Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Disorder in the court

Defendant Richard Glawson punched a juror on May 18 in Suffolk Superior Court, resulting in a mistrial. The 46-year-old -- who was arrested after a crime spree in 2001 that included "carjackings, break-ins and shooting a Dedham police officer in the hand," according to -- topped the ludicrous behavior of his first trial by threatening today to kill the entire jury in his second trial.

The state's Supreme Judicial Court forced Judge Patrick Brady to poll jurors regarding their objectivity after the incident in the first trial, and several of them understandably admitted to being affected. Hence, the mistrial. What now? Members of this jury must certainly be influenced by Glawson's threat. Judge Brady continued with testimony today after the outburst, but it will be interesting to see if another mistrial is declared or if everyone decides that Glawson should get what he deserves.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Don't bet on it

Dan Bosley, a Democratic state representative from North Adams, believes that allowing casino gambling in Massachusetts does not make good economic sense, and he argues against it on a political blog called Blue Mass. Group.

Bosley notes that instead of talking about the $1.1 billion dollars that a recent study says that Massachusetts residents spend at the two Connecticut casinos, we should focus on the $100 million of the total that is theoretically lost to state tax coffers. Allowing gambling in the Bay State would cost more than that while taking a chunk of money away from the state lottery, a successful enterprise that contributes 25% of its intake -- nearly $1 billion -- to cities and towns to fund schools, firefighters, police officers, libraries, snow removal and other local services. If casinos are so helpful to a state's economic situation, Bosley writes, then why do Connecticut and New Jersey (as well as Rhode Island, which has slots) have higher taxes than the Commonwealth?

Bosley concludes that allowing casinos in Massachusetts is "a sucker's bet."

War stories

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor at Boston University. His son, also named Andrew, died on May 13 in Iraq after a suicide bomb attack.

"Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it," Bacevich wrote in a column published in yesterday's Washington Post. "I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month."

The column is online here at the Post's web site. The above photo is from a Boston Globe story about a Vermont company that makes headstones for the graves of veterans. That article ran yesterday as well and is available here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mango wild

Mangoes are, it seems, suddenly everywhere. With the influx of Latinos into East Boston in the past two decades, local stores offer a number of fruits and vegetables that are familiar to the people of Central and South America, but can be somewhat new to Americans. The mango may be the flagship fruit of this movement. (The photo above is from Karen Food Market on Bennington Street in East Boston.)

The flesh of a mango is quite tasty, though it can be difficult to cut with its long oval pit. I've read that the taste falls somewhere between a peach and a pineapple, and I guess there is some truth there, but for me the mango has a collection of tastes that are aromatic and exotic. I am learning how to pick mangoes and to cut them most efficiently. Also, I'm told that a squirt of lemon juice enhances the taste of the fruit.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Cycle swarm

A mob of bicyclists -- maybe about 120 -- rode down Main Street in Cambridge about 7:45 p.m. yesterday as I waited to turn left toward Boston. The horde was not made up of spandex-clad speedsters in single file, but rather a youngish lot who spread out across the road and moved at a leisurely pace. (Photo from a similar event in New York City.)

I turned onto Main and was dismayed to see the group ahead cycling onto the Longfellow Bridge, which was my destination as well. They moved slowly and cars full of angry drivers and passengers added up behind them. When a woman fell off her bike several of her compatriots quickly hopped off their cycles and spread them out in a protective formation. The cars all stopped, and the woman driving next to me started screaming that the cyclists were sitting down. Thankfully that wasn't true.

I stayed calm because I was in no hurry and getting angry would have solved nothing. Maybe the ride had a point -- and I am likely to agree with that point (cycling is healthier and better for the environment than driving, for example) -- but the method involved just generally irritated most onlookers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Capping it off

Suffolk Downs has announced plans to bring back the Massachusetts Handicap, the track's signature race, this September after the event was cancelled in three of the last four years.

According to the Boston Herald, new owner Coastal Development and top shareholder Richard Fields hope to rejuvenate the local racing scene by spending a million dollars on the Mass Cap.

The paper goes on to say that "the decision to bring back the Mass Cap is the first major public relations salvo in what is likely to be a long campaign to win state permission to turn Suffolk into Boston’s answer to Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods..."

This comes at the same time that the Wampanoag tribe is being officially recognized by the US government and is pursuing an aggressive plan to build a casino in southeastern Massachusetts. It will be interesting to see how all of the competing interests go to battle on this matter.

Ongoing adventures of the Keystone Kops

Today, while one Bush Administration employee admitted that she violated the law by taking politics into account when hiring career attorneys at the Justice Department, a potential government employee was such a blatantly ridiculous choice that his candidacy was abandoned under pressure from members of Congress from both parties.

Monica Goodling, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, said that -- while hiring lawyers for the Justice Department who are supposed to be treated as civil servants and not political appointees -- she "may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions." Such a political litmus test is illegal, but it seems that the Bush Administration has used such criteria throughout the Justice Department and beyond. Goodling also indicated that former Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty misled Congress about the firings of eight US attorneys when he testified in February.

Meanwhile, Michael E. Baroody withdrew his name for consideration as the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Baroody's current job? Senior lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, which wanted to give him a $150,000 going away present. In his position as a lobbyist, Baroody has worked against the implementation of the safety regulations that he would have been enforcing had his nomination been approved. Another case of Bush trying to appoint foxes to guard our hen houses.

This is an Administration that is, both domestically and overseas, completely out of control. The level of incompetence is staggering -- and possibly criminal.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Corny nation

A friend today sent along a link to a story in The Economist about the evils and ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup. The stuff is everywhere, used to sweeten hundreds of products because it is cheaper than sugar. As a result, Americans are getting fatter and suffering the resulting health consequences.

As I read a little on the subject on the Internet I found a review of Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which discusses where our foods come from -- and in an overwhelming number of instances the answer is: corn. Subsidized by the US government (translation: our tax dollars pay for Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and ConAgra -- all multibillion dollar companies -- to grow the stuff) corn is used to make sweeteners, artificial colors and preservatives, as well as to feed the chickens, pigs and cows that we eat.

Check out this passages from The Omnivore's Dilemma: "Corn is in the coffee whitener and Cheez Whiz, the frozen yogurt and TV dinner, the canned fruit and ketchup and candies, the soups and snacks and cake mixes…everything from the toothpaste and cosmetics to the disposable diapers, trash bags, cleansers, charcoal briquettes, matches, and batteries, right down to the shine of the magazine that catches your eye by the checkout: corn. Indeed, even the supermarket itself — the wallboard and joint compound, the petroleum and fiberglass and adhesives out of which the building itself has been built — is in no small measure a manifestation of corn."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Repeat after me: It can happen anywhere

There's a late breaking story on about a double-murder suicide that occurred in Saugus today. Certainly that is sad, but at the end of the article is this: "It makes me very concerned," said [a neighbor]. "It shows it can happen anywhere."


First of all, the shooter is apparently dead, so what reason is there to be concerned? Second, the "it can happen anywhere" comment is so overused as to be meaningless. Yes, violent crime can and does happen all over. If you are 10 years old or older you've seen enough examples of that to know that this is true.

We'll chalk this up to the interviewee being shocked.

Say it is so, Jimmy

Jimmy Carter, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president, today backed away from published comments he made about the current occupant of the Oval Office. Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette quoted Carter as saying of the presidency of George W. Bush: "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."

It's unfortunate to see Carter publicly back away from those remarks because they are 100% true. The White House shot back that Carter has "irrelevant." That isn't true, but what is more obvious each day is that Bush is more and more irrelevant even while he is still in office.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Proper heading

Think bike helmets won't protect against much? Think again.

Ryan Lipscomb had his head run over Friday in Madison, Wisconsin, by a truck -- yes, a truck -- and suffered only a concussion because he was wearing his helmet, which was crushed (see photo) in the altercation.

I know myself that often I don't look for bicycles when I'm turning, but I should. I intend to get a bike soon, and I hope that drivers will be more aware of me.

And, of course, I'll wear a helmet.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Chartering success?

East Boston's own Excel Academy is one of 53 schools across the country selected Wednesday as National Charter Schools of the Year. The public, tuition-free middle school, located in the Saratoga Street plaza that houses a Brooks Pharmacy, serves 180 students from Eastie and Chelsea.

Charter schools are all the rage these days, and two other Boston charters were also among those named. Excel's school day is nearly eight hours long, with students receiving 100 minutes of math and 100 minutes of English each day.

Sox sitting pretty

Of course it is less than two months into the long Major League Baseball season, but right now the Red Sox have the best record in either league, with a 10-game lead on the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East. Wow.

Boston's baseball crew leads the American League in both batting average and earned run average, and the Sox have been as successful on the road as they have been at Fenway Park. With Papi and Manny, Dice-K and Papelbon, they are a fun team to watch.

Being lifelong Sox fans, we are quite aware that there are 122 games left in the regular season, and we lived through 1978's squandering of a 14-game lead in July. But we've won the Series since then and these guys don't carry any of the "Curse" baggage. It should be a fun summer. Play ball!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Science's finest hour

It's a fact: The "5-second rule" is a solid guideline to live your life by. In fact, a recent study shows that the precept governing dropped food can be expanded to as much as 30 seconds with no ill effects.

I, for one, am grateful to the practitioners of such relevant science. Next up: Is a bird in the hand really worth two in the bush?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The deal on vitamins

The Globe had two stories this week on vitamins -- specifically, the negative consequences of taking too many vitamins and the lack of evidence that taking vitamin supplements has any positive effects at all.

As always, eating a balanced diet that includes lots of vegetables is the best course of action.

An incompetent disgrace

Seriously...these guys -- Bush, Cheney & Co. -- are the Keystone Kops. Twice in a row America voted in an incompetent fool as president and he brought along his moronic minions.

Paul Wolfowitz, a former top Pentagon official partially responsible for the war in Iraq, was appointed by Bush as president of the World Bank -- an international organization that helps countries develop economically -- almost two years ago. Now under the cloud of scandal, Wolfowitz is about to resign.

Meanwhile, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel today joined Arizona Sen. John McCain in calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign after revelations that Gonzales visited a critically ill John Ashcroft, the AG at the time, to get his OK on warrantless wiretapping. Even Ashcroft, a staunch conservative, saw that the program was unconstitutional, but Gonzales, who was then White House Counsel, advised Bush to go ahead with the the wiretapping anyway. This comes after many expressed a lack of confidence in Gonzales in the wake of the Justice Department's firing of eight US attorneys for what appears to be purely political reasons.

If this was a movie we'd be laughing at the ineptness of these people, but American soldiers are dying and the Constitution is being shredded as a result of the Bush Administration's most insidious maneuvers. Actually, these guys make the Keystone Kops look like a Mensa meeting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


At what point will Americans begin to drive less? Gas prices are averaging around $3 a gallon -- and passing $4 in some cities. An article at says that the increased cost has not slowed people's driving. What is the tipping point?

Maverick makeover

The remake of the housing project on the East Boston waterfront was completed yesterday with the dedication of a small park, the last bit of a sweeping renovation of the four-block area now known as Maverick Landing. Now instead of the jail-like brick monstrosity built in the 1940s (above left) there are colorful, modern buildings (above right), and several streets that had been elimnated have been restored.

When I was growing up, the "Maverick projects" had a reputation in Eastie as a dangerous place. The kids that I knew who lived there were tough guys -- and girls. It's a shame that for 50 years we felt that it was OK to house people in such bleak conditions, but it's good that we eventually felt that something had to be done.

The location -- steps from the Maverick T station with an incredible view of Boston Harbor and the city's skyline -- is quite desirable. The new units, some of them condos rented at market value, were constructed with environmental princples in mind. The Globe story notes that they are all currently occupied.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Banished from New England

That's it Connecticut is expelled. Even better: excommunicated. A recent poll shows that the citizens of the Nutmeg State prefer the Yankees to the Red Sox by a 43-37 margin. (The other 10% actually admit to being Mets fans.)

As I wrote years ago (in my resolution for the succession of New England from the union) Connecticut is the least New England of the New England states. In fact, I'd like to get a big saw and cut it away as Bugs Bunny does to Florida in a memorable cartoon ("South America, take it away!).

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hall of infamy

George Thrush, the director of the school of architecture at Northeastern University, writes at length in today's Globe about Mayor Menino's recent announcement that he'd like to build a new City Hall on the waterfront and all the of the discussion that this idea has unleashed. Thrush's main point is that even those who love the Brutalist concrete fort on the windswept plain of bricks should see this as an opportunity to makeover a chunk of the center of the city and that we should all embrace that opportunity.

While I understand that some in the architecture field admire Concrete Hall for its uncompromising design, the fact that it's as ugly as sin is not my biggest beef. It's cold and dreary inside and the entire plaza is a wind tunnel of wasted space. Only thirdly does the way the building looks -- as ugly as roadkill -- come into play. I fiercely oppose moving the seat of city government to the less accessible Southie waterfront, but I would like to see a downtown building worthy of Boston amongst a layout of streets teeming with life, day and night. As Thrush points out, we cannot go back to the winding streets and storefronts of Scollay Square and the West End, but we needn't feel that the current set-up is the best we can do, either.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Grains of paradise

Bread is one of the keys to life ... at least for me it is. Yesterday there was a little celebration for Parziale & Sons Bakery, which has been baking in Boston's North End for 100 years.

My grandfather was a baker in the North End when he first came to the US from southern Italy, and it's possible that he worked at Parziale's. Whether he did or not, good bread is a reason to celebrate.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Local chef made good

"East Boston-boy-made-good" is the way the Herald refers to Pino Maffeo, who was "named one of the nation’s best new chefs last year by Food & Wine magazine."

Now he's opened up a new place, the article reports:
Boston Public at Louis Boston, located in the Back Bay. "We’re predominantly a steakhouse," said Maffeo, who grew up across Chelsea Street from me.

Good luck and buon appetito!

On the web

The University of Massachusetts athletic department web site has posted a story that I wrote a few weeks ago about one of their athletes. Michelle Libby is a freshman on the UMass women's softball team, and the newspaper group I used to work for asked me to catch up to her and to write a piece on how things are going so far.

Libby hasn't played much this season, but her coach indicated that she is part of the team's future. Michelle, as she had been at Sacopee Valley High School, was friendly and cooperative when I spoke with her after a game at Boston College. The story ran in the Sacopee Valley Citizen, the weekly that Current Publishing puts out in western Maine, and UMass picked it up just recently.

Stamp out hunger

Props to Congressman Jim McGovern, who will attempt to eat on $3 a day from May 15-21 to bring attention to the small amount that those who receive food stamps are expected to live on.

The Worcester Democrat will be joined by Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson in the "food stamp challenge," which is sponsored by religious groups and community activists. No one else in the House of Representatives has responded to the pair's challenge to join them.

My family used food stamps when I was kid, and I applaud any effort to shine a spotlight on the economic divide in this country.

At the zoo

OK, here's a rule of thumb for anyone who may be, literally, on the fence in this matter: It is NEVER a good idea to climb into a cage at the zoo. Whether the animal being visited is a gorilla or leopard or -- in the most recent instance -- a giraffe.

A few Lithuanian college students found that out Monday when Solut, a nine-year-old male giraffe, broke one of the trespassers' collar bones. If you occasionally read the news, you'll see that this seems like a pretty popular activity to attempt -- generally after a long night of boozing. The next time that you are drunk and halfway up a cage at the zoo, remember my advice and get down.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Paesani of Letters

Stephen Puleo, an Italian-American from the Boston area, has written a book called The Boston Italians, which is discussed in today's Globe.

The book is subtitled A Story of Pride, Perseverance and Paesani, from the Years of the Great Immigration to the Present Day. There are some excerpts on Puleo's web site. He's also written about the infamous North End molasses flood in a book called Dark Tide.

Puleo will be reading from The Boston Italians tonight in Wakefield (7:30 at the Wakefield-Lynnfield United Methodist Church, 273 Vernon Street) and on May 17 in East Boston (7:00 p.m., Orient Heights Branch Library).

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The sweetest thing

An article I found on the Internet says that many companies have been boosting the amount of sugar in foods they produce. In the past 30 years products from soup to bread to cereals we'd consider healthy have been made sweeter to appeal to consumers, with the consequences including increases in tooth decay and diabetes.

Products mentioned in the story include Kellogg's Special K cereal, which has double the amount of sugar that it had in 1978. The article also says that some brands of whole wheat bread have a teaspoon of sugar in every three slices.

This is just one tiny part of the big story: The effect of corporations growing, processing, packaging, marketing, shipping and selling our food has been disastrous. It's one way -- possibly the largest way -- in which capitalism and technology are destroying our culture, our species and our planet. Read Wendell Berry for more insight.

What's in your shopping cart?

Senate seat showdown

The Globe takes a look today at the candidates battling for the local state senate seat vacated by Robert Travaglini. Eastie's state Rep. Anthony Petruccelli and Revere City Councilor Dan Rizzo square off in a special election on May 29 -- the day after Memorial Day -- in a Democratic primary that is winner-take-all, as there is no Republican challenger.

Rizzo (bottom photo) actually lives just outside the district, in the one Revere ward that is not part of the First Middlesex and Suffolk seat's territory, but the law only states that he needs to live in the district on the day of the general election, June 26. He'll move if he survives the primary.

Besides East Boston and most of Revere, the district includes Winthrop, the North End, the West End and parts of Beacon Hill and Cambridge. Travaglini held the seat for 13 years, rising to the chair of Senate president, and Petruccelli (top photo) is favored to win the special election, as he has the backing of Trav as well as Mayor Menino.

Rizzo stands to take Revere, while Petruccelli will take Eastie and the other three Boston neighborhoods. Cambridge (about 30% of the vote) and Winthrop (15%) are the real battlegrounds.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Artsy Eastie

Nearly six years ago I wrote a story about the East Boston Artists Group and their work space just outside Maverick Square. I was contributing a column to the weekly East Boston Sun Transcript at the time, and I stopped by 80 Border Street, spoke with a couple of the artists and looked at their work.

While checking out a blog called "Letter from Eastie," I found out that the group still exists and that their studio space is called Atlantic Works. The latest exhibition -- titled "humble, radiant, terrific" -- opens today, with viewing on Fridays and Saturdays. Check out the group's web site for exhibit hours and more information on the artists.

Nectar of the frogs

A popular recipe from the streets of Peru:

-three ladles of hot bean broth
-two generous spoonfuls of honey
-raw aloe vera plant
-several tablespoons of maca (a root believed to boost stamina and sex drive)

Place ingredients into a household blender
and then drop in one dead frog.

The resulting "frog juice" is "a starchy, milkshake-like liquid" that is said "to cure asthma, bronchitis, sluggishness and a low sex drive."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Civility strikes out

I was at the Red Sox game this evening with a friend, who got us the $100 seats from a season-ticket holding friend. The Boston nine won, 6-4.

What stood out most from the night was a number of disappointing episodes where people acted without common civility to those around them. Is this who we are as a society? If so, I don't think I want to be a part of it.

May flowers

East Boston was one of the central points for those who rallied Tuesday for immigrant rights. I saw quite a few people in Eastie's Central Square after 5 p.m.

Of course, May 1 is chosen because it is celebrated around the world as May Day, a day commemorating workers, labor unions and their rights. This tradition started to mark the anniversary of the Haymarket uprising in Chicago in 1886, which led to the death of a number of workers and police officers.