Ms. G. predicts more winter

Groundhog Day.  February 2.  For some reason that groundhog in Pennsylvania gets all the press even though I’m not sure how he can predict the weather for the entire country.  But Massachusetts has Ms. G.  According to New England Cable News

Ms. G. predicts more winter.

Ms. G. predicts more winter.

Massachusetts has its own groundhog to make predictions about the weather on Groundhog Day.

Both Punxsutawney Phil and Ms. G, the Mass. groundhog, saw their shadows this year. Legend has it; this means that there will be six more weeks of winter.

“We don’t feel like Punxsutawney Phil has much sway here in Massachusetts. I mean, we wouldn’t use a weather forecaster from Pennsylvania to tell us our local weather,” said Tia Penney of a Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.

Dozens of families gathered at the sanctuary on Sunday to witness Ms. G give her forecast. But, not everyone was happy with her prediction.

“I didn’t see the shadow and I wanted spring to be here, cause then, after spring, there is no school,” said Asia Faline, a Wellesley school student.
Blue Hill Weather Observatory says Ms. G is correct in her forecast 60% of the time.

So what is the origin of Groundhog Day?  Is there any science to it?  Today EarthSky news told us everything you always wanted to know about this important day.  Here are some of the interesting facts.

We all know the rules of Groundhog Day.  On February 2, a groundhog is said to forecast weather by looking for his shadow.  If it’s sunny out, and he sees it, we’re in for six more weeks of winter.  On the other hand, a cloudy Groundhog Day is supposed to forecast an early spring.

What you might not know is that Groundhog Day is really an astronomical holiday.  It’s an event that takes place in Earth’s orbit around the sun, as we move between the solstices and equinoxes.  In other words, Groundhog Day falls more or less midway between the December solstice and the March equinox.  Each cross-quarter day is actually a collection of dates, and various traditions celebrate various holidays at this time.  February 2 is the year’s first cross-quarter day.

In the ancient Celtic calendar, the year is also divided into quarter days (equinoxes and solstices) and cross-quarter days on a great neopagan wheel of the year.  Thus, just as February 2 is marked by the celebration of Candlemas by some Christians, such as the Roman Catholics, in contemporary paganism, this day is called Imbolc and is considered a traditional time for initiations.

The celebration of Groundhog Day came to America along with immigrants from Great Britain and Germany.  The tradition can be traced to early Christians in Europe, when a hedgehog was said to look for his shadow on Candlemas Day.

Try this old English rhyme:  If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight.  But if it be dark with clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.

So even though it has now turned a little cloudy here in Boston, the sun was out this morning and Ms. G. says more winter.  In fact,  I think the prediction is for snow on Wednesday.

Photograph is a still from the NECN story.

The joy of Latin

I took four years of Latin in high school.  My teacher was Kenneth Sheridan who was related to the Civil War General Sheridan.  The highlight of my four years was translating parts of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address into Latin my Senior year as my project.  I don’t remember a great deal of Latin today, but I can read and figure out a little Spanish, French and some Italian because of my Latin.  My high school didn’t participate in Junior Classical League and looking back now, I wonder why.  I think it would have been fun.  At least the Massachusetts folks had fun this year.  They didn’t make the news, but they were the topic of a column by Lawrence Harmon in yesterday’s Boston Globe.

Jeffrey Dubuisson, 17, is rattling off the names of the rulers of the Roman Empire in chronological order as he munches on pizza (derived from the Latin verb pinsere, to pound) at Papa Gino’s in Cleary Square. He speaks with authority on the satirical writings of Juvenal and the epic poetry of Vergil. Boston’s public school system is doing something right.

Jeffrey Dubuisson

Jeffrey Dubuisson

Dubuisson, an incoming senior at Boston Latin Academy, is fresh from Las Vegas where he and three teammates won the national title in the advanced division of the classics competition hosted by the National Junior Classical League. There is no higher honor for players of Certamen, a form of intellectual combat requiring rapid recall of facts about the culture, peoples, and languages of ancient Rome and Greece. After years of falling short to Virginia, Florida, and other powerhouses, a Massachusetts team finally has taken its rightful place in the Pantheon of high school brainiacs,

Dubuisson, who lives in Hyde Park, can trace his interest in the classics back to a day in eighth grade at Boston Latin Academy when he was fretting about his D-plus average in Latin. Legendary Latin teacher Janet Fillion [also my neighbor, friend, and cat sitter] urged him to attend Certamen practice as a way to earn extra credit.

“I went to save my grades and ended up loving it,’’ said Dubuisson, whose friends refer to him in the third person as “the Latin dude.’’

I don’t care much if it is music, art, theater, Latin, a sport or science that turns a kid on to school.  I think we’ve move too much into testing and getting “practical” skills to make school fun.  Harmon points out

In Massachusetts, only 42 schools host chapters of the National Junior Classical League. In Boston, only two of the city’s schools — Latin Academy and Boston Latin — offer Latin. Introducing the subject at the city’s middle schools — even for an hour or two a week — could provide students with needed structure and stimulation. Boston’s mayoral candidates are talking about the qualities they want to see in the next school superintendent. An educator who appreciates the importance of the classics belongs on that list.

The students who went to the JCL Convention and won were

…immigrants or children of immigrants from Haiti, China, Albania, and India. Dubuisson is the go-to player for literature, history, and derivatives. Christopher Liao, an incoming junior at Boston Latin School, specializes in translation. Joana Jankulla, an incoming senior at Latin Academy, excels in Latin grammar and mythology. And Meghana Vagwala, an incoming senior at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough, specializes in mythology, quotations, and figures of speech.

We don’t need to be cutting activities in schools, we need to be adding them.  School should be fun and every child should find the thing that makes them smile like Jeffrey Dubuisson, the Latin Dude.

Photograph provided to the Globe by Jeffrey Dubuisson.

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

Maybe we should increase the minimum wage

Massachusetts has a minimum wage of $8/hour.  This is fifth highest among states, sixth if you count the District of Columbia.  According to the Boston Globe

Five years have elapsed since the minimum wage in Massachusetts increased in January 2008 to $8 an hour, still one of the highest wage floors in the country.

The Legislature has not voted on a minimum wage increase since 2006, when it phased in the increase over two years and overrode a veto by Governor Mitt Romney to do so.

Since then, four states, includ­ing Connecticut and ­Vermont and the District of ­Columbia have surpassed Massa­chusetts. Nevada requires employers to pay workers $8.25 an hour if they do not receive health benefits, but if health insurance is provided the minimum wage rate falls to $7.25.

California continues to pay workers a minimum of $8 an hour, and Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country at $9.19. Businesses in Connecticut must pay at least $8.25 an hour, and Vermont workers earn at least $8.60 an hour.

If Congress increases the minimum wage to $9, Massachusetts will automatically go to $9.10.  Better, but not a livable wage if you live in Boston, where rents are high.

Even with an increase we will still need the Minimum Wage Awards.

Thank you Brian McFadden.

PS.  Did you happen to notice who vetoed the Massachusetts Minimum Wage increase?

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

Gay marriage: not the end of the world

I always wondered what people meant when they said that gay marriage would somehow negatively affect their own marriages.  What exactly did they think would happen?  The sky would fall?  The divorce rate would sky rocket?  How would a marriage between two women or two men change anyone else’s relationship?  It has been a mystery to me ever since we had gay marriage legalized in here Massachusetts.

I just came back from a couple of days in a state which just approved gay marriage and where some marriages have taken place.  I didn’t notice that Maine was any different from the last time I was there and I guess Wiley Miller hasn’t either.  Here is today’s Non Sequitur.

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Iowa Joins the Marriage Equality States

With today’s unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court made Iowa the third state to approve of same sex marriage joining Massachusetts and Connecticut.  According to the story in the Washington Post

The decision will be considered final in 21 days unless a rehearing is formally requested. The county that challenged the lower court’s ruling indicated today that it would not file such a request, meaning that same-sex couples likely will be able to obtain marriage licenses in Iowa in three weeks, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

So what do the defense of marriage folks do now?  Richard Kim has a long post on The Nation.com in which he outlines the options and discusses some of the larger political implications. 

So now that the Iowa Supreme Court has essentially legalized gay marriage, what’s next? Some right-wingers (like Iowa Congressman Steve King and William Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation) are already promising to put a defense of marriage amendment in front of Iowa voters. But they have a long road ahead of them. Iowa law says that a constitutional ammendment must pass TWO consecutive sessions of the state legislature before it appears on a ballot. So the earliest one could see a DOMA on the ballot is 2011, but with Democrats in control of both houses and with both the House speaker and the Senate majority leader on record supporting the decision–there’s virtually no chance that such an amendment would even come up for a vote this session.

That leaves the right-wing with a daunting task: defeat enough Democrats to take control of both houses (Dems currently enjoy a 56-44 and 32-18 advantage), replace them with Christian right Republicans who are willing to champion a marriage amendement and peel off enough remaining Democrats (to offset any moderate GOP defectors) to squeeze through four rounds of yes votes. Only then will they even have the chance to put the issue in front of voters–sometime in 2013 or 2014 if all the stars align. Then, they still have to win that campaign in a political climate in which increasing numbers of voters support gay rights. Oh yeah, and the vote will take place after Iowans have witnessed 5-6 years of ho-hum same-sex nuptials of which the most radical, earth-shaking element is that one of the grooms is a 50-year old church organist named Otter Dreaming (one of the named appellees in the Iowa decision). As Ari Berman points out, Iowa isn’t exactly the hotbed of culture war antagonism–despite being square one for GOP presidential wrangling–so my strong hunch is that Mr. Dreaming’s marriage will endure at least any legal and political challenges.

It doesn’t seem very likely that Iowa will amend it’s Constitution.  Here in Massachusetts it didn’t take long for gay marriage to just become marriage.  Just read Andrew Sullivans story about his Massachusetts wedding.

Born in a different era, I reached that conclusion through more pain and fear and self-loathing than my 20-something fellow homosexuals do today. But it was always clear to me nonetheless. It just never fully came home to me until I too got married.

It happened first when we told our families and friends of our intentions. Suddenly, they had a vocabulary to describe and understand our relationship. I was no longer my partner’s “friend” or “boyfriend”; I was his fiancé. Suddenly, everyone involved themselves in our love. They asked how I had proposed; they inquired when the wedding would be; my straight friends made jokes about marriage that simply included me as one of them. At that first post-engagement Christmas with my in-laws, I felt something shift. They had always been welcoming and supportive. But now I was family. I felt an end—a sudden, fateful end—to an emotional displacement I had experienced since childhood.

The wedding occurred last August in Massachusetts in front of a small group of family and close friends. And in that group, I suddenly realized, it was the heterosexuals who knew what to do, who guided the gay couple and our friends into the rituals and rites of family. Ours was not, we realized, a different institution, after all, and we were not different kinds of people. In the doing of it, it was the same as my sister’s wedding and we were the same as my sister and brother-in-law. The strange, bewildering emotions of the moment, the cake and reception, the distracted children and weeping mothers, the morning’s butterflies and the night’s drunkenness: this was not a gay marriage; it was a marriage.

And our families instantly and for the first time since our early childhood became not just institutions in which we were included, but institutions that we too owned and perpetuated. My sister spoke of her marriage as if it were interchangeable with my own, and my niece and nephew had no qualms in referring to my husband as their new uncle. The embossed invitations and the floral bouquets and the fear of fluffing our vows: in these tiny, bonding gestures of integration, we all came to see an alienating distinction become a unifying difference.

It was a moment that shifted a sense of our own identity within our psyches and even our souls. Once this happens, the law eventually follows. In California this spring, it did.

So I think Richard Kim is right.  Iowans are soon going to find gay marriages just as ordinary as straight ones.  So what is left for the opposition?  Here’s Richard Kim again

So, here’s my guess as to what the right can and will do. They’ll move to amend Iowa’s marriage law so that it requires in-state residency. Currently, Iowa (like California and unlike Massachusetts) does not have any such restriction (prompting claims that Iowa will become the Mecca of gay marriage). Of course, because of the court’s equal protection ruling, any such change will have to apply to both gay and straight couples, but the collateral benefit for the right would be in limiting the number of gay couples who can marry in Iowa and then sue in other states. But after thousands of out-of-state couples got married in CA and will likely stay married no matter how the CA Supreme Court rules on Prop 8’s broader legality–there’s not much use in raising this hurdle.

So, Iowa, Massachusetts welcomes you to the club.  I don’t think it will be too long before there are more than three members.