Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

By Robert Burns, 1788

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Storm furor unfair?

I was returning from Italy in the summer of 2009 when the second leg of my flight, from New York to Boston, was delayed due to weather and I was forced to spend seven hours at JFK, wandering around the airport and trying to nap on the dingy carpet. What most frustrated me during that episode was not the fact that my airline was not willing to send a jetliner into thunderstorms, but the lack of information I was getting from the company's employees.

Still, looking back, the airline's first job is to convey me to and from my destination safely, which of course they've done every time I've flown. The monotonous delay is now just a slightly funny anecdote, a footnote on the story of my fantastic trip to Europe. I don't fly that often, so I've been lucky enough to avoid horror stories about sitting for hours on the tarmac, which would be understandably terrible. This week tens of thousands of travelers will have their own horror stories about trying to get somewhere for the holidays when the recent snowstorm struck.

I do think, however, that the furor people are expressing is a bit unfair. I am not one to defend giant corporations, but imagine how incredibly complex the air travel system is and then add to it a weather event that cripples a number of important transportation hubs, including the New York metro area's three airports. This was, I read, the Big Apple's sixth-largest snowfall on record and it struck during the height of the post-Christmas travel period. Do people really expect that the planes, pilots, personnel and passengers can all be swiftly repositioned so that everyone is where they want to be?

Of course, if I missed a long-planned trip or the funeral of a relative or a holiday dinner I would be understandably upset, but the weather answers to no one.

Maybe people really were not irrationally angry about air travel delays; maybe it was just the media coverage that created hysteria where there was little. In New York City, however, people seemed genuinely upset by the municipal response to the two-foot snowfall, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg eventually accepting responsibility for the shortcomings of the response. Not being there, I'm not sure how well or poorly the city tackled the storm, but I again feel like the fickle feelings of the public were on display here. The nation is emerging from an economic crisis, people want governments to spend less, but when services -- from border security to trash pick-up -- are scaled back the citizenry goes beserk.

Today, Americans seem to want to have their cake and to eat it, too -- and then to have another piece while complaining about the price of the cake. It cannot go on like this forever. Another old but relevant proverb comes to mind: If we want to dance, we have to pay the piper.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Coming to America

There's some controversy surrounding comments made on a blog by the Phantom Gourmet, the secretive restaurant critic:
I’m sorry to tell everyone, but without illegal aliens, there is no restaurant business. 

Is it true? What about the hospitality field? Agriculture? Unskilled labor? If so, what should be public policy regarding immigration? Should there be stricter enforcement of employers?

The number of undocumented immigrants has decreased in the past two years, with estimates are that there are a million fewer than the high of 12 million in 2007. Much of that is in response to the weakened economy, but it has been under-reported that deportation of illegal workers has increased under President Obama and audits of employers have quadrupled.

Immigration is down in Arizona as well, and all of the rhetoric about waves of murderers streaming across the border was completely political -- a cynical, but common, tactic to scare voters to the right. The current Congress is unlikely to pass any immigration legislation, as it helps the Republican Party to continually vilify immigrants.

I discovered recently that there were limits placed on the number of Italians allowed to come to the US from 1921 to 1965. The Emergency Quota Act, signed by President Warren G. Harding, drastically reduced the immigration from southern and eastern Europe, principally Italy, while allowing larger numbers from western and northern Europe.

About five million Italians came to America seeking a better life for themselves and their children, and I am here and living comfortably because of several of those people. At the height of the influx, a number of Americans looked around and decided that they didn't like these newcomers, with their large families, different language and smelly foods, and they passed laws to keep us out. Shame on them, and shame on us if we turn around and look down upon the latest groups to set foot on these shores.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Eastie storm photos

Holiday plants along Bennington Street look even more appropriate.

No one is waiting at the bus stop at Bennington and Byron streets, though I did see a bus pull up and let off one passenger.
This house remains in the holiday spirit despite the storm.

Bennington Street looking north. Green lights, but no cars.

Cars along Byron Street are already covered pretty well.

The winds drive the snow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

***On Christmas morning the Herald gives us a story of holiday cheer spread by a pair of East Boston cops. The duo (in the photo from turn a domestic call into an attempt to make one little girl's Christmas a little brighter.

***The Globe has reporter Joseph Kahn's year-end review of news and pop culture in verse.

*** wonders whether "It's A Wonderful Life" is the scariest movie ever.

***The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik took a look at a recent spate of books exploring the historical Jesus earlier this year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tension on Korean peninsula

South Korea, with encouragement from the US, carried out military drills with live fire right next to the border with North Korea, further stressing the relationship with its unpredictable communist neighbor. This morning the South is on standby in case of attack.

The North has frequently taken aggressive action in the 57 years since the armistice brought an end to the war that killed 350,000 Korean soldiers and 2.5 million Korean civilians, as well as 36,000 Americans, at least 200,000 Chinese and several thousand from other countries. The leadership of the communist state is irrational and no one wants to see them get away with the recent attack on the South's Yeonpyeong Island or last spring's attack on a naval ship.

However, instigating a nuclear war is certainly in no one's interest, and so the US and South Korea need to think long and hard before they provoke the North. The entire world has a stake in what happens there.

Image courtesy

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Assessing Obama

On his widely read blog, The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan argues that Barack Obama is not a weak liberal, but rather a tactical and cautious president who reads the country's mood and compromises to get what he can. Then he lists what Obama has accomplished in his first two years:
...universal health insurance, the rescue of Detroit, the avoidance of a Second Great Depression, big gains in private sector growth and productivity, three stimulus packages (if you count QE2), big public investments in transport and green infrastructure, the near-complete isolation of Iran, the very public exposure of Israeli intransigence and extremism, a reset with Russia (plus a new START), big drops in illegal immigration and major gains in enforcement, a South Korea free trade pact, the end of torture, and a debt commission that has put fiscal reform squarely back on the national agenda. Oh, and of yesterday, the signature civil rights achievement of ending the military's ban on openly gay service members.

It certainly is an impressive list, and though I was hoping for more bold legislation with a Democrat in the White House and large majorities in both houses of Congress, I do understand that political logistics must be taken into account when hashing out domestic policy.

As I've said before, it is in other areas that I have significant problems with Obama's leadership: the wars, the secrecy, the assault on privacy and civil rights, and Guantanamo Bay. In these areas the change in White House residents has given us little if any modification in policy. That is disturbing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fun with maps

Illustration courtesy of The Daily Kos.

It seems likely that Massachusetts will lose yet another Congressional district based on the numbers from this year's census. The state's population is somewhere around 6.5 million, which is a jump of about 4% from the 2000 census; however, the nation grew at around 9%. The trend of people moving from the population centers of the Northeast and Midwest to the South and Far West, though slowed a little, continues. (The housing crisis has been worst in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California, which has lessened growth there recently.)

The latest official census figures will be released Tuesday and those numbers will determine if the Bay State keeps 10 seats in the House of Representatives or slides down to nine. From 1913 to 1933 Massachusetts had 16 members in the House and since then we've lost one every one or two decades. Whenever such adjustments happen it usually leaves two sitting House members running against each other.

One web site surmises that this time the 1st and 2nd Congressional districts will be combined, pitting John Olver against Richard Neal, and it'd be likely that Olver, who will be 76 at the time of the 2012 election, would just retire. Whatever the revised map looks like, we can be sure it will be a contorted mess of districts, drawn to protect constituencies. The US should depoliticize redistricting by removing it from state legislatures (as a few states have done) and turning it over to independent boards that use software to draw cohesive districts.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Books with a view

The plans to build a new branch library in East Boston are moving forward. The 14,600-foot, $11.3 million  facility will be built at the Day Square end of the Bremen Street Park, at what is officially 365 Prescott Street, with a tentative opening date of fall 2013.

The project architects revealed their preliminary plans at a meeting at the Meridian Street Branch this week, and input from the BPL trustees and the public will be adapted into the project. To see sketches of the site, check the BPL site here. This seems like a fantastic location, and the building is rumored to have large windows and a deck that look out onto the park.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking advantage of generosity

Charitable giving is important, but one should always be aware of where his or her money is actually going. AG Martha Coakley released a report today on charitable giving campaigns conducted in Massachusetts in 2009, and the numbers show that just 43% of the money collected goes to the causes represented. The rest goes to companies that carry out the campaigns.

These are most often, I believe, the mail or phone solicitations that ask for contributions in the name of the cause -- frequently police or firefighter associations -- without ever mentioning that the caller works for a firm or that most of the money will not benefit those the contributor would like to support. I think it's good advice to never commit any cash to such callers; instead, give directly if you can.

Following the links on the report reveals how much charities actually receive and how much goes to the fund-raising company.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bush league decision

It was 10 years ago that the Supreme Court rendered a decision that has and will continue to have lasting implications on the nation. By a 5-4 margin the justices brought to an end the recount of Florida's ballots in the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The GOP ticket was awarded Florida's 25 electoral votes despite the questionable result and Bush -- who had 550,000 fewer votes nationally -- became the 43rd president.

It is a mystery to me why the Court would not allow the recount to continue, but the five conservative justices would seem to have interceded in the political process, and as a result the US had eight years of Bush/Cheney. It may take us eight decades to dig ourselves out from that foolish and tragic period.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ron Paul tells it like it is

Ron Paul deserves credit. No matter how much I disagree with many of the Texas Congressman's positions, mostly on domestic policy, there is much overlap in his libertarian ideology and the uber-liberal viewpoint that I come from -- and he is never afraid to stand up and say what he thinks.

Yesterday Rep. Paul was on the floor of the House offering a vastly different assessment of WikiLeaks than most other Republicans, who are calling for the web site's public face, Julian Assange, to be either prosecuted for espionage or taken out like a terrorist.

"Is this not an example of killing the messenger for bad news?" asked Paul. He also had nine questions that we should be asking ourselves:
Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?
Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?
Number 3: Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?
Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?
Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?
Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?
Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?
Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?
Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Jailed dissident presented Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize was presented today to an empty chair. Or, rather, to the man who couldn't be in that chair because he has been sentenced to 11 years in jail in China. Liu Xiaobo, who participated in the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests, has been sent to prison four times -- the latest for co-writing an appeal that advocates democracy for China.

The Chinese government is furious that the Nobel Committee went through with the ceremony and blocked media and internet reports of the story. They did report the event on state news, calling it a Western conspiracy against China.

Photo courtesy of Radio Free Europe web site.

Fouling the air

Glad to see that the GOP has its priorities straight. Yesterday, Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote on a bill that ensures emergency personnel who responded to the 9/11 attacks get proper medical care. Their reasoning? Nothing gets done until the wealthy get their tax cuts.

This is even worse than not believing it's a worthy bill, as Republicans apparently feel that such items can be used as bargaining chips. Nothing is more important to the GOP than the rich getting richer.

Photo of 9/11 responder from

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It was 30 years ago today...

At Savio High School I wrote my senior thesis on The Beatles and their influence on culture and society. I got an A. I'd been a fan of the group since freshman year -- so much so that on the day after John Lennon was shot there were students who offered condolences to me.

Like many artists and celebrities who die young, Lennon is not encumbered by widespread images of his "fat phase" or sad commercials for life insurance. He'll always be the rebel -- including his surprising choice to ditch fame to be a homebody dad.

Thirty years have passed since a madman murdered Lennon and we've all gotten that much older. I'm not longer the high school kid who has the records and the bootlegs and who knows the release dates and other arcane information. I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The reluctant president

In the last week a trio of liberal newspaper columnists expressed disappointment in Barack Obama's presidency -- a feeling that the left has been tormented by for months. Paul Krugman and Frank Rich of The New York Times and The Washington Post's EJ Dionne call out the president for his seeming reluctance to take a stand and fight the Republicans -- who use bellicosity as a strategy, no matter the issue and the lack of connection to reality of their position.

And what will Obama do about all this? Ronald Reagan ... found a way to stand strong, to fight back and to win. We will soon know whether our current president has this in him. 
It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right. 
The cliché criticisms of Obama are (from the left) that he is a naïve centrist, not the audacious liberal that Democrats thought they were getting, and (from the right) that he is a socialist out to impose government on every corner of American life. But the real problem is that he’s so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for the “good side” of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL.
They're right. Two years ago Democrats won in grand fashion, but they've struggled since then to control the agenda and to communicate with the public. Most of the responsibility for that falls on Obama's shoulders. There have been some gains, some important legislation -- health care and financial reform, for example -- but in each of those cases, and in others, the policies that became law were much weaker than we'd hoped. The Democrats emerged from those battles bruised and limping, checking their pockets with the strange feeling that their wallets had just been lifted.

This reminds me of a scene from the TV show The West Wing -- in fact, it's almost exactly where we find ourselves. Look at the episode's summary from Wikipedia:
The staff begin to realize that the Bartlet administration has been ineffective because it has been too timid to make bold decisions, focusing instead on the exigencies of politics. 
If only the Obama administration were to reach the conclusion that the fictional administration reaches:
Finally, Leo confronts President Bartlet with his own timidity, challenging him to be himself and to take the staff "off the leash." -- in other words, he seeks to "Let Bartlet be Bartlet." The President and his staff resolve to act boldly and "raise the level of public debate" in America.
Please ... let life imitate art.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Truth as treason

I may not be a First Amendment absolutist, but I'm pretty close. I will allow that there are a few limited areas where national security trumps press freedom, but those should be quite narrow. Democracy depends on the citizenry having access to information, and few concerns should ever be allowed to top that principle.

In the four years of its existence, WikiLeaks has risen from nowhere to be a prominent shaper of news and information. Such is the way that technology affects us these days: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and now WikiLeaks begin as an idea or a few lines of code and soon the way we see and understand the world is changed permanently.

Julian Assange, the force behind the site, is a wanted man these days. In the wake of WikiLeaks latest revelation -- 250,000 cables of US State Department reports -- a number of governments are investigating the Australian nomad, while Swedish authorities want to talk to him about sexual assault charges he has called phony. It's hard to see how this guy survives unless he takes cover underground for a very long time.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul tweeted this today: "Re: Wikileaks - In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble." While Paul -- a hardcore libertarian -- and I would disagree on many issues, on this one we share similar views. The US government has too many secrets. I am for a default position of openness and transparency in all branches and at all levels of government. WikiLeaks may have embarrassed the US and some of its allies this week, but exposing some of the workings of the State Department is, overall, a good thing.

When US missiles hit targets in Yemen one year ago, for example, it is the right of Americans AND Yemenis to know where those weapons came from, especially when many of those killed in these attacks were civilians -- including 14 women and 21 children. WikiLeaks is not the institution that illegally invaded Iraq and that has been occupying Afghanistan for nine years. That would be the US government.

News that dropped WikiLeaks from its servers yesterday and that today a New Hampshire company killed the domain (find the site here, at after Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman made some threatening comments is quite disturbing. This is not the way we treat information in the United States -- with the government actively seeking to prevent Americans from reading the truth. We're moving -- if we haven't been there since the passage of the PATRIOT Act -- toward 1984 territory. In that prophetic novel, one of the dystopian government's slogans would seem to be one that the US is now embracing: "Ignorance is strength."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hubster new and improved!

Well, for the first time since starting this blog I changed the design and added some features in the right-hand column, including my Twitter feed, which I seem to be using more and more. Also, note the slide-show of photos top right. I think the whole thing looks snappier.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Korea, China and the 21st Century

US Navy ships are in the Yellow Sea today for exercises with the South Korean Navy. I hope this has been thought out. What will happen if North Korea fires on American vessels? Will the US retaliate? And after that? We certainly cannot be girding up for another war, this one against a country that does indeed have nuclear weapons -- most of which are pointed at the South Korean capital of Seoul and its 10 million residents.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il is unpredictable -- possibly even crazy. In addition, that country's military leaders may make decisions on their own, and it's hard to say if that is better or worse. It's also relevant to take note that the South Korean military was already engaged in exercises that pressed right up against the border of the two Koreas, which the North has said provoked their shelling. As one web site points out, this fact has been buried by the American media.

However, the key to this entire situation -- and we are hearing this more and more often these days -- is China. North Korea's only ally, the Chinese government could be quite helpful right now, but it's been hesitant to chasten Pyongyang in the past -- at least publicly. If China were to embrace its growing importance on the world stage by stepping up to play key roles in geopolitical disputes, economic crises and environmental concerns, that would seem to make life easier for everyone, but Beijing continues to work at its own pace.

I saw an interesting statistic last week: In 2009 China used twice as much steel as the US, the European Union and Japan COMBINED. Beijing's economic growth is surging at a level the world has never before seen. China recently became the world's second-largest economy, passing Japan, and China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. If the 1900s were the American Century, this is quickly becoming the Chinese Century.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The stuff that nightmares are made of

Materialism and consumption are factors in America's economic downturn, our dependence on foreign oil, global climate change and other environmental issues -- and yet, millions of people rushed out this morning, or last night, to go out and buy more stuff. I join with those who marked Buy Nothing Day today, and in that spirit I suggest that everyone watch this video: The Story of Stuff.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

'...we entertained and feasted...'

From 1622's Journal of the Beginning and Proceeding of the English Plantation settled at Plymouth in New England, by Edward Winslow, who journeyed to the New World on the Mayflower and was later the three-time governor of Plymouth Colony:
...our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting the word out

Eastie resident and freelance writer Steve Holt had a couple of pieces published in recent days about his favorite neighborhood:

**In Sunday's Globe, Steve wrote that the East Pier project may be ready to come to life again as the housing market starts to rebound.

**In a story in Edible Boston, Steve says that the best mole sauce in Boston can be found at Angela's on Lexington Street. He counts more than 50 ingredients in the recipe.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Revealing "the devils" behind the financial crisis

A fascinating interview with the authors of a new book about the recent financial crisis sheds some light on who is the blame for the economic turmoil that the US and the rest of the world are still struggling to overcome (see Ireland's bank takeover plan). Bethany McLean, who co-wrote The Smartest Guys in the Room about the Enron debacle, teamed up with New York Times business columnist Joe Nocero to write All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.

McLean and Nocero were on the PBS NewsHour last night to talk about the roots of the crisis, and they said that -- to no one's surprise -- both Democrats and Republicans were culpable for the lack of regulation and foresight that led to the housing crash. They also said a number of other interesting things, including that the ratings agencies (Moody's and Standard & Poor's, among others) were at the top of their list of culprits most responsible for the crisis.

McLean also said that she "started this book with a bias toward personal responsibility," but found out the extent to which:
...these loans were sold; they weren't bought. And one of the most telling moments were these internal documents from Washington Mutual, one of the big subprime lenders, around 2003 talking about how to get consumers who really wanted safe 30-year fixed-rate mortgages to take out these dangerous option [adjustable rate mortgages] instead ... how to sell those to people, and how to confront a consumer who said, "But it doesn't feel right to me. I want to pay back my mortgage every month." ... How do you get these people to take out a risky mortgage instead? You told them that home prices could only go up. And the reason Washington Mutual wanted to sell these option ARMs, instead of the 30-year fixed rate mortgages, is that Washington Mutual could turn around and sell these to Wall Street for a lot more money than it could sell the old 30-year fixed-rate loans.
Nocero adds, "I was stunned, in the reporting of this book, how much subprime was about predatory lending." He notes, also, that most of these transactions weren't for new homes, but for "cash-out refinancing" -- people remortgaging their homes in order to use the money the could get. "And that," said McLean, "enabled consumer spending through the 1990s and through the early part of -- of this decade."

Maybe the most telling, and most disturbing points, the writers make are at the end of the interview, when McLean says that Wall Street and corporate America saw that cash-out refinancing was a way for them to reap billions: order to keep the U.S. economy going, you had to keep consumer spending strong. In order to keep consumer spending strong, you had to have consumers whose income otherwise wasn't keeping up have a ready source of cash. That was cash-out refinancing, by using their homes as piggy banks, and no one wanted to stop that party.
The party may be over for American homeowners and consumers, but big business and the financial sector are still laughing all the way to the money trough.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turkey time

State Rep. Carlo Basile will once again host a Thanksgiving Dinner at the Sacred Heart Church on the holiday from 11 am to 1:30 pm. Those in need of transportation can call Celeste at 617-913-3332 no later than Monday. Those who'd like to contribute to the event should email

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Walk on

I first learned about Aung San Suu Kyi when U2's album All That You Can't Leave Behind included a song, "Walk On," that was about her. The courage and tenacity she's shown in the face of Burma's military dictatorship has gone above and beyond what most of us could bear, and she has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest for leading the pro-democracy movement in her country.

Today Aung San Suu Kyi was set free, but that is just the first step toward freedom for the people of Burma. Her life is likely in danger and she could be imprisoned again, but she has never backed down and has said that she will resume her political activities. Though she is but one of many people around the world oppressed and imprisoned for expressing their political views, she is a symbol of the struggle against governments that would silence their citizens. Tonight we remember their struggles and admire their strength and selflessness.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fired up

Thanks to for pointing us to a story on the City of Boston web site about the Luongo Restaurant fire that occurred in November of 1942. I'd never heard of the catastrophe, which took the lives of six firefighters as they battled a blaze in Maverick Square.

Five alarms were eventually sounded, but the conflagrations was knocked off the front pages by the Cocoanut Grove fire, which killed 492 people just two weeks later.

Photo courtesy of

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The old lie

Dulce et Decorum Est

By Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

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

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blue Line closures

This weekend and next Maverick, Aquarium, State and Government Center T stations will be closed for construction. Buses will be running instead.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Double play

A pair of stories mentioning East Boston from today's Globe:

***The East Boston Neighborhood Health Center wants to open a facility in Winthrop.

***Former Chicago Cubs shortstop Lennie Merullo, 93, who grew up in Eastie, looks back at his career.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day 2010

*** has a nice feature where you can type in your address and see information on every race and question that will appear on your ballot. It's on the right side of their election coverage page here.

***The Globe's endorsement of Deval Patrick. The Herald's endorsement of Charlie Baker.

***Most signs indicate that Republicans will take control of the House, while it appears Democrats will keep control of the Senate. The New York Times has cool interactive graphics in its national political coverage section.

***The only House race that is tightly contested is the 10th District, where William Delahunt is retiring. Democrat William Keating leads Republican Jeff Perry by a small margin in the latest polls. It would be a disgrace if Perry, who watched and did nothing as two teenage girls were improperly strip-searched by a police officer under his command when he was on the Wareham force AND THEN lied about it to investigators, were to win the seat.

***It would also be a travesty if Tea Party nut job Sharron Angle were to beat Majority Leader Harry Reid in the battle for his Nevada Senate seat.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallows' Eve

I wrote this when I was in high school. Corny, but what the heck:

All Hallows’ Eve

As darkness falls across the land,

Crowds disperse from streets and

Kids conspire, scheme and plan

As wind blows the fallen leaves.

The sun now gone, it gets quite cold

And timid souls become more bold.

At least that's what I was told

About All Hallows' Eve.

In darkness, spirits do arise,

Camouflaged by the blackened sky,

Hidden from the naked eye;

But they are there, I do believe.

They wander about, aimlessly.

They glide along, effortlessly.

The world is theirs, briefly,

On All Hallows' Eve.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Midterm madness

The midterm elections are just a few days away and the overwhelming plot thread is that the electorate is angry -- most notably, about the state of the American economy. Well, we should be angry -- we should be furious, in fact -- but voting for Republicans to express that anger would seem to be an antithetical response to the situation. I believe that, just two years ago, we swept Democrats into office mostly because of the GOP's mishandling of the economy. It appears that Americans are ready to cast their lot with Republicans again. How soon we forget!

Several points to keep in mind:

1. TARP -- the bank bailout -- was a Bush Administration program. Yes, it was passed by the Democratic Congress, but only after Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson actually got down on one knee to beg House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her support, telling the Democratic leadership that the entire economy would collapse if the bill wasn't passed.

2. Despite GOP rhetoric, every analysis I've seen of Obama's stimulus bill indicates that it did save a significant amount of jobs and helped the economy begin its recovery. Now, we all agree that this recovery is moving too slowly and that an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent is unacceptable. However, many economists at the time said that the stimulus needed to be larger than the $787 billion, but considering the political mood, that was the best that Obama could get from Congress.

3. More than one-third of the stimulus ($288 billion) took the form of tax cuts. Again, the misinformation that Republicans are running on is that taxes have been increased under Obama.

4. While a recent poll showed that a small majority of Americans were not in favor of the health care reform bill that Obama and the Democrats passed this year, the survey noted that when asked about the major provisions individually people overwhelmingly supported the reforms! As usual, the right has done a better job framing the issues to their advantage -- with little concern for the truth.

5. Though it isn't as tough as many would have liked, the Democratic Congress did pass a bill that toughened regulation on Wall Street and created the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which will in theory advocate and regulate with the citizenry's interests paramount.

Make no mistake: The recession that the US is still pulling itself out from is the result of Republican policies -- tax cuts for the wealthy, a financial sector operating like the Wild West, regulatory agencies controlled by Bush-appointed former lobbyists, expensive and poorly planned military forays, and, more broadly, an abiding belief in unfettered capitalism as the answer to every question.

Democratics have their weaknesses, and I am never at a loss to point them out, but it was Republicans who put us in the hole. Do we really want to hand them shovels again?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jury duty

For the third time in my life I was on a jury, this trial lasting for parts of two days, and for the second time I was the jury foreman. This was a fairly simple case of domestic assault and our verdict was "not guilty." It seemed to be a family squabble that should never have reached the courthouse, but the other jurors and I deliberated thoughtfully and patiently to arrive at our decision.

I know that people generally try to avoid jury duty, but I've always enjoyed it. I like seeing the justice system from the inside, and I've been reassured by the seriousness and intelligence of those who've sat on juries with me -- and this time was no different. I've been called to serve four times, but only once did I not get on a case. On that occasion I knew the young victim, who was from East Boston, and had met the accused stepfather, so I had to remove myself from the jury pool.

I arrived at the courthouse in Roxbury (pictured above) yesterday at 8:30 a.m. and was pointed to a small room where 14 others sat quietly, some reading, others looking blankly forward. The room was quite warm, and one guy was sweating profusely. The court officer made a call to maintenance, but the heat was not on. He opened all the windows for some relief, and it was unseasonably nice outside.

One young woman who sat across a narrow aisle from me appeared to have walked off of the video shoot of Olivia Newton-John's 1981 hit "Let's Get Physical." She must have been 18 or so, and she wore black spandex, a white T-shirt, sneakers with neon pink socks, and a headband with her hair up. Was this a ploy to appear so unserious that she'd never be chosen for a jury, or did she really believe it was alright to decide the fate of another person looking like that?

There was a young man with a big beard, slouchy jeans and a T-shirt, tattoos on his arms and a ring through his nose. The prosecutor seemed to have him removed from the jury. I couldn't hear the bench discussion too well from across the room, but it appeared that he'd had some brush with the law fairly recently. Either that, or the fear was that the guy was just generally anti-authority and wouldn't believe the cop who was scheduled to testify.

The judge in the case was Kenneth Fiandaca, and right away the name rang a bell as familiar in East Boston. It turns out that he grew up here and was three years ahead of me at Savio High School, graduating in 1978, according to this story in the Winthrop Transcript. Fiandaca did a fine job presiding at the brief trial, and he stopped by the jury room just before we left to thank us and answer questions. If I knew we were both sons of Eastie I would have mentioned it.

So my civic duty is done for a few years. I don't mind playing my part to ensure the rule of law in our system. Those of us, especially, who like to complain, disagree, actively dissent and argue against policies of our government have, I think, an obligation to participate in the levers of democracy, and voting and serving on a jury are two small ways to do so.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The truth on Iraq

The pile of documents from the Iraq war that was released by WikiLeaks seems to add evidence to the argument that the supposed success of the so-called Surge touted by the Bush Administration and Sen. John McCain is a myth. Other factors had already come together to slow the violence in Iraq even before the first extra troops arrived and the political reconciliation -- for which the Surge was intended to create breathing room -- has never happened.

Speaking of Iraq, a new book by Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, says that George W. Bush was dead set against invading that country when Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld came to him not long after 9/11. Bush, according to Shelton, wanted to deal only with Afghanistan, but Rumsfeld went ahead and had the Pentagon draw up plans to invade Iraq and kept beating the drum -- presumably with Dick Cheney at his side -- until Bush agreed.

As blogger Andrew Sullivan writes of Iraq:
This whole enterprise designed to rid the world of danger has increased danger in the world; an attempt to end a torture regime led to widespread torture by Iraqi government forces, and, of course, by the US itself; a bid to encourage democracy will in all likelihood lead to either chaos or a Shiite strongman; an endeavor seeking to weaken Iran has ended in empowering it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Election nears

Election day is about a week and a half away, and nationally the story is that Republicans have a good chance of taking control of the House. Just two years ago the big question was, How can the GOP ever recover? Well, it's the economy, stupid. Plus, Republicans have always been better at crafting their message for public consumption because -- let's face it -- they'll say anything, no matter how far removed from reality it might be. (Death panels, anyone?)

Locally, it's shocking to see Jeff Perry in a close race with William Keating in the 10th Congressional District. Perry, a former Wareham police officer and current state rep., was on the scene in two separate incidents in the early 1990s when a fellow cop illegally strip searched teenage girls. Perry did nothing at the time and later lied about the cases. The other officer eventually pleaded guilty to civil rights violations and indecent assault of a child.

As for my ballot, no candidate who backs bringing casino gambling to Suffolk Downs will be getting my vote.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why we still need newspapers

***The Globe has a wrenching article about the night five months ago that two men jumped into the Charles River from the Mass Ave. bridge:
Put yourself in this horror for a minute. Despite your best efforts, your closest friend has just jumped off a bridge, right before your eyes. What do you do? Call 911? Scream into the night for help? Collapse in a heap of despair?
Vilgrain Richemond, a 27-year-old father of two, chose a different option: He jumped in to try to save his friend. The Globe's Neil Swidey tells the harrowing story.

***Today's Globe also has the first of two parts on improvements to athletic programs in the Boston schools, a response to a Globe series last year that chronicled the woes of athletics programming in the city's public school system.

***Eastie freelance writer Steve Holt has a piece on being married in his 20s in today's Globe. Steve and his wife are also in the process of adopting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

For art's sake

The front of the Metro section in today's Globe has a story with the sub-head, "East Boston blossoming into arts community of note." One local artist says that the neighborhood "is really accepting of the artists from other neighborhoods." Another says that Eastie is "the last unspoiled bastion of Boston for artists."

Monday, October 11, 2010

The real Columbus

From "Examining the Reputation of Columbus," an essay by Jack Weatherford, a professor at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota:
After he failed to contact the emperor of China, the traders of India, or the merchants of Japan, Columbus decided to pay for his voyage in the one important commodity he had found in ample supply -- human lives. He seized 1,200 Taino Indians from the island of Hispaniola, crammed as many onto his ships as would fit, and sent them to Spain, where they were paraded naked through the streets of Seville and sold as slaves in 1495. Columbus tore children from their parents, husbands from wives. On board Columbus' slave ships, hundreds died; the sailors tossed the Indian bodies into the Atlantic.

Because Columbus captured more Indian slaves than he could transport to Spain in his small ships, he put them to work in mines and plantations which he, his family, and followers created throughout the Caribbean. His marauding band hunted Indians for sport and profit -- beating, raping, torturing, killing, and then using the Indian bodies as food for their hunting dogs. Within four years of Columbus' arrival on Hispaniola, his men had killed or exported one-third of the original Indian population of 300,000.

This was the great cultural encounter initiated by Christopher Columbus. This is the event celebrated each year on Columbus Day. The United States honors only two men with federal holidays bearing their names. In January we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., who struggled to lift the blinders of racial prejudice and to cut the remaining bonds of slavery in America. In October, we honor Christopher Columbus, who opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched one of the greatest waves of genocide known in history.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Columbus Day weekend

***The late John White, brigadier general and a son of East Boston, will be honored with a plaque in Maverick Square on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Details here at

***Columbus Day breakfast at Spinelli's on Sunday morning.

***East Boston hosts this year's Columbus Day parade, which leaves from the Suffolk Downs parking lot at 1 p.m., moves along Bennington Street to Day Square, then along Chelsea Street to Maverick Square and, finally, along Meridian Street to Central Square.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eastie notes

***A Globe editorial today advocates for development of the former Hess tank-farm site along the Chelsea Creek, which a local community organization is seeking to have converted to wetlands. The Chelsea Creek Action Group is attempting to secure funding to restore the seven-acre parcel to salt marsh and bird habitat. The Globe, however, feels that the spot would be better used for economic development.

*** notes that the new Santarpio's on Route 1 in Peabody is regularly mobbed. The new place has the same limited menu -- pizza, lamb, sausage -- as the East Boston landmark. The piece touches on the history of the place and mentions the longtime pizza maker who I knew as "Joe Fat" and who always wore what seemed to be the same stained T-shirt.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

If we want to dance...

No one wants to pay taxes, but unless we're willing to return to an earlier form of civilization, taxes would seem to be here to stay. A think tank called Third Way has a logical idea about how to inform taxpayers about the ways in which our money is being spent: give us a receipt. I think it makes perfect sense.

In the example given, the median American taxpayer in 2009 made $34,140 and paid the US government $5,400 (including payments into the Social Security and Medicare systems). More than $1,000 of the pay-out went to Social Security benefits and nearly another $1,000 went to Medicare and Medicaid. Defense spending, fighting wars and veterans' benefits totaled around $500, and interest on the national debt was $287.

Nothing else costs the average taxpayer more than $70 a year, including highways ($63.89), NASA ($28.09), the FBI ($11.21), the EPA ($11.67), the DEA ($3.14), the national park system ($4.27) and funding for the arts (24 cents). Recent polling shows that about half of those surveyed believe that the US government spends more on foreign aid than Social Security; in reality, of course, we spend more than 20 times on Social Security than the $46.08 that goes to foreign aid.

The Republican Party loves to tell us that they want to lower our taxes and cut spending, but in reality the discretionary elements in the federal budget are relatively small and most pay for important programs. The GOP's pronouncements are a charade and they know it. There's no denying that there is waste in the federal bureaucracy and some things -- subsidies to agribusiness and the oil industry, for example -- should be cut. However, stripping out all of the excess spending is likely impossible in a country this size.

What we really need to do in America -- as unpopular an idea as it is to all of us -- is to raise taxes. Someone once said that if the citizens of this country were truly patriotic they'd celebrate April 15 as a national holiday. I won't go that far, but I do want to see the Bush tax cuts expire and the marginal tax rate raised to pre-1980 levels (70%).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thinking outside the homeless box

Four years ago I read a story in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell that raised questions about how we deal with homelessness in America. The story was titled "Million-Dollar Murray" and begins with a discussion of an alcoholic homeless veteran in Reno -- Murray -- who was well known by police and local hospitals because they'd been dealing with him for years. At one point someone adds up the cost of the medical and substance-abuse care that taxpayers had shelled out for Murray and reached this conclusion: "It cost us one million dollars not to do something about Murray."

The article goes on to discuss programs that tried a different approach to addressing homelessness: putting the most chronically homeless people -- generally those who suffer from mental illness and/or substance-abuse issues -- into permanent housing. While it isn't a perfect program, it seems to work.

Yesterday, I heard a story on WBUR that said Boston's Pine Street Inn shut down one satellite unit and closed 100 beds in another. Homelessness in Boston during this time of economic difficulty is actually down. Why? Pine Street also runs more than 500 units of permanent housing and they are putting people into those units with an approach called Housing First. Instead of requiring that a person's substance-abuse or other issues be dealt with before they can be eligible for the housing, the opposite occurs. It turns out to be somewhat easier to deal with issues once the homelessness problem has been addressed.

Some people will be critical of the use of resources, but if an approach helps to solve a problem AND is less expensive, it seems like the way to go.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pick a peck

There's nothing like a trip to an apple orchard to enjoy an autumn afternoon. Picking apples, drinking cider, listening to a little bluegrass music -- I will take the fall over summer any time.

Saturday was, however, a bit warmer than I'd hoped for, so I found myself doing more sweating than picking. October into November is really an optimal time weather-wise, giving me the opportunity to put my vast array of flannel shirts to work.

I did come home with cider, and if you've read this blog before you may know that I have a devout love for unpasteurized apple cider, which can only be purchased at the orchard of origin. My best spots are several small farms in Stow that sell the sweet, rich elixir deep into the season. I was recently telling someone about a cider mill in a small central Massachusetts town where jugs were sold from a cooler on the front porch, which also contained a jar for money.

Ah, the honor system. That really is a leftover from a time gone by.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Turn in unused meds

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Boston Police District A-7 Community Service Office and the East Boston Neighborhood Against Substance Abuse will be hosting a prescription drug take-back day this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Boston Police District A-7 Police Station, 69 Paris Street in East Boston. The service is free and anonymous, with no questions asked.

Update (Sept. 25, 9:30 p.m.): Take-back day a success nationally. Article on The New York Times web site specifically mentions East Boston.