Friday, November 11, 2011

Where the Rose is Sown (Big Country)

we're at war (all the papers say)
we will win (i read today)
we are strong (it wasn't us)
we are right (who started this?)
leave your work (i just left school)
leave your home (i am no fool)
take up arms (it left me strong)
sound alarms (the school bell rings)

sons of men who stand like gods
we give life to feed the cause
and run to ground our heathen foe
our name will never die
this time will be forever

join up here (i wave goodbye)
we need you (oh my breast sighs)
have no fear (i must try)
god will be (with braver men)
take the vow (i know its right)
praise the flag (the good fight)
we're at war (i'm on my way)
we will win (why do i pray?)

sons of men who stand like gods
we give life to feed the cause
and run to ground our heathen foe
our name will never die
this time will be forever

i wait here in this hole
playing poker with my soul
i hold the rifle close to me
it lights the way to keep me free
if i die in a combat zone
box me up and ship me home
if i die and still come home
lay me where the rose is sown

sons of men who stand like gods
we give life to feed the cause
and run to ground our heathen foe
our name will never die
this time will be forever

Monday, October 10, 2011

Worlds colliding

According to Charles C. Mann, the 1492 journey of Christopher Columbus to the New World and the movement of plants, animals, diseases and ideas that followed -- know as the Columbian Exchange -- is "the greatest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs." Everything changed for people of both sides of the Atlantic Ocean -- mostly for the worse for the millions who had been inhabiting what was eventually called the Americas.

Mann has written a book called 1493 -- referring to how the world changed after Columbus first made landfall -- and though I haven't read it I did hear him on NPR a few weeks ago and the interview was pretty interesting. (Link to interview here.) Mann notes that:
"There's absolutely nothing in my garden that originated within 1,000 miles of my house," he says. "Tomatoes originated in Mexico. Basil came from Italy. Onions came from Europe. I live in Massachusetts. There's absolutely nothing in there from New England."
The exchange of foods has been wonderful, but we cannot forget that somewhere "between two-thirds and 90 percent of the people in the Americas" were wiped out, mostly from diseases unknowingly introduced by the conquering Europeans.

On this holiday we remember the meeting, 519 years ago, of two different worlds, and all of the ramifications, good and bad, of that encounter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Casino bill getting closer

The Massachusetts State Senate is scheduled to again take up the casino gambling bill today, and that body will likely pass a bill slightly different from the House version pretty soon. A compromise wouldn't appear to require too much time and the final bill could be on the governor's desk within a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, a Globe story today looks at donations that Suffolk Downs owner Richard Fields has given to charities supported by local politicians, while the Herald reports that the racetrack is looking to pay for repairs to the Bradley School playground, which was torched on Sept. 24.

The ridiculous lead of the story is "Big-hearted Suffolk Downs owners are ponying up big dough..." First, this is less an act of charity than one of political calculation -- just like the funds donated to area charities -- and, second, $40,000, which Suffolk Downs is offering to help fix the playground, is not "big dough" to Fields, especially when a future casino at the track stands to make him hundreds of millions of dollars. Let's be truthful here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Running to the beat

The weather was nice and the turnout was strong at this morning's ZUMIX Run to the Beat 5K in East Boston. Here are some photos from the race.

Eastie resident Steve Holt prepares to ride the lead cycle.

The runners are off!

As she nears the finish, Cheryl Conte passes a group of ZUMIX members keeping the beat.

Runners cross the finish line.
After conquering the course, runners grab some fruit and water at Piers Park.

ZUMIX 5K Sunday at Piers Park

Come experience the race hundreds raved about last year – the second annual ZUMIX Run to the Beat 5K. Once again, we’re running for ZUMIX, one of the city’s beloved music and arts nonprofits. We’ll start and finish in East Boston’s magnificent Piers Park, which offers expansive views of our city’s historic skyline and harbor that can only be described as … stunning. In between, enjoy our flat, fast course along Eastie’s wooded Greenway and two magnificent new parks. We’ve got prizes for the fastest runners, live music along the course, free food, and plenty of other goodies and giveaways. Whether you’re running for time, fitness, charity, or all of the above, you won’t want to miss this fun-filled event.

Do you hear the beat? Lace ’em up — let’s run.

Online Registration:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where I was on 9/11

Oddly enough, I was in Carlisle, a town about 25 miles northwest of Boston, during the 9/11 terror attacks. I had taken a new job that year and was getting ready for my last day of training at a beautiful facility off a rural road. When I pulled into the parking lot a young guy who was also being trained asked if I'd heard that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers. I hadn't. My radio must have been off during the drive, probably because it was such a beautiful day and I'd rolled the windows down to feel the fresh country air and didn't want any unnatural sounds to disturb the moment.

We went inside and were joined by the others, maybe seven trainees and our instructor. Moments later someone from the facility stuck their head in and told us about the second plane. Of course, everyone knew what that meant. I think we went back into the lobby to watch the news coverage for a bit, then went back to start our training. We stopped a couple times to decide whether or not to continue on -- especially after the towers fell -- but decided that we'd rush through and get out as soon as possible. A television was wheeled in for a bit and we kept tabs on what was happening, and we did break so that everybody could call their loved ones, and I knew I'd better call my mother or she'd be worried sick. 

The training over, we went our separate ways, and I never saw any of those people again. We'd be working for the same organization, but at different facilities, and I've always felt it strange that I spent the most awful moments of my country's recent history in a place I didn't know very well with people I didn't know very well.

And stranger still, I drove back not to East Boston, but to Somerville, where I had moved just 11 days earlier. I had two roommates and one of them was sitting on the front stairs, crying, when I got home. I barely knew her, but Paula's fiance was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles from Logan Airport on business that morning. She had, just before I arrived, found out that he was not on either of the LA-bound planes that had been hijacked, but on a different flight and was, therefore, fine. I consoled her as best I could, and then went inside to put on the TV and my computer, so I could finally get connected to the information stream -- something I like to do during important events.

The next morning I went out early to get copies of The Globe, The Herald and The New York Times. I'd always saved historically significant newspapers and I needed to add editions from Sept. 12 to my collection.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eastie remembers 9/11

East Boston will commemorate the victims of 9/11 at Piers Park on Sunday afternoon, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. According to, the event will include:
...appearances by local police and firefighters, presentation of the colors by the East Boston High School ROTC, patriotic songs sung by a women’s group from the East Boston YMCA, a poem read by a Meridian House resident, and an invocation and benediction by Brother Bob Metell...
 (The memorial will be followed by Zumix's annual Harvest Festival, featuring music, games and food.)

American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 both took off from East Boston's Logan Airport on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and each was hijacked and flown into one of the two towers of the World Trade Center a short while later. The Globe ran a story recently on how workers at the airport were affected by that horrific day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Weather -- or not

Cristoforo Colombo had heard about the powerful Caribbean storms that the Taino Indians called "huracan" on his early voyages, and when, on his fourth trip to the New World in 1502, the natives told him that one such storm was approaching Hispaniola, he strategically moved the ships he commanded to the opposite side of the island, saving the small fleet when the rain and wind struck the following day.

Today, of course, we have much more warning and information on hurricanes than Christopher Columbus, as he is now known, did. There is radar and satellite images and computer projections -- and we have the broadcast media, which seems to go berserk when any type of extraordinary weather event unfolds. The flashy graphics and dramatic music bursts from the screen as if America were going to war again, meteorologists and anchors repeat warnings and narrate video with hyperbolic commentary, and reporters in the field -- those poor souls -- are made to stand in outlandish conditions so we can see the worst of the weather without going out there ourselves.

I know that all this drives some people crazy, and I admit that much of it is over-the-top, but I am a weather junkie and when noteworthy storms strike -- as was the case with Hurricane Irene -- I get excited, flip channels, scroll through news items on the Internet, and post updates on Twitter as if the outside world were getting their only information from me. And with Irene, as with other storms of all types, I heard a chorus of voices before, during and after dismissing the hurricane as a "dud." For most people in the Boston area, the storm entailed some wind and rain, leaving them feeling that the projections and the coverage were all hype. However, even in the city limits of Boston, several thousand people lost electricity and 500 calls came in to City Hall about downed trees.

The bigger picture is awe-inspiring -- especially because Irene made landfall as weakening Category 1 hurricane and did significant damage after being downgraded to a lowly tropical storm. Fourteen states, plus Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and a number of other Caribbean Islands were affected; more than seven million people lost power on the US East Coast; damage at this early point is estimated at $10 billion; and, sadly, the death toll now stands at 54. The state of Vermont, far from landfall and coastal surges, is experiencing the worst flooding in a century due to Irene's downpours; at one point 11 towns were isolated as a result of rising rivers and washed-out roads.

Maybe you didn't need that bottled water and flashlight that you ran out and fought crowds to get, but some people did. The information and warnings from the National Weather Service should not be confused with the melodrama that broadcast news -- especially the local TV stations -- foments to go along with it. Local TV is over-the-top every night on virtually every story, so it's annoying, but no surprise, when they do the same every time a storm is on the way. The have to fill their time and they have to keep viewers on edge, and when they go live all day, as they did Sunday with Irene, there are a lot of hours to fill. At one point an anchor narrated a piece of video that showed a roof with two tiles fluttering gently in the breeze. "Look at that," she said. "Roof tiles are being torn off by Irene."

The larger point I want to make is that, despite decades of cliches about their unreliability, meteorologists are terrifically accurate, especially these days. We were told, for example, at the end of last week that the weather in Boston after Irene passed would be upper 70s/low 80s all week and there might be a quick midweek shower but the next chance of a storm would be the weekend. Right on. I hear people complain when a snow forecast is a few inches off, not seeming to grasp that -- despite all the variables of weather and the complexities of predicting what will happen at any moment -- we were told several days in advance that a particular type of precipitation would fall from the sky for a predicted amount of time. Sorry if the forecast eight inches fell in the town next to you and only seven fell on your house.

Someone I know complained out loud one day last spring when it started to rain and I reminded her that the forecast had said there was a 20% chance of showers. "Yeah," she said. "That means it's not supposed to rain." I started to explain and then just threw up my hands.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Road trip

The endless cornfields of southern Illinois.

Something that I learned in the last ten days: Much of Illinois is populated by corn. Something else: The quality of rest areas varies from state to state.

Between August 11th and 18th I put 3,000 miles on my car -- and flattened countless insects on my windshield, front grill and side mirrors. I visited the cities of Buffalo, South Bend, Chicago, Memphis, Knoxville and Asheville on a road trip that was fun, interesting and exhausting.

I have friends in Chicago and decided in the spring that I would drive out to see them this summer. I also decided that I didn't want to make the entire trip in one day, as I had with a friend, eight years earlier. Finally, I wanted to take a different route home to see some places I hadn't seen before. After a while I roughed out the route in my head, though I didn't make preparations until the day before leaving -- and only for the first half of the trip.

I-90 begins in East Boston and it would be my home for the first few days. The 450 miles from here to Buffalo is fairly scenic the entire way, with trees and rolling hills. It took me seven hours to complete that first leg, including stops at rest areas. Generally, I chose places to stay based on their proximity to places I wanted to eat. In Buffalo I wanted to visit a Belgian-style pub called Blue Monk, in the vibrant Elmwood Avenue section of the city. There was a fantastic beer selection and I had a charcuterie plate (cured meats) and some poutine, a dish of French Canadian influence that I was introduced to years ago in Maine. Dinner was followed by a cup of "sipping chocolate" at Chow Chocolat. I spent the night at a nearby bed and breakfast called Beau Fleuve, which was delightful.

A rest area off I-90 in Ohio.

After a light breakfast and good conversation with other guests, I went to visit an old church that was converted a few years ago into the headquarters of Righteous Babe Records, the label of Ani DiFranco, a singer-songwriter who is a favorite of mine. I just walked in and an employee was nice enough to show me the offices, performance space and art gallery that are now part of the building. From there I was off and back on I-90. The rest area that I stopped at in Ohio is big, bright, clean and modern -- possibly the nicest I've ever seen. I fueled up on Starbucks espresso and continued westward. As the road passes through Cleveland, the number of cars and exits increases and the route twists and turns. Driving through big cities is where things get a little anxious for a driver in new surroundings, but soon I was beyond the suburbs and the road straightens and thins out. There had been some small farms and vineyards in upstate New York, but west of Cleveland is where the agriculture really begins: miles of cornfields on each side. Ahead , in the distance, a farmhouse or a barn and a few trees and, once beyond that, more corn.

This continues to a lesser degree in Indiana, where the road is noticeably less well-kept and the rest areas are smaller and less modern. After about seven hours and 460 miles I was in South Bend, home of Notre Dame. I got a bit lost on local streets, but eventually found the Jameson Inn, which had been right next to my exit all along. This was my most mediocre lodging as well as my most mediocre dining experience. A friend who graduated from ND suggested I eat at the Fiddler's Hearth, so I made my way over there. The Irish pub was crowded and loud. I stood by the doorway for quite a while as the waitstaff walked past me, and eventually I had to approach one of them. I asked to sit outside where it was quieter. The bangers and mash that I ordered was OK.
Wind across the flags at Chicago's Navy Pier.

On Saturday morning I made the 90 minute drive into Chicago. Though I had been close the night before, my hosts in the Windy City pointed out that traffic during rush hour the night before would have been terrible, so pulling in mid-morning on the weekend was the way to go. My friends live in the northern suburb of Northbrook, which is nice and quiet -- though the straightness of every road out there was freaking me out a bit. That night we went into the city to meet another friend at Cafe Iberico, a downtown tapas bar. The food and sangria were excellent, and afterwards we walked around, seeing the only structures not burned down by the famous 1871 fire. On Sunday my friends took their kids and we went to the Navy Pier, a redeveloped pedestrian mall with eateries and attractions on Lake Michigan. The wind was blowing furiously, but we had a nice afternoon, including lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern -- famous for the "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger" SNL skit. We also visited a piece of public art officially called Cloud Gate, but known to locals as The Bean. It's a good spot to take photos.

  Sunset over the Mississippi River in Memphis.

From Chicago I drove the length of Illinois -- and it is really just cornfields for hours, with some soybeans sprinkled in -- and slipped into Missouri and then Arkansas for a bit before arriving in Memphis, at the west end of Tennessee. This was the most difficult drive, not only because it was nearly ten hours and 550 miles, but because the road was generally straight and the scenery was unchanging for much of the trip. The Holiday Inn in Memphis, however, was the nicest room -- more generic than the two non-chain places I stayed, but it was a roomy suite. The hotel is in a quiet neighborhood directly across the street from the University of Memphis. The place I wanted to visit for dinner happened to be closed on Monday, but in Memphis there are many options for barbecue -- and that is why I was in that city. I went to Central BBQ, and while the food (ribs and pulled pork) was good, it wasn't amazing and the staff was a bit indifferent. After eating, I went down to the shoreline of the Mississippi River and watched the sun set from a riverside park area.

On my way out of town I decided to stop by Graceland. I confess that I have never been much of an Elvis fan, but it happened that I was in Memphis on the anniversary of his death, so I thought I'd take a look. The expected big crowd wasn't there -- at least not at 9 a.m. A sign said it was $10 to park and I wasn't about to pay that, so I took a self-portrait by the big sign off the road, and as I was doing so a passerby volunteered to take my photo, which was even better. I then hopped on I-40 east. I wasn't sure if I was going all the way to Asheville, NC -- a small city in the Blue Ridge Mountains that has a reputation as a hotbed of art and culture -- or if I would stop at Knoxville, the largest city in eastern Tennessee. I decided not to push myself and to opt for Knoxville, and it was an excellent decision.

Market Square in Knoxville.

While western Tennessee retains the character of the Mississippi River valley, the eastern part of the state is in the Appalachians. The foothills and then the mountains roll away from the road in all directions. After six hours and 400 miles I pulled into downtown Knoxville -- for the first time showing up in a city without a place to stay. I quickly found the local visitors' center, which not only provided friendly information, but had a little cafe so I could sit, have a beverage and figure out a game plan. I quickly found that the Oliver Hotel, a quirky, newly renovated place, was right next to Market Square, the pedestrian mall that was the center of the reborn Knoxville. I booked a room and got cleaned up. I had dinner at the Downtown Grill and Brewery, and I spent some time wandering around the city center.

One of my favorite novels, Cormac McCarthy's Suttree, is set in Knoxville, which was the main reason I wanted to stop there. I walked over the Gay Street Bridge, which crosses the Tennessee River, to look down at the spot from which the body of a suicide is pulled from the river in the book's opening pages and, further down, to the presumed area where the title character, Cornelius Suttree, docks his houseboat. Afterwards, I grabbed an excellent espresso at Coffee and Chocolate while chatting with the friendly barista. Over in Market Square there was a jazz trio playing on a stage at one end and a street musician playing cello at the other. One of the most inspiring sights of my entire trip was a child, perhaps three years old, playing in a small public fountain in the middle of the square. She approached the water, which came up from ground level and made a small but graceful arc, with curiosity and excitement each time, put her hands or head or torso into the spray, and then laughed with pure joy as she toddled back to her mother, who was right behind her. This went on for ten minutes and the girl never tired or lost her enthusiasm.

Public art in Asheville.

The next day brought the most beautiful stretch of driving, as I wound my way through the Great Smoky Mountains into North Carolina on I-40. After about 120 miles and two hours -- which was, by that part of my journey, a quick side trip -- I was in Asheville, a city of 80,000 that has recently been voted one of the best places to live in the US and one of the world's must-see destinations. In recent years it has developed a reputation as a center of Appalachian culture, music and art. I walked around the city's downtown and had lunch at the highly regarded Tupelo Honey Cafe. The made-from-scratch black bean burger was very good, and the complimentary biscuit, with jam, was incredibly delicious.

I wanted to see more of Asheville, but I also needed to think about getting back to Boston. I had 15 hours separating me from home, and I didn't want to do that all in one day, so I got back on the road with the goal of getting as far north as I could before dark, thereby making the next day's final journey as reasonable as possible. I took I-26 to I-81 north and made it to Harrisonburg, Virginia, by twilight, knocking about five hours off the rest of my trip. There was a Holiday Inn at the end of the off-ramp and later I found a small sandwich place to hold me over.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, AC/DC woke me up. The previous guest in my room had apparently set the alarm clock using the radio feature. My first reaction was confusion -- What is happening right now? -- which was followed by annoyance. When the radio began blaring again in five minutes I realized I had only hit the snooze button the first time. Now I veered toward anger, jumping up and pulling the plug out of the wall. Later, I growled at the hotel staff, but getting an early start on the long drive home was actually a good idea. I followed I-81 through the rest of Virginia, into West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In Scranton I switched to I-84 and continued on through New York State and Connecticut, and then in Massachusetts I picked up the Mass Pike. The final leg was, with stops, more than 11 hours, but driving home adds extra motivation to keep going.

It's a big country out there, and I've still only seen a small slice of it. The distances and time spent on the road might seem overwhelming, but driving can be enjoyable as well. When hitting the road solo there is plenty of time for reflection; plus, NPR was a constant companion everywhere I went. Also, it is amazing how much religious radio there is in this country. I listened to it for a stretch here and there, and I have to report that some of it is completely insane. Another thing you'll find outside New England: large amounts of shredded tire on the road shoulders.

We can sometimes fall into cynicism and worse when confronted by the world's problems -- or even our own little struggles to survive and find satisfaction in this sometimes complex, often frustrating world. However, we are surrounded by great beauty, and if we fail to seek it out and embrace it, we alone are to blame. I think of that child in the fountain in Knoxville and how, after seeking reassurance from her mom, she walked back toward the cool and refreshing arc of water, each time allowing herself to be surprised, excited and filled with joy at something so wonderful, yet so simple.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Asleep at the wheel

It was 10 years ago today that President George W. Bush was handed a morning security briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." Bill Clinton's transition team later reported that the Bush Administration never seemed too concerned about terrorism, and 36 days after that aptly titled briefing, four planes were hijacked and, well, we all know the rest.

Bush managed to deflect most of the criticism on this issue, but can you imagine if Al Gore was in the White House when 9/11 happened? I am positive that he would have been impeached by Republicans in Congress.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The awful debt-ceiling deal

The tunnel named after the late Tip O'Neill is apparently leaking quite a bit these days, but the legacy of the former Massachusetts Congressman is more impressive to me than ever in the current political landscape. O'Neill served 10 years as Speaker of the House, much of it when Ronald Reagan ("the most ignorant man who had ever occupied the White House," according to O'Neill, who died before George W. Bush came on the national scene) was president. Reagan, and other Republicans elected in 1980, went to Washington to "make government smaller" -- GOP-speak for lowering taxes on the wealthy and dismantling the New Deal safety net. O'Neill, ridiculed publicly by arrogant conservatives as being old and overweight, used strength and charm to stand up against Reagan and his cohorts, virtually single-handedly absorbing the blows and holding the line.

Alas, O'Neill is gone and the Democrats seem to have no one like him in a leadership role. (Nancy Pelosi, House majority leader, is probably closest, but she doesn't run the House any more.) President Obama appears to get his clock cleaned by Republicans on every contentious issue. His natural inclination to compromise has been repeatedly taken advantage of by an opposition that is virtually unwilling to give any ground -- and therefore all "agreements" give the far right almost everything they want. It's discouraging.

The debt-ceiling agreement that leaders on both sides are touting today -- and which passed the House last night and will likely get Senate approval today -- is a complete capitulation to a group of elected officials who were willing to sacrifice the stability of the nation and the global economy to make sure that the rich in American don't have to pay a single penny more in taxes. Joe Nocera in The New York Times calls them "terrorists" who are "waging jihad on the American people." This group of Tea Partiers and their enablers in Congress -- only several dozen members -- give the impression that they will go to any length, including national crisis, to get what they want. It's like playing chicken against a crazy person: you have to get out of the way because he will take you both down.

This all reminds me of the story in the Old Testament where two women come to King Solomon, both claiming that they are the mother of a particular child, and the wise king declares that the child will be split in two. Of course, the strategy was that the child's actual mother wouldn't want to see any harm come to the boy, and so when one of the women cries out, "No! Let her have him!" the king knows she is the true mother. The Democrats keep flinching and crying out. They are not willing to let the country default in its fiscal obligations as of midnight tonight, and so they gave in. The Republicans, whose reasonable elements are shouted down by the far right, are willing to burn the entire Republic to the ground. As a result, the deal voted on today requires sacrifices from the poor, the elderly, the young, the sick and the hard working, while those at the top of the economic pyramid have to give up nothing.

Despite the political rhetoric, the deal will hurt the economy. In the meantime, our biggest national crisis -- millions of unemployed -- goes unaddressed. In times like this government needs to spend more, not less. The stimulus back in Obama's first year needed to be two or three times bigger, but he gave in to the right. Now the economy will suffer more, and the GOP will pin it on Democrats in 2012. It's hard to see an upside here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Getting serious

For weeks the word was that Wall Street was not panicking about Washington's inability to raise the debt ceiling because it was understood that, in the end, some kind of deal would be reached. After all, the thinking went, the leadership of both parties knows how potentially serious and far-reaching the consequences would be of default. In the past few days, however, markets around the world have started to drop and there is now a real feeling that "these guys could screw this thing up." We are, indeed, in interesting times.

One article that most still cling to is that the US will not default -- in other words, miss payments on the debt to creditors. Because of what would certainly be the cataclysmic results of the world's safest asset suddenly unable to pay its obligations, the widely held view is that even if no agreement is reached the Treasury would first pay the $90 billion due to bondholders. After that, the government would need to prioritize, as incoming tax dollars only cover 40% of outlays. More than half of government would not be funded: Social Security or homeland security or troop salaries or Medicare, etc. Some essential programs would be on hold.

This assumes that, absent a Congressional vote, President Obama doesn't invoke the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which some Democrats are publicly pushing him to do. Obama, a Constitutional law professor, has said that his Administration's lawyers have reviewed the 14th Amendment -- part of which reads, "The validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned." -- and concluded that it is not "a winning argument." Using such a tactic spuriously, some say, could lead to impeachment.

What has many analysts concerned is that even if an agreement is reached and the debt ceiling is raised this entire dramatic and drawn-out episode has already done its damage. Though the mounting total of US government debt -- currently $14.3 trillion -- has always been in plain sight, investing in that debt through US Treasury bonds was still considered the safest bet in the financial world. Now, the spotlight is on and some may start to second guess the wisdom of such an investment, for even if obligations are met this time the idea that there could come a time when this is not so is beginning to creep into worldwide financial markets. And the idea that the Tea Party segment of the political spectrum is actually playing chicken with America's financial affairs and that this most unstable and irresponsible movement may grow in power and is even looking to take the White House -- well, such a possibility could, right now, cause investors to panic and ratings agencies to lower the AAA rating of American debt.

Coupled with the current flat recovery from the Great Recession, it seems that we are forging new economic ground. The Tea Party and its lackeys in Congress think they know what they're doing, but we have seen how their conception of reality is not fact-based. We can only hope that saner heads step in and quickly fix this mess.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Library gets go-ahead

The city has announced that it will go ahead with the construction of East Boston's new library branch despite a failure to receive state funding this year. Though it appeared for a bit that the project would have to wait an extra year, Mayor Menino said, "Under no condition are we going to stop on this project," according to

The library, which will be located at one end of Bremen Street Park, will be nearly 15,000 square feet. Construction is scheduled to begin next spring and the library could be open by the fall of 2013.

Photo courtesy of

Monday, July 18, 2011

DC snub could be Bay State gain

President Obama today announced his nomination to head-up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- and it isn't, unfortunately, the woman who had the original idea for the agency and has been overseeing its set-up. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor, is smart and tough, with unquestionable integrity, and you would think that these qualities would make her a no-brainer for the top spot in the CFPB, which is supposed to provide information to consumers and to keep an eye on banks, credit-card companies and other financial institutions -- all with the goal of protecting all of us from lies, schemes and predatory practices.

The Republican Party, of course, has a problem with any tactic that prevents their friends, and themselves, from getting richer. GOP senators made clear that Warren would not pass confirmation, so the president nominated an underling, Richard Cordray (whose nomination, it appears, will also be held up). While, again, I wish that Obama would fight back against the morons in Congress, there may be a bright side to this for those of us who live in Massachusetts. Warren's name has been tossed around as a possible Democratic challenger to Senator Scott Brown in the 2012 election. Warren said today that, with her work in DC done, she is returning to Massachusetts "to do more thinking" about a possible Senate run.

Warren would be an excellent candidate, and she would immediately have my support. I'm hoping she throws her hat in the ring.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Good time for a good cause

I had a nice time last night at the DeVeau Family and Friends Summer Beach Party at the Orient Heights Yacht Club. The annual event raised more than $20,000 for the Jimmy Fund. Ed DeVeau is a former Savio student of mine and there were a number of other former Savio students on hand, including guitar hero Joe Maraio, who played a set for the crowd.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Car accident

I came across the scene of a two-car accident moments ago at the corner of Bennington and Moore streets in East Boston. No one appeared to be hurt badly, though I saw a young woman with a scratched face. One car had smashed into a pole outside Carlo's Market while the other was splayed across the median strip. I took the photos above.

Monday, July 4, 2011

In Congress, July 4, 1776

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The sounds of summer

ZUMIX kicks off its Summer Concert Series on Sunday with the Seaport Festival, "a free afternoon of music, arts, crafts, games and prizes," this Sunday, July 3, at Piers Park. The event runs from 3 to 6 p.m. and will feature Smokin' Joe and the Henchmen, a classic-rock and soul band. Also on the bill are the ZUMIX Jazz All-Stars, a group of young people I saw play a few weeks ago.

The Summer Concert Series will offer live music every Tuesday and Sunday throughout the summer at Piers Park and Bremen Street Park. For information on the schedule, check out the ZUMIX web site.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sound and fury

It happens every spring. The storm windows go up, the screens comes down and the air conditioner goes in -- and, as a result, the outside world once again seeps into my apartment. What had been a buttoned-up fortress, with double-pane windows plus the storms, is now a porous divider between me and everything going on outside along Bennington Street.

By "everything," I mostly mean the noise: the planes, the sirens, the motorcycles, yes....but also every car that wooshes past, the screeches of children playing, and even people just talking in normal voices as they walk past my windows. I hear every bit.

And then there are the car horns. I hear quite a few of those in any given stretch. Sometimes it's from impatient drivers at the nearby red light, but more often there are people arriving to pick someone up and they lay into the horn without a moment of thought about how that act can disturb everyone else. At the top of the pyramid, for me, is a horn that regularly beeps around 4 a.m. directly across the street from me. Once the nice weather comes the obnoxious beeper frequently wakes me up -- as happened this morning. I tried valiantly, but was unable to fall back to sleep.

This has actually been going on for three years. On some occasions I have gone outside to yell at the beeper. Once I ran over and began screaming at him. The beeping, however, continues. Maybe it is a different person, or various people. Why anyone thinks it is OK to disturb everyone on a city block in the wee hours is beyond me. Doesn't the driver own a cell phone? Can't the passenger be ready at the appointed time?

I spoke to an officer at the East Boston police station and he suggested I get the license plate of the vehicle, so that is what I will attempt to do, though rousing oneself from bed and running outside is tough to do at 4 a.m. We'll see how it goes.

Update (6/8): Well, the horn woke me up again. At 3:50 a.m. I immediately dragged myself out of bed, threw on my sandals, grabbed paper and pen, and marched outside. I took down the license plate of a big SUV as it sat running, and then I walked up to the front of the vehicle. The driver rolled down the window, and I told him he woke me all the time with his horn and that I had his license-plate number. He was around 30, looked to be heading to work and he apologized. If this happens again I will call in his plate to the police.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

30 years later

I'm just back from my 30th high school reunion and it was a good night. I graduated from Savio in 1981 in a class of 89 guys. Only 20 showed up tonight, but after 30 years people are living all over the place and have family obligations. It was good to see those who did come out.

As I was telling some of the guys tonight, I was a dorky kid from East Boston, but among my classmates I always felt like I could wander form group to group -- the athletes, the rock music rebels. the guys that came from East Boston Central Catholic with me, the guys from Revere, and everyone else -- and I was always accepted. Those were good days at Savio -- and I got a good education.

It's strange to see people virtually every day for four years and then to never see them again. That often happens after high school. At least tonight I got to touch base one time with some of the guys who -- no matter where we go or what we do -- will always be my friends.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Transportation notes

*The construction of the new Chelsea Street Bridge begins the next stage tomorrow "with demolition of the existing bridge and construction of the remaining portions of the new lift structure," according to the state's Department of Transportation blog. This necessitates the closing of the bridge for six months, beginning tomorrow. The site says that, "The project is scheduled to be completed in spring 2012."

*City Hall is reminding cab drivers that people headed into East Boston, with the exception of those getting off at the airport, cannot be charged the tunnel fair. I rarely use taxis in Boston, but the last time I took one to come home, the driver attempted to tack on a few bucks for the toll. He didn't argue with me when I told him that doing so was illegal, but he would have got me if I didn't know better. The City asks that people report if cabbies attempt to charge the extra fee.

Photo of Chelsea Street Bridge courtesy Massachusetts DOT blog.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Glory and remembrance

On Memorial Day in 1897, a work of art was unveiled to the public at the edge of the Boston Common, across from the State House. It was a bronze bas-relief by the American master Augustus Saint-Gaudens commemorating the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and its leader, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The 54th was one of the first units composed of black soldiers to fight in the Civil War, and Shaw was from a Boston abolitionist family.

Considered by many to be the finest piece of public art in Boston, as well as one of Saint-Gaudens' masterpieces, the work depicts the 54th on May 28, 1863, marching down Beacon Street and off to war, with Shaw on horseback and an angel floating above. Shaw and 29 of his men died in South Carolina less than two months later, but throughout the war, the 54th fought with distinction. The regiment was portrayed in the Oscar-winning 1989 film Glory.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Choosing our own future

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Good riddance. Don't believe Joe Scarborough or other moronic pundits who claim that President Obama went against his supporters on the left by taking out the head of Al-Qaeda. None of us are shedding a tear for Bin Laden. He got what he deserved.

Bin Laden was evil -- but he wasn't stupid. A realistic assessment of his actions suggest that he accomplished some of what he set out to do. The goal was to entice the US into a protracted ground war in Afghanistan in order to bankrupt America and to radicalize the Muslim world against the West. And the result? The US military is approaching a decade in Afghanistan, plus eight years in Iraq, and together those campaigns have cost two or three trillion dollars. Meanwhile, there has been some radicalization of small groups of Muslims.

We're still here, of course, and we can ensure that Bin Laden's goals are not fully accomplished if we wrap things up in Iraq and Afghanistan, and if we use our military a bit more sparingly in the future. This is not a call for demilitarization or isolationism, but only for wisdom and foresight. America cannot go on spending as much as all other countries combined on the military, and America cannot go on deploying its forces all over the world.

Let us regroup at home and lead by example so that the US once again occupies the moral high ground. If America had invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 with a smart plan and an exit strategy and if the country hadn't taken its eye off the ball by getting wrapped up in Iraq, then thousands of lives and trillions of dollars might have been saved. We might have had to wait for a small team of soldiers to take out Bin Laden 10 years after the fact, but that is what happened any way.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Legislature looks to sacrifice health for profit

State Rep. James Miceli, Democrat of Wilmington, came off as an idiot moments ago on the radio when he discussed the House vote, earlier this week, to repeal medical ethics law that went into effect less than two years ago. The Massachusetts Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct outlawed free meals and gifts that salesman and lobbyists for Big Pharma and medical-equipment makers were showering on doctors. Rep. Miceli voted for the law, but earlier this week he voted to repeal the law, one of the nation's toughest in this area. His rationale? The restaurant industry was hurting from the ban.

Now, the first thing that comes to mind is that this segment of the restaurant business cannot be more than tiny, and the drop-off that the industry is feeling must be do to the economic slowdown. However, even if it were true, how can we change a law designed to ensure more honest medical care for our citizens because of some rinky-dink dollars-and-sense byproduct? Rep. Miceli, speaking on WBUR's Radio Boston program, went on to explain the rationale for his original vote, but again talked about the impact on the restaurant industry.

Now maybe there are more legitimate reasons for adjusting, not repealing, the law (and some of them are listed in this article) but Rep. Miceli's comments -- in tandem with other recent actions by our state legislature -- leave me feeling like ignorant fools are running the show on Beacon Hill.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trouble on Sumner Street

East Boston's 303 Cafe sent a long, at times confusing, email today about their difficulties with Sysco, a giant foodservice corporation. According to the email:
On April 1, 2011 ... Sysco Boston LLC legally seized our Beer and Wine/CV license. 

Owner Melinda Jones goes on to tell the story of  303's opening and the hobbling debt -- more than $30,000 -- owed to Sysco, and she asks for the community's help. She's asking for any ideas and also, our business. I know I can help with the latter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Good Times

Bravo to the East Boston Times for reconfiguring its web site so that stories from the past are accessible and comments can be left after the stories. I'm not sure when these changes were made, but I just noticed them today. I know the Times will appreciate when I take the time to comment, which I hope to do frequently.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Caesars crosses the Rubicon

Suffolk Downs is partnering with the world's largest gaming company to bring a $600 million casino to the East Boston/Revere racetrack. Suffolk lead owner Richard Fields announced today a "strategic alliance" with Caesars Entertainment, which "owns or manages casino resorts on four continents."

Of course, the state legislature has yet to legalize casinos in the Bay State, and right now a bill filed by East Boston state Sen. Anthony Petruccelli that would authorize three resort casinos is sitting idly, but speculation is that the legislature will take up the matter this summer.

Those opposed to bringing casinos to Massachusetts are looking for a comprehensive, independent study of the effects, positive and negative, that such a move will bring to our state. So far, no such study has been authorized, and some feel that this is an attempt to downplay or hide the actual consequences of expanded gaming.

Neighbors of Suffolk Downs will be hosting "A Forum on Expanded Gambling" at the Winthrop Middle School on Wednesday, May 4.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Early closing at Fast Lane screws customers

Both the state web site and the sign on the door say that the Fast Lane Service Center at 145 Havre Street in East Boston is open until 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, but I got there around 4:23 and found the door locked. At least three other people drove up and were angered by the early closing. I had driven home from work early just to go there to renew my resident status and got shut out. These are the small things that make people cynical about state government.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Unfortunate circumstances" a poor excuse

Carmen Guzman wants justice in the death of her daughter, Julissa Brisman, at the hands of Philip Markoff, the so-called "Craigslist killer." Of course, Markoff killed himself last year while awaiting trial, but Guzman believes that the gun store where Markoff purchased a 9mm pistol should be held accountable -- and she's right.

The story, in today's Globe, has a pair of quotes that leave me shaking my head. First, the owner of the State Line Gun Shop -- located about 3,000 feet over the border into New Hampshire -- said, "There really is nothing to say at all." Nothing to say about an establishment in a mostly rural state that sets up shop on the fringe of a major urban center and sells weapons to people from a neighboring state, where the gun laws are more restrictive? More than 100 guns that were purchased in New Hampshire were used to commit crimes in Massachusetts in 2009.

The next quote, even more disturbing, comes from the assistant US Attorney, who said, "It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances, but there doesn’t appear to be any intentional conduct on the part of the dealer." The "intentional conduct" of the dealer is to sell as many guns as possible and, therefore, not to worry about the details, which is this case involved a fake ID with an unconvincing photo and the name of the fake identity misspelled.

Sure, Markoff might have obtained a gun elsewhere, or he might have killed Julissa Brisman by some other means -- but wasn't her life worth just a little bit of effort on somebody's part?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Community heard on buffer

The Boston Conservation Commission is asking Massport to meet with East Boston residents regarding a buffer that would be a key link in a greenway that would span the length of the neighborhood. The agency is pushing forward plans on two projects -- the East Boston-Chelsea Bypass road and the Green Bus Depot at Logan Airport -- and local residents told the Commission that this is the time to include "a path through the depot site to help connect Bremen Street Park with Constitution Beach."

The buffer and greenway connection had been agreed to by Massport years ago, but as usual the agency cannot be trusted to keep its word. The Conservation Commission meets again on April 4.

Image courtesy of Massport via

Friday, March 25, 2011

The sacrifice of workers

As conservatives attempt to vilify working people across America, it's important to remember what happened 100 years ago today. On that day, at around 4:45 p.m., fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Lower Manhattan. Workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, were trapped because the doors were locked.

Burns and smoke inhalation killed those who couldn't escape; blunt force killed others who jumped from the ninth floor. The death toll was 146.

The event spurred the enactment of workplace laws and the inspection of other death traps. The owners of the building were found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter, though one of them was fined $20 for locking the doors.

This would be a good time to consider Bertolt Brecht's poem "A Worker Reads History":

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
 The books are filled with names of kings.
 Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
 And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
 Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
 That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
 In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
 Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
 Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
 Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
 Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
 The night the seas rushed in,
 The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

 Young Alexander conquered India.
 He alone?
 Caesar beat the Gauls.
 Was there not even a cook in his army?
 Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
 was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
 Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
 Who triumphed with him?

 Each page a victory
 At whose expense the victory ball?
 Every ten years a great man,
 Who paid the piper?

 So many particulars.
 So many questions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Remembering an Eastie childhood

A woman who grew up in the Maverick projects has just published a book that reflects on the experience. Memories of Maverick: Growing Up Poor & Catholic in East Boston was written by Teri Borseti and received a positive review in the MetroWest Daily News. The book can be purchased for $13 here.

Image courtesy of the MetroWest Daily News.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stepping out

On Sunday I went over to Scup's, the eatery inside the shipyard, to check out the tag sale that was held to benefit Harbor City School, which describes itself as "a not for profit preschool being developed by a group of committed East Boston parents and educators." It was a beautiful afternoon, and when I got there some folks were dancing outside.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Demanding the truth

There's a bill in the state legislature that calls for an independent and comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of expanded gambling in Massachusetts, and John Ribeiro is leading the charge locally for passage of the bill. S.150 was filed by Sen. Stephen Brewer, a Democrat from Barre, back in January. It's currently before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, as is a bill that would authorize three casinos in the state.

It's inconceivable that a proposal with the impact of legalized casino gambling would go forward without the public -- and the elected officials who are voting on it -- knowing exactly what the pros and cons would be, but that is what the pro-gambling forces tried last year, and it's what they will try again. Of course, the gambling lobby and their supporters on Beacon Hill understand that a truly honest study will include much to be concerned about, and that don't want you and me to see that.

East Boston will be negatively impacted by a casino at Suffolk Downs. We demand a legitimate study in order to fully understand exactly what we're getting ourselves into.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Turning up the heat

Three sitting Congressman and one former House member will hold a news conference tomorrow in East Boston to coincide with President Obama's visit to a local school, but the event is being held to protest the Administration's proposed cut to a program that helps people pay their heating bills.

Obama will visit TechBoston Academy in Dorchester tomorrow afternoon before a Democratic fundraiser at the Museum of Fine Arts. The news conference is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the home of Joe and Katherine Oliveri, whose heating benefit was cut this year.

The president's budget proposes cutting the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program by about 50%.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Celebrating the neighborhood's history

Local historian Anthony Sammarco will speak Wednesday evening on the history of East Boston in the lecture hall at East Boston High School. The talk is part of a series called "East Boston: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," which is sponsored by the Eagle Hill Civic Association. The program is free to all and begins at 7 p.m.

There is a story on the event at

Image of Anthony Sammarco's book on East Boston courtesy of

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Supporting workers in the Midwest

We like to say that America is a classless society, but that simply is not true. It's always been to the benefit of the wealthy in this country to dismiss the idea of class while rigging the system to keep them and their heirs on top. The current attempts of state governments in the Midwest to undo the progress that working people have made in the past 150 years in the US are the latest battle on this front, and it is a blatant and outrageous  attack.

Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, is using his state's budget shortfall to take away the right of collective bargaining from most public-sector unions -- a right that Americans fought, and died, to establish. This is completely unacceptable. What is a union if not a group of workers who have the ability to bargain as a unit?

Wisconsin and Ohio -- the second state to declare war on unions -- have real fiscal issues, and so do most states, but these have been caused by a decrease in revenue due to the deep recession that the country was plunged into by Wall Street and by insufficient tax rates on millionaires. In both instances, the wealthy have benefited greatly and now those gains are going to be solidified on the backs of teachers, firefighters, police officers, garbage men and other state and municipal workers -- middle-class Americans who, as George Bailey says in It's A Wonderful Life, "do most of the working and paying and living and dying" in this country.

These are not desperate maneuvers in a time of fiscal emergency, but it is rather a strategy by the wealthy to increase the gold in their overflowing coffers: cut taxes for the rich; cut programs for the needy because there is suddenly less money to pay for them; and vilify public-sector unions.

The wealthy have fought labor unions as long as they have existed, using massive amounts of violence that is left out of the textbooks we use in our history classes. Many people were intimidated, fired, beaten and killed, but it was the courage of working men and women that won every battle against the more powerful forces that tried to keep them down. That struggle never ended; it only changed forms, so that companies like Wal-Mart are much more sophisticated in their anti-unions actions.

With the loss of most of America's manufacturing jobs and with the ever-present animosity of big business and the wealthy, private-sector unions are a much smaller player today. Of course, corruption is a part of that story, but so is a string of successes that includes not only a multitude of codified rights, but a national economy that outgrew all others even as union workers made decent wages, making the US economy the envy of others in the 20th century.

People in public-sector jobs deserve respect and a decent wage. They also deserve the right to bargain collectively with their employers. Taking away that right would be antithetical to everything America stands for. All working people should be aligned with the workers in Wisconsin and Ohio as they fight the latest battle in America's class war.

Photo courtesy of

Monday, February 21, 2011

Three of a kind

***I remember the day that Jorge Torres was shot. The rookie cop, who was friends with people I knew in East Boston, was hit with three bullets while chasing a bank robber. Officer Roy Sergei was killed by the gunman. After two years of recuperation, Torres tried to return to the job, but he says, "I just wasn't any good any more." Michelle McPhee writes in today's Herald that Torres -- pictured, courtesy of the Herald web site, from 1988 -- is trying to track down his partner that fateful day, Chris Rogers, who is apparently living on the streets.

***When Louis DeSanctis died three years ago, he had assets in East Boston worth $32 million. His extended family is surprised to find out that they get none of it, as the secret daughter appeared from nowhere.

***A web site names the best pizza places in Massachusetts. Can you guess who they mention first?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eastie in the news

***An article on The Daily Beast web site talks about the role of East Boston resident Gene Sharp in the recent overthrow of Egypt's prime minister, as well as other non-violent revolutions. Sharp runs the Albert Einstein Institute out of his house in the neighborhood, and his books and pamphlets are read and passed around throughout the world. Update: BBC online also profiles Gene Sharp.

***The Boston Preservation Alliance released a report on places in East Boston that are historically notable and should be preserved, including the First Presbyterian Church on London Street and the Temple Ohabei Shalom Chapel on Wordsworth Street.

*** notes that the Boston Police of Station 7 in East Boston have been recognized for their work fighting underage tobacco use.

***Ryan Lee, the Eastie resident who found a bag of money and returned it to the rightful owner, was honored today by the Boston City Council.

Photo of  the Temple Ohabei Shalom Chapel courtesy of Wikipedia.