Friday, November 18, 2011

Privilege Down the Drain

Whenever I write something here, I bother to formulate my ideas and choose my words carefully. It's important to me both not to waste my creative abilities, and to respect whatever time you, the reader, are giving me. Thank you for spending a few moments considering my words.

So I find it sad and, frankly, somewhat immoral, when an actual editor of a printed publication mistakes the privilege of the editorial position for a casual soapbox from which to blab more or less thoughtlessly in the style of morning radio banter. It's really a shame.

What got me going on this was reading an editorial this morning in the Boston Business Journal. I can't believe the editor, George Donnelly, spent more than 10-minutes writing it up. But even if he had spent hours, I doubt the quality of the ideas in his piece would have been much improved. How depressing that such incurious, uncritical ideas come from the pen of an editor!

If you don't want to read the whole BBJ editorial, in a nutshell, it asserts that it is wrong to allow the Occupy Boston protest to continue in public because it may lead to "politically less desirable" groups subsequently also being allowed to protest both in public, and at length. It displays a terrible ignorance of the 1st Amendment (the law of our land), a fearsome dose of Fake Patriotism (my own, personal nemesis), and an unfortunate amount of misinformation about the roots of the protest itself (the least worrisome part of this editorial).

It's embarrassing that the Boston Business Journal publishes editorials that make it so clear that its leadership doesn't support the fundamental rights of the U.S. Constitution for *all* citizens--not just the ones who agree with the BBJ editor's personal outlook on life. When one has the great, personal fortune of publishing an opinion-based editorial to be read by thousands, it's really a shame to squander it on silly rhetoric. Editor Donnelly isn't Howie Carr, for heaven's sake [note: Carr is something like Boston's print version of Rush Limbaugh]. Doesn't Donnelly feel any responsibility at all to his readers, or even to his own intellect, to craft an editorial based on factual assessments, critical thinking, and some understanding of our laws, rights, and the actual players involved in the suit at hand, rather than slap down some trite hyperbole about "utopians" and "rent-free" living?

It's not even possible to know if Donnelly is, in his words, "perplexed" and literally doesn't understand the judge's ruling, or if he's just irritated that the judge used legal precedent and the Constitution as the basis for the ruling, rather than Donnelly's own subjective, personal opinion that the Occupy protesters are bothersome to him, and thus not entitled to their Constitutional rights. It seems he was just being rhetorical, but his commentary on the situation is so basic, and his use of the phrase "protected speech" (which is not really the protected right at issue in this case) makes me think that in fact, he actually doesn't get what happened.

Donnelly says "the problem with Judge McIntyre's ruling is it sets a broad precedent for other, and perhaps less politically desirable, occupations of public space." That's spurious (and creepy!). The right of assembly is established in the 1st Amendment. It is granted to all Americans and it does not matter one iota whether they are "less politically desirable." To imply otherwise is deeply un-American and unpatriotic.  Furthermore, Judge McIntyre did not create or reinterpret the right of assembly this week. In fact, the judge was *following*, not *creating*, legal precedent established a few days earlier.

The decision in the case of Occupy Wall Street (a few days in advance of the Boston decision) established two precedents for adjudicating any Occupy protest location: (1) Such a protest *is* protected by the 1st Amendment (by the way, for those who are thinking "free speech," you don't know your whole 1st Amendment. Grab your copy of the Constitution--what, you don't have one? why not? I thought you were a big patriot--and re-read the last line); (2) Because the location of the New York City protest is on private property, the 5th and 9th Amendment rights of the property owner are not trumped by an unmitigated protection of the protesters' 1st Amendment rights.

So here in Boston, where the protest is not on private property whose owner wishes the protest to cease, the legal precedent seems to establish that the Occupy Boston protesters are protected by the 1st Amendment, and there is no other condition strong enough to outweigh the right of the protesters to remain.

Look, I'm not a Constitutional scholar. I'm not even a lawyer. But I'm a Constitution-loving American who has a brain, a copy of said document, and a  belief that it is a moral obligation of every American to defend our rights for *everyone*, and not just for the people we happen to agree with. For me, personally, part of defending our rights means actually bothering to give some considered thought to the issues of the day, not to just blindly accept the sound bites at face value, and to speak up when someone--especially someone who should care more, like the editor of a popular publication--wastes the privilege of his position with unconsidered talk that is contrary to our democracy.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Posse Comitatus / Sovereign Citizen / Right Wing Extremist Assassinates American Citizens Engaged in Democracy

UPDATE: ABC News is covering the "sovereign citizen" movement tonight, 3/8/12 on Nightline.

Read on for more information about "sovereign citizens" or scroll down for collected links, videos, stories, and other examples of propaganda intended to incite violent rhetoric against progressives.

Saturday, January 8, 2011 - Everyone is by now aware of the vicious terrorist attack on Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her staff, her constituents, and even their children at a public event called "Congress on Your Corner," designed to make the democratic process accessible to any civic-minded citizen of Tucson.

The suspected shooter in today's terrorist attack on American citizens in Tucson, AZ is Jared Lee Loughner.

Although Loughner was willing to use a gun on a child to tell the world what he thought, he is now tight-lipped and not speaking to investigators. I imagine that Loughner was not expecting to survive the attack he carried out, and is now mute in the face of the irony that those present at his onslaught showed him mercy even amidst the chaos--subduing him until police arrived and he could be delivered to the hands of lawful American justice--rather than tearing him limb from limb on the spot. He had just attempted to assassinate a U.S. Congresswoman, and had succeeded in executing a 9-year-old child, a federal judge, and many others.

[at left, James Corcoran's excellent book detailing the violent beliefs and actions of the posse comitatus sovereign citizen movement]

Jared Loughner may not be talking this evening, but the words he left on his social media profiles make it plain as day that he was a member of a small, yet growing, vocal, and extremely dangerous subculture of native-born Americans who believe the government has little legitimate authority, and the police none.

They call themselves "sovereign citizens" and Loughner's YouTube writings echo their usual talking points:
"Every police officer in the United States as of now is unconstitutionally working. Pima Community College police are police in the United States. Therefore, Pima Community College police are unconstitutionally working. The police are unconstitutionally working!"
Jared Lee Loughner, December 6, 2010
While the sovereign citizen movement supports neither the Republican nor Democratic party, they are an extremist branch of the American political right wing. They are preoccupied with the idea that the US government has so overstepped its Constitutional limits so as to have become an illegitimate governing authority. They believe the government has no right to levy any taxes on them or to require drivers of cars to be licensed. They do not believe in any alternate system of organized justice or government, however, and so instead of proposing that those they view as acting illegally be tried in some other "sovereign court," their first reaction is often violence.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has for years been warning about the dangers posed to all democracy-loving Americans by these extreme right wing militants who even before today had murdered and assassinated over 30 American public officials and law enforcement officers in the past 15 years.

[at left, David Neiwart's The Eliminationists, laying out the timeline and the case for how hateful rhetoric has effectively radicalized hundreds of thousands of formerly normal and patriotic Republicans]

Sovereign citizens claim to believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In their ignorant and twisted vision of "true patriotism," a private citizen who engages in his 1st Amendment protected right to free speech can be assassinated if the person he is freely speaking with happens to be a public servant.

Because so much of their ideology pertains to a government they view as too large and too intrusive, there is unavoidable overlap between the Tea Party and the Sovereign Citizen movement. And as the Tea Party has gathered steam, and right wing radio hosts have learned to pander to their fears, the Sovereign Citizen movement has also expanded and been able to expose even more people to its poisonous and treasonous perversion of American nationalism.

The Republican party is entirely aware of these connections, and outside of law enforcement, who abhor the "sovereign" movement because they have learned first hand what it's really all about, they are happy to spout elements of the "sovereign's" extremist ideology in order to inflame their base and provoke deep and visceral hatred of President Obama and the Democratic platform.

As sovereign citizen expert Alex Seitz-Wald at Think Progress noted fully 6-months before the deadly Tuscon rampage:
"While the sovereign citizen movement has existed for some time, its popularity appears to be growing in a climate where the anti-government rhetoric of the tea party movement has become commonplace."
 It is because of these connections, and the obvious and prescient danger they encourage, that I am collecting the various and related examples of Republican vitriol that I feel are, if not causal, still strongly related to today's domestic terror attack in Arizona.

Here is part of yesterday's advance announcement of Rep. Gifford's "Congress on Your Corner" event:

TUCSON - U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will host her first "Congress on Your Corner" of the year on Saturday, Jan. 8 at a supermarket in northwest Tucson.
"Congress on Your Corner" allows residents of Arizona's 8th Congressional District to meet their congresswoman one-on-one and discuss with her any issue, concern or problem involving the federal government.
Giffords has hosted numerous "Congress on Your Corner" events since taking office in January 2007. As in the past, the congresswoman's staff will be available to assist constituents.
Among the congresswoman's first official acts this week was a vote for Speaker of the House and theintroduction of legislation to cut congressional salaries by 5 percent. Giffords was interviewed about her bill this morning on Fox news.
WHAT: "Congress on Your Corner" with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
WHEN: 10-11:30 a.m., Saturday, January 8, 2011
WHERE: Safeway, 7110 N. Oracle Road (southeast corner of Oracle and Ina)

This is Sarah Palin's infamous "target sighting" poster, in which Representative Gabrielle Gifford's location is targeted with rifle cross hairs. As of 6:00PM ET 1/8/11, the poster is still live on Palin's Facebook page at

Here are quotes from articles that discuss the right-wing death threats made against Judge John Roll, Chief Justice of the United States District Court for Arizona, and incited by right-wing radio hosts. 

"In 2009, Judge Roll faced death threats after presiding over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher. After Judge Roll ruled that the case would be certified, threats came from talk-radio shows which fueled controversy and spurred audiences into making threats against the judge.
After one radio talk show, Judge Roll's name logged more than 200 phone calls as some callers threatened the judge and his family. This resulted in the judge and his wife being placed under a full-time protective detail for one month."      ~

"...when U.S. District Judge John Roll presided over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher, the Marshals Service was anticipating the fallout. When Roll ruled the case could go forward, [U.S. Marshal David] Gonzales said talk-radio shows cranked up the controversy and spurred audiences into making threats. In one afternoon, Roll logged more than 200 phone calls. Callers threatened the judge and his family. They posted personal information about Roll online. "They said, 'We should kill him. He should be dead,'" Gonzales said." ~

Republicans falsely assert that had the mass killing not occurred, nobody would have cared about Sarah Palin's violence-tinged rhetoric. That's not the case. Democrats have been asking Palin to stop using such ads since the moment she started. Here is a TV interview from almost a year ago, in which Congresswoman Giffords predicts the violence to follow, saying:

"Sarah Palin has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district and when people do that, they've got to realize there are consequences to that action."
~Rep. Gabrielle Giffords [D-Ariz.]

This is an add run by the Republican party against Gabrielle Giffords in 2010:

This is Sarah Palin's exhortation to her followers to "reload," not retreat. Democrats had long-requested that Palin avoid this type of incendiary messaging, but Palin refused. Within 2-hours of the terror attack on Rep. Giffords and her citizen constituents, Palin began removing her message (as well as the "rifle sights" poster above) from her various web pages:

This is an article published many months ago that describes the fears that the staff of Rep. Giffords already had for her safety, based on threats and intimidating behavior exhibited by Tea Party supporters and other right wing extremists:

This is Jared Lee Loughner's YouTube channel, where he uploaded 5 semi-coherent, anti-government videos during December 2010:

This is from an interesting article published today that addresses dangers of legal, but very inflammatory, political speech:

"If you're worried that violent video games may make kids prone to bad behavior; if you think that mysogenic and homophobic rap lyrics are dangerous to society; if you believe that a nipple in a Superbowl halftime show is a threat to our moral fabric - then surely you should also fear that the way public and media figures have framed political participation with shooting gallery imagery is just as potentially lethal."

This is what Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik had to say about the relationship of this crime to the political environment of our times:

"There's reason to believe this individual has a mental issue and I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol," he said.
"Vitriol" in public debate was a recurring theme in Dupnik's remarks as he blasted the media for "the vitriolic rhetoric" heard on television and radio.
"This has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in and I think its time we do the soul-searching," he said.
"The anger, the hatred the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately, Arizona has become the capitol. We have become the mecca of prejudice and bigotry." Reported on

"The New York Post spoke with Rep. Giffords' father:

The congresswoman’s father Spencer Gifford, 75, was rushing to the hospital when asked if his 40-year-old daughter had any enemies.
'Yeah,' he told The Post. 'The whole Tea Party.'"


"The New York Times' Paul Krugman said:

“You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead.” But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.”
Read more:

Conservative talk show hosts and politicians are busy denying they have ever used language that could be easily misconstrued as threatening. But they've been doing it, and profiting from it, for years. Here's what Glen Beck said nearly 6-years ago about filmmaker Michael Moore:

"I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore…I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it,…No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out."
~Glenn Beck, May 17, 2005

In the wake of the murders, Fox News' Glenn Beck claims that he has never used violent rhetoric or done anything that could be construed as encouraging armed response. Ironically, he has done just that so often that his website actually shows him "in action" with a gun on the same page where he claims to love peaceful, non-incendiary means. The photo shows Beck posing with a pistol, as if ready for action, while wearing a business suit. He is not depicted as hunting, participating in a militia for the defense of the nation, or has having joined the military or a police force:

Responding to critics who called out her use of violent imagery and rhetoric, Sarah Palin ups the ante and claims that a "blood libel" has been created against her. She seems to have no knowledge of the meaning of "blood libel." Across America, Jews and non-Jews are outraged and offended:

"J Street is saddened by Governor Palin's use of the term 'blood libel.'...We hope that Governor Palin will recognize, when it is brought to her attention, that the term 'blood libel' brings back painful echoes of a very dark time in our communal history when Jews were falsely accused of committing heinous deeds. When Governor Palin learns that many Jews are pained by and take offense at the use of the term, we are sure that she will choose to retract her comment, apologize and make a less inflammatory choice of words."
~Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street (DC-based Jewish advocacy group)

"Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a 'blood libel' against her and others...Perhaps Sarah Palin honestly does not know what a blood libel is, or does not know of their horrific history; that is perhaps the most charitable explanation we can arrive at in explaining her rhetoric today...[her] invocation of a 'blood libel' charge against her perceived enemies is hardly a step in the right direction."
~David A. Harris, President, National Jewish Democratic Council

Right wing radio host Rush Limbaugh claims that Democrats support the heinous murderer, Jared Loughner, who assassinated a federal judge, attempted to assassinate a Congresswoman, and executed 5 others, including a little girl and 3 septuagenarians at a Democratic-hosted event:

"What Mr. Loughner knows is that he has the full support of a major political party in this country.
~Rush Limbaugh

A democrat who used similarly vile and violent rhetoric is called out by a left-wing publication. It's stark contrast to the total support for violent rhetoric that right-wing publications give to right-wing politicians and pundits:

"it is incumbent on all Americans to create an atmosphere of civility and respect in which political discourse can flow freely, without fear of violent confrontation."
~Former Congressman Paul Kanjorski [D-Penn.]

In response, the Huffington post writes, "a valid plea, [but Kankorski] had produced some extreme violent rhetoric of his own."
~ which they were referring to Kanjorski having called for the arrest, trial, and execution of Rick Scott [R-Fla., now Governor], whom Kanjorski believes stole billions of tax dollars through a complex, long-term Medicare fraud:

"they ought to have [Rick Scott] and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him. He stole billions of dollars from the United States government...He's a damn crook. It's just we don't prosecute big crooks."
~Paul Kanjorski

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stuff that Looks Cool

Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely

Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely“A marvelous book that is both thought provoking and highly entertaining, ranging from the power of placebos to the pleasures of Pepsi. Ariely unmasks the subtle but powerful tricks that our minds play on us, and shows us how we can prevent being fooled.”

 The Upside of Irrationality, by Dan Ariely

"Ariely shows us the other side of the irrationality coin: the beneficial outcomes and pleasant surprises that often arise from irrational behavior. Although pleasant should be taken as a relative term, since the outcomes are not necessarily pleasant for the person who was behaving irrationally. Take, for example, Thomas Edison’s obsession with DC current, and his irrational hatred of AC: trying to prove how dangerous AC was, he inadvertently—with his development of the electric chair—demonstrated to the world how powerful it could be. Ariely is an engaging and efficient writer, amusing us with stories about irrational behavior while staying away from needless technical terminology and bafflegab. Thought-provoking, entertaining, and smart: a winning combination." ~David Pitt

Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelstein

"As a journalist at Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun during the 1990s, debut author Adelstein began with a routine, but never dull, police beat; before long, he was notorious worldwide for engaging the dirtiest, top-most villains of Japan's organized criminal underworld, the yakuza. A pragmatic but sensitive character, Adelstein's worldview takes quite a beating during his tour of duty; thanks to his immersive reporting, readers suffer with him through the choice between personal safety and a chance to confront the evil inhabiting his city. He learns that "what matters is the purity of the information, not the person providing it," considers personal and societal theories behind Tokyo's illicit and semi-illicit pastimes like "host and hostess clubs," where citizens pay for the illusion of intimacy: "The rates are not unreasonable, but the cost in human terms are incredibly high." Adelstein also examines the investigative reporter's tendency to withdraw into cynicism ("when a reporter starts to cool down, it's very hard... ever to warm up again") but faithfully sidesteps that urge, producing a deeply thought-provoking book: equal parts cultural exposé, true crime, and hard-boiled noir."

Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There, by Mark Di Vincenzo

"Buy Ketchup In May and Fly at Noon is a fun read, packed with information that can settle long-standing arguments on when to water the lawn, when to list your house or buy one, when to book a flight, when to fly to Europe, when to ask for a raise, when to send an email, when to adopt an animal, when to apply to college, when to take a foreign language, and so many other money saving, time saving helpful tips from experts world-wide.

Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

"Full-spectrum noise reduction fades background distractions and dramatically decreases engine roar on planes. Quality Bose sound reveals audio nuances you might have missed. And a lightweight, on-ear fit provides hours of comfortable listening.

Bose Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphone technology in QC3 headphones electronically identifies, then dramatically reduces noise, while preserving the audio or tranquility you desire. Proprietary signal processing and TriPort acoustic headphone structure also assure quality audio performance--and deep low tones--from these small, lightweight headphones. It's a unique combination of benefits and technologies available only from Bose."

THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything
The Assault on Reason

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

5th Book of Madrigals: Carlo Gesualdo, composer. This is one of the prettiest and most interesting early music CDs--a favorite of mine for many years. If you want to hear something really different, and not just the "same old" classical, try this!

Schutz: Symphoniae Sacrae Simply a beautiful recording. Double CD set. I think Verleih uns Frieden is one of the most beautiful, short pieces I've ever heard.

Lamenta: Gorgeous sounds, as always, from the Tallis Scholars.

Living Proof Straight Making No Frizz Styling Treatment, 4 oz

KitchenAid KRAV Ravioli Maker Attachment

KitchenAid RVSA Slicer/Shredder Attachment for Stand Mixers

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Since When Does Our Police Department Do Free Enforcement for Private Companies?

I have been meaning to write about this for ages--this and the myriad other ways that various entities--local, national, private and public--extract every possible penny they can from me and my neighbors, family, and friends.

As far as I can tell, all of these practices are immoral, and most of them are either illegal or would not stand up in court, were someone with as much money as a wealthy corporation to provide a challenge.

The photo at right shows a metered parking lot, located at approximately 399 Main Street, Malden, Massachusetts.

Like most drivers, when I see a parking spot with a parking meter, beside a big, blue public parking icon ("P"), I take it that I'm looking at public parking--whether it's on-street or in a lot.

In the case of the parking lot in question, if you parked here and your meter did in fact expire, so that you returned to your car to find a City of Malden parking ticket on your windshield, you might be aggravated to have been ticketed, but it likely wouldn't occur to you to question whether the city had a right to ticket you in the first place. Right?

Well, I'm telling you that in this lot, the city should not be ticketing you or anybody else.

Here's why. This parking lot is not a public lot. That's right; it's a privately owned lot, and all the money deposited in its meters is destined not for the City Treasury, but for a private company. I am not sure which company is the owner. I believe it's either LAZ or Fitz who, between them, have a good stranglehold on area parking. Let's say it's Fitz. In any case, it ain't the city.

So, tell me why you should be required to pay the city $15 if you are late feeding Fitz's parking meter. What city rule or ordinance have you violated? What jurisdiction could the city possibly have over parking time limits in a privately-owned parking area? What right might the Registry of Motor Vehicles possibly claim to put a hold on your ability to renew your license and thus operate a vehicle legally simply because you didn't pay parking citations wrongfully issued to you while you were parked on private property?

And why should my tax dollars be used to pay a policeman to check the meters in a private lot?

I don't know which is worse!

If Fitz wants to monitor its own lots and tow cars away when meters expire, let them. If they want to impose some kind of legal fee structure to deter parkers from not feeding their meters, fine. In that case, they can take the market consequence and see if parkers still want to park there given the extreme enforcement. But it is outrageous that a private company that is too stingy to hire its own parking lot attendants is able to avail itself of free policing on the taxpayers' tab!

And it is indefensible that while residents endure double-digit unemployment and struggle to put decent food on their tables and decent roofs over their heads, that they are once more nickle-and-dimed by their own government--in this case for dollars to which the government ought to have no legal claim whatsoever.

Here's the cherry on top. You know how I found out about this debacle? I was at the Malden police station to get a parking permit, and in the course of speaking with the officer at the window, he began quietly to complain about the wrongs of parking in Malden. It was this officer who told me that the parking lot on Main Street does not even belong to the city, that all the officers know it, and that they resent being made to ticket residents who are parked there.

The officer, who asked not to be named, wondered aloud how many cumulative police hours are wasted patrolling that lot as a freebie for Fitz that could otherwise have been used to do something actually related to public safety or improving, not deteriorating, the quality of life of Malden's residents.

What do you think? Is there any possible justification for the city's issuing public parking tickets to cars parked on private property?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Government Contracts Used as Cash Cows to Nickle and Dime Taxpayers for Private Profit

Let's start this story with the Massachusetts law that prohibits charging extra for credit card transactions


"No seller...may impose a surcharge on a cardholder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check or similar means."

Statute: Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 140D, § 28A(a)(2) (West)

Discounts for Cash Payments are allowed in Massachusetts

Discount offered to induce payment by cash, check or other means not involving a credit card not considered a finance charge if offered to all prospective buyers and disclosed clearly and conspicuously.

Statute: Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 140D, § 28A(b) (West)

Statutes cover: Credit cards only

Statute: (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 140D, § 1 (West))

And yet...

Yesterday I went to City Hall to pay a state excise tax on my car. It turned out that they didn't accept payments for that there, so they referred me to the next town over, whose city hall has an electronic kiosk (a machine) where taxpayers can pay their excise tax.

I drove over to the other town. I didn't have the excise tax bill with me because I had misplaced it. Since it can be easily looked up using my driver's license number, I wasn't concerned.

I found the payment kiosk. It turns out not to be owned and maintained by the Commonwealth, but rather by a private company (Kelley & Ryan Associates) that, it seems, has a contract to collect various payments (like excise tax or parking tickets) owed to the Commonwealth.

I initiated my transaction, following a system of prompts that began by offering me a selection for taxpayers who didn't have their bill right there with them.

I entered my name, date of birth, and license number. Then I had to enter my Social Security number. This rubbed me the wrong way. I do realize that SS numbers are in fact taxpayer ID numbers. However, here in Massachusetts, we specifically have the option of not associating our SS number with our driver's license, and it should be very simple to accept my payment and associate it with my vehicle simply by using my license number.

I have no particular confidence that this electronic kiosk is managed in a secure-enough fashion to sufficiently protect my identity. That's why this method of requiring input of my SS number bothered me.

The next step was to enter a number printed exactly as shown on my bill. Wait, wasn't I in the processing flow for people who don't have their bill handy? Yes, I was. Anytime I see a system designed that badly, it greatly lowers my confidence in the general care taken to build the system. So at that point, I was certainly regretting having entered my social security number in the previous step.

Needless to say, I couldn't proceed with the transaction.

The kiosk was located right next to the payment window of the city Collector's Office. An employee of that office saw me standing there, and saw that I was leaving the kiosk without finishing. I guess she must see that a lot, because she called me over to the window to tell me that I didn't need to use the kiosk--that she could take my payment in person.

Great! A helpful, friendly civil servant. I gave her my driver's license and credit card, and after a few moments, she handed me a printed receipt. Mission accomplished!

Back home, I took the receipt out of my purse and went to file it in my desk. That's when I noticed that I'd been charged an extra 3% for an "online convenience fee." Huh?! I hadn't paid online. I hadn't even paid at their kiosk. I had paid in person at a city office. Right?

I phoned Kelley & Ryan Associates right away. I told them what had happened, and asked them why I'd been charged extra. The employee of Kelley & Ryan told me, "you have to pay extra to use a credit card. Three percent."

"Umm, that's illegal," I told her. "You know that, right? It's illegal in Massachusetts to charge someone extra for paying with a credit card."

She replied, "well, that's how it is; it's three percent extra."

Now, as I said, the receipt identified this extra charge as an "online convenience fee." When I first read that, I immediately suspected that this was really a charge for using a credit card. I thought it likely that Kelley & Ryan are well-aware of the Massacusetts law, and that they try to skirt it by pretending their credit card fee is some other kind of fee.

But the Kelley & Ryan employee made it clear--explicitly confirming to me that this was in fact an additional charge because I chose to pay with a credit card.

The law does allow a vendor to offer discounts for paying by check or with cash. I attempted to give Kelley & Ryan an out, and I asked the employee, "okay, well is there any way I can get a discount then?"

Not surprisingly, she answered me with a scornful tone. "No! No discounts!"

That about wrapped it up for me. Kelley & Ryan have an exclusive contract to collect government taxes from millions of residents of the Commonwealth, and they are illegally increasing the burden on the taxpayer by 3% for the (I'm guessing) millions of online transactions!

This stuff just infuriates me. It is wrong. It is corrupt. It is theft.

And it is just one more example of how American citizens are nickle-and-dimed by both private companies and public entities to drip 90% of them of every bit of available funds they have.

Companies like Kelley & Ryan profit at the public trough--illegally charging individual taxpayers, and I'll bet cumulatively overcharging the Commonwealth, to perform a service that could, and probably should, be kept in-house by the state.

Why should a private, for-profit company be allowed to collect taxes for the state? That they "enhance" whatever profit they already make through the terms of their contract, by illegally passing on their processing fees to the taxpayer, simply rubs copious amounts of salt where the Commonwealth is already hemorrhaging its treasure to outside vendors.

Imagine the outrage the Chamber of Commerce would express if the Commonwealth announced it was going to increase some tax by 3%. Why, the Chamber just poured all kinds of money into defeating the alcohol sales tax increase in Massachusetts by ballot initiative at last week's election. They wouldn't be able to stop quoting how many jobs would be eliminated by a 3% increase on whatever, and how many businesses would suffer.

Yet not a peep when a huge increase is levied by a private, for-profit company on a public tax obligation!

This blog post is the first step in my attempt to right this wrong--to recoup my 3%, as well as all the three percents that have illegally been levied on my Massachusetts compatriots.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ideas for Solving the Debt Crisis

I'm going to collect novel ideas for improving the American debt crisis--I'm talking about individual debt, and not the debt crisis of our crazy, national deficit.

First up, a reader comment I saw on the New York Times today:

"There should be a direct debt exchange for consumers based in the Department of Treasury or Fed.

Taxpayers in good standing should be able to cash in high interest debt and pay it off, over time, with their taxs at 5-10%.

It makes not sense for American taxpayers/consumers to pay into a government that subsidizes the financial industry a in a dozen different ways (750 Billion TARP, 0% loans from the Fed, access to government bonds to sell) and they have these same taxpayers/consumers borrow from the financial industry at 20-30%.

And then allow fraudsters like the one's described in the article, take another bite out of these consumer/taxpayers.

Set up the direct lending program today. Make it directly accessible or accessible through credit unions which traditionally don't overcharge their customers."

~jo, on the Pacific coast (June 19th, 2010)

A recent adjustment to last year's credit card-regulating legislation has limited the amount of any fee that a credit card issuer can charge the credit card account holder. For example, a fee cannot exceed the amount of an "infraction." So, if you go over your credit card limit by $2.49, your credit card company cannot charge you a $39 fee. They can only charge you a $2.49 fee. And as I understand it, no fee can be greater than $25, but if the customer is a "repeat offender," they may lose some of these protections.

Based on these new rules, here's a 2-part idea of my own:
1. Limit the amount that banks can charge for each incidence of overdraft. If you overdraw your checking account by $10, and those ten dollars represent 3 very small purchases, the bank cannot charge you about $40 per overdraft ($120 in fees for your $10 mistake, which is what my bank, Citizens Bank, does). Instead, regulate in the same way the credit cards are now regulated--limit the fee to no more than the amount of the overdraft ($10 in this example), and cap fees at a reasonable maximum, like $30, or something.

2. Give customers the choice of whether they want their daily transactions to post in order from smallest to largest, or from largest to smallest. This is a small thing that Citizens Bank, and probably other banks as well, do to squeeze as much money as possible out of customers who are really struggling.

Here's an example that illustrates why I want these changes. There was a week during which I made a math error in balancing my checkbook. It was an honest mistake, and it resulted in my thinking I had about a hundred bucks more than I did.

I wrote my rent check, and on the night it posted, there were also about 8 tiny purchases that posted, averaging about $2 each (coffees). The total amount posting was approximately $1,600, and the available balance was, due to my error, approximately $1,500.

Citizens Bank could have cleared all 8 small purchases and overdrawn my account with the 9th purchase--the rent check for $1,575 (by the way, here in Boston, that's not a lot). It would be very easy to run the system in a pro-customer way, as I'm describing. But then Citizen's Bank wouldn't be able to wring every possible cent out of me.

What Citizens actually did was post the rent check first--the largest item--so that it immediately overdrew the account. Then all other 8 items posted as overdrawn, too. My account was approximately negative $100.

I could have remedied this the next day with the cash in my purse, but then Citizens Bank assessed its tremendous fees: $39 for each of the 9 items. $351. Plus the $100 error I'd made, my account was then overdrawn by $451, mostly because of an honest mistake I'd made, and subsequent purchases to the tune of $30 (the 8 tiny purchases responsible for almost all the fees).

Do you think that I was able to come up with $451 before the automated bills set to debit from my account (electric bill, phone bill, student loan etc.) posted? Of course I was not. (Another customer might have then been sucked into payday lending, but at least I did not go down that horrible path). However, I accumulated more fees and more overdrawn items before I finally got my next paycheck, every penny of which was necessary to pay off Citizens Bank's fees, leaving me with no money for food or gas for another 2 weeks, and sinking farther into a hole because of one, tiny honest error. Citizens Bank counts on this. They want this to happen to their customers.

If they wanted it not to happen to their customers, they wouldn't charge $451 for $30 in mistaken over-spending. They would make changes to the way they assess fees, and they would be willing to listen when customers call their customer service line, as I did, to ask for mercy and forgiven fees in an instance like mine. But they are implacable. They truly do not care.

I firmly believe that if there is an afterlife, there is a special place reserved for the people who dream up and implement predatory an abusive structures like the fee scheme at Citizen's Bank. But consumers need and deserve some protections and justice in the here and now.

Why not offer bank customers the same protections from this kind of predatory behavior that are currently being extended to credit customers?

Here's another idea of my own:
If a delinquent credit card debt is sold to a debt collection agency for pennies on the dollar, limit the amount of debt that the collector can attempt to collect to the actual outstanding debt due to purchases and regular instance.

Here's why:

A majority of delinquent credit card debt is on accounts that had predatory credit terms to begin with. Many of these accounts had credit limits as low as $300, but balances of $550 or $700 or in some cases even over $1,000.

This is what I call "invented debt." The vast majority of the debt is just fees--fees that may not even be legal to impose under current laws. During the time the account was active, the account holder might have purchased a grand total of, let's say, $500 worth of stuff, and paid a total of $800 to the credit card company. But due to the card's predatory and deceptive terms, the account is constantly accruing fees that push it farther and farther over the limit.

Eventually, the downtrodden account holder gives up, and the account is sold to a collector as bad debt.

In reality, the account holder has probably paid for every physical purchase made on the credit card, as well as considerable fees and interest. Still, the account holder is left with this "invented debt" of hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

It seems unreasonable that a third-party debt collector, who does not even represent the original credit card issuer, can purchase an invented debt of $500 for the paltry sum of perhaps $20, then tack on $200 more in "administrative" fees, and begin to put the account holder through hell for an invented debt of $700 when in reality, the account holder has actually paid for all his physical purchases, and the collector has never been harmed or damaged by the account holder, and in fact has only even laid out $20 to gain control of this "debt."

The collector will now relentlessly pursue the account holder for this money, and will quickly move to the civil court system to force collection. The courts are clogged absolutely to the gills with these cases, which are an intolerable, and unjustified strain on the public justice system.

If you doubt this, drop by your local court and witness the collection companies actually doing business from tables in the courthouse lobbies and hallways, with long lines of "invented debtors" missing work and forking over their household's grocery money to avoid going to trial. What misery! What misuse of the American court system. How unconscionable that this abuse persists!

As I've said before, these financial predators are living examples of the ancient Biblical text:
"And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

Matthew 19:24
But Americans need justice against these people during this lifetime.

Here's one more idea. It's a riff on the New York Times reader's comment at the top of this page. Instead of using the federal government, you do the same thing privately.

What would be really amazing is if a non-profit organization could be formed that would buy up these bad debt bundles, and then instead of doing what the collectors do, simply contact the debtor and give them the chance to "buy back" their debt for whatever the non-profit paid for it, plus something nominal, like 1%, to fund the organization. Or you could even do a 10% fee and use the return to fund additional pro-consumer financial programs.

**************November 18, 2010**************

Here's another idea:

Immediately allow all persons receiving federal or state unemployment compensation to use this compensation in order to start a business.
Allow these entrepreneurs to make sales and grow their new businesses without risk of losing their compensation. Allow compensation claims to run their usual course. Neither impose early terminations, nor allot special extensions.

This is already legal under federal law, but must be approved or implemented on a per-state basis.

Despite our tattered economy, and the number of fabulously qualified and motivated Americans collecting unemployment and unable to find a decent job, only a handful of states (Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania) are bothering to move in any direction toward programs like these.

What on earth have we got to lose? It's like the state has some vested interest in making sure nobody brings in more than $500 per week after losing a job, and if they do, then we're darned well going to stick it to them! Are we crazy?

Here we have tens of thousands of people who are prepared to create a job for themselves--some of whom will become successful enough to create jobs for others--all at a small fraction of the price that a typical small business pan would be looking for in a start-up bank loan (from all those fat-on-taxpayer-money, non-lending banks, right?).

These entrepreneurs are willing to bootstrap everything, work 18-hours a day, bend over backwards and then some, and generally work harder than they ever have in their lives (as every small business owner knows is true) to lift their little piece of dream off the ground.

And they can do it with the money they're already eligible to receive under unemployment compensation law, if states will just wake up and get with the program.

I'll continue to post more ideas as I come across them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israeli Overkill Strikes Again

Civilian provocation or trigger-happy soldiers...what do you think?

About 600 "peace activists" from 20 countries were on board 6 yacht-type vessels carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid (wheelchairs, medicine, clothes etc.) to Gaza when a confrontation ensued with Israeli defense forces. At least 9 activists were shot dead, many more were wounded (including an American woman shot in the eye with a teargas grenade), and several Israeli soldiers suffered non-life-threatening injuries

Among the 600 peace activists were:
  • 1 retired American ambassador in his 80s
  • 1 member of the Israeli parliament
  • 2 Egyptian lawmakers
  • Volunteers from Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, and the U.S.
  • 40 British citizens whom the British Foreign Office said were accompanying the aid
Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman has already come out on the record, saying that "the sole responsibility" for the incident lies with activists who have "chosen violence and confrontation."

It is difficult to understand, though, how the peace activists "chose" confrontation and violence.

By all accounts, the aid vessels were in international waters over 70 miles outside Israeli territorial waters when, according to Israeli Member of Parliament Hanin Zoabi, who was accompanying the aid flotilla, the Israeli Navy fired on the ships for 5-minutes before commandos rappelled from helicopters onto the decks of the ships. Zoabi says the passengers on board the ships were unarmed.

Did Israel believe the ships were smuggling arms into Palestinian territory, as has happened in the past?

It's unlikely, given the scenario. Not only is 600 passengers and a convoy of 6 ships obviously too big a group to be attempting anything sneaky, but the flotilla had in fact planned to reach Gaza in broad daylight the following day so that they could document the delivery.

Additionally, it's not like these were Iranian speed boats. The vessels were all from a friendly nation--Turkey, whom Israel trusts enough to sell weapons to, and which was the first Muslim country to recognize modern day Israel as an independent nation, just after Israel's founding.

Israel's rhetoric after the fact seemed aimed to tarnish the reputation and intention of the civilians accompanying the flotilla. Israel arrested the hundreds of peace activists, and has charged them with illegally entering Israel, which, if true, might give Israel more leeway in how it dealt with "intruders."

But those arrested did not enter Israel illegally. They did not even enter voluntarily.

As Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister noted in his strenuous objection to the Israeli action, the civilians "did not enter Israel illegally; rather they were essentially seized from international waters, taken into Israel and asked to sign documents confirming that they entered illegally."

In an absurd proof that Israel knew nothing untoward was happening with the aid flotilla, after killing 9 and arresting 600, Israel actually allowed the aid the ships were carrying to be delivered to its intended destination. Palestinian officials have confirmed that five trucks were allowed into Gaza, carrying wheelchairs.

Perhaps most tellingly, Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Major Avital Leibovitch accused the peace activists of having planned the conflict. Speaking on NPR's All Things Considered, Maj. Leibovitch claimed that the activists "waited for them [the Israeli commandos]. They planned this." Saying, "it's more than an attack. I describe it as a lynch because when you have one Navy Seal and 10 activists jumping on him trying to break his arms and legs, for me, it's a lynch."

Maj. Leibovitch did not explain how the peace activists might have lured the Israeli navy and its helicopter commandos over 70-miles beyond their borders, or how the civilians might have first engaged them in the skirmish.

It's interesting to note Maj. Leibovitch's incorrect use of the word "lynch." Anyone as fluent in English as the Major is, but who is familiar with the term lynch, would know that nobody ever says "it's a lynch," but rather, "it's a lynching." So it seems that the Major did not know the term on his own--that the term was new to him.

Perhaps Maj. Leibovitch was coached to invoke the word "lynch" on U.S. National Public Radio in an effort to strike a chord with a listening audience that is generally thought to be liberal, and sympathetic to demographics who have historically been the victims of lynching. But while NPR listeners may be left-wing, they are definitely intelligent, and they can see through a flimsy political excuse a mile away.

When you shoot at someone, then jump onto their property from a helicopter, and they fight back, you aren't being lynched; you're just being fended off.

As usual, Israel's general approach seems to be that occasionally, in the course of keeping Palestinians in their place, a civilian is accidentally and tragically killed through military action. But if that civilian, in the course of being accidentally killed, attempts to save himself and avoid his own accidental death by fighting back, then while his death may still be regrettable, as Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman has already said, "the sole responsibility" for the incident lies with the dead civilian who has "chosen violence and confrontation."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Is Chobani Making Me Fat?

Over the past few months, I have gained an unusual amount of weight, going from 120- to 128-pounds on a 5' 5" frame. I know, I know, it doesn't make me a whale and I'm not anywhere near the average American weight for a woman of my age and height. But that's not the point. We Americans have become terribly fat in the past 20-years, and I have no interest in becoming an average-sized American. I want to be thin, and like anyone, if I consume too many calories, I gain weight.

So I watch what I eat--especially since I do not exercise. I read the nutritional labels. I pay attention to caloric intake. I eat very little junk and choose healthy foods. I eschew added sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup. I cook meals and try to eat small portions. It's pretty much that simple, and the result is that I stay thin while eating delicious food.

Over the past year, Greek yogurt seems to have become quite popular. I have tried the several brands that my local Stop & Shop has begun to carry. Fage brand may have been my favorite, but Chobani is excellent and costs less. So Chobani is my choice. And since I am about to criticize them for their confusing, if not misleading, packaging, let me first share with you some great things about Chobani. It's:

· All natural. Has no preservatives or artificial flavors.
· Has no synthetic growth hormones or rBST-treated milk.
· Includes 5 live & active cultures, including 3 probiotics.
· Made with real fruit.
· Has twice the protein of regular yogurts.

So, I have swapped out my previous morning or afternoon snack in favor of Chobani 2% plain yogurt. I purchase the medium-sized container (16 oz / 454g). Normally I choose a snack that has 150 to 200 calories. The nutritional label on the Chobani container indicates that there are 2 servings per container, and each serving has 170 calories. That works for me!

But this morning, as I was taking a new container of Chobani out of the fridge, it occurred to me that half a container, 8 ounces, or half a pound (!) seemed like an awfully big portion. So I sat down with the container, and examined the Nutrition Facts panel more closely than I had before. When I was done reading, I was pretty confused. Look at the label for yourself:

1. The whole container is 454g, but the Nutrition Facts panel says the container is half that: 227g.

2. The Nutrition Facts panel says that a serving size = 1 container, and that each container = 2 servings. That makes no sense. If a container = 2 servings, then obviously a serving size = 1/2 container.

3. The Nutrition Facts panel shows that a serving has 170 calories. But without knowing how large a serving is, that information is useless!

I can judge just by holding an unopened container that the weight shown on the front of the container is most likely correct: 16OZ (1 lb., or 454g.).

That means we can assume that the information shown in #2 (in the photo) is incorrect. One container does not equal 227 grams.

So the question is, is there a typo, and the Nutrition Facts panel should simply say "Serving Size: 1/2 container (227g)," or are there really 2 servings in each 227 grams, as the label indicates?

If the latter, then I have been eating twice as many calories in Chobani yogurt than I thought. That would mean between 170 and 340 calories more per day than I intended--or about 255 extra calories per day.

A pound of fat is gained for every 3500 extra calories consumed (and not burned). At a rate of 255 extra calories consumed per day, it would take 2-weeks to gain 1 pound.

Have I been gaining 2-pounds per month because of my Chobani habit? Is Chobani making me fat? And if delicious, Greek yogurt isn't the culprit, where the heck is this gross, extra weight coming from?

I'm going to email Chobani today, and see what they have to say about the Nutrition Facts label. Either way, it obviously contains an error.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Bad Can the MBTA Get?

My car's in the shop this week, and I am using public transportation, rather than renting a car, in an effort to be a little greener.

I'm only 18-hours into my MBTA adventure, and it is already very, very lame. It's just as bad as when I was a student who couldn't afford a car, but now it's much more expensive, and my obligations are a lot more pressing.

Last night I took the T from Malden Center to Dean Road, Brookline. This was the "high point" of my experience so far. The Orange train arrived soon after I reached the platform. There were no delays, and the throngs of Bruins playoffs and Red Sox fans were happy and not obnoxious. I transferred to the Green Line at North Station and waited about 8-minutes, passing up a B train and boarding a C train. 75-minutes after starting my trip, I arrived at my destination. That's about 25-minutes longer than it would take me to drive on an evening with a Red Sox game.

The ride back on the green line was uneventful. Back at North Station, I waited about 10-minutes for the Orange Line. When a train pulled in, it was already pretty full. Everyone boarded. Now the train was completely full. But instead of pulling out of the station, the Operator announced we would be standing by for a few minutes.

Turns out, the Bruins game was ending (yeah, we won), and the MBTA thought a good game plan would be to make an already-packed train wait 10-minutes so that it could be completely over-stuffed with hundreds more riders, many of them both loud and intoxicated. Classic!

Finally the sardine can pulled out of North Station. Alas, the one passenger on the train wearing a Philly jersey is spotted by the drunkest, most aggressive Bruins fan on board. This Bruins-fan jackass, a total embarrassment to Beantown, spent the entire ride heckling the Philly fan (and his Bruins jersey-wearing girlfriend), more and more intensely.

By the time the train reached Malden Center (my stop), other passengers needed to intervene to keep the drunk Bruins idiot away from the poor Philly guy, who the entire ride had done nothing to provoke or encourage the drunk guy. I stopped by the security booth and asked them to have security meet the train at Oak Grove and make sure the Philly guy and his girl got off the train safely.

Does the MBTA really think that this is going to be an unusual scenario? Could it possibly be a bright idea to have some extra security on nights when Boston teams are in the playoffs on home turf?

Okay, so on to this morning. My daughter attends preschool 1.8 miles from our home. It's a bit of a long walk for a little kid, early in the morning. I went to and figured out which bus route we needed. The 108 - Linden Sq. to Wellington. We needed to reach the school no later than 9:00 a.m. The obvious choice was the 8:20 bus from Linden Square, arriving at Malden Center at 8:34 and reaching our destination at 8:39.

We really needed to catch that bus, so I figured the safest thing would be to leave our home at the same time the bus was starting out from Linden Square. Since we'd be boarding a couple of stops before Malden Center, that should leave plenty of time. Here's what actually happened:

8:20 - The 108 bus presumably leaves Linden Square. Simultaneously, my kid and I leave our home.

8:22 - We have a sight-line of the bus route. No bus passes.

8:24 - We reach the bus stop--several minutes before the bus could possibly arrive if it left Linden on time.

8:26-8:40 - We watch the 3 other buses that use the stop we are at come and go. Twice. There is no bench or covered area. It's hot and uncomfortable. I begin to despair of making it to school on time. I ask the driver of another bus that stopped whether there is unusual traffic on Salem Street. He said there is not.

8:41 - The #108 finally pulls up to the curb, already approximately 11-minutes late only 1.5 miles into its route, and having taken about 85% longer to reach us than it should have.

8:43 - We reached Malden Center.

8:54 - We reach our destination 15-minutes past the scheduled time, and 3-minutes past the time that bus was due in at its terminus. "Look on the bright side," I tell myself, "I won't have a long wait for the bus to go back home." Ah, still so naive, right?

At 8:59 I leave the school and begin walking back to the bus stop. I have a clear view of the bus route the entire time. No MBTA bus pass in either direction.

9:00 - An inbound bus back to Malden is scheduled to leave Wellington, reaching my stop 5-minutes later.

9:01 - I arrive at my stop, expecting a wait of 5-minutes, or so.

9:08 - Still no bus. Another person joins me at the bus stop.

9:10 - A 108 bus speeds past in the other direction, toward Wellington. That bus is apparently only 7-minutes behind schedule.

9:15 - A nicely dressed Jehova's Wittness from the Caribbean approaches and begins to proselytize to me.

9:20 - Still waiting, but at least I'm saved now.

9:25 - More riders waiting at the bus stop.

9:31 - Bus #0706 arrives for the 108 route. If #0706 is the bus that should have left Wellington at 9:00, it is 26-minutes late. If #0706 is the next bus--that should have left Wellington at 9:20, then it is exactly on time...but the previous bus either never showed up, or left Wellington a minimum of 5-minutes early. Either option is completely and totally unacceptable!

9:43 - My bus reaches Malden Center. The male driver briefly yells out the door to the female driver of another 108 bus that is sitting beside us (#0614 maybe, but I forget exactly), something about her being late.

9:47 - I get off at my stop.

My 3.6-mile round trip should have involved 22-minutes of riding time, 26-minutes of scheduled turn-around wait time, and perhaps 8-minutes of waiting at the start of the trip.

That's a total of 56-minutes, getting me back home at 9:17, and making it just barely worth taking the T, rather than walking the 3.6-miles.

Instead, I rode the bus for 26-minutes (about 18% over estimate), waited for 37 unscheduled (i.e. late) minutes, and arrived home at 9:47 (30-minutes late) for a total trip time of 87-minutes.

When you have to make a trip of a few miles, but it's still faster to walk than to take the T, that's when you know just how bad the MBTA is.

The MBTA seems anti-environment and anti-person. If this is how things tend to go on the MBTA, there is no way a sane person who can afford a car would choose to give up their car in favor of public transit.

As for those who cannot afford a car, and must depend on the MBTA to get to their jobs, do their shopping, drop their kids at daycare. Oh my goodness! I cannot imagine how much time in their lives is basically wasted, stolen, squandered...all because the MBTA, despite endless fare hikes, cannot get its act together.

I would say I want my fare money back, but I am sure the insufferable process to obtain a refund would cost me far more than the few bucks I paid for this morning's awful customer experience.

Friday, April 9, 2010

2-for-1 Tickets to "When Britten Met Haydn" with The Boston Cecilia

The Boston Cecilia presents When Britten Met Haydn. Friday, April 16, 8:00 PM at All Saints Parish, Brookline, MA

Ticket Sale! Today, Friday 4/9, through Monday 4/12, buy one ticket and get one free when you purchase tickets online! Offer applies to ticket levels A, B, and C. Use coupon code BrittenHaydn2for1 at the end of the online checkout.

Featuring tenor Aaron Sheehan and BSO principal horn James Sommerville, Cecilia celebrates the similar depth and compassion of Britten and Haydn.

Joseph Haydn Benjamin   Britten

Joseph HAYDN
Missa Brevis St. Joannis de Deo (Kleine Orgelmesse)
Salve Regina in g minor

Benjamin BRITTEN
Cantata Misericordium
Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

Friday, April 16, 2010 at 8:00 PM
All Saints Church
1773 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA 02445

Reserve tickets to this performance now!

The Boston Cecilia presents "When Britten Met Haydn" on Friday, April 16 at 8pm at All Saints Church in Brookline. Featuring tenor Aaron Sheehan and BSO principal horn James Sommerville alongside a quartet of young soloists, Cecilia celebrates the similar depth and compassion that Britten and Haydn brought to the world through music. Coming from different cultural, religious, and social backgrounds, and separated by two centuries, both found in music profundities at which their surfaces sometimes only hint.

An excerpt from When Britten Met Haydn program notes
by Donald Teeters

Is it more than a catchy title? Separated by centuries, the two composers were certainly social and cultural strangers. Public recognition? For Britten, it came early but was complicated by lifestyle and war. Haydn’s came late—he was an old man when world fame finally caught up with him. However, it took a couple of centuries for appreciation to reach into some very large corners of his art.

Why was that? It is aspects of the obvious vs. the oblique, the surface vs. the inner meanings that prompted us to give this concert its title. Hans Keller, the Viennese-born but consummately English critic and musical scholar, spoke of this connection in relation to Britten’s works.

“While one does not usually find things that are not there, one often does not find things that are. I would suggest that both Mozart and Britten [and I would include Haydn here] sublimate not only their depths but also their heights, i.e. they even sublimate their sublimity.”

While Haydn’s surfaces can sometimes and at first glance seem generic, too simple, too much like other composers’ music of the same period, further digging almost always leads one to a rich interior lode waiting to be mined. And here is The New Yorker critic, Alex Ross, comparing Britten with two contemporaries, Sibelius and Shostakovich:

“What they had in common was the ability to write elusive emotions across the surface of their music. Britten made his inner landscape as vivid as the rumble of the sea, the cries of the gulls . . .”

Perhaps we can find a common meeting ground between tonight’s two disparate but genuine geniuses: surfaces sometimes belie, but listening deeply and with an eager ear to the works of Haydn and Britten never fails to reward.

Individual, regularly-priced tickets are $15, $27, $42, $62

1773 Beacon Street Brookline MA 02445 | | 617.232.4540