Thursday, November 30, 2023

Rambling on - A Packed 24 hours + - Here's the first 4 hours - UFT Retiree meeting, ICE comes alive, Marianne videos expose Mulgrew

Confused and Inconsequential? – 
a good way to define blogging and my current life.

Trying to write this blog in an organized manner by sticking to one topic has become difficult because there is so much info coming in, just processing and refining it into a comprehensive piece is too much for my scattered thoughts. So I'm just going to start writing until a certain time and just stop when I get distracted. So if this ends in mid-word or mid-sentence, I didn't die - probably.

This blog is 17 years old and as an extension of Ed Notes the newsletter, 25 years old. That's a lot of verbiage.

I was checking back to some of my reporting on the 2014 contract and I did 90 blog posts a month. This month I did 5 and 93 all year. So I decided to not worry about being coherent but just let things fly as they come into my brain, even if I forget most of it. 

ICE is still ALIVE!

Not having James Eterno to piggy back off since his illness in May has been a factor. His reporting on the issues we face was so important. Just before his stroke we had been discussing setting up an ICE meeting and since then I have been frozen in terms of ICE. As we reported, ICE has been in hiatus. His dedication makes it worth trying to keep ICE alive.

ICE did meet on a zoom  recently and it was nice to see people even on a screen. There was some money in the ICE account and we sent a donation to Camille. Keep James in your thoughts:

James Eterno Recovery Fund






It was clear that ICE people liked meeting in person so we are going to try at our favorite diner during the Xmas vacation. Rice pudding for all. If any of you are interested in rice pudding email me.

Thursday, November 30, 2023 - the last day of the hurricane season -- a big relief for us in Rockaway. Friday begins December and I need to get my car inspected -- 11 years old since Sandy hurricane.

I had an interesting 24 hours Tuesday/Wednesday. I took the 12:15 ferry to Wall St for the UFT Retired Teacher Meeting, which began at 3:30. They keep moving the day and time as a moving target to confuse people. And confuse people they did. What next, midnight?

UFT November Retiree meeting - Mulgrew was LIVE! Tom Murphy - Sort of.

There has been some speculation that Murphy has become so unpopular with retirees due to his role in healthcare issue and his undemocratic way of running meetings, that he might be replaced as CL in this spring's elections. At the ExBd, Mike Sill announced Debra Penny was stepping down as UFT Treasurer, an officer position.There were some who speculated she might replace Murphy. But the latest word is that Mulgrew is so paranoid over AmyGate and undercurrents in Unity being pissed at Mulgrew for her removal, he won't risk changing horses in midstream and trusts Murphy to be loyal to him.

That is the major modus operendi inside the UFT at this time, given the AmyGate affair where if you expressed positives about Amy you were moved to Mulgrew's growing shit list. Loyalty not to Unity or the UFT but to Mulgrew. We get sneak attack leaks from inside the fortress - that is exactly what 52 is. No one is storming Mulgrew's office - yet. Watch the body language of key people. 

Retiree Advocate in action

I met my compadres from Retiree Advocate early before the meeting in the back lobby of the UFT where people come early for the meeting and we get to talk to them. Gloria Brandman is like a tiger at organizing and she signed people up for our listserve and recruiting people to run with us in the chapter election in the spring. We are hoping for 300 delegates to the DA - Imagine if we won how that would impact the DA - and if you are retired and interested email me. If we win that would shake up the UFT.

We had a nice leaflet on co-pays – you know those pesky things you pay the doc that our leadership and the city seem to love so much? I love handing out leaflets and talking to people as they come in. I finally went up at 3:30 to get my bagel in a plastic bag and some cream cheese -- I miss the old days of Jeannette Di Lorenzo with humatashin and danish. I think we should make their return a main plank of our platform. Maybe rice pudding too. I didn't take a photo of the bagel in the plastic bag so as not to give you indigestion.

We won in court on co-pays through Marianne's group so far but the city is appealing and the UFT leadership is mum. When questioned at the meeting Mulgrew said co-pays were only meant to be temporary while they figured out ways to screw us in better ways. See the leaflet above.

This meeting Murphy seemed to try to not alienate anyone and made sure to call on 3 RA people - he even mentioned Gloria Brandman for the second question. Bobby Greenberg and Bennett Fischer were also on target with their questions but Mulgrew was ready with his sophistry. (See Marianne videos below for her breakdown of Mulgrew comments.)

I had my hand up too and was surprised when Murphy pointed at me but in the line of sight was former HSVP John Soldini and low and behold the lady with the mic was sitting right there. Does anyone smell a planted question?

I won't get into the details of the meeting because of so much good coverage by Arthur and Marianne.

Arthur actually listened online while my focus was getting the damn bagel out of its plastic bag and spreading the cream cheese without getting it all over my pants.

I have not been retired very long, but I already feel disrespected and stereotyped by UFT Unity bosses. Last month they cut short a meeting, citing a dangerous demonstration that appeared to be a big nothing. This month we were expected to sit through a PowerPoint about telephone scams and such. It’s like they think every single one of us is will fall for those scams, so why shouldn’t they pull one too? Mulgrew seems to suggest if we don’t capitulate and give in to his calls for a corporate health care plan, with Aetna deciding whether or not we get care, we will all be placed into HIP. You see, the city only has to offer one plan. He said it over and over. This is his new talking point, and he adores it.

Arthur broke the meeting down in more detail.

Marianne dives deep with a 4 part video. Mulgrew will probably go off over her having access from one of the 70 thousand retirees. I wonder which of her 20K NYC union fans it was? Imagine an election of Mulgrew vs Marianne. I take Marianne by ten lengths.

Here are the first 2 parts and I will add the next two when they come in.

Mulgrew: I believe in democracy 

Marianne: Laughs out loud.



My time is up to finish this post  - crap - I only covered 4 of my 24 hours. More excitement to come. Look for Marianne's next 2 posts when they come in.

OK - here are links to part 3:

Part 4:

of the mulgrew lies videos:


In other news:

When does the UFT organize a drive to unionize charters in the NYC?

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Worst Deal in NYC Labor History: 2014 + 2018 : MLC Minutes Reveal Mulgrew/Unity Caucus Healthcare Lies

An amazing expose by Arthur Goldstein and Daniel Alicea who got a hold of MLC minutes that prove Mulgrew has been a liar, aided and abetted by his fellow liars, or dupes, in Unity Caucus. 

Even Republicans are getting the point about Medicare advantage while Mulgrew defends it.

'It was stunning': Bipartisan anger aimed at Medicare Advantage care denials - POLITICO

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Barbara Bowen, former President of PSC-CUNY, inquiring about the deal specifics at the May 2014 meeting:

Union leaders of cops and firefighters, evidently endowed with common sense, opposed the billion dollar giveaway in no uncertain terms. Misgivings were expressed about future giveaways.

Was Mulgrew drunk? Asleep? On LSD? Desperate? Have you ever even heard of such awful labor deals? Many unions opposed what Mulgrew started. Alas, in MLC they are dwarfed by the combination of UFT and DC37, who constitute two thirds of the MLC’s weighted vote. Our extraordinary lack of vision means not only we, but also our brothers and sisters in the unions that opposed this nonsense are stuck with the consequences of our damaging agreements.

This is a seminal document that blows a hole into the Unity line we've been sold for ten years. But I must issue a warning: It is not just Mulgrew but the caucus. If for some reason Unity decided to dump Mulgrew for the 2025 election because he's toxic, don't be fooled again. Anyone in charge would lead us down the same path, but maybe with a bit more style.

ICE and Ed Notes and MORE at the time adamantly opposed the 2014 contract. Look through the archives of Ed Notes and ICE blog in April/May 2014 for numerous exposes and how we were at the DA at the Hilton in force to oppose the contract. One more highlight before I send you off to read the entire document:

Deliberately missing from the UFT highlights is this—they agreed to fund new raises by giving one billion dollars from our health stabilization fund, a fund designed to prevent members from paying premiums for GHI/CBP.  And if any sufficient funds are still available in it, they can be earmarked towards new benefits – like we’d done with PICA.  
In case the giveaway weren’t outrageous enough, the fund contained 1.8 billion in 2014, so they were giving away more than half. Not only that, but take a look at the pattern it funded:
1 percent — 1 percent —$1,000 cash — 1 percent — 1.5 percent —2.5 percent — 3 percent
What was not said in the UFT communique referenced here was that the thousand dollar bonus was in lieu of a raise. The city’s thousand buck bonus bought a zero percent raise for a full eighteen months.

Must read

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Now Is The Time To Fight Back, Not Give In To UFT Leadership - Part 2 by Rebel Teacher

Tuesday, November 21, 2023 -  Happy Thanksgiving

ICE being in a state of flux since the illness of James Eterno, zoom-met on Sunday night and will be meeting in person during the Xmas vacation in attempts to sort things out. ICE associate (ICE doesn't have formal memberships) Rebel Teacher continues a view of the union leadership and how critical voices should deal with them. In the current state of ICE this is one opinion. Others think alliances with Unity leadership should be built. Still others believe that there is something called "Unity light" - internal critics in the belly of the beast who whisper sweet nothings about reforming the union in their ears. I know that drill. I was a target for years when Randi took over c. 1997 and fell for it. Until I didn't.

Ed Notes published Part 1 and I helped edit it and part 2. 

Now Is The Time To Fight Back, Not Give In To UFT Leadership - Part 2

Written by Rebel Teacher, a  Long time teacher and union organizer with the Independent Community of Educators (ICE-UFT).


In part 1 the author raised issues related to signs of fractures in Unity Caucus of UFT President Michael Mulgrew while they continue to either vilify the opposition or try to fracture them by picking off those they see can be seduced by being offered a faux deal of access to power and influence. He argues in part 2 not to be seduced.

A prominent UFT Unity staffer recently said:

 “One Unity tactic to control the opposition is to put them somewhere where they can feel important but have little influence.”
Beware of falling into this Unity trap.

We can’t allow Unity to have an opportunity to sell their bureaucratic values, to tame the aggressiveness of chapter leaders and other activists. They are very happy to get them behind closed doors, in the shadows and out of sight of the rank and file. We must resist giving in to the impulse and temptation of being given a seat at the table – a bait and switch seat at the table – a tiny stool at the kiddy table. 


Unity has proven very capable of managing the membership despite its failures in managing the union

Unity does many things wrong but gets managing membership expectations right. UFT leadership doesn’t want their borough representatives or district reps empowering members. Rather than activate the rank and file, they view such activation as a threat to their power and restrain members to keep them under control. They’ve been successful in finding opposition people they view as susceptible to their message and make them feel important. One of the hidden issues in the removal of UFT Queens Borough Representative Amy Arundell was her push to get members to be more active, which stepped on some toes.

Unity/UFT leadership prefers the status quo, a membership content with what they have, not fighting for a better union.

The ICE-UFT blog over almost 20 years has been a compendium of UFT history and has publicized militant Chapter Leaders who fought against micromanagement and won by organizing their chapters, mobilizing them with letters of no confidence, working with SLT’s and PTA’s to remove bad principals and have filed mass grievances. 

ICE has been nonsectarian, open to working with all caucuses and independents

Dissident voices opposed to Unity should be ready to work with chapter leaders, delegates, and union activists in any caucus, along with independents, to show how to build their chapter and not to wait for the UFT leaders to come and save them, because they often will not show. How often have we heard praise for Arundell as someone who has shown up and is constantly present, in contrast to the rest of the UFT bureaucracy? Maybe her hard work has embarrassed them to the extent that she had to go.

The leaders of our union need to be challenged in public forums. Many members in our chapters, our shops, need to know there is an organized resistance to the tom-foolery coming from above. They will be resentful if they see opposition forces getting too cozy with those that work against our best interests. 


They want us standing up to our leadership, to be more militant and to actively fight for our rights and those of our students. 

It is important to show up at public union meetings with resolutions and petitions signed by our members. Expose the Unity-two step of saying yes now while doing the exact opposite later. 


One example is Unity taking a false stand against privatization of our healthcare while trying to force our retirees into a managed care plan and still working behind the scenes with the Adams administration to change health care of working members. When retirees won a recent ruling to stop co-pays, UFT/Unity was silent while the Mayor is appealing. 


Can UFT leadership be pressured?

Our answer is not by small groups lobbying because leadership is good at obfuscation and distraction while hinting at a willingness to change but with little intention of doing anything unless there is a massive uprising from below. That has rarely happened and when it did, Unity found ways to undermine it. 

Two examples:

In 1975, with 15k layoffs looming, the rank and file rose up and demanded a strike despite knowing there would be two for one penalties - which the leadership went along with for one week and then sold it out. Layoffs still took place but the starch was taken out of the members, teaching a lesson that such activism that worked so well in building the UFT in the 60s was no longer valid. Since then the leadership has worked successfully to dampen expectations.

Another example was the ATR protest and rally at Tweed in Nov. 2008 that attracted hundreds and the leadership attempt to subvert it by holding a concurrent wine and cheese party. That was a perfect example of people in ICE working with others in organizing rank and file, mobilizing workers and educating them from the bottom and the Unity leadership undermining and subverting the efforts. 

Activists in the UFT should work with allies to inspire our members to believe a better version of the UFT is possible, one that connects with members, knows the classroom and hallways, fights for its members, and educates everyone inside the chapters to their rights and how to ensure they actually have them.


Without doing the above, there is a danger in focusing on closed meetings with Unity/UFT. It throws a lifeline to a group that already has power and money, but lacks mass support of its members. (Note low turnout for Unity in elections.)


ICE had a long history of working with partners, including parent and community groups, that were dedicated to worker’s rights and quality free public schools and supported groups opposed to charters and high stakes testing. It was members of ICE active in MORE that reached across the aisle to ask New Action to run with on a joint opposition slate which resulted in victory in the high schools in the 2016 election. And there are even some affiliated with ICE who have run with, or supported, Unity, when they thought it was the right thing to do at the time.

ICE-PAC and TJC won the high school executive board seats in the 2004 UFT election. ICE people came out every 2 weeks to support the chapter leaders James Eterno (Jamaica HS), Jeff Kaufman (Rikers) and Barbara Kaplan-Alpert (Forest Hills HS) in their regular battles with Randi Weingarten and the Unity leadership. These were among the most contentious years in resistance to Unity policy, especially in response to the disastrous 2005 contract, which ICE, along with TJC, organized a Vote-No campaign with rallies at the DA and in front of 52 Broadway that resulted in 40% voting against.


The problem was ICE didn't make enough use of these action as an organizing mechanism and often seemed content to engage in these battles at the top. ICE organized with various components of the UFT like the ATRs c. 2005-10, but never got deep into the schools. Let's learn the lessons of that experience. Top down engagement with leadership can give the illusion of progress, but if not accompanied by an open process that brings those battles to the schools, it is often a wasted effort. 

As stated above, Unity caucus regularly tries to either woo or undermine critical voices, with their major goal being to not only hold onto power, but to also minimize the ability of those voices to influence policy and to grow the movement. There is a cost to get Unity cooperation - hand-cuffs.

A growing New Action(NA/UFT) has learned the lessons of the past and is re-organizing as a militant caucus within UFT. Through Nick Bacon’s writing and their work on the Ex Bd, they are actively challenging the leadership and direction of our union. And they have a wide range of chapter leaders distributing their literature in the schools. They need to continue to grow by helping rank and file members run for chapter leader and delegates by offering targeted trainings for members interested in having democratic, militant chapters. Most ICE associates are very supportive of these efforts and are actively working with them.

Some of our retirees are organizing with the Retiree Advocate, which will be running in the UFT chapter elections against Unity spring 2024 on a platform of saving our healthcare, not selling out our retirees to the highest bidders.

ICE has been a space for people with divergent views who might suffer judgment for expressing those views elsewhere. ICE has been a happy place for many over its 20 years history, a place for friendships to grow, alliances to be built, and fight backs to be organized. We hope to continue the ICE tradition of fighting for a union that stands up for its members and the children we serve.


Part 3 is in the works.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

UFT Tier 6 DISASTER - It's worse than you thought - New Action

I will be at the DA today handing out this leaflet before the meeting. There is a demo also re the cease fire at some point. I will take a few photos. I haven't been following the exact issues but expect some UFT reso and a push to add cease fire. I have a lot to say on this issue but not here at this time. There are enough people taking on the BIG issues. Some people have to still keep their eye on the daily conditions UFT members face.

Tier 6 is a major issue

I see the Tier 6 issue becoming a big factor in the next UFT election in 2025 because it is doubtful the UFT will get much change. But I would bet on some minor incremental change, oh, say around January 2025 just a few months before the election.

A committee sponsored by New Action has been working up some data on just how bad Tier 6 is. Over 50% of current UFT working members are in Tier 6. And for us Tier ones, Tier 4 looked rotten. (Tier one was ended c. 1973.)

Remember when Randi traded our 8.25% down to 7% for peanuts? Until recent interest rates hitting 5%, 7% still looked like gold so most of us didn't complain much. The handout says the difference over 40 years is $1.5 million compounded. It doesn't say based on what base but back of envelope calculations show that for every 100k you get 7k in interest each year  vs what we used to get - $8,250. So in one year that's a loss of $1250 for teachers. Compound that number even over 10 years. Randi the negotiator. As we always say, the UFT often seems more interested in working to save the city money than in its own members.

But the Tier 6 stuff is even more sickening. The UFT leadership claims Tier 6 reform is a high priority but they also talk about incremental improvements. People will be dead and new teachers on Tier 10 and working till 80 to get a pension.


If you want to copy and paste and share with co-workers I put the text below the break. Or contact NAC for copies.


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Are there emerging rifts in the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership that threaten its 60 year control of the UFT? If so what is a Path Forward for Independent Community of Educators (ICE/UFT) Part 1)

I helped edit the piece below. Through miscommunication, it appeared briefly on the ICE-blog today but was taken down pending ICE having a meeting to discuss the future of the blog which has been basically inactive since James Eterno's illness. A few weeks after James became ill I solicited an article for the ICE blog from the well-known former blogger, RBE: Waiting for Mikey - which is in the spirit of the article below:

"Every time I see the UFT talk about the importance of voting, the importance of democracy, etc., I laugh. There are few entities as undemocratic as the Unity-controlled UFT."

But since then, things have stalled. When ICE blog goes active again I will share the news.

The article below is the opinion of the author and alternate views, in the always open spirit of ICE, are welcome. Or leave a comment.

Look for it on The Wire soon. 

Part 2: Now Is The Time To Fight Back, Not Give In To UFT Leadership - Part 2 by Rebel Teacher

... Norm

Are there emerging rifts in the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership that threaten its 60 year control of the UFT? If so what is a Path Forward for Independent Community of Educators (ICE/UFT).

Written by Rebel Teacher, a  Long time teacher and union organizer with the Independent Community of Educators (ICE-UFT).

Part 1

It is my contention that UFT leadership of President Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus is, and has been, facing unprecedented internal turmoil sparked by the recent removal of Queens borough representative Amy Arundell, rumored due to her internal dissent on certain policies spearheaded by the top-level leadership, a very small circle that has shut out even other Unity Caucus voices from decision making. 


The removal of Arundell was only the spark, as other issues have been reverberating inside the Unity machine and beyond: 

  • the secrecy around changes to our healthcare which has increased fear around our membership who were already concerned how retirees are being screwed by a potential switch to managed care Medicare (MAP). Even Unity retirees are unhappy with the union siding with the mayor to reduce healthcare. 

  • Unity manipulated the OT/PT chapter after it voted down the contract and forced a revote with no changes in terms of the contract offered. Leadership again sided with the DOE in sending a message they will force contracts down your throats. 

  • The general suppression of democracy at meetings with top down, tightly controlled agendas.

  • The attacks by UFT leadership on dissenting voices by accusing them of working with outside forces to undermine the union and of being the union’s enemy.

  • the rise of militancy in other unions that have resulted in significant wins in salary increases and improved working conditions, leading to an increase in member distrust. Seeing teachers in progressive unions around the nation make gains while our leadership sells us on pattern bargaining has raised eyebrows even in Unity. 


There have been low level defections from Unity in recent years, people who have become prominent in the voices of dissent in the union. So far we have not seen any high or even middle level defections, but if Amy Arundell is purged, she would be the first in decades to be cast out. 

ICE-UFT has not been in a position to respond to these events since one if its key leaders has fallen ill.

Since the 7-month illness of James Eterno, a co-founder of  ICE/UFT caucus of  the UFT and the retired chapter leader who led a valiant fight against the closing of his Jamaica High School, ICE has been in abeyance, not having met in years. James worked valiantly since ICE merged into the MORE Caucus in 2012 to keep the ICE brand alive, mainly through his intensive blogging at which has attracted thousands of followers. James also ran for UFT President against Mulgrew in the 2010 election and has been a major figure in the opposition for almost 30 years.

ICE has been a key component of the United for Change (UFC) coalition, with Jame’s wife and longtime teacher Camille Eterno at the head of the ticket that opposed Mulgrew’s Unity caucus in the 2022 UFT election and garnered almost 16 thousand votes, including a majority of votes of high school teachers. Aviation HS Chapter Leader Ibeth Mejia and Luli Rodriguez currently represent ICE and Solidarity caucus as part of UFC  on the UFT Executive Board along with ICE’s Mike Schirtzer who ran with the Unity caucus slate. 

In light of the failings of UFT leadership of Unity Caucus we have heard calls for ICE/UFT to begin to move forward once again.  There have been some informal discussions about working with the UFT leadership of Unity Caucus or presenting a hard-line challenge to them and as expected in ICE, there are a range of opinions. 

Here are my views.

When we listen to our union leadership do we hear inspiration and empowerment or do we hear “be grateful for what we let you have”? Every public meeting, from town halls to the district level, are tightly scripted and controlled, and often purposely boring.  

Delegate assemblies (chapter leader and delegate monthly meetings) have become increasingly restrictive and critical voices suppressed. Mulgrew filibusters often take up to an hour for his president’s report. Meetings are dominated by paid staff and selected Unity Caucus members, with critics being given scant, if any, time. Even the standard method of the “New Motion” period has been subverted to shut out those voices. 

At a recent UFT Executive Board meeting Mulgrew tried to brand internal critics as being the enemy of the union for raising questions about the removal of Arundell and clandestine changes to our health insurance. This is a standard response of autocrats. These attacks must be responded to.

UFT district meetings are used by the leadership to push their agenda when those meetings should be opportunities for chapter leaders to work together to solve problems in their schools. Our chapter leaders need to be more aggressive in pushing back at these meetings. If they can't get speaking time, we need to put out a leaflet and reach out to others. Do not assume you are the only one unhappy with the leadership. Some Chapter Leaders fear offending the UFT District Representatives because they are often dependent on them. We must display it is quite the opposite, UFT DRs and union leaders tend to be more responsive to internal opposition leaders, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”!

Our union’s Executive Board meetings have been the space where our 7 UFT stalwart delegates have the most space to raise issues and thanks to HS Ex Bd member HS Ex Bd member Nick Bacon's notes on the New Action blog, we can share what goes on there. Nick has been one of the Unity Caucus defectors.

There are calls from some opposed to Unity rule to still work with them 

Now is not the time to bail Unity out. If there are ways to get them to help the members, let's do so by all means, but beware of their usual attempts to control the message and make faux reforms they can take PR credit for, even if we do the work. 

Union consciousness is at an all time high. Who in your circle of family and friends at school doesn’t know about the Teamsters, UAW, Writers Guild,or SAG? Most UFT members know that other teacher unions have threatened to strike or actually went on strike and have won major victories while the Unity leadership have disparaged those who have even tried to raise the strike issue.

Now is not the time to give in to Unity! Now is the time to agitate, ask the tough questions, demand that our leadership listen and act, rather than lecture our members that they are working against the union. Working against a leadership that has done so much in the way of anti-union actions is working for, not against, the union. 

It is our leadership that has consistently worked against the union they lead over the past two decades by settling for sub-inflation raises, little support against abusive administrators, allowing public schools to be closed and charters to expand, endorsing testing and other pseudo reforms, and now risking the healthcare of our in-service and retired members. 

Unity caucus partners with the bosses, rather than its members. 

Mulgrew and the Unity Caucus machine is the real enemy!

End Part 1

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Elephants and All That -The Secret World of Elephants Opens at the Museum of Natural History

AMNH - has alway been my favorite museum since I was a kid and extending to my time as a teacher. I took my classes there 3 or 4 times a year, with a different focus on each trip. So being back there again today as part of the media introduction to the new elephant exhibit was a treat. After the presentation and tour of the brand new exhibit, I spent hours wondering around the museum and ended up at the fabulous leaf cutter ant exhibit at the new Gilder building. I love to watch the little critters carrying their leaves for miles - in the ant world.

I then went over to the Historical Society across the street and checked out the Robert Caro exhibit. Fabulous. I heard a couple talking about reading "The Power Broker" out loud to each other and had to inform them it may take a year to read 1000 pages. Not that I have read it but notice how often you see that book in the background on zooms.

Them a walk through Central Park, which was rated as the best place in the nation to see changing leaves? Huh? Not that impressive but the park was beautiful today and I emerged on 5th Ave and 60th St. 

Now I admit that AMNH often serves breakfast at press events but today they only had coffee -- so I was starving the rest of the day. Ok, I did manage to buy a Chipwich sandwich at an ice cream vender. Oh, I forgot, back to the elephants.

Elephants and most other mammals seemed to have evolved 60 million years ago.

Remember that meteor?

The other day I read this New Yorker article from a couple of years ago:

The Day the Dinosaurs Died

That's the day a 6 mile meteor hit near Mexico and 95% of all life on earth either died that day or in the few years after probably the biggest catastrophe to hit the earth -- till our arrival. 

Most of life died 66 million years ago, and look how relatively quickly mammals took off on a tear and elephants evolved not that long after? Well, 6 million years is probably a long time.

The place was loaded with school trips -- ahhh, the memories. Now I know how annoying I was to regular museum goers - the place was crawling with the little buggers and their often way too tense teachers - so what if one of your kids gets eaten by a dinosaur?

Here are some of my photos and some info the museum provided - if you are planning a trip with your class -- don't miss this.

The Secret World of Elephants Opens at the

American Museum of Natural History


New exhibition explores the 60-million-year evolution of elephants and their relatives,

their astounding minds and bodies, interactions with humans and the environment, and what we can do to ensure their survival


Opens November 13

Preview Days for Members Begin November 10




Press Kit Available Here


How do elephants “hear” with their feet, use the 16 muscles in their trunks, or reshape the forests and savannas they live in, creating an environment upon which many other species rely? The Secret World of Elephants, a special exhibition opening November 13 at the American Museum of Natural History, reveals new science about both modern and ancient elephant relatives, and highlights elephants’ extraordinary minds and senses, why they're essential to the health of their ecosystems, and inspiring efforts to overcome threats to their survival.


“We are delighted to present The Secret World of Elephants, a comprehensive look at these intriguing and important animals and the latest scientific thinking about their abilities, environmental roles, social structure, history, and future,” said Sean M. Decatur, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “This exhibition is an example of what the American Museum of Natural History does so well: by starting at a point of shared curiosity and fascination we can share larger stories about evolution, the environment, animal behavior, and the interactions between human and animals, thereby expanding understanding of the natural world and our impact on it.”


Life-size models—including a scientifically accurate representation of a woolly mammoth shedding its fur—as well as fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and videos reveal the amazing story of these massive mammals.


Majestic as they are, today’s elephants offer just a glimpse of their former glory. Once, animals with tusks and trunks lived on almost every continent and many islands. Today, only three elephant species survive, but their abilities remain remarkable. Elephants’ trunks, for example, are strong enough to pull down a tree, yet nimble enough to pluck a single blade of grass. They communicate extensively with each other, maintaining complex emotional ties with other herd members. They shape their environment, creating habitat for countless plants and animals. And over centuries of interactions with humans, they’ve been trained for war and work, and are powerful religious and political symbols across cultures.


“Elephants are the world’s largest land animal, but we understand surprisingly little about them,” said The Secret World of Elephants curator Ross MacPhee, curator emeritus in the Museum’s Department of Mammalogy. “Researchers are working toward assembling a much more complete picture of elephants and we’re learning new secrets about their minds, bodies, and ecological importance every day. We also know elephants face an uncertain future. The global demand for ivory, along with climate change and habitat loss, are pushing them along the path to extinction. If we don’t act quickly, elephants could be gone before we ever truly get to know them.”



According to fossil evidence, the larger group to which proboscideans (elephants and their close relatives) belong arose not long after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, about 60 million years ago. Since then, more than 200 species of proboscideans evolved, living on every continent except for Antarctica and Australia. During the ice ages, between 2.6 million and 11,700 years ago, more than 50 different elephant relatives still roamed the globe—including mammoths and mastodons—but by the end of that period, extinctions had wiped out most giant mammals across the world. Today, only three elephant species remain: African savanna elephants, African forest elephants, and Asian elephants.


In The Secret World of Elephants, visitors are introduced to the greater elephant family tree, which reveals that the elephant’s closest living relatives are not, as some might assume, large mammals with thick, wrinkly skin—like hippos and rhinos—but aquatic sea cows and furry, rabbit-sized hyraxes. Visitors will encounter a full-scale model of one of the most iconic extinct elephant relatives—a woolly mammoth, depicted in the process of shedding its winter coat—and a life-size model of an adult and calf pair of dwarf elephants (Palaeoloxodon falconeri), which lived in what is now Sicily and only grew to about 4 feet tall at their shoulders. Two touchable teeth, one from a mammoth and one from a mastodon-like species, demonstrate differences in the ways these giant proboscideans chewed; and an interactive mammoth tusk model demonstrates how scientists use isotope “fingerprints” to reveal how mammoths traveled across what is now Alaska about 17,000 years ago.



African savanna elephants are the largest living land animals, and elephants’ tusks are the largest teeth of any animal. Their trunk serves as a combination arm, hand, and hose. All three modern species are impressive not just in size, but also for their keen senses. They can detect vibrations our ears can’t hear, and their sense of smell rivals that of all other mammals.


The Secret World of Elephants explores these massive mammals’ incredible abilities through interactive exhibits, including

  • a station where visitors can feel the extremely low sound waves elephants use—called infrasound—to send messages through the ground and to other elephants’ feet, which conduct vibrations up their legs and to their brains
  • a life-size African elephant model with a video projection on one side of its body showing the skeleton of this massive mammal and providing an inside look at how it processes the huge amount of food it eats—about 300–500 pounds per day—and elephant gestation, which can last for nearly two years, longer than any other living mammal
  • a miniature elephant model that prompts visitors to turn a wheel to flap its ears, a process that helps elephants keep cool in hot environments
  • and, sure to be a crowd-pleaser, an exploration of elephant poop—featuring replica dung—which provides key nutrients for plants and other animals and helps expand plant ranges by transporting seeds



What goes on in the mind of an elephant? Elephants can’t use words to relay what they think and feel, so scientists try to find out by observing their behavior. Studies show they form close social bonds and communicate by voice, touch and gesture. They have remarkable memories and are known to care for ill individuals and to visit the spot where a family member died. And they are mentally agile, able to adapt to new situations, solve problems, and act collectively.


Elephants do express themselves with a remarkable variety of sounds: gentle, low-pitched rumbles, high-pitched squeaks, vibrant trumpets, barks, and roars. By observing elephants making and responding to different calls, and by listening to recordings and playing them back for elephants to hear, scientists have begun to recognize patterns and to understand their meaning. Visitors to The Secret World of Elephants can hear five different elephant vocalizations and will also be encouraged to “speak elephant” by observing videos of various social behaviors in elephants—including greetings, courtship, play, and mourning—and answer questions about the underlying meanings. Visitors also will be able to make their own elephant herd with a selection of large magnets representing the matriarch—the leader—as well as other female adults and calves.



The forests and savannas where elephants live are radically reshaped by their presence. By eating, bulldozing, and trampling plants ranging from grasses to full-grown trees as well as by digging water holes and transporting seeds, elephants act as ecosystem engineers for hundreds of other species. African savanna elephants, for example, graze on grass and browse on tree leaves and bark, helping to preserve open grasslands for plants, insects, and other animals that thrive in the Sun. They also make water holes that are essential to life ranging from dragonflies and plants to birds, lions, and warthogs. Unlike African savanna elephants, which live in open spaces, African forest elephants and Asian elephants eat vegetation as they travel through dense rainforests, making clearings that help sunlight reach the forest floor and creating well-worn walkways that are used by many other animals, including people. Asian elephants help extend plant ranges by carrying undigested seeds in their poop up to 30 miles away. And by thinning forests of smaller trees, elephants enable the remaining trees to grow larger and store more carbon, slowing global climate change. In The Secret World of Elephants, a large projection screen will show some of the many ways that elephants alter their environment.



For thousands of years, humans and elephants have lived together—often uneasily—in the same forests and savannas, sometimes competing for the same resources. Although never fully domesticated by humans, these intelligent animals have long been trained for war and work, historical and contemporary examples of which are explored in the exhibition.


Elephants remain powerful religious and political symbols across cultures today. Cultural artifacts on display in The Secret World of Elephants  include puppets from Vietnam depicting the Tru’ng sisters, national heroes who, according to local history, rode elephants into battle some 2,000 years ago against an invading Chinese army, and a large figure of the Hindu god Ganesh, known as the remover of obstacles, with an elephant’s head and a human-like body.


Conservation-themed interactive exhibits throughout the exhibition examine the impact of killing elephants for ivory, how climate change is affecting elephants, and ways that humans and elephants can share the planet and reduce human and elephant conflict. The exhibition features a documentary film about an elephant sanctuary in northern Kenya called Reteti, which is owned by the local Samburu community and takes in orphaned and abandoned elephant calves with the aim of releasing them back into wild herds. The video tells the story of Shaba, a 15-month old orphaned female who grew to become the sanctuary’s first matriarch.



The Secret World of Elephants is curated by Ross MacPhee, curator emeritus in the Museum’s Department of Mammalogy, with consultation by Raman Sukumar, honorary professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science; and Alexandra van der Geer, a researcher at the University of Leiden, Netherlands.


MacPhee is a paleomammalogist known for his research on island extinctions, with a more recent focus on extinctions that have occurred during the last 50,000 years. He also has collaborated with geneticists and molecular biologists to develop new ways of using ancient DNA and proteins to study Pleistocene extinctions. He previously curated Race to the End of the Earth (2010), The Horse (2008), The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (1999), and Endangered! (1995). He was the supervising curator of the restoration of the Jill and Lewis Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals, which reopened in 2012.


The exhibition is designed and produced by the American Museum of Natural History’s award-winning Exhibition Department under the direction of Lauri Halderman, senior vice president for exhibition.


The Secret World of Elephants will open to the public on Monday, November 13, 2023. Museum Members will be able to preview the exhibition from Friday, November 10, through Sunday, November 12.




The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869 with a dual mission of scientific research and science education, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses more than 40 permanent exhibition halls, galleries for temporary exhibitions, the Rose Center for Earth and Space including the Hayden Planetarium, and the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. The Museum’s scientists draw on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, some of which are billions of years old, and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, the Museum offers two of the only free-standing, degree-granting programs of their kind at any museum in the U.S.: the Ph.D. program in Comparative Biology and the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Earth Science residency program. Visit for more information.



The Museum is open daily, 10 am–5:30 pm. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.



Tickets that include admission to The Secret World of Elephants start at $28 for adults, $16.50 for children (ages 3-12), and $22.50 for seniors and students. Timed-entry tickets must be reserved in advance at


Public Information

For additional information, call 212-769-5100 or visit the Museum’s website at




The Secret World of Elephants features a life-size model of an African elephant—the largest living land animal. A video projection on one side of the African elephant model shows the skeleton of this massive mammal and provides an inside look at how it processes the huge amount of food it eats—about 300–500 pounds per day—and elephant gestation, which can last for nearly two years, longer than any other living mammal.

Alvaro Keding/© AMNH



American Museum of Natural History

Member Newsletter |
Ross MacPhee, Museum Curator

Hello, Friends—

Did you know that elephants can “hear” with their feet? I'm Ross MacPhee, and I’m the curator of The Secret World of Elephants, a new Museum exhibition that invites you to discover what scientists are still learning today about our planet’s largest land animals’ behavior and evolution. Members like you will have the opportunity to preview The Secret World of Elephants before it opens to the public—be sure to register for Member Preview Days.

Preparators have just finished putting the final touches on a life-size woolly mammoth model—one of several extraordinary exhibits in the show. Do you know the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon? Continue on to test your proboscidean knowledge and to learn six fascinating facts about elephants.

Or, for an exciting update from an entirely different animal group, read about a newly discovered mosasaur species—a 24-foot aquatic lizard that lived 80 million years ago.

All the best,


Elephant walking towards the camera with yellow and orange hues with a white play button in the middle of the screen.

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Elephants

Tusks are actually… incisor teeth? Discover this and other extra-large, fascinating facts about elephant evolution, biology, family life, and more in a new video from the Museum. Bonus points if you can name at least one of the elephants’ closest living relatives before watching!  

View of a mammoth skeleton’s tusks in the Hall of Advanced Mammals.

Mammoth or Mastodon?

Mammoths, mastodons, and modern elephants are all proboscideans, a name that comes from the word “proboscis,” meaning trunk. You can spot mammoth and mastodon fossils in the Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals—but which behemoth is which? There are at least three ways to tell these large and hairy herbivores apart. Challenge yourself with our quiz on Instagram.

Color illustration of two mosasaurs fighting underwater, with one mosasaur's head in another's mouth.

New Mosasaur Species Described

Imagine putting flippers on a 24-foot Komodo dragon. That’s how Amelia Zietlow, a Ph.D. student at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, describes Jormungandr walhallaensis, a newly identified species of mosasaur that was named in part after a sea serpent in Norse mythology. Discover the importance of this “transitional” species in this research update from the Museum.