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.

Sina-cism: Lawmakers can’t resist stirring the pot

Advocates of marijuana legalization are pleased following agreement last Monday among House and Senate negotiators on Beacon Hill on an implementation package for recreational marijuana sales.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

I understand the short-term euphoria. By July 1, 2018, you will be able to purchase marijuana legally in a state once dominated by Puritan morality and blue laws.

“While we don’t approve of every provision of this bill, we are satisfied that the outcome will serve the interests of Massachusetts residents and allow the Commonwealth to displace the unregulated marijuana market with a system of taxation and regulation,” said Matthew Schweich of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group behind last November’s ballot initiative.

But will this legislation create a well-regulated marijuana market, suppress illicit drugs, yield reliable state tax revenue in the long term and pass constitutional muster?

More Sina-cism: Why healthcare reform will happen

Sina-cism: Why healthcare reform will happen

Any healthcare reform requires that consumers have sufficient affordable options to induce them to participate voluntarily. There are many paths to that goal, but none of them will be reached so long as crossing the political aisle means committing political suicide.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Upon passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, conventional wisdom suggested the law would extend medical coverage to many Americans without it, while failing to curb costs.

Seven years later, that prognosis appears to have been largely on target.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of Americans without healthcare insurance fell from 16 percent in 2010, to just 8.9 percent in the first half of 2016. On the other hand, many Americans were unable to retain the plans and doctors they had, and many have faced sharply higher premiums and deductibles.

And in some states and counties, insurers have withdrawn from participation in public insurance options, leaving some consumers with but a single choice.

In the wake of a Republican electoral victory last November, conventional wisdom suggested the GOP would move quickly to reform or entirely repeal Obamacare. But Republicans have struggled to do so, in part because parts of the law are popular, and in part because GOP senators remain deeply divided on what reform should look like.

But unless Americans are ready for a single-payer system, which I doubt, some kind of Obamacare reform is a near certainty.

Sina-cism: Lobbying stinks — don’t make it worse

Legislative leaders in Massachusetts who are today asking business leaders for money for a conference are the same leaders who next session will be sitting in judgment on legislation affecting those businesses.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Political lobbying is mildly repulsive at best. It is also highly effective.

Businesses and organizations, including state and local governments, often see enormous returns on their lobbying investments. Those who lament the existence of lobbying, like those who lament the existence of big money in politics, should remember that the First Amendment confers broad protections on the activities of lobbyists and donors. Both are permanent fixtures of our politics.

That said, there are both specific rules that govern lobbying and broader principles that should guide our thinking about it. Together, they can help prevent a descent from mildly to thoroughly repulsive.

Just how subtly slippery a slope we face is illustrated by a June 29 report in The Boston Globe detailing how Democratic legislative leaders in Massachusetts are trying to raise $2.2 million to pay for a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, to be held Aug. 5-9 in Boston.

Related opinion: Mariano urges caution when leveling political punches

Sina-cism: A Millbury soldier’s odyssey in the Great War

But did 19-year-old William Higginson really choose the Union Jack, or was he drawn to enlist by youthful ardor, visions of glory, and a simple desire to participate in a drama unlike any the world had ever known?
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

For families across our nation, the spring of 1919 was a time for homecomings. Imperial Germany had been defeated the previous November. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June, the “war to end all wars” would finally be over.

From the wastelands of a devastated France, millions who had served with the American Expeditionary Forces and survived washed away the mud and fatigue, bound up their wounds as best they could, and prepared to resume the interrupted lives of an interrupted generation.

On May 30, Millbury held the largest Memorial Day service the town had ever seen, honoring her returning soldiers and the six men then known to have perished — George Devoe, Edward N. Blanchard and Donald McCaskill, all of whom had been killed in action in France; and Warren T. Harris, Charles F. Minney and Charles H. Demers, who perished from disease.

A month after those observances, on the very day the Treaty of Versailles was signed, a seventh name was added to the list of the fallen when Charles Higginson of West Main Street received letters informing him of the details of his brother William’s death from cholera.

Last week’s Sina-cism: The right slant on the First Amendment

Sina-cism: The right slant on the First Amendment

Although the First Amendment may be back in vogue at The New York Times, at least for now, not everyone agrees with Matal v. Tam.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Last Monday was a very good day for the First Amendment. In Matal v. Tam, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the disparagement clause of the Trademark Act of 1946 is unconstitutional.

The case involved Simon Young, aka Simon Tam, the 36-year-old lead singer of “The Slants,” an all-Asian-American band whose members chose their name as expressive of three things — their views on life, their music, and their desire to reclaim and empower a phrase traditionally seen as derogatory.

After the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office sought to deny the band a trademark on the grounds that its chosen name was offensive, Tam went to federal court and won on appeal. The Supreme Court ruling affirmed that decision.

In the December 2015 appeals court ruling, Judge Kimberly A. Moore wrote: “It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys.”

In the minds of activists and their lawyers, of course, there are always other considerations, including the idea that trademarks are government speech.

Related Sina-cism: Muzzling the First Amendment on campus

Sina-cism: Freud, Worcester and ‘The White Hotel’

While there is much historical information about Freud’s visit, fiction has a role, as author Tim O’Brien puts it, “… for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

There’s nothing like encountering a reference to Worcester in a novel or film. There’s that flash of recognition of the places, people and events the author is describing. It can be a way of discovering something new about one’s native place through the eyes of an outsider.

The 2013 crime drama “American Hustle” offered that, with its scenes outside Union Station, inside the Worcester Art Museum and along Millbury Street.

Another work that references Worcester — less well known, perhaps, but of greater importance — is “The White Hotel,” a 1981 novel by D.M. Thomas. It begins with a series of fictitious letters, the first by Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, who accompanied Sigmund Freud on his 1909 visit to the United States and attended his colleague’s lectures at Clark University.

The letter is headed “Standish Hotel, Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 8 September 1909,” and is addressed to Ferenczi’s wife. He tells her how “Brill and Hall are excellent fellows, and everyone at Clark University has overwhelmed us with kindness and compliments. Freud astonished even me with his masterly skill, by delivering five lectures without any notes …”

For insight into Freud’s 1909 visit, this is a promising start.