to be granting him some more time. Despite his health problems, he cheerfully led the way down a steep path to one of his favorite beaches below a headland south of LA. “Let’s go to Vietnam to commemorate VVAW’s 50th anniversary!” he said. That would be in June 2017.

It was a wildly improbable, compelling vision. He had me thinking about making the trip. So when my cell phone rang on Sunday and I saw his name pop up, I thought he’s calling to tell me it’s time to start getting ready to go back to Vietnam. And then I heard Debrah’s voice.

Carl’s gone. But he sent me a message. I’m thinking about it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Education Wars

Public education in the US is and has long been a costly political and social battleground. Now a Connecticut judge has ruled that state’s public school funding system is so flawed as to be unconstitutional and the warring parties need to start over. Across the nation, state and local governments fiercely wage budget battles over what education to provide multitudes of students who never seem to match up to hotly debated national standards.

Back in the day, when America was presumably at the peak of greatness, public school was a life lesson in sink or swim. If a boy or girl didn’t measure up by the time they were 16, they were unceremoniously pushed out into the world. Earlier generations often didn’t get into high school. My grandfather Alfred, around 1912, left school after the 8th grade to work on the family farm.

Yet he got a good education for an era when knowing how to handle horses and wagons, planting and harvesting were essential skills. His country schoolhouse teachers instilled a sturdy foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic—and a life-long sense of curiosity and civic duty. An early Boy Scout leader, he worked as a machinist and as a building custodian at Cornell University and was elected president of the local school board.

Before the 19th century American experiment in providing primary schools for farmers and workers’ children, there was the British version of schooling, which educated only the sons of the elite. Back in the time of Shakespeare and such, education was a rough and tumble sport.

“The cane cuts as precisely as the Latin declensions. I do not, will not, cry out,” wrote John Aubrey, a polished product of the 17th century British system, as recounted in a recently published book about his life and times. “Hic, haec, hoc: more brutal blows, less precisely aimed, but still the same rhythm. It is the grammar and rhetoric of violence.”

The American version in the 20th century was administered in military boot camp or military prep schools—where teenage boys who were too rambunctious were herded by judges, school administrators and families. It was a system, designed to quickly train and field an army in World War I, widely acclaimed to make boys into men.

I’m a product of that system, volunteering for Army duty at 19, when college proved too boring. In basic training, I encountered a fascinating assortment of high-spirited young men from every part of America, who were uniformly bulled by drill instructors to master the details of close order drill, field marching, rifle shooting, grenade throwing, gas mask fumbling in a closed chamber full of tear gas, and, most of all, unquestioning obedience to orders, in a six-week endurance course to become soldiers.

Bowing to complaints from politicians and parents that far too many American children don’t measure up to the demands of modern times, many school districts have been lured by the military model, turning over the education of American citizenship to ROTC programs run by the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.

Meanwhile, legions of young men and women who served in the US military during America’s high priority “war on terror,” over the past 15 years, have had a hard time finding decently paid civilian jobs, despite all their military training and war time experience.

Less seldom discussed in the current climate of disparaging the public school system is a model that actually works, without Common Core hype, testing hysteria or coercion.

In a recent cover story titled “Ordinary Families. Extraordinary Kids,” Time Magazine profiled nine families who raised children who’ve excelled in a number of fields, from the arts to public service. The thing that worked: these kids were encouraged by parents and teachers to engage in and learn from the world around them.

“Tan and Maya Lin grew up on a university campus” where they were allowed by their parents “to do practically anything they wanted,” Time reported of the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and her sister, an author of 12 books.

The Lin sisters spent a lot of time playing outdoors, writing poetry and making clay art works in the university ceramics studio; they attended “a high school with an open-module system, which meant that sometimes they went to class only two days a week,” Time noted.

Another common theme in the families profiled by Time: political activism. Many of these parents “were outspoken in their demands for reform in cities, schools and housing complexes…When they weren’t pushing for reform, they were mediating heated political debates at home.”

“If we did not go with her to a particular protest, that protest was brought home,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said of his mother, Marsha. “Just eating dinner was a test of current events.” Another son, Zeke, is a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped draft the Affordable Care Act. Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, said of his father, Daniel, a New York City school-attendance supervisor and civil rights activist: “He respected what you learned in the culture in the street.”