See you next year, huh huh huh

So far, I've been fortunate enough this December not to hear anyone end a meeting or leave the building such a remark. However, the last Friday of the month is coming up. I've decided that any person who says that in my presence gets flogged.


New MBTA fare collection system isn't so friendly to people with disabilities

I just got my January MBTA pass, which are now Charlie Tickets instead of the old type of monthly passes. Right now, only a few stations (on the blue line and silver line) have the new fare equipment, so for now, I'll use the Charlie Ticket just like an old T pass, by swiping it through the reader before going through the turnstile.

However, once the system is converted, every station will be using fare collection equipment that sucks the ticket into the reader and then spits it out. This means that the passes can't be attached to keychains or lanyards and swiped while attached. For me, as someone with poor balance and low-grade seizure activity, this is just annoying, because it means I'll drop my pass a lot just as I do with keys and other things. For other people, this is going to create a major inconvenience. The people who especially come to mind are people who can't easily retrieve a dropped pass, people who can't see where their pass went, or people who have cognitive and/or psychiatric disabilities and are prone to losing things. This could get expensive for a lot of people, not to mention slowing down trips on a system that is already alarmingly inaccessible for people with visual and/or mobility impairments.


The insanity continues

A bumper sticker appeared some time in the last day on a map/advertising kiosk on Canal Street reading:

NO "MERRY CHRISTMAS," NO CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!

Never mind that, uh, it's after Christmas, but what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that if someone is opposed to "Merry Christmas" they therefore are not deserving of doing any Christmas shopping? Because if someone prefers not to say or hear "Merry Christmas," chances are that any shopping they're doing is for something other than Christmas. There are other events involving buying presents that take place around now.


Putting the "Christ" back in "Christmas," or putting Christ where he doesn't belong?

USA Today ran an editorial last week by T. Jeremy Gunn, the director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. In this editorial, Gunn discusses the "fictional war on Christmas." The editorial gives examples of people protesting the "outlawing of Christmas," without providing any examples of instances in which Christmas was actually outlawed. The editorial and the ACLU website both have links to caselaw demonstrating that it is perfectly legal to have Christmas displays in public locations, teach about Christmas in public schools (please note that that's "teach about Christmas" not "teach Christmas"), and have Christmas parties in secular work settings. This website, although less professional, also is a good collection of links to articles on the matter.

This is not to say that there have not been any instances of Christmas being banned. In Medway MA, a school banned the singing of songs that mention Christmas and the wearing of red-and-green elf hats, allegedly stating that these were "Christmas colors." I haven't seen any follow up as to whether anyone in Medway has enlisted the help of the ACLU, but I hope someone does, as they have a great track record of defending students who have been told they could not bring nondisruptive religious-themed possessions (such as bibles, clothing, etc.) to public schools.

The really frustrating thing for me, as someone who is a strong advocate both for religious freedom as well as inclusion and representation of all cultural groups, is that the concrete thinkers in this country are taking stories like the Medway one and overgeneralizing them, insisting that any sort of attempt at inclusion is "banning Christmas."

We had a holiday party at work last week. I noted that there were traditions included from at least four religious/ethnic backgrounds, but that most of what was included (lights, exchanging of gifts, discussion around community, singing of songs) was in fact "holiday" celebration, as all of this is common to most backgrounds, and it was all set up in such a way that people who chose not to participate in any aspect of it could do so inconspicuously.

After the party, I heard two different coworkers voice complaints about our agency having a "holiday party." One individual expressed that the event is offensive, because it's clearly a Christmas party, which has no place in the work setting. The other expressed that it's obviously a Christmas party, and it's "PC bullshit" to call it anything different. I think this said more about the individuals and their worldviews than the actual event.

It seems that the first individual, who is of non-Christian background and currently aligns strongly as being non-religious, has rightly become tired of society's emphasis on Christmas during December, without similar regard for major holidays of other faiths throughout the year. However, as a non-Christian myself, I didn't find the party to really be Christian-centric whatsoever. I also do not think there would be anything wrong with holiding a Christmas party, complete with religious component, at the workplace, provided it was considered optional. I highly doubt that this person finds it offensive when we have (optional) Kwanzaa or Passover events at the agency.

It seems that the second individual was also displacing some anger at events such as the one that took place in Medway. I did not witness anyone mandate that Christmas could not be discussed at our event, yet this person and a few others seemed to have this impression. A senior adminstrator, in fact, alluded to how we "can't discuss Christmas in our residential programs anymore." We don't have a specific agency policy on this -- in fact, we regularly provide transportation to church for individuals who are interested, and our residents all display religious items in their homes as they wish. We often incorporate a person's faith into their treatment if their faith is a strength they have. It appears that this administrator was basing this comment on the warped sentiments in the media, rather than our actual practices or any regulations coming from the state bodies that govern us. This person also, on another occasion, said something about how we "can't sing Jingle Bells anymore since they outlawed Christmas songs." Wait, what? First of all, that's not a Christmas song. It's a winter song. That song is not about Christ. Also, it's perfectly legal to sing songs about Christ in a residence or at our office, as long as it's done with sensitivity that there are also other beliefs. It's a constitutional right, even.

I suppose what really caught me off guard during the party was when the first individual who was expressing that Christmas was being discriminated against or suppressed began complaining that a box of cookies said "holiday cookies" on the box, when it should have said "Christmas cookies." I looked at these cookies, and I couldn't find a reference to the remembrance of the birth of Christ. These cookies were shaped like starbursts and had green sprinkles on them. This person made similar complaints about anything on which the word "holiday" was present, including a box of clear "holiday lights," which also did not seem to contain any reference to Christ. Even if they had instead been a creche set, is "holiday" not an appropriate way to describe Christmas? Is it not a holy day?

It's one thing when references to Christ are actually forbidden, which is unconstitutional, but I just don't get why being secular or inclusive is offensive to some people.


Help expose the trickery, deception, and forgery of anti-civil-rights groups

According to MassEquality, "paid signature-gatherers from out-of-state have stolen thousands of signatures through trickery, deception, and forgery."

Check their listings to make sure your name isn't on the anti-gay petition. There have been stories circulating of people's signatures being listed from having signed other petitions, as well as having been forged by people randomly combing voter records. Even if you don't find your name, you can still e-mail your legislators to encourage careful confirmation of signatures collected.


Is there anything that HASN'T been blamed on terrorists yet?

"Terrorists are out to destroy personal freedom and undermine traditional values associated with Santa Claus and the Christmas Creche," says John Michael Snyder, public affairs director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, who sent out this card:



And why's Jesus under a tree, exactly? Have the terrorists destroyed stables?


I may be one smoot short of a bridge and all, but...

So, the Globe is reporting on the City of Boston requiring abutting property owners to pay half of the cost of replacing asphalt sidewalks with concrete sidewalks if they wish for their street to have durable, attractive, even-surfaced sidewalks like most streets have.

Meanwhile, the Neighborhood Access Group is still fighting to have the city stop constructing and maintaining brick-and-mortar sidewalks, which are trecherous for anyone with poor balance and/or who uses a mobility aid, and to instead use (cheaper) concrete sidewalks in their place. The group has been successful in stopping the construction of some specific brick sidewalks, but they are continuing to be constructed throughout the city.

Does anyone else see where the city could get money for replacing asphalt with concrete?


Artistic project memorializing Northampton State Hospital

I was poking around on the web to see if there have been any further developments on the Danvers State Memorial Committee's project.

I didn't find anything, but I found this website, which is a historical overview of services for people with disabilities in Massachusetts. It's a useful general reference for keeping track of which current state agencies evolved out of which past agencies. It's also a great sociological reference, listing such events as 1916: "State Board of Insanity" becomes the "Massachusetts Commission on Mental Diseases."

The list is interesting enough in and of itself, but the main site, 1856.org, is even more intriguing. It unfortunately contains a good deal of broken links and seems to have been abandoned several years ago, but it's a great site for people who are interested in multiple aspects of abandoned state hospitals. There are a lot of links to articles as well as photos and sketches of properties.

This site also has some intriguing photos of the hospital with various text and links. The photographer is amazing and has several galleries of abandoned properties on his site, most of them hospitals and other state institutions.


Petition to prevent "shoot first" law from coming to additional states


Petitions are now up at The Brady Campaign's website and on the WorkingForChange website, going to governors around the country asking them to oppose a "shoot first" law like the one Florida enacted in October.

I'm not sure how necessary this really is in Massachusetts, because I can't imagine that a lot of our legislators would be in favor. Still, even in a state where I don't think this will be too strongly considered, we can add to the number of people all over the country who think enacting such a law is unnecessary and irresponsible. The number of people nationally who have sent an e-mail stating they don't want such a law might help things in states where it is likely that this will come to a vote.


Depression Treatment in Black Women Must Consider Social Factors

An understanding of the societal, environmental, and biologic factors that combine to raise the risk of depression in African-American women will drive successful prevention strategies, according to one expert.

African-American women are especially vulnerable to depression due to a convergence of societal and biological factors such as stress related to racial discrimination and high prevalence rates of health problems such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

from the December issue of Psychiatric News


Because this wouldn't be a Boston blog without some discussion of donuts...


First, the Krispy Kreme in the Prudential-Copley-giant-mall-complex-mega-thing closes. Then the Krispy Kreme locations in Saugus and Medford close. Now, Dunkin Donuts, while unfortunately not closing any time soon, has been sold. I guess there's hope yet that this city might stop being so obsessed with donut retailers.

In honor of these monumental occasions, I bring you the beta version of:

EEKA'S LIST OF PLACES IN THE BOSTON AREA WHERE THERE ARE TWO DUNKIN DONUTS LOCATIONS ON THE SAME BLOCK*

So far I have found:

  • Dunkin Donuts on Causeway Street, across from TheFleetfAmericaTDNorthBankMcGapDisneyBarnGarden with the Dunkin Donuts in it
  • Dunkin Donuts on Alewife Brook Parkway, across the rotary from the Dunkin Donuts
  • Dunkin Donuts in the Fenway, on Boylston street, on the same block as the Dunkin Donuts on Mass Ave
  • Dunkin Donuts in Lynn on Boston Street , about a block from the Dunkin Donuts on Boston Street

If you're aware of any more, please let me know and I'll add them.

*"Block" in this case refers to a major city block. I am aware that a few of these locations have a small side street in between the two establishments, but I think we can all agree that they definitely constitute two Dunkies locations being entirely too near one another



WHO dedicates this year's International Human Rights Day to people with mental illness

The World Health Organization (WHO) is dedicating International Human Rights Day, 10 December, to people with mental disorders and the all-too-prevalent violations of their basic human rights. People with mental disorders face an alarming range of human rights abuses in countries throughout the world, yet there are proven ways to dramatically improve the situation.

This decision, publicized Tuesday, seems like great foresight given Wednesday's fatal shooting of Rigoberto Alpizar by U.S. Air Marshals. Mr. Alpizar was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was shot while exhibiting agitation that his wife reported was related to missing doses of medication.


Fort Hill Roxbury neighborhood association meetings

I've received an e-mail from a neighbor who found me by googling for Fort Hill (Hi, Chris!), and who'd like to know about neighborhood associations on the hill. It seems that they aren't listed online anywhere, or at least not on an indexed page, so I'm creating one:

Hawthorne Area
Neighborhood Association
Mondays at 7:00 p.m.
Hawthorne Youth and Community Center
9 Fulda Street
  • Nov. 14 2005
  • Dec. 12 2005
  • Jan. 23 2006
  • Feb. 13 2006
  • March 13 2006
  • April 10 2006
  • May 8 2006
  • June 12 2006

Highland Park Neighborhood Association
2nd Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
E. L. Cooper Community Center
at the corner of Linwood Street and Linwood Square

I've also heard that there are a couple of other neighborhood associations on the hill. If anyone has info about when they meet, feel free to comment here or e-mail me, and I can add them.


What brown can do for us. And only us.

From the bottom of the tracking results page on the UPS homepage:

UPS, UPS brandmark, and the Color Brown are trademarks of United Parcel Service of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wait, what? You've trademarked a color? And not even a specified shade, but just the general color "brown?" How does that work exactly. Do you people intend to imply that anyone who uses the color brown is therefore violating your corporation's rights? Are you going to initiate lawsuits against trees? Dogs? Turds?

Then there's this page, which lists all of their trademarks. In addition to such terms as "flex," "big idea," and "sell it," they're also claiming the following trademarks:

COLOR BROWN® (clothing)
COLOR BROWN® (vehicles)

What. The. Hell?

I think I'd better change out of these pants, because I now no longer have the excuse that I didn't know brown clothing was trademarked. I'll also be a good citizen and inform my neighbors that it would be advisable to paint their car a different color.


Only amusing because of who said it...

From Quote of the Day:

I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.
-- John Cage (1912 - 1992)
Yes, Mr. Cage, that's um, apparent.


My blog might make me a decent amount of money after all

Well, the google ads and Amazon associates links aren't exactly rolling in the dough, although I have been getting some google ads lately with a per-click rate of over $2.00 -- what's up with that?

However, I just qualified to participate in a paid focus group on Boston bloggers, which is taking place downtown on Monday at noon or in the evening (I got to pick my timeslot).

As far as I know, readership and/or profitability didn't play into my being selected, so it looks like they're not necessarily looking for big-time bloggers. They asked the usual focus-group questions about demographics and interests, but the questions were very general and didn't result in the usual, "Oh, sorry, we're looking for people who spend over $500 per week on electronics and cosmetics."

I'd suggest anyone who's interested visit their blog and give it a try.


I'm not the only one who makes mixes of 10 versions of one song

In addition to expected playlists such as adult contemporary Christmas, country Christmas, Celtic Christmas, and urban Christmas, the AccuRadio holidays channel has several channels featuring dozens of versions of one particular song:

"Chestnuts Roasting," "Blue and White Xmas," Let it Snow!," "Home for Xmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little..." and "Silent Night" are very song-specific channels -- for example, "Blue and White Xmas" plays nothing but dozens of versions of "Blue Christmas" and "White Christmas"!

I have the "Let it Snow!" channel on right now. I particularly like that I can hit a "forward" version to skip a track I don't like, or deselect certain artists I don't want to come up in the playlist.

EDIT: Aside from the one-song mixes, which are inherently amusing, the rest of the playlists on here are actually pretty bad mixes, with the possible exception of the jazz one. The lists are entirely too broad and cut across too many moods and tempos; they're more like record-store categories rather than playlists of music that sound good played back to back. I thought I'd make a decent playlist by using the "deselect" feature to get rid of the artists who didn't belong in a particular list, but I got an error message saying that due to copyright law, I couldn't deselect more than five artists per list. Which I suppose makes sense, alas.


My highly scientific methods prove a direct link between the Boston Herald and stupidity

It's always been pretty obvious that the Boston Herald makes people stupider; a quick glance at it, and one can ascertain that terms such as "thug," "shut-in," and "invalid" are appropriate ways to refer to human beings, and that it's reasonable to report that someone was "murdered with a _____ last night," when there has not yet been a criminal charge, let alone a cause of death determined.

Now I'm starting to think that one doesn't even have to read this thing to reap its effects; mere possession of the thing makes people stupid. In the past couple of weeks, the number of people selling the thing by blocking traffic and/or walking around in intersections and dodging cars seems to have soared. Just yesterday, I saw: 1) one person jumping out in front of cars exiting the Dunkin Donuts in the Alewife rotary trying to sell Heralds, 2) one person on Melnea Cass Blvd darting around in traffic trying to sell them, and 3) one person with a bin of Heralds set up on the median of Columbus Ave at Mass Ave actually making a few sales to passing motorists but doing so while the light was green so as to cause the handful of cars in the left-turn lane to miss three green arrows while others were stopped buying Heralds.


Of all the ways we could make children safer...

So, a proposal is before the Massachusetts legislature to change license plates to be more quickly read and more easily remembered. The proposed plates would glow in the dark (not a bad idea) and each would be comprised of a symbol and no more than three numbers or letters. Carpundit expresses the concern that the computer has no star key on it, which could make running plates tough, but I would think the state could pretty easily devise a system that could be learned quickly and easily, maybe using characters such as * for a star, ^ for a triangle, = for a square, and so forth.

My real concern is that, sure, this does seem like a logical way for plates to be more easily identifiable, but someone here is clearly not seeing the forest. This is not the way to make our children safer. In the mental health field, we learn over and over that most abductions, sexual assaults, and other assaults -- particularly those committed against children -- are committed by a known perpetrator and involve calm coercion, not someone jumping out of the bushes and yanking someone into a car. In the tabloids, we only hear about the rare instances of random violence by unknown perpetrators, because we unfortunately live in a society where people see a family abduction or a date rape and react with something along the lines of, "well, that happens to people who associate with that sort of people." These situations are very common though, and these are the situations on which we really need to focus. There is really not a lot more we can do to stop the rare instances of people jumping out of alleys and grabbing people.

There is a whole lot we can do as a society to cut down on domestic violence, date rape, and family abductions. The most important, and easiest thing, is to teach sexuality education in schools. I'm always astounded by the number of children (and some adults) I've worked with who have been victimized or are believed to have been victimized, who don't know the names of their genitals. A person who doesn't have the basic skills to report what did or did not happen when sitting with me on an inpatient unit obviously isn't going to have the skills to approach a parent or teacher and report these things independently when they happen.

In Sweden, sexuality education begins in Kindergarten, and starts with concepts such as names of body parts (genitals are taught right there along with head and shoulders, knees and toes), maintaining appropriate personal space during interactions, and explict explanation of what types of touching or talk are never acceptable from older people and should be reported. Older children learn skills for asserting themselves in peer relationships and with people such as relatives, teachers, bosses and so forth who might make them uncomfortable.

In the U.S., we lag far behind in terms of teaching our children safety skills. In most of the districts where I've worked with children, they need permission to learn things like names of body parts and are routinely given the option to opt out of this, for parents who, for whatever insane reason, don't want their children to know the basics of the human body. It seems that children are taught the very basics of "good touch" and "bad touch" here, but are not explicitly told what constitutes inappropriate touch, or especially, sexualized behavior toward children that does not involve touching. There also seems to be a considerable lack of explaining to children that these things can and do happen within their families and within relationships that seem trusting and safe. I've had children tell me that they saw films in school about strangers luring children to the car with candy and then violently assaulting them, but that they didn't in any way equate this to things like a stepparent hugging and kissing them excessively or a coach taking an inappropriate interest in their dating life. These children always report that they were taught that they needed to respect authority figures and had the idea that it was not acceptable to leave a situation that did not involve outright violence.

For whatever reason, certain groups in the U.S. have a problem with teaching children about safety and relationships. Some people cite that talking about violent acts in a teaching context is traumatizing to children. More traumatizing than leaving them open to experiencing these things and not knowing to report them or knowing that they can defy adults who are inappropriate with them? Some people state that they'd rather teach their children values themselves instead of having a school do it. Yeah, it really looks like this is working overall. Others say that comprehensive and accurate sexuality education is unacceptable because it promotes homosexuality. Aside from the fact that as a child I was presented with plenty of examples of heterosexuality in school and the community and managed not to be converted, how can any parent responsibly choose to raise their child to fear people jumping out of dark alleys and gay and lesbian folks, rather than being aware of actual safety issues that are present? Oh, then there's also the issue that some geniuses think that teaching kids about sexuality is going to make them rush out and have sex, apparently preferring that they just know nothing about sex until after they've experienced date rape. Do I even need to say anything to that?


World AIDS Day 2005




Is it just me or is it a sure sign this planet is overcommercialized when the National AIDS Trust (UK) is selling limited edition pink RAZR phones as a fundraiser?

Regardless, please consider honoring World AIDS Day by helping a local, national, or worldwide AIDS charity by giving cash, donating time, or purchasing various merchandise such as pink phones. Also, consider displaying the virtual red ribbon:

Support World AIDS Day


Google is insecure





Mad props to the mayor's office once more

A few nights ago there was a car parked across the city of Boston's streetmy driveway, right in front of the gate with the big "no parking" sign. I called the mayor's 24-hour hotline and asked if they could do something about this. A towtruck appeared within the hour, and towed the car 10 feet forward into a legal parking spot. It solved the problem, and the person's car wasn't towed to the tow lot unnecessarily. I looked the next morning and there wasn't a ticket, but it might have blown away or the owner might have taken it off already. I do hope the car got ticketed, because it would be nice if individual car owners paid for towing when we park illegally, but it's nice to see that they actually solved the problem in a simple and logical way.