Saturday, January 30, 2010

Local focus on substance abuse

A pair of volunteers from the City of Boston came around this morning to drop off a "Substance Abuse Prevention & Treatment Resource Guide" and ask questions about the state of the neighborhood and City services. They were pleasant and I let them inside to warm up for a few minutes.

The follow-up meeting -- a "Summit on Substance Abuse" in the neighborhood -- is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Harborside Community Center.

Update (1/31): Globe story on the City's efforts.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bringing history to life

Students at the Umana Middle School have helped develop a video game that is set during the Battle of Chelsea Creek, a little-known but key skirmish during the American Revolution that took place just off-shore of East Boston.

A Boston Globe story today talks about the game and other elements of Eastie's history that are on display at the Cultural Exchange Center at 80 Border Street.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

R.I.P.: J.D. Salinger

He suddenly got to his feet. He looked at the ocean. "Sybil," he said, "I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll see if we can catch a bananafish."

"A what?"

"A bananafish," he said, and undid the belt of his robe. He took off the robe. His shoulders were white and narrow, and his trunks were royal blue. He folded the robe, first lengthwise, then in thirds. He unrolled the towel he had used over his eyes, spread it out on the sand, and then laid the folded robe on top of it. He bent over, picked up the float, and secured it under his right arm. Then, with his left hand, he took Sybil's hand.

The two started to walk down to the ocean.

"I imagine you've seen quite a few bananafish in your day," the young man said.

--From "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948), by J.D. Salinger

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

R.I.P.: Howard Zinn

In the film Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon's character says to his psychologist, played by Robin Williams, "If you want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. That book will knock you on your ass."

It's true. Zinn's book tells a much more real and relevant story of American history than all the watered-down truths and pumped-up mythologies we're taught in high school textbooks. People's History records the struggles and successes of average citizens -- workers, students, slaves, men, women, young, old, etc., and it's not a better tale just because it's true. It's also much more interesting.

Howard Zinn died today at the age of 87. A decorated veteran of World War II, Zinn fought against the immorality of war for the rest of his life. A leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he was on the front lines of the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Even after he retired from his post as a professor at Boston University, Zinn never stopped standing up and speaking out.

Tonight there is one less courageous person in the world.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budget woes

Budget issues dominated the news in Washington today, and none of the approaches make any sense to me.

During his State of the Union address tomorrow evening, President Obama will apparently announce a three-year spending freeze for all non-defense discretionary spending. Of course, it's the other stuff -- Social Security, Medicare and defense -- that make up the lion's share (83%) of the budget and it's those items that need to be brought under control. The freeze will limit some important spending, yet will hardly save anything.

At this time I want to point out that reforming health care -- appropriately, rather than the politicized packages approved by the House and Senate that now lie D.O.A. -- would have gone a long way toward controlling those costs, but the "fiscally responsible" conservatives and their irrational "tea party" mobs killed any chance of that.

The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Budget Committee introduced a bill -- voted down by the full Senate today -- that would have formed a bipartisan "Fiscal Task Force" of House, Senate and Administration members who would propose solutions on reducing the deficit. I think this approach is folly because we already have a small group of people charged with solving such issues: it's called Congress. And they have already appointed smaller groups of people who theoretically possess more expertise on such matters and whose duty it is to present recommendations to the full House and Senate: the Budget, Finance and Appropriations committees. And further, the solutions to rising deficits is rather simple: control spending on entitlement programs by PASSING HEALTH CARE REFORM and, quite simply, RAISE TAXES.

But alas, Scott Brown -- the Bay State's political boy wonder -- is already doing his best to make the nation's fiscal condition less healthy, while lining the pockets of the wealthy. He's advocating tax cuts. Yes, Scottie, let's do what Republicans always do, whether the economy is charging ahead or slumping badly: give even more to the haves. It didn't take long for his true colors to show. Is Brownie aware that the Bush tax cuts are a major part (along with spending on the Iraq War) of the nation's deficit woes? How many Americans are aware that those tax cuts cost twice as much as the health care proposals that have been deemed "too costly" by the right? (And about half of that money -- a trillion dollars -- went to the wealthiest Americans.)

Until we have people with brains and guts in Washington, we will continue to see policies that follow the path of least resistance, leading the United States toward decline and fall.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Poll dancing

The Globe has a story today about the money spent on the Senate race, especially the cash that poured in during the last two weeks. In the end, remarkably, Scott Brown's campaign raised 10 times the money that they expected to collect -- so much that they couldn't spend it all.

How did the election change so much from the easy Democratic victory that most people -- including Martha Coakley herself -- anticipated in the days immediately after the primary? It's clear that the Democrat did not run a smart campaign, that people are frustrated with the health care debate and that the high unemployment rate has the country frightened.

I also think polls and the media reporting on them may have played a role. The first widely reported survey of voters after the holidays that I heard about was a Rasmussen poll released on Jan. 5, two weeks before the election, in which Coakley led, 50%-41%. Taking into consideration the lackluster Democratic campaign and the state of the nation, that sounded about right to me, but what really caught me was the news coverage of that poll. I heard and saw reports that led with this: "Brown and Coakley in a dead heat for senate seat."

While it's true that the margin of error in the poll was +/-4.5%, I was surprised to hear reports that kept saying the race was "virtually tied." Should the margin of error be read as though a worst-case scenario for one candidate and best case for the other? Isn't it just as likely to be the opposite, meaning the possibility that the leader is up double the total -- in this case, 18%?

Up until that moment I knew that Brown was doing better than expected and Coakley worse, but after hearing reports of that poll the drumbeat began: a Republican could actually win the seat held by Ted Kennedy for 46 years. From there on the talk was all about Brown's potential upset and the money started raining down. Coakley, too, received increased support -- much of it in the form of negative advertising from the DNC, which seemed to make matters worse.

The Jan. 12 Rasmussen poll showed the race considerably tighter: Coakley had dropped a point to 49%, but Brown had added six points, jumping to 47%. If you plot out the Wrentham Republican's rise to its endpoint, it is indeed meteoric: There's a virtually straight line exploding upward (41% to 47% to 52% on election day), whereas the Democratic AG's drop is less precipitous (51% to 50% to 47%) -- but, of course, that was enough.

How much did the electorate's perception of the closeness in race lead to its outcome? The reporting on that first poll said the race was close and it became close. After that, the reporting was that there could be an upset and there was one. This is not to say that the media was the sole, or even key, factor. As I said, there are a number of variables at work here, but I feel like the reporting on the polls did as much to drive the campaign as to react to it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Senate vote breakdown

The voting totals for each of the neighborhood's precincts are online at Overall, Martha Coakley took Eastie, 55%-44%, but Scott Brown got more votes at each of the Orient Heights polling places. has a cool graphic that breaks down the vote by city and town.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sorry Ted

We saw this coming in recent days, but it's still a stunner. Swayed by a charismatic, good-looking guy who spouted a few platitudes, the voters of Massachusetts just voted against everything that Sen. Edward Kennedy stood for -- just months after hailing his legacy.

Martha, my dear

Martha Coakley was not my first choice as this state's next senator, and she has not run a good campaign since the primary. However, for the state and the nation, it is important that she win today.

Republican Scott Brown came out of nowhere and has demonstrated more charisma and enthusiasm than Coakley, but his regular-guy approach (like the commercial where he is walking the streets of Southie) belies the fact that he would line up in Washington with interests that act against working people in America.

Coakley seemed to assume that winning the Democratic primary ended the race, but she wasn't paying attention to the lessons of William Weld et al: When the GOP presents a more attractive candidate (as Weld to John Silber) whose ideology isn't on the surface they can win in Massachusetts.

Still, I have to believe that if Democrats turn out in any decent numbers, Coakley will prevail. If not, the future of health-care reform and the rest of President Obama's domestic agenda is in trouble. Further, the outlook for the party in November would be worrisome.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New liaison to Eastie chosen

Ernani DeAraujo is the new liaison to East Boston for Mayor Menino. A native of the neighborhood, DeAraujo, 28, attended Boston Latin and Harvard, and he has a law degree from Washington and Lee University. He interned at the White House for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and most recently he worked for the Boston law firm Foley Hoag.

DeAraujo has been meeting people who are active on neighborhood issues, and he seems enthusiastic about his new job. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him rise up the political ladder in the coming years.

Photo from Facebook.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lend a hand for ZUMIX

Looking to do something for the community on Monday's MLK Day of Service? ZUMIX, the non-profit that helps teens unleash their passion and creativity through music, is moving to their new home at the renovated firehouse on the corner of Sumner and Orleans streets. The big stuff is taken care of, but a four-block long brigade will be set up Monday from 9 a.m. to noon so that the smaller items can be passed along from the old site on Maverick Street.

For more information contact Ana Chavez at 617.568.8777 x16 or

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haitian earthquake relief

NPR is reporting that the American Red Cross is running out of supplies in Haiti, the site of a devastating earthquake yesterday that may have killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands in desperate straits.

The Red Cross has pledged a million dollars to the relief effort. To donate to the Red Cross, go to the organization's web site. You can also quickly donate $10 to the agency by texting "HAITI" to 90999. The program is sponsored by the US State Department and the charge goes onto your cell phone bill.

The New York Times has a list of reputable organizations that you can donate too here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eastie wrap

***In an update on the city's dealings with the H1N1 virus, reports on a Boston Public Health Commission analysis that shows that East Boston was hit with a higher than average rate of flu cases back in the spring, but a much lower rate during the second wave of cases in the fall.

***Globe columnist Kevin Cullen had a nice story last week on the re-dedication of the local ice rink to Lou Porrazzo, a local son who was killed in action in Vietnam on Sept. 27, 1967.

***A guy who robbed an Eastie convenience store yesterday is wanted by the Boston Police for a string of robberies. There's a photo of him here on the web site of the Dorchester Reporter.

***The story of Sal, the East Boston cat summoned to jury duty, is being widely reported. I even found a link to it at the bottom of a Wall Street Journal summary of "The Best of the Web" under the heading, "Everything is Seemingly Spinning Out of Control."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Images from the past

This week's East Boston Times has an item on photographs of the neighborhood's struggle against Logan Airport in 1973. The images were taken by a photographer named Michael Philip Manheim and were commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a program called Documerica. The photos are now the property of the National Archives, which put them online for viewing at Flickr. They're worth a look.

Walking the walk

Earlier today I ran into four guys with beards and shaved heads wearing garments that look like sackcloth and are tied at the waist with rope. They are members of a Catholic religious order called Franciscans of Primitive Observance, and they live here in East Boston.

The group, which came to the neighborhood about a year ago, practices lots of prayer and works with the poor. One brother explained to me that they don't start programs themselves, but help out others. They also take the poverty pledge rather seriously, asking others for food and hitchhiking when they need to get somewhere.

Besides the apartment on Paris Street, there are other FPO communities in Lawrence, Vermont and Nicaragua. They are a small order that apparently began in New Bedford in 1995 and currently has just 16 members. They seem like friendly guys, so if you see them in the neighborhood you may want to greet them.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

You know the drill

I switched dentists recently, from a guy in Revere to a woman in Malden. Before either of them I had a grad student at the BU dental school. I'd returned to East Boston from Maine, where I'd had dental implant work done that totaled $8,000. The cost and the duration -- about a year -- of that work were more painful than the physical discomfort. I went to BU because the prices are lower, and I was assigned a student named Kevin, with whom I had a wonderful rapport over the course of a year or so.

When Kevin graduated I decided to move back into the world of professional dentists, and I looked online and found someone nearby. I was his patient for not quite a year, but I actually saw him for only a brief period of time. He was always rushing in and out of the room, obviously tending to other patients. Even when he had to fill a cavity he did it in a hurry, and I felt as though I had little opportunity to actually talk to him. So recently I decided to find a dentist who moves at a more relaxed pace -- and who actually listens to me.

Maybe this is foolish, but when I am someone's patient, I like that person to talk to me, to know me and -- yes, I have to admit -- to laugh at my jokes. Is that strange? I tend to babble on and to make humorous remarks when on an exam table or in a dentist chair or an optometrist's chair. In fact, my eye doctor and I have a wonderful conversation whenever I see her. I've remained her patient for more than a decade despite her relocating twice, and she was my eye doctor when I lived in Maine for two years.

I want the same from my dentist, and the woman in Malden listens to me and laughs at my often self-deprecating jokes (as I am terrified of the dentist office -- especially the implement I refer to as "the pointy thing" the hygienist uses during cleanings). I'm happy to have found a dentist I feel comfortable with. Some friends laughed when I told them my criteria, but it works for me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'God wants us to stay'

Our friends at pointed us to a wonderful video at the WBUR web site that includes snippets of interviews with parishioners at Mount Carmel Church in East Boston, one of five churches occupied by residents since the parishes were shut down by the Archdiocese of Boston more than five years ago. The text of the story focuses on a similarly closed parish in Scituate, but click on the video to see Mount Carmel and some familiar faces.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Outrageous antics

In the wake of the attempted Christmas Day plot to blow up an airliner, it has been widely reported that Sen. Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, has been holding up President Obama's appointment to head the Transportation Security Administration because the nominee -- Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent -- may allow TSA employees to unionize.

How does this knucklehead get away with this? Unions are, of course, legal in the United States, and workers everywhere should have the right to organize. DeMint is a reactionary demagogue who seems to care little about the security of the nation.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009's most important person

Time magazine came up short when they chose Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as the Person of the Year, but The Times of London got it right: Neda Soltan, the 26-year-old Iranian woman who was killed during anti-government protests in June.

The shocking and graphic video of Soltan being shot through the chest and dying in the street spread around the world and her death has become the iconic moment of the Iranian peoples' struggle. Neda is important because this uprising of the citizenry may well signal the end of the oppressive and internationally combative regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, further, her documented murder at the hands of a government militiaman may be the tipping point.

More broadly, the capturing of the horrible event by cell phone video and the spreading of it over YouTube, as well as the use of the Internet -- especially blogs and Twitter -- to organize and follow the protests, mark an important point in the realm of popular uprisings. The printing press, in essence, made democracy possible -- and hence, the United States came into being. The Internet is another key juncture on that road. The "information superhighway" has its positives and negatives, but it does seem to be a tool that is difficult (not impossible: see China) for tyrants to manage.

And so Neda Soltan's death is meaningful for a number of reasons, and she is, I think, the better choice. Bernanke did some good things and some not-so-good before and during the current economic crisis. However, even if the housing boom and financial meltdown are the only things that matter, former Fed chair Alan Greenspan's faith in the markets is more integral to causing the crisis -- and his statement before a Congressional committee that his worldview was "flawed" is an admission that laissez-faire capitalism does not work. That stands as a key moment as well.

Photo from The Times of London web site.

Welfare building plan moves forward

The Herald has a story on the sale and development of the Public Welfare building at 154 Maverick Street, a project that has been in the works for quite some time and which is still a while away from fruition.

John and Melissa Tyler's winning proposal would offer below-market rents to a number of businesses, which would operate out of the building's first and second floors. This would seem to be a boon to Maverick Square's development.

The Tylers plan to put more than a million dollars into the building, which the city would turn over them -- with a number of stipulations -- for $100.

Photo from The Boston Herald.