Sunday, August 30, 2009

Looking for creative souls

The response to the debut of The Eastie Jolt has been positive and enthusiastic, and the web site will be updated with new material as often as I can do so. All of the work published on the site will be archived there for future reference. I hope to have the ability for people to leave comments, but I'm not sure how to do that just yet.

I'm looking for poetry, fiction, essays, photos, memoirs and feature stories from people who live in East Boston or who have a strong connection to the neighborhood. Send your work or ideas to Check out the newly updated Jolt now.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kennedy helped create, and later saved, Eastie's clinic

The stories that I've been reading and hearing about individuals, agencies and communities directly touched and helped by Ted Kennedy seem to be never-ending. The Herald has a story today about how legislation written by Kennedy created a network of community health centers around the country -- and then how he stepped in to save the health center in East Boston when it was struggling ten years ago.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy

Until his passing overnight, Ted Kennedy had been a US Senator from Massachusetts as long as I've been alive. In fact, he was sworn in for the first of his nine terms on the day I was born -- Nov. 7, 1962. For progressives, fighting the good fight will be a little bit harder without him.

One of the striking things about Kennedy is the way his office handled constituent services. I'd heard many tales before, and today on NPR every caller told a story of how they'd met the senator or called his office or worked for a cause and were surprised and gratified that he personally called back or that he remembered someone's name or that he sent a personal thank-you note.

Of course, the events of July 18, 1969, in Edgartown, Massachusetts, cannot, and should not, be dismissed. Kennedy left his overturned car in the tidal channel that separates Chappaquiddick Island from the mainland of Martha's Vineyard after he drove the vehicle off the wooden bridge that connects the two. Inside was 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, who had worked on Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign, and Kennedy later said he dove down "seven or eight times" to rescue her and then went back to the site of the party the two had left, returning with two other men, and the three of them again attempted to free Kopechne. Kennedy, however, did not notify authorities until the next day.

Questions about Chappaquiddick dogged Kennedy for years -- and rightfully so -- and it seems likely that his inability to explain clearly exactly what had happened, his apparent panic and irrational behavior in response to a stressful incident and his escape with a two-month suspended sentence -- attributed to his illustrious last name -- doomed any chance he ever had of being president.

However, what do we want of those who fail morally, especially in the spotlight of fame, except for them to commit to being better people and to do their best from here on? Kennedy did rise up and fought for issues that matter to average Americans, especially in the areas of poverty, education and health care. Like FDR, he leveled the playing field for those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder despite the fact that he hailed from the uppermost class. Kennedy's resources left him beholden to no one but his principles.

Liberals are now without their torch carrier, and so the way forward for us is now a little darker and a little more difficult.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eastie in the media

***Channel 7's Hank Phillipi Ryan recently turned her investigative eye toward trees in the Orient Heights neighborhood of East Boston. It seems that the city has teams trimming branches, but local residents say the workers have "butchered" the trees. For some reason, when I click the video link on the 7News web site nothing happens, but by the transcript of the story one can almost hear that phony melodramatic tone that the station always uses, and in the end, there is no scandal or secret that needs a hyped investigation. The city's arborist explains that, though it looks bad, it is the correct procedure, and come fall and winter local residents will appreciate that there are fewer branches that may pose a danger to power lines. I haven't seen the trees, and I'm sure the residents are right in their assessment that their street looks less appealing, but this story highlights a problem with local news: the graphics, music, editing, teasers, writing and tone are always implying horror and crime, while most of the time the truth is much less sinister.

Update (8/29):'s GlobeWatch feature looks at the tree-pruning issue, questioning city officials. Apparently, due to limited funds, East Boston was the only neighborhood in which a new approach to street trees was taken. The story says:
Contractors were hired to trim all 2,300 trees, even if a tree did not appear damaged or unhealthy. The idea is to take a more proactive approach to tree maintenance, as other cities do, instead of waiting until problems crop up or requests come in.
***Rolling Stone magazine offers a detailed story on a young man -- blind, poor, overweight and lonely -- from East Boston who rose to be one of the best phone hackers ever. Matthew Weigman has just started serving an 11-year sentence for his crimes, which will shock you. Read the story.

***Scup's in the Harbor, the small eatery located in the shipyard at the end of Marginal Street, has the city's best BLT, according to Boston magazine. Scup's was recently given approval for a beer and wine license, and word is that they will start serving dinner, as well as lunch and breakfast, in the fall.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Respecting the rights of others

To live amongst other people and maintain order there generally needs to be some limits on personal liberty. I think that most of us would agree with the notion that everyone cannot do absolutely anything they please at any moment. One famous limit on speech is the oft-quoted concept that "you cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded theater."

I was in a fairly crowded theater yesterday to see a movie. I walked in a few minutes before the film started and, with the center rows pretty full, I took the first seat on a middle row in a side section. As the previews were running, three young guys -- frat-boy types -- squeezed by me to take the open seats to my left. They munched loudly on popcorn at the start of the movie, but they weren't intentionally trying to create noise and they do have a right to eat popcorn -- whether the theater is crowded or not.

What they did do that was infuriating was fiddle with their cell phones throughout the entire film. Texting, checking for messages, checking the time and, at one point, the guy next to me took a phone call during the film. The same guy dropped his phone toward the end of the movie and fished around on the floor for five minutes. These were guys in their 20s acting like teenage girls.

Even without the movement and talking, the blue light of cell phones is pretty damn annoying in a theater. It is distracting to the eye. I turned to give a dirty look every time I saw the glow, but in the darkness of a cinema I doubt the trio noticed. Even if they did, however, is it likely that they cared? The signs in the lobby of the Somerville Theater clearly specify that cell phone use -- even just texting -- is grounds for ejection, but no one was walking around checking, and I wouldn't expect them to be. If I went out to inform the staff, they would have probably come in to warn the guys, but then I'd have to sit somewhere else because they'd be angry. If I said something to them they would have scoffed at me.

I've had a similar experience here on Bennington Street. A number of times this summer, at various hours of the night, a vehicle will pull up to a house almost directly across from mine and the driver will beep the horn. This has happened as late as 3 a.m., and I've noticed it a half-dozen or so times. (It may have happened many times before, say, 10 p.m., but I wouldn't have taken much notice because I am not some cranky person who wants to stifle the lives of others. I have only taken notice when the incident occurs at an unreasonable time.)

The horn blasts aren't even tepid toots. There's usually more than one long blast. It is unfathomable that this individual thinks that he or she has the right to disturb, even wake up, the roughly 200 or 300 people that are within earshot because whoever is supposed to be picked up not outside or because the driver is too lazy to get out of the vehicle and ring the doorbell. I've been close to going out there a couple times, but I'm not looking for a late-night confrontation with a stranger. (It is always the same house. I have the address, and I am taking note of who comes out and of the vehicles.)

What's the problem here? Why don't the theater guys or the drivers have some respect for the people around them? There is a temptation when things like this happen to believe that our society, or civilization in general, is going downhill -- the "hell in a handbasket" argument. I am leery of jumping on that as a first option (though in the end in may be true). A thousand years ago the Vikings (and other marauding invaders) weren't very civil; less than 200 years ago one race was still enslaving another in a "free" society; 60 years ago most Americans agreed with interning the Japanese in wartime; in places all over the world ethnic and religious differences lead to horrific bloodletting -- today as in every previous society.

These are big, violent examples, I know, but maybe in general things aren't getting worse, but in the overall scheme of the modern Western world, things are actually getting better -- which makes even small transgressions appear more noticeable. Maybe that's it. I'm not sure. All I can do is try my best to be as civil to those around me as possible and hope that everyone else thinks in the same terms.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Around the horn

***About 45 minutes ago the Boston Police reported (via Twitter) that there is a fire at 213 Lexington Street. There appears to be one injury and 15 people are displaced. (Update 8/23: According to -- and a reader who corrected my later error -- the fire started at 346 Saratoga Street and spread to 344.)

***Former Globe critic (and Eastie resident) Thomas Garvey praises the newly renovated Maverick Station -- and wonders how the design actually made it past the usual stumbling blocks.

***There's been a series of reported "head punching" incidents in East Boston, according to Universal Hub. Money and cell phones have been stolen.

***A reporter for the Quincy Patriot Ledger outlines the players on the issue of legalized casino and/or slot machine gambling in Massachusetts. The action will pick up when the legislature sits down in September and something will likely be passed before the holidays. Suffolk Downs and Wonderland will surely figure in all of these machinations. (Update 8/24: The Globe weighs in with a similar story on where we stand now on gambling.)

***I hadn't realized that -- as of July 1 -- all recyclables can be placed in the same container, even though I have yet to receive one of the new 32-gallon barrels. The city has a pamphlet available online that talks about the new guidelines.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Big fun at Little League

The all-stars from Peabody Western Little League play their first game tonight in South Williamsport, Penn., as part of this year's Little League World Series. It's an exciting time for the kids and their fans.

Back in 2005, when I was a sports reporter in southern Maine, I went to the LLWS to cover the team from Westbrook, a bunch of scrappy, scraggly looking guys that captured their city's hearts with unlikely heroics all along the road to winning the New England championship.

It's an eight-hour drive from southern Maine to central Pennsylvania, but my employer -- Current Publishing -- decided it'd be worth it to send two reporters and a photographer to cover the games. We found a cheap motel on the outskirts and stayed for, I think, three days. Westbrook lost their first two games, but bounced back to win one before heading home, eliminated before the final rounds.

I was immediately impressed by the degree to which Little League Baseball does not try to rip anyone off. There is no charge to see any of the games or to park. Refreshments and T-shirts were reasonably priced. Where else in America do you see that? There certainly are questions to ask about putting pressure on these kids -- the games are televised on ESPN -- but the national organization seems to behave quite admirably when most everyone else would be making every dollar they could from such an event.

The press building offered space to work and Internet connections. Plus, there were cold cuts and beverages spread out for lunch every day and hot food for dinner. I spoke briefly with both Gary Thorne and Tony Gwynn, who were calling the games for ESPN. We sent stories and photos back for our Westbrook newspaper, the American Journal, and when we returned we put together a dynamite special section on the team.

A week later, the boys from Westbrook were invited to see a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. I called the Sox front office and got press credentials for me and my photographer, and we drove down to cover the evening. I followed the players onto the field and into the home dugout, where they sat before gametime. Then they were escorted out to left field and into the Green Monster, where the players were allowed to sign their names with a black Sharpie on the grungy inside walls. The last player out turned and handed me the marker, and I thought, "What not?" and signed "EASTIE JIM" in big letters.

When the players were led into the stands, I was able to get into the press box with my pass, where I saw a few reporters watching the game and typing on laptops. Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy was the only one I recognized. Before the action began I went over to the press dining room and ate for free. It was pretty sweet. The Westbrook players were called back onto the field to a huge round of applause and they stood next the the Sox fielders as the Star-Spangled Banner was played. It must have been the highlight of their lives.

So I'm grateful to the guys from Westbrook, who I followed around for a couple weeks and because of whom I got to do a some cool things. Good luck to Peabody Western -- which, by the way, has a player names Matt Correale. Not sure if he's related to me, but it's possible.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Times appears to miss mark

I was surprised to see, on the front page of this week's East Boston Times, a story with the headline "Red-Blue Line connector appears to be on the fast track." While I have been hoping for years that the state would extend the Blue Line past Bowdoin to the Red Line's Charles/MGH station, recent media coverage has reached the opposite conclusion than that of the Times.

On July 23, Noah Bierman -- the Globe's transportation beat reporter -- wrote a story that said:
The state set aside $29 million last week to design a subway tunnel under downtown Boston that planners concede they cannot afford to build -- either now or any time in the next two decades.
The story goes on to say:
Even many of the project’s key supporters, who lent a political boost to a settlement three years ago, have become a little less ardent, noting that the economy is forcing tough decisions.
In the end, the sides did not agree to actually build the project, only that the state would complete design and engineering by 2011.
The 20-year planning document approved preliminarily last week sets aside no money to build the tunnel through 2030.
A Globe editorial on Aug. 16 said:
While the state slashes health programs amid plunging revenues, it expects to spend $29 million to design a connection downtown between the Red Line and the Blue Line - never mind that the money to build the $300 million project won’t come through anytime soon.
The Times story, however, says that the project "is on the fast track," noting that "the Executive Office of Transportation and Construction held another meeting of a project working group..." There is no indication of who was at the meeting and not a single person is quoted in the story. In fact, there is no attribution ("according to") in the story at all.

Maybe the Times has an inside scoop on the project, but I'm afraid that's not the case.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flipping off justice

One of our Supreme Court justices apparently believes that being innocent shouldn't necessarily save someone from being executed for a crime.

In a decision released yesterday the high court ruled that evidence in a murder case should be reexamined because new and potentially exculpatory evidence has surfaced -- including seven witnesses who have recanted their testimony.

Know-it-all bonehead Justice Antonin Scalia, and his idiot soulmate Justice Clarence Thomas, dissented from the majority. Scalia wrote:
This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is "actually" innocent.
The conservative super-duo seems to think that facts are irrelevant, that people's lives are expendable and that sticking to their interpretation of the law trumps everything else. This is exactly what President Obama meant when he said he wanted to appoint someone with real-life empathy on the Supreme Court.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Feasting on cannoli

I spent some time today with friends wandering through the Fisherman's Feast in the North End and ran into old friend Mike Cucchiello, the proprietor of Cucchiello's Bakery in East Boston's Day Square. Mike had a stand selling cannoli and, as you see in the photo, I couldn't resist having one. I must report that it was excellent.

Asleep at the switch

When a tugboat driver radioed ahead Saturday to have the Meridian Street Bridge (officially, the Andrew McArdle Bridge) raised, he got no response, so police were called in to see if the bridge operator was OK. Turns out, according to WCVB, he was intoxicated.

The operator, who is a City of Boston DPW employee, was taken into protective custody by police and is now on administrative leave.

Put this together with the air traffic controller who was on a personal phone call when a plane and helicopter crashed over the Hudson River last week and the T driver who was texting when his trolley crashed, and we're getting a bit worried about the people who man our transportation infrastructure.

Update (8/17): The drawbridge operator, Robert Finn, resigned today, according to the Boston Herald.

"We are stardust..."

Woodstock wasn't the first music festival and it wasn't the last, but it is the event that we constantly reference to sum up an era, an ethos and a generation. Forty years ago this weekend some half-million people gathered on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, NY, and the world took notice.

It's easy to dismiss the concert as a logistical failure or a wasteful indulgence by a bunch of foolish middle-class kids -- and while elements of those interpretations cannot be completely ignored, the "3 Days of Peace & Music" that Woodstock promised succeeded on several levels. The world expanded musically, culturally and politically in the 1960s and -- though I was too young and completely unaware at the time -- I've had my world view shaped by that turbulent and iconic decade.

I'd like to think that, had I been older (I was 6), I would have found a way to go to Woodstock, but regardless, the idea that the status quo does not have to be accepted, that people can change the world and that art is at the essence of life have always resonated with me, and though these sentiments didn't originate in the fields, tents and mud of Bethel, they were lifted up that weekend in 1969.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eastie Pride Day

Back in 1989 community activist Sal LaMattina put together a neighborhood celebration and called it Eastie Pride Day. Today, Sal represents East Boston on the city council and his community festival is going strong.

The 21st Eastie Pride Day takes place today between 4 and 8 p.m. at Piers Park on the waterfront. It should be sunny and in the mid-80s at the start of the event. Click here to see the line-up of activities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Allowing the idiots to win

What can we hope to accomplish in this country if intentional, unsubstantiated fabrications take up a significant amount of the public discourse -- and even, in some cases, drive policy?

Forgive me if I appear partisan, but the political right has more crazies per square foot than any other sector of American politics. They are so unprincipled, so irrational and so loud -- yet the media hands them a megaphone and takes them seriously.

We came off two weeks of listening to insane blathering about Barack Obama not being an American citizen -- even as his Hawaiian birth certificate was staring the instigators in the face -- and we segued into two weeks of shouting and carrying on about "death panels." Those responsible for creating and propagating such rubbish would be ashamed of themselves if they had any decency whatsoever.

The provision that initiated this firestorm, according to, "would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions on end-of-life issues, including living wills and hospice as an option for the terminally ill." Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? The AMA thinks so. So does the AARP.

But now, because of statements that have no basis in reality, it looks like that part of the health care bill is going to be removed. It's a ridiculous way to to run a lemonade stand, never mind a country.

The thieving hour?

According to the local police web site (via Universal Hub), a pair of robberies took place in Eastie a few blocks apart early yesterday within 10 minutes of each other, though it does not seem that they are connected.

The CVS in Central Square was held up at 2:40 a.m. by "a medium-dark complexion Hispanic male," who pointed a gun at the man behind the register and demanded cash. The suspect made off with between $300 and $400, and the fleeing car was seen heading north on Meridian Street.

Six minutes later, someone reported that he was mugged on Brooks Street between Bennington and Saratoga streets after leaving a nearby bar. A man was assaulted with a baseball bat by "two white/light skinned males, and one dark skinned male along with a female," who went into the victim's pockets and attempted to take his wallet.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Jolting the neighborhood

The Eastie Jolt is here. It's a magazine-style web site for writing and photographs by East Boston residents and/or about the neighborhood. The first edition will contain a pair of essays in which two women reflect on what they find most attractive about East Boston; some poetry and a short story; a feature story on a music label headquartered in Eastie; and photographs of the work of two local artists.

This, I believe, just touches on the surface of the ideas, creativity and talent of the people of our neighborhood. I hope that those who've been writing quietly or taking photographs for years will take advantage of the chance to publish their work for a local audience and that those who haven't done anything creative will be inspired to do so.

Check it out here -- The Eastie Jolt -- and let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Criminalizing poverty

Barbara Ehrenreich -- author of 20 books, including the bestseller "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America" -- has a piece in The New York Times today on the criminalization of poverty. She writes:
The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.
Despite much public rhetoric to the contrary, class is a large and often determining factor in many aspects of American life. Not only are the poor politically powerless, but they are vilified as being lazy, shiftless and stupid. Though frequently the subject of anecdotes that conclude they are scamming the system, most people on the bottom of the economic ladder are desperate to free themselves from their circumstances. When, as a child, I was sent to the corner store with food stamps I felt humiliated by the experience, keeping the paper coupons hidden in my pocket and only approaching the counter when I thought the fewest people would see me.

There's a famous quotation from French Nobel Prize winner Anatole France:
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.
The statement is, of course, ironic, but amazingly the Ehrenreich story points out that an American local public official, recently and without irony, said, “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance.”

Friday, August 7, 2009

Coming soon

Soon I hope to debut an online magazine-style outlet for creative writing and visual art by residents of East Boston. It's an idea that struck me this summer, and since then I have solicited some contributions and purchased a web site. The difficult part for me has been the technical side -- actually setting up the site -- and that is delaying an announcement of the first "edition" of the 'zine. (If anyone has some HTML skill or knows someone who'd do a small bit of "pro bono" work, let me know.)

Stay tuned to the blog for more details on the site and its debut, and contact me if you are from Eastie and interested in submitting fiction, poetry, photography, essays and/or feature stories.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Early morning accident

I was awakened just before 7 a.m. by the screech, bang and smash of a car accident a half-block away at the intersection of Bennington and Byron streets. I called 9-1-1 and then went outside to find a black SUV wrapped around a pole. Witnesses said that the driver, face full of blood, staggered away from the vehicle before police arrived.

This is the second worse accident here since I moved to this apartment. Tops by a wide margin was the smaller SUV (a RAV4, maybe?) that rolled the length of the block, wiping out light poles and denting cars, back in the fall of 2006. It was the middle of the night, and people up and down the street walked outside into what looked like a war zone, with chunks of concrete scattered all over and smoke in the air.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A dark cloud

We are a few days away from the 64th anniversary of events that are among the most consequential in world history. It was early in August of 1945 that the United States, attempting to bring to an end to the Pacific campaign of World War II without an invasion of Japan's home islands, unleashed new and catastrophic weaponry, dropping atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Some 240,000 people were killed directly, while many thousands more were made ill, dying later. The Empire of Japan surrendered unconditionally on Aug.15 because of the bombings and because the Soviet Union backed out of their treaty with Japan and was ready to invade from the north while the US prepared to do so from the south.

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that 61% of Americans believe that using the atomic bombs was the right thing to do, while 22% disagreed and 16% were undecided. It's no surprise that women, Democrats and young people were less likely to approve of the bombings than men, Republicans and older folks.

As an unabashed liberal, my first inclination is to believe that using such destructive weapons on civilian-filled cities is immoral. There is, however, a great deal to consider on this topic, and I don't disparage anyone who comes to a conclusion based on an examination of the evidence and reasoned thought -- whatever that conclusion may be. (Wikipedia has an entry on the issue that does a decent job briefly laying out the arguments on both sides.)

By the summer of 1945 it was clear that Japan could not win the war, yet Emperor Hirohito and his military commanders refused to surrender. The fighting in the Pacific went from island to island, with American forces closing in on the home islands and the Japanese employing desperate tactics, such as kamikaze pilots. After the US victory at Okinawa, plans were coming together for an invasion of Japan that was scheduled to begin on Nov. 1, 1945. Estimates were that the invasion, Operation Downfall, would bring unprecedented casualties on all sides -- possibly a million American soldiers, several million Japanese soldiers and millions more Japanese civilians.

In the end, President Truman decided that the US needed to drop the recently developed atomic bombs to hasten the end of hostilities and to save American lives, and today most in the US still see this as the right course of action. It seems, however, that some of the country's top military leaders -- General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester Nimitz and others -- believed that the war had essentially already been won and that using the bombs was unnecessary. After meeting with Truman, Eisenhower later wrote:
During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.
I'm not saying it was an easy decision then or that it's an easy judgment today. I'm just saying that when top military people -- including a five-star general and future president -- clearly had misgivings about such drastic actions, those of us who don't agree that it was right and necessary aren't necessarily foolish or unserious or revisionists or lily-livered. Any way you slice it, the Japanese government and military of the period engaged in many abhorrent actions, and the steps taken to finally end the war were sorrowful days for all of humankind.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lots to do

***ZUMIX is sponsoring a series of concerts in East Boston parks this summer. For example, tomorrow evening a duet called Sweet and Lowdown will perform from 5 to 7 p.m. at Bremen Street Park. Check here to see a schedule of performances.

***The Boston Biennial 2009, a juried exhibition of contemporary art, will be presented at the Atlantic Works Gallery, just outside of Maverick Square, from Aug. 6 to 22. Check here for more information at the gallery's web site.

***The new Maverick Station is scheduled to open on Sunday, and a week-long series of music and entertainment is planned to welcome people back to the square. Check out the press release at for more information.

***The 21st annual Eastie Pride Day -- Saturday, Aug. 15 at Piers Park -- will feature music, food and fun activities for children. The event's web site is here.

***Volunteers are needed to help remove some graffiti from murals along the East Boston Greenway. Email if you'd like to help.