Sina-cism: Gerrymander case maps repulsive ground where courts should fear to tread

Americans have lots to worry about. They’ll have a lot more if the Supreme Court decides the case of Gill v. Whitford justifies federal intervention in the drawing of political district lines within states.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Wisconsin Democrats are upset that Republicans redrew district lines so as to preserve their electoral edge in the state assembly. It’s easy to see why, if you examine this map.

Many of the state’s districts are contiguous and as block-like as can be expected, featuring no more than the usual bumps necessary to ensure that population counts are within mandated limits.

But look at the area around the capital, Madison, and you find districts that consist of tracts and islands. Some Wisconsin state districts alternately touch down and skip over areas, like a fickle tornado on the Great Plains.

Yet, as bad as some of these Wisconsin districts are, they are paragons of geographic virtue compared to some Congressional districts, including these three howlers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas — one held by a Republican, the other two by Democrats.

Turn back the clock to 2014, and there’s this national view, which shows that in much of the nation’s coal belt, gerrymandering has been raised to an art form.

Sina-cism: May ‘We the People’ never lose our Constitutional voice

You know people really care about something when they can’t stop talking about it. For 230 years, we the people of the United States have been talking about the Constitution. That ongoing discussion was renewed once again last Sunday night at Millbury’s Asa Waters Mansion.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Roger Desrosiers, a retired Millbury High School history teacher and president of the Massachusetts Center for Civic Education, led a Citizen Lyceum program that focused on the status of the Constitution today.

Founded in 1987, MCCE is a private, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that promotes civic education in the state’s public and private schools, courtrooms and communities, primarily through the well-known “We the People” program for students.

Sunday’s event was geared for adult learners. The venue and title were apt, for it was in Millbury in 1826 — the same year construction of the Waters Mansion began — that Connecticut native Josiah Holbrook founded the “Millbury Lyceum No. 1.” Holbrook had studied chemistry and mineralogy at Yale under the great naturalist Benjamin Silliman, later learned farming, and became an itinerant lecturer throughout New England. His mission was simple: provide a common education to the common man.

Sina-cism: Railers follow in IceCats’, Sharks’ tracks — but, how closely?

The season opener for the Worcester Railers — the city’s third minor-league hockey franchise in recent history — is being seen by some as a chance to net success where the previous two clubs, the IceCats and Sharks, failed.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

I wish the Railers good luck, but how wrongheaded to think of the IceCats and Sharks as failed teams.

The IceCats arrived here in 1994 from Springfield, played 11 American Hockey League seasons, then left for Peoria, Illinois. They are now the AHL’s Utica Comets. The Sharks, after nine years in Worcester, are now the San Jose Barracuda, sharing an arena with their parent, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

The list of current and former AHL teams is long. With a few exceptions — the Hershey Bears (1938), Rochester Americans (1956), and Providence Bruins (1992) — AHL teams come and go with great frequency. Many number their seasons in single digits.

Sina-cism: DACA’s demise clears way for real reform

The world in 2017 is too populous, complex and dangerous a place to simply admit anyone who claims to share our ideals. There are rules to be followed.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program is not about cruelty. It’s not about sending the “best and brightest” back to countries where they have no ties of family, culture, or language. It’s not about damaging the economy.

The end of DACA — which will be done as an orderly, six-month phase-out — is about respecting the rule of law and forcing Congress to do its job.

In 2012, President Obama, frustrated by Congress’ failure to adequately address the fate of millions of illegal aliens, issued an executive order creating DACA. The program encouraged those with no legal claim to be in the United States to come out of the shadows and apply for a work permit and a two-year (renewable) period during which they could not be deported.

Many, including myself, warned then that DACA was a bad idea. By circumventing Congress, Obama was giving hope to millions, but without conferring any of the rights citizens enjoy. By encouraging illegals to come forward, the government was gaining key information that could come back to haunt those very people should there be a change in policy.

Related Sina-cism: The real line on immigration, and how Obama crossed it

Some say that haunting has now begun.

Sina-cism: An Italian coast steeped in history

If the Amalfi Coast isn’t all that it used to be, blame John Steinbeck.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

In May 1953, Steinbeck published his essay “Positano” in Harper’s Bazaar, bringing the picturesque fishing villages of the Italian coast south of Naples to the attention of an increasingly affluent American public.

“Nearly always when you find a place as beautiful as Positano,” Steinbeck wrote, “your impulse is to conceal it. You think, ‘If I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone to hell.’ There isn’t the slightest chance of this in Positano.”

Steinbeck was mistaken. Never underestimate the lure of a beautiful seaside town, or the ingenuity of Italians when it comes to packing more motor scooters, cars, tour buses and visitors than you can imagine into a town that has literally no place to grow.

More world-traveling Sina-cism: Finding a kindred spirit in Budapest

Sina-cism: Echoes of the battle of Charlottesville

It is easy to say that the violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12 has no place in modern America, least of all in a liberal enclave that is home to Thomas Jefferson’s stately temple of learning, the University of Virginia.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Easy, but untrue.

For the racial epithets, bloodied faces and sickening sight of a vehicle plowing into a crowd are not only real, but they are the inevitable consequence of the historical ignorance that characterizes partisans of the right and the left in our time.

To be sure, the immediate cause of the clashes was the decision by white nationalist and white supremacist groups to protest the renaming of two parks that had long borne the names of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Had they stayed home, Aug. 12 would have been another beautiful summer Saturday in a beautiful Southern town.

Mariano: Trump must go

Sina-cism: If taxpayers don’t pay, PawSox can come

Twice in recent years I have signed postcards urging the Boston Red Sox organization to consider moving their top minor-league affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox, to Worcester. But in doing so, I felt a bit like the utility relief pitcher who’s brought into the middle of a 14-3 game to soak up innings and save the arms of the real players.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

In short, I don’t think the PawSox are coming.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see additional development, including minor-league baseball. Like thousands of others, I enjoy frequenting the Canal District, and have been impressed with the development there.

I love that the gentrifying places like Bocado Tapas Bar and BirchTree Bread Company rub elbows with the blue-collar likes of Table Talk Pies. I’m excited by Allen Fletcher’s proposal for a $20 million commercial development of the current combination mudhole and parking lot between Green and Harding streets. And the thrill-a-second intersections are priceless for entertainment.

Like many, I wonder each time I drive or walk past the vacant Wyman-Gordon property why no one has yet found the right combination of ideas and funding to take the next leap in the neighborhood’s evolution. While I had no appetite for a slots parlor on the site, baseball would suit me fine. And yes, the rumor mill has been in overdrive since late June, largely because Worcester officials and former Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, current PawSox chairman and co-owner, toured the city, including the Canal District and potential ballpark site nearby.

Sina-cism: An integrity commission that has none

I’m not nearly as much into baseball these days as I was in my youth, but I have to admit I am enjoying watching some hardball this summer — the kind going on between the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and several states.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The commission was created May 11 by the signature of President Donald Trump, who seems as incredulous about Hillary Clinton’s 2.85-million-vote margin in the popular vote as many Americans are incredulous about his 77-vote victory in the Electoral College.

The commission’s purported mission is to ensure the fairness and integrity of the electoral process by collecting detailed electoral and demographic data.

Now, from a mathematical perspective, it is surely true not every one of the more than 130 million ballots cast last November was legitimate. Americans move a lot. Municipal voting records are not always up to date. Clerical errors are made. Even machines err.

But mathematics also assures us that however many ballots were illegitimate, it wasn’t remotely close to 2.85 million. This Washington Post piece makes the case for why the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is an absurdity. Democrats did not “steal” the popular vote — a meaningless concept — any more than Republicans stole the Electoral College.

Sina-cism: Bee regulations? How about doing nothing?

It’s the height of summer, and the honeybees of Worcester and Central Massachusetts are going about their business, safe for now from the tender ministrations of the City Council, which in late June took up a reform of agricultural rules that could impose various regulations upon the city’s 60 or so beekeepers.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The proposed rules, which were shunted off to a subcommittee, seem innocuous enough. They include a requirement that beekeepers notify any neighbors within a 300-foot radius, limit the number of hives, restrict them to the sides or back portions of property, and keep them at least five feet from property lines. Beekeepers would be required to obtain a permit, submit a diagram of plans, and be subject to fines for violations.

Such stuff brings to mind the Monty Python skit in which John Cleese seeks a license for his pet bee, Eric.

I’m not sure whether life is imitating art or vice versa, but I am certain that anyone who grew up around or maintains beehives understands these creatures are both vital to the pollination of many of the crops we rely upon, and — when left alone — are extremely unlikely to cause any harm.

Sina-cism: A bevy of beach options for bibliophiles

It’s the height of summer, and before the long days, beach retreats and campground sojourns pass us completely by, I am — as I did last summer — offering nine suggestions for your vacation reading. The first eight are books I’ve read between June and September in years gone by.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

It takes optimism to push reading.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual Time Use Survey, Americans in 2016 spent an average of about 17 minutes per day reading. On the brighter side, at least we’re still buying books. Nielsen BookScan reported in January that sales of print books rose 3.3 percent in 2016 over the previous year.

Check out: Last year’s summer reading list

My purpose isn’t to induce you to read eight books. If you read just one of the following, or even enjoy and derive value from one chapter or even a single page of any of these, my goal will have been met.

Last year I avoided being too serious, but I think 2017 demands seriousness. If you’re looking for light beach reading, I cannot help. If you want books to engage your political sensibilities, improve your mental health and make you think, read on.