My Take as a Bostonian on the Marathon Bombings

Boston, MAI live in Boston, but am not afraid.  Yes, I have heeded the Governor’s advice to stay inside today, but not out of fear.  I am a little annoyed, actually, that the media has proclaimed Boston is in a state of lockdown.  We are not locked down.  People are free to move around if they wish and have been doing so freely all day.  No one has been detained for venturing out.  Golfers near my house were free to play 18 holes today and let me assure you that many did.  Call the recommendation to stay inside want you want, except Marshall law; I just call it common sense.  I am not going to prowl around looking for the bomber or insert myself into the investigation.  I’m not going out to take Instagram photos of the riot tanks in Watertown.

Another annoying aspect of the media coverage is just how many things “journalists” have gotten wrong. The New York Post identified and published a photo of the wrong guy as one of the bombers.  Second, in a rush to get the breaking news scoop, media outlets reported that the suspects were dark-skinned, then White, all before the official video and still photos had been released by the FBI.  Third, reports circulated that the two were brothers of 19 and 21 years of age; the oldest suspect that authorities killed in a gunfight turned out to be 26.  Fourth, the media has repeatedly reported with certainty that the brothers are refugees from Chechnya; they are, at least, according to one of the uncles, from Kyrgyzstan, though another uncle seemed to confirm their Chechen ethnicity.  Fifth, various reports stated the two had been in the country for just 2 years, when in fact, if we can trust the facts, they came in 2001 and had been living legally as refugees in the country for 12 years; the youngest suspect even became a U.S. citizen on 9/11/2012, of all dates. Not that all the discrepancies will make a big difference in the outcome of the case, but it does raise some concerns about the integrity of the information we receive in the age of the continuous 24 hour news cycle.  And while the 19 year old suspect has yet to be tried and convicted of anything, there seems to be little doubt as to his guilt with all the eye witness surveillance video.  And I hope he is captured alive so that authorities can learn as much information as possible about motives, associations and other threats before he is prosecuted.

But mostly, I am angry that terrorists have been living among us. I am angry that they committed an act cowardice against innocent people at the Boston Marathon. There is nothing, nothing at all that can justify the calculated killing of innocent people.  These terrorists murdered three and maimed hundreds with a dirty bomb.  They carjacked a civilian at gunpoint,  wounded an MBTA official, killed an MIT police officer and got into a firefight with police officers.

What would compel one to commit such heinous crimes?  One plausible and admittedly unsubstantiated theory (and one that is not so original) is that the oldest brother, who authorities killed in the shootout, had gone abroad, received training with a terrorist group, become radicalized, made or obtained some bombs and organized the attack with his brother.  It seems doubtful that they were lone wolves who snapped.

Whatever the case turns out to be, it is clear that any War on Terror cannot be a conventional war fought by countries, as the failed Bush years proved.  The War on Terror cannot be a battle of competing religions.  No, the best way to fight terrorism is to be vigilant, but reasonable; to seek justice, not revenge; and to refuse to be terrorized.  The American ideals of democratic governance with an emphasis on individual rights, freedom of religion, tolerance, community, and the peaceful pursuit of happiness is a package that cannot be destroyed by a terrorist attack.

And one more thing:  Americans, let’s not forget that we are all immigrants.  We must denounce all acts of violence and terrorism, but be tolerant and supportive of peaceful, hard-working, newer immigrants who reside among us and cordial and welcoming to international tourists and students visiting from foreign lands no matter observed differences in dress, accent, appearance, religious or political affiliations.  I am certain that my great city of Boston and one of my favorite cities, New York City, will always be welcoming and hope that other U.S. cities will be too.

Finally, and importantly, let us never forget the 3 Boston Marathon bombing victims and the 176 wounded and their families and the slain and injured officers.  Boston will never forget and has set up The One Fund to assist impacted families.  Rest assured that the bomber will be brought to justice.

Postscript:  Authorities apprehended the surviving suspect who had been hiding in a boat.  He was taken alive and transported to a local hospital.  The mayor tweeted “we got him”.  What a relief! Cudos to the coordinated efforts of the Boston Police, the MA State Police, the FBI, The AFT, Mayor Menino, and Governor Patrick all of whom conducted themselves professionally and with extreme concern for public safety.  Thank you!

Fat Free Disney

I’m not a big fan of the Disney Empire.  And it is an empire, spreading the worst that America has to offer around the globe.  Cultural Imperialism.  Many tourists come to America or Paris for that matter,  just to visit Disneyland and Disney World.  Sad, but true, especially for families with whiny kids.   Disney is a place where all dreams come true and where American history and fairy tales are sanitized and whitewashed like Tom Sawyer’s picket fence.  Every thing has a happy ending at Disney and that extends to the health and nutrition of children.  And while I am not a Disney fanatic, I do applaud its new pledge to ban junk food ads at its parks and on its many TV networks by 2015.

I know it is blasphemous in America to criticize the Walt Disney Corporation, and it is a corporation, not a person please remember, but I worry about its influence on how children think and on the buying habits of families.  The Disney motto seems to be to “capture their hearts and minds from the cradle to the grave”.  One critical work on Disney which is essential reading is called – The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence by Henry Giroux.  It lays out the case for why you too should be concerned about Disney’s ever growing influence on popular culture and your life.

You may ask why the bitterness ribbie?  Did your parents not take you to Disney World?  And the answer is, no they didn’t. And I wanted to go more than anything, but we ended up at Six (the frick) Flags over Texas every year, which actually wasn’t so bad…but it’s not that.  In truth, I wasn’t a huge Disney fan even as a child, though I did love Winnie the Pooh, who was not originally a Disney character, but the bear and his friends were apparently bought out and are now Disney attractions.   But this is all beside the point.

What is the point you ask?  Here’s the point, while I applaud Disney for its commitment to helping fight childhood obesity which it may have had a hand in creating, the proposed junk food ad ban won’t go into effect until 2015.  Kids can fatten up pretty quickly in 3 years.   But the real problem is not even that.  The real problem are the Disney characters themselves.  Have you seen Mickey’s belly – he’s chubby from all that “gee wiz” cheese.  And the portly Pooh bear with his diet of pure honey must be diabetic by now.  Goofy is just goofy, not portly, but certainly not in good shape.  And I don’t know what the depressed Eeyore eats, but I assure you it’s not just whole grains.  He could use some fitness training and a nutritionist as could all the Disney characters.  Hey Disney, look in the mirror!

Linus on NPR and a few other radio oddities

I was listening to NPR on the way to work and heard a report by Peter Overby, who sounds exactly like Linus, to the point that I think he might very well have been the original voice of Linus. I kept waiting for him to say something about the Great Pumpkin.

Here’s what else I heard:

An 83 year old tea partying Mitt Romney supporter said she likes him because he has a nice family and will try. New campaign slogan: Need job. Nice family. Will try.

A local Boston announcer pronounced Red Sox Marco Scutaro’s name, with the accent on the second syllable, like Japanese musician Kitaro. For the record, Marco Scutaro is from San Felipe, Venezuela in the state of Yaracuy, a place I have actually visited.

Education and Humiliation Don’t Mix

I was reading this unbelievable story reported by the Associated Press of a mother who made her 15 year old son stand on a street corner for 4 hours wearing a sign that said “GPA 1.22:  honk if I need an education.”  The brief AP article offered sketchy details about the context, other than the mother, Ronda Holder, along with the boy’s father, seem to have been at their wits’ end to try to help their son pull up his grade point.  It’s not clear what kind of support they provided the son beyond an offer to help him study, but it does appear they adopted a fairly strict approach including various punishments including grounding and taking away his cellphone.

Having raised two children, one of whom is still a teenager, I know how frustrating parenting can be.  And as a former teenager myself, I know how well-meaning parents can make a situation worse.  And in my view, humiliating your child or threatening to do so, will not produce the desired behavior, in this case, better grades.

We only have one side of the story, the mother”s, and due to the boy’s age, we are not likely to hear from him publicly.  We don’t know anything about the boy’s social situation, whether he is popular in school, involved in clubs, or whether he has any close friends.  Nor do we know of his interests, his skills, his aptitude, or anything about his family life other than the parents are concerned about his grades.  Given the lack of details, it is probably unfair to blame either party.  However, no matter the situation, I think the mother, (who I believe really cares about her son), in an clear act of desperation, went too far.

If I were the boy’s parent, the first thing I would do is contact all of his teachers.  I’d ask them what they recommend he do to improve his grade and also ask how I could best support him.  If there were any hint of behavioral problems or learning differences, I’d request an evaluation by the counseling staff at the school that could lead to an Individual Education Plan (IEP).  Secondly, I’d monitor him a little more closely.  I’d spend more time talking to him in general about his  daily life to get a sense of his psychological state.  If I felt something was terribly wrong, or if he seemed strangely detached or agitated, I’d arrange for counseling.  Maybe he simply needs more attention at home or someone to talk who won’t sound judgmental. I’d back off a little bit and not bark so many orders.  Instead of constantly critiquing his performance at school, I’d give praise every now and then for doing homework, or bringing up a grade, even something small like cleaning his room.  In fairness, I’m not suggesting the parents haven’t tried any of this, maybe they have; we simply do not know.

At the risk of sounding preachy, all you parents out there be sure to tell your kids you love them.  They need to know that and just saying it once is not enough.  Kids and teenagers need to know that mom and pop love them unconditionally, and believe in them.  And also, parents, you are not alone.  There are millions of parents out there.  If you think you’ve come to your wits’ end, look for support – there may be a parent support group in your community, and family counseling could help too.

Birds and Wine Don’t Mix

Birds are back in the news, this time in Romania.  And the news is not so good for a flock of  starlings.  Toxicology reports indicate the birds died from acute alcohol poisoning.   Apparently, the starving starlings pecked at the leftovers of a large batch of wine, which may have been grappa or ‘marc’ in the making, a grape based spirit.  At least they did not fall prey to fireworks as did their kin in Arkansas, or perish in the flames of a Roman candle.   I hope the Romanian grappa was tasty and death gentle.  There are certainly far more terrifying dangers to birds such as hailstorms, lightening strikes and the cat’s claw.

I used to drink Romanian wine many years ago because it was about the cheapest decent bottle with a cork I could find.   Romania, by the way, is one of the top wine producing countries in the world, which may explain why it is a popular destination for starlings.  I would advise the birds to stay away from the red dregs of Transylvania, one of the better wine producing areas in the country, and fly instead to Moldavia and sip on the sweet fragrant Sauternes, in moderation of course.