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.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bro. Anthony Ambrogio, RIP

Early in my junior year of high school I was opening my American literature textbook to the proscribed page when I was jolted by a shriek that came from the front of the room. Everyone looked up and the teacher, Bro. Anthony Ambrogio, was staring at a pair of students who'd slid their desks together so one could "look on" with the other. This was not allowed in Bro. Anthony's class, and needless to say no one in my class ever forgot his book again.

Bro. Anthony passed away a week ago at age 76. At Savio, he was easily the most feared teacher in the school. Everyone dreaded junior year, and his class was the most orderly and intense I ever had. We had to write a many-paged paper titled "The Evolution of American Thought," which was the longest and most important assignment I had in high school..

Bro. Anthony was always intense and he wore a black suit, white shirt and black tie to class every day, but the strangest thing about him was that he was a completely different person when you saw him outside of school. I was a Boys & Girls Club member at the time and, being that both Savio and the Club were run by the Salesian order, Bro. Anthony popped in a few times while I was there. He joked and laughed, which he never did in class, and at first that caught me off-guard.

I got a letter last week from a Savio classmate of mine. There are plans for a 30th reunion in the works, and I'm sure we'll tell some Bro. Anthony stories when we get together. My, how the time does fly.

Photo courtesy

Friday, February 11, 2011

Doing the right thing

What would you do if you found a bag of money by the side of the road? Ryan Lee of East Boston picked it up and brought it to the police station, where it was then returned to the rightful owner. Lee was all over the TV last night and today there's a Globe story on his choice to do the right thing.

The bag contained $2,500 that belonged to the owner of the Shell gas station on Meridian Street, across from Station 7 and not far from where the money was found. Mayor Menino has proclaimed today Ryan Lee Day.

Lee, 32, is from Maine, and he met his wife while in the Peace Corps. He's currently working for Project Bread, recruiting people to take part in the Walk for Hunger. The news is filled with people every day who do the wrong thing, but there are many more who do the right thing. Let us all remember that as we go forward today. You may not find a bag of money in your travels, but you will certainly discover a moment where a small action on your part -- mine, too -- will make the world a better place.

Photo courtesy of

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Evaluating Reagan

A couple years ago I saw a documentary on PBS on George H. W. Bush, who served as 41st President of the United States and was also vice-president under Ronald Reagan. Someone interviewed for the program made the point that, while Reagan played the roles of star athlete and war hero on film, the elder Bush had really lived that life. Reagan is often cited as "The Great Communicator," and justifiably so, but much of what he communicated was a sham.

Across the country the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth is being marked today. He has become larger than life and an icon of the conservative movement. Some even want to add him to Mount Rushmore. The facts, however, belie this tale of hero worship. While he was in office I remember thinking that Reagan was the worst president the nation had ever seen. Of course, I couldn't conceive of George W. Bush then, and in comparison Reagan seems only mildly bad, but from his backing of murderous militias in Latin America to his foolish "trickle-down" ideas in economics to his refusal to fight AIDS to Iran-Contra and more, Reagan was a disaster for America. Now we read in his son's memoir that the old man had likely begun to suffer from Alzheimer's while still in office. What was the difference from how he behaved before that?

Reagan's legacy may have done the most damage of all: a revived conservative movement. The country suffered through eight years of Bush Jr. and we are still trying to clean up that mess. Reagan's best acting job was as president, and today he has more people fooled than ever.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A short stack on a winter morning

There's something about midwinter cold and snow that awakens in me a desire for pancakes. Maybe it's some primeval urge to pack on carbs and fat to survive the frigid months, or perhaps it's that I have more time to cook in general because I'm indoors more. Regardless, I rarely eat any breakfast -- I know, that's bad -- but I made pancakes yesterday and today, and they were quite enjoyable.

Of course, I made them from scratch. You won't find any box mix in my cupboard. As with most of my cooking, I don't measure anything. I use intuition (which sometimes can lead to problems, but more often than not works fine) and sometimes I use substitution as well. Because I don't drink milk, I avoid using any dairy when making pancakes. Instead, I use apple cider. Laugh if you wish, but the texture and the taste are quite enjoyable.

Finally, one must use maple syrup -- the genuine article -- to top the fluffy stack of flapjacks. In fact, one may go so far as to label pancakes as "a maple syrup delivery system." If I had a banana I would have sliced it up to pile on the plate, but as it was, the pancakes were perfect -- and my body has the necessary insulation to combat the winter's chill.