Urban greenhorn

Recently I took some visitors from Europe on a tour of Boston. I shouldn’t say that I took them on a tour as I was just as much a tourist myself. I’m not a city person. Given a choice between New York City and a one bedroom cottage on a quiet lake in Vermont, I’d take the latter.  I figured though that my friends should at least get a taste of the “Hub of the Universe.” Rather than try and negotiate getting into the city myself, I enlisted my cousin who knows his way around Boston. He agreed to set everything up. I was along for the ride.

He agreed to pick up a one-day MBTA pass for each of the four of us. To do that, he had to find an outlet that would sell him the $12.00 “Charlie card.” The first place he went, a convenience store in Weymouth, the clerk said he couldn’t buy one because the computer was down. These ticket outlets aren’t just on every corner.  My cousin had to travel to Milton to find a 7/11 where he bought the four tickets. Strange as it may seem (and it certainly seemed strange to my European friends) when you buy the 24 hour ticket, the clock starts running when you give the money to the store outlet. Our tickets were stamped good from 6:36 p.m. twenty four hours later to 6:37 p.m. Think about this. If we had wanted to stay in the city for supper, our ticket would have expired before we got on the train home.  In Europe, you buy a day ticket from any one of hundreds of outlets and when you get to the station, you have it validated when you board so you get a true 24 hours to ride subways, busses, and trolleys.  In our case, we effectively got about 12 hours of use.  Yes I suppose we could have purchased our tickets on the day we were going into the city but that involved some logistics that made that option less attractive.  If the lottery can sell scratch tickets on every block, why can’t the MBTA do the same to make it more convenient?  As it was, when we got to the North Quincy T station, our tickets wouldn’t work. There was no MBTA worker or official to ask why the tickets wouldn’t work. After repeated tries to get the ticket to open the gates, (There are not any gates in European cities my friends commented. You have your ticket on you and if asked you must produce it or there is a big fine.) we did what a lot of people apparently do all the time. We “jumped” the gate. (Actually we went though on the coat tails of another passenger who held it open for us.)  My cousin had a Xeroxed copy of his transaction showing that our tickets were purchased for the day we were to travel so we were actually hoping that some T official would stop us so we could show it to him. But we saw no one. There was no one in charge.

Once the Red Line train rumbled into the station, it was like deja vu. I think the cars were the same ones that were new when I was a college student in Boston during the 1960s. The stations we passed through looked dingy and dirty. About a half hour later we were in the city.

The day in Boston was actually a good time. We did the Duck Boats, the Freedom Trail, the Public Gardens, Faneuil Hall marketplace, the old statehouse, etc.  We ate lots of food and enjoyed the crowds while watching some good street performers .  We got out of the city before our no-good tickets expired. I guess it didn’t matter. My friends really enjoyed the day.

The experience left me wondering what the purposes of public mass transit should be. Encouraging people to leave their cars at home should be one of them. Route 93 into the city was crawling along at about 5 mph with usually a single person in each of the thousands of cars. Wouldn’t these people prefer a clean, reliable and reasonably priced alternative to sitting in traffic jams every day? Would not a better transit system free up roadways so that we don’t have to build more highways every year that will, in a short time, become overcrowded themselves?  How much pollution and waste of resources not to mention time is wasted trying to get from one place to another? It seemed so obvious that moving people into the city could be done so much better. I can attest that when in Europe I constantly marvel at how good city and travel between major urban areas is. And yet, here we continue to pursue transit policies that actually discourage people from using public transportation. Just from the difficulty of purchasing a transit card to the old and dirty equipment on the different lines and the expense of parking, I had to conclude that people just don’t care enough to change the system.  I won’t be going into Boston again soon. It’s a shame.



Barry McGuire revisted

A bit over a half century, Barry McGuire released his “Eve of Destruction” song.  It fit those times. With lyrics like “handful of Senators don’t pass legislation,” “the eastern world, it is explodin’ violence flarin’, bullets loadin,'” and “if the button is pushed, there’s no running away,” we can get a snapshot of the world as it seemed to be in 1965.  A half century later, there are enough similarities in that song to our own time to make it appear that what was then — is now.

The other day the news carried stories of how Hawaii is prepping its citizens on what to do if a North Korean nuke drops into their neighborhood.  The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than it’s been in decades. The Mid-eastern world is aflame, much as it has been for as long as anyone can remember.  “You don’t believe in war but what’s that gun you’re totin”?”  Perpetual war seems a normal part of our contemporary existence. We’ve got violence flaring both here and abroad as individuals and nations move to arm themselves against potential aggressors.

“Marches alone won’t bring integration.” We may be more segregated today than we were in the 1960s in schools, the workplace, and in housing.  And the marches continue. “Think about the hate there is in Red China! Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!” Red China may be gone but it’s been replaced by regimes that didn’t exist when McGuire wrote his song.  A black person traveling through the rural South today, still is at risk. When one looks at the hate displayed in shootings and rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, Baton Rouge, Charleston, South Carolina, it’s clear that  the racial climate in America isn’t that much better now than it was in the 60’s.

“I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.” Whether it is “fake news” or “alternative facts,” it does seem like the truth is much harder to pin down than it ever was. News channels and social media sites have created narratives that satisfy particular groups by reinforcing ideas that these groups want to believe. Rational evaluation and thoughtful discourse is difficult to find. Truth is now what you want to believe.  As a people we’ve become polarized socially, politically, and geographically. Anyone with an idea that we don’t like becomes an enemy. And through it all we maintain our self-righteousness and assured belief that ours is the only truth. “Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.”

“And you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

Random thoughts – And a few questions.

Tell me if I am missing something here.  There is a very seriously ill child in Britain that has a possibility of getting experimental treatment in the United States. The money to move the child has been raised. There are American doctors who would like to give what is admittedly a long-shot option for the parents.  And yet the whole thing is tied up in British courts which have sided with a hospital’s decision that the eleven-month old boy should be taken off life support. The hospital claims that any additional kind of therapy would just prolong the child’s suffering. Right now it looks like they are not going to let the child out of the country for the experimental treatment.  Excuse me. Isn’t this a decision for the parents to make?  How can a court determine a child’s fate without the input of the mother and father?  I don’t get it. Maybe there is someone out there that has an answer to this one.

The dictionary defines the word “collusion” as “A secret agreement between two or more persons for a deceitful or fraudulent purpose.”  Donald Trump Jr. has said that his meeting during the 2016 presidential campaign with a Putin-connected Russian lawyer who supposedly had some dirt on Hillary Clinton, wasn’t collusion. I’m not sure that the meeting was fraudulent or deceitful, and I’m not even sure that it was illegal.  But it does raise some questions about the “Russian connection” that president Trump keeps denying. The fact that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was also involved in the meeting shows at the very least poor judgment.  If it isn’t collusion, then what is it? Any way one cuts it, there is an odor to it.

You’ve all seen pictures of jubilant Iraqi soldiers celebrating the taking of the city of Mosul. They do their victory celebrations against a backdrop of the city that looks like Berlin in 1945. It is a reminder of a famous statement made in Vietnam by an Army Colonel who stated that a peasant village had be burned to the ground to save it.  The shattered buildings and ruined infrastructure looks like anything but victory to me. I doubt all the people who lost their homes in the conflagration would disagree with me. It seems hardly anything to cheer about.

Finally, there is a front page story in Today’s Boston Globe about the big insurance company AIG. They cancelled a long term health care policy on an 80 year old woman who had paid premiums for years after she made a mistake in writing out her monthly check to the company. She was about $98 dollars short.  For that, AIG cancelled her coverage due to non-payment of a premium. Attempts to get AIG to let her correct her error were not favorably received by the company. She’s been dumped. According to her children, the woman is in the early stages of dementia and is headed for a nursing home. I wonder who is going to be on the hook for her care?  Apparently the higher ups at AIG have made sure it won’t be them.


Defending the rights of all

The American Civil Liberties Union was started almost 100 years ago with the intent of defending the rights and liberties of Americans that are guaranteed under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. In its almost a century of existence it has been condemned and criticized by liberals and conservatives. More recently, liberals were angered when the ACLU backed the National Rifle Association in opposing a national gun registry. In the 1970’s the ACLU supported the rights of a neo-Nazi group to hold a public rally in Illinois. That also didn’t go over well with the left.

Conservatives have never liked the ACLU’s support of such things as affirmative action, and abortion and reproductive rights. The same is true of the rights of prisoners, immigrants, and anti-war activists. The right loves to target the ACLU over its opposition to school-led prayer in public schools. So it is interesting to see that long standing division of opinion about the ACLU’s role in defending civil liberties, playing out in today’s news stories.

The Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU argued yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court that the state’s requirement that requires individuals to register to vote within 20 days of an election is unconstitutional. Claiming that the requirement is “overburdensome,” the ACLU has stated that Massachusetts should provide the least restrictive means of registering voters–i.e. same day registration. The current policy has a chilling effect on potential voters, according to the ACLU. This doesn’t make conservatives who are concerned about voter fraud happy.  In another case that is irking conservatives, the ACLU has backed LGBT efforts to force a Colorado maker of wedding cakes to accommodate gay couples that want one. The cake maker says that doing this violates his religious rights. The ACLU has weighed in against this interpretation of the First Amendment saying that “You can have the freedom to believe and preach your faith, until your actions harm other people.” Opposing discriminatory conduct, at least in the eyes of the ACLU trumps religious freedom.

In Pennsylvania, the ACLU yesterday defended the actions of a retired naval officer who wants to broadcast taps every night from his home. The local government had singled out his 57 second performance as a “nuisance.” Not so, says the ACLU who have argued that the state’s cease and desist order is unconstitutional. It is content-based discrimination in their view. Liberals aren’t applauding the ACLU for this.

When you look at the long history of positions taken by the ACLU it’s pretty clear that its goal continues to be defending our rights and liberties against encroachment by government. And it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum one supports.  We should be grateful that we’ve got an organization like the ACLU in our corner when and if we ever need it.