Archive for the ‘Massachusetts’ Category

More IT-Gone-Wacky Tales from FAST LANE

March 8th, 2012

Apparently there’s no pleasing me. A couple of years ago, I noted the incompetence of IT for the transponder program here in MA. Not only could they not suck money in real time or close to it to keep the $20 deposit flush for long trips, but if you called in to support, you have to give up your password over the phone to talk with a rep.

That’s right, your only security for an account that had access to your bank or credit card funds had to be spoken in the most insecure possible way, just to ask a question of support. Some support.

Well, that was true again and still last month. We replaced a vehicle and the stick ‘um stripes for the Velcro retainer did not hold on the new windshield. It seems they are designed this way and the FAQ on the MA DOT site says call in to get new strips.

Of course, I couldn’t even ask for that or explain at all why I was calling without spitting out my “secure” password. Not only that, but there is a separate PIN the agency assigns transponder users that you have to reveal. To see that, you need to log in with your account number and password, highlight the field at top and read that to the rep. Only then can you say you need to 2-inch strips to hold the box in place.

Honest to Ada Lovelace, computers were never designed to remove all mental processing capability from humans. We do that to ourselves and each other.

After eight minutes to inane bureaucracy, my silly rep was satisfied I was the person I represented myself to be and that I deserved the two strips. They arrived about four days later in a #10 envelope. Control freak I am, I thought and told the woman in support that this function should be automated and a menu choice from your account. Of course, that would be less for support to support.

Today’s episode was getting my monthly email of the FAST LANE statement. That includes a link to the DOT site. It has brought up the log-in screen and retrieved my account number and password from a cookie. Good enough.

Not today though. Instead, I got a screen worthy of the Bastard Operator from Hell. Not only could I not do as I had for years, but the stored data was gone. I had to track down my seven-digit account number (which serves as user name), and then bow to the new FAST LANE password schema.

So the old four-character (a.k.a. mnemonic) PW was not good enough. There was no advising about the level. I had to do what the screen said or forever be locked out of my account info. Instead, it meant contriving a new PW that was eight or more characters, and included “at least one of each”:

  • Upper-case letters
  • Lower-case letters
  • Numbers
  • Special characters (the punctuation and symbols on the keyboard)

Something you can remember? Forget it!

A tricky non-word or meaningful-to-you number with a funky symbol somewhere? Forget it!

The new PW had to meet five BOFH rules. So there.

Plus, there’s a note at the bottom of the PW hazing screen that you still need to have access to the DOT-assigned PIN as well to get any help from alleged support.

These IT satraps do have real power in their tiny provinces, power they abuse. The only question is are they ignorant of how much trouble they’ll cause in aggregate by their bureaucratic inconvenience or are they being malicious, as in “Let’s make ’em dance.”?

MA Election-Day Tricks

February 16th, 2012

Getting my warden training for working the polls in Boston for the March 6th primary, I’m glad the turnout will likely we wee. I normally hope and advocate for lots of voters, even though it’s more work for elections folk. This time though, oddments are going to force explanations to voters and poll workers alike.

Worst, consider that voters have a single shot at requesting a ballot. A majority are unenrolled. In these party-based primaries, that means each one will have to choose a single ballot from, this time, Democrat, Republican or Green-Rainbow. What could be so simple, eh?

There shall be gnashing of teeth and mutterings of offense. Consider:

  • Unenrolled voters typically proclaim they are independent. Not only is there no such designation in MA, but not belonging to any party does not give them the right to a single ballot of all the candidates of all parties on it. Year after year, primary after primary, people don’t understand that and get pretty belligerent.
  • Everybody gets one ballot for just one of the parties. If you are registered in one of the three this time, you must take the ballot for that party. Yesterday was the last day to change party affiliation or switch to unenrolled. No one in elections, at the poll or City Hall or the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, can let you change on election day. Live it or live with it
  • At the check-in table, poll workers use the voter list book, which has the party affiliation. They will mark in the book for each unenrolled voter which ballot was requested.
  • We have to mark this choice in red ink. Once you choose, that’s that. Even seconds later, you can’t get a different party ballot. Live it or live with it.
  • Choosing a party ballot for a primary does not, does not, does not change your party registration if you are unenrolled. Downtown at Elections, worker bees go through the check-in/check-out books and record party votes for data gathering. Unenrolled voters don’t have to do anything to retain their status for future elections of any type. Only if they want to register with a party do they fill in a new voter registration form to do this. We will explain this hundreds of times on March 6th and each future primary election. Older voters remember many years ago when you would have to re-register as unenrolled after a primary.
  • Yes, the letter for the Green-Rainbow party is J. Sure, D is Democrat and R Republican, but G had already been reserved for the Green Party USA, and remains so even when they are not on the ballot. J was the next free acceptable letter.

Another oddment that voters don’t know yet is that the September primary election will almost certainly not be on the logical second Tuesday. Because Labor Day is the previous week and many travel before or even during that time, the second Tuesday is the normal one. However, this year, it would be 9/11, a date fraught with history and emotion.

We heard yesterday that Secretary William Galvin thinks voting on that anniversary would be inappropriate. Our trainer disagrees. He believes the patriotism roused on that day would inspire better turnout. He, however, was resigned.

We Don’t Have the Same: Cycling Edition

October 31st, 2011

bikepieces“It’s not fair!” (Add foot stomping.)

Just the latest sensible, cycling-related bill to go to the MA legislature is certain to piss the puerile in the public and body. It highlights the fundamental and extremely strong hostility that delays any transportation laws related to two wheels.

This one is a simple amplification of existing law. Rep. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) proposes codifying crosswalk regulations to make it plain that mowing down a cyclist in one should carry the same penalties as failing to yield to a pedestrian in one. That would be H408, An Act providing for the safety of bicyclists traveling on bicycle paths.

As has happened to me numerous times, far too many motorists see a cyclist on a bike path heading to a crosswalk that continues the path and lose it. They drive at the cyclist, blow their horns, fail to stop back of the crosswalk or stop in it to prepare for their turn (another moving violation), and curse at the cyclist screaming they and their car/SUV/truck have right of way. They don’t, they shouldn’t, they need to be aware of it, and the law should make it plain that threatening a cyclist with maiming or death like that comes with a $200 fine, a moving violation, and an insurance surcharge.

The bill is presently in Joint Committee on the Judiciary hands. It may never come out and may require repeated introduction. Having been through the hearing process, testifying on a bike-related bill, I’ve seen and heard expressions of that underlying issue.

Too many motorists, including those in the General Court jealously guard what they think are inalienable rights to road fairness…as they define it. Unless they also bike, they are almost certain to go all childish if they think anyone, particularly pedestrians or cyclists is getting some privilege denied to them.

That attitude reminds me of my lads when they were in nursery school. Early on, a key academic and social lesson is fairness. The little kids get so excited when they can recognize and exclaim when, “We have the same!”

Unfortunately, MassBike put all its marbles in the bag marked Same Roads. Same Rules. On the face of it, equating cyclists and drivers should greatly benefit bikers.

The central idea is that cyclists obey lights, signs and regulations, and that drivers treat bicycles as the law defines them, other vehicles on the road. Of course, in practice far too many drivers want and demand the first but not the second.

To see the ensuing hate fest and understand the raw emotion that leads so many drivers to buzz, scream at or otherwise threaten cyclists, visit any online site that has a cycling-related article or post. The vitriol and absurd generalization goes far beyond irrationality and into mania. Despite buckets of statistics proving otherwise, a shocking number of drivers hold that cyclists (and their weaker demon siblings pedestrians) are the causes of injury, collisions and deaths on our roads. It is, they hold, the 25-pound, non-motorized bike that is the danger, not the ton and one half metal shell.

Real differences

I’ll have to do a few more posts on this, particularly pointing out flaws in the same-roads/rules shtick. There are many times and conditions calling for different rules. In fact, the future needs to incorporate different laws and rules in many cases, as bike-oriented countries and cities in Asia and Europe do. They are not as unobservant as we seem to be.

For a teaser, most non-cycling drivers don’t notice or think that bicycles fall over at a stop unless the cyclist puts a foot down or does some skillful tracks moves. Yet, bikes have very little inertia to overcome as they leave a stop. Cyclists can’t safely ride on shoulders or even narrow bike lanes when those are full of sand or gravel or glass shards.

Each of those factors has implications that literal minded, it’s-unfair drivers may find troubling, things that don’t fit in we-have-the-same molds. A bike leaving a stop for example, can freak out drivers. They should be able to move in coordination with a cyclist on the right, but often veer either way and seem to panic. We need instead to head to either having a bike box at the front of the intersection behind the stop sign or to let cyclists leave ahead of the drivers, maybe on a red after stopping. That lets the driver overtake the cyclist and feel in control — safe for everybody.

Likewise, for the shoulder/path rubble. Drivers are often angry if cyclists are in “their” road. When cyclists cannot ride to the right of the main travel lane safely, they may and should take as much of a travel lane as they need. A duty of drivers is to watch the road ahead for unsafe conditions. It doesn’t take a lot of sense and smarts to see the glass or sand to the right of the fog line.

There are many situations and physical differences that put the lie to the same-road/rules platitudes. Unfortunately, that program gets invoked whenever a sensible bill or enforcement call arises.

Facts are, for safety of everyone, we have to make it plain where there are differences. Many nations have done this, but we are still in the beginning of it. Short- and mid-term the burden will fall to a few savvy, safety-minded legislators and to the various cyclists and their groups. We can’t count on drivers to become observant suddenly, but we can inform them repeatedly of the physical realities and distinctions.

“We have the same!,” works when you’re four. As you age, you need to know more and be more discerning.

What a Drying Shame

June 13th, 2011


In this era of home-owners associations and other not-in-your-own-backyard types, it has come to this. A MA legislator sponsored a bill to ensure people can dry their laundry on clotheslines.

Third-term Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) filed S01014. That would let common areas in condos have their own rules, but forbid cities and towns from banning, clotheslines and racks and or other solar clothes-drying device on private property.

For us boomers and older, the responses are 1) of course, and 2) wow, it has come to this?  Moreover, when we are all allegedly savvy to energy waste, using sun and wind instead of gas and electricity to try laundry is obvious…to most.

While privileged types like the Herald’s Michele McPhee write, “And we don’t want to look at them,” to me, clotheslines are about as organic and honest as you get. Growing up with them, I only had one problem and in my teens. My grandmother dried trousers of all types, including my blue jeans, on frames, one per leg. That put a firm crease front and back. Oh no!

I’d wash and dry my own. She never understood that, but unlike her daughter, my mother, she also ironed all underpants and even permanent press sheets. Mable was a laundry factory herself.

Another childhood clothesline memory involved a neighbor older than my grandmother. When I was 8, we moved to Danville, Virginia, next to Mrs. Kidd, whose property abutted that of the YWCA. There, hanging clothes scandalized her, and she complained to little effect to the Y.

Even though the side porches of the Y were visible only to Mrs. Kidd and not from the street, she told us all how dreadful and shameful it was that the young women would “display their unmentionables for everyone to see.”

The Widow Kidd was not concerned with property values or class issues. She simply found underwear visible in public, even without a body, lewd.

Put me in Downing’s camp. Forbidding visible clotheslines seems like requiring people to hide their grocery shopping and banning eating at backyard or deck tables. People cook and eat. People dress in and wash…and dry…their clothes.

There can be a soothing beauty in billowing clothes on a line. Plus, a sun dried towel feels ever so much better.

Cross-post: This seems both political and personal. I’ll put in also on Marry in Massachusetts.


Don’t Call Us, Juror

March 31st, 2011


Serve. Don’t serve. Serve. Don’t Serve.

Until yesterday, I didn’t know there was a tap to turn on and off jury service in this fabled commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In terms of being jerked around by a bureaucracy, my recent experience is likely not in the top 10,000 instances. Yet knowing there is a preprinted postal card anticipating goofing on jurors is disquieting.

I was summoned for grand juror service then abruptly unsummoned or desummoned or whatever. The summons arrived in late January and the forget-it card this week.

It’s kind of a big deal, at least in time commitment. It is for three months, not three days. Grand jurors sit in a box with 22 other citizens and have to call each day for 90 days to see whether they have service the next day.

I’m not at all sure the gossip compensation is adequate. You can’t talk about cases with anyone or even be around anyone who mentions them until things are totally resolved. Even then, you can’t discuss the details or deliberations without explicit personal permission from the judge. Harrumph.

Anyway, I’m not much for whining, but this gives me a reason. I didn’t fall in the list of exemptions. I am not old enough (70) or young enough (17). I’m not sick or disabled. I can speak English. I live in the country and won’t be away for a  year or more. I am a U.S. citizen. I don’t have a recent felony conviction. I’m not the primary care giver for anyone. They even waited a couple of weeks after the three-year period from my last jury service.

So, I steeled myself and OK’ed the gig. Then I did the details. It’s nothing like preparing to die, but there are those tedious tasks. I rescheduled a doctor’s appointment. I coordinated with other Left Ahead podcasters to cover for me and to begin moving the Tuesday 2:30 PM shows to different times (no small thing with guests and co-hosts). I did not apply for two possible contract writing positions which would start right before or right after the beginning of service. There was more; being an adult and parent is plugged in here and there and oh, over here too.

Then Monday, the form card from the Office of the Jury Commissioner read:



This does not disqualify you from juror service for the next three years. If you are randomly selected again in future years, you must serve. Jurors who report to a courthouse as directed, ready willing and able to serve, are statutorily disqualified from further juror service in the Commonwealth for three years. This disqualification does not apply to you because you were not requried to appear for juror service.

Thank you for our understanding and willingness to participate. We hope your inconvenience was minimal.

In the greater drama of governmental incompetence and poor planning, this doesn’t really register. (I did, however, want to edit the card, including inserting the missing ready, willing comma.)

The randomly selected phrase also struck me. Every three years without fail I get a summons. I’m on a list and there’s nothing random about the timing.

From my previous experiences, I surmise that whatever big case was on tap for my grand-jury-that-wasn’t got a plea deal. Many of my regularly jury summons dribble off that way, with us attending, being seated, waiting in a room, and hearing that the judge worked magic on the defense attorney to extract a bargain.

In this case, I suppose they should have cut the deal long before a week prior to the jury seating. Brinkmanship must be mandatory in the judicial game.

I was dreading and looking forward to service. The gross and detailed inconvenience of it all is absurd. On the other hand, seeing the actual workings of the secret process of deciding whether the prosecutor has the goods to justify a trial is intriguing.

I may never know and that’s OK by me.


Sledding toward Boston

February 26th, 2011

Yesterday was our first overtly dangerous trip on NY’s Taconic Parkway. From my teens, I have tooled up and down between NJ or NYC and more recently from Boston to and from New England and Canada. It’s always slower than an Interstate, rife with rolling hills, low traffic, scenic and free. Friday though, it was a setting worthy of a 50’s movie, wherein the hero and heroine confront nature and out-of-control situations.

Thursday, we were on 90 West from Boston and up to Amherst, then back to 90 and down 50 miles on the Taconic. Headed to Poke (Poughkeepsie), we passed the real points of interest on the Western pike — the Ty-D-Bowl blue ice formations on the road cuts, colored by minerals in the rock. Then just over into NY, we turned South on the Taconic.

As though they were declaring truth in advertising, several deer families were by the watch-for-deer signs, only 10 or 20 feet off the road. The occasional still-golden willows were undulating delights. Locals have direct access to the road, giving us amusement at some of the green signs — BULLS HEAD ROAD, NINE PARTNERS ROAD, NEXT ROAD, and RIGOR ROAD. The parkway’s visual surprises more than paid us back for dropping into the 50MPH world.

Overnight though, the rain came quick and stayed hard. It shifted into sleet, teasing us with a half hour of snow, but returning to freezing rain. The tour guide at the CIA repeated, “Watch your step!,” “Hold the rail!,” and “It’s slippery here.” By the time we headed back on 44 from Poke toward the Taconic, we were in driver-training horror.

We saw a heavy panel truck that had simply skidded off 44 into two feet of roadside snow and ice head first. A trooper was headed — slowly, cautiously, with lights — to the rescue as we passed.

I drove down, the longer day given the side trip, but dry and safe. My wife insisted on sharing the duties and taking the wheel back. Haar.

The Taconic was slippery at best. We saw a Suburu that waddled all over a lane, while going maybe 15MPH. We passed several guard rails with obvious impacts in the packed snow. Clearly at each indent, a driver had lost control but was able to back out and proceed.

The parkway was iced over with that sleet and 30 seemed the maximum safe speed.

Then coming down those formerly pleasant rolling hills, our van seemed to hydroplane on the ice. She shifted into a numbered gear on the automatic and slowed.

Not everyone was so cautious and at several points we saw the effects. At one, a Suburu SUV had taken off nearly half a Toyota’s rear bumper. The car had its hazards on and took the right lane, immobilized with hanging parts, while the SUV had pulled off ahead. At another point, three cars had collided. It seemed no one was injured, but the local firefighters used flares and were stopping cars to insist they drive at 5MPH maximum. The three cars with their drivers and passengers were all stuck, two embedded into guard-rails on the left and one off its wheel on top of a snow/ice mount on the right shoulder.

Occasionally, some fool would tool by at 60MPH, sliding past the rest of us. We could see their vehicles wobbling and fishtailing. We did not see them in piles farther ahead, so they either managed the trip or disappeared off the road entirely.

At the top of the Taconic is Route 90, which becomes the Mass Pike a short distance East. It was plowed and fairly passable, except for occasional patches of 100 yards or so. In MA, the sleet became rain, which in contrast to the previous 90 minutes seemed very safe indeed, messy and requiring wipers and regular washer squirts, but 65MPH worked.

We didn’t see any deer on the way back. They surely had more sense than the drivers and waited out the storm.

Highway Ice Skating

January 8th, 2011

Bang…bang against the Jersey barrier…

This morning in the worst of the icy snowfall,we got to see a Masshole in prime form. Having learned to drive in the absurdly steep and serpentine mountains of West Virginia’s Eastern panhandle, I’m fine on snowy roads. I can’t say the same for most of our locals. This morning’s bozo was such.

At 30 degrees, 128 had two inches of road nasties, a porridge of snow and ice. The shoulders and onramps got the highway plows’ residue of six or so inches of the perilous muck. That’s where the Masshole’s arrogance met defeat by physics.

His Ford Expedition should rightly be a Ford Exhibitionist. He gunned it over the snow and ice bank and around cars on the ramp. Big man=Big jerk.

We were in the middle of three lanes two vehicles back, in prime viewing position. The fat new SUV immediately spun counterclockwise. Through the grace of coincidence, it slid across three lanes without taking out any smarter drivers.

Somewhere between the third lane and the mini-shoulder and Jersey barriers, the Masshole managed to steer into the skid. It was too late to get back in the traffic flow, but at least he didn’t go headfirst into the concrete.

Instead, the driver’s side rear swung into it. In an impressive discarding of trim and metal, the side and bumper and lenses fairly exploded like a toy blown up with firecrackers.

That was no place to stop. Even at 45 MPH, it was plain the Masshole would not be seriously injured despite his reckless wreck. Sure, he’d have some considerable inconvenience – snaking his Exhibitionist to the breakdown lane, waiting for a wrecker or nervously heading to home or the dealer’s to begin the repair spiral. For him, he likely will escape charges as well as injury. He’ll lose some cash and get an insurance surcharge.

To those of us he put at risk, he won’t get enough punishment. Yet I think I can speak for all of us in self-interest that we were relieved to have been mere spectators.

Rewardin’ the Warden

November 4th, 2010

hp18Sometimes the fatigue and torpor of a 15-hour day seem a bit much to poll workers — the inspectors, clerks and wardens. We carped during the September primary at the low turnout and too little to do and we were flat out this week for the general with triple the voters.

Yet, Tuesday brought its sweet, high-democracy moments. As warden at a Boston precinct, I had the worst duties and got the best rewards. I was the troubleshooter, the fixer.

The irate senior who answered every question at the check-in table with a shout and insult was mine to mollify. The mid-aged lawyer who swore that she had voting at that school for years was mine to locate her real polling place and provide directions. The several who were simply not in the voter book each needed investigation, sometimes among their wallet ID and others in a long call to the elections department for database or paper registration files.

A couple of young men who could have been really nasty about their problems turned out to be the nicest and most reasonable. As a father of three boys, two of voting age, and someone who has more than once railed against poor manners and irrationality here in the Hub of the Universe, I was very pleasantly surprised. These guys worked with me, filled out the necessary paperwork, stated how much they wanted to vote, and then shook my hand and thanked me for helping them.

All right!

One want-to-vote guy had moved from Bedford back to Hyde Park. He had changed his drivers-license and updated the city voter census annual form. He figured he was covered. Of course, while those are reasonable assumptions, we don’t link the license and voter databases as many states do. We expect voters to get a reg card online or at various government offices or less commonly at temporary sign-up tables in public places. Filling out a card for even the slightest change is always safest, but even that doesn’t always mean you’ll be the check-in book when you arrive.

For the fellow from Bedford, I called elections to find that the Boston lists did not include him. He was still game when I explained that we could do a provisional ballot, which required him (and me) to fill out several forms. Then it would go to elections at city hall, where they would research it. If they agreed that he was qualified, they’d count his vote.

Doing that required him to fill out the application provisional ballot, show me ID with his current address and mark a ballot on which I had written PROVISIONAL. I filled in the lower half of his form, created a provisional ballot ID and prepared his pink sheet, with information identifying his code number and giving him a phone number at elections to call no sooner than 7 or more than 20 days later to see if his vote counted.

He returned the marked ballot, which I inserted into its own envelope marked with his unique number. He then filled in a voter registration card on the spot. I put his sealed ballot envelope into Envelope B for such research downtown. He got the pink sheet. His reg card and provisional ballot application went into Envelope A, along with the log of all provisional ballots issued that day from that precinct. His choices remained private, with the ballot available for recording if the researchers found that he was qualified. They saw the name and address, but not the ballot itself.

While elaborate, that does uphold the letter and spirit of voting laws, including ballot privacy.

One might think that an 18 or 19 year old could find all this was not worth the trouble. Some older adults have walked away rather than work 15 or more minutes on forms. Of course, several older adults also walked away after learning they needed to drive two or three miles to their proper polling place.

The young men who were voting for the first time were not deterred though. They plugged away, while I stayed close and help explain some of the blanks they had to fill in on this form or that.

Then came the reward. After all they had been through, each stuck out his hand, pumped mine, and thanked me sincerely and vigorously. The only reward we can offer is a small oval I VOTED sticker. They took that with smiles as well.

I’ve been voting for decades and have rarely missed any election, primary, preliminary, special or general, once when I was suddenly sick and once when I got sent out of town on business with no time to get an absentee ballot. I confess that I can still get blasé or at least take it for granted that I’ll be able to vote.

Now having worked elections for years at three different precincts in Boston, I pretty much know the rules and how to avoid problems. I’m quick to fill in the annual voter census, I complete a reg card when I move, and so forth.

I do admire the determination of those caught in the intricacies of registration. Those who arrive ready to be a citizen only to hear they aren’t in the book, were deleted by mistake (one of those in my precinct this year), were never moved from the old ward and precinct to the new one, or the many who are marked *I* (inactive) and having to show one of the few forms of accepted ID, fill out a form, and literally take an oath that they are who they say.

I salute those young men who went through all the clerical work in their disappointment. They wanted to vote, we made it happen, even knowing they were not positive that ballot would count, and to top it off, they thanked me. Good stuff — almost worth a 15-hour day right there.

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Pity the Feeble Racist

July 30th, 2010

groceryweaponMy still quick reflexes for an old fart kept my legs from mangling by a cart in the Roslindale Stop & Shop a short time ago. It was not propelled idly by an inattentive shopper or even a helpful, but too short, kid. Instead a hostile, angry and racist older black woman came right at me.

Sure enough, we forget or at least compartmentalize when we don’t have to deal with obvious racists regularly. After 21 years in Jamaica Plain and one here in Hyde Park — both very racially and culturally diverse Boston neighborhoods —I don’t experience or witness much of that.

There was no question this woman wanted to hurt me and why. I was a couple of feet from the front of my cart, ready to load in some greens. The cart was against a veggy display. She cut across about six feet of tile, veering hard left directly toward me, leaving me no exit and no way to avoid her.

First she glared and sneered as she aimed at my legs. I dipped into my t’ai chi background to touch the front of her cart as it came into contact with me and divert it just enough to keep it from smashing my legs.

That further enraged her and her racism became obvious. She swore about white people and said they were always pushing around black folk. She remained furious.

The three women with her, ranging from perhaps 50 to 17 were likely a daughter and granddaughters. They sort of looked down, but it was quickly obvious that this was not new behavior by the matron of the family.

Trying to give granny an out, I said pleasantly, “God bless you.” In return, she literally spit back, “No, God bless you!” as a clear curse. They left and I could hear her continuing to defame white people.

I did get an odd chuckle of recognition though. A black friend from way back had warned me of angry, elderly black women. The stockier they are, he’d say, the more evil their evil eye and the more likely they’d be willing to have at someone verbally and physically. This crazed shopping lady was exactly what he’d warned me to avoid.

Of course, like the good UU I am, I look for the lessons here. I not only ask my three lads what they can learn from an unpleasant experience or error, I ask myself.

First, I’m glad I could retain my equanimity. She was spoiling for a physical and verbal confrontation and literally bruises and blood. She picked the wrong white guy for that.

Next, I do recognize home-turf advantage. The American Legion Highway store is patronized and staffed almost entirely by African Americans. It’s much more comfortable for racists to act out when they perceive they are the norm. I rather doubt she would have pulled the same antics in the Dedham S&S.

Moreover, I felt for the trio with her. It has to be tough to regularly accompany a bigot, kind of watch out for her and be associated with her acting out.

What I didn’t feel was an empathy or even a sympathy for the racist. I don’t know wat she may have seen or heard at home or in pubic life. I do that that each of us gets our share of unfair knocks and slaps. None of that excuses smearing whole sets of fellow people, much less attacking individuals who differ from us.

Regionally, I regret how the allegedly liberal and open Boston area still has its onerous share of racists, of all races themselves. When I moved from the South first to New Jersey for high school, some time in Cambridge in college, a decade in Manhattan and the past three decades here, I was initially surprised at the racial tensions and negativity in Yankee lands. Yet in all those places, the locals were quick to scold me for my Southern roots, contrasting them to the enlightened Northern places. They seemed truly oblivious.

I found again and again that this was naive or disingenuous or both. Boston as a whole has never gotten over its own sordid history and racism and largely segregated sub-neighborhoods.

Here today I found that old brick back in my bag. It wasn’t the classic North End teen slurring passing black Bostonians. It wasn’t even snooty Brahman remnants running down others on race, class or schooling. It was an old bigot with absolute no reason to dislike me, feel threatened by me or certainly feel justified in physically and verbally assaulting me.

I would wish her peace and freedom from hate. However, she’s likely rounding off her life and may simply be who she is for the rest of it.
Well, God bless her, regardless.

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S.C. Free Rag Nails It

July 3rd, 2010

We had heard and seen and read about Alvin Greene already, from the Globe to the Times to Huff to Daily Show. The best just arrived today though.

Our friend who moved back to South Carolina, Savannah (a.k.a. Marion Etheredge), mailed us the Columbia Free Times with the cover story. There’s no fabulous breakthrough, but it’s the very best piece on the funky Dem primary win of an unemployed unknown for U.S. Senate ever.

Praise to writer Corey Hutchins. The only thing missing is a big pig — more on that in a moment.

For background, click the Daily Show clip below on the subject. Jon Stewart aptly calls S.C., America’s whoopie cushion. He has the basics down. Greene put down ten large to be in the primary, didn’t campaign and won the primary with 60% of the vote. He surely will lose resoundingly to incumbent Republican Jim DeMint in November, but meanwhile…

Unlike the WTF? view of national reporters, the local guy does what Sandlappers do well. He asked, “Who are your people?,” and dealt with that. Greene’s father, James Greene Sr., has long been a populist activist. So despite the pretty sad conspiracy wails of the Dems when their favored candidate, ex-legislator Vic Rawl, took his drubbing, this may have been the post-Reconstruction fluke it appears. That is, a non-politically connected black man gets the party nod for U.S. Senate. Maybe that just happens every 140 years or so.

To those pigs though, I know about the importance of BBQs in elections. I lived in S.C. for five years, edited the black weekly there for a year, and married a native (although in fairness, we met where I lived in Greenwich Village when she was visiting). In a state with carefully choreographed legislative votes and election prep, pigs are big.

I remember many times being in the state house (with its external metal stars where every piece of Yankee shrapnel hit the building in Sherman’s rude visit). Typically a couple of buses of school students were on field trips as part of their civics or history education. They had anticipated the fervent debates and grand oratory on a bill under consideration.

Invariably, the bill would get announced and there’d be a clear, often unanimous, vote up or down — nary at metaphor, much less a passionate speech.

The pig had happened. That is, the party leaders and often the whole legislature would be at a BBQ or Christmas party. They’d do their lying, swapping and dealing over chunks of pig. By the time they left the function, they really had nothing else to discuss on the matters at hand.

Amusingly enough in Greene’s case, he has never been part of the power structure. He almost certainly never got an invite to a pig roast…and almost surely never will be in the BBQ elite.

In S.C., there is pretty my much a mirror image of Massachusetts’ party structure. Here, Dems rule. There, Dems converted to that other party during the sweeping civil-rights revolution. The S.C. Dems feed off the leavings as MA Republicans do.

In that sense, it’s irrelevant whether Greene came up with that $10,400 filing on his own. The national media has the dummy’s fixation that this is the issue.

More to the point, we need to consider that other fixation, that is of an innate wisdom of the larger electorate. Even locals up here like to squawk about voters being smart. As the Greene victory suggests, that is a fantasy that ignores short, mid-term and deep history.

We voters goof up all the time. We don’t pay attention. We don’t understand the issues. We don’t know the differences among candidates’ positions. We goof up.

Sometimes, we do it inanely, on purpose and reflexively. Think of the James Strom Thurmond, former governor, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1954 and 1956 and serving until 2003. That was 59 years from S.C. into D.C. for that destructive schmuck. If possible, they might have returned his corpse to the office.

As a nation, we have done as badly shorter term for President too many times as well. Wait until after the November elections. We can look at whom we elect. Then we can talk about how smart the electorate is.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Alvin Greene Wins South Carolina Primary

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