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Many ways to express thanks

In the spirit of being thankful, the following is a poem by American poet E.E. Cummings. The poem can be found in his book Xaipe: Seventy-One Poems.


i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)


how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any-lifted from the no

of all nothing-human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)



posted in Poetry | 0 Comments

Holiday events in Lowell start Saturday

Forget ‘Black Friday’, the best way to kick-off the holiday season is tomorrow, Saturday, in downtown Lowell! Augmenting the annual City of Lights Parade, which starts at Jackson Street at 4:30 pm and proceeds to City Hall, is a new Holiday Art Stroll, from noon to 4:00 pm. While visiting participating shops, galleries, museums and restaurants you will enjoy holiday street performers and have the chance to vote for the best hot chocolate in town. I like to do my holiday shopping in Lowell and one of my favorite places to find unique gifts is the Brush Art Gallery. On Saturday they will have jazz and a cookie contest. After the parade, photos with Santa at City Hall are an option for families, then head over to St. Anne’s for a holiday choral concert. For more information on all the events, visit the COOL website.

posted in Art, City Life | 0 Comments

No bailout for the arts

Last Sunday was an unusually theatrical day for me. First, I attended a production of Once Upon a Mattress at the Peacock Players in Nashua with two 12-year-olds who thoroughly enjoyed the performance. (I did too.) That evening, my husband and I attended opening night of Skylight at Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT). This is our second year as season ticket holders, which despite my initial concern regarding conflicting schedules, has turned out to be a wonderful investment in Date Night and the immediacy of live theatre. Both events that day included fund-raising pitches to the audience. In MRT’s case, Artistic Director Charles Towers spoke about how difficult financial times were at the theatre lately. With state funding cut 75% this season (from $100,000 to $25,000) and no government bailout on the horizon, the theatre must turn to the community for its continued existence. The reality is, those who value live theatre must support it. That means attending shows and contributing to the cause—especially during tough economic times. Unfortunately theatre, like other arts and non-profit groups that vitally enrich our community, will never be on the short list for bailouts—unless we do the bailing ourselves.

posted in Art, Local Groups, Money Matters, Theater | 0 Comments

Fears of grassroots dormancy

The first time I saw Barack Obama was at a rally for Deval Patrick in Boston. I was in the pit about 10 feet away waving a Patrick sign. The oratory that night was amazing as was the energy in the room and the feeling of momentum, the feeling that victory in November was possible. I first met Deval Patrick at the Brewed Awakening coffeehouse on a cold winter night with about 20 other people, when he seemed very much a long shot. In June of that year, when he won the democratic nomination and gave his stirring acceptance speech, the convention center in Worcester was a sea of blue signs and the cheers were deafening. The Obama campaign had the same message of hope and change and the same feel of the grassroots building momentum and becoming an unstoppable force. I’m thrilled with this victory and feel that we dodged a disaster in that Obama turned out to be, contrary to the beliefs of many, very much electable, yet I hope he is able to harness the powers that put him there and to deliver on the promise of change.

Okay, to get to the point: the parallels in the Patrick and Obama campaigns have me worried. Truth to tell, there isn’t that much change in Massachusetts since Patrick was elected governor; of course, things haven’t gotten worse either. I’m not sure what I expected though, governing is much harder than campaigning and the entrenched powers on the Hill seem to make it difficult to make much progress. I think the trouble with the grassroots method, powerful and empowering as it is, is that once the campaign is over, the grassroots go dormant so to speak. People return to their lives and stop paying a lot of attention (at least that’s what I do). George Packer, in a recent New Yorker article, sums up my fears. He quotes Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected in 1932, who says that “all our great Presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.” He listed the “transformative Presidents” as Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson and Grover Cleveland. I think today we might eliminate Cleveland, but certainly FDR would make the list. There seems to be some consensus that Obama could be such a President. However, toward the end of the article Packer says:

Obama, in order to break through the inherent constraints of Washington, will need, above all, a mobilized public beyond Washington. Transformative Presidents—those who changed the country’s sense of itself in some fundamental way—have usually had great social movements supporting and pushing them. Lincoln had the abolitionists, Roosevelt the labor unions, Johnson the civil-rights leaders, Reagan the conservative movement. Clinton didn’t have one, and after his election, Reich said, “everyone went home.”

From what I can tell, the bloggers aren’t going home, but the movement is by nature diffuse, broad-based and unfocused – that is a strength. Whether the grassroots can help with governing remains to be seen.

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Politics, history, life and luck

I was lucky enough to go to Prague last month (tagged along on a business trip). The city has a magical, melancholy beauty, built (like Rome as our tour guide pointed out) on seven hills around the winding Vltava River. Coming so quickly on the heels of the presidential election, I thought a lot about politics while visiting some of the major sites. In the Jewish quarter, one can learn of the oppression and fluctuating fortunes, often depending upon who was Emperor, of Czech Jews from the 10th century on up to the horrors of World War II. (Particularly moving is the exhibit of children’s artwork from the Terezin Concentration Camp). The Czech people themselves, being central to Europe, have been caught in a kind of crossroads between differing ideologies for centuries (on a map of Central Europe, Germany looks like a mouth about to devour the Western, Bohemian, half of the country). Protestant reform movements were shutdown by the Hapsburgs in 1620, leading to a dark age of religious intolerance as well as the oppression of Czech language and nationalism. The 20th century saw the betrayal of the Czech people by the West as Germany was permitted to invade and occupy the country, succeeded in 1948 by the Communist coup d’etat and 40 years of totalitarian government. We were there very close to the November 17 anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, when Wenceslas Square filled with peaceful demonstrators. They were waiting for the tanks that never came until at last the playwright Vaclav Havel appeared on a balcony to announce the end of the Communist regime. The horrors of that and other insults to the human spirit is summed up in the haunting Memorial to the Victims of Communist Oppression by Czech sculptor, Olbram Zoubek. The series of statues placed on steeply slanted steps depict a paralyzed and slowly disintegrating human figure.

Even in these uncertain times, one should pause to reflect on the sheer good luck of having been born in this country.

posted in Travel | 2 Comments

Lowell amendment approved by state association

If you saw Wednesday’s Lowell School Committee meeting (top issues: sex ed and special ed—watch for later post on this), you may have noticed my absence. I am currently at the Mass. Assoc. of School Committees (MASC) joint conference with the Mass. Assoc. of School Superintendents (MASS) in Hyannis. As the representative from the Lowell School Committee, I presented an amendment to the MASC delegation, which represents members from 99% of the 391 school districts across the state. The amendment, which passed resoundingly, involves special education student assignments and could save Lowell about a half million dollars in out-of-district tuition if made law. Now that the amendment has passed MASC, it will become part of four resolutions the association will bring forward to the state legislature. Although the other resolutions make sense and are important, they all require additional funding from the state. The Lowell proposal will NOT cost the state additional money, but will give local districts that must pay the bill, a say in where our children are educated when taken into DSS care.  (Currently school systems do not have a voice in determining if a student can remain in a public day school when placed in a residential facility by the Department of Children and Family Services, which burdens the district with paying private day school tuition and is disruptive, as well as limiting to the children involved.) As we all face difficult economic times, it is vital that the state repeal regulations that add unnecessary costs to local districts, particularly those with questionable benefits to students. This is a step in that direction.

posted in Education, Money Matters, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Recession Depression

Have you heard this one?

A recession is when a neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours.”

Ha, ha. Very funny. Last night at a meeting I heard that we are now “officially in a recession.” I know they call Economics a (dismal) science, but it seems more subjective than that. Some economists are saying that the recession actually started in December 2007; a quick google will give you stories about the recession from last January, March and April. Two consecutive quarters of declining GDP is the standard definition of a recession, but that doesn’t take into account (rising) unemployment rates and (falling) consumer confidence. And lest you feel that at least a recession is better than a depression, know that a depression is simply a really bad recession, and we probably won’t know we’re in it until we’re out of it.

I don’t know about you, but my my head is spinning between inflation, stagflation and now the dreaded deflation. (Deflation means prices are falling, but apparently that’s NOT good news, as witness yesterday’s plummet in stock prices). After years of being chided as big spenders and bad savers, it is now apparently the scared-to-spend consumer who is undermining the economy. How to make sense of all this, or should we even try? As the NYT blog, Econimix, explains, the spector of Japan’s “lost decade” (the 1990s) looms:

A banking crisis led to a tight credit market, which was dragging down the economy. In response, the Bank of Japan lowered interest rates to zero. Still, banks refused to lend. “Prices for pretty much everything declined, following a bust in the real estate and stock markets…” wrote Bill Powell in a recent article for Time magazine. “The country entered a decade of stagnation.”

Now, that’s depressing.

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Agreeing with Mitt

It feels strange to be agreeing with Mitt Romney, but I have to second his opinion (in yesterday’s New York Times) that Congress should not bail out the Auto Industry. First, you have the ludicrous example of the three top Execs from Ford, GM and Chrysler all flying to Washington in their (separate) private jets. Representative Gary Ackerman (D. NY) is being quoted all over the web today with his witty comments, the clever analogy to a guy in a soup kitchen wearing a tuxedo as well as:

“Couldn’t you have downgraded to first class or something, or jet-pooled or something to get here?” Ackerman asked the executives at a hearing held by the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D. California) also chided the industry execs, but added:

“I also, though, must recognize that you’re in trouble mostly because of the economic downturn.”

I think it’s more than that. Romney calls for a total restructuring of the way the auto industry does business, something that a managed bankruptcy process would make possible. He calls for a collaboration between labor and management to end “the huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands” as well as “accepting sanity in salaries and perks.” In The Economist last week, they agree that Chapter 11 is the solution:

The United States created Chapter 11 precisely to help companies that need protection from their creditors while they restructure their liabilities and winnow out the good business from the bad….The stigma of Chapter 11 (held up by the industry as poison for their business) would fade, obscured by price cuts, advertising and most of all news that the car companies were tackling their remaining problems…In many ways, Chapter 11 is more stable and predictable than depending upon the government.”

posted in National issues, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Forum short on attendees and solutions

I was disappointed by the low turnout at the third annual Mary Bacigalupo Educational Forum last Saturday. The subject, however, “The Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education,” was compelling and important regardless of the empty seats. Dr. Henry Levin of Columbia University explained the costs on the individual and society associated with high school dropouts. For some details, see this Sun article, or to view a replay of the forum, check with LTC (it won’t air until late December). You may also get direct information on Dr. Levin’s work here.

Prior to the forum, I didn’t know exactly what society pays for an individual’s inadequate education, but I knew it was high and that it impacted all of us. The most compelling moment at the forum occurred when an audience member asked how we improve education amid consistent fiscal shortages. Mayor Caulfield answered that we tighten our belts. He also reminded folks that Lowell relies heavily on state funding (we all know about the state’s fiscal crisis). Lowell Supt. Chris Scott added that we look for ways to improve programs that enable us to lower spending, such as reducing special education costs by paying less in out-of-district tuition. These points are valid, but the real answer to that difficult question is you cannot do a better job of educating your students without the necessary resources. Each year, we look to teach children more efficiently and effectively, to meet escalating student needs with reduced services, and to make it known that excellent schools are a vital investment in our community. As Dr. Levin’s report showed, the economic consequences of an inadequate education are costly. Actual solutions to an excellent education, however, were lacking. How do we engage students and parents? How do we educate the whole child when testing is the primary focus? And how do we provide a 21st century education with dwindling resources? Perhaps those questions are too complex and uncomfortable to answer at a community forum on a Saturday morning. The reality is: As we look for efficiencies, we also have to educate our youngsters better, which in this tough fiscal climate often means fighting for what our children need because good schools are too important and the consequences of not doing so, are too costly.

posted in Education | 0 Comments

3rd Annual Education Forum Saturday

This year’s Mary Bacigalupo Education Forum will be held on Saturday, November 15, 8:30 am – noon, at the Stoklosa School. The topic is “The Social and Economic Costs of Inadequate Education” by Dr. Henry Levin with a panel discussion to follow. The annual forums on education were conceived as a living tribute to Mary Bacigalupo who, before her untimely death in 2001, was involved in many educational and cultural groups in Lowell. She was a driving force behind the revitalization of the Citywide Parent Council and was a friend, mentor and inspiration to many of us who got involved with the schools in the 1990s. She believed strongly that every child could succeed in school given the chance, and that while we start out trying to help our own children, we end up wanting and working for the best for every child in the system.

The first forum, in 2006, with Dr. Jeff Howard of the Efficacy Institute was well-attended and energizing as Dr. Howard challenged us to make the system work for all of our students by having high expectations and using data to figure out which methods are the most effective. Dr. Joyce Epstein was the speaker in 2007, and spoke of how some schools are forging partnerships with families toward specific goals such as student behavior, improved attendance or reading proficiency.

This year’s speaker is a Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University and is the founder and director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. These credentials may set off some alarm bells for those who are against applying free market principals to public education, but his ideas on the subject are more subtle than that. It should be an informative morning! Coffee and refreshments will be served!

posted in Education, Local Groups | 0 Comments

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