Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's here

The swine flu has reached Massachusetts, with two confirmed cases in Lowell, both elementary school students who had recently returned from Mexico. Odds are that we'll discover other cases in the state and in Boston as the virus spreads. More than one public health expert has said that the coming fall and winter could be the worst period for this outbreak.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Making his move

East Boston resident Andrew Kenneally, who is running for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council, today received the endorsement of a well-known union. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93 praised Kenneally's "knowledge, experience and vision" in announcing the endorsement.

Kenneally's campaign kick-off event is scheduled for Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Spinelli's in Day Square. The candidate has a pretty slick web site here. The City Council has not had an at-large member from Eastie in 15 years.

Eastie water main break is reporting that a water main broke late last night near the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel, creating a sinkhole. At least one street was closed to traffic.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A beautiful day

Late yesterday afternoon I went to visit my mom for a bit and when I drove past Bremen Street Park there were, without exaggeration, hundreds and hundreds of people there. Mostly they were children on the swings and other play elements, but there were also young and old adults walking, sitting and hanging out.

It was a refreshing image of urban life, and I immediately thought of this blog and how -- on any issue concerning East Boston -- there are comments that rant in completely negative terms about the neighborhood, the people, the businesses, the politicians. I think that we all should stop and sniff the proverbial flowers. We live in a place that is cool, diverse and safe. Yes, the streets are sometimes dirty; a neighbor can sometimes be annoying; we're not without crime or a gang element or an issue that city government should have responded to more quickly. Reading over the comments, however, one would think that Eastie is the South Bronx in the 1970s.

So let's enjoy the arrival of spring. As the prophet Bono says, "It's a beautiful day / Don't let it get away."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Of mayors and casinos

I'd like to see Tom Menino step aside for the next generation of local politicians, but the mayor announced yesterday that he is running again. It'd be nice to see the 66-year-old Menino, who will become Boston's longest-serving mayor in July, leave office with high favorable ratings and serve as an elder statesman of sorts. Some people -- especially athletes -- try to hang on too long, and so I fear the same is true with the mayor.

I'm also not happy with Menino's stance on bringing casino gambling to Suffolk Downs. Earlier this week a group of union leaders and elected officials, dubbed the Massachusetts Coalition for Jobs and Growth and led by the mayor, sent out letters to line up support for legislation that would legalize casino gambling in the state. In tough economic times it makes sense to bill this as an issue of "jobs and growth." There will be some mediocre- and low-paying jobs for local residents, but more money will be sucked out via a nearby casino than pumped in.

The real growth will occur in Richard Fields' bank account. The millionaire principle owner of Suffolk Downs is giddy with excitement now that slots and/or casinos would seem to be a foregone conclusion. Visions of dollar signs are dancing in his head.

The mayor and other elected officials should think carefully about what they are doing to local communities and should engage in some conversations with people who live in places that will be greatly affected by casinos in Massachusetts. All that glitters is not gold.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Controlling the past

Today is observed as Patriots' Day in Massachusetts and, of course, this morning the ride of Paul Revere was reenacted along the course of the original route from Boston to Lexington.

Just last week, at Rodney's Bookstore in Central Square, Cambridge, I came across a used copy of "Founding Myths," a book that looks back at about a dozen stories from the Revolutionary War period, attempting to find the truth among the glorified tales that most of us learned in school.

Turns out that Revere himself wrote an account of the ride not long after it happened, but the story told in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem is what made its way into history textbooks. As you might expect, the truth is always messier, but it doesn't make for easy-to-remember history.

About a decade ago I read "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and was astonished to find out that when the Pilgrims arrived they set up what became Plymouth on the site of an abandoned Native American village. And then they meet Squanto, who had already been to Europe three times by 1620! He spoke English and served as a translator between the English and the natives. Squanto's story is amazing: He'd been kidnapped in 1605 by an English sailor and had tried since to make his way back to his village, Patuxet. After several attempts he arrived to find that all his people had been killed by disease and that the Pilgrims were living on the land. It was disappointing to me that several important aspects of the story had been left out when I'd learned it in school.

Since then I've also read Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," which provides another view of events that differs from the mythology that we're all taught. I generally find history fascinating and I try to learn as much as I can, but I keep in mind George Orwell's words from the book "1984": "He who controls the present, controls the past."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Following through on our obligations

The phrase "Equal justice under law" is carved into the front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, and it sums up an ideal that -- though we often fall short -- most Americans would, I think, agree that we should always strive for. President Obama's decision to release the CIA torture memos was the right thing to do. It might have created some waves, but sometimes the right thing is the most difficult option and sometimes it takes a confident leader to take that step. Obama's actions signal that the principle of justice cannot be permanently pushed aside in the United States.

On the second part of the president's decision, I am open to discussion, but as I see it now, not pursuing legal action against CIA officers and others who may have tortured, within the guidelines set forth in the released memos, those in US custody seems like an acceptable course of action. However, I absolutely believe that those at the top -- those who wrote the memos and those who instructed them to do so -- should be prosecuted. We cannot allow the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions to be ignored. If these documents, and the ideas behind them, are to mean anything they must be respected by all people at all times, no matter the political fallout (which, admittedly, would be nasty).

I agree with Paul Krugman, who writes that "there is now no way to view the people who ruled us these past 8 years as anything but monsters," and with a counter-terrorism expert writing in the Daily News. Alberto Goncalves, John Yoo, David Addington, Douglas Feith and Jay Bybee cooked up arguments that supported their immoral ideology even while trampling the Constitution, and they did so under orders from Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. The whole lot of them should be put on trial.

John Adams said that we live in "a nation of laws, not men." When men, and women, at the highest levels of government ignore those laws, it is not a choice, but an obligation to follow through and bring them to justice.

Update (4/24): New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in his column today, dissects the pros and cons inherent in an investigation of the Bush Administration's torture policies -- and the march to war in Iraq -- and concludes that this needs to be done because it is "the only way we can regain our moral compass."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Business update

I'm wondering about several commercial sites in East Boston:

***One comment on the previous post asks about 999 Saratoga Street, the former site of Zefferano's restaurant. The comment said that it looked like work was being done in at the site. Any readers have a scoop on this?

***I've noticed that the brick building at the corner of Saratoga and Curtis streets appears to be ready to open as a convenience store. Does anyone know the owners?

***Meanwhile a block away, at the corner of Saratoga and Harmony, the storefront there has been idle with brown paper in the windows following a sign posted a few months ago that the business was "coming soon." Is this another convenience store? Something else? Or did the owners decide to relocate to Curtis Street?

***The former Public Welfare Building in Maverick Square is supposed to open as a site for several small businesses. Does anyone know how that is coming along?

Any other new businesses that locals should know about?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Have it your way

The Globe reports on the controversial Burger King that is coming to Maverick Square. As the story points out, the city's licensing board approved the site owner's application for a fast-food chain franchise in February after twice rejecting it previously.

Many in East Boston are against BK occupying 1 Maverick Square, which used to be barroom, and their thinking is that it'd be great to attract some locally-owned, higher-end businesses to the newly-renovated square. However, others make what seems like a reasonable case: those establishments are not coming to Maverick Square and it's better to have a fast-food joint than an abandoned building.

Friday, April 10, 2009

For whom the Belle tolls

I've mentioned it before, but it deserves mentioning again: the OrientSee photo blog maintained by George Cumming is a wonderful, almost daily, record of a little piece of East Boston that many of us don't witness firsthand. Luckily, George is out there with his camera, taking and posting fantastic shots of Belle Isle Marsh -- mostly birds, but also other fauna, flora and more. (Who would think he could make a rusty spoon look beautiful?) Check it out.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bike-share on tap for Boston

Boston is apparently ready to become the coolest bike city in the country. According to a story on (and scheduled to be published in Sunday's Globe magazine section), Mayor Menino is in the process of setting up a bike-share program somewhat in line with what is done in Paris. Bicycles would be available at racks all around the city -- as well as in places like Cambridge and Somerville -- to those who register for a small yearly fee. I know I'd join.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

City cracking down on illegal apartments

Channels 4 and 7 are both reporting that at least one East Boston apartment was immediately cleared out after officials from the city's Inspectional Services Department checked a number of buildings looking for illegally occupied flats. Four residents from the basement apartment at 223 Saratoga Street were asked to leave immediately.

Kids will be...infected

It's being widely reported that there is a scabies outbreak at an East Boston Head Start facility. Scabies is an infection caused by tiny mites, and it appears to be annoying but harmless. Kids frequently spread colds, lice and more amongst each other because of their close contact and less-than-desirable hygiene.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A tale of two pharmacies

I'm not sure which is a better company when it comes to prices or customer satisfaction or environmental consciousness or work atmosphere, but I prefer CVS to Walgreens ... mostly, I'm sure, because I've been getting prescriptions -- for the occasional illness or to address the abundance of uric acid coursing through my system -- at the Liberty Plaza location for years (and at the Rix that was there previously). Today I had to pick up medication at that CVS and also at the Walgreens on Meridian Street -- and now I really hate the latter.

My mother was ill this morning, so I took a sick day and accompanied her to the health center, where we spent a wonderful three hours watching a saline drip address her apparent dehydration. Actually, there's nothing to complain about there: my mom was called rather quickly (it was 7:15 a.m. and just one person was sitting in the Urgent Care waiting area) and the nurse we dealt with was quite nice. In fact, she took care of my request to call in a prescription for my mom, who just turned 72 and uses Walgreens because it's a shorter walk from her Chelsea Street apartment.

After dropping my mother off, I ran an errand and then went to pick up her meds. There were already five people waiting at the Walgreens pick up window, but I was waited on fairly quickly. I had the prescription in my hand, but the employee (an assistant, not a pharmacist) said to me these exact words: "Wait just a second." I understood, of course, that "a second" in this instance is a metaphor that may mean one minute or even five minutes.

As other people came to the window and those waiting received their orders I backed up from the window until I was standing near the seats. I watched as the half-dozen employees raced around behind the counter, answering the phone, keying into the computer, grabbing pill bottles off the shelves and riffling through bins to find orders. Clearly, they are understaffed. After a while I decided that I was going to say something, but I continued to wait to find an opportune time. I am not a rude person; in fact, I generally go out of my way to be extremely civil.

Finally, after more than a half hour, the same young man said to me that there was no record of the call from the clinic nurse. I said, in an agitated tone, that I had the prescription in my hand and that he should have told me that sooner. "If you had said, 'Come back in an hour,' I would have, but you said, 'Wait a second.'" I handed him the prescription and he said, amazingly, "Wait a second." About 15 minutes later he called me to the register. When he asked the usual rushed, "Do you have any questions," I decided to vent a little. "Yes," I said, "why did you say, 'Just a second,' and let me stand here for 45 minutes?" I was not nasty, but a little belligerent. He argued back a little and then walked away. I might have made him cry.

It just so happens that I had called into CVS to refill my prescription this morning and so I went across Central Square to pick it up. The whole transaction took about 45 seconds. Granted, the circumstances were different and CVS wasn't as busy, but I won't set foot in Walgreens for myself. Of course, that's where my mom's prescriptions are filled, so if she needs me to get them I will get them.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Another bloody day

We're greeted by another gruesome mass killing this morning: this one the murder of five children by their dad, who then killed himself, in Washington state. This awful, shocking crime comes hard on the heels of a gunman "lying in wait" and killing three Pittsburgh police officers; a crazed man walking into a community center in New York state and killing 13; the shooting of four Oakland police officers; and, locally, the savage attack of a brother who killed two of his sisters and wounded another with a kitchen knife.

Are there reasons for this spate of deadly violence? The Christian Science Monitor considers whether the economic downturn might be a factor. Of course, those on my side of the political spectrum consider the proliferation and easy access to guns to be a significant factor. All of the crimes above, except the Milton tragedy, were carried out with firearms. It is far too easy in the United States to arm oneself like a small army.

While the disturbed young man in Milton was able to kill two of his siblings without a gun, it's unlikely that the third would have avoided death if the killer had a firearm, and it's likely he would have then opened up on others, including the responding police. Meanwhile, the man who opened fire on immigrants in Binghamton would not have ended as many lives had he been armed with just a kitchen knife.

Further, the recent violence pales in comparison to what is happening every day just over the border in Mexico. In the battle to reap the riches of America's narcotic addiction, the members of drug cartels are battling it out with law enforcement and each other with firearms made -- you guessed it -- in this country.

The US Constitution, laudable in many respects, has come up short with the Second Amendment. Or, should I say, America's leaders have consistently failed to galvanize the courage to adapt to the modern world on the issue of firearms.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Global recession

The demise of The Boston Globe may be closer than most of us thought. According to, the New York Times Company, which bought New England's largest paper in 1993, has threatened the Globe's unions with a shutdown in 30 days if the employees don't agree to $20 million in concessions.

The Globe is apparently losing more than $1 million a week, and the Times Co. says it can no longer subsidize Boston's broadsheet, which was founded in 1872 and has won 20 Pulitzer Prizes. The Globe, the country's 14th biggest newspaper, has cut scores of jobs in recent months, but this hasn't been enough to get the paper out of the red.

Like most newspapers around the country, advertising and readership are both down. Dailies in Denver and Seattle shut down in recent weeks, while the two Detroit papers cut back on the number of publication days. Losing the Globe would be a blow to the city. The debate on civic matters would be that much less robust and fewer eyes would be keeping tabs on government at all levels. However, even if the unions go along with the move, it's hard to see how the overall trends get reversed.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hearts and minds

It was moving to see the response that Michelle Obama received in London, especially when she visited an all-girls school yesterday and delivered a message of empowerment. The students were beside themselves and the First Lady seemed to choke up a bit while speaking to them. Check it out at this NBC News link.

So what if she broke protocol by touching the queen? (Americans don't grow up knowing the rules for such things. That's why we fought the Revolution.) Michelle Obama is a huge plus for this country, both at home and abroad.