Saturday, March 31, 2007

Candy Man

No surprise that some Catholics in New York were upset over a depiction of the crucified Christ made of chocolate (which is cleverly titled, "My Sweet Lord"). Their threatening tactics have caused the display venue to cancel the exhibition. Church leaders, however, don't seem too upset by similar images on T-shirts or made of plastic or any of the million other tacky religious items that can be found.

But in the story on the ABC News web site, Catholic League head Bill Donohue said the chocolate Jesus was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever." Wait a second. How about the illegal and immoral war in Iraq, for one example? You're telling me that this sculpture is more offensive to "Christian sensibilities" than the deaths of hundreds of thousands? The Bible clearly says, "Thou shalt not kill." I want to smack this Donohue guy in the head and ask him to show me where it says, "Thou shalt not make a chocolate Christ."

Give me an, Ouch!

In the past 15 years, cheerleading injuries have doubled. When I was a sports reporter, I saw high school cheerleaders performing amazing, and dangerous, tosses. I've also witnessed fliers -- the girls who are tossed in the air -- not get caught.

There's a story in today's New York Times about the growing perils of cheering.

Fountain of youth

On today there is an article about a current trend: breastfeeding children well beyond their initial months -- and years. The percentage of mothers who breast feed overall has gone up the past dozen years, from 57 to 72 percent, and today one in five are still nursing their child at their first birthday. Some moms mentioned in the story don't wean their children until as late as five years old.

Sounds crazy to most of us, but there are medical references in the story that indicate it's physically good for the child's health and not the cause of any psychological issues that we might assume.

On another front, people who are squeamish about mothers nursing in public are, I think, ridiculous. Get a grip, America.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fox trough

A high level political appointee at the Interior Department -- the part of the government that, according to its mission statement, is supposed "to protect and provide access to our Nation's natural and cultural heritage" -- was sending emails that included internal documents to at least one oil company and other businesses and development advocates.

Julie MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, also "bullied, insulted and harassed the professional staff" of the Interior Department to alter reports, making them more favorable to business interests, according to a report by the department's own inspector general.

It's a pattern we've come to expect from the Bush Administration. The foxes have totally infiltrated the henhouse. Professional personnel with years of experience are being overruled by political appointees who come out of the boardrooms of companies that are diametrically opposed to the mission of the department. It is despicable and unethical. Our only hope is to oust this administration while there is still something left to save.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Illustrative Eastie

The image above is from the weekly caption contest at This week's cartoon is set in East Boston, with an airplane landing on a roof. Maybe there is still time for you to submit a caption. Otherwise, click above and you can find out who won.

Monday, March 26, 2007

International law an enemy combatant?

Australian David Hicks is the first of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay to be tried. His trial began today, after five years of imprisonment at the isolated US military base in Cuba. He is charged with "providing material support for terrorism by fighting for al Qaeda in Afghanistan." I believe that Hicks' trial, like that of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, is unjust and that the Bush Administration is violating both American and international law in the way they are holding opposition fighters captured from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Though the administration dreamed up the designation "enemy combatants," these are unquestionably prisoners of war, and there is an accepted and legal way for dealing with such captives: the Geneva Conventions. Prisoners are held in humane conditions until the end of the war and then they are released to their home country. Only those who have committed atrocities are tried, and that should be done before international war tribunals. It is not illegal to fight for your country or your cause, and American law does not apply on foreign battlefields.

I am not defending terrorists or the Taliban, but the US does not have the right to stomp around the world and apply our own criteria when there are laws and there is a format. I would have no problem with John Walker Lindh having his US citizenship stripped from him and banishing him from America for good as a consequence for fighting against our military, but he was a foreign fighter when captured and should have been treated according to established conventions, as should the rest of the fighters. Once Kabul fell, the actual war in Afghanistan was over. Time to release the prisoners. In Iraq, Baghdad's fall was the end of Saddam's reign, and anyone held from the Iraqi army should have been let go.

If there is any evidence that those people were part of terrorist plots they should be tried according to the laws they violated in countries where the terrorist actions took place. Either one is charged by a war-crimes tribunal or by the domestic laws of a country; otherwise, they are prisoners of war and must be released. Guantanamo Bay is intentionally outside of US law, outside of Cuban law and, according to the Bush Administration, outside of international law. Such a policy is not just illegal, but it is immoral as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Our own nemesis

I just watched professor and author Chalmers Johnson on C-SPAN2's BookTV, and it was a sobering hour. He said a number of things that were noteworthy, including that there are 737 American military bases outside the United States and that, at any moment, China, Japan or Saudi Arabia could refuse to accept US dollars, which are worth less and less, precipitating the crash of our economy.

Johnson has written a trilogy that examines the consequences of American imperialism. The third volume, published recently, has the subtitle The Last Days of the American Republic, and he spoke about his beliefs that -- because of our out-of-control military-industrial complex and consumption in the face of massive debt -- the end really is near.

Ghost of winters past

The snow that was forecast last night did fall, but in lesser amounts, and was virtually gone by this morning. This winter Boston has had a total snowfall of about 16 inches, one of the lowest amounts in the 115 years of weather records for the area.

Above is a photo taken just outside my old apartment in Portland, Maine, last winter, just after a decent-sized storm. I went for a walk that day to the center of the city, which was nice.

Taking the plunge

Gary Richard didn't spare much time thinking yesterday when he saw a 5-year-old fall off a dock in Barnstable. He immediately jumped in and saved the child's life.

Despite the cads and phonies we see every day -- especially in the media that seems to be all around -- there are heroes among us.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Reviewing reviews

While living in Maine, I wrote a pair of film reviews for a small magazine called Wolf Moon Journal before I was hired as a sportswriter by a string of weekly newspapers. The reviews, still available online, are of The Motorcycle Diaries, of which I am particularly proud, and Closer. Roger Ebert better watch out.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fueling station

Caffe Italia is the best place in East Boston for an espresso or cappuccino and a nice place to hang out with friends on weekend evenings, but it doesn't have the right atmosphere to have a hot beverage and to sit for a while and read. For that, I usually head to Somerville.

However, there is a little cafe that opened in Eastie, called Meridian 155. It's small and was closing too early when I went by there today, but I was assured that the hours will be extending soon, with the warmer weather. The bagels looked good, and there are some pastries as well. It's located, of course, at 155 Meridian Street, next to Walgreens.

While living in Portland, Maine, there was a place directly across the street from me called Youngo's Cafe. It was open for most of the time that I was there, and I stopped by often, for a latte or some soup. Unfortunately, Youngo's closed a few months before I left. it's tough for a small place to make it, but I wish Meridian 155 well.

Hang onto your valuables

Seems that car break-ins are up across the city, particularly in East Boston. Electronics like cell phones, stereos and iPods are often the targets, as is cash or anything else of value that is visible to a would-be thief, so take your stuff with you when you park or hide it well.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Weird science

Among the many offenses of the Bush Administration is the politicization of science. Testimony before a House committee today revealed that the White House edited reports by the National Academy of Science for political reasons, while some scientists working in the federal government were muzzled on issues like global warming.

Said James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the country's leading climate scientists, "Interference with communications of science to the public has been greater during the current administration than at any time in my career."

Worn thin

Today, on the fourth anniversary of the start of the US invasion of Iraq, President Bush asked citizens to be patient. By any measure, Americans have been extremely patient -- to a fault, those of us who argued against the war would say.

The numbers are immense ... and depressing: hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead; more than 3,200 US soldiers killed, and 25,000 injured; more than a thousand contractors and other coalition forces killed; more than 2 million refugees; and many billions of dollars.

All this, and he wants patience, too?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Syrup season

Today I went with some friends to Breakheart Reservation on the Saugus/Wakefield line for a little demonstration of the maple sugaring process. It was cold and we got six or eight inches of snow yesterday, but there were a couple fires going to warm people up. We learned how to identify sugar maples and that the Native Americans may have been sugaring as long as 8,000 years ago. There wasn't any Grade B for sale however, which was disappointing.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

About time

It took four years, but it seems that a group of devout Christians demonstrated in Washington against the war in Iraq yesterday. Why weren't they the first to do so? Now, I am not a believer, but it seems to me that if one is, then the rules are pretty clear. Like punk-acoustic musician Ed Hammel sings in his song, "Don't Kill": "What part of 'Thou shalt not kill' don't you understand?"

The Big Blowhard blogs

As if the world needs to hear more from Curt Schilling, the Red Sox pitcher has entered the blogosphere. A recent post is titled: "Why the media sucks..." A class act, huh?

Of course, everyone has a right to speak and anyone has a right to blog, but the overpaid hurler -- he makes about $15 million a year -- is likely using his site to gain leverage in contract negotiations and to pave the way for a possible political career. Good grief.

The Big Blowhard, as the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy calls him, has posted to fan web sites in recent years, where he's left gems like this: "One of the lines [Shaughnessy] failed to put into the article he wrote a few weeks back was me, on the phone, calling him an asshole. He knows as sure as he's reading this right now that I think he's a giant sphincter." How has the world existed to this point without previously hearing from such a descendent of Shakespeare?

Trav poised to jump

Senate President Robert Travaglini appears likely to accept a private sector job at some point in the near future. Trav, who is from East Boston, has seen his name linked to several lobbying positions that are up for grabs and pay exponentially more than his current salary of $90,000.

With three kids in college in the next few years and reports that he and his wife want to build a home in Winthrop, outside his current district, it would seem that Trav is ripe to make the jump now. In recent weeks three of his top aides have left and not been replaced, which seems a clear harbinger.

Travaglini is well liked in the Senate and it appears that some will be sad to see him go, which didn't appear to be the case a couple years ago with autocratic House speaker Tom Finneran.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Blinded with science?

There are some scientists who have publicly stated that global warming is a hoax. Or, I should say, they dispute the idea that the climate change the planet is undoubtedly experiencing is a result of human activity. (I don't believe that those same scientists challenge the plentiful evidence that average temperatures on Earth have been rising, especially most recently.) When playing poker, my friend Dave sometimes says, "The cards don't lie," which means when we throw our hands down there will be one winner and that will be clear to everyone. Applying that premise to this issue, any and all scientists should always be welcome to conduct, interpret and present their research on climate change, as on any other issue. I don't advocate threatening -- or even shouting down -- those who publicly disagree with the majority, whether we're talking science or any other matter. Facts are facts, and they don't lie -- though they can be misinterpreted, and it often takes years of studies and piles of information to clearly see the truth.

I don't, however, believe that we should forego attempts at reining in greenhouse gases that are likely the source of most climate change. The vast majority of the science is probably correct, and human beings have almost certainly contributed to the rising temperatures. It is reckless to ignore this and almost as reckless to adopt a position that, because there is a small segment of the scientific community that disagrees, we should wait to enact public policy remedies for this problem. It's possible that we are too late to reverse the course we are on -- a course that may have catastrophic consequences -- and if we wait to convert those scientists who disagree we will definitely doom future generations to a calamity not of their making.

Friends of mine who disagree should read an article called "The Denialists" in the March 12 issue of The New Yorker. The piece, by Michael Specter, speaks not of global warming, but of H.I.V., which a small number of scientists, led by molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, believe is unrelated to AIDS. This idea has taken hold in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 20 million people have died from the disease and millions more are infected. Many in the region refuse to take Western medicines and, instead, put all of their faith in local healers, who mix concoctions of herbs. Meanwhile, in the West, AIDS is no longer an immediate death sentence.

Would those who advocate putting the brakes on attempts to limit climate change apply the same standard to treatment for AIDS? Should we wait until all of the possible science is in before we administer antiretroviral drugs -- the only treatment that has worked so far -- to patients infected with H.I.V.? I don't think that anyone would want to adopt that policy and to risk the lives of millions, and it seems that we should follow the same course on one of the other great issues of our time: global warming.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

US company bankrolling terrorists?

Every time you eat a banana you may be helping the terrorists. At least, the ones in Colombia.

It seems that Chiquita Brands has been paying millions to a couple of groups of insurgents to protect its banana interests in Colombia. This is not the first time that this particular company has been behind underhanded dealings in the region. Up until 1984 Chiquita was known as United Fruit and for about 100 years that company exploited workers (and maybe even killed some who defied the company and went on strike), bribed government officials, used violence to insure its monopoly and meddled in politics throughout the region, all while paying little in taxes to those countries.

Of course, I didn't learn any of this in history class. I do know it now, however, and I will not buy Chiquita bananas as a result.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Time to show him the door

Alberto Gonzales must go. Actually, he should have been canned months ago, when he was the chief White House counsel and the results of the torture policy that he advocated to the president became clear at Abu Ghraib.

Now Gonzales, an old friend of George W. Bush, is Attorney General, and within the span of a week or so we find out that a study within the Justice Department confirmed what we suspected: that the FBI is misusing the Patriot Act against citizens; and that the recent firings of eight US attorneys appears to be politically motivated and that Ginzales lied to Congress about it.

This is an unsavory and dangerous man.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Keep dreaming

Four out of ten people report that they live paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent survey. About one-third of those questioned said that they aren't making enough to live comfortably. Now, setting aside the fact that I am suspect of how some people, in our overindulgent age, define "comfortably," there are a significant number of people in America who legitimately do not have the basics of food, shelter, heat and healthcare. Most of those people probably did not participate in that survey because they don't have a computer and don't have the time to go to the public library to get online because they are busy trying to survive.

That is the US in the 21st century. Hungry children, shivering elderly, people working multiple jobs and still avoiding the hospital because they can't pay. These people don't have time to think about reaching the American dream. They just want to reach next week and next year.

Not everybody, of course, but a significant number. That is the US today, the wealthiest, most powerful nation the world has ever know. That is what capitalism does.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Talking with the enemy

President Bush said today that "Iran and Syria need to follow through on pledges to help Iraq." Many have been advocating for months, even years, that the US involve Iraq's neighbors in the process of restoring order in the chaotic land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Bush relented only recently because most of his administration's other efforts have fallen short.

Diplomacy doesn't solve all problems, but it is a viable option and one that should be completely exhausted before taking up arms. Bush & Co. don't much care for it, however. They see talking as a sign of weakness. Threats and bombs are more in line with their feelings of machismo.

Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander on the ground in Iraq, said just the other day that groups that feel alienated in that country need to be brought into the talks as well.

Faux Bono turns Hub heads

Well, it seems that quite a few people, including some in the local media, were fooled on Friday. Yesterday I pointed out a Herald story that said U2 singer Bono was in East Boston two days ago. In fact, the gentleman was a Bono impersonator named Pavel Sfera. has that story and a photo today.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Winning games and hearts

Savio Prep High School continues to be all over the local media with its Cinderella story of a closing school and a pair of championship-caliber athletic teams. The hockey team won Thursday in OT and the basketball team won last night. Both advance to the late rounds of the state tournament. Could this media attention lead to generous benefactor saving the school?

Bono was here

The Herald reports today that U2 frontman Bono, in Boston for the past few days, was in East Boston yesterday, stopping for breakfast at Donna's, at the Orient Heights intersection, which is less than a half-mile from me.

Of course, I had a previous close encounter with the world-famous philanthropic rock star back before he was a household name. At the Orpheum in 1983 I sat in an end seat in the fifth row in the first of the dozen times I've seen U2. Bono came up the aisle, climbed onto the seat in front of me and leaned forward. I held him up with my hands on his chest.

If you hit the town tonight maybe you'll catch Bono having a pint of Guinness somewhere.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Channel surfing

A message board at recently asked about bands people saw at the Channel, a club that was on the South Boston waterfront years ago. I posted an entry with the bands that I remember seeing there. Look for "Message 712.14."

Getting folked up

Last night I saw legendary folk singer Utah Phillips at Club Passim, the legendary folk club in Harvard Square. Phillips is a folk singer in the old-time definition of the term: One who travels around singing the music of plain folks -- workers, activists, tramps -- and intersperses the songs with stories, poems, observations and political commentary.

The songs, which the audience is often invited to sing along on during the chorus, are frequently compositions that have been passed on for decades among folksingers, and Phillips makes a point of telling the crowd who he learned each song from and under what circumstances. All of the songs are simple chords, simple strums and simple melodies -- it's the message that matters.

Phillips, whom I learned about through his two collaborations with Ani DiFranco. is a wonderful storyteller and greatly entertaining. At nearly 72 years old, he looks a bit frail, but he spouts ideas that would be called radical by many Americans. He tells it like he sees it, and he sees the truth.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

I couldn't get drunk enough to try this...

I am at a loss for words to describe the stupidity of the people involved in this stunt: Take a look.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

'Give me your tired, your poor...'

Immigration is not an issue that can be neatly wrapped up in any way. Take for example the 327 employees of a New Bedford leather company that were arrested yesterday. While most of them are still in custody, what happens to their children?

As this Globe editorial points out, we need smarter ways to deal with this issue.

Sweet dates

I'd never eaten dates before when I saw some yesterday at Market Basket in Chelsea. There looked to be about 15 in a container that was priced at $2.96 -- $4.49 a pound -- so I decided to buy them. I found out that I like dates. They're sweet and tasty, and I will certainly buy them again.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Throw the bums out!

Citizens of at least 20 towns in Vermont have voted on town-meeting resolutions asking that President Bush and Vice President Cheney be impeached. They should be lauded for taking a stand. From Iraq to Katrina, from incompetence to corruption, from distorting facts to telling outright lies, the Bush & Cheney show has been a disaster for this country. Let us all stand up and be heard.

Same as it ever was

Within three days I ate pizza from two places that are considered the best in Boston. Well, OK...the Pizzeria Regina I ate at Sunday is in Medford, but the cheese pizza I had there was quite good. Then this evening I ordered Santarpio's to go and brought two pizzas to my mother's house (right across the street from the East Boston landmark). I ate most of a double garlic, my favorite from 'Tarp's. It was quite good as well.

As an Eastie guy, Santarpio's is and always will be my favorite pizza. These days the waitresses are often women, I don't know the guy making the pizza, the condiments are in actual condiment containers and the place even has a web site (though in Santarpio's typical decor, it is pretty blah), yet the pizza is still uniquely good. Some things never change.

In like an angry lion

Back in the first week of January the mercury topped out at 70 degrees and now, in early March, we're feeling the coldest air of the winter. Tonight the temperature is forecast to drop near zero in the city and below zero north and west of here. And the wind is the real killer, with gusts to 44 mph making it feel well below zero right now. These are the nights that those of us with shelter and heat are extra thankful.

Mild weather will return this weekend, with highs in the 50s, and spring can't be far off after that. I do, however, remember receiving significant snowfall well into April, so one never knows.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Pain less

I know that I have railed against pharmaceuticals, but parents should take note of a new study that shows that ibuprofen (sold generically, as well as under the names Advil and Motrin) works significantly better for children as a pain reliever than acetaminophen (Tylenol) and even codeine.

I do occasionally take ibuprofen (or, less often, acetaminophen) for headaches, but I am sure that there are some all-natural medications that achieve similar results. For example, I just did a quick search and it seems that tart cherries work even better as a pain reliever than aspirin or ibuprofen. I am going to buy some cherries today.

Hang the DJ !

It seems that payola is alive and well today. The illegal practice of the record industry paying radio stations to play certain songs is usually associated with the 1950s and 60s, but the FCC just negotiated a deal with the radio conglomerates Clear Channel, CBS, Entercom and Citadel that has the corporations paying a total of $12.5 million in fines for payola infractions (though they will, of course, admit no guilt). Further, the 1,653 radio stations that those four companies own will have to offer more time to play music from independent labels.

As usual in our capitalist system, money seeps into every crack and poisons every process. If not the root of all evil, money is what the root uses to pull off its evil machinations.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Springing ahead

Next Sunday at 2 a.m. the US will jump ahead to Daylight Saving Time, giving us one less hour of sleep for that day as well as darker mornings and brighter evenings. The darker mornings, however, should disappear after a bit as the sun's overhead journey lenghtens each day.

According to today's Globe, Malden Congressman Ed Markey is the force behind moving the change up three weeks. He also initiated a similar move, from late April to early April, in 1986. In theory, the switch saves energy and has some other benefits.

There will be some initial groaning at the early darkness, but we'll all have lots of early evening daylight to take advantage of. I guess that's a fair trade-off.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Lunacy playing on tonight's celestial canvas

The photo at left was taken minutes after the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years on October 27, 2004. The moon was coming out of a total eclipse. Who says that the Sox aren't the team of the gods?

Tonight people in the Northeast will be able to again witness a total lunar eclipse. There's a description of what to look for at the web site.

One wonders what such an event portends this time.

Savio not going gently into that good night

Today's Globe has a story about Savio Prep's last-ditch efforts to survive. There is a rally at the school Sunday, though what effect it will have at this juncture is unclear.