Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rolling on the river

I was at the Condor Street Urban Wilds today when an oil tanker, the Panagia Lady, passed beneath the raised Meridian Street Bridge and made its way up the Chelsea Creek. I took some photos, including the one above, which captures a gentleman at the bottom right who had a much better camera than I did. (Click on photo for a larger image.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Decision time for Afghanistan

Twin bombshells regarding Afghanistan in the past couple of days: Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh's resignation; and The New York Times story that Afghan president's brother, who was widely reported to be in control of that country's drug trade, has been on the CIA payroll for years. Throw in the obvious widespread fraud during Afghanistan's presidential election, and we have a toxic mix just as President Obama is in the final stages of making a decision on future US policy in that South Asian nation.

I think that American forces need to be pulled out of Afghanistan. I understand the post-9/11 invasion, but I don't see what we are accomplishing now -- eight years later. For those on the fence, I suggest that you read Hoh's resignation letter, which makes clear the complexities of the situation and, further, says that America's presence is only making things worse. In fact, I think everyone should read the letter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cheap AND dry

I stopped at Market Basket in Chelsea today during the deluge and, when I came out, there were a couple of store employees with umbrellas in the parking lot to escort customers to their cars. I've never seen that at a store of any kind.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking a pounding

In the wake of a University of Michigan study on the long-term health of retired pro football players, there is a rising chorus of concerned voices. The study, commissioned by the NFL, shows higher rates of dementia, Alzheimer's and other brain-related syndromes in those who suffered the repeated concussions associated with the sport.

I read the story in last week's New Yorker in which Malcolm Gladwell compared the physical damage done to NFL lineman to that done to the animals used in dogfighting -- very much in the news after the return to the field of Michael Vick. Gladwell's point wasn't, of course, that pro football players get ripped to shreds, but rather that they sacrifice their bodies for the enjoyment of others.

The New York Times has a story today about a former NFL executive trying to rally support for the retirees, who sometimes fall through the cracks of the league's support programs, and a Congressional committee has announced that hearings will be held on the matter.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, I know a little bit about the issue, having written a story about concussions among high school athletes when I was a sports reporter in southern Maine. (I recently posted the award-winning story again at The Eastie Jolt.)

The medical professionals I spoke with at the time were quite concerned about the issue and felt that it needed to get more attention from everyone involved in youth and collegiate sports -- and not just with regards to football, but other sports where concussions sometimes occur.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


One of the two Zipcar locations in East Boston is looking for a new home. The car-sharing company won't be able to use the spots at Maverick Square and Henry Street after the end of this month, and Zipcar is looking for another suitable location that can fit two or three vehicles. If you have such a spot or know of one you can email

The second Eastie site, at the Gumball Factory condos on Orleans Street, is still in use.

Friday, October 23, 2009

For art's sake

Atlantic Works is hosting an exhibition of the work of Valentina Oppezzo, "a young Italian photographer now living in Cambridge." The subject of the photos include toys, food and Italian landscapes. The exhibit, sponsored by Italia Unita, runs through Oct. 31, with a cocktail reception next Thursday.

The gallery is also hosting "Phallic Confessions and Flaccid Truth" -- new work by Laura Torres and Samantha Marder -- through Oct. 24.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Police reports

The Boston Police are reporting (via Twitter) that someone was shot this evening in Maverick Square. Also, it says that there was a fire this morning at 117 Maverick Street.

Links to police web sites:

Boston Police Twitter site

BPD news

Police Station 7 web site

Monday, October 19, 2009

Debate feedback

What did you think about tonight's debate between Mayor Menino and Councilor Flaherty? Did you watch? Key moments? Was there a winner? Comment here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Globe poll shows Menino +20%; Flaherty's internals show half that

The Globe released the results of a new poll in the mayoral race that shows the gap between the incumbent and his challenger has closed somewhat. Mayor Thomas Menino, however, still has a 20-point advantage over City Councilor Michael Flaherty.

Flaherty has clearly gained some ground since the spring, when a similar poll showed a 38-point split, as voters have become more focused on the race, the field was narrowed by the preliminary election and some of the challengers allegations against the current administration -- most notably the missing email fiasco -- have failed to disappear.

Menino leads Flaherty in the two-man race, 52-32 percent, according to the poll. An incredible 69 percent of those surveyed have a favorable view of the mayor -- numbers that any politician would covet. Flaherty's favorability rating is at 50 percent.

Update (10/18): The Boston Phoenix reports that the Flaherty camp is questioning the Globe poll, as their internal numbers -- provided to the weekly paper -- show a much different picture. In that poll, Menino's lead among "likely voters" (which the Globe's poll did not exclusively include) shrinks to 10 percent -- and 7 just percent among "definite voters."

That seems more in keeping with a nervous City Hall, as I wrote about above. Thanks to the commenter who pointed me to the Phoenix on this.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

At-large candidates favor East Vegas

Universal Hub provides a summation of the opinions of several City Council at-large candidates on whether slots and/or a casino should be situated at Suffolk Downs. The general consensus among the group seems to be that they are in favor of some form of gambling at the racetrack, but that issues involving traffic and other matters much be worked out beforehand.

The candidates thoughts on other issues can also be found here at Universal Hub.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bitter sweet

This week's East Boston Times includes a story on a reporter's discovery that granulated sugar was first produced in this neighborhood at the Boston Sugar Refinery, which was started in 1834. The piece, entitled "A sweet story, indeed," starts on Page 5 and jumps to Page 10. It begins with a first-person account, but then becomes a story on the history of the sugar plant in Eastie.

William Sumner's 1858 book, A History of East Boston, is quoted and referenced appropriately. Then, unfortunately, there is a long chunk of the story that is right out of Wikipedia, which is rather disappointing. Except for a single flip-flop of two parts of a sentence, the next five paragraphs are taken verbatim from the entry on the Boston Sugar Refinery, interspersed with a Sumner quote on the smell of the sugar plant.

Maybe this was a legitimate error. I hope it is not standard operating procedure for the Times. I know that across America teachers are fighting a daily battle against students who frequently plagiarize from the Internet, as the convenience of simply cutting and pasting is difficult for teenagers to pass up. Certainly we demand more from our media.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What exactly was discovered?

On this day in October, some 517 years ago, ships captained by an Italian explorer who sailed for the Spanish crown caught sight of land after two months at sea. As they approached in boats the shore of what is now believed to be an island in the Bahamas, the native peoples -- Arawak Indians -- came out to greet their guests. A couple days later, Christopher Columbus wrote to the Spanish king:
They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language...I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.
Columbus and his men then set out to find gold, but there was almost none to be had. He did kidnap and bring 25 natives with him when he returned to Spain (though no more than eight survived the trip) and, quite likely, he and his men brought syphilis back to the Old World as well.

On his second trip to the Caribbean, Columbus spent time in Cuba, where he oversaw the murder and enslavement of the Taino people. Tens of thousands were apparently butchered and many of the rest sent back to Europe as slaves. Some committed suicide -- and killed their own children -- rather than get captured. European diseases, especially smallpox, eventually took the rest. Columbus later wrote:
From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many slaves as could be sold...
On his third voyage, Columbus took along a young priest named Bartolome de las Casas, who would write of what he witnessed: a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile... was depopulated ... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write...
Christopher Columbus, whom we laud today with a federal holiday, was a brilliant navigator and self-marketer. He was the first European to land in what became the Americas since Leif Ericson and other Icelanders settled in eastern Canada around 1000 AD, and Columbus is certainly an historical figure of great import.

However, he did bring with him -- and personally took part in -- a wave of violence, greed and genocide that swept over the New World. That part of the story should not be sanitized when we read, and teach, history. It may be unpleasant to acknowledge, but it is the truth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Finding an exit strategy

I think Frank Rich nails it when he says in his latest New York Times column that the US needs to extract itself from Afghanistan. Rich points out that those who are most loudly advocating sending more troops to that country (namely, John McCain and his allies) were also the people who pushed the invasion of Iraq -- a diversion that forced Afghanistan onto the back-burner, which is why we are still there today.

"Afghanistan is not Iraq," Rich writes. "It is poorer, even larger and more populous, more fragmented and less historically susceptible to foreign intervention." And the oft-skipped over reality in Iraq is the much-touted "surge" only found some success because a) the sectarian killing had pretty much succeeded by then in purging the Sunni from Shia areas and vice-versa and b) the Sunni rose up in Anbar province because they'd had enough of the insurgents killing of Muslims.

President Obama needs to begin the withdrawal of American military personnel from Afghanistan. The US has been there long enough, the Afghan government is corrupt, our military needs a rest and our treasury cannot afford the price. The fallout will be severe from the the Right, but we are not going to win this conflict in the conventional sense. That already happened just weeks into the start of hostilities. I can see no goal that we can possibly achieve by staying. Let's declare victory and bring the troops home. The president needs to start securing the peace that his Nobel promises.

Fill your weekend with art

Local artists in East Boston open their doors to the public this weekend. Check here for the details.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Newest Logan runway hasn't lessened delays

In April of 2001 the East Boston Sun Transcript (owned by the group that currently owns the EB Times) published a column of mine in which I listed six reasons why I believed adding a sixth runway at Logan Airport was a mistake. I wrote:
First, let us address Massport's main argument. Their commercials and their literature assert that adding a runway would decrease airport delays and congestion, at the same time alleviating some of the problems that locals have with Logan: noise, pollution, and traffic.

The fact is that the FAA's own web site indicates that most airport delays -- 75% of those in February, for example -- are due to poor weather conditions. An additional runway would mean additional flights delayed or canceled when the weather is bad. Therefore, building Runway 14/32 would have the opposite effect outlined in Massport's propaganda.

Runway 14/32 was eventually built and became active in November of 2006. Today there is a report in the news that says Logan Airport (and the smaller regional airport in Manchester, NH) "ranked 78th out of 89 metropolitan areas in the nation" in on-time flights and, "This year’s performance is a 2 percent improvement from the same time period in 2008, but 4 percent worse than five years ago."

Massport, as usual, played fast and loose with the facts. I know virtually nothing about the logistics of air travel, yet I was able to deduce that their arguments didn't make sense. Then, as now, Massport cannot be trusted.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The plot thickens (Update below)

A second computer is suddenly found in a back room? Top city aide Michael Kineavy temporarily steps down? Secretary of State Bill Galvin says that City Hall has been unresponsive to his requests? Some wonder openly whether politics is slowing the response of Attorney General Martha Coakley? Councilor Mike Flaherty tossing out accusations on the campaign trail?

The Menino Administration's Emailgate is exploding big time, fueled by the race for mayor that is just weeks away.

Update (10/8): Meanwhile, the East Boston Times published a laughable little editorial in this week's paper, saying that this is a "big to-do" that "the Boston dailies are trying to trump up over a bunch of useless e-mails..." I'm not sure how the Times knows the content of the emails, since not all of them have been recovered AND since a second computer was discovered. Are these talking points directly from City Hall?

I don't understand how anyone would think it acceptable for emails to be erased in violation of state law and in violation of a subpoena in the Dianne Wilkerson/Chuck Turner corruption case -- especially a newspaper. If there's nothing to hide then why is the Menino Administration dragging its feet?

Well, at least the Times comments occur on the editorial page this time and not in a Page 1 "news story" as happened a few weeks ago. In fact, there is something poetic about this Times editorial, with its one-sentence paragraphs and vivid imagery:
It is a hurricane without winds or rain,
a tornado without a swirling funnel cloud,
and an earthquake without a tremor
Reminds me of a line from Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thinking inside the box

The Globe has a story today about the state cracking down on people who skip out on jury duty. Massachusetts apparently follows through on issuing summonses for people who don't show and then warrants for those who ignore a summons. The state seems to have a relatively low rate or juror delinquency: 6.4%.

As opposed to most of the people I've ever spoken with, I like jury duty. I've been called three times and served twice. The first was a handgun possession case; the second, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. It may surprise some to know that I voted "guilty" in both of those cases (and both defendants were found guilty).

The third time I was called I just missed getting on a jury because I knew both the victim and the defendant. They were from East Boston, and one can connect the dots if I reveal that the case involved a girl I knew from the Boys & Girls Club, where I worked for many years, and her stepfather.

I find jury duty interesting, and I've also felt reassured to see how serious everyone who served with me approached the task at hand. I hope to be called again soon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tightening school security

The Boston Herald reports that metal detectors are being installed in five more of the city's schools, including East Boston High School. That will leave all but four of Boston's 39 high schools with the weapons-detection systems.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Eastie Chamber backs Suffolk casino

The East Boston Chamber of Commerce generated a "Breaking News" headline yesterday on the Boston Herald's web site when the group released a letter announcing that it "strongly supports expanded gaming at Suffolk Downs."

The rationale, according to the letter, is the job creation and the "ancillary economic benefits for East Boston businesses" generated by a local casino. Also, that a casino "would produce up to $500 million in annual revenue for the state," that Suffolk Downs has "expanded its community outreach and philanthropic efforts over the last few years," and that track owner Richard Fields has pledged to "buy goods and services locally."

It seems to me that the expected benefits will be outweighed by the negative consequences of situating such an operation so close to an urban residential neighborhood; that the state revenue number quoted is almost certainly overblown; that Suffolk's recent philanthropy is clearly part of a strategy to enlist local support (Why not spend thousands in order to make millions?); and that Fields' "pledge" will likely be discarded the first time he can save a penny per item on something that he needs in quantity.

I would hope that the Chamber isn't solely motivated by the fact that there is money to be made here. I would have expected that any support on this issue by a local civic organization would be tempered by a few words saying, "There may be some negative effects and we hope that these measures are in place to counteract them." The Chamber's letter, however, says in essence, "Full steam ahead!" One can't help but feel that people in and out of the state see a money spigot about to turn on and they're all lining up with cups in hand.