Sidewalk Snow Removal

It’s another warm and sunny day for December, but the snows will be coming soon. Sean Roche recently wrote an opinion piece “Walkers get short end of the shovel” published in the Newton Tab. Roche writes on the proposal to have home owners required to clear snow from sidewalks abutting their property and sarcastically adds that people should have to clear the streets as well.

In all seriousness, what does it say about Newton that the needs of pedestrians are so underserved by the town that we have to dragoon townsfolk to provide an essential service?

While I question his assertion that city streets are clear and dry within hours using the streets by my home as exhibit #1, I do agree that relying on property owners to clear sidewalks of snow leads to inconsistent and unsafe conditions. Roche cites examples of sidewalks cleared only a shovel width and snow trampled down into an uneven layer of thick ice. Property owners clearing their driveways and city-operated snow plows both dump additional piles of snow on the sidewalk. The situation is unfair and unsafe.

Not mentioned in the article is who is responsible for clearing sidewalks in front of empty lots? I live on a rather steep hill and the sidewalk in front of an empty lot halfway up the hill is treacherous in ice and snow. Furthermore, sidewalks that do no abut private property, such as on bridges, are never cleared of snow. Shouldn’t the city be responsible for clearing these sidewalks?

The Great Wealth Transfer

An interesting article by Paul Krugman called The Great Wealth Transfer (published in Rolling Stone of all places, I guess Krugman is a rock star economist) discusses why even in a growing economy many Americans are not happy with the economy. This is because most Americans are not participating in this economic growth as the gap between the rich and the poor to middle class grows.

Rising inequality isn’t new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth — and they know it.

Reasons for the widening wage gap include corporate greed, union busting, and failure to increase the minimum wage. And the Bush administration’s tax cuts aren’t helping anything.

What about the claim that the Bush tax cuts did wonders for economic growth? In fact, job creation has been much slower under Bush than under Clinton, and overall growth since 2003 is largely the result of the huge housing boom, which has more to do with low interest rates than with taxes. But the biggest irony of all is that the real boom — the one in the 1990s — followed tax changes that were the reverse of Bush’s policies. Clinton raised taxes on the rich, and the economy prospered.

I will say that as interesting as this article appears Krugman does fail to provide the statistical analyses and background to support his claims. Maybe just because it’s a popular article in Rolling Stone, but I still have doubts even if (and perhaps because) this is exactly the kind of thing I want to hear.

A Christian Nation?

My eyes perk up when I see the same topic pop up in two different blogs I read. Either someone is assigning essay questions or the zeitgeist is being tapped.

The topic for today: Is America a Christian Nation?

Two commentators argue for religious plurality.

First Jim Wallis of Sojourners in the God’s Politics blog.

What we have grown to call the separation of church and state is good for both the government and religion — that citizenship should have no religious tests and faith can’t or shouldn’t be implemented by the state. The path of Jesus, for example, could never be followed by the state and the prophetic integrity and power of religion to hold governments accountable to higher values and better behavior specifically depends on the faith community’s political independence. Neither should religion need the state’s power to enforce its language and theology, which is why the “war against Christmas” discussion is finally so absurd. Does Jesus’ message really depend on our being reminded to have a “Merry Christmas” just before we plunge into shopping malls and engage in orgies of holiday consumerism that run so directly contrary to his message? Are Wal-Mart and Target to be seen as critical places of theological and spiritual reflection?

Next Right Rev. Mark Sean Sisk of the Episcopal Diocese of New York in Faithful America:

Frankly, I shudder to imagine the nation that is envisioned by those who would like this country to become what its founders never intended: a nation grounded in Christian doctrine. Much as I want for all people to know the love of God as revealed in Jesus, I, emphatically, do not want this nation to become “Christian” in any formal political sense. I am convinced that a theocratic nation, that is a nation that understands itself to be living under and out of the direct leadership of God, is a deeply dangerous place. Such a nation naturally and inevitably comes to believe that its positions and policies are nothing less than a mandate from God. Hence its programs and policies can not fail to result in the stifling of individual initiative and human freedom.

Taking my Self for a walk

My wife sent me the following article from the New York Times, “A Literary Visitor Strolls in From the Airport” by Charles McGrath (the Times requires compulsory registration, so if you’re not already a member use a fake login from Bug Me Not). The article is about English novelist Will Self who likes to walk. For his recent trip to New York he walked to Heathrow Airport and upon arrival at JFK Aiport walked to Manhattan.

By Mr. Self’s usual standards, the walk from Kennedy to Manhattan, about 20 miles, is a mere stroll. What recommended it was that it would take him through parts of the city that most people never notice while driving in a car: an experience that Mr. Self, a student of psycho-geography, believes has imposed a “windscreen-based virtuality” on travel, cutting us off from experiencing our own topography.

“People don’t know where they are anymore, “ he said, adding: “In the post-industrial age, this is the only form of real exploration left. Anyone can go and see the Ituri pygmy, but how many people have walked all the way from the airport to the city?”

I like to walk but I’ve never considered walking to Logan Airport primarily because it’s on a penisula on the opposite side of Boston Harbor. Walking to Logan would require passing through the eerie Produce District, a post-apocalpytic landscape of warehouses, oil refineries, and sleazy motels for truck drivers. Certainly not the place I want to walk through if I have a pre-dawn departure, especially if I have to pass by King Arthur’s Motel and Lounge.

I do like long walks though. Inspired by Michael Rockland’s Snowshoeing Through Sewers I walked the entire length of Broadway from Marble Hill to Bowling Green on a visit to New York last year. I have plans for similar ventures in Boston, such as walking Massachusetts Avenue from Lexington to Dorchester or Washington Street from the Dedham border to Government Center.

One guy I read about on the web walked every street in Manhattan which gives me ideas. With the twisted web of streets in Boston it would be hard to know if one ever find all the streets much less walk them. Somerville might be easier. At least on foot I don’t have to worry about the one way streets or potholes. I just hope I can find sidewalks where I need them.

Otis Redding

One year prior to the death of Thomas Merton the world lost another bright light when the 26-year old soul sing Otis Redding died in a plane crash in Madison, WI. Redding is by far my favorite male vocalist of all time. His most famous song is “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” — a bittersweet song that turns a peaceful moment of contemplation into a reflection on failure. More bittersweet is that the song was released posthumously and became Redding’s first #1 hit.

I was won over to Otis Redding the first time I heard “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” when I was a teenager. Redding’s powerful voice carries the song from a whisper to a scream exhibiting an amazing passion. Redding was equally adept at writing songs such as “Respect” which became a hit for Aretha Franklin, as well as interpreting classics ranging from an old jazz standard like “Try a Little Tenderness” to the Rolling Stones hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (I remember reading somewhere that the Stones prefer the Redding version to their own).

On this date in 1992 I dedicated a three-hour show on my college radio station WCWM to playing nothing but Otis Redding. Earlier this year when I took voice instruction my instructor and I worked on learning Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” although my voice would never do it justice. This year he gets a mere post in my blog.

Watch Otis Redding perform “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

Otis Redding: The Official Site.

Reccomended recordings:
Otis Blue Volt Records (1966)
Live in Europe Volt Records (1967)
plus numerous best of compilations.

Fuzzy Pigs

I am a big fan of travel guide writer Rick Steves who is responsible for a series of excellent guidebooks to Europe, a useful travel website, travel specials on public television, and a radio show called Travel With Rick Steves. I listen to the latter regularly as a podcast. While generally the show features travel experts talking about destinations around the world with phone-in questions from listeners, the most recent episode’s unique topic is Encountering Sheep in Your Travels. I highly reccomend giving a listen

This makes total sense to me as I’ve seen and photographed sheep in seven nations. In Ireland where a sheep posed by the sheep crossing sign while other sheep in Slea Head grazed in impossible places on the cliff’s edge, in Versailles where regal sheep dominated the barnyard of Marie Antoinette’s Hameau, or in the the Alpe di Siussi where the jingle of sheep bells rang clear across the meadow and to the peak of Mt. Pez.

Of course, I appreciate sheep in my home country as well. In college my roommate Alan was famed for visiting the sheep at Colonial Williamsburg whenever he felt stressed. The term “Fuzzy Pig” originated from an apophrycal CW story about a city slicker parent exclaiming to her children to look at the fuzzy pigs. Alan along with several of our classmates at William & Mary formed a Fuzzy Pig appreciation society. The spring lambing was a big event and it was great to take a break from studying for finals to watch the newborn lambs frolic in the meadows. Do not underestimate the therapeutic value of a Leicester Longwool.

Sheep and shepherds are also a common metaphor throughout scripture. In a wonderful case of serendipity, today’s Gospel reading contains one of those instances:

At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9:36

In my own room I have religious sheep imagery including a crossknit illustration of “The Lord is My Shepherd (Psalm 23)” given as gift to Alan & I from another college friend. For my first communion, each of the children made a felt banner to hang on the end of our pew, and were given several options of images to place upon it. I of course chose a sheep along with a fish and an open Bible, so it appears my love of sheep goes back a ways.

Tomorrow my friend Kim sings in a choir performing Handel’s Messiah and while I won’t be able to see the performance this year, I will be thinking of my favorite part: “All we like sheep have gone astray.”

“We like sheep,” we like them a lot. Amen.

Colonial Williamsburg: An Artifact of Popular Culture

During my senior year at college and for three years afterwards I worked at the living history museum Colonial Williamsburg. Although my days of wearing a tricorn hat and stockings (and showing of my well-developed calves) are long gone, I still try to keep up with what’s going on in CW and it’s place in popular culture. I regularly listen to the Colonial Williamsburg: Past and Present podcast which provides interesting “behind the scenes” interviews with the people who work at CW. The interviews are fun and interesting to listen to, especially when it’s someone I know.

A couple a days ago I stumbled across an article by Christopher Geist (someone I’ve actually met a couple of times) about Colonial Williamsburg’s place in popular culture. The article is an interesting summary of CW in movies, TV, books, collectibles, and toys — including the dreaded Felicity doll. There are a number of pictures of celebrities in Colonial Williamsburg but sadly no mention of my appearance on the NBC News overnight special on Christmas in Williamsburg.

While short on analysis, the article does have a good summary of Colonial Williamsburg’s popular appeal:

Popular culture artifacts are widely recognized and accepted by the general public as representing cultural importance and shared meanings. Like most aspects of popular culture, such artifacts are frequently commercialized, appear in the mass media, are generally understood and available to most members of the culture, and have the power to entertain, as well as to enlighten and educate. Though popular culture is generally associated with leisure time activities and frequently involves mass production and consumerism, it does not follow that the underlying meaning is trivial or easily forgotten. On the contrary, such popular culture artifacts as Colonial Williamsburg help to shape our understanding of our culture and its history.

Why is Colonial Williamsburg so frequently represented in the products of popular culture? In most instances, the creators of popular entertainments and consumer goods, as well as the consumers who patronize them, are drawn to the most conspicuous example in any given class of items. Colonial Williamsburg presents a generally accepted popular vision of colonial America, and it is the most prominent example of a living history museum village. Its presence is ubiquitous in popular culture materials, and it became the popular standard in the field of living history.

When I met Geist at Colonial Williamsburg he was a professor from Bowling Green State University with intentions of writing a book on popular culture in Colonial Williamsburg. I was looking for information about the book when I found this article, but sadly it does not seem that the book yet exists.

Big Box Chain Stores and Consumer Identity

An excerpt from the book Big Box Swindle: The Fight to Reclaim America from Retail Giants by Stacy Mitchell is available on AlterNet. In this article, Mitchell provides an interesting historical perspective on chain stores in America and how they encouraged people to think of themselves as consumers rather than citizens.

Most significantly, the chains continued to cultivate the consumer identity. The more people saw themselves as consumers-not producers, workers, or citizens-the less concerned they were about how the chains were impacting their livelihoods and their communities, and the more inclined they were to see the chains as satisfying an essential need for “quality, price, and better buying information.”


The post-war years saw the triumph of the consumer as the primary way in which Americans identified themselves and articulated their economic and political interests. The notion that the ownership structure of the economy ought to embody and support democratic values faded from view. Economic policy was no longer seen as an instrument for nurturing self-reliance and self-government, but for furthering efficiency and consumer welfare.

Reminds me of a stand-up comedian I saw long ago who predicted in the future we would all live in super malls and refer to one another as shopper like some kind of a consumer analogue to the French Revolution. “Good morning Shopper Smith!”

Civil Liberties Violations – Two Disturbing Articles

First, an opinion piece by Robert Sheer about Jose Padilla, a US citizen who has been held by the government for 3.5 years and tortured even though initial charges that Padilla plotted to detonate a “dirty bomb” have been dropped. This part of the article pretty much sums up why even in difficult times and under threat of terrorism we must stay true to our American ideals of justice:

The excuse for this heinous treatment of a U.S. citizen is the same as that given for an entire orgy of despicable treatment of prisoners held in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and a gulag archipelago of secret military facilities around the world: Our enemies, all linked through sophistry to the 9-11 terror attacks, are so vile and dangerous that the limitations on government power enshrined in our guiding documents and political culture no longer apply. Once the Twin Towers were knocked down, supposedly, we could no longer afford to be “nice guys” — as if the rule of law is an indulgence of only the most secure nations.

By that standard, any tyrant can justify the cruelest of actions by citing enemies, real or imagined, be it King George III blockading Boston Harbor to teach the rebellious colonists a lesson or Saddam Hussein killing Kurdish villagers after an assassination attempt on his life. The very uniqueness of our national experiment was the checks and balances put upon the government to prevent such convenient rationalizations for abuse of the individual. The Founding Fathers won a war, but their true contribution to human history was to tackle head-on the reality that humans and their institutions can so easily become that which they despise.

Even when an American is suspected of a “capital or infamous crime,” as was Padilla, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically says he still cannot “be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” That is why the Supreme Court finally forced the Bush administration to give Padilla his day in court.

In another article in Wired by Ryan Singel, it appears that anyone who has flown an airplane in the United States in the past five years has been subject to possibly illegal violations of privacy and freedom of movement by the Department of Homeland Security.

At the National Targeting Center, the ATS program harvests up to 50 fields of passenger data from international flights, including names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and uses watch lists, criminal databases and other government systems to assign risk scores to every passenger.

Though the government has provided few details, such a system could look at travel history, who the ticket was purchased from or what kind of car someone drives to attempt to figure out who is a likely terrorist threat.

When passengers deplane, Customs and Border Protection personnel then target the high scorers for extra screening. The notice says the data and the scores can be kept for 40 years, shared widely, and be used in hiring decisions. Travelers may neither see nor contest their scores.