Burying the dead

Tamerlan Tsarnaev hijacked a car and kidnapped the owner but did not kill him.  He died in a shootout with police – maybe from gunshots, maybe from his younger brother running over him.  These are facts.  It is likely he set off at least two explosive devices near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Either he or his brother shot a MIT police officer in cold blood.  Does this mean he does not deserve to be buried in his adopted hometown of Cambridge?  Or barring that, somewhere in the Boston area.

We have a long history of abusing the bodies of our enemies.  Antigone wants to bury of the body of her brother, Polyneices.  At the beginning of the play named for her, she tells her sister

…they say he [Creon] has proclaimed to the whole town

that none may bury him and none bewail,

but leave him unwept, untombed, a rich sweet sight

for the hungry birds’ beholding.

Antigone is trying to persuade her sister they should commit what we would call civil disobedience and bury Polyneices anyway.

Achilles dragged the body of Hector behind his chariot for days after the Trojan had killed his best friend, Patroclus.  Achilles finally relents to Hector’s father.  We are told that the gods had kept the body from showing signs of abuse.

Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, and Albert DeSalvo perhaps the Boston Strangler, were both buried in private cemeteries.  So was Lee Harvey Oswald.

Massachusetts law gives a cemetery the right to refuse burial, but I haven’t seen any stories that discuss how often this right is invoked.  A number of funeral home directors have spoken out saying that the protests outside the funeral home are not right.  The most interesting comment came from a North Carolina Republican who sponsored legislation to limit protests by groups like Westboro Church.

“The family can have peace and say goodbye to their loved ones without hearing screaming and noise,” says North Carolina Republican state Rep. John Szoka, who sponsored a bill this year to strengthen that state’s ban.

Most Americans find the Westboro protests outrageous because they believe deeply in the right of a family to bury their dead and not be challenged about it, Sloane [David C. Sloane, author of The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History] says.

That’s what makes the protests in Worcester unusual. Tradition dictates that bodies of even the most heinous criminals be given over to the families to deal with in their private grief.

Regardless of his actions, though, a funeral home is not the appropriate place for such public expression of anger, says Szoka, the North Carolina legislator.

“I’m not really in favor of protesting outside funeral homes, no matter how disgusting the individual or whatever he did,” Szoka says. “There are other venues for that.”

Cemeteries in Massachusetts may have the legal right to refuse, but they should think more about why they exist and what their mission is.  The problem they are thinking of is future vandalism.  Another act that most of those protesting would normally find outrageous.

Protesters outside the funeral home.

Protesters outside the funeral home.

As I understand it, Muslim dead, like Jewish dead need to be buried as soon as possible.  They cannot be cremated.  Quite honestly, I think the statements of all the Massachusetts politicians who have spoken including Representative and Senate candidate Ed Markey, Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez, Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick have been less than worthy of them.  They are behaving like so many Creons.  The Worcester funeral home director, Peter A. Stefan and the Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme seem to be the only ones actively and constuctively working toward a solution.

Whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body is buried in another state or sent back to Russia, what is going on is not worthy of Massachusetts.  It is not worthy of “OneBoston.”  We are better than this.

Photograph:  AP

Translation of Antigone: Richmond Lattimore

One year in Boston

OK.  So maybe we are a little self-absorbed right now what with congratulating each other on how well we survived and how much money we have raised for the victims.  The police are at all the events (Sox, Bruins, etc.) being honored.  And maybe everyone is laughing at us for letting the entire City be locked down for an entire day, but it worked for us.  I can’t imagine it happening in New York or LA or Philly.  Maybe San Francisco.  But Boston is pretty connected and compact and if you shut down the public transit, it gets difficult for many people to move around.  I’m sure someone will do a study on why Bostonians pretty universally listened to Governor Deval Patrick.  I wasn’t even in town and I got an alert voice mail.  Maybe it went on too long, but that’s a judgement call and after the fact.  I have read that the “shelter in place” order was lifted on suggestion from President Obama – which might be true, but I’m not sure at this point.  There are still a lot of rumors flying around and as with Newtown, Sandy, and all the other horrific events, we will know the real story months and even years from now.

I was happy to see Brian McFadden’s take on the situation.

12 Months of Boston

12 Months of Boston

Yes, we are getting back to normal and there will be another Boston Marathon in 2014.  And we will learn the truth about what went on that horrible week.  But for now, the Sox are on a roll, the Bruins are in the playoffs and the Celtics stayed alive for another game.

The Boston Marathon bombing

I was checking into a hotel in Philadelphia minutes after the bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and learned what had happened from the desk clerk.  For the next week, we followed the story mostly by reading the paper in the morning and sometimes catching a few snippets on television.  I had made the decision not to do email or any social media while I was gone.  I did have my cell phone on, mostly in case of a cat emergency at home or a Philly friend calling.  It was strange to be away from home and hearing about familiar places.

Things got particularly weird  for me late Thursday afternoon.  The authorities had just released the video of the suspects and in the tape was a person walking who resembled me.  I started getting text messages and calls from friends in Boston who wondered if it was me and if I were OK.  It wasn’t, but when we turned on the TV and watched the endless loop, the other “me” was easy to spot.  Blue jacket, ball cap, grey purse strap across the back.  A short woman, a little stocky.  As one of my friends said even after being reassured, “It really does look like you.”

I got home to a pile of papers and more information on the incident.  It was interesting to see what people got wrong in the early days and it should get more interesting as the investigation continues.  My husband and I were thinking that bombing like this are regular occurrences in other countries and in many ways we are lucky that our law enforcement can actually track the two kids who planted the bombs.  We will bring the survivor to trial eventually, but as someone, I think it was Senator Elizabeth Warren, said these are the early days of the investigation and this is not NCIS where crimes get solved in an hour.

James Carroll wrote this morning in the Boston Globe about the Boston Marathon, the votes in Washington against any regulation of guns, and democracy.  Here is some of what he said.

In 490 BC, the legendary runner brought urgent news to Athens of the Greek victory in Marathon over the armies of the Persian Empire. The Battle of Marathon secured a peace that ushered in the Athenian Golden Age, during which a vibrant democracy finally found the balance between the exercise of force and the fulfillment of human needs. Last week, as an American commemoration of the Battle of Marathon unfolded in Boston, that same democratic balance was dangerously stretched amid the Doric columns of Washington, where the Senate cast a tragic vote for violence.

Yet even our definition of “tragic” goes back to Athens, to the spacious imagination that flourished there — especially in the plays of Sophocles, who lived from about 497 to 406 BC. He taught us that every choice has its consequence, that character is destiny, that the exercise of power must always be measured by the health of the whole community. He also taught us that tragedy, when faced directly and bravely, leaves humans not diminished, but ennobled.

The traumas of Boston last week, culminating in the killing and pursuit of the men suspected of planting the bombs, were heartbreaking and repugnant, but they left the city whole. With all citizens commanded to “shelter in place” Friday while responsible officials conducted the manhunt, Boston was itself a character in the extraordinary drama. A vast ad hoc web of Internet users to whom law enforcement had appealed gave new meaning to the term “community policing.” The fugitives knew that an entire commonwealth had become their antagonist. This surely forced the drama’s denouement. There were no bystanders in Boston.

From Homer on, Greek culture honored competition (“agon” in Greek, which gives us the word “agony”). But in Athens, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has explained, this spirit of contest was balanced by the politics of cooperation. The virtues of the first (discipline, bravery, self-actualization) meshed with the virtues of the second (empathy, humility, selflessness). Athenian democracy was the reconciliation of these opposites. Strength was joined to tenderness.

The Boston Marathon wonderfully embodies this balanced moral order, too: Every year the fiercely determined runners strive to be best (or for their personal best), while surrounded by multitudes whose cooperation makes the race so radically inclusive.

But death changes everything — a jolting transformation to which Greek tragedy itself gave first expression. “In the face of death,” as MacIntyre puts it, “winning and losing no longer divide.” Instead, competition drops away, and cooperation becomes the absolute mandate. That is precisely what happened in Boston, as the city held Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and later Sean Collier in its heart.

Last week, a separate drama unfolded in Washington. “It’s almost like you can see the finish line, but you just can’t get there.” These words could have been spoken by thousands of Boston runners, but were said by the father of a shooting victim who witnessed the Senate vote on gun control.

We will, once again, show the world that we can have an investigation and fair trial.  And we will one day enact some sensible gun safety measures.  Watching the events unfold from a distance, I was proud of my fellow Bostonians, law enforcement and  public officials particularly Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick.

Candles for the victims.

Candles for the victims.

Snowed in

The blizzard of 2013 is what we are calling it here in Boston.  And it is still snowing.  No cars allowed on the streets and highways, no public transportation.  Because of the blowing snow it is hard to figure exactly how much has fallen, but it is currently in excess of 20 inches and another 5 to 8 may accumulate before it is all finished.  Luckily we didn’t lose power but we are snowed in.  It is also cold currently 20 degrees.

From Boston.com (The paper is not being delivered today.  Also no mail.)

Hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents have lost power because of the mammoth blizzard that lashed Massachusetts with hurricane-force winds and dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas overnight.

The state is at a standstill, with residents hunkering down at home under a rare travel ban imposed by the governor on Friday, and the MBTA saying it will not be able to restore service today. Snowplows are out in force struggling to clear the roads, but the storm is expected to continue dumping snow into midday.

National Guard troops are heading to coastal communities to assist in possible evacuations due to giant waves whipped up by the storm that are expected to batter the beaches at high tide at 10 a.m., potentially devouring beaches and homes.

State emergency management officials said there were no reports of major injuries due to the storm, even though there were two truck rollovers and about 30 stranded motorists had to be rescued from the roads.

According to New England Cable News (NECN) the Governor had this to say

Governor Patrick says he’s impressed with the fact there have not been any serious injuries yet as a result of this storm.

“When you consider the scope of the storm and the severity of it, it’s really a minor triumph that we haven’t had serious injuries,” Governor Patrick said. “We had a couple people out last night, I guess, defying the ban and taking their chances, and we had vehicles driving the wrong way on the Pike, on Storrow Drive … but no serious injuries.”

I guess it takes all kinds!

This picture was just posted on Boston.com

This is in the Charlestown section of Boston.

This is in the Charlestown section of Boston.

We have cousins who live in this area of town.  Like where we live, the streets are narrow and winding.

So why was the storm so bad?  Like Hurricane Sandy, two fronts converged over New England.  According to the Boston Globe

The fierce nor’easter that began walloping New England on Friday was the product of two storms that merged, causing a rapidly strengthening storm known in weather jargon as a “meteorological bomb.”

“We just have the right setup,” said Lance Franck, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Taunton. “It really is just a classic snowstorm.”

Forecasters said Friday night the storm remained on track to produce prodigious amounts of snow. But, in many ways, it reflects an utterly typical winter weather pattern, meteorologists said. Its path just happens to be dead-on, landing at a meteorological sweet spot to produce substantial snowfall in New England.

The jet stream that flows from west to east, 18,000 feet above the surface of the Earth, has two branches: a polar stream that takes a northerly route and a second, more southerly stream. When those branches converge, which is a pretty routine event during winter, snow is a possibility, as the frigid air from the north mingles with the humid air from the south.

“This winter has been interesting because the two streams have been largely separate,” Franck said.‘But the process of this happening isn’t unusual, it happens almost every winter.’

Until Friday.

This time, separate storms were brewing in each branch of the jet stream. The storm in the northern branch had deposited light snow in the upper Midwest. The storm in the southern branch had spawned rain in the mid-Atlantic, Franck said.

They separately swept toward New England, and by Friday night, meteorologists were saying the storms appeared destined to combine — very near a spot meteorologists call the “benchmark” because it is a pivotal spot for understanding how storms are likely to behave.

“The intersection point where the storms will ultimately become one . . . just south of Block Island, in that area — that’s just the perfect location,” said David Epstein, a meteorologist whose forecasts appear on Boston.com.

The bottom line is that the two fronts merged at the sweet spot to produce our blizzard.

Here are some pictures I took from the house this morning.

my street

my street

The park across the street

The park across the street

Replacing John Kerry or potential food fight in Massachusetts

John Kerry has not been appointed to anything as of this writing.  He has certainly not been confirmed by the Senate.  Neither of these facts are keeping the speculation about the race to replace him from heading toward some kind of crescendo.  Ben Affleck, Ted Kennedy, Jr., Congressman Ed Markey, or my former boss, Congressman Mike Capuano.  Will one of them get appointed by Governor Deval Patrick as interim and then be allowed to run or will it be Vicki Kennedy or former governor Michael Dukakis neither of whom will run.  Rumors. Rumors and speculation.

One thing I do know is that Scott Brown is running for something.  He just came out in support of an assault weapons ban which is a change in his previous position.  If he votes for the President’s fiscal cliff plan then we can be absolutely certain he is running.  The cynic in me would say that he likes being a senator more than he values loyalty to his party which, by the way, he didn’t mention much in his campaign against Elizabeth Warren.  It is Republican.

But let us play the game.

Ben Affleck and Ted, Jr. both campaigned for Elizabeth Warren.  Both appear to have good solid Democratic left politics.  Both probably have good name recognition (an issue for Ed Markey and Mike Capuano – although if I remember correctly, Mike came in second to Martha Coakley in Democratic primary to run against Scott Brown in the last special election.  Some, including me, said at the time that Mike would have pushed back harder against Brown than Coakley did).

For one, Ted, Jr. doesn’t really live in Massachusetts even though a lot of people probably think he must.  He would have to hurry and change his residence and registration.

The Boston Globe ran a piece speculating on all of this and said this about Ted, Jr.

The younger Kennedy would have to go out and campaign for the seat, just as his relative, Joseph P. Kennedy III, just did with his recent US House campaign.

Edward Jr. could rely on his father’s legacy, but also highlight his own work with the disability community, as well as his private-sector experience heading a New York-based health care advisory firm.

One immediate challenge, though, is residency. Kennedy may spend time each summer at the family compound on Cape Cod, but he lives in Connecticut.

Massachusetts election law does not require US House members to live in their respective House districts, only that they be an “inhabitant” of the state when elected. The same is true for senators, who don’t represent geographical districts but the entire state. Candidates for both offices, however, have to be registered voters in the state to circulate nomination papers.

President John F. Kennedy famously maintained his voter registration at 122 Bowdoin St., an apartment building across from the State House, all the way until his assassination.

Edward Kennedy Jr. would have to make some sort of formal commitment to Massachusetts before voters made a formal commitment to him.

Ironically enough, Hillary Clinton – the person whose departure may clear the path for a special election campaign – did just the same sort of thing in New York before winning her own seat in the US Senate

Then there is Ben.  His mother lives in Cambridge, but I thought he lived in California.  Anyway, I think he probably has the same residency issues as Ted, Jr.  But, hey, if Sonny Bono could become a Congressman.  A better example for Ben would be Al Franken who went home to Minnesota and visited everyone without cracking a joke.  Franken has made himself into a very good senator.  Unfortunately Ben doesn’t have time to do this.  He does go to Senate hearings, however.

Jay Westcott/POLITICO

The Globe didn’t have much to say about Ben, but Politico reported

“That’s not what I’m here to talk about,” Affleck told POLITICO. “I’m here to talk about what role we can place in making the Eastern Congo a better place.”

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that he was being touted as a possible candidate for Senate in Massachusetts. Affleck campaigned for Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) when she beat freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in November.

So will Massachusetts go for star power, legacy or a seasoned politician?  And the bigger question:  who can beat Scott Brown?

Photograph of Ted Kennedy, Jr. – Brian Snyder/AP

Photograph of Ben Affleck  – Jay Westcott/Politico

Massachusetts Mitt, Jobs Creator?

Just so there is no mistake here:  I didn’t like Mitt Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts.  First,  he got the Republican nomination by elbowing out a perfectly good candidate, Acting Governor Jane Swift.  Second, he spent most of his time here not being Governor, but running for President.  Third, getting universal health care was a great achievement showing the country that it can be done, but Mitt wants to forget it ever happened.  Kinda like throwing out your only child with the bath water.  But now Mitt is running again as a jobs creator because only Republicans can create jobs.

Last night Rachel Maddow reminded us of a little fact about Mitt Romney’s job creation:  He didn’t create very many. 

What Romney leaves out of his stump speech, however, is just how bad his state’s job creation statistics were during his four years as governor. Different job creation studies rank Massachusetts in the bottom four states during Romney’s administration. A study by the independent think tank MassINC ranked the state 49th in job creation from 2001-2007, ahead of only Michigan. And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Massachusetts ranked 47th, ahead of only Michigan, Ohio, and Louisiana. Michigan and Ohio, both located in the Rust Belt, faced heavy job losses due to the flight of manufacturing jobs from the Midwest. Louisiana, meanwhile, lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

During Romney’s period as governor, Massachusetts’ job growth was just 0.9 percent, well behind other high-wage, high-skill economies in New York (2.7), California (4.7), and North Carolina (7.6). The national average, meanwhile, was better than 5 percent.

So who does Mitt blame for this poor performance?  The Democrats in the legislature.

Romney blames the poor job numbers on Democrats in the Massachusetts state legislature. But since its economy faltered in 2008 and 2009, Massachusetts has rebounded in the job creation ranks, emerging from the recession with some of the nation’s strongest job numbers. Under current Gov. Deval Patrick (D) — and a legislature still controlled by Democrats — the state experienced 4.2 percent job growth in the first quarter of 2011, better than twice the national average and good enough to rank in the top 10 nationally. That followed a year of solid growth in 2010, when Massachusetts was among the nation’s leaders in job growth.

Mitt, you might have to find something else to run on.

Gaming doesn’t come to Massachusetts

I have never liked the idea of casinos in Massachusetts.  I remember when they were going to save Atlantic City.  So now there is a nice strip along the boardwalk and the rest of the City and residents are in poor shape.  And resort casinos will have to go through a process including environmental reviews, design reviews, negotiations with the localities where they want to go.  At best, we are a couple of years away from even construction jobs. And with casinos in Rhode Island and Connecticut, are there enough people who want to gamble to create sufficient revenue?

This from the Boston Globe this morning on House Speaker Robert DeLeo

DeLeo initially wanted to authorize two resort-style casinos and license the state’s four racetracks to operate slot machines. He eventually agreed on a bill to allow three casinos and two slot licenses. Patrick said he would sign a bill with only one slot license. After the Legislative session ended Saturday, he withdrew his compromise and sent a bill back that had no slot licenses. The Legislature would have to muster a two-thirds vote to override Patrick. DeLeo said he does not expect a return to session, meaning the bill is likely dead.

The editorial explains it well.

HOUSE SPEAKER Robert DeLeo’s decision to put the needs of the state’s racetracks ahead of all other interests is a staggering example of why voters worry about legislative excesses. His stubbornness has hurt his party and put a governor of his own party in a terrible bind. Thus, it’s a relief that Governor Patrick is standing up forcefully to the speaker, and he must continue to do so.

DeLeo has tried to corner Patrick into approving a gambling bill that allows slot-machine parlors at racetracks, insisting in a statement that a veto would “ “kill the prospects of 15,000 new jobs’’ and money for local aid. But it’s the speaker’s own intransigence that has put at risk the benefits that a more targeted bill could create. Patrick supports the licensing of three resort casinos, which would represent an enormous expansion of gambling in Massachusetts. But DeLeo has deep personal and political connections to the racing industry; his father worked in it, and it’s a major presence in his district. And the speaker was unyielding in demanding that racetrack owners be given special consideration in the gambling bill.

We have had the last couple of House Speakers leave under a cloud.  I can’t believe that Speaker DeLeo would risk even the appearance of a conflict of interest to get the race tracks in his districts slot machines.

I do play the lottery on occasion and I complete  the March Madness bracket every year, but casinos and slot machines have consequences beyond the creation of jobs and revenue for the state.  Thank you to my State Reps, Gloria Fox and Jeff Sanchez and my state Senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz for voting no.  Thank you also to Governor Patrick for standing on principle.