Charlie Baker’s aides lied to me

For a few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out which individual public services were effected by Charlie Baker’s unilateral $118M cuts to the state budget. Constituent aides in the Governor’s office have told me repeatedly and explicitly that the details of what Charlie Baker cut from the budget are not available for public circulation.

More recently, however, I used a public records request to get the complete list. (Check them out for yourself!) Unfortunately, there are still $64M worth of cuts missing from that list that I need to investigate. Worse, still, that means that Charlie Baker’s aides lied to me: the list is, indeed, available for public circulation. Last Wednesday, I called to ask why multiple people in the Governor’s office told me that I could not get the details of Charlie Baker’s budget cuts.

When I called, I spoke with John Tapley, constituent affairs director. You might remember John from when I called to ask about Charlie Baker’s position on Jeff Sessions. (Which, by the way, I still don’t know.) You might also remember that John Tapley would not wish me a happy Rosa Parks Day.

My conversion with John this time went something like this:

Hi! How are you? And happy new year! Who am I speaking with?

Hi, John. I called late last year to request a list of the 9C budget cuts that Governor Baker made by earmark. I was able to obtain a copy of it by a public records request. I was told by people in this office that it was not available for public circulation, can you tell me why I was told that?

John Tapley, who until this point sounded quite delighted to have had someone wish him a happy new year, turned sour. The pace of his voice hastened and its tone bristled.

“I don’t know who would’ve told you that,” he blurted.

“Nick did,” I interjected. Nick called me back on December 30 to tell me that the official position in the Governor’s office was that the public could not have access to the details of the cuts in public funds to public services. I forgot in the moment that John had told me the same thing when I spoked with him a day earlier, on December 29.

“Well, I don’t know why Nick would’ve told you that,” John answer. “Anyway, you have what you were looking for so you should consider the request complete.” He tried to scuttle me off the phone without an answer.

I squeezed in another word before he could hang up, “But I have another request!”

Is Governor Baker dedicated to transparency in state government?

“Yes, of course,” John replied. His voice was calmer again.

To show that Charlie Baker is dedicated to government transparency, will the Governor post the complete list of 9C budget cuts by earmark on his website with the other FY17 budget savings documents? The list of earmarks makes it much easier for the public to understand which services have been effected by his cuts.

John Tapley said that he’d pass on the concern. I want a yes/no answer to my request, so I continued.

And if the Governor refuses to post the list by earmarks on his website, I’d like to know why not.

At this point John was upset again. His pace quickened, and his answers got shorter and shorter.

“I will pass on the request,” he said.
“To whom?” I asked.
“We do not give out the identity of government employees,” he answered.
“Well, then can you give me the title of the person who will make this decision, please?” I asked.
John answered, “The director of legislative affairs.”
“Ah, Ryan Coleman,” I interjected.
John walked back his response, “Well, he might not be involved in the decision.”

“Can you call me back with the decision once someone in legislative affairs makes it?” I asked.

John Tapley refused to take my contact information and he refused call me back. Every other time I have spoken with someone in constituent affairs, the aide asked me for my contact information. I never had to offer it. Tapley broke the mold.

“No, you’ll just have to call back,” he huffed.

He hung up with me without saying good bye.

Call to ask Charlie Baker to stop hiding the details of his budget cuts from the People of Massachusetts

Are you confused why the Governor won’t make it easier for people to understand how he’s using your money? Call Charlie Baker’s office at (617) 725-4005 and ask him to post the details!

Here’s a script you can use:

Hi, my name is Joshua Reyes and I live in Cambridge, MA. Who am I speaking with?

Hi, John! How are you today?

Is the Charlie Baker dedicated to transparency in his administration? Having a list of budget cuts by earmark would make it easier for me and everyone else in Massachusetts to understand which individual public services were effected by the Governor’s December 9C budget cuts.

Will Charlie Baker post a list of 9C budget cuts by earmark with on the web with the other fiscal year 2017 budget savings documents?

John, will you call me back with his decision? Thank you very much! And have a great day!

Let me know who you speak with and what they say!

Give back what Charlie Baker took away!

This post’s service that Charlie Baker defunded is Aid to Incarcerated Mothers (AIM), a group that empowers mothers to make good choices.

AIM works with women, their children and the institutions that affect them, both inside and outside the prison system. Our goal is to keep families whole, healthy and self-sufficient by providing individual therapy, counseling, psychological assessments, information, referral services, assistance with finding housing, free legal advocacy and training.

Charlie Baker cut $200,000 from Aid to Incarcerated Mothers in December. Learn more about how AIM keeps families in Massachusetts whole and consider volunteering or donating to AIM today!

Charlie Baker’s official and secret budget cuts are off by $64M

Early last December, Charlie Baker pushed through $118M dollars in cuts in services across the entire state on his own, side-stepping the state legislature and the people of Massachusetts. The governor’s office grouped the budget cuts into large, vague categories that make it impossible to know which services in your town were actually cut. For example, Charlie Baker took away $6.5 million from the state police—but what exactly will go? I wanted to know.

So I called the governor’s office and asked for the details of his budget cuts. His aides have repeatedly told me that Charlie Baker does not want the public to know the details of his budget cuts. According to the governor’s office, the specifics of Charlie Baker’s budget cuts are not available for public circulation. Charlie Baker is hiding information about public money to pay for public services from the people of Massachusetts.

I have asked Charlie Baker’s office why the public cannot know the details of his budget cuts. In the meantime, I found a list of the cuts split into earmarks for individual services. Charlie Baker is cutting services to mothers in prison, hungry children, people seeking job training, fisherman, gay people, the elderly, people struggling with drug addiction, nature-lovers, and anyone who has ever been sick. I compared the numbers between the official cuts from Baker’s office and the secret earmark list that he is hiding from the public. Even at fifteen pages, this secret list of budget cuts is incomplete.

Please call Charlie Baker’s office (617) 725-4005 and ask for the details of the budget cuts yourself! Here’s a script you can use:

Happy New Year! My name is Joshua Reyes and I live in Cambridge, MA. I’m curious about cuts to the state budget.

The official line item account of Charlie Baker’s 9C budget cuts make it impossible to tell which individual services have been cut. I’d like to have a copy of Charlie Baker’s 9C budget cuts to the financial year 2017 budget listed by individual earmark to see which programs in my city were cut.

How can I get a copy of it? Thank you and have a good day!

If they tell you that the earmarks are not available to the public, ask them, “Why are the details of slashes to public services in the public budget a secret from the public?”

For your convenience, I’ve gathered all the documents I have so far in one place. Have a look for yourself!

For some reason everyone keeps reporting that the budget cuts are $98M. The official report clearly shows Charlie Baker slashed the budget by $118.5M. (The press missed more than twenty million dollars!) Even with the secret list of each of the earmarks I still cannot account for $64M in budget cuts!

So you can see what is missing, here is a comparison of the official and secret lists of budget cuts:

Account Account Name Official Reduction Secret Earmark Totals Discrepancy between Official and Secret
1100-1100 Office of the Secretary of Administration and Finance(1CS) $46,433 $46,433
1100-1700 Administration and Finance IT Costs(1CS) $153,366 $153,366
1102-3199 Office of Facilities Management(1CS) $129,817 $129,817
1102-3205 State Office Building Rents Retained Revenue(1RN) $200,000 $200,000
1102-3309 Bureau of the State House(1CS) $38,919 $38,919
1108-5100 Group Insurance Commission (1CS) $162,719 $162,719
1201-0100 Department of Revenue (1CS) $952,870 $952,870
1201-0122 Low Income Tax Clinics(1CS) $100,000 $100,000
1231-1000 For the Rate Relief Component of the (1CS) $600,000 $600,000
1232-0100 Underground Storage Tank Reimbursements(1CS) $3,000,000 $3,000,000
1232-0200 Underground Storage Tank Administrative Review Board (1CS) $18,984 $18,984
1310-1000 Appellate Tax Board(1CS) $34,053 $34,053
1599-0026 Municipal Regionalization and Efficiencies Incentive Reserve (1CS) $5,200,000 $5,200,000
1599-2003 Uniform Law Commission(1CN) $70,000 $70,000
1599-2014 Victim Reserve(1CN) $250,000 $250,000
1750-0100 Human Resources Division (1CS) $120,000 $120,000
1750-0300 State Contribution to Union Dental and Vision Insurance (1CS) $190,000 $190,000
1775-0115 Statewide Contract Fee (1RS) $200,295 $200,295
2000-0100 Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Admin(1CS) $407,861 $150,000 $257,861
2030-1000 Environmental Law Enforcement (1CS) $453,633 $453,633
2200-0100 Department of Environmental Protection Administration (1CS) $632,000 $235,000 $397,000
2200-0107 Recycling and Solid Waste Master Plan Operations (1CS) $50,000 $50,000
2260-8870 Hazardous Waste Cleanup Program (1CS) $83,000 $83,000
2300-0101 Riverways Protection Restoration and Public Access Promotion (1CS) $127,000 $127,000
2310-0300 Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program(1CS) $100,000 $100,000
2330-0100 Division of Marine Fisheries Administration (1CS) $343,221 $300,000 $43,221
2511-0100 Department of Agricultural Resources Administration(1CS) $150,000 $150,000
2511-0105 Emergency Food Assistance Program (1CS) $665,000 $165,000 $500,000
2800-0401 Stormwater Management (1CS) $50,000 $50,000
2800-0500 Beach Preservation (1CN) $300,000 $200,000 $100,000
2800-0501 DCR Seasonals (1CS) $434,500 $434,500
2800-0700 Office of Dam Safety (1CS) $75,000 $25,000 $50,000
2810-0100 State Parks and Recreation (1CS) $5,383,588 $4,013,000 $1,370,588
3000-1000 Department of Early Education and Care Administration (1CS) $25,000 $25,000
3000-7020 Multi-Generational Anti-Poverty Pilot(1CS) $100,000 $100,000
3000-7070 Reach Out and Read (1CS) $1,000,000 $1,000,000
4000-0005 Safe and Successful Youth Initiative(1CS) $60,000 $60,000
4000-0014 Edward M Kennedy Community Health Center(1CS) $100,000 $100,000
4000-0051 Family Resource Centers(1CS) $500,000 $500,000
4000-0300 EOHHS and MassHealth Administration(1CS) $525,000 $7,925,000 $7,400,000
4000-0600 MassHealth Senior Care(1CS) $6,350,000 $6,350,000
4000-0640 MassHealth Nursing Home Supplemental Rates(1CS) $2,800,000 $2,800,000
4000-0700 MassHealth Fee for Service Payments(1CS) $26,000,000 $1,250,000 $24,750,000
4110-1000 Community Services for the Blind(1CS) $175,000 $175,000
4110-2000 Turning 22 Program and Services(1CS) $140,000 $140,000
4120-2000 Vocational Rehabilitation for the Disabled (1CS) $165,248 $165,248
4120-4002 Living Independently for Equality Brockton(1CS) $30,000 $30,000
4125-0100 Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (1CS) $200,000 $200,000
4200-0300 Residential Services for Committed Population (1CS) $660,000 $660,000
4400-1000 Dept of Transitional Assistance Administration & Operation(1CS) $1,541,228 $1,541,228
4400-1100 Caseworkers Reserve(1CS) $20,000 $20,000
4401-1000 Employment Services Program(1CS) $75,000 $75,000
4403-2007 Supplemental Nutritional Program (1CS) $500,000 $500,000
4405-2000 State Supplement to Supplemental Security Income (1CS) $922,323 $922,323
4510-0110 Community Health Center Services (1CS) $275,000 $275,000
4510-0112 Postpartum Depression Pilot Program(1CS) $200,000 $200,000
4510-0600 Environmental Health Assessment and Compliance (1CS) $100,000 $100,000
4510-0710 Division of Health Care Quality and Improvement (1CS) $50,000 $50,000
4510-0716 Academic Detailing Program (1CS) $150,000 $150,000
4510-0721 Board of Registration in Nursing (1CS) $63,699 $63,699
4510-3010 Down Syndrome Clinic (1CS) $150,000 $150,000
4512-0103 HIV/AIDS Prevention Treatment and Services (1CS) $917,485 $917,485
4512-0200 Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (1CS) $1,929,000 $1,929,000
4512-0225 Compulsive Behavior Treatment Program Retained Revenue(1RN) $500,000 $500,000
4512-0500 Dental Health Services (1CS) $550,000 $550,000
4513-1000 Family Health Services (1CS) $181,802 $181,802
4513-1026 Suicide Prevention and Intervention Program (1CS) $50,000 $50,000
4513-1027 Samaratins Inc Suicide Prevention Services(1CS) $400,000 $400,000
4513-1098 Services to Survivors of Homicide Victims(1CS) $100,000 $100,000
4513-1111 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (1CS) $330,000 $330,000
4513-1121 Stop Stroke Program(1CS) $630,000 $630,000
4513-1130 Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment (1CS) $185,000 $185,000
4513-1131 Healthy Relationships Grant Program (1CS) $150,000 $150,000
4530-9000 Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Services (1CS) $150,000 $150,000
4590-0081 Public Health Evaluation Grants(1CS) $250,000 $250,000
4590-0250 School-Based Health Programs (1CS) $225,000 $225,000
4590-0915 Public Health Hospitals (1CS) $1,159,023 $150,000 $1,009,023
4590-0925 Prostate Cancer Research(1CS) $300,000 $300,000
4590-1503 Pediatric Palliative Care (1CS) $400,000 $400,000
4590-1507 Youth At-Risk Matching Grants (1CS) $539,000 $539,000
5911-1003 DDS Service Coordination and Administration(1CS) $175,000 $175,000
5920-3000 Respite Family Supports for the Developmentally Disabled (1CS) $107,000 $107,000
5920-3025 Aging with Developmental Disabilities(1CS) $150,000 $150,000
7002-0010 Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (1CS) $407,000 $350,000 $57,000
7002-0012 Summer Jobs Program for At Risk Youth(1CS) $150,000 $150,000
7002-0020 Workforce Development Grant(1CS) $175,000 $175,000
7002-0032 Massachusetts Technology Collaborative(1CS) $500,000 $500,000
7002-1075 Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund(1CS) $500,000 $500,000
7002-1502 Transformative Development Fund(1CS) $500,000 $500,000
7002-1508 Mass Tech Collaborative Tech and Innovation Entrepre(1CS) $1,500,000 $1,500,000
7002-1512 Big Data Innovation and Workforce Fund (1CS) $2,000,000 $2,000,000
7002-1593 Digital Health Internship Incentive Fund(1CS) $100,000 $100,000
7003-0100 Office of the Secretary EOLWD Administration(1CS) $121,120 $75,000 $46,120
7003-0606 Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership(1CS) $2,000,000 $2,000,000
7003-0803 One Stop Career Centers(1CS) $262,400 $25,000 $237,400
7003-0902 Joint Labor Management Committee for Municipal Po(1CS) $125,000 $125,000
7003-1206 Massachusetts Service Alliance (1CS) $2,340,000 $2,340,000
7004-0099 Dept of Housing and Community Development Admin(1CS) $1,285,000 $1,285,000
7004-0100 Operation of Homeless Programs (1CS) $184,790 $184,790
7004-0101 Emergency Assistance Family Shelters and Services(1CS) $400,000 $400,000
7004-0102 Homeless Individuals Assistance (1CS) $650,000 $650,000
7004-3036 Housing Services and Counseling (1CS) $500,000 $150,000 $350,000
7004-9005 Subsidies to Public Housing Authorities (1CS) $500,000 $500,000
7004-9024 Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (1CS) $2,416,109 $2,416,109
7006-0040 Division of Professional Licensure (1CS) $248,000 $248,000
7007-0300 Massachusetts Office of Business Development (1CS) $62,000 $62,000
7007-0800 Small Business Development Center at UMass(1CS) $200,000 $200,000
7007-0952 Commonwealth Zoological Corporation(1CS) $100,000 $100,000
7007-1202 Mass Tech Collaborative – Computer Science Education Promoti (1CS) $1,700,000 $1,700,000
7008-0900 Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism(1CS) $7,647,000 $7,620,000 $27,000
7009-1700 Education Information Technology Costs(1CS) $300,000 $300,000
7009-6400 Programs for English Language Learners in Gateway Cities(1CS) $1,000,000 $1,000,000
7009-9600 Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment(1CS) $250,000 $250,000
7010-0005 Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (1CS) $1,878,844 $1,878,844
7010-0020 Bay State Reading Institute(1CN) $266,667 $266,667
7010-0033 Literacy Programs(1CS) $580,000 $580,000
7027-0019 School to Career Connecting Activities(1CS) $400,000 $400,000
7035-0002 Adult Basic Education (1CS) $644,444 $299,444 $345,000
7053-1925 School Breakfast Program (1CS) $250,000 $250,000
7061-0033 Public School Military Mitigation (1CS) $100,000 $100,000
7061-9011 Innovation Schools(1CS) $350,000 $200,000 $150,000
7061-9401 Assessment Consortium(1CS) $350,000 $350,000
7061-9406 Statewide College and Career Readiness Program(1CS) $466,666 $466,666
7061-9408 Targeted Intervention(1CS) $300,000 $300,000
7061-9611 After-School and Out-of-School Grants (1CS) $714,999 $714,999
8000-0105 Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (1CS) $30,000 $30,000
8000-0110 Criminal Justice Information Services(1CS) $35,000 $35,000
8000-0600 Executive Office of Public Safety(1CS) $1,690,900 $1,690,900
8000-1001 Boston Regional Counter Terrorism Intelligence Center(1CS) $750,000 $750,000
8000-1700 Public Safety Information Technology Costs(1CS) $150,000 $150,000
8100-1001 Department of State Police (1CS) $6,458,001 $765,562 $5,692,439
8100-1004 State Police Crime Laboratory(1CS) $324,100 $324,100
8200-0200 Municipal Police Training Committee (1CS) $100,632 $50,000 $50,632
8311-1000 Department of Public Safety and Inspections (1CS) $31,922 $31,922
8700-0001 Military Division (1CS) $58,290 $58,290
8700-1150 National Guard Tuition and Fee Waivers (1CS) $30,000 $30,000
8900-0001 Department of Correction Facility Operations(1CS) $368,000 $368,000
9110-1455 Prescription Advantage (1CS) $400,000 $400,000
9110-1630 Elder Home Care Purchased Services(1CS) $10,000 $10,000
9110-9002 Grants to Councils on Aging (1CS) $702,000 $702,000
Totals $118,541,951 $54,555,841 $63,986,110

Happy birthday, Cambridge (née Newtowne)!


From Site for Cambridge Selected on Mass Moments:

On this day in 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony proprietors chose a site along the northern bank of the Charles River for their capital. They named it Newtowne, and laid out an orderly grid of streets fortified by a wooden palisade. It was the first planned town in English North America. Six years later, the colony’s first college was established in Newtowne. In honor of the English university town, Newtowne was renamed Cambridge. Contemporary William Wood noted “this is one of the neatest…towns in New England, having many fair structures with many handsome…seats.” Despite its well-ordered appearance, Cambridge did not remain the colony’s capital. In 1638 the General Court settled five miles downstream, in the neighboring town of Boston.

Happy birthday to me!

Today is my birthday. And I want gifts! Lots of them. But first, a little about me, as I reflect on another year.

At 34, I still believe in the power of American democracy—that our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. And for my birthday I have rededicated myself so that under my watch it shall not perish from the earth.

So what do I want for my birthday? I want you to participate in this great experiment we call American democracy. Specifically, please call your congressional representative and two senators to ask them to investigate Trump’s conflicts of interest between his businesses and foreign governments.

Here’s a script for you to use when you call:

Hi, how are you today?

My name is Joshua Reyes and I live in Cambridge, MA. I’m calling because I’m worried that Trump’s conflicts of interest between his businesses with foreign governments puts the American people in danger.

As the head of the Trump Organization, the incoming president has financial interests in hundreds of companies, spread over at least 20 countries. He also has many outstanding debts. His exact assets and debts are not known because he has refused to release tax records.1

I want Trump to make the best deals for America, but I am afraid he will make the best deals for himself. Will Senator Markey hold a Congressional investigation into Trump’s conflicts of interests?

Thank you and have a good day!

Question: Who can settle questions about Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest?
Answer: Congress.

Question: And who can get Congress to do it?
Answer: You! You are the boss of Congress!

So for my birthday, I want you to call Congress. I want you to make America great again with me! And let me know if you do!

For my family, here’s a list of numbers to make it easy for you to call:

State Member of Congress Number
AZ Rep. Trent Franks (623) 776-7911
AZ Sen. Jeff Flake (602) 840-1891
AZ Sen. John McCain (602) 952-2410
CA Rep. Jared Huffman (707) 981-8967
CA Sen. Barbara Boxer (510) 286-8537
CA Sen. Diane Feinstein (415) 393-0707
MA Rep. Katherine Clark (617) 354-0292
MA Rep. Mike Capuano (617) 621-6208
MA Sen. Ed Markey (617) 565-8519
MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren (617) 565-3170
MO Rep. Billy Long (417) 889-1800
MO Sen. Roy Blunt (417) 877-7814
MO Sen. Claire McCaskill (417) 868-8745
NH Rep. Ann Custer (603) 595-2006
NH Sen. Kelly Ayotte (603) 622-7979
NH Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (603) 750-3004

Help Harvard protect freedom of association. Write your professors

Earlier this year, Harvard instituted some very well-meaning but misguided sanctions of students who participate in single-gender social organizations. The sanctions have been marketed as promoting inclusivity, which is a pretty-sounding word. Who is against inclusivity, after all? But the way they achieve it is by coercion and restriction of thought and association. Harvard plans to discriminate against students based on who they choose to hang out with. Discrimination is not inclusion.

This policy reminds me of a joke about post-Nazi Germany. It goes something like this. After the War, Germany was trying to heal. As a matter of unifying its citizenry, there was a great campaign to encourage tolerance among the varying and fractured subpopulations within the country. Government officials went around explaining town-to-town, “You must be tolerant. If you are not tolerant, we will compel you to be tolerant.” End joke.

These sanctions are a thinly-veiled attempt to undermine final clubs. Before I go on, let me very clear: I was not a member of any final club as a student. I am not currently affiliated with a final club. I have several close friends and former students who were sexually assaulted at final clubs. And I do not support final clubs as an institution. And I cannot believe that the administration is making me defend their existence. In fact, I’m angry about it.

But I want to know, what problem are the sanctions a solution to? The administration has already said that it plans to apply the sanctions inconsistently. According to the Crimson:

According to an email from the Seneca’s undergraduate officers to Seneca members obtained by The Crimson, Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich assured the Seneca at a May meeting that if the group removed gender requirements from its charter and bylaws, the club “could continue to operate as it always has.”

Although the Seneca will continue to only invite women to their first recruitment event of the semester, men will be allowed to attend the event without an invitation and participate in the subsequent parts of the selection process should they wish, said undergraduate co-president president Avni Nahar ’17 in an interview.

“Like Women in Business or Latinas Unidas, although men may apply, our membership can be made up wholly of women without incurring the sanctions of the administration’s new policy,” Nahar and co-president Fran F. Swanson ’17 wrote in the email, according to a copy obtained by The Crimson.

So the sanctions cannot be about combating elitism or exclusivity. So what does the administration intend by these sanctions? Just to use large, centralized power to punish people they disagree with. When I was a student at Harvard, I learned not to take away freedom of thought and association simply because I don’t like someone or who they hang out with, no matter how reprehensible I find them. Harvard should not discriminate on the basis of the organization students choose to join. Harvard’s new and bizarre brand of inclusion is based on suppressing and removing the parts it doesn’t find convenient. It is not, in a word, inclusive. And these sanctions do nothing to address the very real and very grave issue of sexual violence on campus.

As a resident tutor in Quincy House, I learned the all too grim reality that sexual violence is not confined to final clubs. It happens everywhere, including in the Houses. Sexual violence transcends group and team affiliation, race, gender, age, position, religion, or creed. Sexual violence is a rank and insidious social ill that plagues our campus. Instead of curtailing freedom of association on campus, I wish the faculty would draft courageous and targeted policies that address the real problem: sexual violence.

Fortunately, there is a motion to protect students’ right to free association on campus before the faculty right now. Members of the Faculty of Arts and Science will vote next Tuesday, December 6, on the motion. I have written to faculty I know to urge them to support the motion.

Here is a letter I sent to Howard Georgi, the Residential Faculty Dean (formerly called House Master) at Leverett House:

Dear Chief,

Since the election, I’ve rededicated myself to the people, institutions, and values that are important to me. Because Harvard is important to me, I’m writing to ask you to vote in favor of the motion before the faculty next week to protect students’ freedom of association. Harvard should not discriminate on the basis of group affiliation.

First, I want you to know that I was not in a final club as an undergraduate. And I have close friends who were sexually assaulted in final clubs during my time at the College. I do not support final clubs as an institution.

But I also have friends and former students who were sexually assaulted on campus in the Houses. Sexual violence at Harvard is a very real and grave problem. And I am in favor of policies that will protect students from sexual assault.

The sanctions against the final clubs are well-meaning, but an answer to a different question. It does not tackle the challenging and important problem of sexual assault on campus. Instead, the sanctions have been marketed as a way of embracing inclusivity. But it is an inclusivity by coercion and restriction of association and thoughts, which is no inclusivity at all. I do not want to punish people simply because they hang out with people I do not know or necessarily like. That’s not what the Core education taught me.

I hope you will help the administration abandon the current sanctions and draft new policies that tackle the problem directly: sexual violence on campus.

Will you support the motion next week?

Thanks for your time and your support of the House system.
All the best,

If you know someone on the Faculty, please send them a similar note to support the motion to protect students’ freedom of association.

I really cannot believe President Faust and Dean Khurana are making me defend final clubs. Really. Sheesh.

Wiser not wetter

While I’ve been training for the 1000-meter flatwater sprint all week, sadly, all of my workouts have been on land. The rental facility that I use stops issuing kayaks after 6pm this time of year. My work schedule keeps me from Cambridge into the mid-evening and therefore quite dry. I’ve been scheming ways to get onto the water in the early morning or later after I get back home, but until then, I’m bound to the gym. The weekends are another story, however. And to ready myself for tomorrow’s lesson, I returned to the river to practice on my own.

There was a bustle at Paddle Boston when I arrived around 11:30 am. A line emanated from the tent which guards the entrance to the dock where newcomers must sign waiver forms and hand over IDs. Another line wrapped around the small cabin that houses the cash register for paddlers who had just returned. No one looked too wet. And as a matter of course, a third line filled the docks which are already crowded by life jackets, paddles, and boats. Despite all of the people there, very few of them were workers. School is about to start and many of the staff are college students on summer vacation. With September just a few days away, most of the attendants have quit, leaving one exasperated woman to man the boats with only occasional help from her tiny dog.

Initially she told me to hop into a recreational kayak. I felt bad asking for a sea kayak instead; I didn’t want to be trouble. She let out something between a sigh and huff and disappeared for a moment. When she returned, I had a sky blue sea kayak. The fin on the bottom was exposed. She reached for the cord to retract it and mentioned to me, “This is how you pull in the.”

Skeg,” I interrupted to let her know that I was an insider, too.

“Yeah,” she replied. Her pace was a little slower and tone a little warmer than before. “Well, get in. I’ll push you in water from here since there’s such a line.” Trying not to sour my new friendship, I did as she said silently and swiftly. I signalled my readiness with a brief nod.

“Well, aren’t you going to adjust your foot pegs?” she asked. To be honest, I didn’t remember how far down the pegs were supposed to be. During my lesson the week before the instructor had adjusted them for me. My feet were on them. And that seemed right. So, I replied quickly, “They feel good.” What a mistake.

Once I was in the canal, the winds seemed to kick me side to side. The boat tottered beneath me in reponse. My abs clenched. For a moment, I forgot to breathe. And then I began what I could remember of the forward stroke. Toe-to-hip. Turn to the other side. Toe-to-hip. Turn and repeat. Somehow I was more unsure of myself than I was my first time out. The water was less familiar and I was more afraid of falling in. Still, I inched out of the canal.

Now in the open Charles, I suddenly realized that my right foot was up further than my left. And I remembered how I was supposed to sit in the kayak: somewhat frog-legged, with knees pushing on the braces on either side of the hull under the coaming. Damn. My foot pegs were too far down and uneven, and I could already feel my hips straining. I headed upstream under the Longfellow Bridge toward the only landing I could remember, up near the Harvard River Houses and Week’s footbridge, where I could stop to rearrange the pegs.

The entire time, my boat kept lurching to the right. I thought it might be the wind pushing me to one side. The week before, the entire class kept floating to toward the shore as a pack. I put my paddle down to check which direction the currents would take me. To the left! “Ah, so it is me,” I thought. My paddling was so lopsided, it overcame the wind. Every few strokes I paused to right my course. It was those mismatched and misplaced pegs. I picked my knees up higher against the boat. That seemed to help. I looked around at the other craft on the water. Everyone else appeared to be going straight. Then the wind picked up again.

It’s really amazing how low to the water you are in a kayak. Waves that you would never bother to notice from land suddenly command your attention by force. It was hard for me to gauge their size, a few inches, possibly a foot but probably less. But when you’re only three feet above the water, ripples become mountains. After being batted to the side by a small caravan of waves, an old Anglo-Saxon poem the Seafarer popped into my mind. When I discussed it in a waterless meeting room for a college course on Old English poetry years ago, my analysis was sharp. With all the comfort and courage that only cowards could have, I judged the author and his culture as small and afraid. They believed in monsters; I did not. But there, floating alone in my 13-foot boat, all that dross about the grim cold ocean and terrible tossing of the waves and unforgiving gale started to make sense—despite its being a tame New England summer day.

I turned around and headed home, still lurching to the right. This time with help from the wind.

Class is at 8:30 tomorrow morning.

Love that Dirty Water

Today marks the beginning of my Olympic career. This morning I went to Charles River Canoe & Kayak for the first of two introductory lessons on paddling. The class began at 8:30am on one of the small lawns that punctuate the Kendall Square biotech ghetto. There our instructor, Bob, led eight nervous adults through basic kayaking anatomy, including rudimentary rescue techniques.

Before long we were on the docks and in our boats. After a quick adjustment of the foot rests we were in the water practicing our forward strokes, side sweeps, backward sweeps, J-leans, bracing and edging. Our three-hour tour of the canal ended with three water rescues. I demonstrated flipping and re-entry first. Soon enough, I want to learn to roll. (I may need stronger obliques, though.)

With enough practice, hard work, and friendly support, I think I can make my splash in the world of competitive paddling within three years. Dear readers, kindly keep me honest. Look for me on the River again, tomorrow after work but before sunset.

Hell under Earth

Dead Sea bathers

Above: During a trip to visit my family in the mid-west, my aunt bade me watch a Christian documentary on the geography of hell and the history of the End of Days. The film took an archaeological perspective; the kind that unearths incontrovertible, physical evidence that the Bible, and therefore the narrator’s interpretation of it, is true. At one point, the narrator pinpointed seven portals to hell on a map. Thankfully all of gates were under water. Most of them, deep beneath the ocean. The closest to the surface, though, was under the Dead Sea. Being the lowest point on Earth, this was the most likely the first gate to open when the the unholy demon army of hell decided it was finally time to consume the world. I was about eleven, and I had trouble sleeping that night.

Then in February of 2011 I went to the Dead Sea. It was plenty hot, but not quite hellish. The surrounding mountains crumble into coarse, rocky sand. Local agencies import outside sands for the beach, which are deposited regularly by large construction machinery for the bathers. The water is so salty that crystals fall out of solution and form large balls on the sea floor. (They make great souvenirs.) The salt that remains in solution coats your body and makes your skin slick as you bob up and down in the water. Remember not to shave before taking a dip—the small cuts burn. Do not get any water in your eyes. Life guards forbid the use of goggles, as they allow swimmers to be less vigilant.

Despite the inhospitable environs and poor air quality, no one seemed to notice how dangerously near to the doorway of the Prince of the Air we all were. I don’t know why hell’s army would be pick such a terrible, uninhabited place to emerge. If I were in charge, we’d march from somewhere lush and populated. Watch out, Brazil. But again, what do I know about waging war against humanity? [Full size (4.6Mb)]

Water Wizz, Wareham, MA

Above: So, this summer I was much happier to visit Water Wizz in Wareham, MA. It’s my favorite water park on the Cape. As far as I know, it’s well away from large demonic activity. The park itself is small, but not depraved. And the Pirate’s Plunge is super fun! [Full size (4.6Mb)]

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Clean up at Fenway

Above: The Angels slew the Red Sox 11-0, but the score didn’t matter. Fenway is one of America’s great cathedrals. Being inside is always a religious experience for me. And a bad sermon can’t spoil the majesty of a truly sacred place. So, I say, “Take me out to that transcendent ball game. Let me be part of the crowd.”

The great rain divide at Fenway

Above: When the rains came late in the game, the crowd was parted in two: on the right there were those who were dry; on the left, those who loved so much.