Sunday, February 28, 2010

College Vegetarians

“No, Mom, I don’t eat meat anymore. I’m a vegetarian now.”

Here we have the simple, straightforward reply of the newly converted vegetarian, home for the first long weekend since departing for college in September. She (the gender here reflects the statistics, with females representing 59% of vegetarians in the U.S.) is firm with her statement and her mother is surprised and confused to find the daughter who once adored fried bologna sandwiches has referred to herself as a “vegetarian.” Disheartened at the prospect of substituting her great-grandmother’s patented family meatball recipe for something involving slimy white bean-curd, Mom can’t help but wonder how it all happened.

And Mom isn’t alone. In 2008, Vegetarian Times conducted a study on vegetarians in the United States. The results of this study indicated that vegetarianism was highest amongst people between the ages of 18 and 34, with this age group representing 42.0 percent of the 7.3 million vegetarians in America. This bracket includes college-aged young adults. So why is going vegetarian becoming a more and more popular choice for Americans of this age?

Let’s rewind. The answers become clearer if we put ourselves in the shoes of the “Newly Converted Vegetarian” and attempt to construct some version of what her experience may have been like.

We’ll speculate that the idea begins to take shape during the first week on campus at the student activities fair. Newly Converted Vegetarian encounters the booth put together by the Animal Rights Organization. They’re handing out pamphlets and flyers with information she has never heard before. She learns that, in factory farms, chickens are crammed together in wire cages where they don’t even have enough room to spread their wings, and that cattle raised for food are pumped full of drugs to make them grow at unnatural rates.

For many vegetarians of any age, issues with animal rights and general discomfort with the idea of eating animals often forms the basis for their vegetarianism. “I knew I wanted to be a vegetarian the first time I heard The Smiths’ song ‘Meat is Murder,’” says Dustin Watson, a former college vegetarian who has now reverted back to an omnivorous diet. The song he refers to contains lyrics such as “Heifer cries could be human cries” and strongly emphasizes the connection between the living animals we see and the meat on our plates. Watson, like many others, had an intense reaction to this. “I was like ‘Yeah, Morrissey, I know what you’re saying. Meat is murder. Starting today, no more meat.” The pamphlets handed out by the Animal Rights Organization would serve the same function: to revive ideas suppressed since childhood about the source of meat and reveal new information about the harmful process of obtaining meat.

Then there is, of course, the liberating realization that Newly Converted Vegetarian is in control of her diet in a way that she has never been before. The options are no longer restricted to what her mother has cooked for dinner; college cafeterias often provide a wide range of foods to choose from and indicate which options are suitable for vegetarians and vegans alike. When surveying the cafeteria, she becomes overwhelmed with choices, aware of her power.

Many cafeterias, such as the one at Emmanuel College, go beyond simply offering a variety of meat alternatives to providing information on issues regarding the sustainability of food sources and the importance of buying food locally. Emmanuel's cafeteria, run by Bon Appetit Management Company, even holds an annual “Low Carbon Diet Day,” during which it is overrun with signs conveying information on the carbon impact of various meal selections and offers low carbon alternatives.

“I don’t think a lot of people think about where their food comes from,” says Leah Jurman, an Emmanuel College student and vegetarian of nine years. “There’s just a lot going into food. There’s so much more to food than what you see and I think that’s important to consider.” The negative impact of the meat industry and factory farming on the environment is an aspect of the issue that, for many, flies under the radar until they deliberately seek out more information. Newly Converted Vegetarian, inspired to further research the issue, finds plenty of sources supporting these new ideas, such as a 2006 United Nations report that calls the meat industry “one of the top two or three most significant contributors serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

Newly Converted Vegetarian now finds herself armed with information and left with the difficult decision of what to do with it. Should she continue her meat-eating ways or attempt to make the transition to a vegetarian lifestyle? One factor that may provide the final push is the consideration of the opportunity that college provides in terms of the freedom to reinvent identity and explore radical political and social issues. “One thing I think motivates people at this time is that vegetarian becomes a part of something else you’re trying to experience,” says Leah Jurman. “It’s sort of encapsulated in this whole ‘being green’ thing, or being political, or it becomes a part of something, it’s something that gives weight to your opinions.” Dustin Watson takes that statement further by suggesting that vegetarianism in college becomes a “club” and that the desire to feel included may offer more motivation that the issue itself. “They want to believe they’re part of something so they become vegetarians,” he says. “And the majority of them last a semester. I knew a few people who were ‘vegan’ but would sneak KFC on the weekends.”

So where does that leave Newly Converted Vegetarian? She has arrived at her decision for the present moment, but the memory of the taste of her great-grandmother’s famous meatballs is powerful, as is her mom’s disapproving glare. The study done by Vegetarian Times indicates that 57.1 percent of vegetarians today have followed a vegetarian diet for more than ten years. The majority of vegetarians who commit tend to stay committed. Will she be one of them?

Who and Where: Apartment Hunting in Boston

I spent my first two years living in Boston in the dorms at Emmanuel College and boy, was it the life. Emmanuel is a nice, cozy little campus in the Fenway area, and all the major decisions and stresses were essentially out of my hands: Emmanuel decided which dorm I lived in, which floor, which room, and with who. But before I knew it sophomore year was over and I was thrust into the chaos that is apartment hunting in Boston.

I am a seasoned veteran of the process and currently beginning it once again. My years at Emmanuel were followed by a transfer to the University of Massachusetts Boston and a move to Mission Hill, followed by yet another move to Somerville, and now I'm on the hunt for something in the Brookline area. I’ve seen a variety of places, a variety of neighborhoods, and a variety of roommates.

Beginning the search means addressing the two W's: who and where.

“The process can be really frustrating,” says Leah Jurman, one of my past and current answers to the “who” question. “Especially when people are constantly committing and then changing their minds. First you’re looking for a three bedroom, then a four, then a three again, and then, somehow, a five.” Once you have the whos, those whos bring with them a series of needs and requirements that must somehow be compromised and combined to form a place that satisfies everyone. Sound impossible? “It pretty much is,” says Leah. “I mean, we live in Somerville now, which is great, because I work in Porter Square, and our roommate Emma goes to Lesley…but on the other hand, I have to commute to Emmanuel. And you have to commute to Umass Boston.”

Though the commute is sometimes killer, this year has been great. But it’s February now. That means if we want to find another great place for September, it’s time to start looking again. After two months of lineup changes, with people committing and then backing out, then committing again, Leah and I are in search of a five bedroom with our four other roommates: Bradford Krieger, my boyfriend and an Emerson student, and Nick Viau, Darin McDonald, and Adam Vaccaro, all Emmanuel graduates. Bradford and I will be sharing a room. “It’s great because it cuts down on costs,” says Bradford. “And a five bedroom is easier to find than a six bedroom.”

Sounds easy enough. But everyone has a limit on what they’re willing to pay, and everyone has those impossible little requirements: Bradford would rather die than live on the Green Line again, I don’t want to walk more than ten minutes to some form of public transportation, Leah kind of wants to live in Jamaica Plain, Adam refuses to live in Allston, Darin wants somewhere quiet, and Nick would love a place with a back porch.

Now that we've got the whos those whos have started to give some direction as to where. In spite of Bradford’s protests and Leah’s slight disappointment, we began our search in Brookline. We decided the easiest route to take would be to enlist the help of a realtor. She showed us a few places on the Brookline/Brighton border to no avail. “Way, way too far from everything.” Said Darin after the apartment visit. “The second one had some neat walk-in closets but that’s about it.”

But "neat walk-in closets" isn't enough motivation to make that down payment. Nick hears from a friend about some potentially killer apartments in…Lower Allston? My first reaction, along with Adam, is a vehement no. Nick insists that, “Lower Allston isn’t Allston. It’s different. It’s nicer. It’s definitely worth a look.”

The place in Lower Alston may just be the closest we can come to a compromise amongst everyone: a ten minute walk to the 66 bus (which connects to the Red Line in Harvard Square), in everyone’s price range, and easily accessible to a nice mix of both Boston and Cambridge neighborhoods. But one thing I’ve learned from apartment hunting in the city is that nothing is definite until the lease is signed.

Then, once you move in, it’s a whole new set of issues: Nick may leave his dirty dishes in the sink, and Bradford will probably play his music too loud when Darin and Leah are trying to study. But we’ll save that for another article.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why America Needs to Legalize Marijuana

            Now, more than ever, the United States of America is in need of reform. Our economy is stalling out. We are becoming aware of our negative impact on the dwindling environment. Our Health Care system is one of the worst in the world. The American people are crying out for an innovative new industry that would create jobs, revitalize the economy, reestablish a balance with nature, and replace the archaic, destructive, outdated, and underperforming industries that got us into this mess to begin with. It seems like the only thing that can save us from our inevitable collapse would be some sort of superman; but what about a super-plant? What if there was a plant that could do all of those things and more, a plant that could turn our country back around onto the right track economically, environmentally, and morally. The problem is the only plant that can do all that is the notoriously illegal Marijuana. 

            Marijuana was one of the first plants to be cultivated by human beings as early as 8000 B.C.. Since then we have utilized it for countless applications from food, to medicine, and fibers. According to a 2007 CRS report for Congress Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity “Hemp fiber is amenable to use in a wide range of products including carpeting, home furnishings, construction materials, auto parts, textiles, and paper. Hemp seed, an oilseed, likewise has many uses, including industrial oils, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food.” The 1938 Popular Mechanics article Billion Dollar Crop suggests that “Hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine laces, and the woody “hurds” remaining after the fiber has been removed contain more than seventy-seven percent cellulose, and can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to cellophane."

            Historically this plant was not marred by the exaggerated and unfounded claims of today. George Washington wrote, in a note to his gardener at Mount Vernon in 1794, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!” (The Writings of Washington, Volume 33, Page270 Library of congress). It wasn't until the 1930's that Marijuana's reputation began to decline due to a propaganda smear campaign orchestrated by Harry J. Anslinger, Assistant Prohibition Commissioner of the Bureau of Prohibition. Because of Anslinger's outrageously false and blatantly racist claims and lobbying, Congress introduced the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This made it illegal to possess Marijuana without a special tax stamp to be delineated by Congress. Since none were released this was effectively the beginning of Marijuana prohibition.

            Coincidentally earlier that same year an article came out in Popular Science magazine called The Most Profitable and Desirable Crop That Can Be Grown. It described the invention of new machines that would make the production of marijuana more cost efficient and easier to produce. Because of these machines, marijuana could be produced for less money, using less labor than any other fibrous crop. 

            Today, our economy is in peril. Jobless rates are astronomical. Public funding is being cut everywhere. As a country we're in debt trillions of dollars. What we need to do is to stop outsourcing all of our labor and importing all of our goods. We need an industry that produces a versatile and ecologically friendly product with a large demand. Currently the bulk of the proceeds from the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry end up in the hands of foreign criminal organizations.

            If marijuana were legalized we would take that money out of the hands of the dangerous criminals that threaten our borders and put it into the hands of the underfunded public, in the form of tax revenue, jobs, local manufacturing opportunities, and a revitalization of current industries. In 2005 Harvard University Professor of economics, Jeffrey A. Miron published an extensive state by state report called The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition which determined that “legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government" and that “marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.” That amounts to a $13.9 billion gain from savings and tax revenue alone. These estimates don't take into account the hemp industry which would create jobs and provide new materials for current industries to improve.

            According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' (FAO) 2005 Global Forest Resources Assessment “the United States has the seventh highest rate of primary forest loss.” This rampant deforestation fuels the pulp paper and lumber industries. Not only could marijuana replace wood pulp as the preferred means of paper-making but it could replace many building materials. Some of the recent innovations that would significantly reduce pollution and the need for deforestation include biodegradable hemp plastics, hemp-crete (a hemp based concrete), and hemp insulation. Recently we have tried to introduce ethanol based fuels from corn which the government heavily subsidizes. The issue with this is that it takes more units of energy to turn corn into ethanol than the ethanol produces itself; making it a net energy loss that is made up for with coal produced electricity. The wise consumer is not fooled by this. Hemp-seed oil is naturally 10% ethanol and can be used as fuel with minimal processing. It might sound cliche' but a car can be run on marijuana. Henry Ford created a car that ran solely on hemp-seed oil and our technology has improved vastly since then.

Aside from the industrial benefits, marijuana has been used throughout history as medicine. Today it is prescribed by doctors for such things as relief from the side effects of chemotherapy, to reduce pressure around the eyes in glaucoma patients, and stimulating appetites in patients with eating disorders. According to the American Medical Association's Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health Use of Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes, "smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis." Last week the Center For Medicinal Cannabis Research released their Report to the Legislature and Governor of the State of California which shows that “cannabis is a promising treatment in selected pain syndromes caused by injury or diseases of the nervous system, and possibly for painful muscle spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.” Beside the testimonials of patients and medical professionals that marijuana works better than the synthetic drugs, it is a superior medicine because it is not lethal.

            The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies drugs according to the severity with a Scheduling system. They qualify the schedules from I to V, I being the most illegal. They define schedule I as "(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. (B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. (C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision." According to the DEA Marijuana and Tetrahydrocannabinol (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) are Schedule I drugs. This suggests that Marijuana and Tetrahydrocannabinol have no excepted medical uses, have a high potential for abuse, and are unsafe even with the supervision of a doctor. It's interesting that marijuana should have such a classification since it has a myriad of medical uses. As far as potential for abuse thousands of people go to rehab for drugs and alcohol; no one goes to rehab because of marijuana. Unlike drugs, alcohol, aspirin, various household cleaners, and a plethora of other dangerous items that everyone has easy excess to, marijuana cannot and has never in history killed anyone.

            There is no good reason to keep marijuana illegal or for it to have been criminalized in the first place. There is every reason to decriminalize, tax, and utilize the most multifaceted and profitable plant in the history of humanity. It is a cheaper, safer, cleaner, and more sustainable alternative to tens of thousands of products that we already utilize every day. It has many known medical benefits and more are constantly being discovered. Despite its nefarious reputation, it is in no way dangerous. It is far safer than our most common medicines. It is the solution to the economic, ecological, and medical problems plaguing our country. Legalizing marijuana is what is right for the environment. It is what is right for the economy. It's what's right for the American people.

The State of the Music

For nearly half a century, there was only one way for a new artist to break into the music industry. This process revolved around impressing the right record label employee and signing a contract with that label. From there, the label would take on the responsibilities of getting a band’s album recorded and promoting that album, as well as helping the band with booking and other technicalities of touring. While this may sound like a great deal, greed has always tainted this relationship. Labels have always been able to take advantage of young artists who have no idea how to evaluate the contract they’re signing, taking a huge percent of not only gross but net profits. While there were always some rare exceptions, this was the only way most artists could break into the industry. Though this is a path many artists still follow today, the digital age has put other options on the table.

[logo of now infamous file-sharing service, Napster]

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the record industry in the last 15 years is aware of the controversy surrounding internet file sharing. We watched as bands and record labels fought tooth and nail against programs like Napster, and we saw those same labels concede to the internet’s power and begin to adapt, selling their music online through iTunes, Amazon MP3 and dozens of other digital vendors. Considering the lack of production cost to sell digital music, one would think that record labels would be paying artists a large percentage of these sales—after all, with a nearly 100% profit margin, there’s enough to go around... right?

This is just not the case. Major record labels are sticking to their arcane practices, making money off their artists’ music and refusing to cut them in on the profit. While this happens all the time, perhaps the most relevant example in recent years is that of alternative rock band 30 Seconds to Mars. Since their debut album in 2002, this band has achieved massive amounts of success on an international scale, selling millions of records, invading the airwaves of both radio and music television and playing some of the largest concert halls in the world. With all this success, you’d think these guys would be millionaires. In reality, their label, EMI/Virgin, didn’t pay them for the sales of their recordings.

[30 Seconds to Mars' platinum album, A Beautiful Lie]

In a blog posted on MySpace on April 28, 2009, 30 Seconds to Mars explained their situation. “We had finally, and thankfully, achieved some success around the world, only to learn that although we had sold millions of records we would never see a single solitary penny. On top of that, we were then told that we were also millions of dollars in debt. As you can imagine, that was more than confusing so we began to educate ourselves and started to discover what a strange situation we were in.”

The long and short of it is that EMI/Virgin was claiming the band was actually in debt for the cost of their recording, promotion, etc. When the band found out about this, they tried to break their contract (a contract which was, in the eyes of law, out of date) and the label responded by suing the band for $30,000,000. While 30 Seconds to Mars’ case was eventually settled, this situation should serve as a warning to any young artists with preconceived notions of the glory that comes with signing to a major record label.

Due in part to these romantic notions of the path of the “rockstar” and in part to ignorance to other options, many young artists are at risk for being taken advantage of. It’s time for that to change. With a wealth of technology at their disposal, artists no longer need to be dependent on backing from a record label. Using the internet as a tool, they now have the power not only to promote, but to sell their music completely independently. While this process takes a lot of devotion, it allows the artist to keep all profits and maintain complete creative control. Remember, this isn’t just about money—when you sign to a recording contract, you are essentially giving up the rights to the music you record under that contract. With the internet as an ally, many young artists have managed to keep the rights to their songs and sell them through Amazon, iTunes, MySpace and many other digital vendors who allow artists to retain the rights to their music and take only a small percentage of the sales (if any).

While these independent artists selling their music online may not sound like a force strong enough to shake an industry half a century in the making, the fact is there are many highly celebrated musicians embracing—and fighting for—this new medium. On October 10, 2007, multi-platinum selling alt-rock band Radiohead released their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, as an online exclusive, allowing fans to pay any price they wanted for the album. Some paid nothing, others paid thousands, supporting the idea behind this method of releasing music. With Radiohead as inspiration, another prominent alt-rocker followed suit.

[Producer/Musician/Businessman Trent Reznor]

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor is no stranger to the music industry. He’s been putting out records since 1989, and for the better part of a decade he was part-owner of Nothing Records, a subsidiary of the major label Interscope. Pushing boundaries is nothing new for Reznor (after all, he’s responsible for the success of shock-rocker Marilyn Manson,) but over the last decade he’s shifted his focus from rattling the limits of pop culture to exploring the potential of the internet as a tool for musicians.

In May of 2007, Reznor released the DVD version of his band’s 1997 tour documentary online. After years of pushing Interscope to release the DVD to no avail, he finally got fed up and put it online through an alias, a gift Nine Inch Nails fans were thrilled to receive. This was just the beginning. After Radiohead released In Rainbows, Reznor followed suit, releasing one of his own albums with the “pay-what-you-want” method. He did the same for an album by lesser-known artist Saul Williams. All of these ventures met reasonable success.

On July 9, 2009, Reznor decided to tackle the issue of how the internet can be used to benefit young artists. After all, the success of his ventures wouldn’t have been possible without his already established fanbase. On his band’s forum, the industry veteran posted a set of guidelines for young artists. “Forget thinking you are going to make any real money from record sales. Make your record cheaply (but great) and GIVE IT AWAY. As an artist you want as many people as possible to hear your work. Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.”

After suggesting a list of digital music vendors, Reznor reminded musicians of the realities of the industry as it is today. “Have a realistic idea of what you can expect to make from these and budget your recording appropriately. The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact - it sucks as the musician BUT THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (for now).”

It’s a scary time to be a musician, especially one without an established fanbase. For struggling artists, it’s difficult not to associate a record contract with fulfilling dreams of success. It’s important to remember, however, that such a dream can end with a thirty million dollar lawsuit. The internet is a relatively new medium for musicians, one that is complicated; one that still needs to be explored and refined. All complications aside, one thing’s for certain: The internet has put power into the hands of musicians, and soon major record labels will have to acknowledge that shift in power or become obsolete.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Scott Brown: The New Face of Hope & Change?

Ever since Scott Brown drove his GMC pick-up truck to a victory over Martha Coakley and the Democrats this past January, snatching Ted Kennedy’s coveted Senate seat away from them in the process, the political landscape has been turned upside down, both in Massachusetts and all over the nation. The Republican Party, whom the American people kicked to the curb just over one year ago in exchange for an agenda of “Hope” and “Change,” have been revived by the election of the former Cosmo centerfold from Wrentham. The people of Massachusetts have spoken and they have sent a message to the Washington establishment. But, what exactly is that message? Does the election of Scott Brown signify a new direction for the Republican Party or was it merely the result of a sloppy and lazy Coakley campaign? Are the people once again voting for change or are they simply sending President Obama a wake-up call?

Since the 1960’s, the G.O.P. has been defined by the values of their predominantly white, Christian base of supporters. Much of the Republicans’ success during that time can be staked to their socially conservative agenda of promoting family values and banning gay marriage and abortions, and in recent years, trying to end stem-cell research. By using these kinds of hot-button issues as a distraction, Republicans essentially played a sleight-of-hand magic trick with Middle America and used their power to pass legislation that financially benefitted major corporations, while doing virtually nothing to improve the lives of the people who voted them into power. The supply-side economics of the Reagan administration, whose deregulation policies caused numerous scandals and stories of greed gone wild in Washington, ran up the federal deficit to unprecedented levels. George W. Bush was able to ride a wave of post-9/11 patriotism to a second term that ultimately brought the country to its current economic crisis, which was al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal. In a tape released back in 2004, Osama bin Laden said that his intention was to keep “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

The dire consequences of the last Bush administration proved to be a harsh wake-up call for the party. In 2008, they scrambled to find a way to convince voters to give them another chance, but suddenly people weren’t as interested in the social issues that the Republicans had previously used as a crutch. Capitalizing on the disillusionment and discontent felt throughout the country, Barack Obama was able to use charisma, eloquence, and the promise of a new America to rise from junior Senator from Illinois to President of the United States. Shortly after taking office, he conceded that the problems that he inherited were massive and urged patience as recovery would be “measured in years, not months.” As jobs continued to be lost and banks continued to be bailed out, patience grew thin and the Tea Party Movement was born.

The Tea (taxed enough already, get it?) Party Movement is a group of fiscal conservatives who are fed up with the establishment on both sides of the aisle. They believe in small government, they hate Obama, they hate taxes, and they just might be the future of the Republican Party.The Senate race between Brown and Coakley was the first major election to be directly impacted by the Movement and analysts and pundits everywhere were watching to see what kind of effect they would have. Many predicted that, due to their over-the-top propaganda and name-calling, they would hurt Republican candidates. The election of Scott Brown showed just the opposite.
Throughout his campaign, he focused on issues that were important to the Tea Party. By avoiding the controversial rhetoric that they have come to be known for, Brown was able to escape from being labeled as a member of the Movement, but still reaped the benefits, as he received money and endorsements from various Tea Party groups.

Perhaps the defining issue of the campaign was health-care reform. Repeatedly stressing that his election would break the Democratic super-majority in the Senate, Brown represented the potential to derail the proposed bill, which promised to extend affordable health care to the masses, thereby increasing the size of government in the process. Despite supporting the 2006 Massachusetts health care reform, which requires all residents to be insured, Brown has denounced Obama’s plan as fiscally unsound, “especially in the midst of a severe recession.” A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive/HealthDay finds that 40% of Americans are opposed to the legislation, with another 25% unsure whether or not it would be good or bad for the country. Scott Brown’s Senate vote now has the opportunity to kill off a promise that helped get Obama elected not so long ago. It makes you wonder if there is a feeling of regret among those who so enthusiastically voted Obama into power.

Well, there might be. According to a Politico/InsiderAdvantage poll conducted shortly before the January 19th election, Scott Brown had 60% of the 18-29 demographic, compared to Coakley’s 30%. This is the same group of people who, in 2008, supported Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of 78% to 20%. Are the youth in revolt over the stimulus spending that they might be saddled with paying back for years to come or were they simply unimpressed by Martha Coakley?

The voter turn-out for the election suggests that Coakley may have not done enough to inspire people to make it out to the booths. In the 2008 presidential election, Obama earned nearly one million more votes than Coakley did just a few weeks ago, while Brown and McCain scored similar vote totals. That means that those one million voters stayed home, which is more or less exactly what Coakley did during her campaign. Instead of making an effort to get out and meet the people of Massachusetts, she stayed decidedly off the radar, making very few public appearances and refusing televised debates that weren’t on her terms. By taking the voting public for granted and failing to motivate people, she left the door open for Scott Brown and his passionate grassroots campaign to essentially steal what should have been an easy win for her.

It was a truly multi-faceted perfect storm of politics that lead to the election of Scott Brown, but the impact of it will be felt and analyzed for years to come. Already, the momentum has swung entirely away from the Democrats, who have lost two popular congressmen, Patrick Kennedy and Evan Bayh, in the past week. As the balance of power continues to shift in the opposite direction, it will be interesting to see how voters react. One thing’s for sure, all eyes will be on Massachusetts once again in 2012, when Brown goes up for reelection. Will he be able to pull off another “Massachusetts Miracle” or will the voters tell him where he can park his pick-up truck?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Boston Has to Offer Kids

Are you tired of bringing your children to the local McDonald’s playground? Are you looking for something else worthy of your time and for the benefit of the child? Leave the McDonald’s play place behind and indulge in some of Boston’s kid-friendly attractions. Boston is filled with many places that parents overlook. This guide will provide insight on these neglected attractions, and hopefully, replace the play dates at the McDonald’s playground for play dates at some other exciting, educational Boston attraction. The following list is organized in order of admission cost, beginning with activities that are free of charge, and progressing to the more costly attractions.

1) Frog Pond Pool
Admission- FREE

During the hot summer days of July and August, Frog Pond becomes an ideal six-inch depth pool for youngsters. A fountain near the pool sprays out water to add more fun.

2) Free Friday Flicks
Admission- FREE
Free Friday Flicks has been a summertime tradition for many years. Each Friday night throughout the summer at the MDC Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, classic and popular family-oriented movies are show. Bring your blankets and chairs and lay out on the banks of the Charles River. Movies begin at sundown and are free of charge. A WBZ tent is set up nearby for free giveaways, food samples and fun games.

3) USS Constitution Tour
Admission- FREE
Every half-hour, active-duty Navy sailors give free guided tours about the ship’s top deck, fun deck, and berth deck, as well as the ship’s history, its sailors and its existence. Each tour is approximately half-hour long and are open all year round, including federal holidays.

4) Swan Boats of Boston
Admission- Adults: $2.75, Children (2-15 years): $1.50, Seniors: $2.00
Take a 15-minute peaceful cruise on the Boston Public Garden. Swan boats begin to operate April 17, 2010 to Sunday, September 19, 2010, and are open 7 days a week.

5) Puopolo Park
Admission- For the Steriti Memorial Rink: $5 skate rentals, or FREE if you have your own skates. For the Mirabella Pool, $10 day pass for Boston residents, and children under five are FREE.

If you own your pair of skates, go to Puopolo Park at 475 R. Commercial Street in Boston and skate for free at Steriti Memorial Rink during Public hours (1:30pm-4:50pm). If you don’t have your own skates, rent some for only $5. From July 1st to early September, the Mirabella Pool opens and includes a shallow spray pool in front of the pool for the young ones. Besides the rink and the pool, Puopolo Park also has two baseball fields, a basketball court and two additional indoor bocce courts.
6) Boston’s Children’s Museum
Admission- Adults: $12.00, Seniors/Children (1-15 years): $9.00, Children under 12 months: Free

This museum is located at 300 Congress Street and is open all year round. The museum is primarily for toddlers to pre-teens, but should not be neglected by others. It’s filled with many exhibits that children and adults can enjoy. Not only does it have a 3D, full body puzzle, but it contains educational exhibits, such as the “Science Playground.”

7) Museum of Science
Admission- Prices will vary depending on which shows and exhibits you wish to see. Tickets for just the exhibit halls: Adults: $20.00, Children (3-11): $17.00, Seniors: $18.00. Tickets for the exhibit halls and 1 show: Adults: $24.50, Children (3-11 years): $20.50, Seniors: $22.00. Tickets for the exhibit halls and 2 shows: Adults: $29.00, Children (3-11 years): $24.00, Seniors: $26.00. Any special featured exhibits may require an additional fee.

For over 60 years, the Science Museum has offered its visitors many exciting exhibits about the connections between science and technology. The Museum includes exhibits and shows such as the IMAX, Planetarium, Laser, 3-D Digital Cinema, Live Presentations and countless more. Some of the temporary, current exhibits include Identity: An exhibition of you and Harry Potter: The Exhibition.

8) New England Aquarium
Admission- Adults: $20.95, Children (3-11 years): $12.95, Senior: $18.95, Children under age 3: FREE. Combo tickets for the IMAX shows are also available. Adults: $26.95, Children (3-11 years): $18.95, Seniors: $24.95
If you are unaware of what lives in the world’s oceans, then the New England Aquarium is the place to visit and learn about these creatures. The Aquarium has hundreds of different animals from all parts of the world, as well as exhibits that allow hands on touching and experience. The Aquarium is opened all year long and located at 1 Central Wharf.

9) Ride on Codzilla
Admission- Adults: $25.00, Seniors: $23.00, Children (4-12): $ 21.00, Children under 3: Free

Ride on Codzilla is Boston’s first and only high-speed thrill boat ride. At 40 miles per hour, the boat has the capability of spinning in 360-degree turns and causing one wet adventure. The ride departs from Long Wharf and will open on May 15, 2010. Dress in appropriate attire and enjoy the thrilling ride.

10) Boston Duck Tours
Admission- Prices vary depending on which tour is chosen. For the 80-minute tour: Adults: $31.00, Children (3-11 years): $21.00, Students/Seniors: $27.00. For the 55-minute tour around Boston: Adults: $27.00, Children (3-11 years): $18.00, Student/Senior: $24.00

Hop on the amphibious vehicle of WWII and enjoy a tour around the city. The tours depart from three different locations. Tours that depart from Boston’s Science Museum and the Prudential Center offer an 80-minute tour. This tour includes about 36 tour sites, including Boston Common/Public Gardens, Beacon Hill, State House, TD Banknorth Garden, Bunker Hill and more. The tours that depart from the New England Aquarium are 55-minute tours, and they have about 22 tour sites, including Long Wharf, Old State House, Holocaust Memorial, Post Office Square and many more.

11) Boston Frightseeing Tour
Admissions: Adults: $37.00, Children (4-12): $24.00. Children under the age of 4 are not allowed.
If you want to hear all about Boston’s darker side, then this one and a half-hour tour will do the trick. You will learn about the haunted stories of the Omni Parker House and the gruesome stories of the Boston Strangler, while touring the city of Boston in a trolley. The tour begins in April and reservations are required in advance. Tickets may be purchased at the Ghosts & Gravestones ticket booth located at the intersection of State Street and Atlantic Avenue, or online at

Babysitting 101: Tips & Ideas

Have you just received your first babysitting job and don’t know what to do? Or is this the hundredth time you are babysitting and are out of things to do? This quick guide can provide you with some tips and ideas to help you through the first time experience or just another babysitting job. The first few are general tips that should be taken into consideration for children of any age group.

1. First and foremost, it is highly recommended to be aware of the basic first aid. Look up local health care centers or hospitals that offer free CPR training and first aid workshops. Accidents can occur while on the job, and it’s best for you and the child if you are aware and experienced in such circumstances.
2. If the parents are absent while you are sitting, make sure they leave you the necessary contact numbers and information, such as their own mobile numbers and the pediatricians.
3. To better prepare yourself in case of an emergency, ensure the full address of the home you are sitting at.
4. Ask the parents to make you a list of their rules. Make sure you know the preferred bedtime, appropriate television channels and movies, and allergies.

It’s important to understand that some ideas might be suitable for one age, but not appropriate for another. The following tips and ideas are organized in relation to specific age groups.

When babysitting an infant…
1. Know where all vital things are, such as diapers, bottles, food and toys.
2. Changing a diaper may be quite difficult, so make sure you know what you are doing or it can become messy!
3. Become aware of the infant’s schedule; when they sleep, when they eat and how much. By writing these downs and keeping track, you will become more acquainted and prepared.
4. Ask parents about any specific techniques they use when infant gets rowdy or when putting them to sleep. If there is a rocking chair, this could be a life saver. Gentle rhythmic motion causes instant sleep.
5. Spread a blanket on the floor and let the baby kick freely. Babies like to be able to move around and wiggle their feet.

When babysitting a toddler…
1. Keep the child entertained by playing different games. Construct things with building blocks or play Hide and Seek.
2. Give the child a wooden spoon and start a band. Kids at this age love to make noise
3. Don’t just sit around and watch television. Toddlers love to be chased after. Pretend you are a big bear and chase them around the room.
4. If the weather is pleasant, take the toddler out for a stroll. For safety purposes, trying using the stroller. It’s also an easy way for them to fall asleep.
5. Toddlers are full of energy and always on the run. Put on some music and dance.
6. Toddlers love animals. Read any books with animal pictures and animal sounds.

When babysitting three-to-five year olds…
1. Read books to them. Take them to a nearby library and have them pick out their favorite books.
2. Allow them to bring out their artistic sides. Manipulate clay, paint brushes, and finger paints.
3. Play dress-up! Children at this age love to play and explore.
4. Hands-on experiences are crucial. Bring puzzles and board games that are age appropriate to keep them entertained, such as Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land.

When babysitting six-year olds and older…
1. Babysitting children in elementary school is a little easier. They will enjoy all the activities listed above, and even suggest ideas of their own. But make sure homework is completed before moving on to anything else.
2. Children in this age group are becoming increasingly more interested in computers. Check with the parents first if using the internet is acceptable. Websites such as will provide fun and learning at the same time.
3. Play board games together such as Monopoly, Guess Who? And Connect Four.

Always keep in mind to be safe and obey any instructions given from the parents. Other than that, have fun and be grateful that they can be returned by the end of the shift.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Over the past decade, or nearly all of it, I recall many conversations that began with a person complaining, “The PATRIOT Act has destroyed our Bill of Rights!” I would inquire, “How?”
“It invades my privacy, man!”
“Do you have anything to hide?”
“No. But my business is mine not just for anyone to see!”
“What are you doing on your laptop computer?”
“Updating my status on so everyone who looks at my profile knows exactly what I’m doing at this very second… What were we talking about?”
“Oh, how the PATRIOT Act lets the government know exactly what you’re doing at this very second.”
“Right, man! That is total bullshit, man!”

I could rest my case but I like confrontation. This starkest of contrasts is better than when the person in line ahead of me at Starbucks seethed over surging gas prices and then paid the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline for a Mint Mocha Chip Frappaccino blended coffee with Chocolate Whipped Cream.

In the wake of September 11, 2001, The Bush Administration passed the USA PATRIOT Act written, mostly, by Viet Dinh. The name of the Act is an acronym which fully reads “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” Obvious. Its aim was to provide appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism. Again, obvious. So if the aim of this Act was to prevent terrorism then why would any American complain?

Well, many Americans, 67% according to a 2003 Gallup Poll, said “the government should not take steps to prevent terrorism if those step[s] would violate their basic civil liberties.” It was a common point of fear that the newly instated PATRIOT Act would allow the U.S. government to abuse powers that would make Big Brother drool. I vividly remember the conversations during which friends exclaimed this was the first step to having virtually no privacy except the thoughts inside your mind. The government could read transcripts of your comments to friends or examine surveillance pictures taken of you without your knowledge. I mean, They could even look at what books you read!

Then in 2004 a new website named was created and launched by Mark Zuckerberg that would popularize a little something called ‘social-networking’. Social networking is a vital practice, even a science for some sociologists who claimed that through the network theory societies could be improved. Problems solved faster, organizations tighter, alliances more efficient, even on a national level. Now social networking, thanks to the likes of and, is a term that is related to websites that allow users to browse through the very intimate profiles of millions of people. According to a recent estimate from, there were 70 million Americans on and 70 million Americans on

These numbers are staggering. They are not a majority of the population but they may be one day as the numbers are continuously growing. So what does a profile consist of? It is a page where your comments to and from friends are visible for all to see and where pictures of you can be posted by anyone and viewed by anyone. Oh, and they even ask you to list your favorite books. Sound familiar?

While proponents of the sites may say that all this is readily avoidable by taking measures of privacy like blocking your page to strangers there are bountiful examples of these sites harming unsuspecting people personally, professionally and even financially. Just ask Grant Raphael who had to pay $43,700 to a former colleague after the High Court in London ruled he had invaded the privacy of and defamed the victim. The victim had no involvement with that page and yet Raphael personally injured him with it. Just as in the recent case of a school aged boy whose mother would not allow him to create a Facebook page. But some bullies at school created one for him and posted derogatory remarks for him and permanently scarred his school boy experience. The examples are endless.

These social networking sites are places where we can frequently see the picture of a college girl who had too much to drink and flashed her civil liberties at someone with a camera who then posted the picture on their page. Anyone in the world can see that picture, at least until the college girl sees it and pleads the poster to take it down. But I right-clicked + saved it. We all did.

So besides giving us great background images for our desktops, these websites do have their upsides. For businesses, musicians, actors, stand up comics and politicians the outreach to the population is enormous. But what does that outreach also mean? It represents the ease of exposure that every user faces. A catch-twenty-two of world wide proportions.

In light of this new developing online trend the United States Government could consider repealing the PATRIOT Act of 2001 and just opening up a account! There would be a new government branch named the Ministry of Social Networking that would put posters all around that had the infamous picture of Uncle Sam who now “WANTS YOU--TO ACCEPT HIS FRIEND REQUEST!” And you know the new friend request from some guy holding his shirt over his face and flexing his muscles? That is the United States military.

Now, I am not trying to incite a moral panic with this article, I am simply trying to illuminate some worrying contradictions I see in the public’s infatuation with letting the entire world wide web know anything about them. If I was trying to incite a moral panic, which I am not, I would, perhaps, maybe, possibly suggest that the timing of’s launch is a little peculiar. In 2003 the majority of Americans did not want the government to be able to know anything about them. The PATRIOT Act was catching heat. And then, in 2004, a website is launched that profiles every American down to the books they read? It is not an invasion of privacy, it is an implosion of privacy. Mark Zuckerberg even sounds like a fake name. But I’m just saying…

As for now, I guess the only way to protect your civil liberties is to make your profile private and block it from the public domain’s view. And DO NOT accept random friend requests. Because you know that creepy old guy who keeps poking you? That’s the American Government.

Graffiti: Emerging Art Form or Resurging Crime Wave?

I can’t pretend that there isn’t a semblance of a shudder inside of me, when I pass by an old building or delivery truck with black graffiti or “tags” smeared across them. To me, they call out, “I’m dirty, and you’re driving through a bad neighborhood!” However, I also can’t pretend that I’m not interested in the idea that this so called “vandalism” can be considered poetic and representative of someone’s self-expressional art. Graffiti is the intriguing art form that leaves the viewer wondering about the lives drawn and the masked artists who go unknown, lurking around in the dark, trying to express the voices of their creative insides. Interestingly, graffiti art has achieved a strange duality in the last few years, being more accepted as a true art form, while still receiving scrutiny from law enforcement agencies.

According to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Shepard Fairey, known for his Obama “Hope” poster, and most recently the Stephen Colbert Olympic poster, is today’s most influential street artist. However, Fairey is still being charged and fined for his works. Recently, Fairey was arrested right before an event he was hosting at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, for a graffiti case in Roxbury. It seems contradictory of the city to praise Fairey when he conforms but arrest him when his work doesn’t fit their ideal mold. His works signify a sea change in both popular and institutional views on graffiti. Fairey represents both a grassroots movement while also questioning the very essence of subversive street art. Even though the Obama poster was not used for Obama’s campaign directly, the president was said to have supported and appreciated the works. The Obama poster was even placed in the National Portrait Museum in Washington D.C. So the question is, how can something that is considered illegal, be accepted to symbolize a presidential campaign, and, furthermore, where are the lines drawn in deciding what is influential art and what is merely vandalized scribbles?

Graffiti evolved in the seventies with artists such as the infamous Jean-Michel Basquiat, who started his art career homeless and on the streets with only the city as his canvas. Many of Basquiat’s works that were tagged “SAMO” were political and were in reflection to the counterculture of that time. Basquiat eventually moved onto bigger things while collaborating with the well known Andy Warhol. Basquiat paved the way for many contemporary artists while creating the allure of graffiti to the art culture. For several decades, graffiti has been the shadowy figure lurking around in the modern art world; however, only recently have many artists transcended from the gallery space into the realm of street art and made it popular.

Graffiti can manifest in many forms, styles, and aesthetics. The most popular methods include stencils, spray paints or regular paints. To consider the artistic effectiveness of a given work, one must delve into the artist’s motivations and objectives for carrying it out. For many artists the purpose of their graffiti is the power of speech, to simply voice their opinion. Graffiti is seen by many of its artists and admirers to be the citizens’ form of art and a voice for the people on the walls of our streets. However, the application of graffiti is illegal and the so called vandal can face charges or even imprisonment. The ongoing argument is whether this art form should be covered up or accepted as a legal form of self expression. One of the most famous and controversial street artists is known as the illustrious Banksy. Banksy has plowed through the street art scene causing frustration for public officials, while prompting a large group of admirers. According to Banksy, “Despite what they say graffiti is not the lowest form of art. Although you might have to creep about at night and lie to your mum it’s actually one of the more honest art forms available. There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on the best walls a town has to offer and nobody is put off by the price of admission.”

In order to formulate an understanding of graffiti’s current reputation as art or vandalism, the trend within the main stream culture must be examined. Marc Ecko, owner of Ecko clothing lines, created a video game that incorporates graffiti and dodging police. Marc Ecko speaks of graffiti in an optimistic way, “It has really become the visual language of youth culture.” Graffiti isn’t embraced in all neighborhoods and that’s okay, but maybe the fact that it is illegal is what gives its true strength.

What's With All The Rats?

The city of Boston reports the Brighton/Allston area to mostly house residents whose ages span from 18 to 40 years old, and the mass majority of that are 18 to 24 year olds. That is to say, it is widely populated by students, and an age range that dictates a rather insular lifestyle. There are fewer families; Allston is an area designated for people in transitional periods of their lives. As a resident of the area, I can say that Allston often feels like a miniature city of its own, replete with dive bars, relatively inexpensive cuisine and a plethora of cafes. It boasts an attitude that suggests it is largely represented by its younger residents. And for all that one would like to say about the younger generations, we are not a bizarrely unsanitary one. So, what provokes the rat problem?

Yes, the rat problem. Allston is frequented by a malaise of rats whose high numbers and delayed stay in the area has caused them to break loose of the skulking, secretive behavior as typified by these frightening pests. They are also bulky, large enough to be mistaken for a stray cat (an error that I have encountered in the past year). On my daily commute to any host of buses or trains, I am constantly accosted not just by the sight of them darting through the shadows, but streaking out in broad daylight to scamper underneath mine or a neighbor’s porch, or crouch underneath a car and glower, or simply to interrupt my drowsy trek to whatever the day’s destination may be. Regardless of what city authorities may say, there is a rat problem. If I dialed the hotline provided to me for reporting sightings of rats each time I saw one, it would be on my speed-dial. And I would go so far as to suggest that it is not nearly as perplexing as local diatribe indicates.

Ultimately, the cause of the problem is solely pointed to us, the residents. The guiding finger in these accusations come at the indignation of Harvard University representatives, whose recent uprooting and subsequent abandonment of nearby demolition sites in the last three years seems likely to be what prompted the rats’ nefarious rise and occupation of the streets. Despite these allegations, Harvard insists that they maintained a clean construction site, wary of the likelihood that excavation of big, gaping holes in the ground could very well cause a rat infestation. Such factors point so conspicuously at the Ivy League school, but it is in their determination to deflect the blame elsewhere that is truly infuriating. What’s more opportune than a place whose neighboring town (Brighton) posts sundry signs that caution “KEEP BRIGHTON BEAUTIFUL: DON’T LITTER” but in Allston, who borders the town and shares most of its local endeavors in policy, there are signs that say “KEEP ALLSTON DECENT: DON’T LITTER”. It is so remarkably convenient for Harvard to point out that we have poor sanitation and refuse removal. To a degree, this is unfortunately true.

I can vouch for this: Harvard did in fact donate 200 trash-bins to Lower Allston featuring lids that, when closed, disguised both the smell and appearance of trash, and without the trash it was assumed the rats would vacate to more profitable grounds (I'm not sure exactly where they are thinking of, either). They did in fact do this of their own goodwill and nothing to do with insidious guilt at the ruckus they have caused in rodent control. They are simply of a pious and generous persuasion... of course. Cambridge also, in the last five years, dealt with a rat problem. Unsurprisingly, it was quickly and sufficiently remedied, while Allston's pest problem continues. So with Harvard's efforts in mind, there are other issues to tackle.

We need an influx of trash barrels on the street, not just between people's houses. We need more reliable sanitation crews. Recent government funding changes has reduced most of our federal services to skeletal reminisces of what once was. My house, for example, nearly comes right to the curb of our street, and one holiday week, we mixed up which day to leave our trash at the curb for collection. Our bins lie in plain, visible sight hardly five feet from their designated area. In a home that hosts 7 occupants besides myself, we accumulate a large mass of weekly trash. But the trashmen simply plowed past. On one hand, we did not demonstrate good samitarianism. On the other hand, it’s really not that difficult to be kind when the difference is five feet - less than five feet! - and collecting our trash would benefit not just us, but our neighbors and the condition of Allston streets.

Other problems plague the area: petty theft between neighbors, inconsiderate can and bottle collectors who roam the street and rip open bags in their zeal to find these items, leaving spilled trash in their wake. I mean, there’s a handful of problems to tackle in a purely insular sense. However, the perpetuation of being informed that these rats appeared of their own volition seems to bleed into the mindset of the Allston resident. We accept our rat problem as fact, as some hardwired error of our own homes and lifestyles.

With all the influence that Harvard has, it would be nice if they at least owned up to initially causing the rat problem in Allston instead of hiding behind a gift and saying, essentially, “Well, it’s still not our fault but here! Just in case you still blame us, here!” Perhaps instead of slowly occupying our town and then abandoning it upon realization that it hosts less-than-satisfactory conditions, they could work to improve it or encourage the residents to.

Monday, February 22, 2010

You Can End the Steroid Era in Baseball

Over the past few years a terrible trend has been encroaching on what is normally a joyous time of year. At Spring Training, before each new baseball season, another Major League Baseball superstar is releasing a statement or having a press conference owning up to past steroid use. Last season it was Alex Rodriguez and the season before that it was the Mitchell Report. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are among current superstars in the game who have had to face the music as well. The lists are long and continuously growing. You hear many fans stating how they wouldn’t be surprised if “so-and-so” came up positive next, but then when it’s their favorite player they give him a free pass.

This year it is Mark McGwire’s turn in a never-ending spotlight that seems to shine down like the Florida sun. McGwire is back in the game, returning after a 9 year absence to become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. This is the man who literally lifted the game up on his hulking shoulders by hitting 70 home runs in one season, breaking Roger Maris’ 38 year old record. Now he has to apologize, not so much because he is sorry, but because he wants a job in the game again.

The issue is that the public is quick to accept these apologies and dismiss the fact that all of these players cheated and then lied in an effort to gain an advantage in the game, then to cover it up so that they could go on making millions of dollars. I don’t blame the players, because we’re letting them get away with it. To see figure out the solution to the problem, we need to ask some questions to see how we got here in the first place.

When did the “Steroid Era” begin?

The “Steroid Era” in baseball began right around the end of the “Mustache Era” in the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1980 there were 3,087 home runs hit in Major League Baseball. A decade later in 1990 there were 3,317 home runs hit as the numbers slowly increased with each season. However, by 1996 that number had jumped up to 4,962 as the steroid era was now in full swing. From 1998 to 2006 the league had over 5,000 home runs hit per season.

It’s much easier in hindsight to see that something may have been up with the powerful “Bash Brothers” led Oakland As teams. The players began to get bigger and the baseballs began to fly farther and with much more frequency than ever before. However, for some reason no one began to notice until the early 2000s and by then it was so far out of control that baseball is still trying to sort things out and clean up the game.

What are performance enhancing drugs?

Performance enhancing drugs or PEDs can be any substance used by a person to obtain a competitive advantage within their sport or activity. This can run the gamut from painkillers to stimulants to diuretics, all of which have been present throughout baseball history in numerous forms. Of course the main reason we know so much about PEDs today is due to the use of steroids within the game.

The steroids aid the body in promoting muscle building through synthetic modifications of testosterone which the athlete ingests. The Mayo Clinic notes that, “these hormones have approved medical uses, though improving athletic performance is not one of them.” The main PEDs that have come to the forefront of this issue include Methyltestosterone (android), Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) and Human Growth Hormone (HGH).

The simple fact is that using an anabolic steroid for a non-medical purpose is as illegal as is using cocaine, heroin or meth. If the average person tested positive for any drug, they would likely be fired from their job, yet these ball players get a slap on the wrist and the continued chance at riches and fame.

What is the allure?

Athletes will cite a “competitive drive” within them to always be the best at what they do and to always win at all costs. If you dangle a multi-million dollar contract in front of the same people, then they now must compete for that as well. You will hear many excuses for why some of these players took these drugs. Andy Pettite stated that he was using HGH to recover from an elbow injury because, “I had heard that human growth hormone could promote faster healing for my elbow.” Mark McGwire tried to trek down a similar route when he said, “The only reason I took steroids was for health purposes."

The problem here is that these players are saying these things to save face, but there is substantial information out there that has shown that these athletes go above and beyond the uses they admit to. They use these steroids to enhance their performances on the field. A pitcher who is stronger will throw the ball harder. A hitter who builds more muscle will hit the ball farther. It’s just simple facts here.

What is the current policy in place?

Since PEDs became so prevalent in baseball, the MLB drug policy has seen constant updates. As it currently stands, there is a list of over 80 substances in three different categories that are banned and tested for in Major League Baseball. Forty seven of these substances fall into the “steroid” category. The only known PED on the market that is not on this list is HGH which there is currently no actual test for. However each day new steroids are being synthetically created in laboratories in efforts to pass drug tests just like this one.

The testing for banned substances actually happens two-fold. For “drugs of abuse” such as cocaine, LSD or marijuana a test is administered based on reasonable cause brought about by evidence of usage. For the “steroids” category the test is administered randomly during season play from Spring Training through the end of the Regular Season. For these tests the players are chosen at random and the time unannounced, but once the player is tested, he will not be subject to another test that season.

The penalties for failing a drug test differ based on what the failure was for. If the substance found is a “drug of abuse” than HPAC will convene to determine the length of suspension based on the severity of the issue and any past histories. The player would then be subject to a suspension, a fine and to enter a treatment program. For substances that are considered “steroids” there are much stricter guidelines in play where a first offense will cost a player 50 games, the second offense is for 100 games and the third time you are suspended forever. This is a high price to pay for the pursuit of fortune and fame, yet each year players continue to test positive.

The flaws in this testing can clearly be seen. Make it easy on all involved and just test every player, every year, for everything. If a substance is banned, then MLB needs to make all efforts to ensure that no one under their employ abuses these policies.

Where do we go from here?

None of the accused players show much remorse for their indiscretions as they are just handed another million dollar contract and they move on. The fans seem to allow the player’s simple apologies to be used as a free pass back into their hearts, simply because they were “being honest and up front about it,” as Jason Donath, a diehard baseball fan stated.

The issue I have with this train of thought is that the only reason the players apologized in the first place was because they got caught! The fans and the league need to stand up to these players and to this “era” in an effort to save face. These players, these offenders to the purity of what was once “America’s Pastime”, cannot be let go with a simple slap on the wrist. Their actions have changed and scared the game forever and they must suffer the consequences. We, as fans, have the power to make them suffer. If we make our voices loud enough, we can tell these players that enough is enough and only then can we begin to turn the corner on the dreaded “Steroid Era” in baseball.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Considering the Options: A Defense of Homeschooling

Imagine you are the parent of a newly school-age child, and that you are preparing this son or daughter for the first day of school. What would you tell him or her about school culture in anticipation of the first day, and of the next fourteen years of life?

Warnings for students preparing to attend traditional school for the first time often mimic those heard on the toughest streets of Boston:
- Don’t rock the boat. You never know who you’re sitting next to, so make sure to keep your opinions (meaning your personality) in check.
- Speak when spoken to. Teachers often ask for, but rarely ever actually want to hear, your perspective.
- Ask the right questions, or don’t ask any questions at all. In other words, if your classroom queries exhibit the slightest hint of controversy, watch your back.
- Remember, surviving and succeeding at school is decided, for the most part, by the law of averages. (So don’t knock on wood.)
These words are from the mother of a Kindergarten student at the Driscoll School, a public elementary school in Brookline. After listing the warnings, she laughed and added, “I might as well be telling my son to carry a razor blade in his sock. It sounds like I’m sending him to prison”.

If the warnings to six year old children read like those listed above, imagine the fear with which students enter high school.

Private schools in the Boston area offer a slight advantage over public schools to their students, with lower average class sizes, individual attention from faculty and, in some cases, better academic and human resources. But private schools and especially private Catholic schools are struggling in the aftermath of the economic downturn and controversy within the Catholic Church.

When asked about her most useful classroom resource in the aftermath of budget cuts, reduced spending and a pay-scale reduction at St. Mary of the Assumption Elementary School in Brookline, Kindergarten teacher Megan Drielak responded, “The parents, of course.” As private Catholic schools across the country, and especially in the Boston area, are facing reduced funding and lower enrollments, teachers have begun turning inward, to the parents of their students, for classroom help. Parents are often called upon to act as classroom aids, field trip chaperones, after-school tutors and project supervisors. Gone are the days when parents dropped off their kids on the school steps and returned seven hours later. Many are now spending time both in their children’s classrooms and stuffing envelopes in the office. In fact, one St. Mary student was heard in the halls saying, “Finally, my mom spends more time in the principal’s office than I do!” With all these added hours of parental participation and classroom work, is it worth spending the extra money to send children to private schools? One-income families are forced to add a second income to pay the high tuition fees associated with a private education. At least one parent, if not both, must deal with the pressure of taking time off from career to work in their children’s classrooms. The benefits of low student-teacher ratios and one-on-one attention are hardly worth the effort.

The solution is simple, though invariably overlooked: homeschooling. For parents who spend part of their day in a classroom, the leap from private school to homeschooling is quite simple. And since the costs of homeschooling are miniscule compared to a private school education, two-income homes are no longer necessary. This solution is particularly appropriate for Boston area families who are bombarded by a high cost of living, higher property tax, and other costs associated with living in a metropolis.

So why are most parents dismissing or ignoring the homeschooling option for their children? Many parents value the importance of socialization, and think that homeschooling will prevent their children from meeting friends and maintaining relationships with their peers. Others believe that the exposure to real world problems in traditional school will teach their kids the skills necessary to succeed in future careers. Some parents just enjoy their adult time, and take advantage of the six hour school day as a means to either advance their careers or maintain their households.

All of these are valid reasons to be cautious when considering schooling options. But no one reason is strong enough to override the sentiments of the parent quoted above. Any parent who is willing to make a direct comparison between the dangers of traditional school and the dangers of prison should seriously consider the homeschooling option.

Two Sides to Every Country

When I first decided to visit the Central American country of Costa Rica, I was hesitant. My hesitation was spurred by two reasons; one, it would be the first time that I was consciously traveling abroad and two, I am very much in love with big cities. I have been to countrysides and it makes me miserable. I pictured Costa Rica being one big countryside. I was wrong in my assumption; for a place that has the image of simple living, Costa Rica can get complicated.

When I first landed in the city of San José, the capital of Costa Rica, I was happy to see a bustling big-city atmosphere. It had all the comforts of home: crowded streets, traffic, air pollution, and a plethora of bars and restaurants. It was a little rundown, but I can work with that. So I spent time in the big city and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Alas, all good things must come to an end; it was time for me to visit my estranged family on the other side of the country. The drive alone let me know I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I went from the bustling city, to what I can only describe as slum villages. Piles of trash being burned, stray dogs everywhere, pot holes that put Boston to shame, and big rusted iron fences around every house, were the first images that could be seen from the car. I could not help but think the typical bad neighborhoods in The United States cannot compare to this. The house I stayed in was on the outskirts of the town, so the first thing I wanted to do was go to the center and see what the busiest part of town looked like; it was not much better.

I had the chance to visit a grade school and I was horrified at the conditions these children went to school in. The floors were flooded, the rooms small and hot, and according to my cousin, none of the girls were allowed to go to the bathroom because rape was a frequent crime. It made me profoundly sad to see my nine-year-old, girl cousin living and learning in these conditions, but what can be done?

Many organizations are currently hard at work trying to instill better values and better infrastructure for the poorer areas of Costa Rica. One of the ones I found is; they have a strong mission statement and really seem to be making a difference.

In the big city of San José the crime they worry about is pick pocketing, but on the other side of the country crimes are more severe. I could not help but notice this division that seemed to split the country in two: the East Coast of mostly tourist-friendly attractions, and the West Cost consisting of mostly small towns and villages. I got on the plane to Texas feeling sobered. It is a strange experience to go from practically carefree living to observing everything around you and feeling saddened by it all.

Ultimately, I think it is important to look beyond the tourist traps of a country. It is interesting how governments, in this case the Costa Rican one, will mask its problems and encourage tourists not to go where the government does not want them to go. I think it is important to disobey their wishes and find the heart of countries. No matter how big and rich or small and poor a country is, the heart is always the working class people.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eight Ways to Get on Your Server's Bad Side

When you go out to eat, you want the server to be on your side. It’s kind of a no-brainer that you want to have a friend “on the inside.” Unfortunately, many people just don’t seem to get it. Instead of treating their servers like a helpful tour guide on their culinary adventure, some act as if they are too good to be bothered. Wake up, people, your servers are not a bunch of bottom-feeding burn-outs. Many of them are intellectuals, working their way through school, and many of them probably make more money than you. I’ve compiled a list of eight common behaviors that are sure to get you on their bad side.

1. Asking for water is not an appropriate response to “hello, how are you?”

As you may know from, uh, real life, first impressions are everything. When a server comes to greet you, you’re both working from a blank slate. There’s probably no worse way to get on your server’s bad side than by completely blowing off their greeting. You know what? Your server’s not an idiot, obviously you’re going to get your water, but there’s a series of events that has to happen first. Perhaps it’s a weird concept, but a simple exchange of pleasantries to start things off really goes a long way.

2. If you don’t like the sound of a dish, keep it to yourself.

Please refrain from rolling your eyes in disgust when I tell you about the pepper-crusted grilled veal chop special. First of all, I didn’t create the dish and second of all, you’re the one that asked. And just because you think something sounds bad, that speaks more to your poor taste than it does to the quality of the food. So, how about keeping the snide remarks and goofy facial expressions to yourselves, huh?

3. Read the menu before asking a stupid question.

“What does the duck come with?”

“Um, everything that’s listed next to it?”

4. Crying wolf with allergies.

This is a growing trend among restaurant-goers. Somewhere along the line apparently aversions became allergies. Don’t tell me that you’re allergic to onions when you simply don’t like them. It’s a huge pain for the kitchen to go out of their way to accommodate these sorts of requests and being frivolous with them makes your server unsympathetic to allergies across the board. And don’t get me started on gluten “allergies.” These celiac sufferers are often the most demanding people in a restaurant, treating their condition as if it were life and death. It’s not. They just get the shits.

5. Don’t talk to me when I’m at another table.

This is beyond rude and I can’t even believe that it happens, but it does. Usually it’s the elderly crowd, perhaps they don’t know any better, but it doesn’t matter. If you think that tugging on my apron when I’m talking to a table (that I probably like better than you) is going to get you what you want you should probably think again.

6. Don’t
flail your arms to get my attention from across the dining room.

Are you drowning? Are you choking? No? Then how about you calm yourself down and act like a grown-up just for one minute? Think you can do that? Yeah, I see you waving your arms around like a crazy person, but I probably won’t acknowledge it.

7. We’re not trying to drug you with caffeine.

People think that servers are like that creepy moustachioed guy hanging out at a bar full of people half his age. We’re not trying to slip you anything, folks, RELAX!
“This is decaf, right??”
“You better give me your phone number so that I can call you when I’m up at three o’clock in the morning!”
Yeah, guess what? I work in a restaurant, I’ll be up at three o’clock. Go ahead, call me up, we’ll party. I’ve never met a server that would give a person high-test coffee when they asked for decaf. If anything, you might get a decaf if you ordered regular but that’s really not a big deal.

8. The dessert bully.

Every table has one and I need to ask you to stop.
“Can I offer you anything for dessert?”
You go around the table and everyone’s all set.
Except you.
You dessert bully.
“If I get something, will you have a bite?”
And then the dominoes fall and, before you know it, you’re mired in a hell of decaf cappucinos and hot teas.
Please, don’t push your dessert on the people around you. They don’t want it and you don’t need it.