Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015 1 comment »

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.

 

Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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God’s TinkerToys

August 22nd, 2015 No comments »

Five of us from Boston, Brookline and Worcester joined several thousand at Crane Beach in Ipswich today to jostle each other for glimpses of the Strandbeest. The plastic framed, wind-powered walking thingummy from Dutchman Theo Jansen was hard to get close to and difficult to see. You’ll have many more chances, some to observe the bigger, badder versions.

Rain or shine, wind or not, one or more will be at the Peabody Essex Museum from 9/19 through 1/3/16. On Friday, August 28th, they’ll be at Boston City Hall Plaza from 11AM-1PM and the Kennedy Greenway from 4:30-7PM.

If you look at the stills and vids at the Strnndbeest and museum sites, you’d expect titanic critters of major motion picture proportions. The pair of them that hit the beach today were more scaled-down traveling models…maybe 7 or so feet tall, plus some wind-catching sails.

strandsoloWhile you might expect something like Imperial AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars, these were more in the super-sized TinkerToy or Erector Set models. They are still way cool, just not either as big or animated as fantasy would have it.

Boomers, particularly boys from that era of gender-specified playthings, should feel very comfortable with Jansen’s updated models.

We concurred that real beast in the Strandbeest show at Crane’s today was the crowd. Either Saturday mornings on the North Shore are slow or the PR efforts worked. The roads to the beach crawled, the lots were full, and the beach was jammed.

strandincrowdEveryone seemed to feel entitled to an intimate experience with Strandbeest(s). The poor yellow-shirted volunteers really did try to get folk to stand back. The concepts seemed to be not to hurt the moving sculptures, to stay out of the way of the art, and to let people see the damned things.

People weren’t having any of it. There were several loud women telling off quiet men and women, saying they’d been there for over two hours and were not about to let anyone sit down in front of them. That was just rude and they knew it. So there.

As a couple of hours passed though, everyone interested kind of got a view. A few had parents or friend hoist them on their shoulders. Many wormed their way close enough to see the action. Others held out hope that the promise of the Strandbeest waddling down the beach would bring one or both of them within sight.

strandsailThe yellow shirts first walked the frames down the beach to a clear area for repeated promenades. The crew would attach, then unfurl the gauzy sails. The wind from the ocean would then propel a Standbeest a couple of hundred feet. Then the crew would walk it back to the starting point to repeat.

The large crowd never got rowdy and stayed pretty calm. Again, everyone got to see something, even if the script for Strandbeests lumbering along the beach repeatedly really didn’t happen.

These very large toys are clearly well designed and even better constructed. They stood up to hours of being lugged and led and reassembled. They did in fact walk on the beach, largely under wind power on their plastic stumps.

We decided we’ll have to visit them next week in downtown Boston. I rather doubt they can count on the ocean breeze as they did today. We’re curious to see these in various environments.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Blissful bairn bath

August 16th, 2015 No comments »

adabatheAt four weeks, granddaughter Ada loved her first bath. That’s remarkable in at last one way.

Her father was terrified. Other than brief-lived jaundice (into the window in the woven carrier per the pediatrician’s orders!), his early months were happy and curious. In fact, the recorded moment of birth in NY is when the crew (I in this case) cut the umbilical cord. Even before that, neonate Aaron looked about with insight and extrospection.

However, laving was different. Sponge bath, in the baby tub or the roomy stainless sink…the method and locale were not relevant. My first-born wanted no part of water and bathing.

Granted, this peculiarity astonished me by background. I have always been a water guy. I still swim in the Y pool many times each week. I was a water safety instructor and summer swim-team coach, and lifeguard and team swimmer in high-school and college. I shower and bathe one, two or three times a day. I love water and never feel more graceful, happy and meditative.

How could this tragedy occur with my son?

I had an aide though. I worked in a smallish publishing group, maybe 30 folk, the count of an elementary classroom. One was a Dutch fellow also in his late 20s or early 30s. I’m not sure his nationality played into it, although the sophistication and open-mindedness may have been factors.

I asked around in the group about whether anyone had children who were or had been afraid of bathing. He was quick to teach.

My wife was home mom during this period, only too happy to get relief when I returned from mid-town Manhattan after my commute/work/commute. Aaron was our first, he was very intense, nursed incessantly, and was still always looking, looking, looking. When I entered the West Village apartment, she’d greet me by thrusting our son into my chest, saying, “Here!”

It makes perfect sense to me that I could connect with him by bathing him while I chatted and grinned and he babbled. Except, he screamed and fought.

My Dutch colleague played Obviousman very well. He had been there and knew the answer was, “Get in the tub with him.”

Huh?

I explained that I showered and shaved in the morning before heading to American Management Association. He fairly snorted and said that this was about my son and not about me. It wasn’t going to hurt me to get wet again and that if my son was frightened, being in the tub with his father was all he would need.

Righto.

I’d run water into the adult tub, undress us both, and climb in with him. He’d cling to me and sometimes lie back on my hands as I washed his hair. We’d chat and laugh. We’d reconnect after my day away. Perhaps as important, my wife and his mother has time to herself after 10 or so hours of intensity.

It’s nice that Ada likes her bath. Yet, I have to wonder what my son and daughter-in-law might be missing.

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Glum Hour Persists in Boston

August 9th, 2015 No comments »

One of New Jersey’s legal oddities is a ban on self-service gas pumps. They occasionally debate reversing that, but it’s been the law for 70 years. Only Oregon has the same restriction.

happymanyhoursLikewise, only highly starched Utah shares MA’s 31-year-long prohibition on happy hour…in any guise. The law here is carefully restrictive, as in no two-for-one drinks, no discounted drinks at all, no contests where the prizes are alcoholic drink, no women-drink-free events, no jumbo drink with more alcohol without raising the price proportionately, no this, that or the other.

A couple of other states put minor restrictions on happy hours, like cutting them off at 9 PM. Here the dolorous day grinds on. In fact, in Boston a HAPPY HOUR sign is invariably some food deal, like $1 oysters. Shellfish have not been shown to contain booze.

Our happy-hour ban came in the midst of national concern about drunken driving. The Greater Boston chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving lobbied stalwartly for such a ban. Ostensibly, the legislation came via George R. McCarthy, chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. In reality though, it was from Gov. Michael Dukakis (right, and amusingly enough in a recent pic shot at Doyle’s bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood). He continues to pronounce that happy hours mean more death. He’s an academic as well and it’s hard to find any data to support that, but his wife, Kitty, is a recovering alcoholic and shares his aversion to free or discounted booze.

duke1I know and like them both. The Duke, as many call Michael, is razor sharp and has sponsored sheafs of solid legislation. I am still sure he would have been a far better President than the candidate he lost to in 1988, George Bush the Greater.

However, happy-hour bans were not among the Duke’s best crusades or ideas. Alas, doing so falls in that great pit of fallacy known as it’s only common sense. That means, “I have nothing. Don’t challenge me.”

Millions are inconvenienced and even lose out on small pleasures to satisfy the whims and emotions of others. The unproven and unprovable are no reasonable bases for legislation. I can hear Science Officer Spock, “That is illogical, Captain.”

Regardless, the rest of the nation and most of the world end their business day with a mini-celebration in the form of discounted drinks. We don’t.

There are current efforts here citing the pending casinos. Everywhere, they ply their marks customers with free booze. We’ve decided to go with casinos here. The likelihood is that this will loosen up the discounted-drinks rules. You can then be damned sure that restaurants and bars won’t be limited if gambling parlors can play at that.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015 No comments »

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

 

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Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015 No comments »

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Burned bucks

July 29th, 2015 1 comment »

BURNTBUCKYesterday, crossing the Slattery bridge over Boston’s Fairmount train line, I noticed this burned U.S. dollar on the sidewalk. Who knows the trivial tale here?

While my first thought was that some young person was showing off lighting a blunt. Yet, as the bill seemed to have been lit in the middle, that’s not likely.

Instead, perhaps someone who’d been drinking or was otherwise high decided it would be fun and funny to burn currency.

Regardless, it brought me to a flashback to a post here five years ago. That deserves a reprise.



abecentSkipping pennies was and remains a teen amusement. Yet when I was in high school a dear friend a little older than my mother wove an entirely different tapestry and forever changed my mind.

She was Evelyn Justice, my biscuit lady. We had known each other from my elementary-school days in Danville, Virginia. She worked for the dentist we used and became a family friend. She was surely the kindest and happiest person I have ever known. We were sad when she and her husband moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

Jump to high school and my mother moved us to that same city. There, I would walk across a broad park and a few more blocks to her house. She was a master biscuit maker (look and feel; no measuring) and glad to oblige me.

One afternoon though, Evelyn was still upset from what she had experienced walking home. She had been just behind three guys from school — my school. They gouged pennies from their jeans and with one in hand, they took turns skipping it along the sidewalk.

She was aghast and transported to earlier times and distant places. She had grown up in a tiny town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The region, including her family, was among the hardest of the hardscrabble during the Great Depression. Few had much and no one had anything to spare.

To Evelyn, one U.S. cent, one one-hundredth of a dollar, was real money. A few pennies could make the difference of the family eating OK that week. Every cent was precious. The family coin jar was a shrine.

In Plainfield, nearly four decades later, she was riven by the puerile pleasures of those young men. A penny by itself didn’t count for much to them, so little in fact that they could use them as disposable toys. Those guys did not share in family fears of want and deprivation. They did not save, remake, repair and conserve.

She said that she followed behind them, picking up every penny they threw away. She didn’t care if they thought she was a crazy old lady. She knew what a cent had meant and still meant to her. She didn’t really need a palm of pennies, but she would be damned (a word she never would profane the air with herself) if she would let them literally throw away what had been so powerful to her.

She asked me and I was able to say that I never engaged in skipping pennies. Yet when she asked I realized that it would not have been out of the question for me. I had never been presented with the activity. Plus, I had never been wasteful. I had earned money selling vegetables, being a paperboy, life-guarding, and on and on. I made my own money and quite literally did not throw it on the street.

My mother said that she realized in college that she had been shielded from the Depression. Her father had a full-time job on the B&O Railroad for 48 years, including those when many were unemployed and hopeless. He also grew one or more one-acre vegetable and fruit gardens every summer for fresh and cannable food. He sold Chevys on the side.

He also had a tailor shop and made clothes for the family. That led to a story my mother told on herself. She was always embarrassed to be wearing clothes her father made rather than store-bought dresses, skirts and blouses. She was short but long-waisted and could hardly wait to be fashionable when she was away from home. She rushed with her spending money to buy off the rack and was flabbergasted. Nothing fit. She had lived her life in tailored clothes!

Even so, like many of the WWII generation, raised by those who navigated the Depression for their families, my mother carried that mindset. She taught us as she had been thought — respect objects, whether they be food, clothes or pennies.

So in Plainfield, Evelyn had me tearing up with her. Her tales of how a few pennies might mean subsistence or the rarest of the rare, a treat, brought me beyond my frugality. In our nation of plenty, even in these hard times, we toss much, thinking nothing of what it means to those who have nothing or what it might have meant to other Americans.

You’ll never catch me skipping pennies. That’s a lesson that went from Evelyn to me to my three sons and now to you.

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The First (really about 27th) Lowell, The Angels…

July 26th, 2015 1 comment »

This must be musical adultery. I only spent four hours at the Lowell Folk Festival this year, before heading to a  Spinners game. I have never combined those and usually am there for one or two full days. I think we have hit 27 of te 29 of the festival.

To mitigate my callousness, I did drag three friends who had never attended any LFF. I bet they’ll be back. That sort of makes up for my uxorial unit being out of state playing grandmother to our two littlest ones.

We did manage to catch four groups in a range. If you have never been, do go and before, check the site above and see how many, how varied and how impressive the lineup is. I write and say it often, this is without any doubt the best free (yes, free) musical festival in the country. If you have the slightest honor, you’ll chip in money when bucket bearers come around swapping sleazy Mardi Gras beads for donations.  Lowell is easy to get to from much of New England. The difficulty in the festival is choosing which of five or six simultaneous performances to catch. Sometimes you have to play honeybee and flit from one stage to another.

Here follow a few sample snaps. There’s a link at the bottom to a Flickr album of 33, four groups and a gigolo-ish Park Ranger keeping the customers happy by dancing with them.

 

Like any music fan, I can carp. I’ve listened to a lot of Zydeco and Cajun going way back. Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners put too much rock-and-roll to suit me, but they are damned good. Leroy is a statue until he makes love to his squeeze box. leroy2
leroy4 One of the Zydeco  Roadrunners scant instrument is, depending on where you grew up, a washboard, washboard vest, rubboard or scrubboard. It works and he works it.
We have heard the Fairfield Four several times, previously when all were oldsters. Only one is a senior in latest incarnation, but it’s gospel at its best. fairfield7
harrisbros3 The Nashville-based Harris Brothers, Reggie and Ryan are more power than grief in their Appalachian blues.
I can’t find the name of the John Berberian Ensemble drummer. He truly got into the performance. berberian1
berberian8 The man himself, John Berberian, is an oud master.
Armenians and others couldn’t sit still when the Berberian Ensemble was on. berberian5
lffdance




One National Park Service ranger had a great, sweaty time spinning one audience member after another.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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JP Porchfest smokes in sweltering summer

July 11th, 2015 1 comment »

Something like 130 bands or musicians played in over 70 porches or just on the sidewalks in Jamaica Plain today in the second JP Porchfest today.

Yes, at 90-something it was too hot. Southerners certainly would have used their porches to sit or headed for air conditioned bars. Yes, there were so so-so/humdrum bands. In the main though, it was very impressive.

 

Again, my choice for best JP band was Grass Gypsys. Here lead vocalist Colleen Kleya belts it. she and hubby Justin perform with various pickup band members. Online on their sites and YouTube, they seem New Age and do make money playing for large yoga gatherings. At #JPorchfest, they offer powerful original rocking songs. grass5
grass4 Justin Kleya looks dull and gungy…until he plays and sings. He and his wife are well matched.
Several pols were extras in this year’s Porchfest. City Councilor Ayanna Pressley did passable renditions of Over the Rainbow and here Dancing in the Streets.I missed Councilor Matt O’Malley, but Stephen Smith got his OK version of Springsteen. State Reps Jeffrey Sanchez crooned to Pressley and Liz Malia spoke to marriage equality and read Jabberwocky. ayanadancing
titoshuffle Another local political delight was Councilor Tito Jackson teaching the crowd the cherub shuffle.
Anjimile‘s four piece rocked the Brewery. anjimile1
jphonk4 With slightly outrageous instumens and clothes, the JP Honk Band was a repeat crowd pleaser.
Another local fav, Sugarcoma, featured vocalist Paula Vivier. sugarcoma1

After trying to see too many bands last year, I planned my drop-bys and did much better. I ended up lingering at Grass Gypsys. …time well enjoyed…

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

 

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Last Flap of Confederacy

July 6th, 2015 No comments »

To me in elementary and junior high schools, it was my beloved library. To Civil War buffs, it is the site of the last capital of the Confederacy. To Danville, Virginia’s simultaneous pride and shame, the CSA headquarters for its final 13 days was in the mansion of William T. Sutherlin.Danvillelibrary

(Oddment: Sutherlin was not a real military officer, despite a rank of major in the Confederate army. He was too sickly to fight, but he was a wealthy and influential resident given that rank as nominal quartermaster of the city for the war.)

How do you suppose the locals are taking the CSA/Confederate battle flag controversies? As you might expect, as shown in this piece in the city paper, the Register and Bee, here.

Be sure to read the snarling leave-it-like-it-always-has-been comments from readers. The more measured gist of the article is that city officials checked with state ones to find that Danville has no authority to remove the flag without a change to state law.

The mansion was a gift to the city, became its library, and when a new library went up, the building became a Civil War museum owned by the city and run by a non-profit. With all the changes came a new flag pole that the city designated as a memorial to Civil War veterans. Per this commonwealth law, officials can’t remove veterans’ memorials.  ThinkProgress covers the whole mess well here.

Stars and Bars worshipers say if the law doesn’t change, the flag stays up. Others are not convinced and hold that the base and pole may be the monument, but the flag itself is run up and maintained by a private group and is not covered.

Blah, blah. They’ll resolve this, but it certainly is more difficult than it should be.

 

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