Archive for May, 2013

Bike Seconds, Car Minutes

May 21st, 2013

The widespread, irrational hostility toward bicycles continues. Despite the slowly growing number and percentage of Americans cycling — for fun, exercise, commuting, shopping — an astonishing clot of us have visceral, anecdotal reactions to two-wheelers.

happybikesIn fact, as a long-time marriage-equality blogger, I see clear parallels in attitudes. As surely as bicycling and same-sex marriage are the future in the world as well as this country, reactionaries hate those realities. They seem not to care whom they hurt in their process of protesting and impeding progress.

While not the time and place for marriage talk, yet another death of a Boston cyclist and in particular, a crackpot column in today’s Herald are apropos.  In our winger tabloid, Margery Egan builds from the false premise of her first sentence, “Boston’s streets aren’t wide enough for bikes and cars. It’s as simple as that.”

Of course that’s crap. Traffic studies by city, state, academicians and other repeatedly prove a little planning makes room for all, pedestrians included. The more than clever head of bike programs, Nicole Freeman, has judiciously added bike lanes, paths, racks and such where they don’t disrupt, as has her Cambridge counterpart, Cara Seiderman. Their successes are invisible to or ignored by bike haters.

The comments to Egan’s column are almost exclusively what one expects in the Herald. Some even literally wish death on cyclists, a.k.a. those who are reducing congestion by removing their cars from the road while they spin.

What’s most telling is how Egan and many comments use anecdotes and unprovable generalities to justify reckless driving and operating to endanger. You see, wrecks and even deaths are the cyclists fault because if a driver has to slow down, well, that’s what makes them go fast, buzz cyclists, and hit them.

In the real world though, those us who are multi-modal perceive differently. In particular, drivers are clearly irritated at having to wait behind a cyclist or even slow a little to pass safely. The same driver on the same roads at the same time invariably waits much, much longer behind other motor vehicles. They seem to accept waiting through one to four lights as a cost of driving, so long as it is a car or truck and not a bike ahead of them. What’s up with that?

For whatever good it does in no-blood-no-ticket Boston, such driver behavior is governed by state law, not local traffic regulation. That is on the side of the cyclists.

There is no legal justification for j-hooking or claiming, “I just didn’t see her.” Instead, read MA General Laws Chapter 90 and particularly Section 14. That includes plain command, “In approaching or passing a person on a bicycle the operator of a motor vehicle shall slow down and pass at a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.”

There are no built-in excuses, like unless you’d have to slow down or except where the road gets narrow. The onus is entirely on the driver to pass safely. That’s that.

There again, what kind of denial or emotional pull makes drivers accept waiting behind cars but not slowing for a cyclist? Are they so identified with motor vehicles that they lose all reason and judgement?

There will be more cyclists on our roads. At a slower pace, there will be more enforcement, and not just at the Egans would it on what they see as crazed scofflaw bike types. It’s likely that as more drivers lose their licenses and pay big fines for hitting cyclists that they’ll catch a whiff of their responsibility.

It shouldn’t be so hard. If you were brought up right, you’d know not to put other people’s bodies and even lives in danger because you’re impatient or choose to be unobservant.

Self-appointed Nemesis

May 10th, 2013

A few good guys have somewhat offset the inhumanity and sociopathic deeds of the Tsarnaev butchers. Major good guy was funeral director Peter Stefan and more recently do-gooder Martha Mullin in Richmond, VA, who made federal. commonwealth, and MA city officials out to be the bozos they so often are. The two of them got Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the ground, simultaneously satisfying legal, moral, religious, and political needs.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?Newelskull

Honestly, for the People of the Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — the proscriptions and prescriptions were quite plain. Regardless of the alleged or proven sins of the previous possessor of the corpse in question, the body needed to be buried. In particular, as he was a Muslim, his remains should have gone in the ground as soon as possible and not be cremated.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?

Oddly enough though, the flogging by the crazed avengers has not and will not end. For a hint of only the latest vitriolic irrationality, check the comments by Boston Herald fans on the burial article.

For People of the Book, they forget that it is God who judges and not we mortals. Yet let us keep in perspective that these are likely the same hateful sorts who want to see perpetual punishment on those convicted of crimes. The concept of having served your debt to society is meaningless to them. In fact, being imprisoned for a crime is not punishment by itself, rather it is prelude to punishment; the facility must be as inhumane and dreadful as possible; prison itself is for punishment; pile it on.

Then once the sentence is complete, the ex-convict should not be allowed to earn a living or reenter society or be cleared and forgiven. Allow no forgiveness or fresh start, damn it!

I  don’t know where these people were during sermons, homilies, Bible readings or home teaching. The idea of perpetual punishment is not in our religious teaching. It came from elsewhere that they should have the authority, the right, to rain a life of anguish on sinners.

Instead, let us keep our perspective. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is nearly two months gone. His corpse remained, though he is gone. The hate and bile and faux retribution over what happened to his corpse is inane and cruel beyond belief.

Let us pause to pity those who proclaimed themselves judges of the corpses of fellow sinners. They understand neither our common commandments, nor our golden rule, nor societal decency that binds most of us. I forgive them.

 

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.

Drown the damned salad!

May 5th, 2013

cainssignAs a boomer, I grew up with the excesses of the amusingly epithet-ascribed greatest generation. Those carried along by the tides and storms of WWII indulged themselves from the moment they declared victory. We kiddies got to share in their leavings.

As a group, my parents’ generation rewarded themselves non-stop. Sure, that meant too much booze and a level of adultery not known since the most profligate of ancient periods. To this day, they feel and think they deserve every indulgence.

With that comes the irony of calling my generation and the next several The Me Generation, The Entitlement Generation and other denigrations. We who studied history, sociology and similar soft sciences know those slurs were first applied to the WWII and Korean “police action” sorts.

Regardless, the mythology was and remains powerful. All hail, summa cum laude, the Greatest Generation!

One small piece trace of that legacy is salads.

Yes, boomers grew up with the formerly deprived slathering dressings on. Sure, it was the Greatests’ parents and grandparents who had to make the family work and survive during the Great Depression and WWII. Sure, it was the WWII folk who walked into battle (or were the men and women behind the desks and safe in the defense plants) who risked bullets or paper cuts after their elders had shepherded them through the national economic horrors.

Having landed firmly after V-E and V-J Days, the WWII crew knew it was party time. Among the obvious delights were the self-indulgence of food.

We boomers recalled the weekly visitations of the women’s service mags — McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook and others. In most middle-class, white families that really meant one big thing. As surely as the WWI generation grabbed their Reader’s Digest monthly to find out what disease they had to fear this time, the competitive housewives made sure they were up on the latest recipes.

That was a simpler version of today’s foodie snobbery. Now it’s obscure ingredients and must-have food prep gear. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was being sure you were the first, or at least not the last, to serve the pop dishes.

Dreadful they were, but adequate in nutrition, if short on sapidity and devoid of presentation value. It meant, by God!, another tuna noodle casserole variation. It was those dreadful, salt-filled, mouth drying burgers baked in foil with cream of mushroom (always Campbell’s) and dried onion soup mix (always Lipton’s). Accompanying the leaden entrée was some cloyingly sweet mess with colors that do not naturally occur, think an orange Jell-O mold with pineapple junks and mini-marshmallows.

Then both at home and particularly in restaurants, the iceberg lettuce salads were totally dominated by four or five times too much sugary, fatty dressing. A typical dinner table at home or out included two, three or more bottles of gum-thickened, sugar filled mayonnaise disguised as condiment. The very antithesis of light, savory vinaigrette, those clots of extremism marked the WWII generation as surely as did the second and third pre-dinner cocktail.

I thought of those days a decade or more later when working one of my summer college jobs at Cain’s Foods (now Cains and in Ayer not Cambridge). We made and packaged salad dressings, mayo, pickles and horseradish. The famous chips magically happened elsewhere.

Among our short runs on the assembly line were gallons of salad dressings, ketchup and mayonnaise for restaurants. Sure, they carried the Cain’s label like the grocery quarts, but they were different. The old hands (all deaf from the clinking of bottles on the line) said the stuff the chefs got was simply better. The production shifted to condiments that used better materials, richer oils and more fully flavored ingredients. Your perception that the tabletop stuff when you ate out was better was accurate.

One effect of the women’s service mag tyranny was that most of us boomers had little idea what vegetables on their own tasted like. To this day, many of us suffocate salads.If a teaspoon of dressing is good, a quarter cup must be much better. You know…getting your money’s worth…

To no effort of my own, I had the benefit of summering with my maternal grandfather, who grew phenomenal amounts and varieties of vegetables. He  neither accepted nor permitted overpowering his veggies with fats and sugars. If we had asparagus, he’d go down his 150-foot rows with his stainless-steel knife and cut just enough for dinner. We’d eat them minutes later, maybe with a bit of lemon, a dusting of butter and a little salt.

Yet, at friends’ and relatives’, we’d be in the over-consumption mode.  The four bottles of clot-thick bottled dressings fairly screamed to swamp the salad makings. Kids as well as adults lathered it over and on.

In contrast, tossing a salad with say a little white-wine vinegar and a small squeeze of Dijon mustard or perhaps a splash of balsamic with a small portion of olive oil or maybe a scant teaspoon of mayo with some black pepper is all you need…and much, much better tasting. In fact, lightly dressed salads actually let you taste the ingredients, including remarkably enough the veggies.

We don’t have to praise the WWII generation. Lord knows, they’ve done plenty of self-mythology themselves. What the boomers and their kids are learning though is that we don’t have to replicate their food silliness. Too much is not better. It’s just too much.