Category Archives: Massachusetts/New England

Comedy For People With No Sense of Humor

If you are a normal human with normal instincts and a reasonably normal sense of humor, the kinds of things conservatives laugh at are liable to stump you at best, appall you at worst.

Video emerged on Tuesday showing supporters of Senator Scott P. Brown making tomahawk gestures with their arms and yelling Indian war whoops at supporters of Elizabeth Warren, his Democratic challenger, outside a pub on Saturday. The gestures were meant to mock Ms. Warren’s assertions, for which she has offered no documentation, that she has Native American ancestry.

Conservatives think making fun of one’s heritage is funny – as long as it isn’t their heritage. Also, fat people are funny, and invading countries because they’re supposed to have weapons they don’t actually have, that’s funny, stuff like that. Continue reading

Comes the Excuse: Surveillance Cameras in Boston

The City of Boston installed surveillance cameras in some high-crime areas like Chinatown three years ago, and now they’re citing two murder cases in which those cameras played a key role to justify the installation of even more cameras.

The department has 25 cameras, each costing about $20,000, that can pan, tilt, and zoom, and can be attached to a wall or roof in less than an hour. Regulations require approval from property owners before police can mount the cameras. The department purchased the devices in 2004, and they were first used at the Democratic National Convention.

But in point of fact, it isn’t efficacy that’s driving the camera surveillance boom in police work. It’s conservatives and their demands for low-taxes.

Chris Ott, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned the emphasis on fancy gizmos to replace old-fashioned police work.

“For whatever reason, there is a tendency to look at technical solutions to nontechnical problems,” Ott said. “We’d encourage people to ask questions about whether there are simpler methods, perhaps better lighting or more community policing.”

Dunford said that while community policing is a priority, the funds do not exist to put more police on the streets.

“The cameras are a force multiplier,” he said. “We try to put out as many walking beats as we can, and then enhance those units with the cameras.”

(emphasis added)

Simple as that. There’s no money, thanks to Prop 2 1/2 and the Big Dig, to add patrols even though everyone knows patrols are more effective than cameras.

Michael Wong, coordinator of Chinatown’s crime watch program, said how effective the cameras are remains a mystery to many area residents.

“After the police put them up, we haven’t heard anything from them. I don’t know if they have anybody to watch them,” he said. “The crime here has gone down a lot, but I don’t think it is because of the cameras. We’re walking the streets. If criminals see our crime watch, they go away.”

That’s bad enough, but buried inside the story is the news that Homeland Security also has a camera system installed in Boston, independent of the police system.

The department can also tap into other camera surveillance systems, including those provided by the Department of Homeland Security to monitor areas of the city that may be susceptible to terrorist attacks such as the harbor, parks, and evacuation routes.

(emphasis added)

This is an all-but-open admission by HS that it is allowing local police to access its surveillance equipment, equipment we were promised would be used only against “terrorists”. But like the rest of the Bush Administration’s promises, that one was a crock, too.

All of this in the name of saving money. Apparently we’re not only willing to trade our civil liberties for the illusion of “safety” and protection from imaginary hoards of Islamofascists, we’re prepared to sacrifice them for something as menial as lower taxes.

Maybe we deserve what we’re going to get.

Boston Jazz Legend Dies of Cancer

pomeroy Somehow I missed this, but three weeks ago legendary local jazz trumpeter Herb Pomeroy passed away, a victim of cancer at 77.

I never met Herb but my trumpet teacher had been one of his students, and I went to hear him play whenever I could get to Boston. He was an astounding talent with a combination of technical agility and improvisational originality that was as rare as it was exciting to listen to. I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn that the memorial service held for him yesterday featured the same property of synthesizing opposites that made Herb so special.

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Gay Marriage in Mass 2

Mike Lukovich

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Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment Defeated

Yesterday the Mass legislature defeated an amendment to the State Constitution that would have put an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in front of voters next year. This wasn’t a surprise. Even though the forces from the religious right who have poured people and money into the state since the Mass Supreme Court overturned anti-gay marriage laws only needed a quarter of the legislature to back them up – 50 votes – the word was they didn’t have it.

And they didn’t. The measure lost by 5 votes. New Democratic Gov Patrick Deval put a lot of time and energy into cooling down any potential hotheads, which was good of him and maybe it made a difference. But the truth is that the right-wing whackos who have been inundating us with prophesies of doom if the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t overturned have been terminally embarrassed by the total lack of any negative effect of the law. Or any positive effect, for that matter. No one can find any difference in the way life proceeds in the state of Massachusetts between pre-gay marriage years and post-gay marriage years.

The sky, you see, contrary to all the predictions by the members of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family who’ve been shooting off their mouths for the last 3 years, didn’t fall. Crops didn’t fail, goats weren’t born with two heads, straight marriage rates didn’t change, teenagers didn’t start fornicating in the streets, and Satan didn’t buy a place in Back Bay.

Really, nothing happened. Nothing.

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A Jacobian Take on Last Night’s Debate

Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe‘s resident neocon and a charter member of the Right-Wing Noise Machine, thought the Democratic debate last night was funny because – get this – it wasn’t substantive.

[M]aybe the funniest moment was when the young wife of a New Hampshire soldier serving in Iraq asked the candidates what they would do to rebuild the US military, and Representative Dennis Kucinich vowed to cut the defense budget by 25 percent.

Or when Senator Hillary Clinton, who refuses to take part in a presidential debate co sponsored by Fox News, denounces the Bush administration for having a policy of “we don’t talk to people we don’t agree with or think are bad.”

***

But in truth, last night’s debate wasn’t funny. It was worrisome. Worrisome that in 120 minutes of talk, not one of the Democratic candidates had anything substantive to say about the global jihad. Worrisome that all but one of the Democrats oppose legislation to declare English the official language of the United States. Worrisome that on the issue they spent the most time discussing — the war in Iraq — not one spoke seriously or responsibly about the consequences of an American withdrawal.

The RWNM has apparently reached the stage when its irony is itself an irony and substance is to be defined as adherence to the loopy unrealities and misogynistic nationalism of the Neocon Fear Patrol. To the RWNM, if a candidate won’t pretend there’s such a thing as a “global jihad” or that English-only legislation isn’t silly political posturing, they aren’t “serious”. Whereas the Republican candidates’ trying to 1-up each other over who would make the US the biggest and worst torturer or who watches more hours/day of the Intelligent Design Cartoon Network and believes more fervently in Tinkerbell is no doubt considered deep philosophical debate, solemn and sublime.

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Investment Corp Rushes to Assure Clients It Hasn’t Become Responsible

Here’s a good one. Fidelity Investments, a mutual funds outfit headquartered in Boston, was recently praised for divesting itself of stocks in companies that are either accused or guilty of human rights violations and have ties to the regime in Khartoum. In a panic, it called a press conference to reassure its clients that it hadn’t suddenly developed a social conscience.

Fidelity Investments, which has long sought to distance its investment choices from political questions, said yesterday its sharp reductions of holdings in oil companies targeted by human-rights activists over their ties to Sudan’s rulers were not a coordinated corporate response to the criticism.

Rather, said Anne Crowley, a spokeswoman for the Boston mutual-fund giant, the sales were decided by the managers of individual Fidelity funds. Each “works to take into account factors that could have an appreciable impact on the potential return of the stock in the short term or the long term,” Crowley said. “Fidelity doesn’t tell fund managers how or when to buy or sell any given stock,” she said.

Those “account factors”, Crowley insisted, did NOT include irrelevant matters such as whether or not the corporations they invested in bankrolled genocide, torture, and assassination – although she didn’t use those words, of course.

But critics weren’t buying it.

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Hey, Ma! Who the Hell Are You?

My mother – “Ma” to us kids – died 24 years ago. I was 35 at the time, old enough, you’d think, to have a pretty fair handle on who she was. Certainly I had a better understanding of her than if she had died when I was a teenager or in my early 20’s. I had a family of sorts – the love of my life was a woman with a daughter by a previous marriage and that daughter was 11, for a girl the most tempestuous and disdainful age of all – and I’d been beat around by life enough to appreciate, at least somewhat, the perspective of a woman who had been 11 in the depths of the Great Depression, fallen in love in the middle of the worst war in human history, and married on sheer hope almost as soon as her love’s boat docked in the first uncertain year after the war.

Actually, I hadn’t been beat by life so much as batted around like a cat toy. On one of my periodic visits home to rest and recoup, she asked what I had been up to and I told her – some of it, not all – and she said, with one of those uncharacteristic flashes of insight that unsettled us whenever they appeared, suddenly and without warning, like heat lightning, “You don’t have to live my life over again, you know. I already did.”

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Only in Massachusetts: Moby Dick and the 40 Years’ Poetry War

I don’t usually write much about local news. Neither Dispatch nor Witness could be considered a Mass blog much less a Boston blog. My readers tend to range the globe, I suppose because I write about national news. But there are exceptions to every rule and this is one of them.

I live in west-central Mass, maybe an hour or so from Pittsfield in the Berkshires of western Mass. It’s unusual for anything we do out here in the boonies to attract the attention of easterners, so I perked right up when I saw this editorial in today’s Globe about my neck of the woods. And wouldn’t you know it? It concerned something that could likely only happen here.

We’re about to have a vicious fight over the naming of a State Book.

State birds we’re familiar with. State mottoes are often the bane of our existence. State animals have provoked legislative rumpuses of monumental proportions (making the mule the state animal of Missouri in the 90’s caused a rift in the Missouri lege that has yet to be healed). But a state book? Where else would they argue about something like that but the home of Harvard and Boston Univ and Boston College and Northeastern and Clark Univ and Smith and on and on and on? We have more colleges in this state than drive-in movies or topless car washes. If you count the state colleges – four of them within a half-hour of here, and I live in the sticks – we may have more institutions of higher learning than we have donut shops.

Which is why the proposal by Pittsfield State Rep Chris Speranzo to make Herman Melville’s Moby Dick the official Mass State Book is bound to ignite a firestorm of criticism and competing candidates. The Globe editors came up with a partial list that boggles the mind.

[L]et the debate begin. In Berkshire County itself, fans of Edith Wharton could make a case for any of the novels written while she lived in Lenox. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who temporarily lived in the Berkshires and socialized with Melville, will have advocates for “The Scarlet Letter” or “The House of the Seven Gables.” Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” will deserve a hearing as possibly the state’s most influential book. “The Poems of Emily Dickinson” has to be in the mix. The Pittsfield students admit that none had read “Moby-Dick” but some might have read Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” Bostonians will put in a vote for Edwin O’Connor’s “The Last Hurrah” or George Higgins’s “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”

A state as steeped in politics and history as this should also consider Henry Adams’s “The Education of Henry Adams,” John Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” and the histories of Samuel Eliot Morison, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and David McCullough. Roger Tory Peterson published his beloved “A Field Guide to the Birds” while a teacher in Brookline.

Granted this has just surfaced and no one is actually contesting Speranzo’s choice. Yet. But, as the Globe points out, in a state like this, a “donnybrook” is almost inevitable as soon as he makes the request on the House floor. It may already be in train after the publication of this editorial.

We take literature far more seriously than other states (with the possible exception of Minnesota, birthplace of F Scott Fitzgerald, which can’t seem to get over the fact that it once, a hundred years ago, sired a writer where cows ruled the Earth and the only thing St Paul was known for was its being too far up the Mississippi to be of interest to riverboat gamblers). Mass is a place where political contests (except in Southie, of course) usually generate less interest than your average tractor pull. Literature – especially locally grown literature – and where to get the best thin-crust pizza are the only two topics capable of starting a riot here (I understand that in NY, the Yankees/Mets dichotomy performs the same function).

If you believe I exaggerate, I call your attention to an event little known outside Mass but famous here as The 40 Years’ Poetry War of 1883-1924.

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Hillary in New Hampshire

Hillary Clinton has just made her first real foray into NH, and that means the ’08 campaign is officially under way. If her experience there is any indication of what the future holds, she’s got a tough row to hoe.

The response to Clinton’s visit to New Hampshire, her first since 1996, was typified by Roger Tilton.

Tilton, a financial consultant from Nashua who had risen at 4 a.m. to make the drive north, asked Clinton to apologize for her vote [on the war]. She refused — reiterating her stance that “I have taken responsibility for my vote.”

Tilton was unmoved. “Until she says it was a mistake, she won’t get my vote,” he said.

Clinton was in Berlin, NH, way up in the nor’east corner of the state where the borders of NH, Maine and Canada meet. I grew up in southern NH. When I was a kid, northern NH was a bastion of support for the ultraright wingnut John Birch Society. Those were the guys who thought FDR was a Commie mole who was going to hand the US to the Soviets and fluoridation was a Commie plot to turn America’s children into Commie robots. Everybody who wasn’t a member – and almost everybody was – gave the JBS lots of vocal support if they knew what was good for them.

Northern NH has changed but not all that much. Continue reading

Maine Line

OK OK, so I’m not the most organized guy in the world, so sue me. But at least I saved the best for last.

And I did, too. I stumbled across this blog last week sometime when I was looking for the old Maine Progressive Worker’s Party (don’t ask) and was immediately hooked. Maine Line (I know, bad title) is brand new–only a couple of weeks old–and written by a guy in north-central Maine named Emmett who says it’s a summer project for his creative writing class. It’s a public blog, though, either because he didn’t know how to make it private or because he didn’t give a damn if it was or not. I’m guessing the latter because that’s what kind of guy he is.

Emmett is in his 30’s and just decided to go back to school (an inheritance made it possible).

See, Aunt Flo allowed for 5 years to get my degree (she knew how slow I am, she used to say, “Emmett–” that’s my name– “Emmett, you got a mouth like a rusty gate hinge, always swingin’ back and forth, back and forth, despite all efforts to keep it shut, but for all the yappin’ you do, you ain’t got a helluva lot to say that’s worth stayin’ awake long enough to hear it. You got a underdeveloped mind, boy, like a green tomato, and while green tomatoes is good for cannin’ piccalilli, it’s useless on a growed man.” She talked like that, my Aunt Flo did, and I’m not saying she was wrong. She was a smart old fart, my Aunt Flo)….

In true Maine style, since the inheritance allowed $15K/yr for school tuition, he signed up with an online university (he doesn’t say which one) for $5K/yr and he’s living off the rest as a sort of semi-permanent paid vacation, though it seems he has to buy books for his classes. Here he is on re-reading The Great Gatsby for his English class.

I had to read The Great Gatsby in school and I thought that had to be just about one of the dumbest books I ever read in my life, and what was the big deal with the damn lamp on the dock? Hell, every dock has some kinda light because otherwise you’ll smack your boat right into the damn thing at night because you can’t see what you’re doing. I was kinda literal when I was in high school, I guess, like them people in church who think Jonah actually got swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it. I’ve seen whales, brother, up close, and if that ain’t the grandaddy of all fish stories, I don’t know what is. You go down a whale’s gullet, you’re gonna last about long enough to think, “Damn, I’m in a whale’s gullet,” and that’ll be it for you, pal. But this time, I don’t know, it made more sense to me. Like the light meant more than it was just a light. Something. I wasn’t sure what but it seemed like that light stood in for everything he ever wanted, everything he ever dreamed about when he was hustling the streets for the mooch to buy his way into “society”. I know about that dream, we all have it when we’re young, and the poorer you are the bigger that dream gets.

The whole blog is like that, a mix of intentional–and unintentional–jokes and the first stirrings of legitimate thought. He explains why he took up his aunt’s offer this way:

[A] few years ago when we had the funeral for Mike Bonin when that oak shivereed right up the middle and fell on him before he knew what hit him, I said to myself then, “Emmett, you’re not going out that way. Better crushed like a bug by a semi on the state highway or drowned in a river like a bagful of cats than to have some damn tree land on top of you and smash your skull like a watermelon or have some damn saw go apeshit and whack both of your legs off at the knee.” I said that to myself and I meant it. You would too if you seen what that damn tree did to Mike. Brains look like a sort of sick gray jelly when they get spread all over a hillside, gray jelly splattered with red sauce. Did you know that? No sir, don’t wanna go that way. I got plans, and living past my 40th birthday (which ain’t that far off, now I come to think of it) is a big part of them.

So he’s struggling, like a lot of us, to escape the life he was born into by taking a chance on something better. In the meantime, under instructions from his writing teacher, he writes discursively about his life and the people around him and the town he lives in.

# On a newcomer’s disastrous encolunter with a bear:

Peter went to dancing around and waving his arms and yelling, “Shoo! Shoo!” in this really high voice like a girl (which for some reason he thought would be more terrifying to the bear than his usual voice which is kind of squeaky and cracks like a thunderbolt every once in a while; I told him, “No, Pete, you should have stuck with your regular voice,” but he didn’t think that was funny), that bear just sort of cocked its head at him and narrowed its eyes and if I’d been there I would have known what it was thinking, it was thinking, “It’s true I just had breakfast but at some point I’m gonna be wanting lunch.”


Sometimes I think they oughta make people like Pete take a test before they let them live someplace like Wilbur. Seems like the least they could do.

# On the time the Postmistress lost the mail:

[I]t was three weeks before them circulars got delivered, by which time the sales they advertised was over and Amy had to listen to a lot of bellyaching from people who were sore that they missed getting their permanent waves at 12% off. Mrs. Pinkerman wanted Amy to pay her the difference right out of her own pocket but Amy says it was a “act of god” that she lost that key and she didn’t consider herself financially responsible for god’s goofing around. Of course the other thing Andy [Amy’s husband–M] says about her is she’s as tight with a dime as she is with a dollar and she’s as tight with a dollar as a virgin clutching her panties on Prom Night. That’s tight.

# On school:

What school was, school was like this jail where you had to go even when you hadn’t done nothing wrong, that’s what I never got about it. “Well”, the grown-ups would say, “it’s for your own good.” Which is exactly the same damn thing they said when they whipped you for forgetting to take the trash down to the road or skipping school. And that’s another thing–skipping school. I used to skip, and what’d they do? They’d suspend me–give me three days off from school. That never made no sense to me at all and still don’t. One time I said that to the Principal, Mr. Leduc (The Duck, we used to call him behind his back), I said, “Mr. Leduc, I don’t get this. I skipped school so as punishment you’re gonna order me to skip more school?” That got him mad….

I have to admit, I love this thing. It has a charming retro quality about it that reminds me of all the people I grew up with in New Hampshire, and there’s something about the way he keeps forgetting what he was saying and goes off on these long, pointless tangents that’s as familiar as the smell of my mother’s home-made bread in the oven. I grew up with these guys, and that’s just what they sound like, and that’s just how they think. It’s like being home again, in all its comfortable isolation from the rest of the world and its in-bred attitudes, not all of which are either funny or positive (his father was a drunk, and from the sound of it, a mean drunk).

There’s no telling how long this thing will last, maybe for the summer, maybe until he gets bored with it, so I’d get over there before it disappears. If you’ve ever lived in rural NE, you’ll recognize it immediately; if you haven’t, you’ll get a real taste of what it used to be like–and still is, I guess, if you go far enough north. But whether you have or haven’t, this is a fun read.