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Baratunde feels the burn (Weekly Dig)

Originally published in Baratunde's bi-weekly GOODCRIMETHINK column in the July 18, 2007 edition of Boston's Weekly Dig I've lost a lot of weight. I know because everyone keeps telling me that I've lost a lot of weight. Then they ask, "What's your secret?" It wasn't part of any plan, and I'll share the "secret" without ganking a basic concept from a late 19th century religious movement, packaging it into a DVD/book/CD and charging $29.95. Ready? I no longer eat dinner at midnight, lunch is my biggest meal, and my primary form of local transportation is walking--20 to 30 miles per week. I get exercise, and I get to experience the city. I thought I'd bring you along with me on one of my regular routes from my apartment in Union Square, Somerville to the Mass General Hospital area. Transformers, roll out! Our journey begins, as any real Boston journey should, at a Dunkin' Donuts. This one is at Prospect Street and Somerville Ave. I'll never be a real New Englander because I hate most things about Dunkin' Donuts. The donuts suck, and the "coffee" is just liquified sugar. There are a few redeeming qualities in this particular location, however. First, it's open 24 hours and serves as the second bathroom for my apartment. Second, it's open 24 hours and serves as a satellite police station for my apartment. Now, head east on Somerville Ave, passing two of the six auto repair shops that dot my route. I'm sure these businesses will be replaced with luxury condos when the Green Line gets extended to Union next century. This building on our right with the perpetual soccer match on the screen is the Demosthenes Democratic Club. As far as I can tell, it's where Greek men go to avoid saying hi to me. As we approach a right turn onto Medford Street, you'll see Target on the right. Living near a Target used to excite me. Then I found out Target allows its pharmacists to refuse to fill women's contraceptive prescriptions. They haven't gotten a dollar from me since, but I have considered donating unwanted babies. Pass under the commuter rail overpass, and pause at Medford & Ward Streets, home of La Hacienda. A British taxi driver told me this place had the best pizza in the area. He was right. I recommend the four-cheese white pizza. After a few more auto body shops and the hideous Twin City Plaza strip mall, Medford St. becomes Gore St. on the Cambridge side. There's another Dunkin' Donuts at Third St., this one protected by Cambridge's Finest. Keep walking straight, right through the Lechmere T stop onto McGrath Highway and alongside the Museum of Science. Be sure to yell "quack quack" as loud as possible at the Duck Tours. The drivers love when you do that. Ahead and across Storrow Drive you can see the Charles River Park Apartment towers, the "If you lived here, you'd be home by now" people. What they don't tell you is that if you lived there, you'd also be broke by now. A one bedroom can set you back over $2,000 a month. The downside of all this walking is the oppressive summer heat, but on hot days like these, it's nice to know I can pop in to the State Police Department at Storrow amd McGrath and walk out with a refreshing Coolata. BARATUNDE THURSTON IS A COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR LIVING IN SOMERVILLE. HIS COLUMN RUNS BIWEEKLY IN THE DIG. WALK YOUR INTERNETS TO BARATUNDE.COM, AND THEN SWEAT ALL OVER

Weekly DIg Column #13 - Campaign 2008: Of Fetuses and Fearmongering

Another column is out in this week's Weekly Dig in Boston and online. An excerpt:
the former New York mayor won't let us forget that he is the former New York mayor. His campaign is: "The terrorists want to kill you." That's his plan for America. Here is a guy who, unlike the president, did not completely drop the ball on 9.11, and now considers himself a hero. Whoop-de-friggin'-doo. Hey, I didn't crap my pants on 9.11. Does that qualify me to be president?
and other such fun statements

Weekly Dig Column #12 - Bill me later

The thing about having a biweekly column is that I actually have to write that joint biweekly! Check out this week's installment in The Weekly Dig (free at Boston newsstands and cool places like Relic; also free at the Internet and places like this blog). I take a flash backward to my high school years and the making of a young radical:
As president of the Black Student Union, I was constantly called into meetings about issues of race. I spent an unhealthy amount of time compiling reports on the quality of life for students of color. While I should have been learning in the classroom, I was often expected to teach, on demand, from my presumed edition of the Negropedia: A Comprehensive Repository of All Black Knowledge for the Edification of White People.

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Dig Column #11: After Oil

photo via Flickr by jddunn My Weekly Dig column is out in print. The subject this week: peak oil production. The title (click for full piece): "After Oil" Here's the intro:
Warning: If you saw An Inconvenient Truth and thought, "Oh my God, we’re all gonna die," hold on to your sun hats. While our leaders launch plans to reduce carbon emissions (kudos to Boston and the state for their recent announcements), an even more immediate and systemic problem is lurking, like Governor Patrick in a parking garage, threatening to derail much of our society.
There isn't nearly enough space in that column to address the ideas of peak oil production and the societal implications that follow. If you find this post, consider it a starting place to continue the conversation (but not in that hokey Hillary Clinton way). I'll be updating the post with email comments I get and with some links to resources I've come to like. The book that started my doomsday scenario-making. Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century A blog I now read daily on issues of oil, population, energy, etc. The Oil Drum I saw a speech by the author of Guns, Germs and Steel on his new book Collapse A ridiculous paper about a looming population collapse that got me back in my funk Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room An inspiring talk by Majora Carter (of Sustainable South Bronx) given at the TED conference Greening the ghetto

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Weekly Dig Column #10: Me, My Mom and Iowa

(this is my 10th column for the Dig and I'm damn proud of it. You can see the original article on their site with cool artwork, etc). I have been to Iowa three times in the past two years. That is strange behavior for any black man who is not named Barack Obama. These trips have got me thinking, not about Election Day, but about Mother's Day and why Iowa figures so prominently in several defining moments in my relationship with my own mother. My first visit to Iowa was in April 2005. I was driving west on a road trip with my mom and sister, as Ma fulfilled her lifelong dream of moving to Washington state. After several nomadic years in Massachusetts, each of which placed her closer to me -- Pittsfield, Attleboro, Fall River -- and with her only son deemed fully "raised," my mom decided it was time to go. With the full Thurston family in convoy formation, we spent the ride talking pets and politics. We made our most memorable stop in Waukee, Iowa. This was not intentional. We had been aiming for Des Moines but managed to miss it even though the map said we drove right through it. Suggestion to Des Moines: Put up some buildings. On the other side of the "city," my mom spotted a sign for "LT's Organic Farm and Restaurant." We could not resist. This was, after all, the woman who introduced rice cakes, sprouted bread and homemade tofu into her children's diet. We stopped at LT's for the best meal I've ever had in the US outside of my family's cooking. Take that, Taco Bell. The second visit to Iowa was in November 2005. I was driving east on a road trip alone, transporting my mom's belongings after her passing. In the summer of 2001, she had been diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery. Years later, living in Portland, OR, on the coast of her dreams, the cancer came back with a swift vengeance. There was very little time. We saw many doctors and even flew her to Dana-Farber, but it was not enough. There were moments of joy, however. She answered the "Do you know who the president is?" question with "I'd rather not say." On that solemn drive in November of 2005, I stopped at LT's again and gave them one of the many blankets my mom had crocheted. Of course they remembered her. The third and most recent visit to Iowa was three weeks ago, on the second anniversary of that initial westward journey. I was speaking and performing at Iowa State's First Amendment Day, when I stumbled across the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame. The "hall of fame," I'm sure, was just an annual listing of every black person to ever live in Iowa. I’m surprised that they needed last names. They could have said simply "1996: Steve, Bill, Janice. 1997: James, Eddie, That Guy at the Conoco. 1998: Steve again." I would like to add a name. "2005: Arnita." Although my mother was only there for a day, Iowa was lucky to have her, even for that moment. To the woman who raised two college-graduating kids alone in DC, who enjoyed telling a story as much as hearing one and who taught me the guiding lesson of my life, "Always question authority," I say: Happy Mother's Day, Ma. BARATUNDE THURSTON IS THE PROUD SON OF ARNITA. HE MAINTAINS A MEMORIAL WEBSITE AT DAMBUDZO.COM.

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A Final Solution for the Religious Right - But Not in a Holocaust-y Way

The following is my monthly column published in The Somerville News for August 2005: I am a liberal. I sip a latte every now and then. I studied French in college. I read books that don’t start with “in the beginning.” And I like who I am, but in a place like BostoCamberVille, I can get used to this Northeast, pinko-commie, ape-descendin bubble. I got tired of listening to the Blame America First crowd. I needed a break from Air America and Maureen Dowd and Osama bin Laden. So, in an effort to understand Bush supporters who exist “out there” somewhere, I decided to break with tradition. I wouldn’t do anything radical like move to Utah (though there’s clearly something in the Great Salt Lake that makes one gubernatorial). I started, more modestly, with a book. I started reading the Left Behind series. For the uninitiated, the Left Behind series is a set of bestselling books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and it is very popular among those so-called “values voters” in the so-called “Bible Belt.” It’s a fictional account of an extreme interpretation of the Bible, so it’s sort of like meta-fiction. The main idea is one espoused by many evangelical Christians – by the way, for you tree-hugging set, “Christianity” is what’s known as a “religion” in which people tried to follow the example of a man named Jesus Christ but, along the way, got distracted with “churches” and “gays.” The evangelicals believe that someday very soon (as in any moment), Jesus will return to “rapture” his church, taking away all the true Christians to Heaven and leaving the rest “left behind.” Get it? Left Behind? The religious right is so clever. In one instant Jesus will actually snatch away the bodies of the true believers, all children under age 12 and even the dead who were true believers. Pregnant women will lose their babies. Poof! They’ll be gone. It’ll be like spontaneous combustion without that annoying residue. All that will be left are the clothes, jewelry and pacemakers of the disappeared. The people left behind will have to deal with the fact that the crazy fanatics were actually right, and they’ll have to deal with seven years of tribulation in which the anti-Christ will rise, Jews will convert to Christianity, the world will subscribe to a single religion and lots of bad things involving signs, seals and marks of the beast will generally make a mess of planet Earth. This sounds like something Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer might make into a big Hollywood blockbuster. Instead, we have to settle for Kirk Cameron starring in the Left Behind straight-to-video DVDs. On the one hand, these books are kind of interesting – full of adventure, conspiracy and romance like any decent spy novel. On the other hand, they’re full of the very real beliefs held by millions of people, many of whom are allowed to vote and operate heavy machinery. I saw a bumper sticker on a car in Ohio that read: “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” These Rapturists are allowed to drive, even though they think at any moment, J-Chris will snatch them away from that important duty, leaving their car to slam into who-knows-what? All of the sudden, 72 virgins doesn’t sound so crazy anymore. Among the millions of Rapture believers is none other than George W. Bush, which kind of explains his governing style. Why save the environment when you and everyone you care about will soon be Audi 5000? For many of us New England liberals, this is all hard to swallow. I mean, how can a supposedly loving God abandon so many souls? The Dalai Lama and all those peaceful Tibetan monks? Left Behind. Hindus who may have spent their entire lives serving the poor? Left Behind. It’s not even that all the Christians get beamed up. Only the “true” evangelical, born-again breed qualify for the express train to Heaven. I began to wonder how God could leave all these good people behind to face Hell on Earth? But maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. Imagine all those crazy, right-wing nut jobs who want a giant Ten Commandments tablet in front of every subway entrance, who want to cover up nipples on ancient sculptures, who harass you on the streets with their salvation pamphlets, who throw blood on abortion doctors and think the Bible is a science textbook and consider dancing a sin. Do you have a good picture of them in your minds? Now, imagine them suddenly gone, beamed up in a single moment to their “heaven” full of fat, naked people just like themselves with decomposing corpses and fetuses to keep them company, leaving the rest of us Left Alone. I can’t think of a better outcome. In the words of my favorite evangelical Christian, “bring it on.”