Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Here comes the...fog?

Though the calendar says that July is about to begin, I would swear it is October. Today I stopped by the beach (Shay's if you grew up here, Constitution if you didn't) and found the lifeguard chairs empty. There was no one there to guard. Some small children were in the play area, and three had ventured onto the sand to make a sandcastle.

Over at Piers Park a steady wind blew off the water and a bank of clouds sat atop the city skyline, a blanket thrown down to keep us from seeing the sun. The showers and cool temperatures are forecast to continue until at least Friday. Don't despair: the 4th of July looks like it'll be around 80 with mostly sunny skies.

Losing a civic force

The Boston Globe did a seven-part series last week called, "Failing our athletes: The sad state of sports in Boston Public Schools." It was an in-depth look at an issue from many sides with dozens of interviews, several sidebars and online video clips. Back in the fall there was an investigative series called "Unhealthy System," about Partners HealthCare's impact on health care in Massachusetts, and earlier last year there was the definitive exploration of the life of Ted Kennedy in a week-long series.

This is the kind of journalism that we're seeing less of these days, as newspapers -- especially big-city dailies -- are forced to tighten their belts, laying off staff, closing bureaus and shrinking their mission. Technology is forever changing the world in many ways, and the relative merits of it all can be debated, but I think it's clear that we are seeing, and will continue to see, less reporting of important stories with ample resources as only a large, stable newspaper can do.

Some of the Globe's most important work was the series and subsequent reporting on the Catholic Church abuse scandal. Seven years ago the paper pulled back the cloak on the sins of Cardinal Law and others. You can still see the massive amount of stories, images, documents and video that relate to the story on Boston.com. That kind of commitment to an issue and that kind of civic responsibility is something that only a newspaper possesses.

When the Globe dies we are going to lose all that -- and be worse off for it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Unreasonable school behavior smacked down

Thankfully the Supreme Court showed some common sense in the decision released yesterday ruling that a 2003 strip search of a middle-school student violated her Fourth Amendment rights. When I saw reports on this case being argued a few months ago, I thought it was outrageous and that only an idiot would think that the school officials acted reasonably and legally. Well, the Court's ruling was an 8-1 decision -- which validates my thinking because Clarence Thomas, the lone dissenting voter, is an idiot.

Six years ago Savana Redding was an eighth-grader in Arizona when a classmate was found to have some prescription-strength ibuprofen. The classmate told school administrators that Redding had some of the pills and the girl was searched. When a look through her backpack and outer clothing turned up nothing, Redding -- an honor student with no disciplinary record -- was told to take off her clothes and to move aside her underwear as two female school officials looked on. No contraband was found.

Redding was understandably upset by the encounter and never returned to the school. Her mother, with the help of the ACLU, brought suit against the school district and the offending school officials. The district court agreed with the school district, but the appeals court reversed the decision and the Supremes upheld that outcome.

The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution says, in part, that, "The right of the people...against unreasonable searches and seizures...shall not be violated..." In this case, I think, the school officials acted unreasonably in a couple of ways. First, what they were looking for did not meet the standard of "imminent danger." If the allegation was that Redding had a gun in her pants or a vial of anthrax, then the safety of everyone in the school would be immediately at risk. One or two ibuprofen wasn't going to bring the building down. The school's reasonable suspicion may have given them legitimate cause to search Redding's backpack and to make her empty her pockets, but not to have the teenager take her clothes off.

Secondly, the accuser was another middle-school student -- one who was in trouble and looking to shift blame or bring someone else down. If a teacher had observed Redding passing out ibuprofen to classmates then it would be reasonable to expect the school to push this to another level, but even then I think you'd want to call in the parents -- Redding's mother was not informed of what was going on -- or to follow up in some other way.

Of course, Redding might, at one point, have possessed the pills in question. I'm not vouching for her innocence. However, given the two lines of argument above, it seems clear to me that school officials exercised their authority in an unreasonable manner and subjected the girl to a humiliating experience -- one that violated her Constitutional rights. Justice John Paul Stevens -- who I admire more and more -- called the actions of the school officials "clearly outrageous conduct." Stevens went on to write that, "it does not take a constitutional scholar to know that a strip search of a 13-year-old child is a significant invasion of constitutional rights."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Weekend festival

The Sacred Heart Festival takes place this weekend, with music, food and games on the schedule. This is the third year for this event, which is held behind Sacred Heart church, located on Brooks Street between Paris and Morris streets.

The festival runs Friday from 6 to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m. "Disco Diva" Evelyn Champagne King is the featured musical guest on Saturday evening. There will also be picnic games, a watermelon eating contest, henna artists and a big 50/50 raffle.

Money raised by the festival goes to youth programming at the parish.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A lost war

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof makes an argument that we need to drastically change the nation's policies with regards to illegal narcotics. "This year marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s start of the war on drugs," he writes in his most recent piece, "and it now appears that drugs have won."

One former big-city police chief says:
“We’ve spent a trillion dollars prosecuting the war on drugs. What do we have to show for it? Drugs are more readily available, at lower prices and higher levels of potency. It’s a dismal failure.”
Kristof adds that the War on Drugs has left the US with five times more people imprisoned than the world average, while at the same time enriching criminals and terrorists. He raises some good points in the column and everyone who makes policy in this country, or who cares about it, should read it and start thinking about new approaches.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Single-stream recycling comes to Boston on July 1, the mayor announced today. We'll no longer have to sort our paper and plastics. More items than ever will be accepted and residents will get 64-gallon buckets to place their recyclables curbside. This should increase the number of people who take part in the recycling program, as well as make it easier for all of us.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Globe: 'Hey, Massport lied'; Eastie: 'No kidding'

In an editorial today The Boston Globe is shocked...shocked!...that Massport has not lived up to promises that were made to facilitate the construction of Runway 14/32. Of course, the residents of East Boston have said many times that Massport's leaders have been lying to this community for more than 40 years.

A federal judge lifted a 30-year injunction to allow the laying down of the newest runway partly because the agency, as the Globe says, "argued that it would reduce delays when strong northwest winds ruled out use of other runways, without sending substantially more flights over any of the nearby neighborhoods." And then?
Since the new runway’s completion in 2006, there has been a major increase in takeoffs over East Boston, Chelsea, Somerville, Cambridge, and Medford. The airport and the FAA owe it to Logan’s neighbors to reduce the burden on them without compromising on safety.
And what is their excuse for this bait-and-switch? "Massport officials say the problem was not easily foreseeable..." Thousands of pages of reports and studies, and thousands of dollars paid to lobbyists and to lawyers, and they didn't know what the hell they were doing. Good job. Maybe I'm giving them too much credit. Maybe they're just incompetent.

Nope. They're incompetent AND they're liars.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Takin' it to the streets

The developments this week in Tehran are, by turns, stirring and disturbing. The people of Iran are standing up against their theocratic dictatorship and wide fissures among the country's leadership have been exposed. Meanwhile, some police and militia in the streets have beaten many and killed some.

The role of modern technology in all of this is fascinating, and some of the best places to follow the story are Andrew Sullivan's blog on The Atlantic Monthly's web site, a site based in the US called Tehran Bureau, the BBC, The New Yorker magazine's News Desk blog, and The New York Times blog The Lede.

Though a few blowhards on the right are shouting that President Obama needs to offer more public support for the Iranian protesters, most observers -- including conservatives George F. Will, David Brooks and Pat Buchanan -- have said, correctly, that the US cannot allow Iran's government to tie the unrest in the streets of Tehran to foreign elements. Of course they will do that anyway, but this is a movement that began domestically, and everyone inside and outside Iran knows it. Obama's comments so far have been just right, and there is no doubt that his administration is monitoring the ordeal closely.

There's also no doubt that the US would like to see the reactionary duo of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei out of the picture, but if Obama were to stand up and shout that it would only negatively impact the outcome. We are not, after all, about to send in the American military to defend the protesters or to fight the Revolutionary Guard. Therefore, our maneuvers here require wisdom, tact and patience -- and thankfully we have the right guy in charge on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eastie in the news

***A New York Times story bemoans the effects of the housing bust on the three-deckers of New England, including a reference to East Boston.

***There was recently a nice story in the Boston Business Journal on Robert Lewis, 37, vice president of the Boston Foundation, who grew up in East Boston.

***After bringing the race back for two years, Suffolk Downs has announced that its signature event, the MassCap, won't be held this year.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stepping out for a good cause

Right about now people are checking in for the Relay for Life at East Boston Stadium and they will be on hand for the next 24 hours, rain or -- well, looks like there is no other option. More than $20,000 has been raised so far for the American Cancer Society by the 23 teams who are taking part. You can add to that total by going to the Eastie Relay for Life web site.

Recognizing 'compelling case' for discount

Outspoken Turnpike Authority board member Mary Connaughton had an op-ed piece in yesterday's Boston Globe in which she recognized that the agency's days are numbered and advocated that tolls be eliminated on the pike. She also mentioned the residential toll discount, admitting that "the program may have merit and the residents of East Boston argue a compelling case..."

Connaughton believes that the discount should be funded directly from the state rather than from other tolls, as such policies tend to pit regions against each other. Whatever the mechanism, it is nice to see someone who doesn't benefit from the program stand up for the legitimacy of it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Was feast killed by politics?

The web site Change for Boston has a lengthy post on the cancellation of this year's Italia Unita festival. The site claims that the annual East Boston feast was, in essence, squashed by the mayor in a case of political retribution. Here is the key paragraph:
Long time East Boston resident and talk show host Michelle McPhee says the real story is the festival organizer Pasquale Capogreco, president of Italia Unita, is a Michael Flaherty supporter for the Boston Mayor’s race. Menino told Richard Lynds – executive director of the East Boston Foundation, a trust that supports community organizations – to pull the plug on the funding. Lynds had multiple weak reasons not to grant the festival the its annual $15,000 commitment.
Now, Change for Boston seems to be expressly devoted to unseating Menino in the coming mayoral election. The posts on the site are written by "ADMIN," so for all I know it could be part of Councilor Flaherty's campaign, and I can't find any other references on the Internet to McPhee breaking this story.

I have no other information on this issue, but I thought I'd point out the allegation.

The revolution will be texted

While we in the US are debating the negative physical and emotional effects of text messaging and Internet-based social-networking sites, these modes of communication just may be the unstoppable weapons that help people break free of oppressive governments around the world.

I personally have Luddite tendencies (at least philosophically; practically speaking, my refusal to get an iPod is a rather weak line in the sand) and I join the chorus of those decrying the ubiquity of young people constantly texting (even while behind the wheel) or of the seeming foolishness of following anyone's every move on Twitter. However, this week's upheaval in Iran over the apparently stolen presidential election seems to be fueled by high-tech communication, despite the emabttled government's attempts to cut off those connections.

In China, where the totalitarian regime succeeded recently in keeping public demonstrations to a minimum during the days that marked the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre (to end mass public gatherings that happened without the help of texting or the Internet), modern communication resources are used to spread stories of the corruption of local government officials. The Communist Party's massive efforts at controlling information is less than perfect.

So it seems that our rapidly developing communication technologies have a big upside for those who have lived under the cloak of oppressive governments, and it appears to be just a matter of time before newer and less-controllable modes of information-spreading completely tip the balance. In this regard these devices are the printing presses of the 21st Century, and I'll try to remember that the next time someone talking on a cell phone almost runs me over.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Safe cracking

In a move that would make the Taliban smile, a group of Christian conservatives in Wisconsin is demanding that a young adult book be publicly burned. How long before they're calling for another Inquisition?

The book, Baby Be-Bop, by award-winning writer Francesca Lia Block, is about "a young man's discovery that he's gay," according to Salon.com. The Christian Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the West Bend Public Library, alleging that displaying the book has caused mental anguish to people.

The group that initiated this ridiculous imbroglio is called West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries, which is the part that makes me angry. Libraries should not be, must not be, "safe" -- not in line with the usage of the word in this context: non-controversial; bleached of ideas; espousing only viewpoints in line with conservatives.

No! Libraries, books, words, ideas, art -- all of these things are dangerous. They threaten those in power; they make people think; they attack the status quo. That is the point. The concept of a "safe library" sounds like an Orwellian term. It's where the tortured citizenry goes to be reeducated in the beliefs of a totalitarian regime.

I don't want safe libraries, or safe books, or safe art. Freedom, justice, equality, compassion, tolerance and truth depend on unsafe ideas being spread as widely as possible.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Times that tries men's souls

There was a comment posted a few days ago by a reader pointing out that this week's East Boston Times congratulated, on page 14, the graduates from the class of "2008." Paging through the June 10 issue I also saw that a headline identified photos from East Boston High School's "ACADMEMIC AWARDS BANQUET."

Of course, mistakes happen. The Times got the year right on Page 13, and the error on the following page was in a heading that was likely carried over from last year and just slipped by. Someone should have caught the misspelling of "academic" -- especially in a story about schools -- but I've edited newspapers, and I know that headlines and captions are often written last, sometimes moments before files are uploaded to the printer.

The things that really trouble me about the local weekly are elsewhere in this week's issue: on page 1 and page 20. The lead story opens with this paragraph: "A second East Boston school in less than a month has been shut down due to a nasty flu outbreak." That was breaking news on June 3, the day that the Boston Public Schools sent out a news release announcing it, but seven days later -- the day the Times hit the streets -- it was an old story. The article should have opened with "Youngsters at an East Boston elementary school return to their classrooms tomorrow after a sudden week-long vacation prompted by fears of a flu outbreak." Or something to that effect.

Besides the untimely angle, the Times story does not quote the school's principal or any teachers or any students or any parents. There are a couple lines in quotation marks from school superintendent Carol Johnson, but they are taken from the aforementioned BPS press release. Why not include comments from those affected by the story? Why not follow up on the closing of the Umana, which happened a couple weeks ago, by asking their principal how the shutdown affected his school?

On the back page is what we've come to expect from the Times: eight static photos of Chamber of Commerce members. (There is also the obligatory photo of politicians on page 1.) This marks 199 weeks in a row we've seen the same faces doing the same things in our local newspaper. The 2000 census said that there are 38,413 people living in East Boston. Not all of them can be found at meetings of the Chamber of Commerce.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Creek soiree

The 6th annual Chelsea River Revel is taking place tomorrow and includes music, food and a road race. The Meridian Street Bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic for the festivities, and sunny skies are forecast, with temperatures in the upper 60s. According to an email I received, the schedule will include:
A 5K race at 10 am; one-mile kids' race at 9:30; timed racewalkers' race at 9:45.
Festival on the bridge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. featuring:
  • Live music on two stages
  • Free games and activities for kids of all ages
  • Food vendors selling a wide variety of great food
  • Local artists with their work on display and for sale
  • Live performances
  • Environmental boat cruises on the creek!
For more information go to the Chelsea River Revel web site.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cleaning up Gitmo

If I was unjustly imprisoned for years by an individual, a drug cartel, a rebel army or a sovereign government, I'm sure that fury and hatred would have long ago boiled over in my brain and that taking violent action against my oppressor could be something I'd agree to. The fact that The New York Times reported last month that an unreleased Pentagon study showed that one in seven terror suspects released by the US were back in the fight against this country isn't surprising. The mystifying part is that the other 86% have seemingly been able to put the experience behind them enough to move on with their lives. (In the days after the NYT story it was reported that the actual figure was probably less than one in seven.)

In the past 48 hours we've heard that one suspected terrorist has been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to New York City to stand trial and that the tiny island nation of Palau, formerly a US protectorate, has agreed to take up to 17 Chinese Muslims -- a group that has been held since 2002, even after a federal judge found that they have not been connected to any crimes.

The saga of those held at Gitmo is shameful, complex and ongoing, but the crux of the matter is that the US government has been holding people -- some dangerous, but most not -- for years without charges in violation of both our Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. Some on the right are in a tizzy about the actions of the Obama Administration, but the president recognizes that something needs to be done with the remaining 240 detainees. We cannot, and we should not, continue to hold them indefinitely without some sort of legal process.

The clock cannot be turned back, but the Bush Administration completely boggled this issue. As I see it, individuals held for violating criminal statutes need to be processed through the justice system of the government where the alleged infractions took place, whether in the United States, Iraq or Afghanistan. If someone is captured as a prisoner of war, then international law applies and that person has to be released when the battle is over (in these cases, when Baghdad or Kabul fell), unless the individual is charged with war crimes. Then an international war crimes tribunal should handle the case. There are no other categories and governments cannot just create a classification ("enemy combatant") to suit their needs.

It is time for America to move forward on this matter and for the Right to stop playing the fear card.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Proper disposal of hazardous waste

Trash that contains some form of hazardous waste should not be put out for normal curbside pick-up, but rather disposed of in a more responsible manner. Many residents -- myself included -- have not taken advantage of the city's services in this area, but I need to step up and do so, as do all of us.

Every few weeks there is a Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Day scheduled in a different part of the city. Yesterday (sorry I didn't post this earlier) it was at UMass-Boston, but there will be another on June 27 at the West Roxbury Public Works Yard. I believe that East Boston is in the rotation, so if you'd rather not drive across the city (and I, for one, have never even been to West Roxbury -- and got lost on my only visit to Hyde Park) just need to be patient.

To see a list of the items that are accepted on drop-off days, click here. We should keep in mind that these things are hazardous if dumped in a landfill with the rest of our refuse, as they contain chemicals that can leach into the ground and eventually into the public drinking water supply. The list includes products that many of us have in our houses and apartments: drain cleaner, art supplies, insecticides, aerosol cans, mercury thermometers, batteries, turpentine, bleach, nail-polish remover, and much more.

Televisions and computer monitors are not accepted at the drop-off, but -- even easier -- the city's public works department will pick up these items curbside if you call them at 617-635-7574. For more information go to the City of Boston household hazardous waste web page or call 617-635-4959.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Day

Under overcast skies and through high seas, Allied forces crossed the English Channel and landed on the Normandy coast 65 years ago today to free Western Europe from German occupation. It may have been the single most important day of the 20th Century.

President Obama visited the site of the invasion today and paid tribute to the American military personnel who, along with soldiers from Britain and Canada, established beachheads on D-Day and moved across France toward Berlin.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tank man lives on

Twenty years ago today the Chinese army moved into Beijing's Tiananmen Square to break up the democracy demonstrations that had been going on for six weeks and involved up to a million protesters, many of them college students. Between a few hundred and a few thousand were killed, with many more wounded.

Today police and soldiers squashed any attempts to mark the anniversary in the square, but the world will not forget the massive expression of yearning for freedom and justice, and we cannot forget the individual who stood before a line of tanks and refused to move.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another Eastie school gets a week off

The James Otis School is the latest Boston Public School to get shut down for a week due to concerns about the swine flu. The Otis, located on Marion Street in East Boston, is my alma mater, and in recent days there has been a spike in the number of students calling in sick. It's the ninth school in the city closed because of the flu.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Feast canned

Our friends at East Boston Online have posted a statement from Italia Unita announcing that this year's feast has been canceled "[d]ue to the current economic climate..." The group has run a three-day festival celebrating Italian culture for the past 14 years.

Update (6/5): The Gl0be weighs in.

Benefit breakfast

Longtime co-worker and old friend Dave Ferraro will be honored at a breakfast to benefit the Salesian Boys & Girls Club at Spinelli's in Day Square on Thursday, June 11. Dave was my boss for much of the 13 years that I worked at the Boys & Girls Club on Paris Street (which now operates out of Savio Hall). The breakfast starts at 7:30 a.m. and tickets are $25.