Sunday, May 31, 2009

Remembering EB Camps

Last week the Lowell Sun reported that there is a cookout today in the town of Westford at the former site of East Boston Camps. The event, the story says, "is free and open to anyone interested in the site, whether it be to learn about opportunities for retreats or to offer assistance in the ongoing effort to restore and maintain the 286-acre parcel."

For 70 years the camp served as a summertime refuge for youngsters from East Boston and Chelsea, but in 2007 disagreements between the town of Westford and the East Boston Social Centers, which operated the camp, ended the program. Since then there has been some bad blood on both sides, as evidence by the comments posted in response to the story.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Happy 10th

Late one night in early June of 1999 I walked out of the Burren, an Irish pub on Elm Street in Somerville, with a friend and we wandered a couple doors down to the Diesel Cafe, which had opened a few days earlier. We ordered drinks, sat down and, with the garage-style door opened, watched people move through Davis Square.

I've been a steady customer since, and today is the 10th anniversary of Diesel's opening. It's one of the places that I can frequently be found with a book or my laptop. I was there this afternoon to have some soup and a double espresso (see emptied cup in photo), of which they pour some of the best shots in Greater Boston.

Happy anniversary, Diesel.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I text, therefore I am?

In recent years I've thought quite a bit about the role that technology plays in our world, and I've concluded that the result is an overall negative. Now, before going on, I will admit to owning (computer, car, cell phone, television, air conditioner, etc.) and using as much modern technology as anybody. I am a product of my society. However, the broader point is that I firmly believe that much of the stuff invented since the industrial revolution has put our species on a course for destroying the fabric of our society and eventually our entire ecosystem (though the planet itself will survive us and continue on in some new iteration).

The latest evidence of this is the way that texting has overtaken people's lives -- especially the young. A New York Times article from today talks about some of the social effects of constantly texting, reporting that the average American teen now sends and receives more than 2.000 text messages a month, while for some we're talking 10,000+. They're all going to be unable to use their thumbs in 10 years. I've met 20-somethings at social affairs who could barely look up when introduced to a group and then sat down and texted the rest of the evening. Then, of course, there are those who text and drive -- whether cars or MBTA trolleys.

Technology advances without society pausing to discuss the consequences of the next big thing. Automobiles changed the way we live our lives followed by television and then the Internet. Sure, one can make a case about some of the positives that those items brought to our society -- as have cell phones, microwave ovens, AC, elevators, and on and on -- but the unraveling of the family, the village, the community and the culture that these "advances" have precipitated is disturbing and, I believe, irrevocable.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Local eats gain praise

The Boston Phoenix has praise for Off the Boat, the seafood restaurant on Porter Street, which now has a dining room along with it's to-go storefront. "It all looks good," says the review, "but the aroma is even more superb." If the photo accompanying the story (at right) is any indication, it certainly does look good.

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe recently continued its love affair with Angela's, the Mexican eatery located on Lexington Street, singling out the restaurant's "fantastic mole" (a sauce made with chili peppers, spices, chocolate and, according to the story, 50 other ingredients) as "mysteriously addictive."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flu closes Umana

The Umana Middle School Academy in East Boston is closing for a week, as a number of students and faculty members have called in sick or been sent home with flu symptoms, according to The Umana joins Boston Latin and several private schools in the area that have seen an increase in the number of absent students. The Umana and the Harborside Community Center will be closed until May 28.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Police attempt to overcome silence

Crime in East Boston is up so far this year, and a Boston Globe page one story reports that local police have been building bridges with Eastie's Spanish-speaking community to reassure those residents about reporting illegal activity. There's an accompanying graphic that shows increases in several categories of crime, most notably burglary and robbery.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Campaign season approaches

Nearly a dozen people pulled papers to get on the ballot in this year's mayoral election. Tom Menino is, of course, running for reelection and is the solid favorite, while councilors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon and businessman Kevin McCrea are the top competitors. There are also a number of other hopefuls who most voters don't know, including one from East Boston: Joseph Wiley.

Our friends at pointed us in late April to a story in the Dorchester Reporter that mentions Wiley -- "a 60-year-old from East Boston working in commercial real estate" -- and has some comments from him:
...Wiley wants to clean up the streets, literally.
“You’re confronted with trash in the streets and plastic bags blowing in the wind,” Wiley said. “It’s a very demoralizing thing. It looks like no one cares.”
All of the mayoral candidates need to pass in the signatures of at least 3,000 registered Boston voters by the close of business Tuesday in order to appear on the ballot for the Sept. 22 preliminary election, which is just over four months away. The general election is on Nov. 3.

Two prospective candidates pulled papers to run against Sal LaMattina for the District 1 City Council seat -- Laura Gaza and Christian Kulikoski. There's an article on Gaza at the Wicked Local web site from four years ago, when she was hoping to run for the seat as a socialist candidate. There is a photo and a little background on Kulikoski in a Post-Gazette blurb announcing his wedding in January.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pot and kettle

It's good to hear that journalist Roxana Saberi has been released from prison, but we should pause before completely vilifying Iran. The third link in the "axis of evil" did bend to world pressure and allowed Saberi to appeal, whereupon her sentence was shortened. In addition, it's come to light that the Iranian-American reporter did have "a copy of a confidential Iranian report on the U.S. war in Iraq," according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, blogger Glenn Greenwald reminds us that "imprisoning journalists -- without charges or trials of any kind -- was and continues to be a staple of America's 'war on terror,' and then he outlines a number of such cases. For example:
Beginning in 2001, the U.S. held Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj for six years in Guantanamo with no trial of any kind, and spent most of that time interrogating him not about Terrorism, but about Al Jazeera.
and also:
In Iraq, we imprisoned Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein -- part of AP's Pulitzer Prize-winning war coverage -- for almost two years with no charges of any kind, after Hussein's photographs from the Anbar province directly contradicted Bush administration claims about the state of affairs there.
and further:
...the U.S. continues to imprison Ibrahim Jassam (photo above), a freelance photographer for Reuters, even though an Iraqi court last December -- more than five months ago -- found that there was no evidence to justify his detention and ordered him released.
To top these injustices off, notes Greenwald, the American mainstream media has virtually ignored all of these cases.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

He's still the one

Tom Menino can apparently keep his current job as long as he wants it. A recent poll by The Boston Globe gave the mayor a 73-percent approval rating, and when asked about head-to-head match-ups, Menino tops his closest challenger, Michael Flaherty, by 38%.

Though poll respondents generally weren't happy about Boston's schools, crime in the city and the current economy, they believe the mayor is doing a good job. A whopping 57% of those queried said they've personally met Menino.

I've always felt that the mayor has been helped a great deal by his lack of ambition to move up the political ladder. Of course, he probably doesn't have the communication skills to have been elected governor or Congressman, but how many others do we see who really mean it when they say that they aren't interested in running for higher office? I think voters like that.

In addition, it's hard to think of politicians who've served this long who haven't been touched by bigger scandals. Menino has had his share of minor issues, but nothing that has tagged him as corrupt. Few people get the impression that he is feathering his own nest.

Of course, the campaign will heat up this summer and one never knows what might happen, but right now Menino is on top and it is good to be the king.

On the waterfront

The youth sailing programs at Piers Park are in jeopardy this year because of Bernie Madoff's financial shenanigans. The Boston Herald reports that three foundations that were victimized in the giant Ponzi scheme have pulled funding, leaving the kids landlocked this spring and summer.

The Piers Park Sailing Center, in its 10th season, offers programs for adults and children, as well as having the only fully handicap-accessible dock in New England, which allows the disabled to participate. The group is trying to make up for the half-million dollar shortfall that is a result of the scam and the weak economy.

Contributions can be made online at or sent to:

Piers Park Sailing Center
95 Marginal Street
East Boston, MA 02128

Update (5/16): While the folks at the Piers Park Sailing Center appreciated the Herald's focus on their program, they've pointed out that the newspaper got some of the numbers wrong. The program's executive director, Mat Rosa, sent out the following email, which I received via Joe Mason:

This past Sunday, the Boston Herald ran a story on Piers Park Sailing Center. We anticipated the story to highlight the great work being done at Piers Park and raise awareness of this organization’s Spring Appeal campaign, “Sponsor a Youth”.

On behalf of our staff, Board of Directors, those who support our mission and the thousands of families we serve, I would like to offer this response to the article.

It was a great opportunity for Piers Park to be featured on the front page of a publication with the volume of readers as the Herald. Unfortunately, this article may have raised concerns about the sustainability of our organization.

The story portrayed the Center as experiencing a dire financial situation. However, the figures mentioned in this article were not correct. To date we have raised over $100,000 towards our annual operating budget of $339,500. With our fund raising campaign we are confident in our ability to secure the funds we need to continue to run a fabulous program.

It is also with sincere regret that The Shapiro Family Foundation was mentioned by name in this piece. This foundation has long been a strong supporter of the mission of Piers Park and continues to be a great resource and champion for our organization and the families we serve.

I hope the sensationalized vulnerability of a non-profit organization in this difficult economic climate did not deter from the story that highlighted the great work we do for underserved youth and the disabled community. We are by no means experiencing unprecedented difficulty. Piers Park Sailing Center is a vibrant organization that is alive and well, continuing our important mission of providing unique educational opportunities for the communities we serve.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Local coyote dies

A coyote was killed today after it was spotted on the runways at Logan Airport. According to reports, the animal was hit by a truck as Massport workers attempted to corral it.

The coyote could be the same one that local photographer George Cumming posted on his blog about a week ago -- see image at right -- and that he has been seeing locally for at least a year. A local coyote expert told George that this looks like a lactating female, which means that there may be some hungry kits out there tonight.

UK slams door on loudmouth

I hadn't heard of Michael Savage until yesterday, when the news was filled with stories that he was on a list of people banned from entering the United Kingdom. Savage apparently hosts a popular talk-radio show, and he was on the NPR program Talk of the Nation yesterday, where he grumbled and shouted and made ignorant comments. Host Neil Conan was more than civil, but after Savage insulted the first caller by saying, "I have better things to do than to listen to a patient calling in from a mental institution," Conan invited him to go and do those better things, whereupon Savage hung up.

I don't believe in limiting anyone's free speech, but the UK does not have a First Amendment and their rationale is that Savage's hate-filled commentary might initiate violence. After hearing the guy for five minutes yesterday I think it's rather depressing that anyone wants to listen to him at all. Today he's talking of filing a lawsuit against the UK government, and he's asking his listeners to boycott products made in Britain. I am going to go out and purchase as many UK goods as I can.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Walk on

More than 40,000 people took part in this year's Walk for Hunger, and I was one of them. The weather was close to optimal for much of the morning and early afternoon; last year's walk started in the rain. This year's event raised about $4 million for food pantries across the state.

Though I completed the 20-mile walk twice in the early 1990s, I fell short last year and this year -- the gut is a bit bigger and the muscles get sore a bit quicker. Those of us over 40 know how that goes. This time I hopped -- OK, limped -- onto a bus at around Mile 14. Wait 'til next year.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Airing the truth

William Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground and currently a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke last night at Brandeis University. As I flipped channels last night I saw Fox 25 News report that there were protesters outside the venue.

The reporter then said something about the connection between Ayers and the 1970 bank robbery in Brighton that left Boston Police officer Walter Schroeder dead. This often-repeated tale is just not true, and either the Fox 25 reporter didn't bother to confirm his facts before reporting them or he knew anyway and repeated the accusation to add more controversy to the story.

Such inaccuracy by a major news organization is unacceptable and it leads to people getting angry about matters they've been misled on. I'm guessing that most of the protesters thought that Ayers was connected to Shroeder's death -- or even that he was part of the robbery. In the Globe story one of the demonstrators was quoted as saying of Ayers that "his actions were instrumental in the bombing and killing of an untold number of people." Huh? What bombing? What people? Do you even know what "untold people" means?

Those who committed the Brighton robbery -- Susan Saxe, Katherine Ann Power, William Gilday, Robert Valeri and Stanley Ray Bond -- all eventually served time, and Gilday, who pulled the trigger, is still behind bars.

The group, angry at America's involvement in Vietnam, was trying to raise money to arm the Black Panthers and overthrow the US government. Ayers and the other Weatherman were also willing to go to extremes to protest the war, and they set off several bombs in the early 1970s. Their activities resulted in two deaths -- a pair of the group's members accidentally blew themselves up while making bombs in New York City.

Charges against Ayers were eventually dropped, and last year the lead federal prosecutor against the group wrote, "Although I dearly wanted to obtain convictions against all the Weathermen, including Bill Ayers, I am very pleased to learn that he has become a responsible citizen." This doesn't mean that people shouldn't protest against Ayers if they are so inclined, only that responsible organs of the news media must always have their facts straight before reporting them.