Jim Melcher and America’s Perestroika

Jim Melcher at a Boston Area bicycle Coalition rally on Boston Common, 1979. Photo by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Jim Melcher at a Boston Area Bicycle Coalition rally on Boston Common, 1979. Photo by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Jim Melcher was one of my professors at MIT. He was also was a year-round bicycle commuter and in 1977, one of the first 25 members of the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition, In the 1980s, his activism expanded into issues of national economic and military policy.

Jim died of cancer on January 5, 1991, weeks before the outbreak of the first Iraq war. In his final months, he composed a long essay, “America’s Perestroika”, which includes stories that have a familiar ring for any bicycle commuter, a discourse on the role of academics in formulating national policy, and an uncompromisingly straightforward description of political issues as well as his disease.

Jim’s wife, Janet Melcher, gave me permission to publish “America’s Perestroika” on the Internet, and I have made it available on my Web site.

3 responses to “Jim Melcher and America’s Perestroika

  1. Thanks, John. That looks like it will be good reading.

  2. That was a damn good read.

  3. Having just read Professor Melcher’s essays, I am compelled to add a bit of personal history. Jim mentions that the college students of the 1990’s didn’t experience “…those events of 1979 that again revealed that the hand affixed to the energy spigot was the hand that controlled our nation’s destiny..”

    I had just taken up bicycle commuting in 1979 in part due to the gasoline odd/even system that led to long gas lines on the East Coast (as well as price jumps) and in part because graduate studies were taking a toll on my health and seriously augmenting my waistline.

    On a sunny May morning in 1979 as I pedaled my new bicycle to Stony Brook University, I was riding past a long gas line. In a rush to jump into the gas line where a gap had opened due to a stalled car, a motorist darted in front of my bicycle. Being new to bicycling, my response was inadequate and I was flung over the car. The result was a pretty severe concussion that ended my first Ph.D. project, if not my life. I was, for a while, unable to look an equation in the face so I took some time off running a microprobe as a tech and eventually started a second project, which I finished several years later than I anticipated.

    So that 1979 oil embargo not only had a hand on our nation’s destiny, but mine as well. I had fancied myself a geochemical thermodynamicist. I ended up studying the history of the growth of the continents. In part, because I was able to do field work while my brain finished re-wiring itself.

    Khal Spencer

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