Category Archives: Information

Information on local issues and events

Discord over surveillance: Justice Kennedy retires

Justice Kennedy had enough sense to step aside before most of the public would see that he was losing his grip. Evidence showed in his dissent from Carpenter v. United States. In this high-profile case, he failed to see a difference between business and personal data. Even Chief Justice Roberts–sometimes a backer of imperial government–saw the difference, described in the U.S. Supreme Court opinion released Friday, June 22.

Carpenter v. United States involved government use of cell-phone location-tracking data in a criminal case without obtaining either consent from a cell-phone owner or a search warrant. As Justice Roberts wrote, “Tracking a person’s past movements through [cell-phone data is]…detailed and encyclopedic…the Court has already recognized that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements.”

Interstate crime watch: The Carpenter case arose from interstate crimes in Michigan and Ohio. Through cell-phone location-tracking data, the FBI found that Timothy Carpenter, alleged ringleader of a crime gang, was near the sites of several armed robberies at the times they occurred. Carpenter was convicted by a federal district court jury and sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Informed by a confession from one of the robbers, the FBI might have been able to justify search warrants for cell-phone records under the Fourth Amendment. Instead it relied on exemptions found in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. [Public Law 99-508] A key issue was whether locations tracked from cell phones are Constitutionally protected as elements of personal privacy. If so, the Fourth Amendment requirement for search warrants should apply to records of locations.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

A so-called “third-party rule” derived from United States v. Miller and from Smith v. Maryland exempted data voluntarily sent to businesses from Fourth Amendment protections: bank transactions and manually keyed telephone numbers. However, those Supreme Court cases from 1976 and 1979 could not anticipate circumstances of the recent Carpenter v. United States case. Consumer cell-phone services were introduced to North America in the mid-1980s and grew slowly in early years, when they were very costly.

Surveillance: While they are powered on, cell phones sample the radio environment and silently exchange messages with transceivers so that they can respond to incoming calls and be ready to place outgoing calls. Most if not all cell-phone services keep records of silent messages that include cell-phone identifications and transceiver locations. Location tracking exposes cell-phone owners to continuous surveillance–a major threat against personal privacy.

The 2018 Carpenter case challenged whether the federal government can access location-tracking data for a criminal investigation without obtaining a search warrant. Joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor, the opinion from Chief Justice Roberts said no–citing among other cases Riley v. California, decided by the Supreme Court in 2014.

The Riley case arose from data contained within cell phones, not data acquired by cell-phone transceivers. As in the Carpenter case, however, data had been examined by law enforcement without obtaining consents or search warrants and had been used to convict cell-phone owners, who appealed. The Supreme Court opinion found a novel, qualitative factor in the “immense storage capacity” of cell phones, calling that “a digital record of nearly every aspect of their [owners'] lives.”

Confusion: The Supreme Court opinion in the 2014 Riley case was likewise written by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor. Justice Kennedy also joined that 2014 opinion, yet for the 2018 Carpenter case he wrote a carping dissent. It shows confusion, starting with a claim that the Carpenter case somehow involves “new technology.”

Justice Kennedy either knew or should easily have learned that technology relevant to the 2018 Carpenter case is older than technology relevant to the 2014 Riley case. He tried to invoke the “third-party rule” based on cases four decades ago. Only by comparison with the 1970s era of communications does either of the more recent cases involve “new technology.”

Justice Kennedy’s dissent failed to recognize changes in communication uses and technologies over the 39 years since Smith v. Maryland. It failed to distinguish the 2018 case from the 2014 case whose opinion he joined. He was unable to see that–unlike bank transactions or manually dialed telephone numbers–durable records linking individual cell phones to dates, times and locations are not essential to business services as usually provided in the United States but instead reflect personal information.

Justice Kennedy seemed to think cell phones are active only when “a cell-phone user makes a call, sends a text message or e-mail or gains access to the Internet.” His views suggest location data from cell-phone transceivers have been voluntarily sent to businesses and are subject to the “third-party rule.” At a late point in a long span on the Supreme Court, he faded to a shadow of his former presence.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 29, 2018


Todd Ruger, Justice Kennedy to retire from Supreme Court, Roll Call (Washington, DC), June 27, 2018

Adam Liptak, Supreme Court says warrants generally are necessary to collect cell-phone data, New York Times, June 22, 2018

Carpenter v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 16-402, June 22, 2018

Matthew Tokson, The Supreme Court’s cell-phone-tracking case has high stakes, New York, November 27, 2017

Orin Kerr, Supreme Court agrees to hear Carpenter v. United States, Washington Post, June 5, 2017

Riley v. California, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-132, June 25, 2014

Ken Schmidt, Wireless telecommunications timeline, Steel in the Air (Baldwinsville, NY), 2014

Smith v. Maryland, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 78-5374, June 20, 1979

United States v. Miller, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 74-1179, April 21, 1976

Too hot to handle: at Natick School Committee

In a classic 1938 film, Myrna Loy played Alma Harding, modeled after Amelia Earhart. Corey Spaulding–parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–probably would not be mistaken for Loy. Last January 8, however, her message proved “Too Hot to Handle.” Natick School Comittee members walked out of their monthly meeting moments after she started to speak and then-Supt. Peter Sanchioni interrupted, calling her remarks “unfettered lies” along with other jibes.

According to public records, at the Natick School Committee on January 8 Spaulding began by saying, “I am the mother of a child who was mercilessly bullied into suicide here in Natick.” Outbursts at the meeting made other comments hard to follow. About two months later, Dr. Sanchioni resigned. The School Committee cited “personal, family and medical reasons.” Another two months on, he was hired as the school superintendent for Tiverton, RI, apparently at a lower rate of pay.

Freedom of speech: In the interim, Corey Spaulding and Karin Sutter–also a parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–filed a civil rights lawsuit. Sutter had sparked another Natick School Committee walkout in February, telling members that “my boys and family…needed to move out [of Natick] due to the retaliation and retribution we received at the hands of the Natick Public Schools.”

Supported by the Massachusetts ACLU and represented by Benjamin Wish of Todd & Weld in Boston, Spaulding and Sutter won an order from a state court enjoining the Natick School Committee from enforcing rules against “improper conduct and remarks” and against “personal complaints” applied to comments at meetings. The court ruling stated that Natick policies and actions were likely to be found invalid under both Massachusetts and federal laws.

Over recent years, public comment became a regular feature at meetings of many local boards and committees. The Brookline School Committee adopted the practice in 1993. The Brookline Select Board later adopted it. Governing boards and committees in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and many other suburbs of Boston follow similar practices. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees publishes guidelines for public comment. Guidance is also available in other states and from national organizations.

What can one say to members of a local governing board or committee in a public comment? When and how does freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, apply? Boundaries of civil rights in particular situations are explored in court decisions, but so far few decisions directly concern public comments made to local boards and committees.

The Natick case: Members of the Natick School Committee rise to attention at the start of a meeting–like a McCarthy-era vestige–and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In situations described in the recent court ruling, a committee chair led in squelching criticism. Interrupting Karin Sutter’s remark last February 5 about “retaliation and retribution…[by] Natick Public Schools,” the committee chair said, “…you cannot speak defamatory about the Natick…this is Open Meeting Laws…you are out of order.”

In such situations, the court ruling found “restrictions…aimed to prohibit…speech…critical of the Natick Public Schools…quintessentially viewpoint-based…[and exercised] on an ad hoc basis.” Citing the Open Meeting Law was merely a distraction, according to the ruling, because “First Amendment or Article 16 principles [of the Massachusetts constitution]…would take priority, and the statute would have to be read in a way that is compatible with the rights that they provide.”

To support and explain its findings, the recent court ruling cited several prior judicial decisions and opinions, particularly –

*** Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015
In that case, a local ordinance regulating signs was overturned, reversing an Appeals Court, because it was found to be “content-based” and not “narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.”

*** Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012
In that case, an institutional policy was found to be content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral, and it was upheld against a free-speech challenge.

*** Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016, memorandum of opinion and order
In that case, an injunction issued against a so-called “group defamation ban” by a city council, because under “strict scrutiny” it appeared likely to violate First Amendment rights to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process.

Thomas P. Billings, the judge hearing the Natick case, was appointed in 2001 by former Republican Gov. Swift. He has heard several cases with interactions between state and federal laws, including DirecTV v. Massachusetts in 2012–involving issues of taxes, telecommunications and interstate commerce. The state ruling in the case was upheld when the Supreme Court declined a challenge. [U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 14-1524, 2014]

Were Brookline’s current School Committee policies subject to similar scrutiny, bans on “individual personnel issues” and on “inappropriate conduct or statement[s]” in public comments could prompt objections similar to those from Justice Billings about Natick School Committee policies, in his recent ruling for the Natick case. [Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Policy Manual, Public Schools of Brookline, pp. B.11-13]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2018


Benjamin Wish obtains preliminary injunction ordering school district to stop suppressing free speech rights, Todd & Weld (Boston, MA), June, 2018

Decision and order (preliminary injunction), Spaulding v. Natick, Middlesex Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 18-1115, June 5, 2018 (made quotable and searchable)

Marcia Pobzeznik, Superintendent appointed in Tiverton, Fall River (MA) Herald News, May 9, 2018

Susan Petroni, Mothers of former Natick students file lawsuit to defend free speech rights, Framingham (MA) Source, April 23, 2018

Caitlyn Kelleher, Natick superintendent of schools resigns, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), March 1, 2018

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), February 5, 2018 (video with sound)

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), January 8, 2018 (video with sound)

Natick Public Records (unattributed pages on a commercial Web site), 2018

Select Board’s policy on public comment, Town of Brookline, MA, 2016

Memorandum of opinion and order, Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016

Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015

DirecTV v. Massachusetts, Suffolk Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 10-0324-BLS1, 2015

Glenn Koocher, et al., Public participation at school committee meetings and guidelines for public comment, Section BEDH, Guide for Present and Future School Committee Chairs, Massachusetts Association of School Committees, 2014

Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012

What does free speech mean?, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, 2007

Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Town of Brookline, MA, 2005 (in Policy Manual, section B, pp. 11-13)

United States v. Carolene Products, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 640, 1938 (Footnote 4, outlining what is commonly known as “strict scrutiny”)

Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Walter Pidgeon (Jack Conway, dir.), Too Hot to Handle, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938

Plastic ban: tragedy of unforeseen consequences

In November, 2012, a Brookline, MA, town meeting stumbled when trying to ban polystyrene food packaging. The effort was boosted by an informal, so-called “Green Caucus” and was strongly endorsed by Brookline PAX, a 50-year-old organization formed to promote international peace and social justice. The outcome became a tragedy of unforeseen consequences.

Advocates for Article 8 attacked all forms of styrene-containing plastics as products “harmful to human health…[and] detrimental to the environment.” However, the bylaw the 2012 town meeting enacted bans only “polystyrene food or beverage containers…used…to package or serve food or beverages if that packaging takes place on the premises….” When a container is not technically “polystyrene” or when packaging takes place outside Brookline premises, then containers made with styrene monomers are allowed.

Town Meeting, its “Green Caucus” and Brookline PAX failed to consider how food businesses and the packaging industry would react to banning polystyrene packaging–which they often misnamed “Styrofoam,” a registered U.S. trademark for an open-cell foam material not usable as food packaging. Town Meeting and the proponents did not make realistic plans for the future. Brookline now suffers because of that.

In the wake of bans in Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine and New York, research on patterns of solid waste showed that banning polystyrene-foam food containers does not reduce the burdens. In 2015, the California Water Resources Control Board found that “a ban of foam takeout items would result only in the substitution of other products that would be discarded in the same manner.”

A market on Harvard Street provides a pointed example. The managers formerly used polystyrene-foam trays for packaged food, including uncooked chicken and beef. These are mainstays, sold in large amounts. Their replacement packaging uses flat, solid plastic sheets thermally formed into trays. The plastic appears to be a copolymer that includes styrene along with other monomers but may not technically be “polystyrene.”

The managers found the replacement trays too floppy and unstable, and they double them up. Each package they sell has two solid plastic trays jammed together. That weighs several times as much as the former polystyrene-foam trays. Because it contains much more plastic resin, one of the new trays surely costs more, but customers like the market and are apparently willing to pay more.

The next least costly alternative would probably use even larger amounts of different plastics, as some restaurants are now doing. The result has been a financial and environmental tragedy–waste of natural resources, more emissions and no benefit to anyone but plastic and chemical manufacturers. One can “make a statement” if that were all that mattered. However, practical results betray environmental goals that Town Meeting, its “Green Caucus” and Brookline PAX claimed to support.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 28, 2018


General Bylaws, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018
See Article 8.32, Prohibition on the use of polystyrene disposable food containers.

Steven Stein, Take it from a trash researcher, banning polystyrene food containers won’t do any good, Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2017

Minority report in opposition to polystyrene product ban, City Council of Portland, ME, 2013

Minutes of a special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, November 13, 2012
See Eighth Article, pp.. 24-27.

Warrant Report, Fall Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, November, 2012
See Article 8, starting on p. 8-1.

Anti-missiles: blind and misguided

U.S. missile interceptors take off with great roars, bright flames and plumes of smoke. There’s just one big problem. They don’t reliably intercept missiles. In Arabia, five of the latest PAC-3 interceptors, from the Raytheon Patriot family, failed to stop one SCUD-variant ballistic missile launched from about 600 miles away in Yemen.

Missed missiles: A missile exploded at the Riyadh airport on November 4, 2017, a few hundred yards from the main passenger terminal. At least one of the PAC-3 interceptors launched by Arabian forces against it may have struck the rocket motor of the incoming missile. If so, the missile’s warhead had detached, continuing toward its target. Only poor incoming guidance probably prevented a disaster.

SCUD missiles, originally developed in the former Soviet Union, have never been more than terror weapons. Their liquid fuels make them clumsy to transport and unlikely to provide rapid response. Their poor guidance means they usually miss by spans big enough that their explosives fail to disable strategic targets.

Modern anti-missile systems might be able to counter the original SCUD missiles, but recent variants have a new feature: detachable warheads. If an explosive warhead detaches before an incoming missile has been struck, interception is likely to fail. Current anti-missile systems have not been able to strike a detached warhead. In Arabia, U.S. missile interceptors look to have failed at least twice during the year 2017.

Technology sales: Arabia currently relies on U.S. anti-missile technologies but may be starting to regret that. AP and other mainstream news media pay little attention to the issues, but reports from specialty news sites mention contacts with Russian organizations. Turkey, which previously relied on U.S. technology, has already jumped ship.

Early U.S. Patriot anti-missile systems were highly touted, but independent U.S. experts documented failure rates of more than 90 percent. The latest generation of Patriot missile interceptors is getting its first hostile exposures in Arabia. As usual, U.S. defense contractors and the host country’s military claim they achieved success, but so far independent U.S. experts find failure.

Turkey recently agreed to buy two S-400 anti-missile systems from Russia, the first to be installed in 2020. However, it’s not clear whether Russian technology actually has advantages. The critical tests are hostile engagements, and few have yet been reported that involve the S-400. One system installed by Russia in Latakia, Syria, failed to intercept strikes by U.S. cruise missiles in April, 2017.

Distant misses: Long-range U.S. GMD interceptors–all but a few stationed in Alaska–have an even more dismal record. Despite more than $40 billion spent on them over more than 20 years, there has never been a realistic test of interception. Only one test was directed toward a long-range missile. It was a set-up stunt, aiming the attacking missile almost directly at the defending one.

A follow-up test in the Pacific, involving Japan, failed to intercept another missile. It had been intended to demonstrate U.S. “defense in depth”–ability to intercept missiles from North Korea at shorter ranges. Following that failed test, Raytheon received a federal production contract for the SM-3, Block IIA interceptor that was tested–despite evidence the system does not work reliably.

To many with long memories, the Trump administration, as well as the Putin regime in Russia, look to be building “Maginot Line” defenses, recalling bunkers built in France during the 1930s that failed to stop Nazi invasions near the start of World War II. The grossly inflated U.S. military budget pays for more and more systems known to be unreliable. Just as the Nazis did, enemies would seek paths they cannot defend.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 29, 2017


Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay, Turkey and Russia sign deal on S-400 missile interceptors, Reuters (UK), December 29, 2017

Katie Paul and Rania El Gamal, Saudi Arabia says it intercepts Houthi missile fired toward Riyadh, Reuters (UK), December 19, 2017

Aziz El Yaakoubi, Houthis say missile targeted meeting of Saudi leaders, Reuters (UK), December 19, 2017

Max Fisher, Eric Schmitt, Audrey Carlsen and Malachy Browne, U.S. interceptor missile appeared to fail in Arabia, New York Times, December 4, 2017

Sylvia Westall, Rania el Gamal, Tom Perry and Stephanie Nebehay, Saudi crown prince calls Iran supply of rockets military aggression, Reuters (UK), November 7, 2017

Shuaib Almosawa and Anne Barnard, Saudis intercept missile fired from Yemen that came close to Riyadh, New York Times, November 4, 2017

Stephen Carlson, Raytheon receives $614.5 million for SM-3 Block IIA ballistic missile interceptors, UPI, August 29, 2017

Stefan Becket, U.S. missile defense test fails to intercept target over Pacific, CBS News, June 22, 2017

Laura Grego, What you should know about the upcoming GMD missile defense test, Union of Concerned Scientists (Cambridge, MA), May 29, 2017 (part 1)

Robert Burns, Associated Press, U.S. plans first test of ICBM intercept, with North Korea in mind, WTOP (Washington, DC), May 26, 2017

John R. Haines, Putin’s Maginot Line exposed by North Korea’s missile launch, Foreign Policy Research Institute (Philadelphia, PA), May 17, 2017

Tom Balmforth, After U.S. strikes Syrian airbase, Russians ask: where were our vaunted air-defense systems?, Radio Free Europe, April 7, 2017

Laura Grego, George N. Lewis and David Wright, Shielded from Oversight: The Disastrous U.S. Approach to Strategic Missile Defense (60 pages), Union of Concerned Scientists (Cambridge, MA), July, 2016

Barton Gellman, Study cuts Patriot anti-missile success to nine percent, Washington Post, September 20, 1992

Craig Bolon, Star Wars revisited: shooting fish in a barrel, Brookline Beacon, September 4, 2017

Craig Bolon, Undeclared wars: the rain of U.S. cruise missiles, Brookline Beacon, April 9, 2017

London high-rise fire: tragedy of the commoners

A catastrophic fire June 14, 2017, at Grenfell Tower, a London high-rise public housing building–killing at least 80 occupants–has developed into a tragedy of the commoners. It is not being visited on British elites. In its aftermath, officials of the current, Tory government spared no effort–to offload blame. Suspicions pointed at building materials that quickly spread flames up the outside of the building.

Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to claim that materials used in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower had been banned under the British building code. He was promptly refuted by reporter David D. Kirkpatrick, writing in the New York Times.

The officials patched together a national emergency action, ordering managers of public housing that had used similar building materials to submit samples for so-called “fire safety” testing–but not managers of private housing. Without waiting for results or advice, the Camden council, in north London, ordered evacuations of five high-rise public housing buildings that had been renovated using such materials.

A testing mystery: Building contractors and materials manufacturers had stated that their practices met standards of the British building code, which include standards for fire resistance. A few days after the catastrophe, however, Tory officials said some samples of materials they received had failed “fire safety” testing–tending to offload blame. At ten days after the catastrophe, the officials disclosed that all 60 samples from public housing tested to date had failed. How could that be?

Nothing from mainstream British news sites explored the obvious conflict. One story in the Guardian said recent tests “lack transparency,” but it stopped there. Absent gross fraud, the “fire safety” tests hastily arranged by officials of the Tory government somehow had to differ from tests claimed to have been performed by manufacturers and builders under the British building code.

The current building code allows two approaches. Individual materials can be tested for “fire spread,” using British Standard BS 476 procedures and regulations. Otherwise, a large sample of an assembled “cladding system” can be tested using British Standard BS 8414 procedures and classified under British Research Establishment BRE 135 regulations.

Manufacturers usually test for “fire spread” using BS 476, or a European equivalent, and builders usually seek materials so tested. The alternative via BS 8414 and BRE 135, or European equivalents, is much more costly to test. Moreover, that approach would limit application to a specific “cladding system” design and to its choices for multiple materials and fastenings.

Potentially flammable materials used on the exterior of Grenfell Tower were Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. Both those materials burned in the catastrophe, but most news reports ignored the rigid polyisocyanurate foam insulation and focused only on the rainshield. It consists of a solid polyethylene core and two thin aluminum outer layers.

If Reynobond PE rainshield gets hot–only around 300 F–highly flammable polyethylene in the core will melt. Liquid might leak from an edge and ignite, or an entire metal layer might release, exposing polyethylene to fire. However, BS 476 test procedures do not create such conditions. They subject a patch in the middle of a rainshield panel to a small flame for a minute. The outer metal layer does not burn, and the brief heating does not melt the whole core and release the metal, so such a panel of rainshield material passes that test.

Mystery resolved: At some time on Monday, July 3, according to automatic logging by other sites, British Research Establishment (BRE) staff, who had been performing emergency “fire safety” testing for Tory government officials, added notes to one of their Web pages describing what they were doing. BRE staff admitted they had used rogue “screening tests” to measure “gross heat of combustion” of materials, not a standard test–such as International Standards Organization ISO 1716–and not a test for “fire spread” or for “combustibility.”

According to the BRE statement, “procedures set out in the [ISO] standard [for heat of combustion] have not been followed.” BRE staff did not test for “combustibility” either, as Tory officials have repeatedly claimed–that is, whether a material will catch fire, under some specified condition. Instead, BRE staff have been scraping out core fragments from samples of rainshield material and then measuring how much heat will be produced when the fragments are forced to burn in an artificial environment of pure oxygen.

Now it is clear why tests according to the British building code might pass but tests recently reported by Tory officials might fail. They are different tests. Rogue tests being carried out by the BRE staff do not measure whether materials will catch fire under controlled conditions. Instead they measure how much heat is produced when core fragments scraped from the materials are forced to burn.

The rogue tests, of course, have not been systematically validated against actual risks of building fires. Such a process would involve extended experiments, analysis, documentation and review. If compared, for example, against longstanding, carefully developed BS 8414 procedures and BRE 135 regulations, rogue tests might either overestimate or underestimate fire hazards from practical situations.

Other options: Little noticed by the public, some building materials apparently similar to those used at Grenfell Tower have passed the rogue test ordered by Tory government officials and conducted by BRE staff. The headline for an article on the BBC News site did not help, saying, “Three hospitals fail fire safety.” The text, however, claimed that “cladding at 11 sites passed the checks, while the other 19 sites which flagged up potential fire safety issues have been told they do not need to take further action.”

The Tory government still has not ordered testing of private housing or commercial buildings, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt started a national emergency action to test hospital buildings. When reported by BBC News, 30 had passed the rogue test or been exempted, and only three had failed. Apparently British hospital renovations were more cautious in some ways than those performed by public housing authorities.

Three main grades of metal-clad rainshield materials have been marketed in Europe for about 25 years. They are often designated “PE” (polyethylene core), “FR” (fire-retardant core) and “A2″ (limited combustibility core)–the last one a classification from the European Normative EN 13501 fire-resistance standard.

The Alucobond company of Switzerland introduced an “A2″ product in the early 1990s. Like most other such products, its core is nonflammable mineral wool plus a few percent by weight of polymer binder. At very high temperatures the polymer will char, but flames will not spread far. This type of product is more expensive and more difficult to install than other composite rainshield products. The distribution of results obtained by BRE staff suggest that “A2″ products may pass their rogue test, while “PE” and “FR” products may fail.

Lessons learned and unlearned: Some building renovation managers apparently took more cautious approaches than others. However, the Tory government’s attempt to shift blame for the Grenfell Tower catastrophe onto project designers and managers and onto materials manufacturers amounts to a scam.

The core of the problem has been grossly inadequate building code regulations–allowing an irresponsible alternative to carefully developed fire resistance standards. That is compounded by lack of fire suppression measures, particularly requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

The British government had ample, local warning about the potential for a catastrophe. In 2009, the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, similar in many respects, killed three women and three children. Nothing of much significance was ever done to prevent another such disaster.

The current, Tory government nominated Sir Ken Knight, who compiled a report on the Lakanal fire, to head a panel that is to examine “safety actions” in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Sir Ken Knight had advised against regulations requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

Former Tory housing minister Gavin Barwell told the House of Commons in October, 2016, that the British Building Regulations for fire safety would be reviewed in response to the Lakanal House disaster, but he did nothing. His punishment, after being defeated for re-election, has been to serve as chief of staff to the prime minister, Theresa May.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 6, 2017


Three hospitals fail fire safety checks, BBC News (UK), July 4, 2017

Grenfell Tower fire: ACM cladding testing, British Research Establishment (BRE), July 3, 2017

Richard Hartley-Parkinson, Man overseeing Grenfell disaster previously advised against fitting sprinklers, London Metro, June 28, 2017

Robert Booth, Tower cladding tests after Grenfell fire lack transparency, say experts, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 26, 2017

Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, All samples from high-rise towers in UK fail fire safety tests, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2017

Caroline Mortimer, Grenfell response: number of tower blocks failing fire tests rises to 60, London Independent, June 25, 2017

Shehab Khan, ‘Hundreds’ died in Grenfell Tower fire, says shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, London Independent, June 24, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, Danny Hakim and James Glanz, Why Grenfell Tower burned: regulators put cost before safety, New York Times, June 24, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, London council evacuates residents amid fire safety concerns, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 23, 2017

Lucy Pasha-Robinson, Tens of thousands of people could be living in lethal tower blocks, tests reveal, London Independent, June 22, 2017

Jack Simpson, Fire experts slam ‘outdated’ Building Regulations following Grenfell, Construction News (UK), June 21, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Robert Booth, Ian Sample, David Pegg and Holly Watt, Experts warned government against cladding material used on Grenfell, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Gregory Katz and Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Death toll rises to 12 in London apartment building inferno, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 14, 2017

ISO 1716:2010, Determination of the gross heat of combustion, International Standards Organization (Geneva, Switzerland), 2017

Resistance to fire: EN 13501, the European standard, Odenwald Faserplattenwerk (Amorbach, Germany), 2017

EN 13501-1: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

BS 476-7: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

Prashant Thakkar, 1992 market introduction of Alucobond A2, Glazing Shopee (Vadodara, India), 2017

Sara Colwell, Illustrated guide to British fire safety testing and standards, British Research Establishment (BRE), 2014

Fire safety: Approved Document B, The Building Regulations 2010, [British] National Archives (effective April, 2007, as amended through 2013)

Craig Bolon, High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2017

Circuses: cheaper than bread

Last fall, the cockroach candidate attacked “people who are registered to vote in more than one state.” At the time, an Associated Press reporter recently discovered, his “voter fraud expert” Gregg Allen Phillips was registered to vote in three states: Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

A “voter fraud” investigation recently vanished from political radar. Jonathan Lemire of Associated Press quoted Lindsay Walters as saying on February 3 at the White House, “I do not have an update at this time.” The cockroach President had enjoyed no political “honeymoon.” Less than a day after he took office, millions of protesters had begun to march in more than 600 events held world-wide.

This January 21, at least 500,000 demonstrated in Washington, DC, and in Los Angeles, 200,000 in New York City and in Chicago, 150,000 in Boston and many hundreds of thousands in at least 300 other U.S. cities–all together the largest single day of demonstrations in U.S. history. Many more hundreds of thousands demonstrated in London, Paris, Mexico City, Buenos Aries, New Delhi, Sydney, Tokyo and hundreds of other locales on all the continents.

The next day, the New York Times dropped its whining about “fact checking” and “errors”–writing that the new President told a “lie” about supposedly winning the popular vote. That seemed to startle some readers of the Grey Lady, but it likely had no impact on voters who chose this President.

Sewage clerks: Early last year, the Politico organization dispatched three experienced reporters to review the cockroach candidate and check out the sewage. On average, they found a false statement for each five minutes of public contact.

*** “death of Christianity in America”
*** Sen. Rubio “totally in favor of amnesty”
*** taking “no money from donors” [then $7.5 million]
*** we send Japan “nothing” [$62 billion in 2014 imports]
*** owns a “successful winery” [denied by the actual owner]
*** “Made in the USA…not anymore” [$4.4 trillion in 2014]
*** “winning every poll with the Hispanics” [losing in all]

Harry G. Frankfurt, a social philosopher, published a widely quoted essay, On Bullshit, in 1986, when he chaired the Philosophy Department at Yale. It anticipated the cockroach candidate, as Prof. Frankfurt, now retired from Princeton, noted in discussions with reporters last year. That candidate, he said, “provides a robust example of someone who…indulges freely both in lies and in bullshit.”

Reporters and news media, repeatedly smeared by the cockroach President, have begun checking every claim and describing what they find. Associated Press posts a “fact check” summary at least once a week. The New York Times publishes “fact check” stories about public events and news conferences.

*** This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine….
“Trump’s first month has been…missteps and firestorms”

*** I inherited a mess….
“Incomes were rising and the country was adding jobs”

*** ISIS has spread like cancer….
“Islamic State…began to lose ground before Trump took office”

*** The biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan….
“The winners of five…won a larger Electoral College majority”

*** You probably saw the Keystone pipeline I approved….
“He hasn’t approved the Keystone XL pipeline”

– from Associated Press, February 20, 2017

No prior President has been so rampantly and casually dishonest. History offers other salient examples in U.S. politics, notably from campaigns against Communism and drugs. At a party conference in West Virginia held in February of 1950, the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R, WI) waved a sheaf of papers that he said named “205…individuals..loyal to the Communist Party” and working in the State Department. After years of filth, smears and lies, McCarthy was eventually censured by the Senate. He died in office, likely from alcoholism.

Present danger: Clear dangers from an unhinged President are war and financial collapse. An unhinged Walker Bush was left a strong economy and a world in tension but not at war. From him we got Iraq, the September 11 hijack attacks that he was warned about a month before and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It took eight years of an Obama administration to work through the disasters.

The cockroach President has already shown signs of trouble. We need to keep the heat on and be prepared to act when he falters. He has earned no charity. As Kevin Baker noted, writing in the New York Times, “Mr. Trump was exposed enough for any thinking adult to see exactly what he is.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 21, 2017


Jim Drinkard and Calvin Woodward, AP fact check: Trump’s view at odds with events of the week, Associated Press, February 20, 2017

Linda Qiu, Fact check: what Trump got wrong at his rally, New York Times, February 18, 2017

Charles J. Symes, Why nobody cares the President is lying, New York Times, February 4, 2017

Jonathan Lemire, Trump executive order on voter fraud quietly stalled, Associated Press, February 3, 2017

Garance Burke, Trump’s voter fraud expert registered in 3 states, Associated Press, January 30, 2017

Michael D. Shear and Emmarie Huetteman, Trump repeats lie about popular vote in meeting with lawmakers, New York Times, January 23, 2017

Kevin Baker, The America we lost when Trump won, New York Times, January 21, 2017

Nika Knight, On first full day as President, Trump attacks the press, Common Dreams (Portland, ME), January 21, 2017

Robert King, Trump says it’s OK if ‘rigged’ voters vote for him, Washington (DC) Examiner, October 22, 2016

David Greenberg, Are Clinton and Trump the biggest liars ever to run for President?, Politico Magazine, July, 2016

Harry G. Frankfurt, Donald Trump is BS, Time, May 12, 2016

Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn and Isaac Arnsdorf, Trump’s week of errors, exaggerations and flat-out falsehoods, Politico, March 13, 2016

Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit, Raritan Quarterly Review (Rutgers, New Brunswick, NJ) 6(2):81-100, 1986

Craig Bolon, Second day: millions protest, Brookline Beacon, January 22, 2017

Surfing a vortex: energy and climate

Among the few benefits a Trump administration might have brought was review of energy policies. Only three months after the 2016 elections, however, hostile actions and childish tantrums had cashiered the chance. After that opening, any proposals would be greeted as tainted goods and attacked in federal lawsuits.

Stephen Bannon–latter-day Rasputin–had coaxed his proxy, Donald Trump, to rail against climate change as a “hoax.” Props for the accusation came from clannish behavior of scientists starting in the 1990s, trying to manage access to historical data they had carefully combed. Those tactics produced a so-called “Climategate” incident and risked both scientific and political mischief.

Limits of knowledge: Climate change and measures proposed to cope with it remain clouded by knowledge issues. Some key factors are intrinsic to the physics of weather. Working at MIT in 1963, the late Edward N. Lorenz, a meteorologist, found, while trying to compute results from apparently straightforward equations representing circulation in the atmosphere, that they would not provide stable solutions. Instead, results would diverge by greatly varying amounts.

Comparable behaviors are well known for turbulent fluid flow, and they had been suspected as early as the 1880s for orbits of moons and planets. Lorentz found development of weather patterns similarly lacked predictability. Small eddies could grow into large disturbances. Such effects greatly complicate analysis of climate, which indicates long-term weather.

Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius first estimated the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the Earth surface temperature in 1896. He predicted that a doubling of concentration would lead to a temperature rise of around four degrees Celsius (deg. C). As late as the 1970s, a way to increase the Earth temperature was sometimes welcomed for help in staving off “global cooling” and perhaps another ice age.

Early predictions did not consider time dynamics or the many interacting influences–including changes in plant growth, solar output and Earth orbit, clouds, dust, aerosols, surface variations, water-vapor cycles, human activities, methane and other gases. “Greenhouse factors” relating gas concentrations to temperatures remain uncertain to a fair degree. While few laboratory scientists doubt that there are linkages, measuring the factors became a great challenge–complicated by intrinsic unpredictability of weather, by dynamics of exchanges between the atmosphere, oceans and Earth surfaces and by issues of reliable measurements.

Historical data before the last few decades proved erratic. A 1956 survey of carbon dioxide measurements from the atmosphere found values published during the 1820s through the 1950s ranging from about 200 to 550 parts per million (ppm) by volume. Its authors proposed to “select” some lower values as representative, but they lacked an approach validated through primary evidence.

Improving knowledge: The late Charles D. Keeling, while a geochemistry fellow at Caltech in 1956, began the first systematic survey of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He calibrated newly developed infrared absorption spectroscopy against a primary standard from gas manometry, providing much more reliable measurements than previously available. He soon found regular daily and seasonal variations.

Keeling series, carbon dioxide in ppm, monthly

KeelingSeries1958Thru2016
Source: Scripps and U.S. Department of Energy

The Keeling series, measured since 1958 at Mauna Loa, shows atmospheric carbon dioxide already at a steep rate of increase when it began and therefore at an elevated level–a 1958 average of about 313 ppm. During 2016, the average high-altitude concentration in the northern hemisphere rose above 400 ppm. The residual level from the 1600s, after Columbus and before intensive coal mining, was around 280 ppm.

Measuring solar output and global average Earth temperature is more difficult than measuring atmospheric gas concentrations. Direct temperature sampling is concentrated within industrialized countries. Every populated location has sources of bias. Solar measurements from the Earth are skewed by effects from the atmosphere. More progress was achieved after the deployment of polar-orbit weather satellites by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, starting with Nimbus-7 in late 1978.

GISS series, Earth temperature

GissSeries1979Thru2016
Source: NASA Goddard Institute of Space Science

Satellites do not measure Earth surface temperatures directly. They measure infrared emissions from the sun and from the atmosphere. There is no signal to separate low-altitude from high-altitude emissions, so that numerical interpretations are needed to estimate surface temperatures. Those are among many adjustments applied to satellite data. The adjustments have often changed as measurement issues have been discovered.

The two series shown indicate strong association between carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and Earth surface temperature, as estimated from satellite data. For 1979 through 2014, carbon dioxide increased from about 313 to 398 ppm, a base-2 logarithm of 0.35, while estimated Earth surface temperature rose from about 14.2 to 14.7 deg. C, an increase of 0.5 deg. C. Those amounts lead to a “greenhouse factor” of about 1.4 deg. C for a doubled carbon dioxide concentration–when about 4 deg. C was predicted by Arrhenius.

Controversies: Substantial controversies remain over “greenhouse effect” measurements and their interpretations. The relatively short time spans of reliable measurements–around 35 years–may not be enough to allow mixing between the atmosphere and the oceans. That should produce positive feedback, when warmer temperatures cause carbon dioxide to be released. However, warming effects from greenhouse gases also tend to be offset by cooling effects from human-generated aerosols.

The main source of information about atmospheric changes over much longer time spans has come from analysis of ice cores, starting in the 1970s. The longest cores extracted so far trapped air over around a million years of snowfalls. The 1985 Vostok core from Antarctica was the first to span a glacial cycle, providing a look at transitions between low and high temperatures and gas concentrations over geologic times. That inspired mathematical modeling efforts, trying to reconcile factors contributing to observations.

Over longer times–from dozens of years to a few hundred years–data from ice cores suggest that the carbon-dioxide increase already incurred from human activity, since the 1600s, can produce temperature increases two or more times more those already measured. The Keeling series shows that about half the total increase in carbon dioxide has happened since 1980. Research continues at an active pace, still dotted with controversies.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 12, 2017


David Cohen, Albright on Trump: Bannon pulling the strings, Politico, February 5, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide data, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and U.S. Department of Energy, January, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, monthly, Scripps Institution, January, 2017

Surface temperature analysis, Goddard Institute for Space Science, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, January, 2017

Land-ocean temperature index, monthly, Goddard Institute, January, 2017

Spencer R. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics, January, 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 18, 2016

Robert Monroe, The Keeling curve: carbon dioxide measurements at Mauna Loa, American Chemical Society, 2015

Adilson E. Motter and David K. Campbell, Chaos at fifty, Physics Today 66(5):27-33, 2013

Andrew Freedman, Satellite climate data at 33 years, Washington Post, December 20, 2011

R.J. Nevle, D.K. Bird, W.F. Ruddiman and R.A. Dull, Neotropical human–landscape interactions, fire and atmospheric CO2 during European conquest, The Holocene 21(5):853-864, 2011

Patrik Jonsson, Climate scientists exonerated in Climategate but public trust damaged, Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2010

Christopher Booker, Climate change: worst scientific scandal of our generation, London Telegraph, November 28, 2009

Kenneth Chang, Edward N. Lorenz, meteorologist and a father of chaos theory, dies at 90, New York Times, April 17, 2008

C. Lorius, J. Jouzel, D. Raynaud, J. Hansen and H. Le Treut, The ice-core record: climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming, Nature 347(6289):139-145, 1999

J.M. Barnola, D. Raynaud, Y.S. Korotkevich and C. Lorius, Vostok ice core provides 160,000-year record of atmospheric CO2, Nature 329(6138):408-414, 1987

Walter Sullivan, International team of specialists finds no end in sight to 30-year cooling trend in northern hemisphere, New York Times, January 6, 1978

Stig Fronselius, Folke Koroleff and Karl-Eric Wärme, Carbon dioxide variations in the atmosphere, Tellus A 8(2):176-183, 1956

Svante Arrhenius, On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground, Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (Fifth Series) 4(251):237-276, 1896

Obama’s legacy: tracking hate crimes

Electing an African-American as U.S. President in 2008 capped centuries of bigotry and began a legacy of inclusion. An image of Obama taking the oath of office became a picture worth a billion words. Despite all the flapping from Europe and Asia about peace and tolerance, so far nothing comparable happened there. For example, there has been no Franco-Arab president of France–not even someone mentioned or on the horizon.

A quiet message, the obverse of promoting inclusion, was delegitimizing racial and ethnic hate. From growing up with bigotry, signs are easily remembered–serving as sly handshakes through words and acts that signal shared outlooks: “one of the gang.” Electing a black President, then re-electing him to another term said, “No, that’s not OK any more. That’s not us.”

Lynching and race riots grew in the aftermath of the Civil War and continued into the 1940s. The way of inclusion became an official outlook through the Great Depression, the era of World War II and the landmark Brown v. Board decision from the Supreme Court in 1954. That did not make it the common way of life. Hate crimes against African-Americans surged during civil rights struggles of the 1950s through the 1970s.

Tracking hate crimes: The U.S. Department of Justice finally began to record hate crimes in 1992, as required by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 and the Arson Prevention Act of 1996. [Public Laws 101-275 and 104-155] About 17,000 law enforcement agencies now contribute to annual reports. Records since 1996 are available online as part of Uniform Crime Reports compiled by FBI central offices. However, the Justice Department does not publish trends and has not tried to provide consistent reporting.

Anti-African-American hate crimes

usantiblackhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice show that the most numerous reported hate crimes target African-Americans, Jews and Muslims. For 2015, recent hate crime data show about 1,750 incidents targeting African-Americans, about 660 targeting Jews and about 260 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes

usantijewishhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

The most recent U.S. population survey for race and ethnicity estimates 43 million African-Americans. The most recent survey for religion estimates about 6 million Jews and 3 million Muslims. Proportionately, the 2015 rates of hate crimes per million residents were about 40 targeting African-Americans, 110 targeting Jews and 90 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes

usantimuslimhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Crime trends: Hate crime statistics reflect crime motives as reported by law enforcement agencies–not as determined by courts or as found by other third parties. They are affected by reporting bias. If, for example, law-enforcement training increased likelihoods that incidents were flagged as hate crimes, then rates of reported hate crimes would rise, but such increases would reflect training rather than changes in crime rates.

The falling rates of reported hate crimes targeting African-Americans, down about 20 percent for the five years from 2010 to 2015, signal apparent progress during core years of the Obama administration. There was similar apparent progress in lower rates of reported hate crimes targeting Jews, falling about 25 percent over that five-year span.

However, reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased significantly, about 60 percent over those years. All of that increase occurred during the final year, 2015. Not shown in the foregoing charts, a sustained and even greater increase occurred in reported hate crimes targeting Native Americans. They tripled between 2010 and 2013, then remained nearly steady at the increased rate.

Situations of Native Americans might be so different from those of other groups for reported rates to be largely fictions. On the basis of hundreds of interviews, Barbara Perry, a professor of criminology at the Ontario Institute of Technology, estimated in 2008 that hate crimes targeting Native Americans had been drastically under-reported. A sharp rise in reported rates between 2010 and 2013 could stem from reporting improvements during the Obama administration. Ken Salazar, Interior secretary during those years, promoted policies of inclusion toward Native Americans. So far no systematic survey has addressed the issues.

Causes and consequences: Filth spread by Donald J. Trump’s campaign for President acted to relegitimize and encourage racist behavior, starting in 2015. Trump did not need to “be” a racist or an anti-Semite but just to become a fellow traveler. His race-baiting dog whistles drew poisonous support from Nazi, Klan and other white supremacist groups. He circulated some of their propaganda. There is an obvious precedent. Former President Wilson also drew support from racist groups. The first Southerner elected since Taylor in 1848, he resegregated parts of the federal workforce, notably the Post Office.

Just as Wilson’s attitude and behavior encouraged lynching and growth of the Ku Klux Klan, vile propaganda emerging around the Trump campaign probably encouraged recent hate crimes–notably against Muslims, whom Trump savaged. People with antisocial outlooks and violent bents are apt to find signs of acceptance and perhaps approval. Unless Donald J. Trump were somehow to reverse his ways and become a beacon of tolerance, we can expect a parade of moral cretins and their crimes to surge in future years.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 18, 2016


Errin Haines Whack, Associated Press, Trump’s staff picks alarm minorities: ‘injustice to America’, U.S. News, November 18, 2016

Hate crime statistics for 2015, U.S. Department of Justice, November 11, 2016

Adrian Walker, The politics of hatred and resentment seem headed for defeat, Boston Globe, November 7, 2016

Dana Milbank, Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody, Washington Post, November 7, 2016

Trump closes his campaign as he opened it: preaching xenophobia and hate, Daily Kos (UK), November 7, 2016

Michael Finnegan, Trump stokes terrorism fears, citing refugee ‘disaster’ in Minnesota, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2016

Sarah Posner and David Neiwert, How Trump took hate groups mainstream, Mother Jones, October 14, 2016

Stephanie McCrummen, Finally: someone who thinks like me, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

Daniel Marans, Meet members of Donald Trump’s white supremacist fan club, Huffington Post, August 25, 2015

Martin Pengelly, American Nazi Party leader sees ‘a real opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency, Manchester Guardian (UK), August 7, 2016

Emily Flitter, Reuters, Trump tweet that blasts Clinton as corrupt includes the Star of David, Washington Post, July 2, 2016

Tom Shoop, When Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal workforce, Government Executive (Washington, DC), November 20, 2015

William Keylor, The long-forgotten racial attitudes and policies of Woodrow Wilson, Boston University Office of Public Relations, March 4, 2013

Population statistics, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016

Gregory Smith, et al., America’s changing religious landscape, Pew Research Center, 2015

Barbara Perry, Silent Victims: Hate Crimes Against Native Americans, University of Arizona Press, 2008

Brown v. Board of Education, Leadership Conference (Washington, DC), 2004

Robert A. Gibson, The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1979

Craig Bolon, Election aftermath: recovery starting, work pending, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump disease: political virus, Brookline Beacon, October 2, 2016

Early voting: strong service in Brookline

Brookline is providing fairly strong service for early voting in 2016 federal and state elections. There are three Brookline sites and 11 days of early voting operations. On several days, extra service is provided outside 8am-5pm weekday working hours. There are also two days of accepting absentee ballots at Town Hall: November 5 and 7.

Town Hall, first floor
333 Washington St–108 hours
Mon, Oct 24, 8 am-5 pm
Tue, Oct 25, 8 am-5 pm
Wed, Oct 26, 8 am-5 pm
Thu, Oct 27, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Fri, Oct 28, 8 am-5 pm
Sat, Oct 29, 9 am-5 pm (8 extra)
Mon, Oct 31, 8 am-5 pm
Tue, Nov 1, 8 am-5 pm
Wed, Nov 2, 8 am-5 pm
Thu, Nov 3, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Fri, Nov 4, 8 am-5 pm
Sat, Nov 5, 9 am-5 pm (absentee)
Mon, Nov 7, 8 am-12 noon (absentee)

Sussman House Community Room
50 Pleasant St–32 hours
Tue, Oct 25, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Sat, Oct 29, 9 am-5 pm (8 extra)
Tue, Nov 1, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)

Putterham Golf Course Clubhouse
1281 W Roxbury Pkwy–76 hours
Mon, Oct 24, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Tue, Oct 25, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Wed, Oct 26, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Mon, Oct 31, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Tue, Nov 1, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)
Wed, Nov 2, 8 am-8 pm (3 extra)

Sussman House, near Coolidge Corner, is convenient to around 40 percent of the town’s residents and gets 32 hours, while the Putterham Golf Course is convenient to less than 10 percent of residents and gets 76 hours. Of 216 total early voting hours, only 46 extra hours are outside 8am-5pm weekday working hours.

Election day polls are Tuesday, November 8, for 13 hours–7am-8pm, at locations in the 16 precincts–for 208 poll hours. Of those, 64 poll hours are outside 8am-5pm weekday working hours. Early voting service for this year will double total poll hours and increase extra hours outside 8am-5pm weekday working hours by about 70 percent.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 24, 2016


Early voting sites and hours, Brookline, MA, Town Clerk, October, 2016

Craig Bolon, Hillary Clinton for President, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2016

How soon will Zika disease spread to New England?

Zika disease, at epidemic levels in Brazil for more than a year, has come to Miami, FL. Although often described as a “tropical disease,” it has escaped the tropics, and people are keeping a greater distance. This month, the Miami Herald quoted the operator of a Florida travel business, saying, “I had to cancel eight out of my 12 weekly summer season tours.” In recent days, several locally transmitted Zika cases were reported in Miami Beach, and the danger zone was expanded from 1-1/2 square miles to most of the community.

Origin of the threat: Zika is not a new threat. It was first found almost 70 years ago as a disease of rhesus monkeys in the Ziika Forest–for which the disease was named–located near Lake Victoria in Uganda. The cause is a flavivirus (“yellow virus”). That virus family and genus includes the agents of yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile fever. The diseases have mostly been transmitted by aggressive species of mosquitos common in the tropics. Some of the diseases have migrated to temperate regions, and some infect wild and domesticated animals–including goats, sheep and mice–as well as humans.

The flaviviruses are single-strand RNA viruses, like the virus that causes AIDS. Lacking stabilizing effects of DNA-based genetics, they mutate relatively often, sometimes producing new, persistent strains. Research shows that happened in recent years with Zika. The original strain found in Africa caused mostly mild, brief illness in humans. The common symptoms were low fever, sometimes with skin rash or joint pain, that lasted up to a week.

The disease spread from Africa into south and southeast Asia. A 2007 outbreak on Yap and nearby islands of Micronesia drew attention because it seemed very widespread, even though it caused no deaths or long-term health problems. A survey using immunology tests suggested that about three-quarters of the population had been infected. Those tests encounter cross-reactions among the flaviviruses. A previous infection by dengue or chikungunya may produce a positive result. Since dengue is often present where Zika strikes, estimates of infections using immunology tests can be clouded by errors.

Growth of the threat: Starting in 2013, another flavivirus epidemic occurred in Tahiti and nearby islands of French Polynesia. This time health centers had genetics tests available when live virus could be sampled. They distinguish more clearly among viruses, and Zika was soon identified as a main cause of the epidemic. However, the virus had mutated, producing new strains. Some victims had more severe symptoms than previously reported for Zika disease. A small fraction of the victims developed long-term problems including profound muscle weakness, known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

After the epidemic in French Polynesia, unusual problems began to be found in newborns: smaller heads than normal, called microcephaly. While such symptoms occur without Zika, they occurred more often in births from pregnancies during the epidemic. Other severe problems began to be found, including defects in the brain, eyes and spinal cord. Immunology tests associated a high proportion of newborn victims with Zika exposure.

During 2014, newer strains of Zika spread eastward, appearing in other Pacific islands and then in South America. During 2015, the disease spread through most of Brazil, then appeared in neighboring countries and Central America, including the Caribbean. Windblown mosquitos helped spread the disease, but epidemiologists also attribute the spread to infected people traveling to places where aggressive species of mosquitos are common. Cabo Verde, near the west coast of Africa, recently reported cases involving newer strains of Zika.

As of 2012, only five strains of Zika had been reported. By early spring, 2016, about 60 Zika strains had been identified by gene sequencing. Comparisons found two main groups: one common in Africa, the other common in south and southeast Asia. Strains responsible for the 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia and the recent outbreaks in South and Central America had developed from previous Asian strains. As with older strains, many people apparently infected by newer strains did not seek care for relatively mild symptoms, while the virus was infecting cells and multiplying.

During the past year, publications surged. By mid-September, 2016, gene sequences for almost 100 strains had been reported. Compared with other diseases, however, research on Zika immunology and therapeutics remains poorly developed. According to a recent review of the science, researchers “currently lack major basic tools for [Zika vaccine] development, including reliable animal models, reference reagents and assays.” In Congress, for months Republicans driven by reactionary agendas failed to act on President Obama’s request of February, 2016, seeking $1.9 billion in emergency funds for applied research on Zika.

Dangers and precautions: Soon after an infection has taken hold, Zika has been found in many body tissues and fluids. It may persist for months after symptoms of an infection–if there were any–have gone away. Laboratory measurements found that newer Zika strains are highly infectious; just a few copies of the virus may be needed to transmit the disease. Although apparently not contagious, the disease is transmitted by intimate contact, including sex. Since current genetics tests cannot insure that levels of Zika virus are below an infectious threshold, major health organizations have been recommending long delays between potential Zika exposure and pregnancy.

It is not yet known whether antibodies produced during infection by one Zika strain can prevent infection by other strains. A pattern from the closely related dengue virus is troubling. A previous infection involving one class of dengue virus does not prevent infection by strains belonging to another class and may worsen health hazards. Early indications, still controversial, suggest Zika infections might behave similarly.

There is no approved vaccine against Zika. One candidate vaccine recently began the first of three stages in clinical trials: testing for safety. The first vaccine approved against dengue began marketing just this year, after over 80 years of experiments, and already it has been clouded with safety issues–potentially worsening health hazards, including those from Zika.

Spreading disease: Mosquitos, notably those in the Aedes genus, have been the main vectors for Zika and other flaviviruses. The Aedes aegypti species is adapted to humans and their habitats. Other Aedes species are also frequent carriers, helping to infect wild and domesticated animals as well as humans. Although often called “tropical,” Aedes mosquitos live throughout the southern half of the United States. They are also key vectors for yellow fever virus, which became a scourge of East Coast and Mississippi River cities during the late 1600s through the late 1800s. New England is already visited by dengue fever, the flavivirus most closely related to Zika.

New England dengue fever cases

denguefevercasesnewengland2009
Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

The Aedes aegypti mosquito range extends into New England, including at least the western seacoasts of Connecticut. However, laboratory experiments show that mosquitos in the Culex genus can also carry Zika. They are common back-yard and house mosquitos throughout New England, with ranges extending well into Canada. During the last few decades, they have become vectors in the region for West Nile virus, and they may be vectors for dengue virus. Although the region is not likely to see Zika epidemics as widespread as those in the tropics, New England remains under threat.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 20, 2016


Roni Caryn Rabin, Zika test not easy to obtain, New York Times, September 20, 2016

Brendan O’Brien, Florida expands Zika zone in Miami Beach after five new cases, Reuters (UK), September 17, 2016

Lizette Alvarez, Pregnant women anxious as Florida’s Zika test results take weeks, New York Times, September 13, 2016

Chabeli Herrera, Nancy Dahlberg and Nicholas Nehamas, Zika takes bite out of Miami-Dade economy, Miami Herald, September 9, 2016

Maggie Fox, Zika funding fails again in Congress, NBC News, September 6, 2016

WHO expands Zika sexual transmission advice, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, September 6, 2016

Wanwisa Dejnirattisai, et al., Dengue virus sero-cross-reactivity drives antibody-dependent enhancement of infection with Zika virus, Nature Immunology 17(9):1102-1108, September, 2016

Raj K. Singh, et al., Zika virus: emergence, evolution, pathology, diagnosis and control, Veterinary Quarterly 36(3):150-175, September, 2016

Rafael A. Larocca, et al., Vaccine protection against Zika virus from Brazil, Nature 536(7617):474–478, August 25, 2016

Luisa Barzon, et al., Infection dynamics in a traveler with persistent shedding of Zika virus, Eurosurveillance 21(32) online, August 11, 2016

Paulo Prada, Brazilian scientists find Zika traces in Culex mosquitoes in wild, Reuters (UK), July 21, 2016

Jesse J. Waggoner, et al., Single-reaction multiplex reverse transcription PCR for detection of Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses, Emerging Infectious Diseases 22(7):1295-1297, July, 2016

Didier Mussoa and Duane J. Gublerb, Zika virus, Clinical Microbiology Reviews 29(3):487-524, July, 2016

Contrary dengue vaccine response hints at possible problems with Zika, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, July, 2016

Amanda B. Keener, Zika and dengue immunity: a complex relationship, The Scientist (Canada), June 28, 2016

Ingrid B. Rabe, et al., Guidance for interpretation of Zika virus antibody test results, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 3, 2016

Charlotte J. Haug, et al., The Zika challenge, New England Journal of Medicine 374(19):1801-1803, May 12, 2016

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Estimated U.S. ranges of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 1, 2016

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