War, pestilence, disaster, dysfunction — we’ve all had our fill. We’re overfed with bad news, like a surfeit of holiday fudge but with a bitter, sorrowful aftertaste. So while the year is still fresh and new, let’s take a moment to cleanse the palate with good tidings. Herewith, an admittedly quirky list of developments I found encouraging, even thrilling, in recent headlines.
These innovative flights of urban fancy are easy to mock, because the early rollout of the converted parking spaces didn’t go well. Seats were uncomfortable, the spaces were rather barren, and many people were unclear on the concept. But I love the idea because it feels like a small victory over the relentless privatization of the public realm. Parklets reclaim a bit of the city street from private cars and return it to us all. Happily, the Boston Transportation Department isn’t giving up, and a third parklet is scheduled for development in Allston this spring.
After 40 years of warnings by health officials that the overuse of antibiotics is weakening their effectiveness, the Food and Drug Administration last month ruled against the routine practice of feeding the drugs to livestock simply to fatten them more quickly for slaughter. Yes, the action was way overdue, but let’s hope it’s a sign that the sleepy FDA is reawakening to its mission to protect the public health. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year.
I don’t care if the new study finding that people who eat nuts live longer was partially funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation. The news that noshing on an ounce a day of cashews reduces the incidence of cancer, diabetes, and other diseases — in a huge Harvard study of 118,000 people over 30 years — means I’ve just made the easiest New Year’s resolution in history.
There are now 18 states that recognize same-sex marriage, since a federal judge in Utah — Utah! — ruled that banning gay marriage in that state violates equal protection guarantees in the US Constitution. Sure, the state has appealed to the Supreme Court, but many hundreds of ordinary, taxpaying, hard-working Utah citizens who happen to be gay have gotten legally married in the past few weeks, and it’s going to be hard to un-marry them. There’s that old arc of history again, bending toward justice.
A push for fair play
It’s only two years old, but the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren has secured billions in settlements from banks and loan servicers, won millions in refunds for homeowners whose mortgages were wrongly foreclosed, stopped deceptive practices by credit card companies, and issued aggressive new rules and oversight for student loans. And they say government can’t do anything.
The minimum required
Voters in the small town of SeaTac, Washington, home to the international airport near Seattle, approved a minimum wage of $15 an hour in November — the highest in the country. Increases in shamefully low minimum wages are on the ballot in several states this year, and everyone from President Obama to the pope is talking about the need to address income inequality. The national wage of $7.25 an hour means a full-time worker still earns below the federal poverty line, which just seems un-American. Fixing it is only one step toward real economic equity, but it’s coming.
Starting this July, Massachusetts hospitals, hotels, universities, and large restaurants will be prohibited from tossing their food waste out with the trash, and required instead to separate organic mater for composting. The ban only applies to institutions that dump more than a ton of food waste a week, so it’s not exactly a burden on Sal’s Pizza. Besides easing the pressure on landfills, composting the soil reduces the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Too much government intrusion, you say? The island of Nantucket, hardly a socialist paradise, has been requiring it for more than 10 years.
This bit of good news comes courtesy of the Daily Almanac: Today already has seven more minutes of daylight than Dec. 21st, and there are just 64 more days to Daylight Savings Time. Happy New Year.