This story is complicated, so bear with me.

        I was just a 20 year-old college kid when I got my first real bloody nose – figurative and almost very literal – in the political world.  Welcome to Albany, New York, my hometown (scenic aerial photo above), back in the days of the Democratic machine, party boss Daniel P. O’Connell, and mayor-for-life Erastus Corning. Continue reading “Growing Up in the Last Century– MY FIRST TASTE OF POLITICS: GETTING KICKED OUT OF THE POLLS BY THE ALBANY MACHINE, June 1972”

Growing Up in the Last Century: TEAR-GASSED in WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1970

         I was just 18 years old, a college freshman, on May 4, 1970, when National Guardsmen in Ohio opened fire and killed four student protestors at Kent State University.  Fifty years later, I still remember the looks on peoples’ faces as news of the shootings spread like lightning across my own college campus a thousand miles away at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Continue reading “Growing Up in the Last Century: TEAR-GASSED in WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1970”

Boss Tweed Audiobook : The Images


Audiobooks are heard, not seen, but the story of Boss Tweed is immersed in visual arts: newspaper cartoons, headlines, and charts.   If you just downloaded the audiobook version, read by the excellent Scott Ellis,  here are all the images from the story, laid out by chapter, either to follow while you listen or to enjoy later.  

Continue reading “Boss Tweed Audiobook : The Images”

Thoughts on the Covid-19 Crisis

We are living through a crazy historical time. The whole country literally has shut down almost two full months, schools, offices, gyms, colleges, restaurants, street corners, all closed, all in response to a pandemic disease that so far has in the USA alone had killed over 55,000 and infected nearly a million. No riots, no resistance, not even much grumbling. Continue reading “Thoughts on the Covid-19 Crisis”

Trotsky’s take on the Carnegie Hall anti-war meeting, February 8, 1917, from the original Russian

Trotsky wrote this article after attending a highly-touted rally at Carnegie Hall of groups opposing American entry into World War I, just days after Germany had declared unrestricted submarine warfare against American shipping and President Woodrow Wilson, in response, had severed American diplomatic relations with Germany. Though it doesn’t mention him by name, the article was intended as a slam against Morris Hillquit, leader of the Socialist Party in New York City and the principal speaker at the rally. Continue reading “Trotsky’s take on the Carnegie Hall anti-war meeting, February 8, 1917, from the original Russian”

Coverage of Trotsky’s arrival in New York, from the German and Yiddish press

Trotsky’s ship, the Spanish steamer Montserrat, landed at pier 8 at the bottom tip of Manhattan at about 3am on Sunday, January 14, 1917, a cold winter morning.   Still, the ship’s landing attracted a carnival atmosphere, with at least six newspapers covering the event including the English-language the New York Times, Tribune, and Call.   Continue reading “Coverage of Trotsky’s arrival in New York, from the German and Yiddish press”

Grisha Ziv on Trotsky, 1917, as translated from the original Russian

Trotsky, right, and Ziv, front, circa 1898.
Trotsky, right, Alexandra Sokolovskaya, standing, and Ziv, front, circa 1898.

Of all the people Leon Trotsky met during his 1917 ten-week stay in New York City, few were more personally hostile then Grisha Ziv.  Continue reading “Grisha Ziv on Trotsky, 1917, as translated from the original Russian”

A new Crimean War? Really?

As a historian watching Vladimir Putin’s Russia flout international law to send troops into Crimea – part of the separate country of Ukraine – it is truly hard not to marvel.  Another Crimean War?  Really?  Why would anyone want to repeat that particular horror?
Yes, Putin has reasons for the incursion.  Don’t they always.  Crimea’s coast city of Sevastopol happens to host Russians principal warm water post and Navy base.  And most of the people who live in Crimea actual want the Russians in control.  In a fair plebiscite, they would doubtless vote for joining Putin.  But a new war over Crimea? 
The first Crimean War
In case you forget, the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856 was the premier European bloodbath of the mid-Nineteenth Century.  Over 220,000 Russians died in the contest along with some 300,000-375,000 “allies,” mostly British, French, and Turkish. 
Russian President Vladimir Putin
practicing with loaded weapons. 

But worst of all was the original War’s utter pointlessness.  Started over a pretext – alleged Turkish mistreatment of Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem, which Turkey then controlled – it had more to do with Western fears of Russian expansion than any principled stand to “protect Turkey” – the West’s ultimate excuse to intervene.  

Russia mostly lost the War.  Britain and France finally captured Sevastopol, the Black Sea was de-militarized for a time, but not for long.  Russia soon re-established its Naval base and, by 1914, Britain and France had happily switched sides and embraced Russian as their new ally in preparation for Europe’s next grand and largely pointless bloodbath, World War I.

View from the USA
We Americans happily stayed out of that fight.  We would stage our own grandiose bloodbath Civil War a few years later in the 1860s.  As a result, most Americans have only two clear images of the Crimean War.  
  • One is of Florence Nightingale treating wounded British soldiers. 
  • The other is of Errol Flynn in his 1936 classic The Charge of the Light Brigade (see clip above), playing real-life British officer Lord James Cardigan leading that famous 1854 suicide cavalry mission (yes, it resulted from miscommunication among careless officers) that, through pure courage and pluck, managed to breach Turkish lines before it was forced to immediately retreat.  In real life, almost half the 670 British soldiers involved were lost: 118 dead, 127 wounded, 60 captured. 


Still, Alfred Lord Tennyson immortalized it in his heroic poem.
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

”Forward, the Light Brigade!

“Charge for the guns!” he said:

Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Florence Nightingale leading British nurses in Crimea.

The irony of a new Crimean War in 2014 is hard to miss.  How convenient it would be in its own odd way.  All the historic battlefields are already there and waiting.  Why not simply recycle, and maybe use re-enactors instead of real soldiers?

Hopefully, cooler diplomatic heads will prevail, a formula will emerge for all sides to save face, guaranteeing both independence for the Ukrainian state as well as Russia’s strategic access to Sevastopol.  But if not, what an opportunity it could be for historians – the parallels, the contrasts, the urgent need for TV talking heads.
It’s true what they say:  Never throw away your old notes.