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.