Thursday, September 13, 2018

What Just Happened in Northeast Massachusetts [UPDATED]

Dozens of fires and explosions broke out in three small Massachusetts cities tonight. Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover have been evacuated, and power has been cut off to prevent more houses from blowing up. People are injured. Many have lost their homes. And at least one man is dead, because his chimney fell onto his car.

The news isn't talking about causes except to say it was an overpressurized gas line. How did the gas line get overpressurized? How did it get so overpressurized that dozens of separate buildings, across three separate municipalities, actually exploded? No one is willing to say yet, because the obvious culprit is an energy company and speaking too soon might get a paper or TV station sued. The Governor of Massachusetts has gone on TV to say that we can talk about causes after people are back in their homes, which is fair enough as far as it goes. But there's still no timeline for getting people back in their homes.

But it's hard to see a whole lot of other explanations here. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was planning to do some upgrades in the area today, and now all three cities are a disaster area. And the company's enjoying a whole lot of public deference, considering those facts.

I still have friends in that area, because I went to high school in Lawrence. I was actually planning a visit for next week.

For those of you who aren't from the area, Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, with a heavy minority and immigrant population. It's squeezed right up against the very affluent Andover and the more economically mixed North Andover. Lawrence has three times the population of the other two cities, squeezed into a smaller area. It was basically carved out as a separate city for factory workers back when the Merrimack River was a booming industrial belt. The point was that those workers would not share a town with their more affluent neighbors.

Lawrence is more than three-quarters Latinx. It has the lowest per-capita income in Massachusetts. Andover is more than ninety percent white, with a median household income over a hundred and ten thousand a year. And it's the home to an extremely wealthy prep school, Phillips Andover Academy. Phillips Andover is the boarding school where the Bushes went. So somehow this disaster managed to set both a poor city and a rich one on fire.

I'm not going to exaggerate Lawrence's poverty. It's not some fearmongering cable-news fantasy of The Ghetto. It has some perfectly nice middle-class neighborhoods. The school I went to, a regional Catholic school, has a good share of affluent students. But Lawrence definitely did not need this, and it won't be easy for a lot of the people affected to recover. This is a major disaster, and Columbia Gas needs to explain.

[UPDATE: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is now officially the villain here, just because their disaster response has been so un-responsive. The Governor, Republican Charlie Baker, has declared the region a disaster area so he can take cleanup away from Columbia Gas and hand it over to another, more functional, gas company. This happened after Baker and Elizabeth Warren got a tour of Lawrence 1. filled with catastrophic damage and 2. empty of Columbia Gas repair crews. The Mayor of Lawrence denounced Columbia at length, in damning detail, on live TV. So the most likely suspects behind the disaster have been conspicuously unhelpful in fixing their damned mess.]

cross-posted from Dagblog. All comments welcome there, not here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside King Lear's Court

King Lear is facing a test to his monarchy unlike any other faced by a fictitious British monarch. It is not just that he parceled out his kingdom and left himself nothing. Or that the country is bitterly divided between his scheming, ungrateful daughters. Or even that the kingdom may soon be overwhelmed by French invaders.
The tragedy – which he does not fully grasp – is that many of his own followers are working diligently from within to frustrate his goals.
I would know. I am one of them.
To be clear, ours is not the mealy-mouthed “resistance” of Cordelia and her sore-loser followers. We strongly believe in the division of this kingdom into unstable warring duchies. But we believe our first duty is to unchecked, unreasoning monarchical authority, and the King’s continued ravings bring autocratic one-man rule into disrepute. That is why many of his followers have vowed to do what we can to preserve tyrannical feudalism while thwarting King Lear’s more misguided impulses until his o’erburdened heart cracks and can bear no more.
The root of the problem is that the King is outdoors, yelling at clouds. We are not even sure if he knows it’s raining. But whatever he is shouting for us to do, we’re not doing it. We could be hit by lightning out there. If he asks later, we’ll just pretend we don’t understand iambic pentamenter.
Don’t get me wrong.  There are bright spots. Both Regan and Goneril are pretty hot – like, at least eights. We’re all much bigger deals at court than we were before everyone got banished. And seeing the old Earl of Gloucester’s eyes put out was, face it, pretty hilarious.
But these good things have come despite – not because of – King Lear’s leadership, which is impetuous, petty, and obsessed with setting up obscure punch lines for his Fool.
He veers off into long, ranting monologues that force us to check our footnotes. He shows up to important meetings dressed mostly in wildflowers. And he can angrily berate the furniture under the impression that it is part of his family.
This erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes like us. Some of his courtiers have been cast as villains. But in private, we have gone to great lengths to keep his demented soliloquies out on the storm-tossed heath where they belong.
It may be cold comfort as Britain descends into bloody civil war, but you should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to keep King Lear from messing it up for us.
So when King Lear say orders us to execute a stool for the crime of being an ungrateful child, we definitely don’t do that. And we don’t go bothering Goneril or Regan. We just take away the stool. Problem solved! And also, more office furniture for us.
Also, whenever Lear has one of his crazypants "character-growth" insights about doing more for the poor naked wretches or whatever, we don’t do that either. I mean, that money could go for something useful. We just say, “Ooooh, Your Majesty, how profound! It’s like the mad have really been the sane ones all along! Who’s really blind here, and who’s, like, symbolically blind?” Then he forgets and moves on to something else.
This isn’t vulgar flattery. This is artful, steady flattery. Thou. Art. Welcome.
Given the instability many have witnessed, there were early whispers of crowning some capable, legitimate successor in King Lear’s place to guide our country back to peace and sanity.. But no one really wanted to precipitate a dynastic crisis, especially when basically we already have one. So we will do what we can to steer this monarchy until -- one way or another -- it’s all over. Really, how much worse could it get?

cross-posted from Dagblog; all comments welcome there, not here