A personal remembrance of Mayor Thomas M. Menino

Tom Menino died yesterday at the young age of 71.  After having declined to run for a 6th term, he officially retired from office in January this year and was soon after diagnosed with advanced cancer.  He was my boss for some 13 years – I think everyone who worked for the City of Boston considered him that – but I was far enough up the food chain to have only a couple of layers between us.  Plus I was on committees and volunteered  in ways that put me in touch with him.

I believed it was when he was running for term number 5 that a poll showed that 57% of Boston residents had met him personally.  I assume that those polled were adults and not children as I have to believe an even higher percentage of kids had met him as he made the rounds of community centers, schools and other events.

Menino spoke with Edrei Olivero, 7, of Mattapan, before a neighborhood walk in 2010. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)

Menino spoke with Edrei Olivero, 7, of Mattapan, before a neighborhood walk in 2010. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)

In fact, my favorite memory of the Mayor was with a little girl.  I know I’ve told this story before but I’m telling it again.

I was at a Boston Housing Authority community day.  Early summer, late afternoon.  Some people were grilling and there were chips and stuff, but the big attraction for the kids was the ice cream.  If I remember correctly, Ben and Jerry’s had donated, or one of their stores or distributors had, ice cream and cones.  Some volunteers were scooping it out.  A little girl had attached herself to me and wanted some.  I got her a cone and we were walking away with it when the ice cream fell out of the cone and onto the ground – right at the feet of the Mayor.  She started to cry.  He picked her up and took her over the ice cream table and got her another cone.  Of course he cut into the front of the line.  One boy started to object and another whispered loudly, “That’s the Mayor.” She was happy.  The Mayor was happy.

And that is how I will remember him most.  He loved all the children of Boston and I think they loved him back.

 

Menino spent his last Halloween (2013)as mayor of Boston as he always did -- on his Hyde Park front porch giving out candy to neighborhood children. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

Menino spent his last Halloween (2013)as mayor of Boston as he always did — on his Hyde Park front porch giving out candy to neighborhood children. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

 

Anger, fear, and violence

People made fun of President Carter when he spoke of a national malaise.  I’m not sure we were in one back then, but I’d say we are sure in one today.  Everyone seems tired.  The upcoming election is very important, but many can’t get up enough energy to decide to vote.  But added to the tiredness is anger.   You can see it in what is said about the President, in the disrespect shown him and the office.  You can see it in the fear about Ebola.  You can see it in the increased racial tension in Missouri and elsewhere.  You can see it the attempts to restrict voting.  I see the fear of “the other” manifesting as anger.  But you can also see it in the anger against women.

Jessica Valenti had a piece in the Guardian the other day, “Why are Men so Angry?”.  I’ve been thinking about it since I first came across it.  She begins

There’s a Margaret Atwood quote that I can’t get out of my head these days: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Last Friday, a young man from Washington state walked into his high school cafeteria and shot five people, killing one young woman. Early reports from other students indicate that the shooter, who reportedly shot himself, was upset over a girl. In early October, Mary Spears was shot to death in Detroit, allegedly by a man whose advances she rejected at a social club. In April, a Connecticut teen stabbed his classmate to death when she rejected his prom invitation. Turning men down is a risky business.

But the madness doesn’t stop there. From Gamergate to mass shootings todomestic violence and the NFL – the common denominator is male rage. Women are not committing most acts of mass and individual violence, nor are women lobbing out most death threats online or raping most college students. Violence – and the threat of it – remains a decidedly male domain.

But why are men so violently angry?

I believe that it is the same kind of fear that drives the fear of the racially other.  When it comes to women, it is fear of losing some perceived superiority.  Valenti puts it this way

Is it the fear that women’s progress means a loss of all that shiny male privilege? That our society is a zero sum game and power can’t be shared? Maybe some men’s anger stems from good old-fashioned misogyny, which is then stoked by political, social and cultural forces that say there’s nothing lower in this world than a woman so how dare she … well, anything. Or perhaps that anger at women comes from straight-up entitlement: the men who believe that women are meant to be there for them, whether it’s to wash their toilets or warm their beds, and that denying them access to us is an unthinkable affront.

But it’s no coincidence that anti-feminist backlash happens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing. And male anger towards women isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it’s gaining steam. Online forums that provide anonymity are creating spaces for men to say the things they no longer can in “real life”, police and courts that disbelieve and blame women for the violence done to them give men the impression their bad behavior is acceptable and a conservative movement that refuses to let go of traditional gender roles teaches our children that being a man is synonymous with being “tough”, having guns and, yes, being violent.

domestic_violence_awareness_ribbon

I’m old enough to remember when no one talked about violence against women.  We were just beginning to recognize domestic violence and create shelters.  The concepts of sexual harassment and date rape were just being named.  Rape was beginning to be taken seriously.  Now we have special months, ribbons, and rape is generally depicted as a crime of violence.  So it makes me tired to think that after all these decades that we are still trying to figure out how to deal with male violence.  (And before someone complains that women can be violent also, yes they can be.  But the vast majority of violent incidents are perpetrated by men.)

Valenti concludes

If we want to put a dent in male anger and the chaos it creates, we need to stop looking at problems like sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence and even violent threats online and assigning their solutions to feminists. We need to stop calling them “just women’s issues”. We have to address men and men’s behavior together – not just their direct violence against women, but their propensity to protect their own. Not the outcomes of their rage, but the causes. Because, until we do, we’ll continue to be afraid. All of us.

I think she is right, but I worry that the conversation about male violence will be like the national dialog on race which everyone talks about but no one knows how to begin.  I’m not sure I know how to talk to the person who still believes that President Obama is really Kenyan, much less talk to someone to wants to commit violence against me to keep me in my place.

 

 

 

Writer’s block

I’ve been quiet for a few days.  Have lots of things I’m thinking about and have started some posts, but not finished any of them.  Is it because I am depressed and anxious about the upcoming election?  (I keep reading about the evils of a Republican takeover of the Senate and fear that voter turnout will be low.)  Or is it because there is no fall excitement with the Red Sox in the World Series?  (Although I have to say the games have been exciting with the Royals and Giants.)  Maybe I’m suffering from sleep deprivation since I have a cat who has decided she needs attention at 10:30, 11:30 and between 12 and 1 am.  I think she may be having delayed moving anxiety.  Whatever.  I still don’t sleep.

Then I came upon this humor piece from the New Yorker by James Thomas  

Well, here you are, looking at this, trying, hoping, floundering, scrabbling, wishing, dying to find out the mystery of “how to” write a sentence. Or possibly you have tried write sentence and failed utterly.

Ideally, you’ll aim to begin on the left (in this case, with the word “ideally”), head right (through the middle of the sentence), and stop at the far end of the sentence (in this case, right here).

Sentences have been around since the dawn of paragraphs, and indeed since before that, for sentences are essentially the building blobs of a paragraph. Right here, if you’re looking closely enough, you may notice that what you are now reading in fact is a sentence. But also—some will have noticed even more well—what you are reading is a paragraph. And I could go further than that, even, to declare that you are also reading words, letters, and indeed this entire page. Nobody thought you could do it, but here we are now and aren’t you having a good time?

All I need to do according to Mr. Thomas is write a bunch of sentences and blob them into paragraphs and before you know it I will have a post!

Even furthermore, you’re reading everything that has ever been wrote, but you’re starting with just this bit, because reading everything at once would be too much for anyone to attempt. Too much words in one go is unacceptable, and your writing should reflect that. Keep it concise and don’t stuff your sentence with unnecessary, superfluous, gratuitous content that smothers your prose, muddies your intentions, confuses the reader, clogs up the page with excess text, pads out the work with inelegant drivels, irritates the eye, examines giraffes, and renders your point unclear.

Also, keep your paragraphs short.

How importan is spelling? Well, very important. I don’t know why anyone would even ask that. If you have any sef-respect, you ought to be diligent about and with regard to spelling. If words are the bulding blocks of a sentence—and I would argue that yes, they are—then spelling is the stuff that holds them togteher.

Maybe tomorrow, after absorbing all this advice, I will finish one of my draft posts.  After I finish planting my bulbs for the spring.

Lady writer

Illustration from Mindy’s Muses @ mindysmuses.blogspot.com

 

Ebola, the flu and other health risks

I just got my flu shot.  I get one every year.  While it might not keep me from getting sick this winter, in all likelihood it will keep me from getting really sick.  I just hope that everyone else I interact with has also gotten a flu shot.

Frank Bruni wrote about this in this morning’s New York Times.

During the 2013-2014 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 46 percent of Americans received vaccinations against influenza, even though it kills about 3,000 people in this country in a good year, nearly 50,000 in a bad one.

These are deaths by a familiar assassin. Many of them could have been prevented. So why aren’t we in a lather over that? Why fixate on remote threats that we feel we can’t control when there are immediate ones that we simply don’t bother to?

On matters exotic, we’re rapt. On matters quotidian, which are nonetheless matters of life and death, we’re cavalier. Tens of thousands of Americans die in car crashes annually, and according to a federal analysis from 2012, more than half of them weren’t wearing seatbelts.

I think part of the reason people are so panicked about Ebola is because so far the medical community in the United States seems very inept at treating it and, particularly, in preventing its spread.  Amy Davidson’s piece “Amber Vinson’s Airplane Ride” in the New Yorker is particularly instructive.

Amber Vinson called the Centers for Disease Control, on Monday, to say that she had a temperature of 99.5 degrees and planned to get on a commercial flight from Cleveland to Dallas; should she? Vinson, a nurse, had cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, a patient with Ebola, in Dallas—she had put a catheter in him and been in close contact when he was vomiting and in the throes of diarrhea. The day before Vinson made her call, one of her colleagues, Nina Pham, had tested positive for Ebola. There was, supposedly, a system in place for monitoring Duncan’s contacts. And yet, as the C.D.C. confirmed late on Wednesday, the official Vinson spoke to cleared her to fly. Vinson got on Frontier Airlines Flight 1143, with a hundred a thirty-two other passengers. She landed in Dallas at 8:16 P.M.. The next morning, her fever was worse; around midnight, she tested positive for Ebola.

There is much that is seriously wrong here. The first is that Pham and Vinson, who are both in their twenties, were so exposed. Their hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian, sent Duncan home the first time he showed up in the emergency room, with a fever and pain and the information that he’d just been in Liberia. But it’s also emerging that, in the first days after he was admitted for the second time, on September 28th—with his family saying that they thought he had Ebola, and all the full-blown symptoms on display, but as yet no laboratory test confirming it—he was not properly isolated, according to records obtained by the Associated Press. The nurses caring for him had to improvise their own protection.

Tom Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., addresses the media on the Ebola case, on October 5th.

Tom Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., addresses the media on the Ebola case, on October 5th.

Thomas Frieden, the head of the CDC, has said they should have had people there to help them “do it right”, but then someone from his own agency told Amber Vinson it was OK for her to fly.  And we are left to wonder who is in charge and if anyone knows what they are doing.  If President Obama wants to do something to help regain public confidence that the health care system here can deal effectively with Ebola, maybe Mr. Frieden’s departure would be a good start.

Amy Davidson writes

Frieden himself represents an even bigger problem. His account of how Vinson got on the plane, related in the conference call on Wednesday, was at least evasive and, depending on what he knew and what exactly Vinson was told, may have been worse. He was asked three different ways if Vinson had been told not to fly, and each time dodged the question in a way that left the impression that Vinson was some sort of rogue nurse who just got it into her head that she could fly wherever she wanted. He talked about her “self-monitoring,” and that she “should not have travelled, should not have been allowed to travel by plane or any public transport”—without mentioning that his agency was who allowed it.

It is things like this, and the lack of protocols at Texas Health Presbyterian, that create fear, probably unwarranted, among the American public that there will be a major outbreak of Ebola here.

As Bruni says

I’m not dismissing the horror of Ebola, a full-blown crisis in Africa that should command the whole world’s assistance. And Ebola in the United States certainly warrants concern. We’re still searching for definitive answers about transmission and prevention.

But Americans already have such answers about a host of other, greater perils to our health, and we’d be wiser to reacquaint ourselves with those, and recommit to heeding them, than to worry about our imminent exposure to Ebola.

So, use seat belts, get a flu shot, get your kids vaccinated, don’t use your cell phone while driving and use sunscreen.  And try not to worry about getting Ebola.

 Photograph by  KEVIN C. COX/GETTY

Like a speeding locomotive

That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of how quickly things have moved when it comes to marriage equality.  It has only been 10 years since same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.  And only a few years longer that that since Vermont adopted civil unions.  For a while I was keeping track and blogging every time a state was added, but I just couldn’t keep up – or keep track.  Now Federal benefits are available to all legally married couples regardless of the state in which they reside and the Supreme Court is letting stand Appeals Court decisions ruling prohibitions unconstitutional.

According to a post in the Washington Post’s “The Fix”, most gay Americans now live in states with marriage equality.

As the map of where gay marriage is legal has shifted and changed over the past few years, we’ve tracked a harder-to-measure component of the new laws: How many gay Americans live in states that allow them to marry.

In June, we anticipated that the tipping point was imminent. Based on data from Gallup surveys in 2012, a higher percentage of the country’s gay population already lived in gay-marriage-legal states than the population on the whole. With Monday’s Supreme Court non-decision, the percentage of gay Americans and Americans on the whole living in states where gay marriage is legal topped 50 percent.

Gay Marriage map

I am unclear as to how Gallup determined the percentage of person living in a state who were gay or lesbian, but given the way Gallup polls, I assume it is by self-reporting in response to a question.  According to the Fix, marriage equality has arrived in states with a lower population of gay residents.

So what happens next is anyone’s guess but with the growing numbers of same-sex marriages, I’m not sure how a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary could be implemented without chaos.  A more likely scenario is a decision like the one in Loving v. Virginia.  When the Court finally ruled on interracial marriage, the majority of states already allowed such unions.

This does not mean that the opposition will not fight on.  A story in the New York Times today reported that

Leading opponents of same-sex marriage vowed on Wednesday to push ahead with their legal fight, noting that several federal appeals courts had not yet ruled on the issue and that the Supreme Court could still decide to leave it up to the states.

Even as the list of states authorizing same-sex marriage swells, the opponents noted Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s order on Wednesday totemporarily block a federal appeals court ruling striking down the marriage restrictions in Idaho. The temporary order came as a surprise to many advocates on both sides of the issue, since the Supreme Court on Monday had allowed similar decisions from three other appeals courts to take effect.

“The marriage battle will continue,” said Jim Campbell, a senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group that has defended marriage restrictions in several states.

Opponents seem determined that each state should have a right to define its marriage laws, but that just doesn’t seem likely to me given the Loving decision as a precedent.

“If the liberals on the court had the votes to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right, why didn’t they take any of the cases on offer Monday?” asked Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage.

“That gives hope that the Supreme Court will not launch another Roe v. Wade,” Mr. Brown said, referring to the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

Mr. Brown also rejected the argument that, once same-sex marriages had been allowed in many states, the law could not be rolled back if the voters wanted to do so.

But most legal experts drew the opposite conclusion from Monday’s action.

“We know, from the court’s willingness Monday to allow all these marriages to go forward,” that opponents of same-sex marriage “are virtually guaranteed to lose” before the current Supreme Court, said Michael C. Dorf, a constitutional expert at Cornell Law School.

In the meanwhile, I have friends getting married, both same-sex and opposite sex.  I also have friends in both categories who have or are getting divorced.  All people want is to live their own lives and to have the legal protections due them.  I think the opposition needs to get out of the way of the speeding locomotive.

Map:  The Washington Post

 

 

Remembering Poe

Edgar Allan Poe died today, October 7, 1849 in Baltimore.  He was 40 years old.

My first introduction to Poe was “The Tell- Tale Heart”.  I think was in maybe the 5th or 6th grade when the teacher read it to us.  I found it frightening.  And then there were his other storied like “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and his very bad poetry.  I had always thought he was from Richmond – or maybe Baltimore, but have since learned he actually lived all over and went to school both at the University of Virginia and West Point.  After I moved to Boston, I found out that he had been born there.  I went looking for the tiny plaque in an alley honoring him.  There was also a reference in one of Linda Fairstein’s mysteries to the Poe cabin in the Bronx which is how I first learned of his New York connection.  So lots and lots of places claim him and there are at least three Poe historical sites:  Richmond, Baltimore and the Bronx.

But he and Boston had a terrible relationship.  According to the New York Times

Poe sneered at the city’s luminaries. Riffing off the Frog Pond in the Boston Common, Poe called the local swells “Frogpondians,” their moralistic works sounding like the croaking of so many frogs. As for residents here, they “have no soul,” he said. “Bostonians are well bred — as very dull persons very generally are.”

The Boston Globe explains that his relationship with “…with the city’s literary elite was famously tense…”

But now Boston has joined Baltimore, Richmond and New York with a tribute to Poe.  The New York Times quotes Boston’s Mayor

“It’s time that Poe, whose hometown was Boston, be honored for his connection to the city,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said.

The bronze Edgar Allen Poe’s briefcase overflows with the symbols that made him famous: a larger-than-life raven, and a human heart.

The bronze Edgar Allen Poe’s briefcase overflows with the symbols that made him famous: a larger-than-life raven, and a human heart.

The Times describes the statue

Now the city is burying the hatchet, and not in Poe’s back. On Sunday [October 5], civic and literary folk, including Robert Pinsky, a former national poet laureate who teaches at Boston University, are to unveil a bronze statue of Poe near the Boston Common and, they hope, usher in an era of reconciliation.

The statue captures the writer in a purposeful stride, his cape billowing out to his left. On his right is an outsize raven, uncoiling for flight. Poe is toting a suitcase so overpacked that various manuscripts — “The Tell-Tale Heart” among them — are spilling out. Also popping out is a heart.

He is heading toward the house, two blocks away, where his parents lived around the time he was born, though it has since been razed.

So the only person to write a poem that became the name of a football team, the Baltimore Ravens, has finally been honored in the city of his birth.  I wonder what Poe would make of it.

Photograph:  DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF

 

 

 

Professor Borges on reading

Jorge Luis Borges taught a course in English literature in 1966.  The lectures were recorded and transcribed (albeit not always accurately when it came to names which were rendered phonetically into Spanish) by some of his students.  The lectures have been translated from the Spanish and edited for clarity, but one can tell they were spoken and not written for publication. So far, I have only read a couple of them:  on Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson.  Borges’ take on their lives and writings is unique to say the least and offers much room for new ideas.  It the kind of book where one can pick a lecture topic that is of interest and just read that section.

But it is Epilogue to the book that I want to post today.  It is not from a lecture, but an interview with him at the National Library in 1979.

I believe that the phrase “obligatory reading” is a contradiction in terms; reading should not be obligatory.  Should we ever speak of “obligatory pleasure”?  What for?  Pleasure is not obligatory, pleasure is something we seek.  Obligatory happiness!  We seek happiness as well.  For twenty years, I have been a professor of English Literature in the School of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires, and I have always advised by students:  If a book bores you, leave it; don’t read a book because it is famous, don’t read it because it is modern, don’t read a book because it is old.  If a book is tedious to you, leave it, even if that book is Paradise Lost -which is not tedious to me – or Don Quixote – which is also is not tedious to me.  But if a book is tedious to you, don’t read it; that book was not written for you.  Reading should be a form of happiness, so I would advise all possible readers of my last will and testament – which I do not plan to write – I would advise them to read a lot, and not to get intimidated by writers’ reputations, to continue to look for personal happiness, personal enjoyment.  It is the only way to read.

Great advice for a retired person maybe, but not really the St. John’s College approach.  I believe it is in the famous Saturday Review of Literature article on St. John’s from the early 1960s that the phrase, “at St. John’s readings include some of the most boring books written” or something like that.  But if I hadn’t had to read Galen or Kant, I believe my life would be less rich.  Not true for everyone, probably, but true for me.  Sometimes plowing though something boring is good discipline.  But when it comes to reading for pleasure, I agree with Professor Borges:  Read only what you enjoy.

Borges

The book is Professor Borges:  A Course on English Literature.  Edited by Martin Arias and Martin Hadis.  New Directions, 2013