Archive for May, 2008

Banner Leaps Over Globe

May 29th, 2008

Until this morning, I considered the Bay State Banner‘s stodgy look part of its charm. It has always had news and views that the dailies and weeklies didn’t cover. It remains a primary source for the area’s Black community.

Yet the paper and its website were stolid and visually uninteresting, even to an alter kaker such as me. The print version still is, but check out the new site. It went online this morning.

bsbcomment.jpgMirabile dictu! It’s easy on the eyes. It has article commenting (wake up Herald and Globe) with a WYSIWYG editor that pops up when you click the Add Comment buttons. Anyone who’s been on the Herald‘s article forum knows that’s not a commenting system, just a mangled bulletin board for insulters and haters.

bsb.jpgThe contents and layout are easy to look at. The article heads are easy to scan. The new top and side menus make navigation freshly simple.

Head over to the site, or at least click the partial page capture to the right for a flavor. For the geeky among us, know that this is an editme site, from a Wiki/content management background.
The site is as Deputy Editor Dan Devine wrote in a mass email this morning:

Readers will now be able to comment on Banner articles, post events independently to our community calendar, share our stories through a host of social bookmark sites, post our stuff to their Facebook profiles, follow us through their RSS readers of choice, navigate their way through all of our content more easily than was possible on our previous site, and do some other cool stuff, too. And it’s pretty, too.

I picked up the paper, as I do every Thursday. It’s as jumbled as ever. We have the last century in hand and this century on our screens.

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Ben the Bribable Brat

May 18th, 2008

Common lilacThere’s good news from the arboretum in JP. Lilac Sunday came and left last week, but no one told the lilacs. If anything, they are fuller and more fragrant this week. (Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

While the paths rumbled with Russian conversation, we otherwise staid WASPy types plunged our whole noses and cheeks into pungent bunches. Many times, the private contest was to determine which lilac was broadcasting the suddenly powerful scent. We were all shameless in our olfactory revels.

On the way back up the Centre Street hill though, we walked abreast with the evil Ben, the creature who has already defeated his mother. I judge him to be six, possibly early seven. She has ceded control of the family to her elder of two sons.

The path has a gravel covering, which tested Ben to do his worst. This included scooping hands full of stones and flinging them into the grass. Whiny Mom called out weakly an appeal to reason she must have tried at home. “Bennnnnnnnn, please stop. Don’t throw rocks in the grass. It will hurt the mower.”

Unimpressed and uncowed, Ben tossed more. Then he seemed to remember his four-year-old brother…as a target. He picked up several rocks and threw one after another at his sibling.

That incurred more ferocious wrath from WM. “Oh, Ben, please don’t throw rocks at people.” You can project the result of her entreaty. Ben continued to throw rocks, at which time, she began the bidding. “One dollar!” she cried, finally raising her voice. Ben threw more. “Two dollars!”

We hurried uphill, thorough embarrassed by the failed parent.

Bribing your elementary-aged child not to hurt his younger brother? Cut me a very thin slice of that bologna.

Having raised three boys, now adult, 17 and 14, I was aghast. I never hit my boys, but I did not let them throw rocks at anyone and I absolutely never paid them to human and humane.

WM seemed to be about 35. We figured it wouldn’t have helped in the slightest to give her a 76-second parenting lesson. She’s going to have it hard enough when Ben boy gets to be 15.

On the other hand, the lilacs were great.

Doyle’s Infested with Bloggers

May 15th, 2008

Blogger neighborhoodsMore than a clown car load of bloggers showed last night. I pronounce our first (insert period here) Rossie/JP/West Roxbury blogger social meet a modest success.

The rush report on the event is over at Universal Hub. Adam over there and I blame each other for this event. I think it was his idea and he claims I made it happen.

As threatened, we met at Doyle’s and from the comments, enjoyed it enough to have more such blobs of bloggers. I suggest that you try that for your neighborhoods or town.

It was without agenda, other than putting faces with blogs/bloggers and talk about our widely diverse blogs. I think we had 17 attendants.

We depended on the curiosity of strangers (and friends) as online invitations. While UH lists seven West Roxbury blogs, none from his list showed. We don’t know whether wading all the way into JP would be too much of a culture shock, but we’ll try to entice or shame them into coming next time. Maybe we can hold it closer to their safety zone, a Centre Street pub or the Pleasant in Roslindale.

However, we ended up with quite a few from Roslindale and JP. We got our share of what passes for celebrities in our little bloggy world. That certainly includes videoblogger Steve Garfield and media critic/professor Dan Kennedy. Plus we got Globe correspondent and ubiquitous free-lance Justin Rice.

Unquestionably though, the best parts were meeting bloggers whose stuff we read and talking with those whose interests and posts are nothing like ours. To those of us who do political or personal blogging, or in my case both, there were fascinating excursions.

Boston Handmade, for one, is for a crafts collective; Jessica Burko showed her geek chops and brought a laptop to access her site

Drew Gilpin Faust Fan Club has real and surreal posts related to the Harvard prez; I have it on good authority that she doesn’t yet know it exists

Learning Strategies has reportage and musings on like its title reads; as proof we did not discriminate by ZIP, this is from Larry Davidson in Dot

Joseph Porcelli, the cops and coffee mugs guy, attended

My Dedham (Brian Keaney) represented the south-of-Boston contingent; actually he was that contingent and lives in the land of always bubbling politics

9Neighbors had Rick Burnes describing his concept of displaying the most active blogs

Involuntary Slacker Alyssa belied the blog’s name and already posted on the literal symposium

The Boomer Chronicles (a favorite) had Rhea standing up for it

Andy’s Blog blogger Andy (Miller) even appeared; he’s been in his cave to pass the Mass bar exam, which he recently did and surely will become a regular poster again

Roslindale Monogatari with Michael Kerpan on film; he and I share an interest in the Tollgate Cemetery and had corresponded

Disclaimer: I am favorably disposed to the Faust blog, which is the idea and output of my uxorial unit, Cindy Thames.

And so it went. We met, we drank, we ate, and mostly we talked. I’ll put a few pix below. Click thumbnails for a larger view of what real bloggers look like.

Andy and Justin Steve Garfield
Andy and Justin (Rossie and the Globe Our famous videoblogger (JP)
Dan and Michael Rick, Cindy and Jessica
Dan Kennedy and Michael Kerpan Rick, Cindy and Jessica
Jessica, Alyssa and Adam
Jessica, Alyssa and Adam  

As an aside, reporter Justin asked me about blogger gatherings and whether this would grow into a BlogLeft type of activist group. I’m sure not. This was pure social and pure pleasure.

BlogLeft is a flapping loose set of political bloggers, pinko variety. We had a big gathering two years ago when Tim Murray was still mayor of Worcester and about to run for lieutenant governor. He was a guest there. We had breakout sessions and got real serious.

Likewise, we co-sponsored the lieutenant governor debate in Lowell and recently had a long, highly political gathering, also in Lowell. This is a serious and action-oriented group…not so with the south by southwest Boston bloggers.

The next time you see us plug an open, in-town blogger gathering, know it not serious, just seriously social.

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Blowy Bike Week in Boston

May 13th, 2008

notgrumpySnark first…

The cycling convert, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, needs to dump the UMASS Boston jock suit. It’s a preschooler’s color that gives him the look of Grumpy Bear. That’s doubly unfortunate in that he was doing something vaguely athletic and he was quite jolly at the time.

Yesterday, Da Mare led the gentle pedal down Tremont to Sudbury to Congress on the way from City Hall Plaza to Post Office Square. His posse included bout 50 cyclists — not a single other one dressed like one of the Care Bears™. The occasion was the opening day of Bay State Bike Week announcements.

That gives you a full six days to get your well-intentioned rear onto a cycle saddle and into the street. To further dash excuses, the skies want you out. Yesterday was the big wind and with the possible exception of a few passing showers on Thursday, the weather will be dandy all week.

carasYesterday was indeed windy, blow-over-bike windy. I’ll include an image of Cara Seideman (without the helmet) to show what the folk at the podium who had removed their gear faced. The helmeted woman below is Boston’s cycle czarina, Nicole Freedman.

The celebration is a variation on a theme that has run well over a decade, from single Boston Bike Day events in the 1990s into a combined Boston/Cambridge one expanding into a week into the second year of the optimistically named current incarnation. This has not always been linear, as Menino used to be hostile to inconveniencing motorists (voters) in any way, even to share the road, obey state laws and city regulations, and cut down on noise, congestion and pollution.

Celebrations shrank. The marvelous Tour de Graves rides halted. By bad timing or personality or whatever, the previous bike czar ended up with little to show for his tenure, as the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee suddenly disappeared from the budget. The city continued to have terrible ratings as a place for bike commuters and recreational cyclists. Yet, the advocates in City Hall, the dogged cyclists, and the successes in such outliers as Cambridge seem to have slowly worked resurrection magic on the events. (I have quite a few Tour de Graves shirts and would love for that to return. I’ve led one ride in that series and would do another gladly.)

The mayor decidedly gets it now. Apparently, that includes enabling Freedman’s programs.

Some of those are cheap, quick and simple. Bike lanes are among those. It’s a few thousand dollars per mile to paint these. In two months, we’ll get some of those on Commonwealth between the BU bridge and Kenmore. While some cycling groups insist these can be more dangerous to cyclists that riding with traffic, everyone acknowledges that they subtly but insistently raise motorist awareness that they are sharing the road.

I have mixed feelings about these lanes. We have a few in Boston, largely cruel jokes. I think of the one at Ruggles Street, headed west past the T station. A bike lane suddenly appears for less than a block. It abruptly ends as the road narrows slightly, so cyclists have to steer into the tiny traffic lane with buses, trucks and cars. It’s chicken on wheels. The cars would win.

Likewise, in Cambridge, police seem to have stopped enforcing bike lane restrictions on Mass Ave. Those lanes are more like UPS and FedEx parking lots, forcing cyclists to veer back into the most crowded lanes in the town.

nicolefBack in gusty Post Office Square, we jammed wheels and all onto the vest pocket park to hear promises I believe will be delivered. Menino said he intends for Boston to become a great place to bike. Freedman is seeing that the city gets several hundred more bike racks (the MBTA is already adding rack to hundreds of buses to accommodate bikes on long routes).

I’ve attended the commonwealth’s Moving Together car/bike/pedestrian conferences for years. I’ve heard about the improvements in various towns and cities. As the east/west and north/south bike paths continue to expand, pockets of bike-friendly projects are slowly doing the good work.

It appears as though Freedman is the right person on this side of the Charles. While I’m impatient, she is incessantly nibbling away at the tasks. Moreover, she has the screwdriver-in-the-socket alertness and energy level this requires.

The big piece, acceptance by motorists, will be the last in place. That’s my judgment, not Freedman or Seideman’s. Our infamous drivers fill newspaper letters pages or blog comments about how much they hate cyclists and how all of us are reckless scofflaws. They hate being inconvenienced by sharing the road. However, we have to keep the perspective that they think every other driver is an idiot whose sole role is to do stupid things that anger them.

In countries and cities where cycling is common, drivers become accustomed to, to return to that phrase, moving together. Yet, it does take familiarity, seeing cyclists, being reminded (maybe by a cop) that commonwealth law gives bikers the same privileges and demands the same adherence to traffic law as motorists.

I came back yesterday with a bit of windburn, a water bottle and a tasteless KICK GAS shirt. I also returned with a reinforced sense that we can make this work. It’s a bit like gay rights, except it’s not out of the closet, but bring the bike out of the garage.

Da Mare noted that most (maybe 90%) trips in this area are under two miles. That’s perfect for a bike and may take less time than driving. He swears he’s up for it and he wants the city to be also.

Cross-posting note: This appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Grassy Goslings Go Greedy

May 11th, 2008

With one of my own offspring practicing cycling with me in the Forest Hills Cemetery, I shared the lake-like object with the most in-love geese. A pair (turned into a threesome) of Canada geese were out with their own trio of babies.

The rest of the many geese seem not to like each other or to be a bit reproductively slow.

I’m not a fan of Canada geese, but their babies are as cute as anything Steiff has ever produced, except maybe the hedgehogs.

Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail for a larger image.

Strutting The goslings were all about eating, while the parents walked guard
First things first, bugs in this case First things first
Little details like cyclists, joggers and dogs didn’t distract the wee diners Reminds me of my teens at home
They leapt into the lake in unison Without sound, the goslings sprinted as best they could and plunged breast first into the lake with their parents
Finally, like a Navy convoy, they headed to open water convoy headed for safe water

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Peering at Peer Bloggers

May 7th, 2008

Blogger neighborhoodsSurely every blogger from Roslindale, JP or West Roxbury wants to put a face with some other particular bloggers from these parts. We can do that next week.

Our first area blogger social gathering — in a bunch, in a bunch — will be Wednesday, May 14th, at Doyle’s. We’ll gather in the big back room around 7 p.m.

Doyle’s location and a link to directions are here. I guess I’m co-host. Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub and I each consider this the other’s idea. At the very least, come buy Adam a beer for all the extra hits he’s given us when he cites one of our posts.

There’s no entry fee or other cost, except for whatever you order to eat or drink.

Apparently, WR only has a few bloggers. So, if you are one, you absolutely must come.

For some unknown reason, JP has a lot. Those from the two other neighborhoods have to be there next week to make sure we don’t dominate.

It also won’t be out of place to suggest that if this one is fun, we should have the next one at the Pleasant or wherever your favorite is that has a big room.

If you’ve never been to Doyle’s, feel free to gawk at the mayoral memorabilia, going way back. There’s murals of the many politically famous gents and ladies who have bent an elbow in the joint.

Food is fairly cheap. There’s quite a few drafts available. Doyle’s has the longest list of single malts I’ve ever seen. No one ridicules you if you want coffee or tea or club soda.

Stay as long as you find it amusing. Then feel free to post about it.

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Tuck the Earth Back in Bed Day

May 3rd, 2008

Does it make us Wake Up the Earth junkies if we’ve been going for about 20 of the 30 years it’s happened? We dragged our sorry, soggy butts there again today.

The people in the parade were having a great time. See some pix below.

Motley drummers in WUTE parade wave.jpg
Drum was a loose term and the dummers clearly enjoyed their versions. A variety of stilt walkers had a great time striding, walking, dancing and waving.
shake.jpg bugs1.jpg
Some bugs also played instruments as they paraded. Others were not content just to talk. Dancing was in order.

Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.

On the other foot, hand and head, the cold drizzle kept the crowds to maybe a fifth of the usual. It wasn’t enough to trigger the rain date of next weekend, but it is not going to be the vendors’ best WUTE day.

RIPbanner close RIPbannerAt the basketball court just below the Stony Brook T station, the on-court memorial shrine to murdered 20-year-old Luis Troncoso had to be off, apparently not to harsh the festival’s mellow. Yet a hand lettered banner running along the back of the court remained.

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The Last Fiddleheads in Town

May 2nd, 2008

U of Maine fiddlehead picAh, the Boston-area food quest! The slightly unusual, the ethnic, the seasonal…each and all fall into the you-have-to-know-where-and-when-to-look class.

This is just more of the hazing and initiation that comes from living in a charmingly provincial town.

Let it be known that I bought the last fiddleheads of the season here. Travel to far northern New England or Canada if you want. You won’t find any in Boston or Cambridge.

The last half pound ($4.50 worth) fiddleheads was next to some fresh herbs at the Harvest Co-op in Central Square, 581 Mass Ave. Ha!

I ha a hearty ha because I have learned that luck or hound-like determination provide the best results. I used my cycling time to career from grocery to natural-foods emporia when I realized Stop & Shop, Shaws and Roche Brothers stores I frequent were not laying in fiddleheads this year.

At a church dinner a week ago, I even asked the large table whether they had run across any. One woman had, about two weeks ago at a Whole Foods. And I was off.

I cycled to several Whole Foods, as well as groceries I saw on the way. The veggy manager at the one at Walnut and Beacon in Newton further riled me by 1) not having any, and 2) laughing before saying, “Oh, they’ve been gone for over a week.”

I continued with greater drive. Yesterday, cycling to lunch in Central Square, I stopped by the Whole Foods on River Street. I had intentionally left early enough to check out both the Harvest than then the little Whole Foods on Prospect.

Mirabile dictu! I took every last green coil from Harvest. At $8.99, it seemed a bargain. Chlorophyll at its tastiest was mine.

Sorry. Plan for next year.

What are they and what do you do with them, you ask?

Just in case you have never had fiddleheads and maybe don’t know them, I’ll share. Also, because I have mine this year, I’m set.

The still coiled baby fronds to be of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are delicious to humans as the mature fronds are to some butterfly larvae. Many ferns are just plain nasty, but these are a very short-seasoned delight.

The Rush of Danger: Many sites with fiddleheads recipes, like this one and this one, warn that an unidentified toxin in some undercooked fiddleheads have caused gastric distress. I have eaten the lightly boiled and tossed with lemon juice, salt and butter or oil to no ill effect. However, I now buy into the toxin idea and won’t eat them until they cook for 10 to 15 minutes.


As with any green, rinse them, chop off any touch or brown stem ends and cook ’em up.While some make a cream soup with them, I find they are too easily overpowered by strong flavors. Cream can smother their flavor and strong herbs and spices can disguise the “green” taste.I went a little more elaborate than I usually do this season. I created a lightly sauced side dish, let’s call Fiddlehead Not-Quite Soup. It was along the line of:

½ pound of fiddleheads, washed and trimmed

1½ tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced

½ cup chicken broth

1 cup of milk

pinch of salt

scant dash of white pepper

  1. Sauté the onion in the butter until translucent.
  2. Add the fiddleheads and the chicken broth. Then simmer uncovered stirring regularly for 12 or more minutes. The fiddlehead stems should be fork tender.
  3. Add the milk, stirring occasionally as it reduces, until moist but not soupy.
  4. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Serve warm. This makes a good first course so it does not compete with other dishes.

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They’ll Never Take Me Alive!

May 2nd, 2008

prison fence

My shrink friends tell me we all have those manageable and managed destructive impulses — stepping off the platform in front of the train or pushing someone else. More powerfully, just living can be relentlessly tough and painful. So suicide peeks in our mental windows or comes in to visit.

Two recent very public suicides fall into a whole different category. Convicted felons, one I knew, killed themselves before sentencing. They had months to decide. The likelihood of years or a decade in prison, plus the certainty of emerging broke, was more than they were willing to live with, literally.

Both left suicide notes, which are not public. Each used a method that was not a cry for help with a good possibility of rescue. Consider:

  • Deborah Jean Palfrey, a.k.a. the D.C. Madam, who actively fought charges related to a prostitution ring. She hanged herself in a shed at her mother’s house in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Her convictions were on money laundering, financial racketeering, and illegal use of the mail.
  • Edward Paul Mattar III, who spent several years unsuccessfully trying to avoid conviction of bank fraud and related financial conspiracy. He broke his 27th floor Denver apartment window and defenestrated himself.

cemetery statuary

The Denver Post business columnist Al Lewis got hints of Mattar’s long note. Word from prosecutors is that it was not an introspection nor any type of mea culpa. Instead, it was a list of related details and tasks for others after his death. There’s a bitter irony there for someone ceding his life and ability to act, yet affecting a measure of control on others post mortem.

In contrast, Palfrey repeatedly announced her intention. Author and journalist Don E. Moldea reported that she told him, “I’m not going back to jail. I’ll kill myself first. I’ll commit suicide first.”

Her reference was to the 18 months she spent in a California prison. Her conviction then was for attempted pimping. She did not help herself by fleeing before sentencing. Police captured her in Montana at the Canadian border.

A heavy pointer to her thoughts and feelings on prison was in the Washington Post piece:

Appearing on ABC’s “20/20” program a few months after her indictment, Palfrey spoke of Brandy Britton, a former college professor who hanged herself in her Howard County home in January 2007 shortly before her scheduled trial on prostitution charges. Palfrey said Britton had once worked for her.

“She couldn’t take the humiliation,” Palfrey said. “Her whole life was destroyed.”

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Moldea “said that her stay in custody stressed her body so much it had impaired her vision and she refused to go back. ‘It damn near killed her.'”

While others connected with such sex and financial scandals emerge to new careers and financial stability — sometimes building on the sensationalism and infamy, Palfrey and Mattar would not, could not take that path.

Both were in their 50s and surely had at least one more new beginning before them. Yet, their suicides show us again the unknowable. We cannot understand what another person simply cannot abide, what is just one step too far for another.

Another exit similarity was the decision to make others deal with their extremely unpleasant details afterward. For Mattar, rather than go up one floor and leap, he smashed a picture window, leaving the detritus and repairs for others. For Palfrey, she hanged herself where her mother was certain to be the one to find the corpse dangling. Those dramatic statements underscore the often self-centered nature of what could be called the most egotistic of acts.

Sadly for me, it brought to mind the suicide of my Boy Scoutmaster when I was in junior high. Tom was a brilliant chemist, who had a gambling addiction. He and his wife were also good friends of my mother. I don’t recall ever seeing two people more in love with each other.

He was so in debt to mobsters that the only solution he could see was to kill himself. He did that with cyanide at home. He knew his wife would be gone for hours. From the calculations he left, the poison would be well out of the air in the bathroom long before she returned. He had even showered and shaved.

I was and still am saddened he came to that. We learned a lot of Scout stuff, outdoor lore and practical methods, on many camping trips and our regular troop meetings. He kept us laughing, kept pace with the strongest and most assured of us, while gently pushing the shy and clumsy. He really taught self-confidence.

He was a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable human, with a tragic flaw. Yet there don’t seem to be too many parallels among Tom, Ed and Deborah. Of course, the only one that counts is that for their various reasons, they were sure they could not continue to the only place they saw life leading.

 5/5 Update: The Smoking Gun put Palfrey’s suicide note on its site.  Sure enough, she writes that’s she’d come out of prison in her late fifties “a broken penniless & very much alone woman.”

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Blob of Bloggers in Two Weeks

May 1st, 2008

laptop keysIt’s a beautiful evening in the neighborhood(s). Bloggers from Roslindale, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury sections of Boston have their first (but not ice cream) social in two weeks.

Wednesday, May 14th, starting at 7 p.m., we’ll meet at Doyle’s to put faces and names to bloggers we read. Maybe we’ll brag and lie to each other too. There’ll be:

  • No test
  • No lectures
  • No entry fee (pay for what you consume)

Doyle’s is a bar and restaurant, famous for its many taps, its Irish pizza, and paintings and artifacts of the many Boston and Massachusetts pols who’ve warmed a bar stool here.

The idea is to meet and greet, to order some food and drink, and to indulge in talking about blogging with people who do it and who care about it.

Your blog or blogs may be about politics, history, nature, gardening, family, or whatever. You’re welcome.

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