Thursday, December 31, 2009

A few year-end words from the Scottish Bard


By Robert Burns

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Flying the unfriendly skies

Though I am a strong advocate of personal privacy rights, I don't have a problem with technologies being discussed for airport security in the wake of the failed terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Day. I don't think anyone has an absolute right to fly, and it seems to me that with the level of threat that especially faces airplanes, the greater good of security for all outweighs the inconvenience of a small invasion of one's privacy.

The technology that is now the focus of ideas to tighten airport security are backscatter X-ray machines, which show analysts an image of the body beneath clothes. Theoretically, explosives and other weapons are much easier to see using these machines. That's not to say that equipping all US airports with such machines would prevent harm from people flying in elsewhere, as was the case with the most recent attack.

The real question, as with many issues that nation faces, is whether elected officials have the political will and the citizenry has the attention span to completely review the process and to do what actually makes sense. A Canadian newspaper published an interesting story today that discusses the steps that Israel takes to ensure security in its airports and on its planes. Think about it: Israel is the #1 target for Muslim extremist terrorists, yet there hasn't been an airport attack there in many years. Read the story and ask yourself why the US doesn't adopt a system like Israel's, which is clearly effective.

Gambling forces prepare to saddle up

The push to legalize slot machines and/or full-sized casinos in Massachusetts will begin in earnest after the holidays, and some early maneuvering has been going on among the state's political leaders. House Speaker Bob DeLeo is in favor of starting with slots, as approving, building and opening a casino would take several years, while bringing slots to the state's racetracks -- two of which, Suffolk Downs and Wonderland, are in DeLeo's district -- could happen in just a few months.

Gov. Patrick has said that he's against taking the "slots first" approach. "It’s just there is harm that is associated with gambling that has to be dealt with..." said the governor, advocating "extreme care" in the process. If he believes this, then it's legitimate to wonder why he's been such a strong advocate for legalized gaming from the start. Senate President Therese Murray, meanwhile, has said she's leaning against beginning with slots alone.

The governor recently suggested a “fresh, independent, and transparent analysis of the benefits and costs of expanded gaming," which those of us against legalized casino gambling in the state have always seen as an obvious first step. DeLeo disagreed, saying, “Because gaming has been extensively studied in recent years, I’m not sure a lengthy study in place of a bill is what we need right now.’’ Of course, he avoided mentioning that studies have had mixed conclusions on the consequences of legalized casinos.

It appears that casino gambling will come to Massachusetts in some form, barring any unforeseen events. The political leadership and the money (Suffolk Downs owner Richard Fields and other out-of-state hotel and casino concerns) are behind the movement. Maybe, somewhere along the line, someone will ask the citizenry what they think.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beware the cold

The temperature is supposed to bottom out around 8 degrees in Boston tonight, with wind chills below zero. Christmas Day, 1980, was the coldest day in the city during my lifetime. I remember distinctly the short walk from the house I grew up in to my aunt's house -- just a half block down Chelsea Street -- and feeling the cold as I'd never felt it before.

I remember, as a staff member at the Boys & Girls Club, playing tag football one night when it was minus-1 outside. I was able to galvanize a handful of brave souls to join the game, and after a while most of us shed our outer layers as we got used to the cold.

The coldest temperature I've ever experienced was one morning in central Massachusetts, when the temperature dropped to minus-14. I just had to go outside to feel it, and I bundled up and went into the frigid air. It was an experience.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Protests in Iran reach new level

Street protests throughout Iran have seemingly reached a new level, but in general the American mainstream media seems not to have noticed. Today was the Day of Ashura, a holy day for Muslims and a holiday in Islamic countries. Iranians demonstrating against their government have flooded the streets in a number of cities, marching and in some cases attacking the street police and setting their motorbikes afire.

These protests are a continuation of those that unfolded after the national election results last summer, which appeared to many people to have been tampered with to protect the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad and the protests were met with violence, arrests and show trials.

The determination and spirit of the Iranian people, however, seems to have not been broken, and they are making their voices heard, despite reports that 10 or more of the protesters have been killed. Atlantic Monthly blogger Andrew Sullivan, who followed the summer protests closely and provided an outlet for reports and video from the scene, is on top of the story again. Be advised that some of the images are graphic.

Photo from

Looking back at the Senate primary vote

Less than 20% of those registered to vote in East Boston turned out for the special US Senate primary on Dec. 8. According to the information online at, fewer than 3,000 of the neighborhood's nearly 15,000 registered voters bothered to go to the polls. My precinct, number 12, had the highest turnout in Eastie: just under 27%. That's almost double Precinct 7's turnout.

Rep. Mike Capuano -- who received a statewide total of 28% of the vote to winner Martha Coakley's 47% -- tallied 49% in Eastie, while Coakley got 30% of the neighborhood's vote. Alan Khazei and Steve Pagliuca brought up the rear.

In case you missed it, has a wonderful graphic that breaks down the vote by cities and towns. Capuano won Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, Chelsea -- communities he's represented as a Congressman or mayor of Somerville -- as well as a handful of towns in the western part of the state. Khazei, interestingly, won one town: Alford, which borders New York State.

Coakley meets Republican candidate Scott Brown and (as I was quickly and appropriately reminded) independent candidate Joseph L. Kennedy on Jan. 19.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Woman's body found on Princeton Street (Update: Body ID'd)

A sad Christmas Eve story at the body of a woman, her hands bound, was found last night in a blue plastic bag in an alley just off Princeton Street. Police said the woman appeared to be in her 30s with a tattoo of a dragon on her neck. Autopsy results are expected today.

Update (12/26): The body was identified by police as 39-year-old Julienne Corrao.

The forever war

Just a few hours after Melquisedet Angulo Cordova was buried with military honors Monday, his mother and three other relatives were executed by members of a drug cartel in the Mexican state of Tabasco. Cordova was a marine and he died taking part in a raid that killed a top drug lord. His family was gunned down in revenge, part of the more than 14,000 people killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon escalated his country's war on drugs in 2006, sending in federal troops. The latest violence, however, would seem to breach new levels of insidiousness.

Across the border, the American city of Phoenix has averaged one drug-related kidnapping a day for the past two years, as the battle in Mexico -- some have called it a civil war -- spills into the United States. Meanwhile, 350,000 Americans are imprisoned at the moment for drug offenses, while more than 22,000 overdosed using drugs last year. Federal and state governments will spend about $50 billion in our war on drugs this year.

Here in East Boston, most of us have a family member or friend who has struggled with addiction problems. People who passed through the Boys & Girls Club as kids or through my classroom as teens have died from using or been arrested on drug charges, including Johnny Forbes, recently all over the news. Of course, all of these cases are tragedies, and we feel for the families.

While people must be held accountable for their actions, I hope we all understand the precariousness of each of our lives. Addiction doesn't just happen to the ignorant or poor or damaged. We're all flawed individuals with our own shortcomings and weaknesses. We each have to live our own lives surrounded by a multitude of factors that no one else sees. I'm reminded of a verse from a song called "Courage" by a Canadian band, The Tragically Hip:
There's no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yet the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
under pressure, under pressure.

While it would make sense to rethink public policy as it relates to drugs, with much more money spent on treatment, people aren't going to stop looking any time soon for ways to fight off the blues, to forget the past or to alleviate physical pain, and as long as Americans will seek out illegal narcotics there will be someone trying to make some money getting the stuff to market and others willing to kill or to go to jail in order to get a piece of the action.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alive with the sound of music

The Boston Phoenix has a story (and photo, at right) on the firehouse turned music space on Sumner Street that Zumix revamped and opened just recently. I drove past there today and from the outside the building looks fantastic.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Get yourself a cup of Jolt

The newest rendition of The Eastie Jolt is up, featuring lyrics from the young people of ZUMIX and a remembrance of the fabled East Boston Community News, which published its last issue 20 years ago.
You'll also find poetry, fiction, photography and an essay on why its important to stick together in tough economic times.

The Jolt is an outlet for creativity in East Boston. Those who live and work here are invited to contribute to the site. To submit material, send along an idea or offer feedback, email

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The revolution will be Eastie-vized

The Globe has a piece today on Gene Sharp, the writer and director of the Albert Einstein Institution -- the small clearinghouse of non-violent revolutionary ideas and publications that is located in Sharp's house here in East Boston.

The story focuses on the role that Sharp's ideas, and those of other American scholars, have played in the popular uprisings that have taken place in Iran in the wake of that country's stolen presidential election. Sharp, 81, has a PhD from Oxford and is a professor emeritus at UMass/Dartmouth. He also played a key role in some of the Eastern European revolutions in the early 2000s.

I've made reference to Sharp on this blog a couple of times, most notably with a small entry back in 2007.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow emergency tonight

I got my text message from the City of Boston announcing that a snow emergency and parking ban will begin at 10 p.m. tonight. May the parking scrum begin!

The latest forecast is calling for 8 to 14 inches in the Boston area, with more to hit the South Shore.

Update (12/20): The city's snow emergency ends at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where is health care reform heading? (Updated 12/19 below)

I'd like to personally chastise the people of Connecticut for electing Joe Lieberman as their US senator, allowing him to gum up the works on health care reform and to generally be a gadfly to the Democrats he claims to be affiliated with. Lieberman is an dullard who seems to enjoy being swayed by both sides as the potential 60th Democratic vote on any issue. Some people are just idiots, but what can you say about a state that sends such a man to Congress?

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced an amendment yesterday that would extend Medicare benefits to all Americans, effectively bringing a single-payer system to the US, as the good people of Canada, the UK, Australia and elsewhere already have. This is the route that I would like reform to take. However, even though the amendment had no chance of passing, a Republican senator asked that the 787-page proposal be read aloud in its entirety, something rare in a house of Congress, where big bills are often considered. This was clearly a move to slow down the whole health care debate and Sanders eventually withdrew his amendment -- which presumably delighted the Senate clerks who otherwise would be reading it for some ten hours.

And now, in today's Washington Post, Howard Dean -- former DNC chairman and presidential candidate -- writes that the current Senate health care proposal, stripped of a public option and a Medicare buy-in, would "do more harm than good to the future of America." Oh boy. What is a committed liberal to make of all this?

Update (12/19): Paul Krugman, writing in yesterday's New York Times, advocates passage of the current health care bill before the Senate, no matter how flawed it might be.

At its core, the bill would do two things. First, it would prohibit discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of medical condition or history: Americans could no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or have their insurance canceled when they get sick. Second, the bill would provide substantial financial aid to those who don’t get insurance through their employers, as well as tax breaks for small employers that do provide insurance.

All of this would be paid for in large part with the first serious effort ever to rein in rising health care costs.

The result would be a huge increase in the availability and affordability of health insurance, with more than 30 million Americans gaining coverage, and premiums for lower-income and lower-middle-income Americans falling dramatically.
Krugman goes on to write: "Look, I understand the anger here: supporting this weakened bill feels like giving in to blackmail — because it is." But an imperfect bill is better than no bill, the Nobel Prize-winner reasons, noting that Democrats failed to compromise on the issue with President Nixon and that President Clinton wouldn't compromise with moderate Republicans in Congress and, on both occasions, the outcome was no reform at all.

The final peg of Krugman's rationale is that social programs have often started as imperfect bills that get fixed along the way, with Social Security a prime example. So, he says, let's get it done. And I agree.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Take it down

Tell them to take down the giant American flag that hangs in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Bankers and other corporate executives have shown in the last couple of years that they care nothing about the United States and its people. Their only motivation is the bottom line.

The president met with CEOs of some of the nation's biggest financial institutions yesterday and they all played nice; in the meantime, they are lobbying Congress to weaken proposed reforms that would increase regulation of the industry to prevent meltdowns of the entire economy, such as the recent "Great Recession," which required massive amounts of tax dollars to avoid a total collapse and an actual depression.

Obama asked the "fatcats" to lend more to small businesses and the bankers made some half-hearted rumblings. They only get spurred into action when there is a pot of gold awaiting them at the other end. Then the bankers are willing to take wild risks that jeopardize the entire economy. When the flimsiness of their complex financial machinations was revealed all of us had to chip in to buoy the banks up. The system is, as many described it, socialism for big banks and big corporations.

Do us a favor guys. Take the Stars and Stripes down and put up something that really represents who you are wand what you do. Maybe the pirates' skull and crossbones?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Politics bests truth again

The chairman of the British government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Dr. David Nutt, was fired from his post in October for speaking the truth. Nutt referred to a paper published in a respected medical journal and suggested that the UK rethink its drug policy using the research and other objective facts.

As we all know, the truth has little sway in the halls of government. Remember Joycelyn Elders, President Clinton's surgeon general, who was cut loose after a little more than a year because she said that masturbation is part of human sexuality? In the US, and in Britain as well, we sometimes behave like little children. It's ludicrous.

The Globe story on Dr. Nutt is discusses the study to which he made reference. The paper was published more than two years ago, and it asked a wide range of professionals to rank drugs according to three criteria: "physical effects on the user, the likelihood of addiction, and its impact on society," according to, and the totals were tabulated. It's no surprise that heroin is, by a wide margin, first on the list -- meaning that it's most dangerous -- but alcohol is fifth and tobacco are ninth, both ahead of marijuana, LSD, ecstasy and more.

Dr. Nutt and the researchers weren't saying that we should make alcohol and tobacco illegal and legalize everything below them on the list, but they do believe that the UK should reexamine its policies on illegal drugs with facts in mind. This seems eminently obvious and applicable to America as well. Alas, politics would seem to reject even that simple step.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Over-medicating the poor

Rather than race, ethnicity or religion, class is the prism through which I see most issues that affect our society. I think our public discourse is pitifully short of serious discussion on the topic, as some -- those on top of the socioeconomic pecking order -- push the story that there are no classes in America or that individuals can navigate the caste system upward with just a little elbow grease.

But that is one of our national myths. Take this story, for example, from today's New York Times:

New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.

Those findings, by a team from Rutgers and Columbia, are almost certain to add fuel to a long-running debate. Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them — but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?

That's just one of many ways -- some of them out in the open and some, like this, in the shadows -- that working class and poor people are screwed by the system.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clinic news

The East Boston Neighborhood Health Center is receiving a $12 million federal grant "for construction projects and technology upgrades," according to The money is part of $80 million in stimulus funds that are being awarded to eight community health centers in Massachusetts.

Also in the news, Dr. Peter Stringham, who worked as a pediatric and adolescent physician at the EBNHC for 32 years, will receive the Public Health Leadership Award in Brookline on Dec. 16. Stringham was an institution at what I grew up calling "the clinic," and when I was a teenager he was my doctor.

Holiday Fair today

I received an email today regarding this event:
The Harborside Community Center's Holiday Fair is today from 5 to 8 p.m. at 312 Border Street in East Boston. The event includes food, art, raffles, baked goods, sing-a-longs and kids' activities, and it supports the special Adult Education program at Harborside.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Today's vote

There's a good field of Democrats in today's special election for US Senate. They seem, for the most part, to be where I am on the issues, and the lack of broad differences has made for a fairly lackluster campaign. I am going to vote for Mike Capuano because I like his record in Congress and I think he's generally a straightforward guy.

Martha Coakley has led in all the polls I've seen, although her margin has probably shrunk since the summer. She's likely make a good senator as well, though until recently I thought her next big race would be for governor, and I can see her in that role. Alan Khazei would certainly make an interesting senator, and I was surprised by the Globe's endorsement of the City Year founder. Steve Pagliuca seems like a good guy, and it's true that wealthy elected officials are less likely to be susceptible to the effects of money on their votes.

As a Congressman, Capuano voted against both the invasion of Iraq and the Patriot Act, and those votes are key from my perspective. He stood up and did what was right in a time when many rushed to judgment out of fear and political considerations. I'm not sure what the others would have done -- and a previous statement indicates that Coakley would have supported the Patriot Act -- but I know what Capuano did. That's the kind of guts and brains I want in my senator.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Serving with spirit

Several hundred people are gathered at the Boys & Girls Club gym (formerly Savio Hall) in East Boston this morning for a volleyball tournament sponsored by Catholic churches in the Greater Boston area. About a dozen teams of women and girls are on hand for the event. In the photo, the Everett team celebrates after taking a set off a squad from Cambridge.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The tragedy at Bhopal

Another anniversary today: this one shameful. It was 25 years ago today that a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India, released a cloud of toxic gas that killed immediately about 4,000 people and another 10,000 to 20,000 people over time.

There's an op-ed piece in today's New York Times about the tragedy: how Dow Chemical -- which bought Union Carbide in 2001 -- disclaims any responsibility from the event; and how the CEO of UC at the time has never been extradited from the US despite the international arrest warrant in his name.

Of course, the poor and powerless of the world don't stand a chance when it comes to multi-national corporations and their relentless pillaging of the world's resources. The water, the air, the soil, the food, the social fabric of society -- whatever sits in the way of profit doesn't stand a chance.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

'John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave'

John Brown -- terrorist to some, hero to others -- was hanged 150 years ago today not far from the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Va., that he and 21 others raided on Oct. 16, 1859. The siege lasted into the next day, but Marines under the command of Robert E. Lee -- then a colonel in the federal army -- stormed the building, killed several of the men and took Brown and others prisoner.

Brown was tried and found guilty within three weeks and hanged on Dec. 2. A 21-year-old John Wilkes Booth was among the crowd that assembled to watch. Before his death, Brown wrote:
I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.
He was unfortunately correct.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In the red zone

East Boston High School football coach John Sousa will retire from the position after this season, which means his last game will either be this evening or on Saturday, depending on how the Jets fare in tonight's playoff game. The squad is 9-1 and meets Bristol-Plymouth (8-2) in Taunton at 5:15. A win puts them in Saturday's Division 4 Super Bowl against Whittier. Sousa has coached Eastie's gridiron gang for 17 years.

Update: Eastie advanced to Saturday's championship game with a 35-8 win last night.