Massachusetts Critical Congestion Problem — Part 2


Whenever the idea of upgrading and expanding public transportation is Boston comes up, the state legislature balks because of the seemingly high cost. But what does it really cost? Boston has five major arteries feeding into it. On an annual basis, it cost roughly $50,000 to maintain each of these roads. And when it comes to resurfacing or rebuilding, the cost zooms to $1.5 to $2 million per mile! And there are other costs associated with these roads as well. And when you consider how far people are willing to commute, you must go at least 50 miles out from Boston’s center. A bit of simple math shows how costs quickly zoom into the 100s of millions of dollars. This does not take into account the intangibles such as how likely a company is to move into the Boston area considering the constant congestion of its highways.
The MBTA recently announced it is consider running electric trains on its Providence to Boston route to see how well they work. I find this curious because the Massachusetts Department of Transportation need only confer with the New York area rail providers to see how well they work. If the Massachusetts legislature had a lick of sense, it would provide the Mass DOT with the funding to simply go out and purchase new electrified coaches and put them into service.
The upside of the electric railcar is that it can be used in a fashion similar to rapid transit, short distance routes with a high frequency of service. An example of a route which begs this kind of service is the Fairmont Line. This route run entirely within the city of Boston but constantly struggles for ridership. Were this route electrified with trains running every 10 to 15 minutes is would become extremely attractive.
Other routes which would become more attractive from frequently running trains are the Framingham to Boston, Waltham to Boston (with the addition of more stations, ie. Beaver Brook, Fresh Pond), Woburn (Anderson) to Boston, Reading to Boston, and Beverly to Boston.
Each of these routes, except the Beverly line, intersects with the interstate highway system. At present, there are no stations at these intersections. But by addling large parking garages with highway exits will certain draw a healthy percentage of present commuters to the trains. If a commuter knows that on these lines, he is never more than 15 or 20 minutes from a train, it is obviously attractive.
The conventional trains that would continue to use these lines from the stations further out would benefit from being able to run express during rush hours. That means people commuting in on these trains from places such as Rockport, Haverhill, Concord/Fitchburg and other destinations would see their travel time reduced. Additionally, the sensation that the train runs slowly because it stops at every station would also be alleviated.
The MBTA and Mass DOT would do well, regardless of how it proceeds, to take a careful look at parking availability at each of its stations. Any station which is, or has the potential, to be heavily used, should have a minimum of 1000 parking spaces. Reading is an excellent example of a station desperately in need of expanded parking as does Wakefield on that route. Reading has a total of 71 parking spaces and Wakefield 116. In each case the availability of land is at a premium but midway between these stations runs I-95/128 where there are large swarths of land which could be used with the addition of a station plus a large parking garage.
There are three routes which are begging for expansion which can be accomplished for relatively modest sums of money. The Haverhill route can be moved northward to a point named Rosemont just south of the New Hampshire state line and on Route 125, an extremely heavily traveled road. In the process it passes beneath I-495 affording a 2nd station. The next is the Lowell line being extended to a point just south on Nashua in Tyngsboro. Right now the traffic of Route 3 has no convenient station. The first mall in Nashua has a parking lot which extends into Massachusetts and has an excellent exit from Route 3 less than a mile away. And finally, extending the Framingham/Worcester line to Springfield seems like a no brainer. The track is already up to passenger standards and there is an active rail passenger station in Springfield. This route would also service Ludlow, Palmer, Brookfield and Spenser.
These solutions will cost in the multiple of billions of dollars but here is one additional thought to make that seem less imposing. The average length of an automobile is just under 20 feet while the average length of a rail car is over 60 feet. Most automobiles carry a single person while a railcar can accommodate upwards of 100 people per car. If these rail cars are only used at 50% of their capacity they are still taking about 150 automobiles off the road per rail car used.

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Time to Change or Eliminate the Electoral College


The Electoral College is an anachronism which dearly needs to be eliminated. The Electoral College was created to give more power to the smaller less populous states in our nation’s early years. It was a concession given because a state such as Delaware feared that a larger state such as Pennsylvania might take advantage of its size and essential rule over the smaller state. But it was still a compromise to bring peace and agreement to the then Federalist form of government. You must remember that we started at 13 individual republics who via the Constitution were united in to a singular republic with a strong central government but still allowing states certain powers of anonymity.
But as we have grown to 50 states and nearly 300 million people, the original algorithm to provide equality is now having the opposite effect. The reason is simple: state political parties pick their electors but the prevailing party always ends up with all the electors. For example, Massachusetts has 9 U.S. Representatives and 2 U.S. Senators giving it 11 electors. As Massachusetts is a strongly blue state, the entire representation will be Democrat and the electors will vote accordingly. But Massachusetts has a rather conservation portion of the state, Western Massachusetts. It is not difficult to have that political district vote Republican but their votes will count for nothing.
Texas is a good example of the opposite situation. Texas could easily vote 55% to 45% favoring the Republican candidate. Texas has a population of about 28 million people. That means the 12 million people who voted Democratic will have not voice in the presidential outcome. The same is true of California which typically votes Democrat but which has very large portions of the state which vote Republican.
The point is, if you are going to keep the Electoral College then it must be modified to accommodate that portion of a state’s population which does not vote with the majority political party. By attaching electors who represent the majority view of their political district, the Electoral College will become much more effective and fair.
The other thing to do is to eliminate the electoral college completely and have Presidents elected directly by the people which ultimately is the most fair solution. The impact of this with regard to previous elections is that at least 5 people who held the office of President but lost the popular vote would not have made it into office. To allow the minority vote to have purchase over the majority is an injustice and certainly something which keeps so many people away from the polls as they believe that their vote really does not count, and sadly, that may be the exact case.

Massachusetts Critical Congestion Problem — Part 1


Today’s traffic debacle in Boston was started some 30 years ago when the state finalized plans and got funding for “The Big Dig.” From its inception, this project was rife with corruption, cost overruns and extremely bad engineering. Bad engineering? Yes! Some genius thought that running 4 lanes of traffic from the south into 3 lanes was an okay thing. But the fact is, it created what is referred to as a “choke point.” That is, the volume of traffic exceeds the ability of the roadway at that point to effectively handle it. And so, the people coming in from the South Shore have reaped absolutely no benefit from the “Big Pig,” which we are still paying for. Additionally, these genius engineers, and the politicians who backed and/or pressured them, decided in their infinite wisdom to also create and east/west choke point. Traffic moving out toward the airport and into East Boston is confined to two lanes. As anyone who has tried to leave the airport at rush hour knows, you are in for a long wait.
Unfortunately, there is no way to fix either of these two situations with roads. The answer lies in rail transportation, both rapid transit and commuter rail. But before I get to that, let us understand that the rush hour, from all directions, begins and 6AM and continues until well after 9AM and in the afternoon it is even longer. Why? Even though people cannot stand driving into Boston, their perception of the available public transportation is that it is poor in quality, inconvenient, and in some places, not available.
I think it fair that if you were to stick a pin in Boston and then used a protractor with a 50-mile spread applied, you would take in the majority of where people are coming from. But there are exceptions even to this! York Maine is 65 miles distant. Concord NH is 68 miles distant. And Springfield MA is 91 miles! People are living that far afield to escape the high price of living in Greater Boston. But when it comes time to travel from these more distant points, the only option is the automobile which, as you get closer to Boston, is cumulative so that by the time you reach Saugus on Route 1, or Dedham on I-93, you are in a traffic jam.
The State of Massachusetts has thrown large sums of money at commuter rail, which was needed, but has only addressed the easiest of solutions when it came to expanding the commuter rail system. But in expanding the commuter rail system, it has not addressed the need for substantial parking at certain stations. And the insult is that they charge for parking. For example, Bradford, which has 300 parking spaces, charges $8 a day for parking or $51 for a monthly pass. That is on top of the $318 monthly rail pass. Right there you have priced many individuals out of taking the train. The fact is, a large portion of our population simply cannot afford the outlay of $318 at one time. And while we are on the Haverhill line, the MBTA was supposed to extend it to Rosemont, a station in very close proximity to I-495. That would be a perfect location to pick off at least some of the Boston-bound commuters.
It gets worse when you consider what is available from the North Shore. With a single line running to Beverly and then splitting off to Rockport and Newburyport that simply does not fill the needs of those populations. This was made worse but the fact that the MBTA allowed a line to go for lack of imagination. At one time there was a line which crossed Route 1 very near to the present intersection of I-95 and Route 1. It is at this point all Boston bound commuters leave the Interstate only to be met with an almost continuous traffic jam into Boston. A little forward thinking and some light rail could offer these commuters an alternative to Boston. This rail line, resurrected, would bring people to the Orange Line at Sullivan Square.
New Hampshire has been unwilling to allow expansion of the MBTA Commuter Rail System into its state where an extremely large portion of the population in the southern portion of the state commutes to Boston. The MBTA could easily have extended its Lowell line to Tyngsboro which sits just south of Nashua NH. No reason has ever been given to why this has not been done. It would certainly give a large population an option it does not have. I say it does not have that event though Lowell may appear to be on the way to Boston, access to the railroad station there is not easy, not convenient.
I could go on, but I think the point has been made.
The word “convenience” is key to improving how the MBTA deals with ridership in the future. The first thing it needs to do is greatly increase the frequency of trains to the cities and towns which sit within Route 128. The heavily populated corridor of Reading to Boston sees just six trains during the 6AM to 9AM rush hour. This is hardly convenient. When the Boston & Maine Railroad ran the commuter rail from Reading (1963), it offered 18 trains during that same time period! And here is what it used.

I picked this picture because it is the equipment the Boston and Maine Railroad used, Budd Self-Propelled railcars. These two cars are still in service in Canada and they are both former B&M coaches! I am not suggesting the we beat the bushes and rehabilitate these aging vehicles but that we buy new ones. Vehicles made by a Canadian company, Bombardier. One of their vehicles is shown below.

budd car

This particular vehicle is bound for Germany where, as in everywhere in Europe, such vehicles are in wide-spread use. And so, such vehicle is available and would be perfect for short-distance commutes. These trains are cheaper to run and much more passenger friendly.

bombardier
The second part of running such trains is that standard commuter rail trains from the more distant portions of the system would be able to run express from 10 to 15 miles inward and outward. That at least makes such trains appear to be more convenient.
In addition to these things the MBTA needs to restructure its commuter rail fees. The Red Line fare from Boston to Braintree is $2.25. The commuter rail fee is $6.75! This makes absolutely no sense. Anyone who might like to get on the commuter rail at Braintree to avoid the multitude of stops on the Red Line are dissuaded by the high price of such a trip.
The answer to Boston’s ever-increasing congestion is a vastly expanded commuter rail and rapid transit system. It is expensive and requires both innovation and imagination. Imagination costs nothing and innovation is an everyday thing at schools like MIT which would gladly take state monies to help resolve these problems. The time to fix these problems was 30 years ago. It did not happen so it must happen now.

America: Then, Now, in the Future


I look at America today and I am saddened. I am also torn because I am a conservative Democrat who shares a lot of Republican views but is more in line with Democrats. But what does it matter when this men and women whom we have elected are in the business of getting re-elected and kowtowing to their PACs. I really liked Bernie Sanders because he took no PAC money but felt Hillary was the better candidate. Bernie is close to be a socialist which my conservative side cannot tolerate except in a few small doses.
I think back to the 1960s and 70s when men with vision had the commitment to follow through on ideas that help all Americans and not just the well-monied and the well-placed. John F. Kennedy was a very flawed man, but he promised us early in his presidency that he would put an American on the moon, something most people of the day could not happen. And even though he was killed in 1963, President Johnson took the lead and in 1969 it happened. And Richard Nixon, probably one of the most flawed presidents ever, understood the mood of Americans with regard to Vietnam and quickly made a plan to remove American soldiers. That happened in 1975.

 
In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court had the courage to rule in favor of Roe v. Wade in a 7 – 2 vote. Up until that time people were put in jail just for speaking out about contraception. All the justices on that court were brought on the philosophy of the sanctity of life. Six of those justices were nominated by Eisenhower and Nixon. But they did not allow their political beliefs to interfere with their interpretation of the Constitution relative to the case at hand. That took a lot of courage in those days.

 
President Lyndon Johnson, a conservative Texas Democrat, spearheaded the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Had Johnson been a little younger and lived to see the 1980s, he would likely have changed parties as did most southern Democrats of the 1960s. But both parties seemed to recognize the wrong that was being dealt to people of color.

 
All the good that that generation of Republicans and Democrats did is under siege by today’s Republican party for reasons I cannot understand and believe are based in ignorance and pettiness by the divisive minds of a few men who have abandoned the ideal of working for the greater good in favor of working the agenda of a well-monied powerful few.

 
But I do still believe in the basic goodness of the overwhelming majority of Americans. When disasters befall us, these Americans are not checking party affiliation before they give aid. They just do it because it is the right thing to do.

 
The Right Thing to Do. Americans support or don’t support things politicians want based on the information given them. But today’s politicians are wont for giving their constituency all the relevant facts regarding a particular issue and instead feed the only those facts which support their agenda. This applies equally to both parties.

 
It is time for those members of Congress who are in the 70s and 80s to retire and give way the a new generation of politicians. People in their 70s and 80s are not nearly so concerned with the future, in spite of what they may say, as are people in their 30s and 40s. And it is that group who must be given the reins of government if America is to move forward in the best interest of all Americans.

The Crisis Called Trump


Donald Trump loves to announce himself as one of the greatest presidents ever. The reality is, I believe history will portray him as one of the worst ever. He will join Warren Harding, probably the most corrupt, Andrew Johnson, probably the most ineffective, and Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and a few others who are at the bottom. We all know that Andrew Johnson was brought before the senate for removal and was saved by a single vote. Warren Harding was so corrupt that he faced the possibility of being charge with a federal crime and was facing removal by his own party had he not suddenly died.
Donald Trump is probably one of the most divisive presidents ever. Even before he was elected, he was using an “us against them” strategy which he has continued, if changed in flavor, during his presidency. But he has done so at his own peril and has either fired or had quit more of his senior staff than any president in history during his first two years. And swirling around all that is his likely collusion with the Russian government prior to the election which, if proven, would put him directly in the cross-hairs of the, as the Constitution names it, most “high crimes” of probably any president; something approaching treason.

 
One of the things you find inquiries, such as what are going on now with the FBI investigation, is that there is ultimately a degree of truth with the focus of the investigation. For example, the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and investigation. Clinton steadfastly denied any wrong doing but when the Starr investigation was completed it was clear that Pres. Clinton was guilty of “abuse of power.” That very same abuse of power is happening today although in a form yet to be spelled out.
The recent NY York Times anonymous Op-Ed article illustrates an administration in crisis. People have wasted their time arguing over whether the article should have been printed, it should have, or that the writer should have identified himself, irrelevant. Instead, discussion should center around how much truth is contained in the article. The writer presents a very reasonable description of what dedicated, and highly intelligent people will do to prevent a president from erring so egregiously as to cause serious damage to the country.

 
What Trump has failed to realize, and I doubt will ever, is that his job is to do the will of the people, and not whatever suits him from one moment to the next as he has done. In truth, all politically elected and appointed official, from the president on down, are public employees who, when they take their oath of office promise to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And it is quite clear in the Constitution that all public employees hold office only in the interest of the American public.
Trump is acting like he is starring in a t.v. show where he can yell “you’re fired!” and it becomes true. Government simply does not, and cannot, work that way. He constantly tramples the First Amendment by exclaiming that people who hold opposing views should be silenced. He has made ludicrous statements like he knows more than his generals! Only a fool makes such a claim.

 
I fully expect the Democrats to retake both the senate and house during the next elections. I expect there will be enough energy among party leaders to start impeachment hearings.

 
The people of the United States deserve far better leadership than they now have. It is time for my generation, the baby boomers, to step aside and allow the next two generations to take over. We did good work in the 70s and 80s but our time is past. It is time that those 40 years of age and younger take over and definite their future for in truth, the future of the baby boomers is far shorter than theirs and they deserve the reins of power.

Alcoholism Among Teens and 20-somethings


Alcoholism in America remains in the closet in spite of its acceptance by the medical community as a disease. And since this disease is listed as a mental disorder, it is doubly stigmatized. Worse, most people have no idea what it takes to be an alcoholic. Most see alcoholics in their mind as a person who lives on the street, is unemployed and who is at least 40 years old. In truth, none of those generalizations is truthful.

Few people ever think of someone in the 12 to 25 age group as being alcoholics. According to the National Institute of Health, people from age 12 to 18 reported 3.4% are heavy drinkers. For college students 18 – 22 reported 12.5% are heavy drinkers and binge drinking is 3 to 4 times the afore listed rates.
Because alcoholism is a mental disorder those in the age group described above are least likely to believe they are an alcoholic. Here are some of the common reasons given by 12 to 25-year-olds for why they are not an alcoholic:

• I’m too young
• I don’t drink every day
• I can stop anytime
• I’m doing all right in school
• I’ve never gotten a DUI
• I’ve only blacked out a couple of times

Chief among the reason for not being an alcoholic is age. There is a perception that to become an alcoholic takes many years of heavy drinking, drinking every day, and being at least 40. But in truth, if you drink because it makes you feel good, because it gets rid of bad feelings, because everyone your age is doing it and because it allows you to be more social are all indicators that you might have a drinking problem.

What follows is the Johns Hopkins University test for being an alcoholic. Go through these and see how many apply to you.
1 Have you lost time from your work because of your drinking?
2 Is drinking making your home life unhappy?
3 Do you drink because you are shy with other people?
4 Is drinking affecting your reputation?
5 Have you ever felt remorse after drinking?
6 Have you gotten into financial difficulties as a result of drinking?
7 Do you turn to lower companions or environment when drinking?
8 Does your drinking make you careless of your family’s welfare?
9 Has your ambition decreased since drinking?
10 Do you want a drink the next morning?
11 Do you crave a drink at a definite time daily?
12 Does drinking cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
13 Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?
14 Is drinking jeopardizing your job or business?
15 Do you drink to escape from worries or trouble?
16 Do you drink alone?
17 Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of drinking?
18 Has your physician ever treated you for drinking?
19 Do you drink to build up your self-confidence?
20 Have you ever been to a hospital or institution on account of drinking?

You need only have answered yes to 3 of these questions to most likely be an alcoholic.

For the young person, questions 15 to 19 are probably the most telling and most likely to have said “yes” to. Answering yes to even one of these questions suggests an underlying problem.
Being an alcoholic is as much a why question as it is a how much question. That is, if you drink because you are feeling depressed, because you cannot be social otherwise, or because you have some really negative feelings, then you have a drinking problem. You have nothing to lose by deciding you have a drinking problem you cannot fix. Help is everywhere in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The good news for young people is that there are thousands just like you out there. And even better, if you live near a city, there most likely are meetings for you. They are called “Young People Meetings.” And within these groups, you will find a secondary group that refers to itself as “never had a legal drink.” And the really good news is, within each meeting you go to you will find someone else who has exactly the same problem as you who have found a solution to that problem, and others. You need only ask, and they will tell you how they did it.

It does not matter if there are no young people’s meetings near you, the regular AA meeting will help you more than you can imagine. The first step is in saying that you have a problem you cannot resolve. Take that problem to a meeting and in time it will be resolved.

For more information please visit Alcoholics Anonymous’ Internet site at:

http://www.aa.org.

Parents Are Failing their Child’s Education


I was able to retire at a pretty young age. Shortly thereafter I undertook substitute teaching. At one point or another I worked all grades, kindergarten through 8th grade. In those positions I got an up close and personal look into what is expected of today’s youth and how they are meeting those expectations.

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Certain things have not changed since I was in the public-school system. Those students with a high degree of intelligence do well regardless of the situation into which they are thrown. That is a qualified “do well” however. The qualification is that if there is something at home which is very negative or if they have undergone a traumatic experience. Such students will need more and specialized attention. I will go into that a little bit later.

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I believe that all students, regardless of capacity, have expectations thrown upon them which far exceed those of my generation and for a number of generations following. Towards the end of my educational experience in the public system I remember that “new math” was being introduced. That, of course, is a misnomer because there is no such thing. Math, regardless of what name you put upon it, in essence has not changed much in 100 years. Certain portions of advanced, college level, math have been introduced such as theoretical math. But for our public-school kids, such things do not and should not apply.

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I have worked in four different school systems in the near-in Boston suburbs. One thing that was a constant across these systems was the amount of parental responsibility. This most important part of the educational system is greatly lacking if not entirely missing from the student’s education. How much a parent involves himself in their child’s educational experience greatly influences that child’s ability to succeed. Most importantly, the parent must set boundaries, discipline and structure for their child. A rebellious child is most likely looking for attention. When these things are not in the child’s home life, they end up in the lap of the schools, and in particular, the student’s teacher. These students frequent present a disruptive influence in the classroom which requires extra attention from the teacher. This, in turn, impacts the other 20 to 25, or more, students in the classroom. Then there is the student who consistently fails to do his homework. This again goes back to the parent who does not participate in their child’s education by failing to ensure that all homework in completely done.

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When I was young, that information that was not given me in the schools, came to me via television, newspapers, magazines or my friends. The advent of social media on devices like computers and cell phones have given the young person an unprecedented access to the world. Some of the things these children have access to may not be healthy for them. This is a point at which society today struggles to differentiate what our children should see from what they should not. The cell phone, in particular, has become a device too often used to bully other children. And this is where parents fail most frequently. I have had many experiences in the school system where a parent is called in to talk about how his child misbehaves and is a bully. The parent, however, will not accept what is being offered and declares that his child is not a bully. One factor in their making such a decision is that they do not fully understand what a bully is.

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When I was in elementary school, one of the ways we boys settled disputes was through wrestling on the playground. Fist fights were extremely rare and even then, they were forbidden. But somewhere along the way it was decided that no child should touch another child for any reason. We also played flag football which more often than not turned into tackling from behind. I do not remember any of us ever getting hurt but when we returned to the classroom a lot of our extra energy had been expended. But today’s overly protective atmosphere does not allow for this.

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Today’s students are being taught concepts, particularly in math, which were usually not introduced until high school when I was in school. While I can see the benefit of an earlier introduction, it is sometimes put-upon children who are too young to understand these concepts and so they fail.

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These educators, who I suspect all reside in college academics, have built a model that does not allow for the greatest chance of success at a particular grade level. Students fall behind and fail because this teaching model has failed to introduce the student to certain fundamental aspects of education. First, and foremost, students are not taught how to study. And by this I meant, at some point, possibly the third or fourth grade, a full year class in who to read effectively, how to study effectively and how to write effectively, be taught. Students are taught how to read and write, but that knowledge is never intertwined with how to study.

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Finally, it is my belief that all school systems be required to have a state certified social worker at each school. The social worker would not be answerable to the school’s principal, but to the city’s mayor or town’s manager. Their being independent from the school system, and that being understood by all students, might greatly help students who are struggling with bullying, bad home life and trauma. Such a person could easily have a great effect, a positive effect, on a student’s success.

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In recent years school systems have come under fire for failing their students. To some degree this is certainly true. But to a much greater degree it is the parents and state education administrators who are actually failing our students. This can all be resolved via parental involvement in a school system’s doctrine. Through Parent Teacher Organizations, parents can take control of how their child are taught and what they do in the schools. Communities must come together with educators. They must look closely at the students who are failing or those who are underachieving and find a course that will address those students’ needs.

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It is not our schools that are failing us, it is we who are failing our schools.