Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Adding fuel to the fire

Today's attack on the media by firefighters marching on the State House is completely ridiculous. I've heard Ed Kelly -- president of union local 718, which represents Boston firefighters -- on the radio and read some things he's written, and every bit of it has been a distortion of reality. He's not willing to give any ground or to admit to any problem, and as a result the city's firefighters have been without a contract for almost two years.

In a post 9/11 world, you would be hard pressed to find a single American who doesn't admire and respect firefighters for the difficult and dangerous job they do. However, to claim -- as Kelly did today -- that the Boston media has been publishing "bogus stories" planted by city officials or launching "vicious attacks" against them is outrageous.

The fact that two firefighters killed in the line of duty last year may have been impaired by alcohol and cocaine is news and demands that action be taken. This is not something that can be swept under the rug. Also, stories of other firefighters arrested recently for drugs should not be suppressed. And investigations that show that some fire department personnel abuse the workmen's comp system also need to be addressed.

Boston jakes deserve a fair contract, and no one is begrudging them that, but as city employees they are also open to the scrutiny of the public, which demands drug testing and more accountability for those who file injury claims.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Falling star

Last week's East Boston Times reported that a number of parents of St. Mary's Star of the Sea students are justifiably upset after pouring time and money into the school -- including renovating the old convent -- only to have the archdiocese shut the school down.

I was told, by a person familiar with the situation, that representatives from the archdiocese walked in and pretty much relieved the principal, Joan Lawrence, of her command not long before the announcement was made that the school would close in June. It seems that the powers that be were afraid that Lawrence might lead some type of protest action, which Church leaders would like to avoid.

I am not personally aware of the details myself, but that is the story I heard.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Savio rejected lifeline

A few years ago, representatives from the Cristo Rey Network approached the administration of Savio Prep High School with hope that Savio would want to follow the Cristo Rey model, which was having success around the country. The formula involves placing students in positions at area businesses, where they work five days a month, and having those companies pay most of the school's operating costs.

Cristo Rey, which seeks to educate "economically disadvantaged" students in Catholic school settings, also partners with national corporations and charitable institutions, receiving -- for example -- $6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006. The network, founded in 2001, currently operates 19 schools, with plans to raise that to 30 in the near future. Back in its first couple of years the organization's leaders felt that Savio could be the ideal location in the Boston area for one of its schools.

Savio, however, felt otherwise, and rejected Cristo Rey's offer to do a feasibility study. At the time there was no attempt to discuss the proposition with Savio's faculty, and the impression that some were left with was that Savio's leadership would rather ensure that the classrooms remained predominantly white instead of adopting a format that appeals most strongly to Latino and African-American families.

This week Cristo Rey held its national conference in Boston, an event that included a tour of North Cambridge Catholic HS, which accepted the network's proposition in 2004. On the shelves of the NCC library were volumes that, for many years, had a home in East Boston. They were the books from the library at Savio, which closed its doors last June.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Smoke on the waterfront

A smoldering 55-gallon drum of an unknown chemical resulted in employees being evacuated from an East Boston business this morning. The fire department and a hazardous-materials team were summoned to Boston Boatworks at 256 Marginal Street, along the waterfront, at 8 a.m. today. Apparently the 30 employees returned to work in the afternoon.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Clean and green

With the spate of beautiful weather we've had this week, a man's fancy turns to ... spring cleaning? OK, women, grilling and baseball are likely at the top of your list, as they are mine, to finish that sentence, but truth be told, many of us are thinking of those subjects year round (yes, even baseball!).

Anyway, Earth Day was observed earlier this week, and I have been thinking recently about eliminating as many unnecessary, corporate-made consumer goods as possible from my life, especially all types of household cleaners. Before the Second World War people made good with simpler and safer items to do the jobs that we buy all sorts of toxic chemicals to do today.

There are many Internet sites to find information on this topic, and a number of books on the subject as I saw in a bookstore this afternoon, but I came across a brief piece on the 'net tonight that lists the six ingredients you need to do all of your household cleaning. I'm going to try to live by it starting now. How about you?

Suffolk preps for May 3 opening

Each of our dailies has a story about Suffolk Downs this morning in the wake of yesterday's luncheon for the track's "family, friends, and assorted guests" at the Boston Harbor Hotel. If you look at the two articles you'll find that the Globe piece portrays the mood as upbeat regarding the track's future, while the Herald story presents a more pessimistic view of Suffolk's survival.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No ocean sand for Winthrop Beach

According to Boston.com, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit that would have had tons of sand taken from the ocean floor and deposited on Winthrop Beach, a plan some residents of that community hoped would slow the erosion of the shore line there. Apparently there are some environmental concerns with the proposal.

In the last paragraph the story says that, "Winthrop Beach area residents blame the beach erosion for a string of flooding problems over the years." Erosion is a natural process. Would I be out of line to say that the cause of the flooding is homes built next to an ocean?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tyranny on the loose

In all the recent media coverage of Barack Obama's bowling, Hillary Clinton's downing a shot and a beer, and John McCain's plea-for-attention proposal to suspend the gas tax for the summer, you may have missed an astonishing bit of news: the Bush Administration appears to have covertly suspended part of the Constitution.

In a footnote to the recently released memo by former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, reference is made to a secret document that mentions the Fourth Amendment -- you know, the one that protects us against "unreasonable searches and seizures" by the government. This bedrock precept of our democracy has "no application to domestic military operations," wrote Yoo.

As an opinion from a high-ranking DOJ lawyer, this document would theoretically guide the actions of government agents, in this case allowing the military to walk onto the private property of citizens and take possession of their property and their person. Of course, much more likely is the collecting of our phone calls and emails, which some people might say is OK, but many feel clearly violates the Constitution. Bush and his cohorts must have felt that it did so, and therefore, they overruled it.

In an administration that has trampled the sacred text of our society at every turn, this is one of the most egregious violations yet.

Planting change

Tomorrow is Earth Day, a celebration held since 1970 to remind us that we all share a single planet, one with finite resources and an ecosystem that is intertwined to levels we don't always understand. In that frame of mind, I highly recommend reading a story from yesterday's New York Times by Michael Pollan, a noted writer on food and the food cycle.

The piece is called "Why Bother?" and that question is applied to efforts by individuals to shrink their so-called "carbon footprints" -- the amount of energy a person uses. The article ends up discussing something that I am planning to do this year: grow some of my own food.

Last year was my first venture in that direction, with a few plum tomato plants on my mom's porch. (She gets more sunlight than I get on my porch.) This year I am going to try to plant a bunch of things in my aunt's yard. I saved up some pumpkin and squash seeds over the winter -- I like to make pies and this year I made most of them from scratch -- and I hope to get some other seeds and to buy some tomato plants.

Now, I am not much of a green thumb and the soil in may aunt's yard looks as though it might present some problems, but I aim to give it a shot. I still need to read a little bit more on gardening, but we'll see what happens. I have low expectations, and if anything grows at all I will deem that a success.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's still Menino's job if he wants it

A poll released today seems to indicate that Mayor Tom Menino would coast to victory if he decides to seek another term in November. Of the city residents queried in The Boston Globe-UNH survey, 72% approve of Menino's handling of the job and 61% said he should run again.

It may be that the most interesting number in the poll is that 54% of respondents said that they have personally met the mayor. That appears rather impressive.

Menino has yet to confirm that he is running again, but another term in City Hall would be a record for Boston.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gas pains

Get ready to pay even more at the pump. Crude oil reached a new high today of $117 a barrel, four times what it was just six years ago. One conservation technique that Boston.com points out is avoiding left turns. Sound odd? Apparently UPS employs the strategy and used 3 million fewer gallons of gasoline last year.

Labor is wrong to support casino at Suffolk

While organized labor has generally been quite supportive of Gov. Patrick's plan to bring a casino to Suffolk Downs, members of a newly-formed union at the racetrack say that owner Richard Fields has not been very union-friendly.

The Herald
reports that security guards have been treated poorly at Suffolk Downs, and some of those who fought to form Local 546 had their hours cut back or were laid off altogether. Last year there was a story in the Patriot Ledger about the lack of health care for jockeys at the East Boston oval. Most earn a few hundred bucks a week with no benefits and rely on the volunteer efforts of a doctor who visits the track.

Some want to reward millionaire Richard Fields for the way he treats his employees by allowing him to open a casino in this neighborhood so he can fill his bank account with more bags of money. Does anyone really believe that he will create good jobs for the average Joe in Eastie?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The fog of war

Nearly one in five American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has suffered some sort of brain injury, ranging from mild concussions to much more severe head wounds, according to a widely-reported study released today. In addition, roughly the same number say they have mental problems (depression, PTSD) as a result of their tours in a war zone. (To be sure, many of those probably overlap.)

That's in addition to 4,000 dead and 30,000 seriously wounded, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who've died violent deaths since US forces arrived. We've got to get them all home soon, and -- though voting for a Democratic in November may not get them here immediately -- voting for John McCain insures that those numbers will keep rising well into the future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kelly's ditches unhealthy oil

Boston.com reports that Kelly's Roast Beef -- the venerable North Shore purveyor of sandwiches, fries and fish plates -- has switched to vegetable oil from soybeans for frying. This follows a national trend in which eateries are abandoning unhealthy trans-fat oil in their food.

Kelly's, which now has five locations, started out Revere Beach in 1951. I remember many occasions -- day and night, summer and winter -- when the sidewalk around the Kelly's windows would be filled with people. You don't see that any more, but -- as far as I'm concerned -- they still make the best roast beef sandwich around.

"One for you, nineteen for me"

Today is D-Day for American taxpayers. Hopefully, you've already filed with the IRS and the DOR, but if you've waited until now, the Globe has some last-minute information that might help.

This year, for the first time in quite a while, I had to pay. Of course, I could use that money to offset a number of things (to pay my high oil bill this winter or to save for the car it looks like I'll need in the next year when this one goes belly up), but I do understand that in a country like ours there are many good reasons to pay taxes.

On the other hand, it is true that many federal dollars pay for things that I completely disagree with -- tax breaks for oil companies, subsidies for corporations that grow corn, and of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, to name a few -- and it's also true that there are huge amounts of waste throughout the system.

In the summer of 1846, the Concord naturalist, writer and thinker Henry David Thoreau was jailed for not paying his poll tax for six years. Thoreau refused to pay as a protest against slavery and the Mexican-American War. Out of the experience came the essay "Civil Disobedience," which has inspired many in the realm of non-violent protest. Thoreau's action and his essay prod us to think about the social contract and the obligations one has when in opposition to government policies.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Study: Most Catholics satisfied

A recent survey of America's Catholics shows that two-thirds do not go to Mass on a weekly basis and nearly one-half never go to confession. On the plus side for the Church, there has been a rise in confidence in the country's bishops, and about 80% were satisfied with the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.

The study, done at Georgetown University, was commissioned by American bishops. The results come just in advance of the pope's visit this week to New York City and Washington, DC.

Some of those involved in efforts to re-open parishes closed by the Archdiocese of Boston are hoping that the US visit will bring more attention to their cause. Several have petitions currently being reviewed by the Vatican.

However, at least one parishioner is not happy to see Benedict on American soil. East Boston resident Gina Scalcione told the Boston Herald, “If somebody paid me money to go see him, I wouldn’t go see him. It all starts with him. Everything that has happened to this religion is his fault.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

Falling star

The Archdiocese of Boston announced yesterday that the St. Mary Star of the Sea School will be closing after this school year, according to Boston.com. Enrollment at the 120-year-old school has been dropping precipitously and next year would have been just one-third of what it was four years ago.

The demise of St. Mary's, a K-8 school located at Saratoga and Moore streets in East Boston, follows last June's shuttering of Savio High School, which is just one block away. That leaves East Boston Central Catholic as the only Catholic school remaining in the neighborhood.

The St. Mary's parish was in the news a little over a year ago when the church building itself was sold and then sold again, reaping a big profit for the first buyer and ending up in the hands of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Pentecostal group.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Chelsea fires

Boston.com has a story today on a fire 100 years ago in Chelsea that destroyed half the city and killed 19 people. On April 12, 1908, that city burned for 10 hours over nearly 500 acres. One witness said that, "she could see the sky over Chelsea turn bright red from her home in East Boston."

The fire that I remember in Chelsea was not as destructive as the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908, but on October 14, 1973, I saw a column of smoke in the sky as I was playing at the Boys & Girls Club on Paris Street. That fire, which started less than 200 feet from the earlier blaze, torched 18 blocks of the city. No deaths were reported.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Going up

Notice lately that the price of food is rising even faster than usual? There's been quite a bit in the news about this lately, and it seems that the trend is going to continue to get worse.

Writing in The New York Times, economist Paul Krugman notes that,
Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries...
Krugman then gives a quick list of the causes, which boil down to climate change, the rise of China, the war in Iraq, and attempts to use ethanol as an energy source. Ethanol, once heralded as a panacea for our energy woes, is less efficient than gasoline and has caused many farmers to plant corn in order to profit from the craze. That means they're not planting other crops and they are not growing crops as food.

"You might put it this way," Krugman writes, "people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states." He concludes that "it’s not clear how much can be done. Cheap food, like cheap oil, may be a thing of the past."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

City response not up to snuff

Today's Boston Sunday Globe takes a look at the way complaints are handled when people call City Hall's Office of Neighborhood Services. It seems that Boston is behind other cities in tracking and responding to such calls, and the excuses -- being that we're talking about a few hundred calls a day and not three million -- seem pretty lame.

An informal Globe survey showed that about half of the people who had called the city got a reasonable response to their request, while half didn't. Most calls are basic health, safety and quality of life issues: broken streetlights or stoplights, potholes, debris on public or private property, abandoned cars, graffiti, animal control, snow removal, etc.

The fact that one of the issues seems to be that our city government is having difficulty tracking the calls, tabulating the statistics and following up to find out if anything was done about the calls -- in a major city like Boston in the year 2008 -- is almost absurd. How hard can it be to set up a computer program/network that does that? Seriously, it's been almost 40 years since we landed on the moon!

I might have called the number listed in the article -- 617.635.4500 -- but I know I've called Neighborhood Services a few times -- 617.635.3485 -- and my experience has been that it takes several calls to get any some action. I call the complaint number and speak with the person that answers, but I also call whatever departments I think might be of help, and then I call each a few times. It may be that the Neighborhood Services staff relays requests quickly, but that the logjam is at the various departments. I'm not sure.

Once, recently, after a barrage of calls, the city responded that afternoon to a trash problem outside my mother's house. On the other hand, my cousin once called to have a tree on Havre Street trimmed and it took more than a year to get it done. One instance where I got a bit perturbed with Neighborhood Services was when the city employee responded to my complaint by giving me the phone number of the department to call. I said, "Excuse me?" and he repeated himself. Then I said, "If I wanted the number to that department I could have looked it up online in about ten seconds. What is the purpose of Neighborhood Services if all you do is give me another number to call? I expect you to get this information to the relevant departments." He backpedaled at that point.

Update: The mayor quickly appoints someone to make the system work more efficiently.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Luminous words

It looks as though spring-like weather will be here later this week, but we've got another gray Saturday on our hands. To bring a bit of luminosity to the day I thought I'd share some words written by Walt Whitman:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Emerson nine calls Eastie home

Emerson College's baseball team will be playing its home games at East Boston Stadium, according to the school's newspaper. The Lions have apparently bounced around in recent years, using several fields in Boston and environs, but they are thrilled at the prospect of playing on a newly-renovated turf field that has drainage and lights. In addition, it's a quick drive or subway ride from Emerson, which is located in downtown Boston.

The story does mention that, during the first game that the squad played at the field, some kids caused a bit of a problem by playing soccer in the outfield. At one point, one of the kids threw the soccer ball at an outfielder. Welcome to Eastie!

Spring cleaning

***East Boston resident Robert DeCoste is organizing a clean-up of Peddocks Island, located in Boston Harbor, for Saturday, June 7. A student at Mass. Maritime Academy, DeCoste is working with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Boston Harbor Island Alliance, and the Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands on the project, and he is looking for donors and volunteers. DeCoste has made a video of some of the five thousand pounds of trash and debris that litters the island's shoreline and you can watch that by clicking here. If you'd like to contact him, his email address is robdmma@hotmail.com.

***This just in from Mary Berninger: "East Boston Kiwanis Club, in conjunction with its sister clubs in Revere and Winthrop, is spearheading a cleanup of the Belle Isle Reservation for this Saturday, April 5. The event is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation will be supplying rakes, trash bags, gloves and other equipment."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This guy has a law degree?

I'm no lawyer, but the just-released Justice Department memo from five years ago that gave the OK for President Bush to direct the military or intelligence agencies to torture suspected terrorists is ridiculous.

"Our previous opinions make clear that customary international law is not federal law and that the president is free to override it at his discretion," wrote John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. He went on to write that, "even if the criminal prohibitions outlined above applied, and an interrogation method might violate those prohibitions, necessity or self-defense could provide justifications for any criminal liability."

Using this logic, all of the Nazi war criminals tried, convicted and executed at Nuremburg were not guilty because Hitler authorized their actions and his word was German law, which would have trumped the Geneva Conventions. Isn't the hypocrisy evident?