The future of the Olympic Games: a permanent site needed

The United States Olympic Committee decided for some reason to pick Boston as the site for their bid.  Boston was a bad idea from the beginning.  Geographically too small, it would have destroyed neighborhoods even if some venues went to other parts of Massachusetts and New England.  From the beginning, it was promised that no taxpayer money would be spent on the Games.  How could that have been?  The Boston public transit system needs desperate upgrades already, and the crush of visitors would have overwhelmed it.  There would have to be investment in commuter rail upgrades to get people to out of town venues.  The final straw was, so it seems, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh refusing to sign a taxpayer guarantee.  Combined with strong opposition it spelled the end.

Hosting the Games has become expensive and disruptive.  Yes, I know there are countries that want the Games, but I worry about Brazil and how they can afford the games.  They will likely end up razing huge swaths of housing, as Boston probably would have done.  Actually, I worry about any place that wants the Games.

So I have a proposal.  Move the Summer Games permanently to Athens.  The facilities there are unused and deteriorating.

IN AN obscure corner of a park sits a forlorn reminder that, 10 years ago, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The crumbling miniature theatre is inscribed with the words “glory, wealth, wisdom, victory, triumph, hero, labour” — and it is where visiting Olympic officials planted an olive sapling that would bear their names for posterity.

Once a symbol of pomp, the marble theatre is now an emblem of pointless waste in a venture that left a mixed legacy: a brand-new subway, airport and other vital infrastructure that significantly improved everyday life in a city of 4 million, set against scores of decrepit sports venues built in a mad rush to meet deadlines — with little thought for post-Olympic use.

This story is from last year.  And while no one blames the Olympics for the current meltdown of the Greek economy, it couldn’t have helped.

As Greece groans under a cruel economic depression, questions linger as to whether the Athens Games were too ambitious an undertaking for a weak economy. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame Greece’s meltdown on the 17-day Games, the post-Olympic era is seen as a decade of lost opportunities — including failure to significantly boost the country’s sporting culture. It’s a lesson to which Brazil may pay heed, as it races to complete projects ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“We didn’t take advantage of this dynamic that we got in 2004,” said former Olympic weightlifting champion Pyrros Dimas, a Greek sporting hero-turned-Socialist member of Parliament.

“We simply made the biggest mistake in our history: We switched off, locked up the stadiums, let them fall to pieces, and everything finished there.”

“We spent a lot of money for some projects (that) are shut and rotting,” said Dimas, who won his last Olympic medal in an Athens arena now reinvented as a lecture and conference venue. “There were projects that should have cost 2 and 3 million (euros) and suddenly became so big that they cost 13 and 14 million. There was no control.”

The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros ($12.2 billion), double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the country’s subsequent 320 billion-euro ($460 billion) debt, which spun out of control after 2008.

Instead of picking still another host city, pick Athens.  Make it the permanent home of the Summer Games. Greece is, after all, the birthplace of the Olympics.  The countries and cities that would normally spent millions of dollars just preparing a bid could pool that money to fix all the Greek venues.  They can start work anytime.  In fact, maybe the 2020 games (I’m assuming the Brazilians are too far along to cancel now, but maybe not.) scheduled for Tokyo could be moved.  The Japanese probably could use the money for something else – and maybe they could contribute a restoration/redesign to a venue in Athens.  In fact, various countries could take different venues in Greece.  I think that would be real Olympic spirit.  And it couldn’t hurt Greece.

Meanwhile the Boston Games are down the drain.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

Boston Globe cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

 

Policing is a tricky business

Most of us want to be safe.  Maybe that should be all of us.  But how to feel safe and to be safe are questions with many answers.  If we were to listen to the NRA and other gun rights supporters we can best get to safe with each of us carrying a loaded weapon all the time.  Most of us, however, depend on the police.

We recruit young men and women, give them some training, arm them, and send them out to face dangerous situations.  I can’t imagine doing a traffic stop at night, alone.  I’ve heard stories from my State Trooper stepson that are really frightening.  And we also expect them to act within the boundaries society has established:  no excessive force and no stops without cause.  I think that most black men know that “cause” is a slippery thing.  Driving while black is a common reason to be stopped.  I remember my mother telling me about an African American minister who always drove at least once to any place he had to go in a white neighborhood during daylight.  He did this so when he went to a meeting at night, he would know where he was going and wouldn’t be wandering around lost.  He feared being stopped.  Then there is the story of my husband who was stopped while driving four black churchwomen back from a class.  The excuse?  His rear license plate was crooked.  The real reason?  I think they suspected he was a white pimp driving his “girls” someplace.  I guess the trooper realized after he stopped them and looked at the women that they were all middle aged or older and not at all what he had thought.  Was this profiling?  You bet.

So cause can sometimes be difficult to determine.  If see someone driving very fast and weaving in and out of traffic, you have cause for a stop.  If someone is speeding on a two lane road in the rain, you have cause for a stop.  And if you get a report of shots fired in a neighborhood known for gang activity, most of us would think that is cause for a stop.  That seems to be what happened last Friday night in Boston.  According to the story in the Boston Globe

Friday’s incident began at 6:40 p.m. when gang unit officers investigating a report of shots fired stopped a vehicle on Humboldt Avenue near Crawford Street to interview its three male occupants, authorities said Friday night.

The suspect stepped out and began to flee while firing his gun, said David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, which works alongside Boston police to address gang violence.

The suspect wounded Moynihan [a police officer] under the right eye, Evans said.

A law enforcement official also said the suspect, who was not identified, had several previous gun-related charges.

Evans [Boston Police Commissioner William] said that the stop was initially routine and that the suspect had fired at police “before they had time to react,” but the officers quickly returned fire, killing the suspect.

Gunfire also struck “a middle-aged woman” who suffered a flesh wound, possibly in her right arm, Evans said.

“I think she got caught up in the crossfire,” he said.

Officer John Moynihan is a veteran Boston policeman who is expected to survive.

So what exactly are we to make of this incident?  Was this a stop with cause?  The report was of shots fired.  Kevin Cullen wrote about the incident and the immediate aftermath for the Globe.

Angelo West wasn’t going back to prison.

That’s what this was about. Pure and simple.

When members of the Boston police gang unit stopped the car he was driving on Humboldt Avenue on Friday evening, he knew that the .357 Magnum he was carrying was a ticket back to Cedar Junction in Walpole, and he wasn’t going out like that.

So he came out of the car, without a word, put his gun to the face of John Moynihan, and pulled the trigger. Then he ran off, turning back to fire at Moynihan’s colleagues.

Did he really think he would get away?

There was an extraordinary scene as police officers combed the area for spent shell casings and other evidence as Moynihan underwent surgery at Boston Medical Center. Some people got in their faces, calling them pigs, screaming about another black man shot to death by police.

I wonder.  Did any of them know the victim?  Did they understand that he shot first and that he was a three time loser facing life?

The Boston Police and the Suffolk County District Attorney then made an extraordinary decision.  Dante Ramos explains

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown finds the surveillance video persuasive, so much so that he gets up from where we’re sitting and pantomimes what happens in it: Boston Police Officer John T. Moynihan approaches a stopped vehicle last Friday, stands by the driver’s door, and taps on the edge of the roof to tell him to come out. As the driver, Angelo West, emerges, Moynihan shifts on his feet — and suddenly rears back as West shoots him in the face. Then, in Brown’s rendition, West leans over the fallen officer, as if to shoot him again. Another officer interrupts by firing at West, who flees while discharging his weapon.

The confrontation on Humboldt Street in Roxbury ended with West dead and Moynihan badly injured. People who’ve seen the video, taken by cameras mounted at a nearby business, say it makes West’s culpability plain.

The footage from Roxbury bears a time stamp of 6:46 p.m. Friday, and interactions between police and spectators on the scene soon became edgy. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has protested the deaths of African-American men under dubious circumstances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere, raised the possibility that West’s death was part of that pattern.

In past cases involving so-called officer-involved deaths in Boston, video evidence came out only at the end of a long investigation. Authorities waited a year after the 2013 shooting of Darryl Dookhran by Boston police to release footage that supported officers’ account of the event. Yet by around noon Saturday, police were showing the video from Humboldt Avenue to a group that included Brown, the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, state Representative Russell Holmes, civil rights attorney Rahsaan Hall, and others.

Releasing the video sets a precedent that may be difficult to live up to in the future.  In other cases, there may be witnesses visible that need protection or the video may be more ambiguous and need to have a jury interpret it.  But in this case it was the right thing to do and a good decision by Commissioner Evans and DA Conley.  People may still question whether the stop itself was justified, but clearly the shooting of Angelo West was the only thing that police could have done.

Yes, black lives matter – all lives matter.  But we need to ask if they all matter equally.  Don’t people like Angelo West terrorize the very community in which many of the protesters live?  Don’t get me wrong.  I would rather see West in prison for life than dead, but in the end Angelo West is dead.  John Moynihan will survive.  I think justice was served.

 

 

Getting closer to things that really matter

Since moving to Vermont last summer I have seen stars I hadn’t seen in many year just walking out of my front door.  I have watched summer change to fall and now to winter in a way not possible in Boston.  With the leaves mostly gone, I could see the Connecticut River as I walked into town this morning.  And it is not that I didn’t notice stuff when I lived in the city.  I was a regular walker around Jamaica Pond, the Fenway, Boston Common and the Public Garden.  I lived across from a 2 acre city park.   And I did notice things.  There was a spot on Jamaica Pond where there were almost always turtles and in the spring you could see the young ones.  There were always birds to identify, plants to watch as they changed season. I could track planets in the Western sky from my bedroom window. But somehow it was different.  Perhaps it was the fact that one could rarely get away from road noise.  Or maybe it was just the feel, the pace of life clearly said “city”.  But I was still seeing nature first hand.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Review section had a wonderful article by the nature writer and essayist, Edward Hoagland.  I first came to know Mr Hoagland’s writing reading his collection of essays, “The Courage of Turtles”.  His New York Times piece begins

“LIFE is an ecstasy,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay called “The Method of Nature,” a founding document of American transcendentalism. Life is also electricity, as our minds’ synapses and heart muscles would testify if they could.

Living molecules bear a charge and thus can intersect with others of their kind, as molecules of rock do not. We marveled at electrical displays plunging from watery clouds in the sky as perhaps divine until we finally learned to manufacture and wire electricity ourselves, lighting the dark, then muzzling it for mundane use, to the point of blotting out the sky.

To forgo seeing the firmament, as many of us do, for Netflix and the blogosphere, is momentous — nature “unfriended,” enjoyment less impromptu than scripted.

He asks

Does life become secondhand when filtered through a tailored screen? Text unenriched by body language or voice box timbre, film omnivorously edited. Is our bent straightened or warped more deeply? That’s our choice in what we Google, but in the meantime, will we notice the birdsong diminishing?

I think life can become secondhand but that doesn’t stop any of us from watching the news or movies or internet streaming of important events.  I am addicted to NASA videos of events in space that I know I will never experience first hand.  But Hoagland fears that we are becoming more and more estranged from live experiences.

I live on a mountain without utilities for a third of every year, so for nearly half a century I’ve swung back and forth to and from electrification. In the summer, living by the sun couldn’t be simpler. There’s more daylight than I can use, and I revel in the phases of the moon, the conversation of ravens, owls, yellowthroats and loons. The TV and phone calls resume before winter, though life itself does not seem richer than when I listened to the toads’ spring song or watched a great blue heron fish, amid the leaves’ ten-thousand-fold vibrancy.

The difference of course is that leaves, heron, loon and toad would not remain as glories when I returned to electricity. They are “electrifying” only when Vermont is temperate. I appreciate the utility of power in the winter, but many people seldom see a sunrise or sunset nowadays; they’re looking at a screen. What will this do? The Northern Lights, the Big Dipper — are they eclipsed like the multiplication tables? There was a magnetism to aurora borealis or a cradle moon, to spring peepers’ sleigh-bell sound or spindrift surfing toward shore under cumulus clouds, that galvanized delights in us almost Paleolithic.

Are we stunted if we lose it, a deflation associated with migrating indoors to cyberspace, Facebook instead of faces? It’s lots of fun, but will ecstasy remain in play in front of a computer screen? With microscopes and telescopes we are able to observe unscripted reality, or (if you prefer) Creation.

Dried Queen Anne's Lace seen on a recent walk.

Dried Queen Anne’s Lace seen on a recent walk.

 

Something is lost when everything is experienced secondhand. Unfortunately most of us do not have the kind of double life experience Hoagland has had.  Most of us live in urban or suburban areas.  But we can be more mindful of the small things,  get off our phones and our computers,  turn off the television and experience things first hand for some part of everyday.  You can do this no matter where you live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph by FortRight.

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)

 

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

 

 

 

Time capsules

There are stories about kids burying treasures and then forgetting where exactly they dug the hole and never digging it up.  But I remember one from an old episode of “NCIS” when the best friend of Gibbs’ deceased daughter tells him about a box they buried.  Gibbs digs it up and finds a picture and some childhood treasures.  And how many stories have you read about time capsules put in corner stones or in monuments and then forgotten?  But when one is actually found it is exciting.

I’ve looked at the gold statues on top of the Old State House in Boston for 20 years.  The last 8 years I was working I probably looked up at them every day.  I had no idea that one of them held a time capsule.  This morning I saw this story in the Boston Globe.

It’s confirmed, Boston. A time capsule has been found in the head of the lion statue that has been sitting atop the Old State House for more than a century.

An iconic statue of a lion atop the Old State House on Washington Street in Boston was hoisted down from its rooftop perch for restoration.

An iconic statue of a lion atop the Old State House on Washington Street in Boston was hoisted down from its rooftop perch for restoration.

This time capsule had also been forgotten.

Rumors swirled last week about the possibility of the long-forgotten time capsule, which was reported in a Globe story from 1901.

“We [the Bostonian Society] didn’t know about the Globe article until several years ago,” [Heather] Leet said.

A descendant of one of the statues’ original sculptors found a letter that revealed the existence of the capsule and listed its contents. It was after the society saw the letter that it did research that turned up the 113-year-old Globe story.

The question now for statue restorer, Robert Shure, is how to remove the capsule without damaging the statue.

On Monday, Shure used a fiber optic camera to detect the capsule, which is in a sealed copper box about the size of a shoe box and secured to the sculpture with copper straps, Leet said. According to the Globe story, the capsule contains photographs, autographs, and sealed letters from politicians and prominent Bostonians of the time, along with old newspaper clippings.

Leet said Shure hopes to find a way to retrieve the time capsule with minimal damage to the lion by the end of the week. It is hoped that by next week, the Bostonian Society can have a small ceremony at the Woburn sculpture studio to extract the box.

There are plans to replace the old capsule with a new one.  I trust that its presence will be fully documented.

Globe story by Kiera Blessing

Photograph: DINA RUDICK

 

 

 

Hitting reset

A few weeks ago, my husband and I both noted an article in the New York Times Week in Review section called “Hit the Reset “Button in Your Brain.”  The authors argued the need for a true vacation from work.  In other words not one like President Obama had where according to a news report I heard he talked to at least 9 foreign leaders and held at least 4 press conferences.  This would be in addition to the normal routine of daily briefings, etc.  Some of the rest of us call work and read email while ostensibly on vacation.  They argue

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain’s attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain). The task-positive network is active when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted; neuroscientists have taken to calling it the central executive. The task-negative network is active when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode. These two attentional networks operate like a seesaw in the brain: when one is active the other is not.

0810BRAIN-master495

 

So what helps us reset and overcome the overload?

Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.

Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment. Music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement.

I suspect that by moving to Vermont with cleaner air, quiet, and lots of space to walk and appreciate nature even within a few blocks of our house, we have hit our reset buttons.  Being able to sit on the screened in porch and watch daylight fade as I did last night or taking a walk to see the stars tonight provides time to think and reflect.  We did try to do this in Boston by walking around Jamaica Pond for example, but even there you could hear traffic.  I used to walk over to Boston Harbor at lunch and look at the water.  These are urban dwellers solutions which people in cities can employ.  But they need to do so without cellphones and other devices.

I know it is a privilege to be able to retire to a place where we can so easily hit reset.

Illustration by Matthieu Bourel