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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Facts trickle in on abandoned baby

Today's Globe, Herald and NECN have stories with a bit more information on the newborn found abandoned in an alley off Saratoga Street. Mother and child are each apparently at Mass. General hospital and in good condition, though the baby is in state custody. It's unclear at this point if charges will be filed against the mother, who neighbors say was clearly trying to hide the fact that she was pregnant.

Photo courtesy

Monday, September 20, 2010

The brink of absurdity

Sometimes democracy is frustrating. OK...most of the time.

The national political discourse almost always teeters on the brink of absurdity. Mama Grizzlies...death panels...birthers...the victory mosque...the bailout stimulus. It all reminds me of the old TV show Green Acres, with lead character Oliver trying to function in a world where everyone around him is seemingly insane. (At least on the show part of the humor is that the bumpkins were smarter than they made out to be. In American political circles today? Not so much.)

Two recent stories caught my attention. First, the Fiscal Times noted that economists generally agree that the Bush tax cuts had no beneficial effect on the US economy. Of course, Republican members of Congress are trying right now to extend those cuts, which will only increase the deficit they claim to worry so much about. Second, a New Yorker column notes that most economists believe that the Obama stimulus package had several positive, though not exceptional, impacts on the national economy: any reasonable measure, the $800-billion stimulus package that Congress passed in the winter of 2009 was a clear, if limited, success. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it reduced unemployment by somewhere between 0.8 and 1.7 per cent in recent months. Economists at various Wall Street houses suggest that it boosted G.D.P. by more than two per cent.
However, by listening to the ferocious GOP attacks and the generally lame Democratic counter, you'd think that the evidence concluded the opposite. As William Butler Yeats wrote:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity
Alas, what are we to do? Well, there's Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity." In our distorted national dialogue, it takes a comedian to give us the straight truth.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Appeals denied, vigils continue

Six years after the archdiocese announced the closing of 66 parishes, looks at the vigils maintained at seven of the churches, including East Boston's Mount Carmel, with a story and video today. The three-minute video is all about Mount Carmel and features local leaders of the occupation.

Image courtesy

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let Stein debate

I think it's disgraceful that Jill Stein is being kept out of some of the gubernatorial debates because she fails to meet rules created by a small group of media outlets. Stein, the Green-Rainbow candidate who has run for governor and other offices in the past, my be polling in the single digits, but she is a legitimate candidate -- smart, articulate and serious. A number of people felt that she was the only candidate who exceeded expectations in one of the earlier debates.

The media consortium sponsoring the debates is not a civic group, but is made up of The Boston Globe and several TV and radio stations. Yesterday Stein was kept out of a debate held on WBZ radio. The bias against third-party candidates in this country is what allows Democrats and Republicans to keep a lock on political power. Stein is a physician and an activist who lives in Lexington, and many of us would like her voice to be part of the discussion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Heavenly pie

Ever have a piece of Torretta's ricotta pie? I've never tasted anything like its sweet, tangy, rich and creamy filling and chewy crust. For $13, it may be the best pie of any kind I've ever had. Torretta's, which offers desserts and other Italian food, is at 652 Winthrop Avenue in Revere's Beachmont neighborhood.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11

It wasn't long into the new decade (and century?) that we witnessed its defining event. The attacks of 9/11 have dictated American domestic and foreign policy since that awful, incomprehensible day nine years ago, and it appears that we will be living in a post-9/11 world for years to come. A pair of related events have driven the news cycle in recent weeks: the Park51 Islamic community center and the proposed burning of multiple copies of the Quran by a minster in Florida.

Two links I want to share today: first is President Obama's response at yesterday's press conference to a question about the Park51 project (starting at about 1:30). I think he nails it. Second is some remarks made by John Hodgman before he was a well-known comedian. As he introduces a literary reading two weeks after the attacks, Hodgman attempts to give some meaning to the world in the wake of 9/11.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back from Naples

The pizza as we know it was created in the southern Italian city of Naples, and I have now eaten at three of the places that occupy spots on most top five or ten pizza places in the world: DiMatteo, DaMichele and Sorbillo. They have not disappointed.

The Neapolitan pizza is cooked quickly -- a minute or so -- in very hot wood-burning ovens. They are 13 or 14 inches across, uncut and with spots of char all around. The dough is soft and chewy. The basic Pizza Margherita is topped with only tomatoes, olive oil, mozzarella and basil.

The price? One can pay more at some restaurants, but the top pizzerias in Naples charge just three or four Euros. And when at DiMatteo, be sure to get the frittatini -- pasta and cheese deep friend with a center of meat and peas. Wow.

As good as it is, the food in Naples isn't what most amazes a visitor. It is the congested and crazy traffic on the narrow and seemingly patternless city streets. A feverish ballet of cars, scooters and pedestrians navigate the squares and streets with daring and skill. There appears to be few rules and fewer people to enforce them.

I've now been to Naples twice, and the city is both scary and exciting. It is the beating heart of southern Italy.