Sunday, May 31, 2015

OXFORD VC: Richardson, First Woman (Updated May 29, 2016)

Louise Richardson (L) with American Friend, St. Andrews, 2013.
Richardson will be Oxford's next CEO (Vice-Chancellor).
After an 800-year unbroken chain of male chief executives, Oxford University has nominated a woman.

Prof. Louise Mary Richardson,  expert on international security and terrorism, will break the gender serenity.

She will be Oxford's first female CEO, i.e., its Vice-Chancellor.

Richardson was born in Tramore, Co. Waterford, Ireland, and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A.), UCLA (M.A.) and Harvard (Ph.D. in Government).

As Principal of St. Andrews University, she is described by a student, commenting on the announcement of her nomination as Oxford's vice-chancellor, as a "kick-ass president" who will be greatly missed.

Previously she was executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. In an interview with The Guardian about her nomination, Richardson said:
I look forward to the day when a woman being appointed isn’t in itself news. Unfortunately, academia like most professions is pyramid-shaped—the higher up you go the fewer women there are.
One of her first priorities as vice-chancellor will be to admit a higher percentage of lower-income students. More than 40 percent of Oxford students attended private schools, and only 45 percent of undergraduates are women. Richardson said:
My parents did not go to college, most of my siblings did not go to college. The trajectory of my life has been made possible by education. So I am utterly committed to others having the same opportunity I have had.
Lord Patten, Oxford's Chancellor, supervised the
process by which the new Vice-Chancellor was selected.
Her appointment, which was overseen by Oxford's Chancellor (since 2003), Lord Patten of Barnes, must be approved by the Oxford Congregation in a balloting procedure that is this case is widely viewed as a formality. Patten said of her:
The panel was deeply impressed by Professor Richardson's strong commitment to the educational and scholarly values which Oxford holds dear. Her distinguished record both as an educational leader and as an outstanding scholar provides an excellent basis for her to lead Oxford in the coming years.

Friday, May 29, 2015

BOAT RACE: Two Boat Books, Idyll v Legal

Quotes about Boats, by someone who has
been boating all her life and sailing all her
married life. Photos by her daughter.
This week in New York I am spending time at the huge BookExpo America (BEA 2015), the largest book-trade show in the United States. It is in New York this year at the Javits Center. Next year it will be in Chicago.

On my travels among the exhibits I picked up two books that provide two entirely different perspectives on boating - one is idyllic and the other legalistic. You might call it a case of Benefits v. Costs, or a case of Opportunities v. Risks.


The first book is Quotes about Boats, Lakes, Seas and the Shore. The photos are by Audrey Sheehan and the quotes and book design are by her mother, artist Sara Booker.

They have been boaters all their lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area. They have produced an attractive, serene book on the joys of boats and sailing. It makes a good book to give to someone who likes boats.

The book is self-published. It has its own exhibit at BookExpo featuring the author - quite unusual for the author-publisher of a single book. Clearly Sara Booker knows that it takes as much effort to promote a book as to write it, and she is persisting. She deserves success.

The 128 quotations are scrupulously cited and acknowledged and copyright notices included in tiny type at the end of the book, something that must have been a major headache for the author and seems in part to have been an afterthought since there is a two-page "Addendum" that consists primarily of 16 lengthy copyright citations for lyrics in the domain of the Hal Leonard Corporation.

The song titles include Come Sail Away, The Downeaster Alexa, I Won't Give Up, Island in the Sun, Sailing, Sail Away, Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay, Under the Boardwalk and Under the Sea.

A representative page of the the book has a sailboat under pink clouds on the top half, titled "Approaching Antigua". Underneath are two poems, one by John Masefield with the first line, "I must go down to the sea again," and the other by Edgar Allan Poe, "Annabel Lee".

One clever quote caught my eye: "A ship is referred to as 'she' because it costs so much to keep her in paint and powder." Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

Booker and Sheehan have done a non-trivial amount of sailing. The locations for the photos are not just the lakes of Michigan and Ohio. They extend from Hawaii to San Francisco, to several Caribbean Islands, to Key West and up the East Coast to Islamadora, Fla., South Carolina and Newport, R.I. I can't help thinking not just of the cost of these travels but also the opportunity cost of the time that must have been invested in them.

The book must have been satisfying to work on, a record of an enviable life, and it provides glimpses of the best moments of a sailor's life as well as morsels of intellectual nourishment.

One of the American Bar Association's
 entries into publications for the lay
reader. Highly readable, accessible to
anyone who knows how to read.
I sincerely hope that the results of the BookExpo investment pay for the author's investment in the exhibit and her time. The book is luxuriously put together and sells for $17.95, which seems about right given that experts at BookExpo warn newbies that nowadays books have to be priced high enough that after inevitable discounting the publisher can still make money.


Putting the Booker-Sheehan book aside and opening Cecil Kuhne III's The Little Book of Boating Law is like being woken from a wet dream by an alarm clock (or, worse, a bugle).

The book has 16 chapters, each of which begins - like the opening of a standard detective story - with a boating disaster.

The whole book starts with an acerbic quote from Samuel Johnson:
No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in jail, with the possibility of being drowned. A man in jail has more room, better food, and usually better company.
As fodder for the imagination, here are some of the topics covered in the book - a woman suffers permanent damage to her thumb, a boat capsizes, a man falls overboard, alcohol fuels risky behavior, a youthful boat driver ignores warnings, an owner engages in "negligent entrustment", the owner is charged with failure to warn passengers, a "sneaker wave" causes injury, the Coast Guard intervenes, a boater infringes trademarks, a boater doesn't alert a swimmer, boat is damaged, passengers assume  risk, motorboats violate prohibitions, inner tubing is perilous, the law finds fault, oil spill is illegal, a party pontoon (barge) is risky, boaters release liability, and jet skis are (guess what?) a vessel.

The book is full of sardonic humor, especially in the summations of the courts' decisions at the end of each chapter:
  • Two passengers on a boat sued the owner because they were injured by a "sneaker wave". The captain said "Hang on!" before the wave hit, and the court decided this was sufficient, i.e., he was not negligent. In other words, the author concludes, "when it comes to the dreaded sneaker wave - you are completely, undeniably, and irretrievably on your own."
  • A whitewater rafter sued Grand Canyon Dories for injuries she suffered in the raft, arguing that the raft was insufficiently padded. The court concluded that the rafts were standard and that "It is the thrill of challenging nature and running the rapids without mishap which gives the sport its distinct allure and sets it apart from, for example, a trip down a giant slide at Waterworld." The writer concludes: "The court recognized the significant distinction between one of the wildest rivers in the world and the log ride at the local amusement park."
  • A ski boat collided with a "party pontoon" at night on a lake in Arkansas. The pontoon owner sued the ski boat owner over the damage to the pontoon. No dice. The author recommends that the pontoon owner consider partying on a boat "in the - much safer - light of day."
  • A 13-year-old young man (many of the cases result from inadequately informed, or intoxicated, or bikini-distracted young men operating boats) crashed his rented jet ski into a fishing boat. A law is on the books limiting the liability of a vessel owner to the value of another person's  vessel and its freight when the vessel owner is unaware of the use to which the vessel is being put. The plaintiff argued that the jet ski is a pleasure craft and not a vessel and therefore has no limitation on liability. The court on appeal said no, it is a vessel. "The lowly jet ski - a seven-foot-long peashooter - was now a boat on par with the big boys."
Reading these two books together, the bottom line is: 
  1. If you haven't enjoyed the pleasures of sailing, put that on your bucket list or buy the Booker-Sheehan book as the next best thing. As the back of the book says, "a bad day on the water is infinitely better than a good day at work."
  2. Before you go boating or sailing, and especially before you buy a boat, check out the price tag not only of the initial acquisition but the cost in time and money of maintenance and unscheduled events. If you are unaware of the costs and risks of boating and sailing, experience can be an expensive way to find out. At $19.95, Kuhne's book is an inexpensive inoculation against nasty surprises. Not since Adam and Eve were evicted from paradise has heaven on earth been free of care.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

AMERICAN OXONIANS: The First 3 Wannabes (Updated Dec. 22, 2015)

Sir Walter Raleigh, first of the settlers. Born in East
Devon, England.
On May 14, 1607 English settlers with the London Company landed at what came to known as Jamestown, Virginia. It was named after James I of England. 

It was the first enduring English settlement in the New World. But it was not the first.

Sir Francis Drake was the first to voyage from England to the New World, but he never intended to colonize America, only to explore it.

A sailor from Devon and Cornwall in the southwestern corner of England, where pirates roamed and Cornish was spoken, Drake and his relative John Hawkins brought back valuable navigational and mapping information. Drake's work made possible the successes of the first settlers, many of them his relatives.

First Expeditions by Oxonians Raleigh, Gilbert and Harriot in 1578 and 1584

Three Oxonians–two of them related to Drake–tried to colonize America before the Jamestown Settlement. Their motive was not curiosity or a search for religious freedom. It was rather what I call the Oxford model–entrepreneurs seeking to serve the British Crown while creating wealth for their family through land development. The Oxford model was the pattern for most of the colonial American settlements south of what is now New York State. 

The Cambridge model was driven not by love of the Crown or eagerness to serve its imperial urges or even a wish to own land.They were driven by a wish to practice their nonconforming religion without the worry that their religion would be viewed as treasonous and therefore punishable by death . The Cambridge model was the typical source of settlers in New England. (The cases of Maryland and Pennsylvania were mixed because they involved a search for religious freedom by Catholics and Quakers as well as being blessed with large grants of land from the Crown.)

Explorations by Raleigh (with Gilbert and then Harriot)

1578. About 30 years before Jamestown, two Oxonians started the explorations that led to the enduring English settlements. The two men, half-brothers, both born in Devon, England, set off in 1578 to explore the New World. They were Sir Walter Raleigh (Oriel College, Oxford) and Sir Humphrey Gilbert (Eton and Oxford, probably also Oriel College). They brought back useful information.
1584. Six years later and more than 20 years before Jamestown, two Oxonians worked on an expedition to settle the New World–Sir Walter Raleigh and Thomas Harriot (St. Mary's College, Oxford - a now defunct college on Oriel land). Raleigh also hired a Cambridge man, another relative, Sir Richard Grenville. 
Raleigh's first settlement posse disembarked at Roanoke Island on July 4, 1584. Members of his expedition were trained in navigational skills by Thomas Harriot, who entered Raleigh's employment in the early 1580s, soon after coming down from Oxford. The Cambridge man involved was another Devon man and cousin of Raleigh, Sir Richard Grenville. 
1585. Raleigh sent Sir Richard Grenville off on a second expedition with five ships that left from Plymouth on April 9, 1585. During an initial exploration of the mainland coast, a sterling silver cup was lost and the Europeans blamed natives of the village of Aquascogoc for stealing it. The settlers responded by sacking and burning the village as punishment. This proved, we shall see, to be unwise.

Grenville decided to leave Ralph Lane and 107 other men to establish a colony at the north end of Roanoke Island. These men disembarked on August 17, 1585 and built a small fort on the island. Grenville promised to return in April 1586 with more men and fresh supplies. 

1586. April 1586 passed without any sign of Grenville's relief fleet. Meanwhile in June, bad blood from the colonists' destruction of the village of the natives spurred their attack on the fort, which the colonists repelled. Soon after, Sir Francis Drake paused on his way home from a successful raid in the Caribbean. He took the colonists, including the metallurgist Joachim Gans, back to England. The Roanoke colonists brought back to England tobacco, maize, and potatoes.

Grenville's relief fleet arrived shortly after Drake's departure.  Finding the colony abandoned, Grenville returned to England with the bulk of his force, leaving behind a small detachment to maintain an English presence and to protect Raleigh's claim to Roanoke Island.

1587. Raleigh then dispatched a new group of 115 colonists to establish a colony on Chesapeake Bay. They were led by John White, an artist and friend of Raleigh who had accompanied the previous expeditions to Roanoke. Thomas Harriot eventually sailed to Roanoke with the second group of settlers, where his skills as a naturalist became particularly important. White was later appointed Governor.

Raleigh named 12 assistants to aid in the settlement and sent them to Roanoke to check on the settlers. When they arrived on July 22, 1587, they found nothing except a skeleton. The fleet's commander, Simon Fernandez, refused to let the colonists return to the ships, insisting they stay to establish the new colony on Roanoke. Shortly thereafter, colonist George Howe was killed by a native while he was by himself  searching for crabs in Albemarle Sound.

Fearing for their lives, the colonists persuaded Governor White to return to England to explain the colony's desperate situation and ask for help. Left behind were about 115 colonists – the remaining men and women who had made the Atlantic crossing plus White's newly born granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas. White sailed for England in late 1587. Plans for a relief fleet were delayed by the captain's refusal to return during the winter, and then the coming of the Spanish Armada and the subsequent Anglo-Spanish War for which every ship was commandeered. 

1588. In the spring of 1588, White managed to hire two small vessels and sailed for Roanoke.  But the captains of the ships attempted to capture several Spanish ships and instead were themselves captured and plundered. With nothing left to deliver to the colonists, the ships returned to England.

1590. White was unable to mount another resupply attempt for three more years. Finally, he gained passage on a privateering expedition that agreed to stop off at Roanoke on the way back from the Caribbean. He landed on August 18, 1590, on his granddaughter Virginia's third birthday, but found no trace of the 118 settlers... and no sign of any struggle.


Raleigh: Raleigh Trevelyan, Sir Walter Raleigh (2004).

AMERICAN OXONIAN: May 20–W. H. Auden Naturalized

W.H. Auden, 1907-73
On this day in 1946, W[ystan] H[ugh] Auden became a U.S. citizen. He was born in York, England, on February 21, 1907. Auden began writing poetry in Gresham's School and had his first poem published in a collection called Public School Verse when he was 17.

He went up to Christ Church, Oxford, and made friends with other writers, including Cecil Day-Lewis, Stephen Spender and novelist Christopher Isherwood. As a young man he was influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost, William Blake, Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins. He also liked Old English verse.

In 1928, the year he graduated from Oxford, his first collection, Poems was printed by his friend Stephen, the last of the Big Spenders. Two years later, another (different) collection called Poems was published, establishing Auden as a voice of England's youngest writers. He was a virtuoso of writing in different poetic styles and often mimicked the writing styles of other poets such as Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and Henry James.

Auden spent a year in Berlin, then for five years taught in Scotland and England and worked for a government film bureau. He also visited Iceland and China. In the 1930s, Auden embraced leftist causes and went to Spain intending to drive an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War. However, he was shocked by the destruction of Roman Catholic churches and returned to England.

In 1935, he married Thomas Mann’s daughter Erika to help her escape Nazi Germany. In 1936, he published On This Island. In 1939, he moved to the United States, and his work became less political as he turned to Christianity, reading theologians Søren Aabye Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr and in 1940 rejoining the Episcopal Church.

In 1940-41, he shared a house in New York with the writer Carson McCullers and the composer Benjamin Britten, writing Another Time (1940) and The Double Man (1941). He met Chester Kallman, his lover for two years, to whom Auden dedicated two of his poetry collections.

He volunteered to serve in the British Army when war broke out, but was told that 32 made him too old. He taught English at the University of Michigan, was drafted into the U.S. Army but was dismissed on medical grounds. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942-43 but decided not to use it. Instead, he spent the war years 1942-45 teaching at Swarthmore.

He visited Germany after the war to study the effects of the Allied bombing on German morale, came back to New York City and worked as a freelance writer while lecturing at The New School and occasionally at Bennington and Smith.

In 1948, Auden won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Anxiety (1947), a poem about spiritual isolation in contemporary urban settings. He moved in his focus on religion from personal exploration of Protestantism to a study of Roman Catholic ritual, building on the writing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi Lutheran minister who explored the ability of religion to provide relief from human suffering.

Auden was a literary virtuoso, accessing current events, vernacular speech, and many kinds of writing and data. His poems are often in the form of a journey for which he makes use of his own travels. Auden was an essayist and playwright as well as being esteemed as the greatest English poet of the twentieth century.

Auden served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1954 to his death. He divided most of the second half of his life between a residence in New York City and a farm in Austria, staying in Oxford in 1956-60 while serving to as a Professor of Poetry.

He died in Vienna on September 29, 1973. This post draws on information in bios of Auden published by the Writers Almanac (Garrison Keillor) and the Academy of American Poets.


In the 1960s, after his stint at Oxford, Auden had some connection with Harvard. I sat opposite him at a formal Harvard College event in my senior year and my recollection of the table conversation was that it had both the fluency and incoherence of a current-news discussion drowned by too many glasses of sherry. (It was often rumored that the endless flow of Amontillado Sherry at Harvard in 1958-1962 was financed by the Ford Foundation; I have never been able either to confirm or disprove this rumor.)

I did not have any sense that Auden was even vaguely interested in unburdening himself of new personal insights. It was a quite different experience from a lunchtime conversation I had near that time with Quincy House Honorary Fellow (or whatever his title was) Robert Lowell, who spoke to me as if he were kneeling in a confessional box and I – an incredulous undergraduate – was a bishop.

Somewhere I read that Auden and Edna St. Vincent Millay are the only two poets in the 20th Century to have made a living from their poetry. However, when I ask Grandma Google to remind me where I read that, she only provides links to my own prior assertions of it. At any rate, Millay's ability to earn a living from her poetry benefited greatly by her having married businessman Eugen Boissevain, who gave up his business to become her agent and "cruise director". Auden said:
It's a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his [or her] art than he [or she] can by practicing it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Early Reads on the British Election

Who would be a good speaker on this for Oxford Alums? Recommendations so far include Piers Morgan (did not attend Oxford) - Stephen Fisher (Fellow, Politics Tutor at Trinity College Oxford, has been in BBC TV on the elections) - Ian Williams, journalist at the U.N.