Archive | March, 2013

Of Condoms and Tenets

29 Mar

In strike against safe sex group, Boston College creates its own Catholic mystery

By Tom Meek
March 28, 2013

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against BC Students for Sexual Health. (Photo: BCSSH)

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against BC Students for Sexual Health. (Photo: BCSSH)

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against a student group that promotes safe sex and provides condoms to students because that organization’s agenda is deemed diametrically opposed to the university’s Catholic affiliation and mission.

Okay, I get the rub, but why now? It’s not like condoms on campus are anything new, and I can guarantee you they have been a staple of BC dorm life since before the Miracle in Miami or even the heroics of Jack Concannon – so again, why now? One can only guess that a devout parent or alum with deep pockets got wind of the existence of the BC Students for Sexual Health’s Safe Sites and raised a stink. Or maybe the recent election of a pope got the Jesuit juices flowing in Chestnut Hill and they wanted greater religious sanctity on campus, which would be ironic; the tenor from Vatican City, where the swirl of sex abuse cover-up still hangs in the air, was a more humane and contemplative one, one that seemed even willing to reevaluate the administration of old-world tenets in a rapidly changing world.

No matter what BC’s impetus, in the bigger scheme of college life in which a “Spring Breakers” mentality commingles with pious sanctity, it just seems unwise to forcibly close down Safe Sites given that the downside is an increase in unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

And let’s keep in mind that BC, as an institution of higher learning with a religious affiliation, invites people of other faiths, or no faith, to come to its campus to hone their minds. It likely has a code of conduct students should adhere to, but given its diverse makeup, a new trend compelling its non-Catholic populace to be subject to the ethics of the Catholic Church might have long-term ramifications. The balance of religious obligation and administration of higher education is a tough one. Other institutions, such as Brigham Young University and Notre Dame, must struggle with it mightily, especially when it comes to recruiting student athletes to a top sports program with an arduous army of alumni backers and big TV contacts.

The problem here is that BC has created its own media firestorm. Had its officials reached out to Safe Sites or simply ignored them, life would carry on just the same as if they truncated the safe sex group, because sex and condoms will still happen no matter what.

Sex has always been tricky for Catholic Church. Critics have widely asked: Why not accept the provision of condoms and safe sex in poor and AIDs-riddled parts of the world such as Africa? Or how can one be so righteous in the face of sex scandal after sex scandal? The Church and BC, at their core, seek to do good. Their missions are to help others and they do do much to improve the world through charity, education and outreach. But sometimes the tendency to cling to tradition in a changing world can become a shackle.

One does not need to surrender one’s principals or traditions, but one does need to be pragmatic.

Before there was Darfur

29 Mar

Before there was Darfur

Around the world

By TOM MEEK  |  January 17, 2007

With the US bogged down in Iraq and anti-American sentiment sweeping the globe, it’s hard to find an affirmative story about our country’s place in the world. John Dau has one to tell. Ten years ago he was languishing in a refugee camp in Kenya; today he’s building a house, working on a college degree, and providing for the people he was formerly powerless to help. “This country has people who are kind, they like to help others,” says Dau of the US.

A graceful, 6’8” expatriate, Dau is the subject of God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary that chronicles the journey of several Sudanese “Lost Boys” brought to the US through relief agencies. The title of the film falls from Dau’s lips as he tries to rationalize the dire situations he and 27,000 other boys endured when civil war broke out in the Sudan during the ’80s. The Islamic north had made it a priority to target young males in the Christian south to cull off future fighters. As a result the boys banded together and fled, traveling more than 1000 miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. En route, disease, hunger, wild animals, and the enemy decimated their ranks. Dau, who had been forced to flee at the age of 13, was among 3000-plus Lost Boys chosen for resettlement in the US in 2000-’01.

Dau became the focus of the film by chance. “They list the names on a board, and when I was looking, I saw some journalist, people carrying cameras and I didn’t know anything to do with journalism before, so I thought that the government of United States might have sent these people.” The man with the camera was director Christopher Quinn. “He asked me if he could ask me a few questions, and I said, ‘Okay.’ I only thought it would be two or three, but I never got rid of him.”

The transition to a “better place” — he ended up in Syracuse, New York — was not without its pitfalls. At first, says Dau, “coming to America was like a honeymoon. Every day the helper came to our apartment to show us how to cook, to show us how to go to the grocery store.” But after three months, when he was required to start his first job, requests for aid back home started pouring in. “Many of the Lost Boys in Africa know that we are working, so they call us,” he says. “So here you are, you have money, and bills, and people in Africa. If you say no to them it is against our culture, so when you pay the bills it really pulls you down.”

Since then Dau, now 34 and married, has helped raise more than $180,000 for a health clinic in his homeland and in December was appointed director of the Sudan Project, which is raising funds to rebuild Southern Sudan. He also has a similarly titled book coming out and has applied for US citizenship. “When I was in Africa, I was there. Did I do anything?” says Dau passionately, “No. So it is better to be an American citizen and help people back there, and that is very important.”

Violence in Darfur is still severe, but for now there is peace between the north and south. Dau notes the situation’s tenuous nature and points to 2011, when the South Sudanese will vote to unify with the north or secede. “I will go back to campaign to secede. Be independent. That will cut off the problem,” he says. “Let’s live side by side as neighbors.”

God Grew Tired of Us

29 Mar

God Grew Tired of Us

A devastating and uplifting documentary

By TOM MEEK  |  January 17, 2007

Back in the ’80s, long before Darfur became a word linked with genocide in the Western media, the Islamic north waged a bloody campaign against the Christian farmers and tribesmen in the south, targeting young males. Known as the Lost Boys, some 27,000 youths fled more than 1000 miles to a UN refugee camp in Kenya. Along the way, many fell victim to hunger, lions, and enemy attacks. Eventually some 3600 made their way to the US. Narrated by Nicole Kidman, this documentary from Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker follows a clutch of Lost Boys relocated to Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Their journey is telling of their culture, as well as our own. After the initial helping hand, many struggle to pay back their debt. And there’s the duress of isolation and not knowing whether family members are alive. John Dau, the film’s main subject, is an affable soul, full of wisdom and hope. After so much devastation, his grace and perseverance is an uplifting example for all.


The rules (and rides) of bicycle season

27 Mar

The rules (and rides) of bicycle season


Spring is in the air, and that means bikes on the road. Sure, many ride year-round, but the spring thaw and Bike Month (May) gets the full two-wheeled populace out in force, and every year there’s more on the road. Between the years 2002 and 2008 the biking population in Cambridge doubled, and implicitly that means greater demand for bikes facilities and amenities.

To that end, the city has enacted some of its own spring cleaning-measures: tagging and removing derelict bikes from packing facilities (a bike locked to a bike parking facility for more than 72 hours can be deemed derelict; after being tagged, if it is still not claimed and moved, it will be cut and removed) and parking meters (it is okay to lock up to public signs that are not marked as bike restricted – including handicap zones – but not meters, as stipulated in the city’s parking ordinances ). Historically the ordinance has not been enforced regularly, but this past week bikes with winter-rusted chains in Harvard Square were noted and tagged. In the end, less cluttered racks will mean more space and ease of parking for those on the move.

Five new Hubway stations, such as the one in the Radcliffe Quad, are being set up to increase the total to 27 around the city. The beauty of the system is its one-way ride from station to station system, made all the more appealing by the seamless interconnecting stations across the river in Boston and Brookline.

And finally, on May 18 the Cambridge Bicycle Committee will conduct one of its two annual rides. The spring theme is food, with historical food spots as points of interest along the ride. The event is family friendly, free and open to the public and conducted with a police escort. Snacks and food are served along the way.

For information or to sign up, visit the committee’s website.


posed in Cambridge Day

Cannonball Launches Weapons Scare

24 Mar

Cannonball quiets Harvard quad

Time bomb

By TOM MEEK  |  November 4, 2009


It’s been awhile since we had to worry about the multi-colored national danger spectrum, but last week, the northwestern quadrant of Harvard Square was put on high alert. It turned out, though, that the deployment of bomb-squad vehicles, flanked by police cruisers and fire engines, that rolled in and cordoned off a section of Garden Street adjacent to the Harvard Quadrangle had nothing to do with a dirty bomb or even terrorist activity, but rather (appropriate for a school so immersed in ancient history) a Civil War–era cannonball.For me, the ordeal was something of a minor inconvenience, as I happen to live in the building where the relic rested. My downstairs neighbors — an amiable middle-aged married couple — set the commotion in motion: they had kept the cannonball in their apartment for 20 years as an accent piece. They declined to go on record, as they wished to remain off the grid and un-googleable. Ironically, however, it was Google that ignited the situation.

The husband had found the metallic ball “lying around” the turn-of-the-century constructed building when they moved in, and adopted it. Recently, though, a few clicks on the Internet caused the wife to become concerned that the ball might be explosive, so she contacted a Civil War authority, who told her to contact the police, who in turn, because it was military ordnance, called in the Department of Defense Disposal Unit from the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island.

Another neighbor, who also wished to remain anonymous, described the incident as surreal. “I felt like I had just stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone when I walked outside my apartment to find the bomb squad, DOD, and Navy in the middle of what seemed like a special-ops mission to diffuse an antique cannonball that had been used as a doorstop for 20 years.”

Clearly, such a show of strength for an item so benign for so long would hardly have been deemed necessary if the exact same sequence had unfolded before 9/11. But the shroud of secrecy still remaining over the offending materiel hardly seems necessary. I contacted the Cambridge Police to find out where the cannonball had been taken and what conclusions had been drawn from its examination, but at press time, still had not heard back from them.

Spring Breakers

22 Mar

‘Spring Breakers’: Harmony Korine’s Day-Glo road trip to hell

“Spring break forever” and “pretend it’s just like a video game” are just a few of the naive, saccharine-sweet platitudes that roll off the lips of a quartet of sexually budding coeds in Harmony Korine’s cautionary tale of innocence adulterated and gone grotesquely awry, “Spring Breakers.” By the end of the film, those flighty mantras expand and take on a prophetically deep meaning that their utterers and the audience could not have predicted or prepared for. It’s one of the many charms Korine imbues into the Day-Glo road trip to hell.

Much has been made of the film’s casting, which dips into the well of Disney and transforms girly icons Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens into wanton purveyors of hedonism. This is Justin Bieber’s ex and the wholesome lead of “High School Musical” running around in bikinis, snorting coke and kissing other girls. But what else would one expect from the scripter of the l’enfant terrible eye-opener “Kids” and his subsequent turns as director of such psalms of sociopathy as “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy” and “Trash Humpers”?  Continue reading

The Devil’s Rejects

20 Mar


Rob Zombie, Haverhill native and former White Zombie frontman, again roils in ’70s slasher gore with this sequel to House of 1000 Corpses. Serial killers Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Baby Firefly (Rob’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie), and Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) — all variations of names in Marx Brothers films — are dislodged from their dilapidated abattoir by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), whose brother was offed in Corpses. What ensues is a cop-killer grudge match with some binding, torturing, and killing of innocents along the way. Rejects is an upgrade from Corpses. For one, it’s coherent, and despite the clichés and the profanity, there are some hilariously wicked moments. The biggest snag in the gritty homage is that Zombie’s heroes are cold-blooded killers. Oliver Stone tried the same trick with Natural Born Killers and almost succeeded, but even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left hung on the promise of victim survival and justice.


Sucker Punch

20 Mar

Review: Sucker Punch

Loud, sexy, and inane

By TOM MEEK  |  March 31, 2011

The words “loud, sexy, and inane” pretty much sum up the latest from Zack Snyder. The director of 300 and Watchmen has plenty of visual panache, but when it comes to storytelling, he’s a bombastic hack. Sucker Punch is the dark ballad of Babydoll (Emily Browning), a sulking waif committed to a mental institution by her nefarious stepfather after her sister is found dead. A lobotomy awaits, and to gain her freedom, or some semblance of justice, Babydoll drops into alternative planes of reality that involve a sweatshop bordello, where her dance skills rival those of Salome, and a fantasy landscape where she and several other scantily clad inmates battle Nazis, orcs, and dragons. The visuals, backed by a hip soundtrack, offer a ripe spectacle, but the trivial framework and insipid dialogue rupture the spell so often that no dance, no matter how titillating, can punch it up.

The Wait

20 Mar
Published in the Open Window Review in December of 2012.

The Wait

Ten years ago my sister bled out on foreign soil. Her soul is now part of the land she tried to protect. The cause of her demise? The military of a nation our country holds as a close ally. To add to that insult, a judge in that country has just excused the army from any wrong doing.

For one long decade, my family has suffered and prayed for closure. My parents spent their life savings on attorneys and trips to the Middle East trying to exact justice for Anna, to prove that she did not die in vain or in the stupid accidental manner that the Israeli government professes. It was all they did every day for ten years and now it has ended in the most vapid and insensitive way that only widens the hole and makes it bleed more.

Anna was ever the idealist, quick to take up a cause and fight wherever she saw injustice. She was born with a short leg and a lazy eye. The weak and the poor were her kin and her mission. As a Girl Scout she worked in a soup kitchen and visited the elderly after school. During college she set up a literacy fund to help educate inner city kids and get them scholarships to college. She did this all with a smile and a humble heart. She never wanted any recognition or thanks. My father said she had no limits, and no matter what she did, the world would be better for it.  Continue reading

The Season that Almost Wasn’t

20 Mar
Published in Slippery Rock's Literary Journal, SLAB in 2007.

The Season that Almost Wasn’t

For thirteen years I’ve been a Red Sox season ticket holder, though last season, which began with a tantrum, almost was the season that wasn’t.

It was the third Sunday in March, and like every third Sunday in March, we were to gather at Jim’s apartment in the South End to divvy up the tickets. A decade ago, when the South End was still gritty and Jim lived in a cluttered split-level, this process had been easy. There were six of us, and four seats (Section 41, Row 17, Seats 20-23; perched atop the upper lip of the concourse entrance, they were the best cheap buckets in all of Fenway, a short hop to the beer stand and nothing before you but a railing and more legroom than anywhere else in the park, except perhaps the luxury skyboxes), but over the years, things became complicated. Jim upgraded to a penthouse loft. His girlfriend’s father moved to New Hampshire, bequeathing us (Jim, the pool) two pricey box seats, and, as Jim’s entrepreneurial ventures started to take off, it was not unlikely to find one or two new guys at Jim’s on that third Sunday in March. They essentially amounted to generic, J. Crew goons with over-starched collars, who got in because they fed Jim’s bottom line. I was never consulted about such additions, and hated paying double for two cramped slots under the batter’s net (and the rules of our draft deemed you had to pick them) when I could be out in the spacious wilds of the bleachers. By 2004 we had six seats, seventeen shares, a complicated draft process, and rules, on top of rules, on top of rules. In short, the one-hour booze fest had blown up into a three hour, consult my wife on the cell phone, pissing contest.  Continue reading