Monday, December 31, 2007

Year one: Success!

One year ago today I started this blog as a vehicle for me to express opinions without sending friends a constant stream of emails. I've attempted to post at least once a day and for most months that worked out, though more recently I've slowed down a bit. Still, this will be my 379th entry, so I've succeeded over all.

I had just a handful of readers until East Boston's special election for state rep brought attention and hundreds of comments over the summer. The number of comments has slowed significantly since then, but I think the site still gets viewed by more people than I originally imagined, which is a good thing.

There are only hours remaining in 2007, as time rolls ceaselessly onward, never pausing to allow us to catch our collective breath. In these final moments of the current year let me offer wishes for a joy-filled 2008 to everyone, and let us end with the words of Scottish poet Robert Burns:

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cutting in line

People who don't like elected officials frequently indicate that they don't trust them, and today's Boston Globe has a story that gives us an example of why trust is such an issue for many citizens. The Boston City Council and the state legislature sneaked through laws so that one guy, William Hayhurst III of Dorchester, was bumped from 623rd to first on the Boston Fire Department's hiring list.

What infuriates me in situations like this is when the officials refuse to explain themselves. If they choose to do something because they think it's the right thing to do, then they should step up and explain to people why they did it. Instead, Senate president Therese Murray -- who, according to the story, spearheaded the effort because the Hayhursts are family friends -- "declined to discuss what steps she took to help" William Hayhurst, according to the Globe.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ignoring the realities of capitalism

Late in the film Michael Clayton, when the title character, played by George Clooney, casts off his role of defending wealthy screw-ups and the giant corporations they work for and gives uNorth -- the mythical agrochemical multinational that's been knowingly poisoning groundwater for years -- what they deserve, the small crowd at the Capitol Theater in Arlington gave out a cheer. Like other films of this genre, the audience is on the side of the renegade lawyer/whistle blower/victim, and that is both the way the director and writer have set things up as well as the way it should be.

However, what occurred to me as I sat there the other night was this: Why doesn't the same emotion expressed in the dark of the cinema follow us out when the film is over so that we may call corporations to task for what they are doing in the real world and how they are affecting our actual lives?

Instead, we shrug and allow this to continue all around us. Maybe corporations are so skilled at diverting our attention and obfuscating the truth that we don't know exactly what is going on; or maybe we look at the problems and just feel like they are too overwhelming to deal with; or maybe, sadly, we are so used to our comfortable and convenient lives that we choose not to look behind the curtain or to avert our eyes even when the curtain is pulled back by someone else.

It is sad and disheartening. Chemical companies continue to pollute the air, the water and the soil; agribusiness corporations and fast-food chains sell us processed food products that wreak havoc on our health; the energy and mining industries rape and pollute the planet; pharmaceutical companies convince us we need to be constantly medicated; retail stores screw workers from the US and abroad by demanding cheaper products to fatten their profit margins; insurance companies go to great lengths to avoid paying benefits to those who deserve them; financial services corporations keep us all in debt with outlandish interest rates; and the beat goes on.

This is not a few rogue elements operating in the system; this IS the system. Capitalism ensures that all decisions made by corporations use the bottom line as the only criteria. As a result, any concerns about public health, the environment or justice take a back seat. Meanwhile, the majority of us sit here and watch, saving our outbursts for darkened movie theaters.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"I will not be intimidated"

Benazir Bhutto was a much more courageous person than I'll ever be. The former prime minister of Pakistan returned to that country knowing there would be attempts on her life, yet she went anyway. In a Boston Globe op-ed piece in October, she wrote:
I will not be intimidated. I will step out on the tarmac in Karachi not to complete a journey, but to begin one. Despite threats of death, I will not acquiesce to tyranny, but rather lead the fight against it.
Those violently opposed to her vision of a modern, democratic Pakistan failed in their attempt to kill her when she first returned, but others succeeded today.

Snow follies

Both daily papers have stories today on the practice of saving parking spots after snowstorms. The Globe and Herald point out that the last snowfall was days ago and that the streets in some neighborhoods are littered with junk. Meanwhile, the city say that garbage trucks will pick up whatever is found on the streets.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Local Asian eats

A story today at mentions a Cambodian restaurant in Revere called Floating Rock, so I Googled the place and found some excellent reviews.

"The dining room is drab, with only a few pictures on the walls. The exterior is equally bland. But the food is anything but," said a Globe article from a few years ago. The Harvard Crimson wrote, "
The food is so alive, so bursting with flavor, that all else is forgiven. Eating at Floating Rock is a strange and wonderful journey..."

I will have to check the place out, and speaking of Southeast Asian hole-in-the-wall gems in the vicinity, this seems like a good place to mention Saigon Hut. I've been eating at this little Vietnamese restaurant for more than a decade. Located at the corner of Meridian and Lexington streets in East Boston, Saigon Hut is genuine, tasty and inexpensive. The menu includes pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, as well as a number of rice, noodle, vegetable, chicken, beef and seafood dishes. I always start off with the fresh spring rolls.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Something new, something blue says that new Blue Line cars will start hitting the rails in the new year. Though they are apparently three years late, the MBTA is finally happy with them. A total of 94 cars will be pressed into service by the summer, replacing the old fleet, which is about 28 years old.

In the third paragraph the story says that the Blue Line is "among the busiest in the MBTA system," which is completely false. Not only is this an easily-verifiable statistic, but it's not even close (Red: 213,700; Green: 202,400; Orange: 161,350: Blue: 60,950) and anyone familiar with the T -- least of all a reporter covering that beat -- should know that.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Poll workers needed

The city is looking for poll workers to take shifts during the Feb. 5 presidential primaries. If you are interested, check out this notice posted by our friends at

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kids are movin' in Eastie

Today's Globe reports that a local program is trying to fight childhood obesity. Let's Get Movin' is "an after-school program that provides sports, cardio activities, and nutrition classes to middle and elementary school students" and is sponsored by the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and Northeastern University's Urban Youth Sports program.

Let's Get Movin' receives some national publicity as part of a Discovery Health Channel (Comcast cable channel 226) show called "Healthy Steps to Treat Childhood Obesity," which airs today at 9 a.m. (as well as Dec. 29 at 9 a.m., Jan. 6 at 8 a.m. and Jan. 20 at 8 a.m.).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Two-armed bandits

The big story yesterday was Gov. Deval Patrick's testimony -- in front of a legislative committee -- that casino gambling is good for Massachusetts. However, before rushing down a course we will be unable to reverse, everyone should be clear on what is going to happen here: A few rich people are going to get even richer.

Check out the story in Sunday's Globe about the profits at Mohegan Sun, one of Connecticut's two gaming destinations. A pair of investors has made off with $369 million, while this year each member of the Mohegan tribe collects $38,000. That is not what was intended by the Indian Gaming Act.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tire slashed over parking spot

Channel 7 reports that an East Boston woman had her tire slashed after she parked in a spot that someone had "reserved" after shoveling out. If you've lived in this neighborhood long, you've probably heard and seen stories like this -- though I thought in recent years we'd gone away from such behavior.

The story says that, "It is considered an unwritten law in East Boston and South Boston that if someone digs out a space in the snow, they (sic) own it," and then goes on to explain that Mayor Menino tried to change this three years ago, but eventually back down.

"We live in the United States of America. I don't think this is the way it should be," said Nicole (whose last name and street are not provided in the story, most likely out of fear of retribution), and she is right. People shouldn't save their spots with cones or furniture, and if they do, then damaging someone else's property for some misguided sense of injustice is wrong.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Arts boom in Eastie

There is a Boston Globe story today on the growing arts scene in our little neighborhood. There is "a burgeoning group of visual and performing artists, writers, and musicians" in East Boston, the article says, with one individual interviewed for the piece adding, "It's kind of a perfect place for artists to be."

Atlantic Works -- once an old industrial building near Maverick Square -- has been home to a number of artists for nearly a decade (photo is of recent reception there), and now, in the same building, the 80 Border Street Cultural Exchange Center will provide interactive space for arts and culture, as well as classes for children. The neighborhood is also home to the newly-opened New England Gallery for Latin American Art.

There's no secret to the lure of Eastie. Artists are drawn to places where they can work, exchange ideas with other artists, find stimulation in their surroundings, and show their work to the public -- affordable, multi-cultural, easily-accessible urban neighborhoods. Eventually places become cool and everyone else moves in. That's what happened in the South End, JP, the Fort Point area, Davis Square in Somerville and dozens of other places.

I am looking forward to checking out and possibly reading at the 80 Border open mic poetry night on Thursday. I hope we can develop a writers' enclave in East Boston as well.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Snow park

I lived, for two years, in Portland, Maine, and I was at first confused regarding the city's policies on snow removal -- but now I think that Boston should adopt at least one of them.

The law that stunned me during the first storm in the winter of 2004-05 is that there is no street parking in the area in which I lived -- the peninsula -- during snow emergencies. None at all.

Of course, I shook my head and said, "What am I supposed to do with my car?" and when I found out that certain places -- lots attached to schools and other city-owned properties -- were available to park I said, "That's crazy. They must fill up right away."

What I found was that I never had trouble getting a spot in the lot closest to my apartment, and though the walk -- about a quarter-mile and usually in the midst of falling snow -- was a bit of a chore, the up-side easily offset it: The streets were plowed to the curb, and when the storm ended and the emergency was lifted, everybody could park as normal on the street.

Now this, I'm sure, would be impossible for Boston to execute because we are a city of nearly 600,000 and Portland's population is 64,000. There would not be enough places to park cars during storms to make this feasible. Also, Portland's regulation only applied to the central neighborhoods, not the outlying areas.

However, there was another city policy that I think should be implemented in Boston. In Portland street-cleaning parking regulations are in place year-round. When there is snow on the ground the sweepers are left in the garages and city workers remove the snow with plows, backhoes and pick-up trucks. In one week's time all of the streets are cleared of snow so parking is back to normal. We could do the same here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reform up in flames

Police and fire unions -- at least locally -- are much too powerful. Police unions in the state will never relent on the regulation that officers must work construction details, which means that we all end up paying higher costs for road work or utility repairs. In addition, Boston firefighters will never allow reform of their department to take place.

The Globe reports that Ed Kelly, president of the firefighters union, resigned from a committee set up to implement recommended changes in the department in the wake of the death of two BFD personnel at a restaurant fire in West Roxbury. More than half of the 82 recommendations that were developed as a result of three previous department audits have not been put in place because the union will not cooperate.

Two days after the committee was announced, Kelly walked out when the proposal to randomly test firefighters for levels of drugs and alcohol was discussed. It was probably clear from the start that the union is not going for this one, though the two firefighters killed at the restaurant were both found to be impaired.

These unions should be more willing to negotiate, listen, compromise and give a little on issues like this, which in the long run would be a good thing for the firefighters and the citizens of Boston.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Romney's gain is everyone's loss

Mitt Romney probably did himself good with a speech last week that was meant to quell the concerns of evangelical Christians when it comes to voting for a Mormon. Romney tried to place his church squarely among the nation's dominant religion and said, as John F. Kennedy did in 1960, that leaders of his faith would not have undue influence over his decisions as president.

So the speech was probably good for Romney. However, it was bad for America.

Kennedy spoke to Protestant ministers who were leery of putting a Catholic in the White House. They openly speculated that JFK would be taking orders from the pope. The Democratic nominee said that this would not happen. "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," Kennedy said to a room full of preachers. Though Romney attempted to style himself as one walking in the shoes of the eventual 35th president, in truth he believes in a very different America. Romney said that, "in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning," and that, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."

The Christian right in America, while probably not as powerful at the polls as many assume, has exerted its influence over our elected officials in recent years. Karl Rove's strategy of pandering to that sector has tainted the government for years to come, and the current occupant of the Oval Office calls himself "The Believer-in-Chief." Romney wants to convince Christians that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a mainstream Christian denomination, like other Protestant branches that he mentioned in his speech: Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Lutherans and Presbyterians.

Many, however, point out the lurid history of the Mormon church. Commentator Lawrence O'Donnell, on the PBS political analysis show The McLaughlin Group, was rather passionate in his condemnation of the LDS church, saying that Romney needed to fess up on whether he held certain Mormon beliefs, such as the Garden of Eden being in Missouri, Jesus Christ living on another planet and, until the late 1970s, that black people had darker skin as a punishment from god.

Other critiques of Romney's remarks have been made by some newspaper columnists, for example at the Hartford Courant and the Salt Lake Tribune. As one of them points out, Romney used the word "Mormon" once in his remarks and "god" 15 times. Contrast that with the fact that Kennedy used the word "Catholic" 20 times in his remarks. Romney, it's clear, is trying to evade a tougher scrutiny of the church that has been called a cult by some.

In the end, I think, the hardcore evangelicals are not going to vote for a Mormon, but I think that some mainstream Christians who were on the fence were reassured to hear Romney say, "Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind." That is probably the litmus test that they have.

Of course, there shouldn't be any litmus test with regard to religious beliefs. Romney dismissed "secularists" and nonbelievers, but there are increasing numbers of such people in the United States, and their rights and beliefs should be respected as well. The separation of church and state was intended to be absolute and it should remain so. Any attempt to intertwine religion with government should be frowned upon and avoided. That is what Kennedy said, but the opposite of what Romney said. Just as George W. Bush's contention that god is telling him what to do and one of the things he was told was to invade Iraq, Romney is a believer who is dangerous. We should all be vigilant against putting anyone with apocalyptic beliefs and demented religious fervor in control of levers of power and buttons that launch nuclear missiles.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A dangerous man

The United States "cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions," Dick Cheney said recently. It sounds a lot like what he was saying in the weeks before the invasion of Iraq, but this time he was talking about Iran.

The problem is: He was wrong before and he's wrong again. Yesterday, parts of a government report were released and it says that Iran hasn't been working on developing a nuclear weapon for four years. The National Intelligence Estimate, which is the consensus of all the nation's intelligence agencies, says that Iran "is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005."

There is no rogue power with "aggressive ambitions" more dangerous than Dick Cheney.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Overnight assault

The city's police blog outlines a disturbing attack on an off-duty firefighter overnight in East Boston. The victim, who is not identified, suffered "non-life threatening injuries" after being harassed by "a group of Hispanic males" when he went to Chivas Restaurant at the corner of Saratoga and Prescott streets and was then attacked in front of the firehouse at 360 Saratoga Street. Read the entry at for details.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Facts instead of innuendo

The Spanish-language newspaper El Mundo had more of an even-handed take on the Tequila's situation, thanks to information provided to them by Joe Mason. Click on the title of this blog entry or below on "Comments" to read a translation of their story, sent to me by Mr. Mason.