Archive for January, 2012

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.

Backroom P.O. Treats

January 25th, 2012


My splendid yellow glasses continue to reward me. Sure, folk young/old, all shades call out praise. Just yesterday in a supermarket, a large woman with a laden cart leaving the checkout blew by several other customers, brushing them back into their chutes. She saw me, stopped and waved me through, saying, “Man with the yellow glasses. You go.”

Objects can be fun.

Also yesterday at the Cleary Square Post Office in Boston’s Hyde Park, I got preference in another mundane task, buying stamps. Asking for 40, I got a big smile from the clerk, who said, “I think I know what you’ll like.”

She turned on her heel and headed to the back. She returned with six varieties. All were graphically strong and perhaps most important colorful.

She said when she saw the glasses, she knew I’d want visually powerful ones. She was right.

I’m not an attention hound. I don’t make loud noises to keep folk looking at me. I set my cell to vibrate. I grew up hearing that making a spectacle of yourself shows poor breeding.

Yet getting positive attention without intruding strikes a fine balance between drabness and shouting.

God Bless Giraffes

January 19th, 2012

Hamisi1Truth be told, giraffes are my favorite animal. They are beautiful and have an elegant stride, oh, and compelling eyes.

So, I have been emotionally caught up in reportage of Europeans and Americans who shoot giraffes for sport. Trophy hunting of giraffes is by no means dangerous, but it is very expensive $10,000 or more for the experience (plus $2,000 trophy fee).

No Screams

An understandable giraffe myth is that they make no sounds. While they often do not vocalize, they can — moms bellow for lost offspring, males hoping to mate snort, all will bleat on occasion and such.

More obviously, both in the wild as well as in zoos and preserves, they munch plants all day. They run and play with each other. They are gentle herbivores, who are violent rarely. Their only real weapon is a super-strong kick, which can maim or kill a predator such as a lion. Males will sometimes fight each other over a female by swinging their heads at each other.

While I eat meat, I do not believe nor understand hunting for sport.  With mammals as benign, as harmless as giraffes, it makes no sense at all. I have read and seen enough, and have enough hunter relatives and acquaintances, to know some of the other side, such as:

  • Tracking and killing large cats, bears and such is perilous, manly and an expression of a primal struggle for life
  • Hunters of deer and other ruminants cull the overpopulated herd, keeping the survivors healthy and in stasis
  • Some hunters butcher and eat what they kill, equating it with store-bought meat, with the benefit of pelts

Giraffe trophy hunters don’t have any of those arguments. Instead, per that article in the Sun linked above and numerous safari-company sites, it runs:

  • A half dozen African countries allow legal giraffe slaughter
  • The countries use the fees to support their local economy
  • When the residents know hunts are legal and they can get paid for these, they do it rather than poach giraffes for their skins. As one safari guy put it, “Rhino and other animals have been saved through conservation and the most money for conservation is generated from hunting.”

Hierarchy of Affection

Another truth from me is that I am no adherent of ahimsa. I swat mosquitoes, for example, although yesterday, I did remove a fair sized spider from my bathroom by hand, placing it on plants on the deck to scurry off to safety.

Moreover, I regularly eat muscle meat and fish that I purchase. I’m country enough to know chickens don’t grow in shrink-wrapped packages. In fact, I’ve eviscerated fish, plucked chickens and such. It is the sport aspect — the thrill of the kill — that I have never wanted nor understood.

I grew up around hunters. I think of my mother’s brother and his three sons. They loved shooting animals and particularly pleased my country grandmother when they showed up with a deer haunch. They butchered it and we had venison out of the freezer for many meals, including actual mincemeat pie.

I have species prejudice. The idea of killing a whale or any cetacean appalls me. They are far too close to us in brain capacity and are very human in many ways, short of being cruel and ambitious.

From there, I feel an affinity for the great and lesser apes. I identify less and feel less protective of other species, particularly vermin sorts like rats and squirrels. For learned emotional reasons, I would not kill nor eat a cat, dog or other pet variety.

Because I Can

796px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_105-DOA0377,_Deutsch-Ostafrika,_GiraffeWhile not strongly anti-hunting, I do listen to hunters, who like fishermen love to talk about what they do. Many I have known from childhood, into school and college and as an adult, fall into several types. A few truly seem to be those conservation type. They enjoy the outdoors, truly believe that they keep herds healthy through culling, and eat their kills.

My emotional problem is with the many I have known or heard who plainly simply like to kill. The glee they express in describing shooting animals and watching them struggle and die is freaky, scary. We should be glad they have an outlet and are not driven to turning on us.

Likewise for giraffes, there are numerous descriptions and short videos that illustrate both types. Search trophy hunting giraffes to find both safari companies and people opposed to such doings. Oddly, the videos of tourists killing giraffes, posing (invariably under an arced neck) and bragging about it are on both types of sites. One family’s murder is another’s adventure.

Giraffe hunting is not new, of course. The picture above is a pre-WWI one with natives who with their prey. They would eat the animal and sell the hide — old style and not for amusement.

Seeing the videos of the modern version reminds me of a visit to the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Mr. Photography loved killing African mammals. His rooms share the building with photography museum. There are elephant and other heads on walls, desks covered in hippo hide and such, and outsized artifacts like umbrella stands made of elephant or hippo feet.

He was quite a control freak, it seems. His journals specify how he micromanaged each trip, down to how many socks of what type each person would bring and precisely what the provisions would be for every meal. In the end, so to speak, he hunted himself as well. He was getting physically feeble and rather than forgo such excursions, he brought in acquaintances one or more at a time, conversing at length to show he was rational (and his will would not be contested), and then killed himself with his favorite pistol. The journals and pistol are on display a floor above the animal trophies.

Long-Necked Muses

Back to giraffes, I am fond of them. As they threaten no one and they are not overpopulated, why should anyone kill them? Short of because humans are atop the food chain and can fairly much slaughter animals at will, I don’t see any good reason.

Those who walk near these 16 to 19 foot tall herbivores and shoot them dead speak on those videos proudly. It does not seem like much of a challenge or accomplishment.

Contrast that with the account in the 1897 The Encyclopaedia of sport, Volume 1 (page 452):

In South Africa the giraffe is invariably hunted on horseback a form of sport which has always had great attractions for English sportsmen. There is nothing finer in nature than the sight of a troop of giraffes in full flight and the excitement of the find and the run up is intense. In its slower paces the giraffe with its curious gliding walk is extremely deceptive It is in reality travelling at a rapid rate. When thoroughly roused these animals are capable putting first rate hunting horses to their utmost speed. It is well to remember that unless the hunter plies sjambok and spur and rides his very hardest at the flying troop in the first two miles of chase he may lose them altogether. At a steady slinging gallop giraffes will travel for hours and wear out a horse but if chased very hard and forced beyond their pace early in the run the hunter will be enabled to ride close up to the particular beast he may single out and put in his shots from the saddle. Some hunters prefer to get up within a hundred yards jump off and fire. In the opinion of the writer and of many experienced African sportsmen it is better to push one’s horse close up to the stern of the giraffe and within a few yards fire from the saddle. A good South African hunting pony needs little guiding in a run of this description and the rider can drop his reins and safely use both hands. The best point to aim at whether on foot or on horseback is the root of the tail. The giraffe’s body is very short and a well planted solid bullet travels right into the vitals of the animal and speedily brings it down broken limb will also effectually bring down giraffe.

The same text notes that giraffes are defenseless against humans. The only danger is if one is dumb and clumsy enough to come in from behind and get kicked.

Anyone with a rifle can kill a giraffe. The guides drive a short distance away. There’s no pony chase, mounted shooting or risk. The giraffes are not skittish and seem to observe the hunters with curiosity, at least until the shots bring down one of theirs.

Putting money into the local economy does not seem at all a justification here. Again, there is no need to cull giraffes, they harm no one and nothing, and hunting them is neither challenging nor dangerous. It seems the hunters should be ashamed to return with a hide or head of these gentle giants.

As the guide company repeatedly point out, such hunts are legal in numerous countries. They offer menus such as on this page, with the per diem as well as the trophy fee, for the long list of animals you can kill. I suppose that’s free enterprise, African style, although U.S. and Canadian hunting preserves have similar plans on less exotic beasts.

It is not in my nature to hunt for sport. I am sad that beautiful, gracious, gentle giraffes die for the titillation of tourists. With the many fulfilling ways to get pleasure in this life that do not bring pain and death, they have chosen most poorly.

Unwelcome Hitchhiker

January 14th, 2012

Monday afternoon, I was tromping around Hemenway Pond in Milton. Thursday, my wife was tweezing out a tick — rather most of one — from pectoral skin and muscle.

As boomer kids, we grew up cowering under school desks, which was supposed to somehow protect us from a nuclear explosion’s effects. We still get palpitations when we hear a test of a civil alert siren, which we knew as a possible warning of Russian missiles or bombers. We took our polio shots or sugar cubes, lest we spend our shortened and painful lives in iron lungs or leg braces. Our parents vacillated from telling us how good we had it and trying to terrify us into orthodox, prophylactic behaviors.

Yet, we didn’t have AIDS. We didn’t have daily fears of strangers and child molesters OUT THERE. We also knew nothing of Lyme disease.

Now an embedded tick immediately brings to mind that horrible, chronic, debilitating and likely incurable set of nasty conditions and symptoms. And sure enough, when I found an inflamed sore on my left pec near my armpit, my wife was both quick and unhappy to point out that it had a big red circle around it, it was a tick, and it looked like a bull’s eye to her. The bull’s eye, of course, is the classic indicator of a deer tick carrying Lyme.

Now, there’s an alert-making way to start the day!

My wife has many virtues, not the least of which is considerable musical ability of which I have none. However, she is squeamish about blood, wounds and such. In contrast, I grew up with a mother, aunt and other family members who were nurses, first aid instructors, home nursing teachers and the like. Anything short of compound-complex fractures and massive bleeding were usually handled on the spot with gauze, scalpels, tweezers, slings, disinfectants, adhesive compresses (BAND-AID® bandages to you), ice or heat packs and such. As an active, outdoors type, I don’t know how many injuries were patched before I headed out for more.

My wife could sort of look at the tick and kind of get most of it with the tweezers. However, she convinced me it looked bad and that there were visible parts left in the skin. It was an awkward spot or I would have hacked at it myself. I could only see it in a mirror and could not get both hands to the area because of its location next to my armpit.

So, I made an appointment with our doctor-like folk. In this case, it would be a nurse practitioner, Patricia, in the urgent care part of internal medicine. From my own background of being the instruction dummy and then first-aid instructor, I link urgent care to stopped hearts, shock, and uncontrolled bleeding. Instead, there I arrived with a purplish/reddish mound with tick parts in the center. Meh.

Patricia gave it her shot. She rooted around in the muscle and skin for around 20 minutes with various stainless steel gear. She retrieved parts, but admitted defeat and the immutable tenacity of a tick leg or two in the wound. It was painful and mostly tiresome, for both of us, but geewillikers, for all the flaying elbow action, I wanted her to say smugly, “Got it!” She didn’t.

She said that so far, the wound did not fall into the bull’s eye category. It didn’t have a pale ring separating the main mound…at least not yet. I’m supposed to watch for that.

She didn’t want to have the tick pieces I brought in on a cotton pad tested. She did give me doxycycline, a single dose of two tablets, as a precaution. I see that it may or may not be effective in preventing Lyme post-exposure.

Of course, the big joke is that ticks carry many diseases other than that one. The incubation period for Lyme and a few of those can be months or years. I think I’ll pass on the worry.

Oddly enough, a few months ago, we went hiking in the Blue Hills as a family, and two of our sons ended up with ticks. They each got a medical pro to pull out the parasite and then got doxycycline as a precaution. It seems to be a family shtick.

I can’t see this inconvenient experience changing my behavior (sorry Scientologists, no engramming here). I’ve been an outdoorsy active guy since I was a wee bairn.

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Better Than Your Vacation

January 11th, 2012

From Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord’s Cricket Ground, keeper of the laws of the game, you may buy USB memory sticks for £10, plus shipping. They are in the shape of a cricket bat and come pre-loaded with the laws.

batcampFor quite a bit more, you can take your offspring from 5 through 12 years of age off the St. Vincent or Sardinia to learn cricket from two gods of the game. Neither the ad on the front of the Financial Times (shown and click for closeup) nor the Super Skills Travel website deals in such crass details as the cost. If you have to ask, as FT readers might say. After all, this newspaper’s regular glossy magazine a few times a month is How To Spend It.

Instead, you are to call or email to book.

While you loll, one former and one current cricket star, one OBE and the other MBE, Michael Vaughan and Matthew Hogard, will turn your pubescent child(ren) into passable batsmen and bowlers. The kiddies get two hours on pitch each weekday. That presumably will exhaust them to the point they will lie passively and quietly and complacently by you poolside.

Billed in the ad as The family holiday of a lifetime,  this surely is more defensible, if considerably more expensive, than fantasy American baseball or football camps for delusional men. At the island resort, if you want your Richie Rich to, well yes, be able to play the national game, but more important, sew up contacts as well as garner (understated) bragging rights to take back to boarding school, grab this. Age 13 comes too quickly.

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.

Big Boys in Tight Pants

January 3rd, 2012

I confess that I’m not the best sports fan — either for my colleges or Boston teams. I don’t identify with the teams or think their successes are mine. I’d rather read or write than watch ballgames on bar TV. More over, I cycle and used to be on wrestling and swimming teams. I’d rather watch Olympic breaststroke and water polo, things I relate to.

ramadauUntil I looked at the Lesley site a few minutes ago, I was not aware they had several teams in championships in their minor (Division III) sports. I went there as a working adult for a management degree, in no small part because they sent their professors and lecturers out to Norwood, which was on the way home. I spent 19 months of evenings once a week at what we called Ramada U. for where we met, across the parking lot from The Chateau bar and restaurant.

Out of high school though, I went to South Carolina, avoiding the draft and a trip to Vietnam, to swim and because I could afford it myself. In the decades since, I have heard about red Carolina sports. Down there, nearly everyone of influence there got a bachelors or law degree from what was USC long before there was one of those on the West Coast. They get all excited about Gamecock sports. They were an ACC basketball powerhouse before jumping and ending up in the SEC. They won a few national baseball titles and have gone from bottom-of-the-pileup football schlubs to big deal.

I can totally ignore SC sports, only to hear friends and relatives inform me of triumphs or disasters. Also, with my late father-in-law and one of my brothers-in-law graduates of rival Clemson, I’m sure to get teasing if the Tigers win anything from the Cocks.

This year, I sort of paid attention as the baseball team repeated, and then the football team was nationally ranked nearly every week. They ended up BCS 9th and plugged into second-tier Capital One Bowl.

So yesterday, the red Carolina beat #21 Nebraska 30 to 13. Folks in Columbia are pretty jolly.

Not the same is true for the very nervous and delusional Nebraska coach, Mark (Bo) Pelini. He well illustrates why I don’t identify strongly with college teams. In the press-conference clip below, you can hear him saying how they made mistakes, how the officiating was unfair, and how South Carolina was just fortunate to get points. The best though comes about 9:54 into the clip, when despite the score (really all that matters) and his team’s many blunders, he stated strongly that he and his guys know that Nebraska is a better team than SC.

Clawing at his forearms neurotically, Pelini said, “I’ll say it straight out—our football team, even after the game felt we were a better football team than them.”

You can contrast Pelini’s whiny, even irrational, extremely nervous responses to Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier’s. He grins but doesn’t smirk. He neither gloats nor falls into schadenfreude. Sure, it’s easier to be magnanimous when you win, but when the other team turns over the ball and commits repeated fouls, it must have been tempting for him to say something other than that was uncharacteristic for Nebraska.

I doubt much can give Pelini perspective. He’s a nervous little guy, who certainly knows by now that the best team on a given field on a specific day for a particular contest is the one that wins. He turned many colors screaming from the sidelines. Comments on numerous sports boards suggest that he may keel over at any moment.

I am in no position to teach him anything about coaching a Division I football team. However, perhaps he can join a meditation class at Nebraska.

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Occupy Bar Stools 12/31

January 1st, 2012


Mirabile dictu! Shortly before the Grand Procession of Boston’s First Night (for God’s sake, don’t dare use the term loosely; they sue), the Parish Café had a couple of bar stools on the street side open. My wife and I grabbed two and got to see the parade perfectly, above the crowd and with drinks in hand.

My Flickr feed has some so-so snaps of the afternoon.

Of greater interest and a pleasant surprise to us was the Occupy Boston presence. They were well dispersed, as in the Common, Copley and more. They handed out 99% buttons, flyers, and conversation. In the Common, a little wagon symbolized the Occupy tents…and the mobility of the movement.

A good counterpoint to the crazed reactionary response to OWS and localized ones appears in the current Phoenix. Chris Faraone writes starkly and in detail about the evolution of Occupy and of the many proofs that the fantasy and hope that this is a leaderless, pointless, non-movement that is dead already are loopy. Dream on 1% and media.

As anyone who’s paid any attention or gone downtown in Manhattan, Boston or elsewhere would have predicted, the Occupy folk were cool about it all. They know absolutely that they have altered the political dialog. That’s not a mist about to dissolve.