Archive for the ‘Bureaucracy’ Category

Let the Feeble Wait!

June 20th, 2013

I visited the Charlie Card Store in  downtown Boston for the first time yesterday. The well-lit, clean room is at once a marvel of efficiency and a bureaucratic torture chamber.

The MBTA has consolidated its special services — things you can’t get or do online or by phone. Those include transferring stored value among cards, replacing damaged cards, and reduced fare cards for seniors and the disabled including blind riders. There is a little joke there. To get your T services, including reduced fare, you really need to take the T to get to the location, paying full fare on the way. Nearly no one lives near downtown crossing.

The room is rather like an attractive, sit-down-while-you-wait deli counter. The receptionist and clerks at each of six stations are pleasant and efficient…within T policy. When you arrive, you explain what you are there to do. The receptionist performs triage and produces a deli-style ticket with your number, like E917.

As it turns out, your fate was determined at that moment.

fairmountstopThe office hours are 8 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Right away that means that both white-collar and blue-collar workers take off work time. As with most bureaucracy, the citizens serve at the pleasure of the overlords. That’s typical and not really unusual or punitive.

However, as I watched, waited and then listened, the nefarious aspect revealed itself. Many of the elderly and disabled squirmed and some complained as they saw others get their numbered chits, get served and leave. They sat and heard and saw the number-being served at which station announced and shown.

An unctuous worker eventually walked through the room past the seats of gumblers. He explained in a monotone. This clearly was not his first time giving the little speech. It seems some services take longer than others. Those troublesome ones would include the likes of senior and disable cards. Those require taking a photo.

That process is highly automated. a wee camera at each station captures an image of the rider and a fancy printer behind the clerks spits out the ID in well under a minute. The only time-consuming part seemed to be typing the name and address off the license or other ID.

At first I didn’t quite believe I heard right. Yet, there is no FIFO here. First-come means squat. If you can’t see well, can’t walk agiilely, or are just old, you are at the back of the line. The fitter take precedence. You wait.

I guess for the old or disabled, the attitude is this is good practice for the larger world. You wait as the younger and able-bodied pass you by.

I hadn’t expected philosophy to be built into the system.

No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

Two-Wheel Manifesto, Boston Version

December 6th, 2012

Time to get serious, boys and girls, rather far past time.

Today’s catalyst was the latest death of a cyclist on Boston streets. This one was Chris Weigl, a 23-year-old photographer (website up at least for now). The wreck (never call these “accidents” as though they were unavoidable fatalities) had familiar basics, as limned by the Globe report.

A tractor-trailer took a four-lane right turn on a major avenue, aiming for a tiny side street by a local university. The cyclist in a bike lane was instantly mushed to death.

As long as they are up, the comments at the Boston Herald let cycle haters drink their fill. The this-but-that versions will stay up at Universal Hub. This is no place to broach the craziness of all-cyclists-always-break-all-traffic-laws or cyclists-don’t-have-licenses-or-pay-taxes or ban-all-bikes folk. They are beyond reason as well as compassion.

Instead, Boston has started its bicycling evolution. What must be do next for safety and civility?


Simple legal stuff


Stop signs and traffic lights. We have to stop being puerile here and look to what has been successful in Idaho since the 1980s — rolling stops for bicycles.

Stops as yields. Somewhat different but a corollary is treating red lights and stop signs as yield signs.

Both of these do many of the same things. Most important is increasing safety for all concerned by taking into account the huge differences between bikes and motor vehicles.

Two emotional responses to overcome are ingrained but not immutable. Most drivers here love the dumb cliché promulgated by the likes of Mass Bike, the barely logical same-road/same-rules chant. The anti-biking types like it as a weapon to pull out and slug cyclists with for any real or perceived infraction of a traffic law or regulation.

There are two underlying pretenses here. First, all cyclists are total scofflaws and all drivers are absolutely law obedient. For the latter, I have yet to follow a driver for more than 10 miles without observing violations, such as changing lanes without signaling, failure to yield to pedestrian in crosswalks, not coming to a complete stop for a light for stop sign and before the marked line, stopping on a crosswalk, exceeding speed limits, passing through an intersection after the light changed red and on and on. If all traffic laws were evenly enforced, a tiny percentage of drivers would retain their licenses. Yet that does not prevent most of living in a fantasy world of reckless cyclists and virtuous car drivers.

The second is more childish and visceral. The sense that even if a change in law is for the safety of all, anything that gives a right to a two-wheeler that a four-wheeler does not have is morally wrong, damn it! It’s the three-year-old’s wail of “She got an ice cream and I didn’t!”

To the same-rules bozos, I have little but disdain. We can easily observe and surmise myriad differences. Cars can drive on interstates and other limited access highways. Bikes can travel bike paths and lanes. Drivers must signal before every turn or lane change, cyclists when it is safe to do so taking a hand off the bars. Cyclists can dismount and use a crosswalk. It goes on and on.

More significant are physical differences. A cyclist is hard pressed to hurt or kill anyone, but doing so is built into the one to three ton motorized vehicle. A bike can stop at speed in only a few to 25 feet, long before a driver can move a foot from gas to brake. Even then, a car  or truck total stopping distance is in hundreds of feet. Likewise, a bike has the same tiny inertia leaving a red light, so it can be into or across the intersection before a driver can give it gas.

These and many other differences beg for reasoned nuance in laws and regulations.

Yet both driver gut responses of these are so real, and both so enabled by the lunacy of same-road/same-rules that any improvement has to deal with them. Unfortunately for humankind, about half of us seem very literal minded, like rules-are-rules bureaucrats. They need extra care and attention on any topic.

I can remember when I first introduced the stop-as-yield law and testified before the MA Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security hearing and sensing that is-this-fair attitude from the senators and reps. My proposed law, dutifully introduced by my then Rep. Willie May Allen, would indeed have granted cyclists an option motor-vehicle operators would not have. I explained how as a multimode guy — car, T, ped, bike — I was aware how nervous and thus dangerous drivers were when they were beside a cyclist at a light or red octagon, when it was time to proceed. On the other hand, when the cyclist leaves first, the driver overtakes the two-wheeler and feels in control. The driver doesn’t worry about the car’s width or where the bike is.

I could feel the progress but also those present would need to hear this more than once. I didn’t think there was a cyclist there other than I. This must be what folk used to this process have told me, that you need to introduce a bill three to five times and make your arguments each time to get it through.


Hard legal stuff


Meanwhile, the pros here, bike czars in major cities here and in Europe, concur that presence equals awareness. As we get more cyclists on the roads, drivers gradually accept that they are sharing the road not only with pedestrians, trucks, buses and trolley, but also with cyclists. Wish as they might that all the others would disappear, they come to accept that they’re all there forever, like mosquitoes. They learn to deal. When they do that, they are less likely to do thoughtless maneuvers that can bring death and dismemberment.

This process has one great accelerator, enforcement.

If you read the Herald anti-bike comments, you’ll see one-sided calls for that, as of course, drivers are always blameless in any wreck. Cyclists need bike licenses, need to pay cycling insurance, and most of all need a cop on every block to ticket them for their incessant law breaking.

Those multimodal types among us, including me, snort in their general direction. If virtually any driver were ticketed for every infraction large or small, none would take a trip to the grocery or flick without multiple tickets and perhaps a trip to jail.

Instead, I have to agree with  the rules-are-rules types here, but for everyone. Ticket and even tow the bad guys!

Pause here for the self-pitying and self-righteous keens of cops. Oh, Lawdy, no. “If we have to enforce traffic laws for drivers, that’s all we’ll do. Murderers, thieves, and dealers will rule the streets!”

That’s the most flammable of strawmen, of course.

In the real world, when cops or umpires or any enforcer does the job, it’s short term. If local police enforce the laws, words gets around quickly and drivers even cyclists would show some restraint and sense. Then cops can go back to pretending they are serious crime fighters.

Boston is infamous as a city where the police live by the no-blood/no-ticket model. They hate paperwork and are insulted by the $1 jaywalking tickets, the $20 cycling ones, and other pissant enforcement. They can go decades or whole careers without a felony arrest, foot chase or detective-level investigation, but they love to live the fantasy. Any moment, their duties will call them to major crime busts.

That melodrama can’t continue to interfere here. The local commissioners, supers and unions have to know that public safety is more than a bromide. Enforce the damn laws for a couple of months. The citizens will get the idea and straighten up.

Let both drivers and cyclists (hell, peds too) be afraid they’ll get hauled away and maybe financially ruined if they cause injury or death. Make it certain. Let them sweat for a few months. They’ll adapt and we’ll all be safer and saner.

 By the bye: I’m overdue for reintroducing my cycling bills and testifying.

Sweeping Options for Boston Schools

October 15th, 2012


It could be huge, could be quashed, could be diluted, but right now, those in charge of the Boston public schools have a seminal plan to consider. We’ll be talking about it was the driving force behind it.

Spend a half hour with City Councilor John Connolly tomorrow, Tuesday, October 16th, from 2 PM Eastern here. If you can’t catch it live, go to that URL, to Left Ahead or our iTunes page any time afterward to listen or download his show.

As a parent who had nudged three sons through BPS start to finish, I believe in public education and have gotten the worst and the best of bureaucracy in evaluating schools, assignment games, dealing with teachers, and doing whatever was necessary to see my guys got the good end of the stick. I’m invested.

In the literal world of school boards and superintendents and teachers’ unions, the focus is almost always on discreet chunks, such as student assignment plans. Instead, what Connolly, along with another Councillor and four state Reps, have thrown into the process is a serious effort to drop the lines on the maps. Instead, they propose schools in every district with the features parents crave and a whole new set of 16 citywide schools.

This is big stuff, which you can see in detail here.

In our half hour, we can’t go through every detail, but as head of the Council’s education committee (and a parent of two young children), Connolly has put a lot of mind and heart into this plan.

Blue Bloods Birthing Babies

June 17th, 2012

Amusement and satisfaction coexist in a big shot’s indicator in today’s NYTmidwives are becoming must-have status symbols for rich ladies.  Reminiscent of the FT‘s splendidly absurd How to Spend It insert magazines, we learn that the likes of supermodels in NYC and Boston use “the best” midwives now instead of OBs to deliver their princelings and princesses.

Having long been big on midwives, I see this as a likely advance, one that will percolate into the populace. First will be the celebrity imitators, who can do more than copy the pretentiously unusual baby names. The birth method may well open up, increasing demand for more midwives and birthing facilities.

This is personal with us. Our three were all born with midwives, beginning in 1979. I know from both experience and reading that prenatal care is vastly superior with midwives over OBs/nurses and that outcomes are superior, in no small part because of preparation and monitoring. Moreover, numerous moms beyond my wife have spoken of how much better the births went without being strapped down and rushed and drugged and cut open and such. Having a couple of women with you throughout (not even including the serving hubby or beau or equivalent) is an order of magnitude better than the standard hospital routine.

We had to work to get access to midwifery services. Actually the easiest was the first, at the Maternity Center in Manhattan’s Yorktown. They’d been delivering babies and training midwives (and fighting jealous OB groups) since the Depression. They were in a gorgeous, commodious former mansion, to which we made a weekly pilgrimage (always followed with a pregnant-lady satisfying meal at a local restaurant).

There were lots of measurements, stringent rules for nutrition and exercise, and correcting or preventing problems that would preclude a non-hospital delivery. The OBs who worked with the center were of course midwife friendly. They were wont to say on the rare times we saw one to listen to the midwives, to rely on their estimates of delivery date, and to practice the breathing and other techniques we’d use in delivery.

One morning, I awoke to see my wife in the rocking chair saying, “It’s time.” When the contractions were close enough together, we took a taxi from the Village and were off to the arena, or at least the birthing room in the basement. The first one made it some work, as in back labor. He needed to go from sideways to head down, which took the better part of a day. He was healthy with a high Apgar score. My only shocks came at how slick he was when I caught him and at the official New York moment of birth, which was when I cut the umbilical cord. That was one tough tube.

A few hours later, we were in a cab headed to our apartment with our son, following the requisite OB visit to certify his health. It was great to nest with the baby the same day.

Two and three were born around here, although we had to chase the midwives.  What was then the Harvard Community Health Plan only offered a midwife center for Eastern Massachusetts on the grounds of the Beverly Hospital. That’s a haul from Boston’s Jamaica Plain. We took our mandated birthing refreshers more locally but drove to the North Shore for the birth. We got there but didn’t have a lot of time to spare.

We were both more relaxed for the second act and the labor was considerably shorter.  I caught son two too. As with the first, we headed home the same day and were a family, now of four, at home.

The third fell afoul of bureaucracy and because-we-can behavior of a teaching hospital, but still produced a healthy son. By this time, the HCHP shunted us to a midwife area at Beth Israel Hospital. That was fortunate geographically, as this labor was under an hour. We managed to drive there from a few miles away and toss the keys to the valet. I was well aware of the fast progress, but the midwives and nurse didn’t seem to get it. In the room, I immediately washed up and put on gloves. While the trio was across the room chatting, I caught son number three without them.

Unfortunately, BI being a teaching hospital, the OB on call insisted that our son’s heart rate was too slow. He also didn’t get the usual squeezing workout of delivery, so he was a bit purple. The doc had him put in a neonatal ICU. We were not pleased and this two brothers were concerned when they visited and put on yellow scrubs to see him under Plexiglas with tubes. When our own pediatrician was available nearly two days later, he came by, checked him over, pronounced him very healthy and with a heart like a future athlete and sent us all home.

I can go on about the glories of midwife preparation and delivery. I have been known to do just that. If it takes the status-seeking super-rich to spread this gospel, that’s OK by me.

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.”?

Helping and Harming a Transgender Child

February 2nd, 2012

I’m tempted to call it the magic headband. From the day the 8-year-old transgender student wore it to class, there was a transformation. The angry, screaming child who would flip over desks suddenly became a happy scholar.

Who could find problems with that?

ID note: To respect the privacy of all involved as this unfolds, this identifies the child only by first name, does not reveal the locale or school, and cites the grandmother as GM and mother as Mommy.

Source note: My j-school/newspaper background normally has me going to multiple sources. This draws almost entirely on the candid conversation with GM. Future updates may include lawyers, the therapist, the principal or others, but there’s plenty in the experiences from her view.

The principal of the school was among those who has not yet learned to deal with John presenting as Jen. In particular, she’d like Mommy and GM to punish Jen for using the girls restroom and apparently claims Jen will do so “over my dead body.” Unfortunately, in New Hampshire, the legislature rejected the bill that would add legal protections to transgender children and adults. The other New England states prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Acknowledged transgender is not common. Estimates run from 3% down to a quarter of 1%. Yet it’s real when it’s real, and denial, anger and other irrational responses help no one and change nothing.


Revealing Jen


This child’s background is not so simple as many of our lives and goes far below gender identity. For starters, a single mom with a daughter found out and met the brother and sister five and three year olds who had been in foster care for years. She decided to bring them into her home and begin the adoption process.

That’s remarkable enough. In what would have dissuaded most prospective parents, the boy, John, was deemed severely autistic, low verbal, prone to outbreaks, and not toilet trained at five. GM reports that her daughter asked her, “Do you think I can do this?” She replied, “If anyone can do this, you can.”

The adoption took a year, but two years ago, the pair legally came to Mommy. He had already been toilet trained as soon as they came into the home, as GM put it, “in two weeks…with love.” He was still unhappy but quickly more verbal. GM notes that both children had arrived gaunt and pale. Even their skin color changed, to the point where the doctor’s office didn’t recognize them.

There was no tension with the existing daughter. She was fine with a sister, but in particular had always wanted a brother.

The wrinkle was in the boy’s fondness for things frilly. He liked to dress up in girls’ clothes. Mommy and GM quickly became aware this was not transvestism. Rather, he said he was a girl.

They took him to a therapist, who asked among other questions, “Have you always felt like a girl?” John replied, “No, I’ve always been a girl.”

While Mommy and GM are quick to point out they just love the children and want to do what’s best for them, let us note their wisdom and equanimity as well. They did not flip out, did not scream at or hit John, did not do the gender-identity version of trying to convert a lefthander, and did not demand that he live double school/home lives.

Starting wearing dresses at home and being very saddened by having to wear a boy’s suit for his adoption ceremony, John left no doubt about identity. Willing to present as a girl at school, as Jen, meant simultaneously being honest and risking what came from classmates and teachers.


Trouble from Above


Both Jen and her sister are shorter and slighter than many peers, but neither lacks courage. Jen has retained and expanded her friends, says GM, who noted with pride the attitude of the younger sister to the few students who would taunt on the playground. “She protects Jen. She’ll get right between her and children on the playground. She’ll say, ‘Don’t call her a boy. That’s my sister.'”

Jen insisted on going to school in dresses. The therapist supported this and told Jen to use the girls room when no one else was there. Mommy and GM met with teachers and the principal several times to let them know what would happen. The principal even met with Jen in her office to prepare.

Then the letter arrived. It seems one parent had complained about Jen using the girls room. “The school was going to pursue legal action if (Mommy) didn’t punish her for this,” said GM. “Plus, they were going to follow her around school.” GM and Mommy weren’t about to punish Jen or accept separate and unequal treatment.

Jen had gone from a problem child to a student of the month. She loved school and had lots of friends. Now, said GM, “Jen came home crying saying she can’t use the bathroom, ‘because I’m making them uncomfortable.'”

In the closest thing the school came to trying a compromise, the principal said Jen would have to use the nurse’s office restroom. While GM and Mommy heard this and thought they could frame it as their idea and something special. Unfortunately, the principal presented this as a mandate to Jen before letting them know what was up. Thus, Jen felt punished and tried to go the dayswithout using any restroom.


More to Be Done


Jen loves school, but short-term, she’s not there. Until arrangements are in place and there is a clear understanding, she’s being home schooled. Oddly GM and Mommy had some experience with this years before in a previous school with the first daughter. She was diabetic and the school would not medicate her as needed for her health. They resolved that and got her back in.

Likewise, the aim her is to get Jen back in class with her friends, who GM says are fine with the transition. Meanwhile, GM and Mommy have been in contact with a GLAD lawyer as well as counterparts in two other states. The school will receive guidelines on how to deal with a transgender student.

GM seems singularly well organized and a formidable force. She and Mommy had also kept detailed records of the entire process, including all communications and meetings. They are more than willing to do their parts to make this work as smoothly and pleasantly as possible. They also have not stopped reading and speaking with people who understand they physical, psychological and legal aspects.

Their attitude includes that a transgender student going to school in a dress, “is not going to be the hardest thing she’ll go through.”

In fact, their surprise came when they had to confront their own related issue. First it was from the older daughter, the one who had always wanted a brother. As John transitioned to Jen, GM said, “She cried and said, ‘I’m losing my brother!’ That’s when we realized we were losing him too.” All had known John as he joined them and blossomed from the sad, autistic boy they first new into the happy Jen who loves school and is popular. “We’ve had to grieve John, ” said GM. “John no longer exists.”

Instead, Jen is ready to get on with her life. Mommy will see that her name is changed legally. Moreover, at this point it seems that sexual reassignment surgery is somewhere in the more distant future.

While Jen was initially unclear on genital anatomy, she knew she had a penis. When Mommy explained how girls and boys differed, Jen said, “Mommy, why do I have to wait? Can’t you just cut off my penis, so people will like me?”

For those who would say such things as homosexuality is a lifestyle or in this case transgender is a choice that weird adults make, let us consider the reality of the latter with Jen. She is a child who has known early on what her true gender is. She hurts no one and wants to get on with her life and to develop as any child. Her grandmother, mother and sisters will do their part. It is a small enough thing to expect everyone else to let her go about that life.

Cross-post: This appears also at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Dot’s New Chocolate Bridge

January 28th, 2012

bakerbridge1Even simple infrastructure building is often a big deal. I didn’t take it lightly to be the first cyclist over the newly opened pedestrian bridge over the Neponset by Dorchester’s Central Avenue.

Ribbon snipping was at 1:30 PM today, replete with DCR’s Commissioner Ed Lambert, the district Councilor Frank Baker, state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, and like that. They sliced the red cordon to make public the 202-foot Walter Baker Pedestrian Bridge. I didn’t stick around a half hour for that (we have a weekend guest and I was abusing host duty already by riding), but did chat up the DCR folk.

Truth be told, I was not aware this was the day and just happened to be cycling by on the adjacent path. I’ve been seeing work on this for well over a year and figured it would be like so much of the Neponset and cycling projects — always under construction.

Yet as a Boston Cyclists Union member who has been to numerous public hearings on related projects, I need to drop my cynicism. These bits are happening all the time. The city, commonwealth and DCR are still trying to find funding to finish the big piece to and around Mattapan and beyond for the connection to Brush Hill/Truman, but they seem determined.

The flyer they were handing out noted:

  • This bridge replaced the rotten, impassable railway spur that used to go to the chocolate factory
  • It cost $843,303 and is part of the $3 billion MA Accelerated Bridge Program to repair foot and car bridges
  • It meant repairing the steel structure of the 92-year-old crossing, replacing ties with 10 feet of timber, extending paved paths on both sides of the river, and reconstructing Milton’s eroded banks

This joins the Dot and Milton sides, with the Neponset Trail on the Milton one. Pedestrians and cyclists can pass safely over it. This should encourage picnickers and walkers. It includes a bike rack on the Milton end.

I was the first over and back, but it won’t be my last trip.

Would-Be POTUS, Even in MA

January 10th, 2012

Faint rustling of papers, coupled with an occasional phone call means (ta da), yes, we’ll have a Presidential primary in the Bay State. In 42 days, we get to play too. Tuesday, March 6th is the commonwealth’s go.

I got a call today to confirm my availability. I’ll be warden at precinct 19 ward 12 again, the Woodbourne Apartments at the bottom of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Because the field should be pretty well decided by then, we don’t have the drama of the early states, not even the quasi-plebiscite of Iowa’s GOP caucus. Yet, knowing we’re finally closing in on action is like being in a long stalled car that is at least trying to turn over.

I’ve been lucky to fill in my political dance card a bit. We have two announced candidates for Mayor in 2013. I’ve been having a good time with one of them, who actually has started his campaign. He may not be at all premature on this, if our longest-serving ever Mayor, Tom Menino, decides to give it a go for a sixth four-year term.

Otherwise, we have some time before the biggies  here. Among those will be the seminal battle for a U.S. Senate seat. Party candidates have until June 5th to make their final filings for that, and non-party ones until August 28th. Both have to turn in the initial papers four weeks earlier.  The state primary is September 6th. Of course, the MA and U.S. election is November 6th.

In other words, if we didn’t have a March Presidential-primary vote, it would seem a devil of a long time to have been sitting still.

We poll lackeys can be pretty sure of very different elections, March, September and November. They should run the spectrum from boredom to death march.

From previous elections when few showed, we would fret and exercise our well-honed blades of self-righteousness. Voting is a fundamental duty, privilege and function of democracy. How could only 11% or 14% or whatever vote? Harrumph, as the expression goes.

We make sure to have reading material. We tell voters to send their neighbors. We constantly keep running tallies per page to make end-of-night verification easier. We make sure the inspectors and clerk get plenty of breaks. We look for the possible coffee or sandwich delivery from some campaign. We pick at voters who break the rules by displaying campaign literature inside.

On the other hand, a huge turnout, as we had with the 2008 Obama/McCain election, we’re flat out. The first-time, recently moved, and befuddled voters come like phalanxes of attacking soldiers.

  • Some are absolutely positive they have always voted there, until the warden or clerk checks their address and personal information with Elections to find that they’ve always voted two miles away.
  • Some did not send in the annual voter form mailed and then checked by phone or personal visit. So they are marked *I* for inactive and require showing ID and filling out several forms.
  • Occasionally, someone has mistakenly been marked as deceased. That also requires ID, a call to Elections and more forms.
  • Commonly someone moved one, two or even five years before, had not voted since, and never notified Elections of the new address. That’s another big deal of calls, ID, forms, and the dreaded Provisional Ballot. That goes into the Clerk’s Book, all the paperwork gets its own envelope, and Elections hand-checks the documents that night to see whether the vote will count.

To their credit, most voters really want their ballot to count once they’ve made it to the poll. They’ll fill out the form, produce identification, and sit the extra two minutes on top to fill out a new voter-registration card to make sure they’ll be right in the computer the next time. First-timers, typically students, seem grateful that someone explains the process and helps them fill out the right forms to get in the system.

Sometimes though, middle-aged sorts are indignant that all-powerful, all-knowing city hall did not magically move their address or understand that even if they didn’t return the annual questionnaire that they would certainly vote in the next election. That too can have bits of humor, as when a woman began to scream that she knew for certain that she had filled in the annual form and returned it. Her honorable and brave son was with her and to his credit he admitted that she had indeed filled it out, but he decided it was too much trouble to mail it. She never apologized to me, but her look to him could have stripped paint from the door. That was not the first time he’d seen that gaze and he winked at me and smiled as they left.

We arrive on election days at 6 AM and take a full hour to set up the tables, signs, voting machine and on and on for the 7 AM. Polls close at 8 PM, but we’re not done. We have to reconcile the voter lists at the check-in and check-out tables, as well as match the machine counts exactly. That involves:

  • Pre-counts (done by hand) of all ballots that arrive
  • Counting all absentee ballots that arrive with the police officer as well as throughout the day, feeding those into the scanner after checking them in and out
  • Accounting for all spoiled ballots and provisional ones
  • Recounting all unused ballots
  • Clearing the voting machine (throughout the day if it clogs) of ballots
  • Checking ballots for write-in votes and recording each (even for Mickey Mouse) in the clerk’s book
  • Entering columns of votes (by party for primaries) for each office, candidate, ballot question, and tallying each until they come out perfectly

We are not allowed a single mistake or seemingly missing ballot. What we got over the day had to be exactly what goes back to Elections. There’s the extra fun of Elections giving us packets of ballots in 50 or 200, depending on the election, and a single one for the general or two to four sets for primaries. Down at city hall, they weigh them, which means packets can vary by four ballots and that inspector’s hand counts morning and night have to be perfect and recorded accurately. A single error can mean that 8 PM becomes 8:30 or 9 or later until counts are perfect.

There’s the removal of all signs and other materials, returning all materials into the proper one of two big boxes, plus the magic blue bag that the police officer carries separately when he or she checks in at city hall.

Maybe it’s like a circus. Someone has to set up the big tent, there are the various workers and performers, and someone has to clean up after the elephants as well as strike the tent.

Come 6 PM to 9 PM on September 6th, I’ll likely be cranky and wonder why I keep doing this. Till then though, I can’t wait.

Vroom. What Boys Like.

December 6th, 2011

A funny confluence today was a YouTube share on FB of the Waitresses’ I Know What Boys Like. That, of course, was sexual innuendo, but there’s something else boys and men like. That came in news short about Dig This in Las Vegas.

Boys and men, and some women, like or love construction equipment.

The new big-boy playground in Nevada likely appeals even more to guys than driving fast cars does. Pretty much anyone with a credit card can do that. However, watch boys and men as they stare and gape at track mounted motorized tractors (bulldozers to you) and hydraulic excavators. They’re likely to make engine noises while looking too.

At a couple points in the early 1970s when I moved to NYC, I verified that love of huge machines two ways. First, I was along-term temp at MOMA, including working with then Curator of Design Emilio Ambasz. I also got a full-time job later writing for Construction Equipment magazine.

While at MOMA, my main job was as a lackey while he brought the Italian design show (Italy: The New Domestic Landscape) to life. That was great fun getting to work with the brilliant designer and the steady flow of Italian creatives. Beyond that though, I got excited enough to pitch him an idea for making an extensions-of-man exhibit, perhaps in Central Park. I saw everything from prostheses to earth movers. People would be able to be fitted with or use these, anything that amplified or corrected human bodies.

Ambasz professed to like the concept and we spoke of it repeatedly. In the end though, he didn’t want to own it, suggested I strike out on my own and make it happen, and negotiate with manufacturers and bureaucrats to handle the logistics, particularly the huge insurance issues inherent in letting plain folk handle gigantic machinery.

While my only experience in construction had been two summers on a house-building carpentry crew during college, great writer and swell guy John Rehfield hired me for the magazine. When I asked him bluntly why he’d take someone without a civil engineering degree or heavy equipment expertise, he laughed and waved his arm toward the writers and editors. He said sagely, “I can teach you anything you need to know about construction. You’re a good writer. I can’t teach an engineer how to write.”

As the new kid, I had to handle the complex nationwide directory of equipment, bringing it from index cards to computer. I got to apply my journalism studies and newspaper experience to investigative pieces that that the engineers were not comfortable doing. Yet, John was also true to his word and taught me construction as well as sending me on job sites.

In was on the stories of dam projects and the like that I learned that heavy equipment brought out the boys in even the most experienced men. The guys who run those tower cranes, excavators, earth movers far too big to fit in the bulldozer category and more make the noises. Put them in the cabs of the most powerful machines and they are boys again, playing with construction toys, except those aren’t toys anymore.

Actually it was endearing to see and hear the tough and tanned heavy equipment operators having so much fun even after years doing it. They talked about their rigs the way kids do their toys.

As for the extensions-of-man show, John too was intrigued. He also ran through all the complexities to get it done, but thought it possible. Unfortunately, I was in my early 20s and did not have the experience or entrepreneurial bent to go after it. Then Construction Equipment moved to Chicago from across from the Daily News and I had little interest in going with it, leaving Manhattan. Shortly after, John, only in his 40s, got virulent cancer and died.

It was a good idea. Even in its very lesser form in Las Vegas, that subset is also a good idea. Next time I’m out that way, I’ll Dig This.