Tag Archives: Harvard

Watch Dogging the Historic Charm of Harvard Square

12 Jun

Harvard Square isn’t losing Defense Fund, it’s just gaining Neighborhood Association

Longtime thorn in side of developers morphs with new generation

Gladys “Pebble” Gifford, Caroline James, Marilee Meyer and Abra Berkowitz amid work on Harvard Square issues. (Photo: Carole Perrault)

The Harvard Square Defense Fund is back – rebranded.

The citizens group had some powerhouse years after its founding in 1979 by Gladys “Pebble” Gifford – blocking fast food franchises, sending the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum off to Boston and reshaping Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts – but has been dormant for years, even as people griped that the quaint square was losing its charm amid an infestation of banks and chain retailers. Believing the fund dissolved as far back as 2008, when Gifford gave testimony against the coming of The Sinclair nightclub in 2011, she did so as just a neighbor.

“The directors all got elderly or died. We thought we’d officially put it to bed,” Gifford said of her organization.

But when the city announced a $4.6 million plan to revamp the square’s 89-year-old Out of Town News kiosk and surrounding plaza, activists worried the alterations would nullify its classic charm and iconic features.

Members of the group Our Harvard Square, which includes Suzanne Blier, a Harvard architectural historian, and Susan Labandibar, president of Tech Networks of Boston, began calling for the structure – already on the list of the National Register of Historic Places – to be designated as a landmark by the Cambridge Historic Commission in hopes it would further ensure its preservation.  Continue reading

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Casting Doubt

21 Mar

The documentary “Merchants of Doubt,” based on the 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, targets the naysayers of climate change, shining a light on the corporations that employ scientists denying climate change to misdirect and obfuscate in order to protect the bottom line. The book’s authors argue that this practice started with Big Tobacco. When the health risks of smoking became widely documented by the medical and scientific communities, tobacco responded by conducting their own studies, putting scientists in their pocket, conjuring up counter-evidence and most importantly, casting doubt.

“It’s easy to poke holes,” Oreskes, a professor of history of science at Harvard said in an interview. “Real science is hard.” And it seems especially arcane when it comes to the state of our environment’s health. “Global warming and climate change are very complex,” she explains. “There’s a lot of science behind it, so it’s not so easy to explain, and scientists are not the best at explaining. That’s why it’s easy for a ‘merchant of doubt’ to hold up a snowball in Congress.” (Oreskes will take part in a Q&A at the Kendall Square Cinema after the 7:10 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday.)

Naomi Oreskes, author of the book "Merchants of Doubt." (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

The reference to Sen. Jim Inhofe’s now-infamous gimmick of tossing a snowball at his fellow lawmakers to “prove” that global warming’s a myth is one of the many face-palming gems in “Merchants of Doubt.” The documentary is directed by Richard Kenner, best known for turning a few people vegan with“Food, Inc,” the raw and edgy examination of the mass livestock and meatpacking industries, which was Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary in 2010. Oreskes and Conway’s book singles out the squad of well-paid scientist and academics, referred to contemptuously as the “gang of four,” who have been doing the bidding of big business since the cigarette lobby of the 1960s. The movie focuses in on one of the four, the aging physicist Fred Singer, as well as on the Koch brothers and Marc Morano, a mouthpiece for conservative interests, who, while lacking discernible academic cred (his CV lists ties to Rush Limbaugh and Inhofe), compels with the kind of winning charisma and unshakable confidence that would make Ronald Reagan smile.

Kenner’s environmental illumination isn’t quite as biting or tightly tied as “Food, Inc,” and while, comparisons to “An Inconvenient Truth,” 2007’s Oscar winner,  and “The 11th Hour” are inevitable, “Merchants of Doubt” walks its own path and confidently so. It’s less about trying to convince us that global warming is happening, more about showing that there are people out there trying to actively deny it for monetary gain. Kenner punctures the decade-spanning narrative with interludes of a wry magician (Jamy Ian Swiss who is also in “An Honest Lair” also opening in Boston at the same time) wowing a small crown with deft sleight-of-hand. The cutaways from the “merchants” to the acts of chicanery draw a barbed parallel to the work Morano and Co. do as they spin and deflect for “deep carbonized” special interests.

Marc Morano, a leading climate change skeptic, featured in "Merchants of Doubt" (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

And to Inhofe’s point, Oreskes understands the lazy logic employed there and points to the shifting jet stream as the polar ice caps melt. The pummeling that Boston took this winter and our current all-time snowfall record helps underscore the point. “People finally are starting to get it,” Oreskes says, perking up on the Boston subject, “that it’s not just a singular freak occurrence and that these weather pattern disruptions are the result of climate change and global warming.”

Well before the movie, Oreskes’s work researching scientific consensus on climate change and advocacy had been a touchstone for many, especially those who had embraced the notion of “going green” as something more than just a lifestyle choice. “Scientific debates are settled by evidence, not arguments,” says Quinton Zondervan, president of Green Cambridge and a fan of Oreskes’s book. “At the end of the day,” he poses in a vein akin to Oreskes, “people need to ask themselves a simple question: Am I making the world a better place, or am I contributing to its destruction?”   Continue reading

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.