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Weightlifting Program Helps At-Risk Kids

By Toni Waterman   |   Thursday, October 20, 2011
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Oct. 21, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 20 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — Six days a week, Jon Feinman can be found at the gym, teaching inner-city teens about the lesser known sport of Olympic weightlifting.

"Olympic lifts just involve a tremendous amount of technique and practice and patience and learning," he said. "And what we see with a lot of our students is that it teaches a lot of basic skills in terms of patience, hard work, dedication."

Feinman is the founder of Innercity Weightlifting, a program designed to get the city's most at-risk kids off the streets and into the gym. It launched two years ago with four students. Today, its membership tops 200. But, Feinman says, weightlifting is just the hook to get kids through the door. Once inside, it's all about mentoring.

"Hey, how's school going?" Feinman asked a young student in between reps.

Feinman and his team of 11 coaches and tutors are dedicated to rebuilding their students' lives, offering classes on personal training and in-house GED tutoring. And the two-year-old program is already seeing some real world successes.

"We have some kids who get back into school. There are two students this summer that have graduated from the Boston public school credit recovery program and now they're working full time jobs," said Feinman. "We've gotten three and hopefully four now, students into Year-Up where they get college credit, stipend and internship."

And Feinman added, there are a lot of success stories still in the making, like that of 23-year-old "Frank," who asked that we not use his real name. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and has been in and out of jail ever since.

"My record, I've got gun charges, I've got attempted murder, robbery— basically violence, gun charges basically," Frank said.

Since joining Innercity Weightlifting, Frank said he's turned his life around, meeting with a tutor twice a week and studying to become a personal trainer.

"I come here for hope. It did change my life a lot because usually I would have been in the streets, running wild," said Frank.

Volunteer GED tutor Kelly Jeffers works with Frank twice a week and said he's made incredible progress since joining the program last year.

"He's been able to take the GED test one time already. He's passed a majority of the test and only has a couple more to pass," said Jeffers. "He has to take the remainder and we're hoping he's the first person from this program to get their GED through the tutoring we do here."

Jeffers is the program's one tutor and says out of all the programs out there looking for tutors, this is the one that caught his attention.

"The guys are really great. They all have amazing personalities. They're all very loud and boisterous and they really like to joke around, but they also seem very receptive to a lot of the lessons you're really teaching them, not just academic lessons, but the life lessons," said Jeffers.

The program has also helped to get 19-year-old "Breeze," who also did not want his real named used, off the streets and back into school. With the help of an Innercity Weightlifting tutor, he graduated from a technical school in August.

"I've got good coaches, good mentors. They're actually training me now for college, because I start college in January," Breeze said. "It keeps me out of trouble. I have somewhere, something to do."

As for Jon Feinman, he said the program's popularity and success is making it hard to meet demand. His biggest obstacle? The uncontrollable nature of the streets.

"My fear is that there's always going to be the streets around that are going to be trying to prevent what we're trying to accomplish," Feinman said. "But, we've seen change happen in some kids that people thought wasn't possible. And just those success stories alone are enough to keep us going."

Paul Revere's Bell Is Born Again In Boston

By Cristina Quinn   |   Monday, October 17, 2011
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Oct. 17, 2011

BOSTON — Patriots young and old gathered in front of the Old South Meeting House in Downtown Boston Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to an old bronze bell. But it wasn't just any old bronze bell. This bell was made by Paul Revere and his foundry back in 1801, one of only 49 still believed to exist. And it was about to be hoisted up to the belfry of the Old South Meeting House, which has stood without a bell for 135 years.

Paul Revere's bronze bell before being hoisted up to the belfry of the Old South Meeting House in Boston. (Cristina Quinn/WGBH)

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and members of the Old South Association saluted the bell's arrival with choruses, brass ensembles and a hand bell choir.

The mayor emphasized the historical significance of both the bell and its maker.

"Several hundred thousand people walk by here every day. It's part of maintaining our past for the future. It's very special," Menino said.

The bell spent over 160 years at the First Baptist Church in Westborough until the church closed in 2007. It seemed natural that such an important bell be placed in the meeting house where colonists began the Boston Tea Party.

But for some in the crowd, the Old South Meeting House has a personal and more recent connection. Christiana Fisher and James Peterson of Allston were married at the Old South Meeting House in April, when it was without a bell.

"We wanted a bell at the end of the ceremony, and so my mother arranged for everybody who attended to ring hand bells at the end of the ceremony, which was awesome, and now they're getting a bell, so we came back to check it out," Fisher said.

For others at the ceremony, it was just another day at work. Scott Brooks is the crane operator responsible for picking up the 879-pound bell and assuring its arrival in the belfry.

"I work around here all the time. I make a lot of picks, but this is kind of special. It's part of history and part of Boston," Brooks said.

The crowd watched in near silence as Brooks slowly lifted the bronze. By 2 p.m., Paul Revere's bell was in its new home, and in a few short weeks, the bell will chime at the top of every hour, just as it did for the colonists of Boston so many years ago.

Can Obama's Jobs Bill Help The Long-term Unemployed?

By Toni Waterman   |   Thursday, October 6, 2011
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Oct. 6, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 4 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — Starting every morning at 5:30am, Regina Logan can be found at her small dinning room table, hunched over the newspaper looking for a job.

Logan is desperate. After leaving a cushy job in Maryland a few years ago to help one of her daughters, she's bounced around from temp job to temp job. But she's been out of work since January — and it hasn't been from a lack of trying.

"Like my license, I don't leave home without my resumes. I'm distributing them everywhere I go: To bus drivers, T-personnel, people that I see in Dunkin' Donuts, people that I see on the train going downtown, my elected officials. All of these people have it," she said.

Logan says it's a darn good resume too, loaded with years of experience as an executive secretary, plus, a recent addition: a Bachelor of Science degree from Springfield College.

"I've done all the right things up until this point, and where has it gotten me?"

It's gotten her in the same boat as millions of other Americans; educated, but long-term unemployed. It's the exact group President Obama is targeting in his $447-billion Jobs Bill, which he laid out to the joint Congress on September 8, 2011.

"Pass this jobs bill and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than 6-months looking for a job," Obama said.

It sounds like a good deal, but Medfield, Mass. business owner Thomas Erb says it just won't work. He's been in the clock-making business for 30 years, and many Electric Time clocks grace town squares across the globe.

Erb said he'd love to hire more workers, but it wouldn't be for a tax credit. It would be because he needs them.

"We look at our staffing requirements based on our sales. If you're a manufacturing organization, you know what you need for staff," said Erb. "And throwing a little money at it won't make a difference as far as hiring someone."

In fact, Erb said he's been doing the exact opposite, slashing employee overtime and cutting back on outside costs.

"We clean our own offices. We cut our own lawn. We go outside and fix the roof ourselves. We really brought a lot of these things that used to be done outside, inside, and have been able to save a fair amount of money that way."

Besides, Erb said, the one-time $4,000 tax credit offered in Obama's jobs bill is just a drop in the bucket compared to how much it costs to hire and keep an employee on the job.

"For the health insurance, it amounts to about $5 per hour per employee, which is a lot of money. It can cost up to $10,000 an employee per year," said Erb.

Robert Baker is the President of the Small Business Association of New England. He says one big thing the President's Jobs Bill doesn't address is job training.

"It takes a while to get someone skilled if you're doing fabrication or metal bending or braising. It takes training and training takes money," said Baker. "Believe it or not, employers in Massachusetts are having trouble finding skilled labor and I think training money helps them bridge that gap."

The bigger problem with the President's bill, says UMass Dartmouth Professor of Public Policy Michael Goodman, is that it doesn't address the country's and individual's overhanging debt.

"Doing something to resolve a lot of this debt that we're dealing with, not just in the public sector, but in the private sector and our households, will be necessary if we're going to return to something approximating normal," said Goodman.

Goodman said it's going to take bringing creditors and debtors together and recognizing that both parties are going to have to take some loss at some point.

"The inability to do that here in the U.S. and certainly in Europe has been prolonging this crisis," said Goodman. "And I think while a short-term stimulus is welcome and necessary, we're going to find ourselves in a similar situation a few years down the road if we don't take real action."

Not good news for Regina Logan. She said she's hoping the President's bill passes soon. In the meantime, she's going to keep on looking for a job.

"Versus nothing that's out there already, this is another opportunity. I have to stay hopeful."

Unlocking LSD's Medical Properties

By Bob Seay   |   Thursday, September 29, 2011
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Sept. 30, 2011

BOSTON — Remember LSD, that infamous mind-expanding drug of the 1960s? Some young researchers at Harvard Medical School have cracked open the door to the LSD vault, which had pretty much been locked for more than 40 years.

Jake Wintermute is one of those researchers. He's a metabolic engineer researching pathways to new drugs from those long blacklisted compounds, LSD and especially lysergic acid. "I recently finished my Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School in the department of systems biology. I'm a metabolic engineer and what we do is genetically modify micro-organisms to try to get them to produce molecules, compounds, that are either interesting or valuable," Wintermute explained.

Tabs of street-grade LSD. (via Greater Boston)

LSD turns out to be both interesting and valuable. But LSD and its close cousin lysergic acid have been under lock and key for decades. They're controlled substances, strictly regulated by both federal and state laws.

"There's real agents in suits with guns and when we get it, we have to sign it out, and there is a two-key mechanism to open the cabinet that has the lysergic acid. They don't mess around," Wintermute said.

Those old enough to remember the 1960s may know why those drugs ended up behind bars.

Here is a quote from Dr. Timothy Leary, in a 1967 debate about LSD from the WGBH archives:

"Now the message I have is an old one. It's the simplest and most classic message ever passed on in the world's history. It's those six words: 'Drop out, turn on, then come back and tune it in," Leary said.

Before Leary, researchers in the 1950s were exploring the medical potential of LSD as a possible cure for everything from alcoholism to anxiety and depression.

Leary saw it as a way to reach a deeper level of thinking and inspiration. He became the messiah of LSD. He wanted to turn on the whole world — and on that night in 1967, students packed into Kresge Auditorium at MIT.

Timothy Leary in 1967, a former Harvard psychology professor and proponent of LSD. (via WGBH Open Vault)

"If you take science seriously, and you take the history of science seriously, you'll realize that every great scientist wasn't in it for the commercial pay-off. He was in it to find out what it's all about, what's the nature of energy, what are the many levels of energy, what are the levels of consciousness, how can we map them out and how can we use them," Leary argued.

"And, as he got to know more and more, and to penetrate deeper and deeper into the mysteries of energy around us, he began to...flip out. He began to flip out. Look at Einstein: Einstein did it without LSD," Leary said.

Leary's opponent in the debate was MIT professor Jerome Lettvin. He warned against the loss of judgment that came with LSD, and the risk of "return trips," the repeated episodes that sometimes followed a single dose of LSD.

"Suddenly the colors whirl around, suddenly smells have color, suddenly colors have sounds, and then you're back in the normal world. And what does this smell like clinically, Tim? What does this smell like to you? As a clinician, what is this? If you saw a patient who complained of this, what is it that he would have? What would you diagnose him as?" Lettvin pressed Leary.

Leary: "A visionary mystic."

Lettvin: "[Expletive]! You would diagnose him as a temporal lobe epileptic with an aura. And you know that goddam well!"

Jerome Lettvin, an MIT professor, psychiatrist and cognitive scientist, as seen in the 1967 debate with Timothy Leary about LSD. (via WGBH Open Vault)

Lettvin's sobering message seemed to carry the day in that long-ago debate. Leary was eventually discredited, and the drug locked up by governments around the world. Forgotten was the work of Leary's predecessors, those researchers of the '50s with their hopes for the medical potential of LSD. That's the trail that Jake Wintermute picked up.

His main interest is actually in a close chemical relative to LSD, lysergic acid. Which, he said, can be made both cheaply and quickly using new bioengineering methods.

"But more importantly, a lot of these compounds, they haven't really been developed since the 1950s," Wintermute said. "There are a lot of exciting new drugs that are being developed thanks to these new bioengineering technologies and no one yet has taken up lysergic acid as a kind of promising new precursor and I think a lot of that is because there is this kind of stigma, taboo, when you are working on something that is so illegal or so close to illegal. We presented this work recently at a conference and it was a little bit hard to get people to take it seriously because of the LSD connection."

Wintermute makes it clear that he's not talking about the acid that Timothy Leary dropped.

"These are the kind of drugs, they'll ease your Parkinson's symptoms, they'll cure your migraines, but they won't necessarily get you high, at least in the sort of clinical doses. Particularly the elder dementia treatment, is the one that gets us up in the morning. That's the big market with the aging population," Wintermute said.

It seems like LSD traditionally takes people out of reality and this research is actually about achieving the reverse. Wintermute said the actual mechanism by which the compound works is still somewhat mysterious and has something to do with it acting as a "vasodilator."

He explained the term, "It sort of opens up the blood vessels of the brain, improves the circulation in the brain; the sort of enhanced clarity that people on these drugs can sometimes benefit from comes from that."

New drugs could come from an LSD-related compound — drugs that open up the brain — but not in the manner of Timothy Leary. It's been 40 years but finally we'll have a chance, thanks to Jake Wintermute and others, to see if the hopes of those long-ago researchers of the 1950s will be fulfilled.

On a related note, it turns out that Jake Wintermute's mother was a psychiatric nurse who signed up for an LSD trial back in the early 1960s.

"She tried it. And she liked it. She had the Leary-style experience but she worked in psych wards and she saw the down-side too and she eventually did come to a more Lettvin kind of position about it," Wintermute said.

What does Wintermute's mother think of his research now?

He said, "I think she's proud. I get the occasional wink from Mom."

You can watch the whole mind-blowing Leary-Lettvin LSD debate on WGBH's open vault.

Waiting For Troy Davis

By Phillip Martin   |   Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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Sept. 28, 2011

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The news that Troy Anthony Davis was executed in Georgia was met with silence and teary-eyed dismay in Harvard Square late Wednesday night.

All night, a small, racially diverse group of candle-carrying protestors waited for news from the US Supreme Court. Would Troy Davis receive a stay of execution? Amnesty International¹s Northeast Director Josh Rubenstein organized the vigil. At 8:04pm he was hopeful.

"So now we're hearing that there is a reprieve. It could last for a very short time. He could be executed tonight or they could ask for more time, and we'll see," Rubenstein said.

All eyes and thumbs in the crowd then turned to their iPhones and blackberries and scrolled for news from the High Court. A man passing by at 8:26 p.m. gave the crowd a disapproving finger.

At 8:45 p.m., one vigil participant named Verne Noma said, "I just think this is a barbaric practice in general, but specifically in this case it just seems that there are just too many questions and I don't agree with it."

The Supreme Court announcement that many believed would come at 9pm did not. And the 40 individuals that were brought together via Twitter and Facebook continued their vigil.

At 9:23 p.m., some candles that had blown out as the wind picked up were relighted.

Some of the anti-death penalty protestors seemed hopeful that mitigating circumstances — including seven out of 10 witnesses recanting testimony against Troy Davis —would convince the High Court to stay the execution.

A woman in the crowd spoke. "My name is Theresa McGowan, someone got through to the Supreme Court and they left a message. The Supreme Court said there hasn't been a verdict yet. And I hope something positive comes out tonight."

At 10:49 p.m., when I returned to Harvard Square the small crowd had become even smaller and most of the candles had blown out.

At 11:08 p.m., Troy Anthony Davis was put to death in Jackson, Georgia, and the group in Harvard Square slowly dispersed, despondent and deeply disturbed.

About the Authors
Bob Seay Bob Seay
Bob Seay is the host of NPR's Morning Edition on 89.7FM WGBH Radio. He got his start in radio during college at WMUH, got involved with WGBH TV while in graduate school at Boston University and formerly hosted ME at WRNI in Rhode Island.
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at liftedveils.org.


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