Monday, April 30, 2007

Speaking of chocolate

There is an island off the coast of Panama where the natives drink an average of five cups of unprocessed cocoa (sweetened with a little sugar) each day. The people of the San Blas Islands "appear to experience significantly lower death rates from heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and cancer" than residents of the nearby mainland, which has convinced Dr. Norman Hollenberg, a Harvard Medical School professor, that substances in cacao -- the plant from which chocolate is made -- are loaded with health benefits.

"Xocolatl" was the word for chocolate among the Aztecs, from whom the Spanish conquistadors learned of the food. Residue found in ancient pots indicate that the Mayans were eating chocolate at least 2,600 years ago. They were certainly on to something.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Chocolate war

Big Business does a lot of underhanded things, but now they've gone too far! The Chocolate Manufacturers Association, an industry group whose members include Hershey and Nestle, are trying to get the US government to redefine what constitutes chocolate.

Instead of cocoa butter and cocoa solids -- the true ingredients in chocolate -- the giant food conglomerates want to use "artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes, and vegetable fats such as hydrogenated and trans fats." according to an online article. The proposed substitutes are, of course, less expensive.

There is a web site leading the charge against this blasphemy. It's called Don't Mess with Our Chocolate. Go there to find out how to register your objections with the Food and Drug Administration.

Breaking down Chamber walls

Here's a great story from today's Globe: the East Boston Chamber of Commerce is embracing the Latino business community in this neighborhood.

Anyone who is familiar with the lower half of Eastie knows that there are dozens and dozens of Central and South American-owned businesses, including many restaurants that cater to the area's huge Spanish-speaking population. It makes sense for the Chamber to integrate these businesses; otherwise, they'd eventually form their own group.

After initially feeling unwelcome by established East Boston business owners, one proprietor of a Latino eatery in Day Square said in the story, "I feel really comfortable here, now I have this kind of support."

Props to John Dudley, the Chamber's executive director (and a former student of mine), and others who saw the wisdom in reaching out. This is how community is formed and cultivated.

Mystery at Star of the Sea

A story on wonders aloud about what is going on at the former St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church in East Boston. There is a photo (right) of scaffolding next to the building and there is apparently a sign announcing times for services, but the doors are locked.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God -- which purchased the building earlier this year for $2.65 million -- won't offer any information to the Boston Globe. Church representatives won't even give their last names.

An independent panel has been asked by the archdiocese to review the sale of the church, which was originally made to South Boston photographer Michael Indresano for $850,000, "despite reports that there had been higher offers," the story says. Indresano then flipped the property just weeks later and many people believe that there was something fishy about the whole transaction.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mayor Appleseed

Just 6% of East Boston is covered by trees, the lowest percentage for any neighborhood in the city. That is going to change, however, with the planting of 100,000 trees throughout Boston in the next 13 years.

Much of that flora will find a home on Eastie's streets, as well as other areas that have the lowest proportion of canopy: downtown (8%), South Boston (9%), Charlestown (12%) and the South End (15%). Among those neighborhoods with the most tree cover are: West Roxbury (49%), Roslindale (46%), Jamaica Plain (42%) and Hyde Park (42%).

According to the story at, the mayor will announce this plan today, citing "cooler temperatures in summer, absorption of carbon dioxide and storm water runoff, and increased psychological well-being among residents" as some of the benefits.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Unlucky numbers

The media is filled with joyous stories about the Dow topping 13,000 yesterday. One headline even reads: "Rally, Romp and Rejoicing." We are conditioned to believe that a rising stock market equals a strong economy -- something good for all of us, right? -- but that is far from the truth.

When media and government say "the economy," they are generally referring to the wallets of the wealthy. When the economy is booming -- using the stock market's leading index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, as a bellwether -- then corprate executives, lobbyists, bank owners, oil tycoons and their friends are gorging themselves at the trough.

Meanwhile, wages for working men and women -- after being adjusted for inflation -- are falling. As usual, the average person has to struggle to make ends meet. The market's rise is no reason for us to celebrate.

Schill a scammer?

Gary Thorne, the play-by-play announcer for the Baltimore Orioles, said on the air last night that the blood seeping through Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's right sock during Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees was, according to Boston catcher Doug Mirabelli, actually red paint.

The Red Sox, from management down, are in an uproar about the comments -- especially Mirabelli, who denies ever having such a conversation with Thorne. However, as we've come to know Schilling better in the past couple of years, I'd guess that many people are thinking that there might be some truth to this. I actually met Thorne at the 2005 Little League World Series and, for what it's worth, he seemed like a good guy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

War of words

You've got to love Harry Reid's comments yesterday in response to Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism. The Senate Majority Leader did what he said he wouldn't do in the same sentence when he said: "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with the administration's chief attack dog."

I laughed out loud when I heard that. I like Reid, and I like his calm, soft-spoken manner, even as he doesn't back down from the villainous scoundrel Cheney.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hot stuff

A pair of violent crimes that occurred yesterday in East Boston are reported on the Boston Police Department web site. One man was shot and another stabbed on Marion Street after 9 p.m. A short while before that a guy was arrested when he assaulted and chased someone through Maverick Square with a machete. Scary stuff. Could yesterday's summer-like warmth have played a part in the violence?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dirty GOP hands

One lasting lesson that I'd like conservatives to take from the past eight years of Republican rule is that they cannot believe GOP promises to "clean up the corruption in Washington." Their guys are just as vulnerable to being corrupted by money and power -- if not more so -- as Democrats are.

Right now at least 15 people appointed to office by George W. Bush are being investigated for, or have already been found guilty of, impropriety. Christian conservatives should especially take note: You were hoodwinked into supporting these guys, but they are not the people you assumed they were.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ebony and ivory

Though some people point out that state-mandated slavery came to an end with the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865 or that the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s put a stop to most of the country's Jim Crow laws, race is an issue that is integral to the American experience -- and not just for the purposes of academic and historical study.

In Georgia, for example, there is a high school that, up until this year, held separate proms for white and black students. That finally changed yesterday -- in 2007! Congratulations to the students at Turner County High School.

From Eastie to the world

A story in today's Boston Globe mentions that a highly regarded academic institute is located right here in East Boston. The Albert Einsten Institution was founded in 1983 by Dr. Gene Sharp to defend "freedom, democracy, and the reduction of political violence through the use of nonviolent action" around the world. Dr. Sharp lives in Eastie and apparently the AEI is a two-person think tank that is run out of his house. The organization uses an East Boston P.O. box as an address.

Sharp appears to have been involved in non-violent protest activities in China, Israel, Russia and other global hot spots and to have written extensively on the subject. He is described by some as the world's foremost authority on non-violent political action. Last month's Progressive had an interview with him. Though it's not available on the magazine's web site, I did find it on a blog in a March 10 entry.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Bridge to nowhere

Wordsworth Street, in the Orient Heights section of East Boston, is divided by the MBTA's Blue Line. There is a bridge that spans the tracks, and I took a walk over there today and talked to the gentleman who lives in the house next to the Charles Ernest Andrews Footbridge, which has been closed for about 40 years due to disrepair, vandalism and violence. According to the bridge's neighbor, someone was murdered near the span in the late 1960s, which was the final straw in the structure's useful existence. Now it's an eyesore and, also, a danger to the subway trains below. The bridge should come down.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Off with their heads! (Or at least let's fire them)

The Vermont state senate today became the first legislative body to publicly call for the impeachment of both the president and vice president. On a 16-9 vote that body approved a non-binding resolution that urged Vermont's Congressman to introduce an impeachment resolution against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

It's about time. Does this incompetent duo have to inflict any more damage before they get booted out of office? Bill Clinton was impeached on exponentially less important charges than lying to get the country involved in a war and running every federal department with politics and ideology as the only criteria.

Throw the bums out!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Eastie eateries

A friend sent me a link today to a web site called East Boston Eats. It looks fairly new, the content is a mish-mash and the fonts frequently don't match, but hopefully everything will come together in time. I'm all for a web site that directs me toward food.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

T-minus four years

CCD used to be those dreadful Saturday-morning religion classes I had to attend at the local church because my parents wanted me to receive communion, confession, confirmation, etc. The letters stood, then, for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Now, however, there is a different -- and almost as insidious -- CCD infecting the world: Colony Collapse Disorder.

Honeybee colonies across the planet are dying off at ever-growing rates and CCD has been coined to describe the phenomena. Apparently some research indicates that cell phones and other types of radiation are the cause of the bees' demise. There are also a number of other explanations.

I've been railing against technology -- on my computer, of course -- for some time now, so this comes as no surprise to me. Human "progress" is impacting the world in ways we don't understand. We push forward without ethical discussions of the ramifications of our actions. And, as a result, the world is polluted, the fabric of society is shredded, vast numbers of animals are destroyed, people are divorced from the food cycle, and -- quite possibly -- the insects that are responsible for pollination are being eradicated.

I've read that Einstein said that if bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left." Start the clock.

Doing our duty

I watched an interesting -- and at times, powerful -- two hours of television last night on PBS. The two programs were part of a series called America at a Crossroads, hosted by journalist Robert MacNeil. The first looked at soldiers in the field in Iraq and what their days are like. The second talked to those who returned to the US and have written about their experiences. The poems and stories they read were quite moving.

One of the soldier/writers said, "When one signs up for the military, his fate is then in his nation's hands." This made me think about how we got into the mess in Iraq and how we elected the person who put us there. Just over 50% of those who were eligible voted in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. We always say that it is a person's "civic duty" to vote, but that isn't just a nice phrase. The fate of those who are, or who will be, in the military is dependent on an informed and active citizenry. Those who express apathy toward the electoral process are leaving decisions about the lives of millions of service members at the whim of ignorant decision makers. Shame on you.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Russian hospitality

In Vietnam, an American soldier commented famously that the US forces were burning a village in order to save it. Well, in that spirit, Russian authorities are lifting a half-century old ban on killing polar bears in order to preserve the species.

The largest living land carnivores are already battling to survive as the polar ice cap shrinks earlier each year. The result is that they are going to turn up on land masses on the edge of the Arctic, like northern Russia. Nice to see that the government there will have a welcoming committee in place to greet them.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Fighting the law

On the Boston Police Department blog, which lists notes on incidents and arrests, there is an item for April 14 under this headline: "SHOTS FIRED LEADS TO SIX ARRESTS IN EAST BOSTON."

Now, I understand that six guys hanging out on neighborhood streets at 4 a.m. is quite possibly a sign of some trouble that happened or is going to happen. I also understand, from reading the entry, that the police officers were responding to a report of shots being fired. What is of come concern is that the six young men (called "kids" in the report, despite being aged 16 to 27) were eventually arrested for the disturbing the peace, which was the result not of the gunshots, but of their discussion with the officers.

It isn't illegal to be outside at any time of the day or night. The report doesn't mention that any weapon was found. I know it is possible, even likely, that one of these guys was the shooter, but it's equally likely that someone took some shots at them and drove away. Then, confronted by the police, the discussion becomes an argument -- one loud enough to disturb sleeping neighbors.

Is this preventative policing? Or is it harassment? I don't know.

Low rollers

Aside from Roxbury, East Boston has the lowest number of people making $100,000 or more a year in the City of Boston. Just 2% of the 15,000+ tax returns filed in 2004 reached that threshold, which is among the smallest percentage in the state.

A brief story on the statistics released by the IRS is at, along with a list of communities in the city and the state.

The world is round -- and hurting

Thomas Friedman was on C-SPAN2's BookTV a short while ago on the occasion of the second anniversary of the publication of his bestselling book The World is Flat. I haven't read the book, but I do have a general idea of the ideas in it from listening to Friedman on TV a number of times and reading some of his New York Times columns. Generally, I disagree with him.

In the anecdote that Friedman told today about the inspiration for the book, he was in India and the top guy at the top technology company there -- "the Microsoft of India," Friedman called the business -- noted that the economic playing field was getting more level. That gentleman -- "the Bill Gates of India," I guess we can call him -- is among the elite in one of the countries where the technology field is providing many jobs. On many levels that is a good thing, but the people benefiting are apparently one percent of India's population and, while that boom does extend to China (in similarly low percentages) it does not level the playing field in the ghettos of Lagos, Sao Paolo, Beijing, Paris or Detroit, as well as chunks of Central and South America, southeast Asia, the Middle East and nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Friedman acknowledges some of this, and says, "We're getting there. It's a long process." In fact, "getting there" is almost certainly equivalent to "ruining the planet." For India, China and everyone else to "get there" -- or should I say "here," as in the standard of living of the United States, which we have convinced them all to strive for -- then the resources of the Earth will be chewed up and spit out. Hey, we did it, so how can we ask others not to?

Not too long ago I saw a report on TV about what happens to used computers in India. Millions and millions have been, and are being, discarded and the result is an economic disaster, with toxic chemicals being released into the air and water table. This is happening not just in India, but everywhere, and not just with computers, but with a multitude of devices that are used up and tossed aside without a second thought in our consumerist society. That is the result of "getting there."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hoping against hope

"How many times does conservatism have to fail before we get a successor who reclaims American liberalism?" asks Robert Kuttner, whose column appears regularly in the Globe. I couldn't agree more. It's time for the citizenry of this nation to wake up and see clearly what conservative economic, military, environmental, social and labor policies are all about: enriching those at the top of the economic spectrum.

I have, however, little faith that a true progressive can get elected these days. Are we doomed?

Musical churches

The quick turnover of the St. Mary's Star of the Sea church, hall and rectory last fall that had people in East Boston asking questions is being reviewed by a retired judge at the behest of the archdiocese's Parish Reconfiguration Fund Oversight Committee, according to today's Herald.

South Boston photographer Michael Indresano paid $850,000 for the property in November and then, just 20 days later, sold it to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God for $2.65 million. The windfall profit doesn't sit right with some, especially because the archdiocese apparently rejected a pair of bids that were higher.

The Universal Church is a Brazilian sect that is apparently growing around the world. The church's beliefs are, according to a Wikipedia article, close to that of Pentecostal Christians.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mad for maple

The conditions necessary for producing maple syrup seem to have come and gone in southern New England, while up north the season is coming to a close. One producer in Vermont estimates that syrup from his state will go for "mid 40s" dollars per gallon. Damn, the stuff is too expensive. It is so good, however, that I can't resist it.

If you find a reasonably-priced stock of Grade B syrup, please give me a call. I love that stuff.

Let's talk about sex

It is clear that abstinence-only programs don't work, and now a government-mandated study has numbers to back that up. Of course, we've seen the Bush Administration's ideology remain unshakable in the face of facts before. The truth, however, is that animals are programmed to have sex, and human beings are part of the animal kingdom. People have been having sex in their mid- to late teen years since time immemorial, and nothing is going to change that.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Shifting standards

Worldwide, the United States uses double standards all the time. For example, we want to try people for war crimes, but we want our military to be exempt.

In today's New York Times there is a story on an arms deal between North Korea and Ethiopia, which the Bush Administration allowed to go through despite sanctions against the North -- one-third of Bush's "Axis of Evil." Because Ethiopia is fighting Islamic militias inside Somalia, the US OK'd the deal, which brought millions of dollars to North Korea at a time when we are concerned about the expansion of their nuclear-weapons program.

America molds the rules to suit what is convenient for us. We tell the world the same discredited advice that adults often give children: "Do what we say, not what we do."

Native lands?

It seems that the Wampanoag, the Native American tribe that sat down and broke bread at the first Thanksgiving, may have some ties to East Boston -- or, at least, they may be trying to find some.

Today's Cape Cod Times notes that New York businessman Richard Fields, whose Coastal Development recently purchased a controlling share in Suffolk Downs, is now positioned as a competitor to the Wampanoag, as both attempt to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts.

Toward the end of the story, the tribe implies that, just maybe, the two groups could work together to develop -- if gambling became legal in the Bay State -- a casino project at Suffolk Downs: "[S]uch a facility would have to be located on land that has cultural and historic ties to the tribe, according to federal law ... Wampanoag spokesman Scott Ferson said it's possible East Boston would fit the bill..."

The tribe is usually associated with the Cape and southeastern Massachusetts. I have read nothing about their exploits in the Boston area, but it is certainly possible that the Wampanoag spent time on the islands that now make up Eastie. If someone digs around enough they'll probably find arrowheads and bones.

Personally, I am against the idea of casinos in this state, and especially in my neighborhood. It does seem, however, that we'll get them eventually.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Saturday in the Square

This afternoon I had an excellent sandwich -- smoked turkey and havarti cheese on whole wheat -- at Darwin's Ltd., just outside of Harvard Square. I followed that with a nice cup of chai at Tealuxe, which is right in the square. While enjoying my hot beverage, which I sweetened with a generous shot of honey, I sat and read a bit from Sun magazine. A pleasant way as any to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Friday, April 6, 2007

A small piece of culture out back

Walking down Bennington Street to the Wood Island MBTA station yesterday, I was thinking about how Italian-Americans, no matter how small their property or yard, often attempt to fashion some little bit of their culture out of it. As I passed one narrow gap between houses I saw a round wrought-iron table with two chairs that barely fit into the space, and I imagined an elderly husband and wife settling down after summertime dinners for a cup of espresso, with the view consisting of their house, their neighbor's house and a narrow patch of the passing sidewalk.

Then, right next to the subway station, I saw an encased Virgin Mary fastened to the fence overlooking a slightly wider, but still small patch, with a couple plants in the foreground, a pair of tables in the back and, off to the side, twisting grapevines held up by metal poles. I stopped to take a few photos. The brick and iron fence on the right is all that separates this little slice of the homeowners' culture from the buses and pedestrians that stream past 18 hours a day.

Maybe this is true of other ethnic groups -- in fact, I'm sure it is, though maybe it is manifested differently in those cultures. However, I have been in enough backyards to know that the older the Italians living there and the more recent the immigration from the Old Country, the more likely I am to see a little table, some grapevines, tomato and basil plants, a string of lights, a bocce court and, of course, the Virgin Mary.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Think you're having a bad day?

Benjamin Houghton, an Air Force veteran, had the wrong testicle removed in a procedure at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. Of course, that means that the right testicle -- or maybe it's the left one -- is still there, and potentially cancerous.

I don't think any of us would argue with Houghton taking the hospital to court.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


To illustrate a story on religious belief, the web site known as The Christian Post used the photo at right, taken at Holy Redeemer Church in East Boston on Palm Sunday two days ago. Look at the crowd!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A ghost from Eastie's past

On the morning of October 9, 1638, a black woman approached John Josselyn and told him that she was being forced to have sex against her will. Josselyn was a guest of Samuel Maverick, the owner of Noddle Island -- some maps say Noddle's Island -- which is today the largest chunk of East Boston. (It was joined with four other islands using landfill in the mid to late 1800s.)

The woman was a slave owned by Maverick, who wanted her to breed with a male slave. Her refusal to voluntarily take part was ignored and the slave owner ordered the black male to carry out his command.

What happened after that is unknown, as the information above was garnered from a brief passage in an old book, but Yale graduate student Wendy Anne Warren attempts to fill in the story as best she can in an award-winning article titled, "'The Cause of Her Grief': The Rape of a Slave in Early New England." Read more in today's Globe about this scrap of East Boston's history.