RURAL LIFE AND THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Los Angeles County is bigger in population than at least 40 entire states. Not only does it have a huge population — more than 10 million and counting — but it is physically bigger than the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Probably physically larger than a few other states, too — like Rhode Island and Deleware.

This is because in California, they can (and do) keep making counties and cities bigger and bigger as the population swells. Other places have a thing called “city and county limits,” but California doesn’t. In California, there are no limits.

Because L.A. County is so big, many people declare that the Electoral College is a scam. This presumes that the only criteria for power ought to be population density. In a pure democracy, which the U.S. isn’t, that would theoretically be true.

In fact, almost no country is a pure democracy. In most parliamentary countries, you are not voting for individuals but a party platform so even though a very unpopular government can be brought down for a new election, who actually represents you? It’s up to the party. If we think party politics is totally nuts in this country, trust me, it’s wacko most other places too.

In the U.S., we believe in bigger is better. Take away the Electoral College and the largest, most densely populated areas would rule the country. Is that good or bad?

I suppose that depends on whether you agree with whoever wins and whether or not you believe they are going to address your local issues.

I understand people who live in big cities will definitely feel they get cheated by the electoral college because it’s intended as a field-leveling tool. It’s not democratic and it’s not supposed to be. But, in the U.S., our motto has always been “bigger is better.” Whether it’s businesses, cities, schools or whatever — we like’em big. More always wins while less doesn’t count.

The problem is, I think I should count too, no matter how big Los Angeles County becomes.

The electoral college is not a scam. It has been grossly mismanaged and misused, but the concept is sound. It has needed a massive, non-political overhaul for a very long time. As a result of gerrymandering and political chicanery, it may finally be obsolete, but that’s because we’ve turned it into yet one more political football. If we lost the electoral college, what will be the next political football? I’m sure we’ll find one.

If we want to retain the concept of being a “Constitutional Republic,” we need a better way to count votes. We also need more votes from more people in more places. We need a fully voting population of at least 50% because otherwise, how can we claim that most people are represented when most people don’t vote at all?

The point of having an Electoral College was to prevent Los Angeles, New York, and Texas from overwhelming Worcester County or for that matter, all of New England from Connecticut to Maine.

In a town like this where we don’t even have a bus or a taxi, how likely are we to have similar requirements to Los Angeles or New York or even Boston? I’m from New York and I love it, but this town has different needs. Large cities would barely consider Uxbridge worth noticing. Even in Massachusetts, Boston and its nearby suburbs get most of the attention — and the money. The rest of us in more rural areas — actually rural is most of the Commonwealth — we beg for scraps.

What if Boston itself becomes one of the scraps? Where do we fit in then?

If only big cities run everything, what happens to small towns? Will anyone notice we’re here? Would anyone care we’re here? I’m not sure anyone cares now, so are rural areas officially obsolete?

We don’t even make it into the weather reports.

Before everyone jumps on the “ban the Electoral College” bus, maybe you should wonder if the place you live would fit into a world where only big cities seem to have a say in what gets done.

Does the Electoral College need overhauling? Absolutely. But maybe not elimination. It isn’t a scam. It is, however, a major constitutional issue that urgently needs repairing. It was never supposed to be a political tool — for either party. Like so many other parts of our government, it is being used for purposes for which it was never intended. Kind of like the Senate and maybe, the Supreme Court. And the presidency.

FIRE! – Rich Paschall

Engulfed in Flames, by Rich Paschall

Fire fascinates. Fire frightens. Fire feeds. Fire consumes.

We may all have a fascination for the dancing flames in a fireplace or a campfire. We may be able to sit and watch for hours and just relax. At Christmas time we have been fond of the Yule Log channel. No, it’s not the same, but it is safer and comes with holiday music. We cook with fire and we actually heat our home with it via the furnace in the basement. It is essential to modern-day life.

Burning Fireplace

Then again, we fear fire for what it can do when it is out of control. I was horrified when the news came up on my phone of the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris. I had visited the famed cathedral twice and marveled at the architecture.

You may know that it was the architectural advancement of “flying buttresses” that allowed for the high and heavy vaulted ceiling to be supported. Without this feature, the roofed would have buckled and caved in. It took 182 years to build the cathedral (1136-1345) but it only took 15 hours for a fire to topple the steeple, destroy the roof and damage the upper walls and windows. It is reported that in another 30 minutes the building would have completely collapsed.

Here in Chicago, as in most big cities, we have had spectacular fires. In fact, from October 8th to 10th, 1871 most of Chicago burned to the ground. Three-hundred lives were lost. The burning embers were blown high and far and it was just too much for firefighters of that era. Stronger building codes followed as the city rebuilt and hoped the new buildings would be more resistant to fire.

Although we often say that only the Chicago Water Tower in the center of downtown and the pumping station across the street were all that survived the fire, it’s not quite true. The magnificent St. Michael’s Catholic Church, completed in 1869, was largely destroyed by fire, but the walls and the tower were left standing and the church was rebuilt.

In the 1990’s I attended a wedding there.

Chicago Water Tower (Photo credit: Nicholas G. Mertens)

Certainly, there were many large fires after this, but the first of my memory was the fire at Our Lady of the Angels School on December 1, 1958.

The fire broke out while school was still in session. While most of the 1600 students were able to get out, some were cut off by smoke and flame. The older building was considered up to code because it was in compliance when it was built and was “grandfathered in.” Which is to say, it did not have fire alarms, a direct line to the fire department, fire escapes, or fire doors.

Some students jumped from the high second story windows. Ninety-two students and three nuns perished in the fire.

Following this, we all took our grade school fire drills seriously. We knew the way to the exits and where to meet outside. Fire inspectors were frequent school visitors and fire alarms were installed inside and out.

Teachers drilled us on keeping quiet and moving quickly. In case of fire, we would not be returning to our classrooms to pray if there was smoke or fire in our way.

In 1958 the city began to build McCormick Place, the large convention hall that would include the 5000-seat Arie Crown Theater. Sensitive to our history of spectacular fires, the concrete and steel building was touted as fire-proof and opened on Chicago’s lakefront in November 1960.

McCormick Place 1967 (Photo: International Housewares Association.)

Around two in the morning, January 16, 1967, a fire broke out behind one of the booths of the National Housewares Manufacturers Show. At 2:30, the Fire Chief arrived and sounded the fifth alarm. All fire department personnel responded to the scene to try to save the building. The blaze was even fought by fire boats on the lake in the bitterly cold weather. By ten AM the roof had collapsed and the massive convention center was destroyed.

The theater was saved.

Church fires large and small are part of our history. Older buildings with a lot of aging wood are particularly vulnerable. Some are repaired after the fire and live on. Others are not so lucky.

There is always a greater concern when the building is a matter of civic pride or architectural significance. Such is the case with Holy Name Cathedral.

Holy Name Cathedral interior (Photo credit: Terence Faircloth)

The first structure, a large brick building whose cornerstone indicated 1852, was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. Its replacement was dedicated in 1875. The massive Gothic-style structure holds 1200 people and the interior is 70 feet high. The ceiling is largely wood and was meant to symbolize the “Tree of Life.”

In February 2009 a fire broke out in the roof and the attic of the building. According to reports, first responders entered the attic without helmets or oxygen tanks. Fast work saved the Cathedral. The repairs to the roof and ceiling were completed in six months. Without this response, the building could have suffered damage like Notre Dame. Or worse.

No matter the great care we take, devastating accidents happen. In the Notre Dame and Holy Name Cathedral fires, it is believed electrical problems may have been the cause. It is hard to say for sure at Notre Dame since much of the building remains unsafe to inspect. At Holy Name the cause may have been related to a snow and ice melting system which was installed on the roof.

A Chicago Fire Department spokesman stated after the Notre Dame fire that fire officials are inspecting large buildings every day to make sure that there is a building plan at the entrance, and exits are clearly marked.

In older buildings of historic interest, they want to know what unique challenges may exist and about which they need to know. Even “fireproof” buildings, like McCormick Place, can burn to the ground.

Sources include:

“Rebuilt, but never forgotten – the McCormick Place fire of 1967,” ExhibitCityNews.com  January 1, 2014.

“Notre Dame Cathedral Fire: Investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused Paris blaze, AP reports,” abc7chicago.com April 18, 2019.

“Holy Name survives fire thanks to firefighters,”abc7chicago.com/archive February 4, 2009.

CITYSCAPE: A PHOTO A WEEK – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Cityscape/Townscape

I love shooting in town. We used to get into town a lot more often than we do now. Admittedly, we get into Uxbridge often, but there isn’t a lot of Uxbridge to shoot. It’s a very small town and all the towns in the area a small. Boston has a lot to offer, but it’s a long drive with terrible traffic, bad roads, and incredibly expensive parking and we go there only rarely these days.

Schubert Theater, Boston, 2014
Fenway Park 2018

The city has spent literally billions of dollars to redesign the roads. They look better, but the traffic is even worse. They made the roads straighter and one of the worst ones now runs underground so you don’t have to see what a terrible mess it is. But the mess is there and for me, the idea of bumper-to-bumper traffic in an endless tunnel is not an improvement. Just breathing would be traumatic.

Brookline
Parking on the street!

So we stay here in the country. Our city pictures all date from 2016 or earlier. That’s how it will remain. I don’t see the traffic, parking, or distance getting easier, cheaper, or shorter.

On the street
Symphony Hall, Boston

PEEING IN THE STREETS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve been reading about an urban problem that I thought was solved with the invention of the indoor toilet. Apparently, Paris is so plagued by men peeing in the streets, that they have taken action to mitigate the worst effects of this phenomenon.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, people emptied bedpans out their windows onto the streets below. Then indoor plumbing made this practice obsolete. So walking on the street became less dangerous and unpredictable, But it seems that even today, men don’t accept the concept of exclusively indoor, bathroom urinating. They still want to relieve themselves wherever and whenever they want. Including on public streets.

This public peeing creates two separate problems, affecting two of the senses. First, there’s the problem of odors permeating public streets, often in upscale and tourist neighborhoods. Then there’s the visual assault of people having to watch men peeing in public.

The City Council of Paris has addressed the problem. Their solution was to install urinals around Paris to discourage pedestrians from relieving themselves randomly on the streets of the city.

Enter the ‘Uritrottoir’, or sidewalk urinal. It’s bright red, is free-standing and open on all sides. It’s filled with straw and uses the nitrogen and other chemicals in the urine to produce organic compounds. This supposedly eliminates odors. That may at least solve the smell problem.

But Parisians are complaining that the open design of the urinals does not prevent passersby, including tourists on Seine cruises, from having to watch men relieving themselves. Sensitive Parisians also dislike the bold design and color of the urinals. They are considered an eyesore, particularly in historic and quaint areas.

Apparently, public urination has always been a problem, around the world. Some cities in Germany have come up with more creative ways to discourage public peeing. In Munich, there’s a walkway between the soccer stadium and the subway which suffers from a disproportionate amount of drunken peeing. So the city is looking to install a long strip of un-planted flower beds that would go over a giant tank. It would have bark chips in it to reduce odor so men could pee in it at will.

I like Hamburg’s solution better. Some locals in Hamburg have been coating the walls of buildings in ‘splash creating, urine retardant’ paint. This paint is used in ship hulls. What it does is coat the urinater in his own pee.

Poetic justice!

I don’t understand the psychology of men who do this. Women don’t have the option and they manage to hold it in until they find a bathroom. What is wrong with men? Do they feel entitled? Do they have no modesty or shame? Are parents remiss when they toilet train their sons? WTF!

I’m also appalled that this is a universal problem in 2018. I guess we are not as evolved as I hoped.

I didn’t need another reason to be grateful that I left the city and moved to the country. I guess the universe wanted me to feel particularly good about abandoning urban life.

I have to watch my dogs pee in the backyard, but that’s not an affront to civilization.

Men peeing on city streets is.

CITY VERSUS COUNTRY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I lived in an apartment in Manhattan for over 40 years. I’ve lived in the woods in Connecticut now for over 25 years. I think I’m something of an expert on both life styles.

My apartment building in NYC for 15 years

It’s a common misconception that getting around is easier in a city than in the country or suburbs. I disagree. Having lived long-term with both transportation options, I’ll take my car and the country any time.

In the city there are often many things that are within walking distance. A small supermarket, a pharmacy, a dry cleaners, some restaurants and stores, etc. For those destinations, it couldn’t be more convenient (unless you count having to be outside in inclement weather as more than mildly inconvenient). But you can’t live your entire life within a ten block radius of your apartment or house. You always need to go downtown or outside your residential area. That’s where you get into trouble.

You have to walk to bus stops or subway stops, in all kinds of weather. Then wait for the next bus or train, whenever it decides to come for you. There are always delays of some kind. You get off the bus or train and again have to walk to your destination. Add kids in strollers and the logistics become mind boggling.

Another city transportation option is the taxi. First you have to wait to find one and then you have to sit in traffic – there’s always traffic in NYC. This is often easier but it can actually be slower, is less predictable and is definitely more expensive.

You can never be sure, in a city like New York, how long it will take you to get somewhere. You’re always at the mercy of factors outside of your control. My ex and I would have endless discussions about the best way to get to the theater or to a downtown restaurant on time.

So for me, going anywhere in the city was stressful. I dreaded having to take my young kids anywhere. I dreaded going out when it was very hot, very cold or very wet outside. (Weather is a big thing for me). I was ALWAYS rushing and always worried I’d be late.

Getting a kid and a stroller into a bus is not easy

In the country/suburbs, you just get in your car and go! Mine is in my garage so I don’t even have to go outside. You always know how long it will take to get where you’re going if you’re traveling locally. If you don’t, you can always look it up on Map Quest. There’s rarely traffic (unless you have to take the highway) and usually plenty of parking wherever you’re going. You don’t have to battle the elements for more than a few yards.

You may technically be farther away from the necessities of life. But I’m in the middle of nowhere and I can get to anything I might need or want, including movies and theater, in 15-20 minutes. Door to door. You can’t go anywhere on public transportation in NYC in less time than that!

And when I drive everywhere, I’m not only in control of my schedule, I’m traveling in style and comfort. I’m in my comfy car, listening to my Broadway Channel on Sirius Radio and singing along at the top of my lungs. I’m looking out the window at trees and grass and often a reservoir. The view going by makes me happy no matter the season. Snow is beautiful if you don’t have to shovel it. There’s nothing like watching the leaves come out on the trees in the spring, or watching them turn to reds, oranges and yellows in the fall.

For me it’s a no-brainer. Me in my car, singing and watching the beautiful scenery go by. No stress, no worries, no environmental issues. I’ll take that scenario over a crowded subway any day. Even if it means I can’t walk to the local market, restaurant or store. I can walk on my tree-lined road any time I want to commune with nature or get some exercise.

I always thought I was a city girl at heart. I grew up as a dyed in the wool, ethnocentric, arrogant New Yorker. But I’ve converted. I’ve seen the light – and the trees.

URBAN STREETS AND HIGHWAYS

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – Feb. 9, 2018


Highway from Connecticut
Downtown — Prudential Tower, Boston
Street corner, downtown Boston
Sidewalk by Fenway Park
Scaffold bridge – Boston with Prudential Tower

RIGID MINDS DON’T MAKE GREAT DISCUSSIONS

For a few days, I hooked up with a Boston Globe group. Its purpose was supposedly to address racism in Boston. Though we don’t live there anymore, we did live there a long time and we lived in Roxbury, the darkest part of the dark part of Boston. We lived there for ten years and they were ten of our best years. If that condo had anything other than electric heat — electric heat in New England is not really heat; it’s just burning money to take the chill off — and there was a way to get from the ground floor to third floor bedroom, and they hadn’t decided to redesign every road in Boston, AND we had somewhere to exercise our dogs, we’d have stayed. But I could see the future and a 3-story walk-up condo didn’t look like a good choice for us. Especially not for me.

Red lights in Roxbury

I found this house online. It was the right price. It had land and two fireplaces. The house needed work, but seemed structurally sound otherwise. It was in the whitest place I’d ever seen, so we found ourselves moving from the darkest area of Boston to the whitest area in central Massachusetts.

Having lived as a mixed couple in Boston, I thought we might have some interesting feedback to offer the group.

It turned out, this group was exactly like talking to a bunch of Republicans, but from another part of the spectrum. These were people who made pronouncements like “Black men have a lifespan in Boston of just 21 years and everyone hides their children.”

Roxbury

We lived on Circuit Street which is right in the middle of Roxbury. Garry was a lot more than 21 and so were all our neighbors — none of whom hid their children. It was a safe place to live because everyone watched out for everyone else. The crazed drive-by shooters never drove by our place. Probably half the men in the complex were police officers, sheriffs and a reporter, so it was probably just as well. I never felt unsafe walking the streets, though I have always preferred to avoid gangs of teenage boys. I have a firm belief that gangs of teenage boys are inherently dangerous, no matter what their class, color, or ethnicity. They are hormonal and quite probably, insane. They will not become sane until their mid twenties when the hormones slack off a bit and their brains clear.

Otherwise, I walked downtown and to the post office. I liked my neighbors and I think they like me. We had block parties with great food, music and laughter. It was a jolly place to live. I miss it.

So when whoever it was said “Men are doomed to die before age 21 and everyone hides their children,” I took umbrage. It was just like Trump telling Black people that they might as well vote for him because “what did they have to lose?” In fact this guy who was supposedly “fighting” racism was essentially going out of his way to prove all the crap people like Trump say, is right. Sometimes, you have to step back and consider what you are really saying to the world.

Making racism the whole story is stupid and not true. Most people in “the hood” live normal lives. Those reputed heavily armed tanks full of crazed shooters don’t roam the streets. In the ten years we lived there, NO ONE shot at me, near me, or threatened me. I wasn’t raped, assaulted, or propositioned. Men were polite and helpful. Women were charming and funny. No one tried to break into our house. No one stole our cars, which  is more than I can say for living on Beacon Hill where both of our cars were stolen.

There’s racism in Boston as there is everywhere. In my humble and apparently insignificant opinion, the serious racists don’t live in Boston.  They live in the white, wealthy suburbs. Those liberal places where everyone tells everyone tells everyone else how they many wonderful Black Friends they have, but you never see any of those friend around. They don’t visit — or get visited. Scratch that thin, brittle liberal surface and you’ve got a butt-load of racism underneath.


In fact, every state in the continental United States with the exception of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont has had lynching casualties. 


Boston is a real city. Black neighborhoods, many mixed neighborhoods. In fact, most neighborhoods are mixed. Some a lot, some just a bit. There’s a lot of intermarriage. Kids go to school together and it stopped being a big deal a long time. If Boston isn’t the most diverse city in the U.S., it is also very far from the most racist.

Boston is a complicated city. People in Boston are often surprisingly casual about race. People work together, walk together, shop together. And — Boston has never had a lynching.

So I was in that group and just a few days later, I resigned from it. I can’t talk to people whose minds are rigidly made up. If there’s no chance of anyone changing his or her opinion, there’s no point in talking.

At some point in time, everyone will have to stop and hear what other people are saying. Otherwise, there will never be any problems solved in this land of ours