Monday, June 30, 2008

Debt exclusion will be on ballot

And oh yeah, the Council voted to put the $7.8 million debt exclusion question on November's ballot.

Again, an 8-3 vote (Or 8-2-1 - Greg Earls voted 'present'; is that because his wife is the director of the Newburyport Learning Enrichment Center, one of the entities that would go into a Kelley School that houses Newburyport Youth Services? Dunno.)

Voting 'no' were Larry McCavitt and Tom O'Brien.

Council approves re-designation of Cushing Park

Hallelujah brothers and sister!

This was kind of a surprise, given that a couple of days ago it seemed the order was doomed to failure.

So now Cushing Park is turned over to the mayor yada yada funds secured within 5 years (as opposed to 10) yada yada but no alterations can take place until sufficient funds for completion of entire center have been committed yada and this decision does not preclude siting the senior center somewhere else.

The vote was 8-3, with councillors Connell, Ives and Shanley voting 'no.'

Shanley noted that he had to vote as the ward councillor (Cushing Park, if I'm not mistaken, is in his ward) and too many people had asked him to vote against the proposal to re-designate the 'park' from municipal parking to municipal parking/senior center.

The vote took more than 2 hrs., with the council struggling over words and conditions to the original order, which was to re-designate the park and turn it over to the mayor.

Friends of the Council on Aging will now attempt to secure funding to build the estimated $5M building within 5 years. The funding, not the actual building, has to take place within 5 years or it goes back to the Council.

So let's see if it flies - but once again, the City Council has stepped up and made the tough decision. I'm encouraged!

See Tom Salemi's blog for much more coherent detail.

City website gets new look

Wow, check out the city's spiffy new website, here. It's been a while coming, but it looks a lot better than the old one.

Mayor John Moak says on the home page, I am now pleased to announce that citizens can now pay their Real Estate Tax, Personal Property Tax and Parking Tickets by ACH Electronic Check or MasterCard, Discover and American Express. Other bills and payments for Utilities and other fees and services will be implemented in the future.

Wow again - look, pictures of the City Council and the School Committee! What's with the photo of the mayor, though? I have a nice photo I took of him, sitting in his office looking official and also smiling.

Well done, whover did this.

City Council or Red Sox?

This is my dilemma. One could be just as ... pardon me ... dismal as the other.

On the other hand, the Red Sox are playing Tampa Bay and there could be another brawl.

The City Council is debating whether to change the designation of Cushing Park so (maybe) a senior citizens center can be built there, someday. There could be a brawl here, too, only of a more verbal nature.

I see all kinds of comments and opinions on this issue, most notably in the Daily News and on Tom Salemi's blog. This is the latest, from community activist and open space advocate Mary Harbaugh.

I wonder if Mary is in any way related to Jim Harbaugh, former quarterback for the University of Michigan (go blue)?

Well, I have driven by Cushing Park a lot in the last few weeks (mostly when lost) and I have yet to see anyone frolicking on the huge expanse of pavement there. Or parking there, for that matter.

I gather from recent conversations that this area has for a long time been a hotbed of discontent. If I understood correctly, there was a vacant factory building there and when someone came along and made it into a working factory, people bitched.

Now residents want to preserve that expanse of pavement for emergency snow parking. Who clears out that lot when there has been a heavy snow? The residents?

I don't think so!

Who clears out where I park when there's been a heavy snow? One guess.

I want one of these here

In Japan, the newest trend in cafes is to have men servers grovelling to women ... at least according to this report on

The twist is that they have to be good-looking Western men. Wow, these guys are on their knees, saying, "Yes, my Princess!" and other groovy stuff to the female customers. The women even get tiaras to wear.

Apparently Japanese men are not into being servers. Booo, Japanese men!

I have to say, I find that men servers are nicer to women than female servers, and vice versa. I'm sure this nugget is something that is a well-known phenomenon.

There is this one bartender at 10 Center Street who is really cute and really nice and friendly. Did not catch his name, but he will go far in life.

I got a gun ... and I know how to use it! (Maybe)

I was thinking, while cleaning my gun a bit ago ... ah, I'm kidding. I don't own a gun.

I did touch one, at Kittery Trading Post, at the urging of my ex-boyfriend. It was really important to him - don't ask me why. Maybe because he owned one.

There have been exactly two times in my life (at least that I can recall) where, if I had had a gun in my hand or in close proximity thereto, I might have shot the person standing or sitting in front of me. I might have.

I think most of us have probably had those moments. It's a fine line that we walk, between law-abiding and law-breaking.

But I digress ... I recently read a story in The Flint Journal about people who gathered to support Michigan's open carry law. These people, including women, were babbling at a park and in the paper about their right to carry a gun. And it is their right.

Well ... it seems to me that no woman should go on record as a gun carrier. Because now the really bad guys (those that read the paper or who were lurking on the outskirts of the demonstration) know that those women have guns on them.

And as I pointed out in a comment to the story, what's to stop one of two of the bad guys from jumping the women from behind and taking their guns, now that they know who the women are? Or even the men, for that matter?

This is the kind of lack of common sense that disturbs me. Trumpeting Being Rambo, or Rambette, trumps common sense.

So ... maybe I do own a gun. What was I doing looking at guns at the Kittery Trading Post, after all? Only The Shadow (and my ex) knows for sure ...

Editorial off the mark

I'm surprised by this editorial ("From Our View") in today's Daily News. It's about the "right to bear arms."

It took more than 200 years but the U.S. Supreme Court finally settled, once and for all time, what the Second Amendment to the Constitution means. It means that any individual in the United States, who is not otherwise disqualified by reason of mental illness or criminal record, has the right to own a firearm.

What the hell does that mean, once and for all time? Does that mean it can never be amended? Yikes, that's scary. Good thing the bits about slavery being A-OK and women (and black people) not being able to vote had already been amended.

And did whoever wrote this do any research? Read this, from FrontPage Magazine and written by a constitutional lawyer:

In our search for the issue actually before the Heller Court, and to understand what that case actually decided, we have to look to the penultimate paragraph of Justice Scalia’s opinion for the Court, some sixty-three pages later: “In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.” (Author's emphasis.)

This, and only this, is what the Supreme Court majority decided in District of Columbia v. Heller: the handgun ban and the inoperative requirement for home possession.

Because Heller is hedged by those four elements—“home,” “lawful,” “immediate,” “self-defense”—and, as I show below, because other important questions remain unanswered, judicial interpretation of the Second Amendment rather than ending with Heller has just begun.

Most of the other stories covering this decision clarify what it really was all about - but not our Daily News.

The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms laws intact. (The International Herald Tribune)

City officials expressed confidence the city would prevail in any court challenge, asserting, among other things, that the 2nd Amendment as part of the Bill of Rights restricts the federal government and does not apply to state and local governments. (The Chicago Tribune)

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The handgun ban in Washington, DC, which is not a state, was struck down.

For all the chest-thumping taking place among gun advocates, last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling doesn’t mark a huge change in the nation’s approach toward ownership of firearms. (The Kansas City Star)

Handgun bans really don't work anyway - at least not in this country. Bad guys get guns whether it's legal or not. Average citizens who own guns, at least according to the press, rarely use them unwisely and in some cases actually prevent crimes from happening and/or they apprehend criminals before first responders can get there.

But hey, did Neil Entwistle legally own that gun with which he killed his wife and baby daughter? How about Charles Stuart, who killed his pregnant wife, which led to the death of their son?

Just as the framers of the Constitution, as learned and intelligent as they were, appeared to wrestle with this issue (that's why the wording is so ambiguous), so now are we.

I disagree with the Daily News - this ain't over, once and for all time.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

City nixes puffing in private clubs

Well, I do seem to slam the Daily News a lot* ... but they do also run some fine stories (I mean that in the superlative sense). This one, for example, about private clubs and smoking. There was also a story in March 2006 on the same issue, in the Boston Globe.

Newburyport is banning smoking in private clubs, unless a specially designated smoking area is provided (in a separate, enclosed area).

A few months ago I was talking with Jack Morris (city health director) and he was working on this issue. Since I was there to talk landfill, I didn't put my 2 cents in about smoking bans.

I think it stinks. If people choose to work at a private club where there is smoking, then they know they are exposing themselves to second-hand smoke. So also with the membership.

Private clubs are allowed to do all kinds of stuff that public entities are not (including discriminate), so what's the deal?

What's that you say, commenter on the DN story? The sun causes skin cancer just as much as smoking does, are we going to become mandated to wear sun screen too?

By the way - I may have mentioned this before - Michigan is only just now moving towards banning smoking in bars, restaurants and casinos. Just 29 states and the District of Columbia have such a law.

Related to this, I was just looking at posts and articles online about lung and other cancers. It's so sad how many things are linked to increased risk of cancer: chemical fertilizers, burning wood, wood dust, radon gas, some forms of silica, asbestos, and the newest scare, plastic bottles (to name just a few).

* The DN is not alone in 'skimping' on in-depth news coverage. I find stories about the so-called 'pregnancy pact' and young girls selling themselves on Craigslist (story on to be woefully short on insight. In most instances, this is not fault of the reporter.

Business is good - or will be - ah, who knows?

This is what I'm on about - this story, here, in the Daily News.

It seems to be pretty upbeat, but let's face it - the majority of people Katie Curley talked to lease from Newburyport Development. You're not allowed to say anything negative about business if you lease from ND.

At Soak, on the corner of State and Middle Streets, assistant manager Alexa Yagel said the bath accessory shop has had a good amount of business so far this season, but they're waiting for July and Yankee Homecoming for things to peak.

"It's not as busy as this time last year, but it will pick up soon," Yagel said.

At Lively Kids clothing store next door (me: owned by same people as own Soak, by the way), an employee said they have been having the same amount of business as this time last year, while Valerie's Gallery across the street said their business has been better.

Actually - Valerie's Gallery just recently moved, but I'm not sure she moved between ND-owned properties or moved out of a ND-owned property to one not owned by ND.

Lively Kids this time last year was located on Inn Street. So does the fact that they are having the same amount of business as this time last year mean things are just as bad/good on the main street as on the side street? And what about Lively Teens, or whatever it was called, that apparently went under earlier this year?

While larger local restaurants seem to be doing well, such as the newly opened Oregano Pizzaria, Bottega Toscano's owner Matt Breeden said the price of food is hurting him.

"It costs me more to buy food, etc.," Breeden said. "It's been a slow start."

The tables inside the small Italian restaurant were mostly empty at lunchtime yesterday afternoon.

I don't get this at all - is Oregano that much larger than Bottega Toscano's? Is it fair to compare the business at these two places without pointing out that the arrival of one has probably hurt the other?

This seems to be a 'puff' piece more than an actual report of anything!

I have not been stimulated

Economically, that is. Seems I did not do whatever it takes to get one (you know, like filing my 2007 taxes; I filed for an extension).

Somehow I thought you just got it, automatically. Silly me.

You also don't get one if you owe the government money, which I mostly certainly will. I'm not clear on whether the $600 will offset what I will owe, since most of what I will owe are Social Security taxes.

So while someone I know will get $1800 (whenever) - $600/each for husband and wife and $300 for each of two children, it seems I will get zip. Nada. Rien. Niet schat.

Cry for me, Argentina.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Given the recent exchanges about renting vs. home ownership on this blog, I found this story from US News & World Report, via, about renting most interesting. It is entitled Rent, Don't Buy, Your Home.

It does not address the issue of renters not paying property taxes, but it does put forward the argument that home ownership is not necessarily any longer the best course for people to take.

When the housing market slumps—as it has every 10 or 15 years for the past several decades—homeownership becomes little more than renting, from a bank. Without appreciation, buying a $400,000 house—instead of renting the same property for, say, $2,000 a month—can turn into an expensive, potentially money-losing proposition.

So the American Dream (a house on every driveway, a chicken in every house) may not be the sound investment people take it to be, according to this report.

According to Fidelity, if renters save even $300 a month—the difference, say, between their rent and a monthly mortgage payment—that money, invested in stocks growing at only 4 percent, could add up to $114,000 in 20 years. (And that's on top of earnings on a down payment that never had to be made.) "Over long horizons, if you reinvest the savings," Harlow says, "you're probably not going to find that much difference between renting and buying." Saving hasn't proved to be the national forte, of course. But with the bloom off the homeownership rose, it may have to be soon.

This is my favorite part of the piece, from the opening paragraph: Renting is for simpletons who don't like keeping their own money.

This notion, the author is arguing, is one that has been pushed by real estate agents. I have been arguing with people for years, most notably my father, that as a single woman, renting makes the most sense for me (aside from never having anything like a reasonable down payment).

On a related note, I was talking to someone who has lived in Newburyport for a long, long time, and he was telling me he bought his first house for $15,000 - it sold for $600,000. Those kinds of deals, I think, are fading fast.

Although I was talking to someone earlier this evening who told me of a house here (she didn't say where) which keeps dropping in price because the owner will not "stage" the house because she doesn't want to put more money into it.

Apparently you can't sell a house these days without "staging." That means removing all traces of your personality from your home when it's up for sale. According to this woman, most buyers are unable to see beyond your decor to the basics of the house.

All I know is, as soon as my sister took down her original artwork and replaced it with generic prints, etc., her house sold. She and her husband, however, now have an offer in on a house that is full of the owner's junk (and which has been on the market for quite a while).

The house is still not cheap, but it is selling for a lot less than the other homes in the neighborhood.

Think like an old person

Nothing noteworthy in the newspaper today, except for senior center and senior center ... see Tom Salemi's blog.

I was speaking with an older gentleman yesterday. He's 86 years old. He does not consider himself to be a "senior" and even objects to getting discounts based on his age.

This, and a conversation I had earlier today with a friend, made me think about this in a different way.

One: While it's true that baby boomers feel NOW that they wouldn't patronize a senior center (I certainly feel that way), I realized that it surprised me when my own parents started going to their local senior center. So I guess I have no clue what I'll be wanting or needing when I'm my parents' age, if I make it that far.

Two: I guess the notion of a center just for senior citizens is a little isolating and disenfranchising. But on the other hand, I definitely would not go somewhere to socialize, even now, where there was a multitude of noisy kids running around, shrieking, as some children will do.

One gets grouchy in old age (no excuse for that young woman at RMB&G, though, as she was young). Well, I get grouchier the older I get, anyway.

But my mother likes going to her Scrabble group at her senior center (I mean, where else is she going to play Scrabble? And canasta?). It has nothing to do with lack of funds to go elsewhere, it's that, I think, there are people there of a like age and with similar past experiences.

This older gentleman I met yesterday has a pool table in his basement, where he entertains his male friends. My mother has no such single source of entertainment in her home and would be jangled beyond measure at the thought of entertaining 5 or 6 people, at her age and in her condition (she has bad arthritis), at home.

I know my mother, who will be 78 this year, loves her grandchildren, but after a couple of hours with them in the house (especially when they were younger), you can see her nerves going haywire. She would never confess to this, however.

Gloucester's senior citizens center is right on the main drag, across the street from the harbor, and adjacent to a shopping plaza that has a grocery store, a bank and a drugstore. There's also a free-standing Dunkin' Donuts ....

But then, Gloucester, I think, has not 'sentimentalized' its waterfront.

Are we disenfranchising our senior citizens by building a place just for them? Is there a subtle message being sent that they are not good enough to mix with the rest of us? Or is there another, not so subtle message being relayed?

I don't know! All I know is that, as Ed Cameron writes in his letter to the DN, other communities around us either have one or are planning on building one in the near future (Newbury excepted, of course, as theirs disappears into the fog).

River Merrimack Bar and Grouch

So I walk into the place, up the stairs, wave to David Hall - "Hi, David Hall!" - and shake hands with Mr. Teche, the owner. At least I think that's how his name is spelled.

I ask Mr. T if Dennis Metrano, Port Planet contact, is there yet and he tells me "no," but to look for a man with a white beard. Complimentary wine and beer at the bar, he tells me.

I walk over to the bar.

So how long have I been in the place? A minute?

"I'll have a glass of sauvignon blanc," I say to one of two women behind the bar.

She looks at me as if I've asked for a baby elephant. "Ihavepinotgrigio - and chardonnay, on the house," she barks at me.

I look at her quizzically, because I can't tell if it's both wines on the house, or just the chardonnay, from the way she said it.

She repeats herself and snaps, "'on the house' means 'free.'"

"Yeah, I know what 'on the house' means," I say with a smile. She turns away.

When she turns back to me, a few seconds later, I tell her I'll have the pinot grigio. She pours and plunks the glass down in front of me, sans napkin or smile.

And the whole experience is ruined for me. But I can also say that, aside from the first hors d'ouevres, which was fresh fig wrapped in prosciutto, and the bruschetta (which was OK), the food was mediocre.

Well ... Triple D, who had just pulled into her yard as I was leaving, warned me that she had gone there last night and it was a disaster (although she said the calamari was good).

I may give it another chance, but I probably won't.

Flint police crack down on ultra low-riders

You know you're in Flint when ... they're emulating places in Florida! Lots of Michiganders in Florida, not that that has anything to do with this.

The new police chief in Flint has ordered his officers to arrest people wearing pants or shorts that "sag too low." More here.

"This immoral self expression goes beyond free speech," said (Acting Police Chief David) Dicks in a statement released Thursday. "It rises to the crime of indecent exposure/disorderly persons."

You can get a flavor of the attitudes in Flint by reading the 52 comments attached to the story. I guess it worked in Orlando, though, to reduce crime. Apparently young men with baggy, low-riding pants usually have something to hide. * sigh *

Although I find the sagging pants to be merely amusing, I do find seeing a woman's thong above her belt line a little much. But I'm old-fashioned about undies - as in, they should be kept under. So I guess I should object to both.

But then I remembered, while driving to River Merrimack Bar & Grille (I guess it has an 'e' on the end) that I used to wear ... uh ... pretty revealing clothing when I was younger, and slimmer.

P.S. Andaman

I really like this Thai place, which is in The Tannery's new building on Water St. I have found it to be consistently good, although I have never had Pad Thai to rival that which I used to get at Bangkok in Boston's Chinatown.

I used to go in there so much, when I worked at New England Medical Center, that the host would just say, "Pad Thai?" to me when I walked through the door. I took some people there for dinner one time and he sent over a free appetizer.

Then he went back to Thailand and I moved on, to a job in the financial district.

I loved that place ...

Below average service at Not Your Average Joe's

I went with friends last night to the Firehouse to see a play, "Funny Money," directed by Newburyport's own Peter Honegger (and wife Lois, Mayor Moak's executive secretary).

I'm not much into theatrical productions, but it was quite good.

The point is, I had not eaten before I went, so I nipped into Not Your Average Joe's afterwards to order up a burger to go. There had been much talk of burgers earlier in the day, at my mother's house.

I walked in and moved to the station labeled "Joe's To Go." A waitwoman sidled up and I said I wanted to get a burger to go. She said she didn't do "to go" orders, but thought this other woman, who was putting bottles of liquor onto shelves behind the bar, did. She called to the woman, who responded (without stopping putting the bottles on the shelves or turning around) that she was, indeed the appropriate person.

So I wandered over to the bar, where she continued to stock the shelves and ignore me until she was done.

Bad; very bad. And the burger was only 'so-so' to boot!

Anyway, in about an hour I'm off to the River Merrimack Bar & Grill, where they're holding a grand opening. I'm going as a guest of the Port Planet. So I'll be reporting back!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's Thursday

So I'm off to Gloucester, to visit Mum. Nothing exciting in the news anyway. Well, except possibly for this, at

Sex sells.

I decided to not make a decision

It's getting kind of irksome to me how nothing substantial gets done here!

Now the senior citizens center looks to be a "no-go" at Cushing Park, I don't know what's going on with the proposed park(s) replacing the NRA parking lots, and whatever else is sitting out there on the table.

I think the city should just give up proposing stuff. Honestly, I mean that. Aside from our economic woes, which everyone is having, why change anything?

You know where they should have "forced" a senior center? At that new condo complex that's going up at Cashman Park.

Why not make Karp build one, as part of his luxury compound? Or better yet, since it's already there, what about the former Newburyport Lighting location? (I think someone has already proposed this.)

That's just been sitting there, empty, for months ... AND it's by the water, it has plenty of parking, close to senior housing (some of it), and the seniors won't feel like they're being shoved off to the side somewhere.

If Karp really loves Newburyport, he'll pony up that empty storefront that no one else wants to use. Give him Kelley School in exchange, or something. JUST DO SOMETHING or drop it and move on!

By the way, congratulations to James Shanley on his appointment by the Governor to the NRA. I think he's a reasonable person to have put on the board. Don't look for a waterfront park anytime soon. Which is fine with me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Crying "foul"

Hey, I just realized the Flint Journal online has a page listing all the community blogs.

I demand to be listed on the Daily News website!

I'm forming a grassroots, ad hoc committee to study this issue - who's with me?

Derrivan drumming up support

You don't have to be a musician to feel the love that's ever so slowly spreading through the city.

After last week's appeal in the Daily News, some people have come forward to maybe fund a concert or two on the Waterfront this summer.

And Ward 5 City Councillor Brian Derrivan, who is apparently a drummer by hobby, is also pushing his fellow councillors to contribute $136 each to fund a concert (full cost is $1500).

He said his idea is to lead by example.

"If we could show the business community that we are willing to sponsor a concert, we could get the rest of the business community to respond," he said. "For me to donate that money to save a concert, I think that is money well spent."

I don't know why Chamber President Ann Ormond feels it would be difficult to get all 11 councillors to cough up $136 each, but maybe she knows something we don't! I bet campaign signs cost them more than that, each.

So the beat may go on, after all. I commend Derrivan for his initiative. Just don't get some band that has a 'goofy' name for their concert, Chamber of Commerce.

I can see/hear it all now - "And now, presented by the Newburyport City Council, The Fools!"*

It's too bad The Fools are not still together - or are they? One of them is/was Donna Holaday's hubby. I thought I read they were re-uniting. I think I WROTE that they were re-uniting ...

* No offense meant, Fools; in any other circumstance, it's a great name.

I am fading fast

So much going on tonight, so little time!

Well, I thought it was tonight that Andre Dubus was going to be at the Jabberwocky Bookshop, but it's actually JULY 25. Which is a good thing, cuz I didn't feel up to going tonight.

There is, however, tonight at 7 p.m. a meeting in City Council chambers at which I'm told the NRA (not the gun people, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority) is going to decide if it is going to start charging to park in the two downtown lots it owns - all day, every day (not just summer weekends, as it is now). This is, of course, to raise funds to pay for whatever it is they're doing at this point (there have been no updates, as far as I know).

I would attend this meeting, except I don't feel up to going tonight. Neighbor's barking dog woke me up too early this morning.

So there's actually not that much going on tonight, and there's plenty of time. I'm going to have a glass of wine and kick back.

Little Village floats away from Newbury

I agree with Tom Salemi about the vote on River Village at Little: Wow. I, too, am shocked.

While I think that Newbury was rushing headlong into it (considering they didn't yet have permission to use our water/sewer services), it was probably due to expediency of circumstances - and I really thought it would go through, nevertheless.

While I'm not overly fond of developments, this one seemed like a good fit for Rte. 1, which everyone has to admit is not Commonwealth Ave. (Boston).

I agree with commenter (to Tom's post) Dick Monahan - but that's nothing new!

Newburyport is already planning its own development in that area (at least I think we are still), so why not make it one big, happy area? People getting off the train could run over to the shopping area, pick up whatever they need, and head on home without another stop.

With the city trying to lure businesses into our industrial park, what better fly could you use than having affordable housing a hop, skip and jump away? Plus it would tie that area together, which it sorely needs.

Let's face it, everybody and his brother is capitalizing on building near the commuter rail stations, where they can. Why not us? And them (Newbury).

God, I hope this wasn't all about "poor folks" moving to town ...

Landfill decision

Here is the Daily News story on the landfill hearing that was held yesterday in Boston.

But after a hearing at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston yesterday, the city was included in the case, Mayor John Moak said. The mayor said he is expecting to pay even more in legal fees to fight on the city's behalf.

"The case" is between New Ventures, the Attorney General and the DEP? I thought they were "negotiations" as the result of a case that has been settled. Oh, well, whatever - the city is now involved and therefore there are going to be legal fees.

But it's a good thing, right? No more secrets.

"It is another lawsuit. It is another action that we have to go through," Moak said. "It may be good because we can present our case to the judges. But anytime we are involved in another lawsuit, it gives my pocketbook palpitations."

Hey, well, check out Ari Herzog's blog. How much IS the city spending on bottled water? I think employees have come to expect that their employer will supply bottled water for them to sip.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Landfill court date: update

From Ron Klodenski:

As a result of today's 10-minute court session at Suffolk Superior Court, the City of Newburyport will now be at the negotiating table when the DEP and the landfill owner continue trying to agree on some settlement that will allow the landfill capping to proceed. My understanding is that the city attorney, DEP attorney, assistant attorney general, and the landfill owner's lawyers will appear again in court on July 14 for a status conference. At that time, as I heard it, "the city will tell the court what it wants." Present at today's session were the city attorney, DEP attorney, assistant attorney general, and the landfill owner's lawyers.

It was also mentioned that the landfill owner has a pending preliminary injunction for his Everett facility, and that this injunction would be involved in the negotiations.

Please note that this is only a layman's interpretation of what happened. If I find more legally and technically accurate information, I'll send it around.

Flint in the Times!

A reader emailed me about an interesting story in the NY Times. It's about Flint! But it's also about renting. You can read the full article here.

Funny, but the State of Michigan is subsidizing people's rent so they will stay in one place. Well, people who have kids, anyway.

In some of Flint’s elementary schools, half or more of the students change in the course of a school year — in one school it reached 75 percent in 2003. The moves are usually linked to low, unstable incomes, inadequate housing and chaotic lives, and the recent rash of foreclosures on landlords is adding to the problem, forcing renters from their homes. The resulting classroom turmoil led the State Department of Human Services to start an unusual experiment, paying some parents $100 a month in rent subsidies to help them stay put — a rare effort to address the damaging turnover directly ...

The central attraction is the $100-a-month rent subsidy, which is paid directly to landlords, who in turn agree not to raise rents and to keep the houses up to code. The money comes from state agencies.

Who'd a thunk it? Michigan in general wasn't that big on education when I lived there!

But I do have to add, that this phenomenon (although not at 75%) occurred when I was in school in Clio, north of Flint. Classmates came, classmates left, classmates came back ... I think it was the nature of working in "the shop" (auto factory), or going there to work in the shop and not getting in.

It was wildly competitive because it paid so much more than almost anywhere else. In fact, you almost had to know someone on the inside in order to get in.

Hence the lack of focus on education - The goal of most everyone was to work in the shop. I think I've already mentioned how embarrassing it was for me, growing up, that my father didn't work for GM, like everybody else's father. And often, mother.

We didn't own boats, snow mobiles, or a cabin "up north." But all my friends' families did, so I reaped the benefits anyway. One "benefit" is that I now hate snow mobiles.

The competition

I just got in the mail, the new Newburyport Magazine.

Aside from "borrowing" from me a knockout box about Freedom Boat Club (mine, in the Merrimack Valley Magazine, was titled "No boat? No problem!") and knocking a story I was going to do about the Maritime Museum right out of contention, I guess it's ... OK.

Well, what did you expect?

It's like a freakin' carbon copy, right down to the photo on the last page. At least we don't jump stories over to page so-and-so.

Yikes stripes

I was blissfully reading this letter in the Daily News, about the Little River development in Newbury, and is it good for the town, and yada, yada, yada.

Then I read this bit:

Newburyport is being offered $3.9 million (by the developers) in cash and infrastructure work, and is asking for more before allowing a connection to the city sewer and water. At $3.9 million it will be 8.9 years after the project is complete before Newbury nets the amount Newburyport is being offered up front. It is not clear what more Newburyport is looking for, but it could be too much.

I read it again, just to make sure I was reading it right. WHAT?! We get $3.9 mil in considerations out of this? And we want even more? Was this reported in the paper?

I know sometimes stories from the print edition don't make it to the online edition of the DN, so I'm just curious ...

Mott the Hoople

I know this has nothing to do with Newburyport, but it has a little to do with me, so here goes.

As you should know by now, I used to live in Flint, Michigan. Before moving to Massachusetts in 1985, I worked at Mott Community College. I was a software training specialist. Honest, I was.

Charles Stewart Mott donated the land upon which the college was built. He was a rich dude who made his money from General Motors (as in, he was the majority shareholder). Across a creek from the college perched his big old mansion, Applewood, which sits back from Kearsley St. behind a screen of trees.

An aside: My neighbor/friend and I used to ride to work together and drove down Kearsley St. (We should have walked, but, hey, this is Flint, MI, we're talking about.) The mansion had a gatehouse, which was a very attractive little house that sat (where else?) by the gates.

I always lusted after that gatehouse, so it was quite shocking when the woman who did live there, a professor, was later found inside it, murdered. Years later, the guy was found, and the murder was featured on one of those cable shows like "Forensic Files."

YIKES! I just read that the first Mrs. Mott died from a fall out of a second floor window of the main house ...

Anyway, all those years in Flint and I barely knew that C.S. Mott had a son and heir, much less more than one child. Now that son, Stewart Mott, has died. Actually, he died nearly 2 weeks ago.

Irreverent, good-looking and effusive, Mr. Mott seemed tailor-made for the 1960s and ’70s, when he attracted his widest attention, not least for his all-too-candid comments about everything from his sex partners (full names spelled out in newsletters) to his father’s parental deficiencies (“a zookeeper”) to his blood type (AB+). (From the New York Times obit; my emphasis.)

At last! My point! ... Maybe it's something in the water?

Good books

I've read a whole slew of good books lately, ever since completing The Garden of Last Days.

So I thought I'd be non-controversial and talk about the books instead of whatever it is that makes me controversial, at least according to Pedro.tdog.

Save Your Own, by Elisabeth Brink
Elisabeth is a member of my writers' group, so I wanted to talk to her before I said anything on here, but she came in late to the last meeting and left early. This book was startling to me, in that not only was the main character named Gillian, but she was a lot like me, in character.

I didn't know Elisabeth when she wrote it, and I don't now know her well enough to think she used me as the model for this book. It's just a startling coincidence - or something more. I actually don't believe in coincidence, which is why I wanted to talk to her about it.

I really liked this book, and not for the reason that the main character was like me (it's not an entirely enviable claim). The characters are well-developed, and you care what happens to them (even the not-so-nice ones).

The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass
Glass is another local author (at least she lives in MA), but I don't know her. I could not connect with any of the characters in this book (well, maybe the gay restaurant owner, who was very well written in his staunch loneliness), so I did not care too much what happened to them. I particularly did not like the main character, 'Greenie.' I also don't care for an abundance of character names that are uncommon - Greenie, Saga, Joya, although the first two are nicknames.

Having said that, I can see that it is the type of story that is very popular now with people maybe at least 10 years younger than I, so keep that in mind.

In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner
I really liked Good in Bed, didn't like her newest, Certain Girls, as much, but I liked this one, which came after Good in Bed. In Her Shoes was made into a movie, which I also liked, starring Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz. The book (as always) was better than the movie, but the film did a good job compacting down the story and getting the salient points across - except why Rose had all those fancy shoes in the first place. Weiner's main characters are always 'plus-size,' which I also like.

Writing this, I realized that both Certain Girls and The Whole World Over centered on mother-child relationships, and maybe that's what shut me down. I didn't like the way the women handled situations with their children.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan
I really did not like Atonement (also by McEwan) - I did not even read all of it. I read the beginning and the end, rolled my eyes, and moved on to another book. This hardly ever happens. I picked this one up because I have been to Chesil Beach, in England, which is made up entirely of stones. I still have the ones I picked up from the beach. And I read the first page and it hooked me.

I still don't know whether I liked it a lot - I only finished it this morning - but it certainly had an effect on me. It's heart breaking, but not in the annoying way that I found Atonement to be. Just 203 pages long, I also liked the way the smallish book, shiny felt in my hands and the way the pages were laid out, and the density of the paper it was printed on. All ways to make the 203 pages look more substantial, I would guess, but I still liked it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More on comments

Thanks to Ari for pointing me to this, via a comment he made on the Daily News website (it's those rules and regs for commenting on their stories again).

I found this piece, which is on PBS's MediaShift but from what looks like a Jan. issue of USA Today, to be very interesting.

Over the years, traditional media sites have tried forums, killed them, and tried them again, this time with more moderation. But still, the unruly aspect of online commentary continues to upset people, as the Hartford Courant’s public editor Karen Hunter recently railed against the “uncivil discourse” on her site’s comments, blaming it on anonymous commenters and calling for a requirement that people use their real names.

Sounds familiar, somehow. But my readers are not uncivil, at least not the ones who comment. I have never "banned" a comment, no matter how little sense it made to me!

I enjoy watching how new stuff, such as online comments and forums, play out.

Scott Anderson is vice president of shared content for Tribune Interactive. He says, in this piece, that newspapers shouldn't shut out people who talk about race and — gasp, sex! - since the role of the comments is to activate and engage the conversation, not stifle and control it.

What I mostly wonder about, though, is where are these people who are reading/commenting on blogs and stories on the Daily News' website?

I mean, are they at work?

Tsk, tsk.

No more nastiness on DN website

The Daily News, kind of late in the day, has set standards for comments on its online stories. And they are here.

Unfortuntely, it was done too late to wipe from people's minds the nasty tone of comments on the Billy White stories, most of which were leveled against the family of Trista Zinck, the girl that White ran down and killed while he was driving drunk.

Also, I suppose, they want to stop comments such as the one which called a little boy who is allergic to peanuts "Peanut Boy" and his mother "Peanut Mom." It made me smile (just a hint of one), but now there will be no Crude statements about a child or children.

Was labeling the child "Peanut Boy" crude? It was more insensitive, I would say ...

Also, oddly, people can't say anything about their personal health, sexual activity, or other personal matters. What if it's relevant to the story? How is that "offensive?" You know how I feel about this, readers!

False statements about a person, business or institution. Who is the judge of whether a statement is false?

Conversely, they are allowing Criticism of people who are subjects of stories.

So I guess they don't want people calling each other names, threatening violence, etc., among the group of commenters, which seems reasonable.

I see there have not been a lot of comments posted within the last 24 hours.

Little River project

I know, this ain't Newbury and I'm not the NEWBURY Reporter Unlimited ... but I didn't realize there was so much opposition to the project. I mean, I should have, seeing all those letters to the editor of the DN telling people why it would be good.

And, of course, (a couple of) people in Newbury apparently do read this blog.

There was another one of these signs, perched on top of huge bales of hay that had been made to look like a comical figure, but when I saw that, I didn't have my camera on me. I'll try to get a shot of it - I think they were making another, closer to Tendercrop Farm, where this sign was.

Matthew Kozazcki of Tendercrop had a little flier he wrote up available for shoppers to pick up, so I grabbed one. It is headlined, "I like Newbury just like it is - that's why I live here."

It's not entirely clear to me, but it seems that, aside from tax and conservation issues, Kozazcki's objection has to do with the state-required 10% low income housing and that only 30% of the units designated low income are Newbury resident preferred. And, he says, "we are only protected for two years according to the planning board." Newbury, he says, is currently at 3-1/2% low income housing.

"Newbury residents - do you understand that if this vote passes - that area of Route 1 has the potential for 500-600 more housing units. This will be Newbury's future."

Does Newbury have any poor or diminished income people, at all?

Also, he talks about Newburyport's water and sewer and that Newburyport "will need a Newbury site for a sewer plant and Tendercrop Farm land for a water source."

Excerpt from a story in today's Daily News:

In order to provide sewer service outside its boundaries, Newburyport would need to get a special act of the state Legislature. Special acts are usually the result of what are known as "home rule petitions." In Newburyport, getting a home rule petition passed requires positive votes from eight of the City Council's 11 members, so just four "no" votes by city councilors could kill the deal.

No such requirement exists for providing water service. Indeed, Newburyport already provides water to several streets in the Oldtown section of Newbury

Hmmmm ... did the people on those streets have to pay betterments, I wonder? I believe I heard a whisper at one point that they did not ...

Landfill in the news, again

I went to an event in Methuen, on Friday, and was hoping Sen. Baddour would be there so I could grill him about campaign contributions to the landfill owner (even though I was there for Merrimack Valley Magazine).

Here are yesterday's story from the Globe and today's story from the Daily News. The good news is, none of our city officials accepted campaign contributions from the landfill owner, which I don't think we believed they would do anyway.

Apparently the majority of people in the city want this issue to run its course without their input. The majority rules. I got nothing left to say, but check out Tom Salemi's blog, where he has something to say.

P.S. One of the things Kay Lazar did NOT say at that meeting last week was that she was not going to be a Globe North reporter anymore! Mary Baker Eaton talks about this on her blog, here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Let the good times stop

This is really disappointing, but not entirely surprising. The Daily News today reports that the summer concerts at Market Landing Park will likely be canceled this year due to lack of interest among sponsors.

Already the July 18 concert has been canceled and the other 3 are in peril, according to the Chamber of Commerce.

It seems to me that someone should be able to cough up $1500 to sponsor a concert. People like them, and it's a fun way to spend an evening with the family. I went to one, last year, and it was a good time.

Times are tough, but $1500 is only the equivalent of a couple of tanks of gas ...

In my little town ...

I point everyone to this post by Tom Salemi, on his blog. Exactly ... who cares? You need something? Fight for it yourself, pay for it yourself - whatever. Just don't bother me about it.

I remember a column written by Jim Roy for the Current, back when there was a story in the DN about senior citizens complaining about the Proposition 2-1/2 override vote to fund the schools.

Some woman said something along the lines of, "Let the parents pay for it themselves!"

And Jim Roy countered that he'd remember that, when the vote came up on the senior center. He made a quip such as, "You say you want a senior center, Madam? Pay for it yourself!"

Tom is right on. So was Jim. This is a community, not isolated groups of people, some of whom should be expected to fend for themselves, or their children.

Where did this attitude come from?

And what about this extreme resentment of non-Townies? And renters? (See this post on Ari Herzog's blog and the accompanying comments.) If Townies are such a cohesive group, why didn't they at least get their fellow, Steve Cole, past the mayoral primary?

And again, what makes one a Townie? You were born here? You and your father and/or mother were born here? Some or all of their parents were born here?

By the first measure, a lot of the kids in school right now are Townies. Stand by these kids and vote a resounding YES to a debt exclusion! You want them to stick around here, right?

Your fellow (tiny) Townies are counting on you! You really let them down last year ...

Friday, June 20, 2008

This ought to be interesting

So all the talk I've heard for the past 2 months has proven accurate: Jim Roy, former columnist for the Current is starting up his own newspaper. He announces the new publication in the latest issue of the Current:

Please take the time to peruse a new publication, edited by yours truly, that will be appearing every two weeks at local news stands here in town. In recognition of one of our more famous alumni, William Lloyd Garrison, born at 3 School St. 203 years ago, it will be called The Newburyport Liberator. I hope to talk to all of you soon within its pages, first issue on the streets at the end of this month.

Well, Jim tells his faithful followers that his parting from the Current was amicable, so who am I to say otherwise? Well, I already said it so it's a done deal.

So ... another paper. I hear that advertising dollars are tight in town, so it will be interesting to see how he fares. Since I am now a contributor to The Port Planet, is it appropriate for me to wish him success? Oh, what the hell.

Smooth sailing, Jim!


From what I can gather from this report in the Daily News (and it's not hard to gather, given the headline 'Hostile' letter keeps Salisbury's Harrington away from Plum Island ), this Plum Island Foundation really knows how to win friends and influence people.

It seems that the Foundation and a citizens' group last March sent Town Manager Neil Harrington a letter threatening a law suit if Salisbury does not agree to allow sand dredged from the mouth of the river to be deposited on Plum Island.

"We simply cannot grant legitimacy to a meeting organized by a group that ostensibly wants our support at the same time it is threatening to take legal action against us," Harrington wrote to [Plum Island Foundation Vice President Robert] Connors last Friday.

Wow, does this sound at all familiar, people in Ward 5?

Harrington did not attend last week's meeting at PITA Hall on Plum Island, at which the Army Corps of Engineers talked erosion.

Connors responded with this, to Harrington: "Wouldn't the citizens of Salisbury be better served having their town manager attend to learn firsthand of the necessary steps, the possible solutions of erosion control and beach nourishment?" he added.

Again, according to the Daily News, Salisbury and Plum Island had previously agreed to alternate on who gets the sand from the dredging. (Not sure what political entity Plum Island is.) Plum Island got the last load, 10 years ago.

Salisbury had apparently agreed that the next load should go to Plum Island , so I don't see the impetus behind the nastiness. The letter threatening legal action was written by a Boston attorney.

All this is, again, kind of jumping the gun, in that the Army Corps of Engineers has said again and again that they don't do beach replenishment, and that the sand would probably be dumped off shore from Plum Island, as it was 10 years ago.

Jerry Klima, chairman of the Salisbury Selectmen, did attend the meeting, but said his presence should not be construed as an endorsement of the Plum Island Foundation. He said he thought the communities could probably persuade federal officials to give their financial support to beach nourishment projects — but only if they work together.

What, he doesn't think threatening a lawsuit is working together?!

We're on a roll

I'm happy that I'm getting such positive feedback from people who tried Hana Japan, based on my post.

I still have not tried Oregano (a check of the sign the other night confirmed it's just Oregano), but I have to say, I was walking down Pleasant St. after the City Council meeting Wed. night and I liked seeing people sitting at the tables by the windows.

The whole scene was very appealing. I hope they work out whatever server problems they might be having because it really gave a look of vitality to the street.

The last time I walked down that way at night, again after a City Council meeting, the street was dead.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Newburyport in the news

This is a nice story, from today's Globe North, about van pooling from Newburyport into Boston. Read the full story here.

The van leaves from the park-and-ride, looks like at 7 a.m. The riders in the van with the reporter appear to be having a jolly old time.

Alone, each would face a one-way ride of 36 miles or more to their offices in Boston's Financial District that - with the commute home each day - would end up costing at least $700 a month in gas and vehicle wear-and-tear and maintenance. And that doesn't include the price of parking and the toll over the Tobin Bridge.

And so, for about $500 less a month, they share a ride.

When I lived in Michigan, I used to carpool with 2-3 other people and we always had a good time. Well, except for the one time I had to drive us all from Flint back to Pontiac in a blizzard ... I drove a Mazda GLC at the time; which, for a small car, was amazing in the heavy, wet snow. I'm an excellent driver (never really took to Judge Wapner, though).

Anyway, back to the present. This van-pooling is enabled by MassRIDES, which has a database that matches up people interested in car-pooling, or van-pooling.

Sounds like an excellent plan to me. Wish I'd come up with the story idea, though!

Lovely Lois

Tonight at the writers' group we had the inimitable Lois Smith, who lives here on Plum Island. Lois was once, and is again, a publicist. She used to have an agency in NYC and the first question someone asked her was, "Who was your first client?"

She thought a minute and then said, "Shelley Winters."

She went on to talk about "Bob" (Redford) and Bob (Altman), Meryl (Streep, of course) and one of my personal favorites, Daniel Day Lewis.

Lois, who just turned 80, has started a new agency from her seaside home. Her daughter, Brooke Smith, is also an actress and a cast member on "Grey's Anatomy."

It's hard for me to imagine a more fascinating person to talk with. She was profiled (but not by me) in the latest issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine.

Speaking of which, I profiled our own George Lawler for the July/August issue, yet to be released. This is yet another fascinating person to talk with.

I met Lois, I think, when I was doing a story for the Current about the Newbury Beach Committee and its efforts to build up that now-famous central dune on the PI beach. Then I kept running into her - while she was working on the Literary Festival, while she was on the Newbury Library Board of Trustees (she still is, I think), while she was arranging for me to talk to former Gov. Mike Dukakis through her work with the Newbury Democrats ...

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this place? And the writers' group?


Brian Derrivan told me last night that reading my blog yesterday and seeing the photos of food at Hana Japan made him hungry. Hmmmmmm

Not sure what message he really was conveying, but he was so good natured about it that I now feel a little guilty (but that's fairly normal for me). I haven't been following the City Council that much, except for the landfill thing, but feedback I'm getting tells me that at least some of his Ward 5 constituents are happy with his performance as their new ward councillor.

I haven't heard anything much about Ed Cameron, Katie Ives or Donna Holaday, the other 'newbies' on the Council, but they at least appear to be acquitting themselves appropriately. Katie Ives even got a 'thumbs up' from Tom O'Brien, on the Council floor, and that's saying something!

I've got my writers' group get-together starting in half an hour, so I'll catch you all later! And I forgot to congratulate the Celtics, so consider that done. Well done.

Take me, please

One of the two men who last week spotted an unexplainable object in the sky, or a UFO, says in today's Daily News that he is getting so many phone calls he has to screen them.

Apparently everyone and his brother wants to share their experiences with Mr. Mace, and he's not that thrilled about it!

Why can't I see this thing? I keep looking up into the sky, both day and night, hoping. I want to be taken away, at least for a while, like Richard Dreyfuss' character in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Whee! Beam me up, Scotty, or Zorlac, or whoever!

A hot evening at City Hall

By the way - on last night's landfill meeting: Brian Derrivan and Tom Jones, the former the Ward 5 councillor and the latter an at-large councillor and 'neighbor' of the landfill, both voted against going into executive session.

It was kind of a surreal, but pleasurable, experience, sitting out in the hall for an hour-and-a-half. I got to know Brenda Reffett better, met and chatted with Kay Lazar, and we all marveled at Stephen Tait's ability to flip a pen into the air and catch it again without even paying particular attention to it - and everyone was joking around about how we could listen in on the executive session.

Even Ed Cameron, when he popped his head out to tell us it would only be 5 minutes more (it was 15), said he was surprised we weren't all pressed up against the door trying to listen in.

"We already tried that," Reffett joked back.

We speculated that if we cheered or booed every once in a while, they'd figure we could hear them anyway and let us back into the room. After a while, we settled in and started talking about such 'hot' topics as home heating costs and options.

The open parts of the meeting were televised, so I imagine anyone who's interested can catch a replay sometime on community cable.

But, to my dismay, only Ward 5 people and a couple other interested parties showed up to the meeting.

Still, despite Ron Klodenski's reservations and his sense that the vote was of the "We reject this deal, but we'll take your trash if you offer us something better" variety, I guess it was a baby step in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Globe investigations at City Hall

In a quick followup to Ari Herzog's recent post about the landfill owner sleeping with politicos, Greg Earls told me after tonight's meeting that someone from the Globe had been in City Hall earlier in the day, looking through financial information on file in the clerk's office for City Councillors and, I believe he said, the mayor.

I told him, and Donna Holaday, that Ari had posted on his blog campaign contributions Thibeault had made to politicians, including our state senator, Steve Baddour.

Holaday was visibly startled. I told her that the donation(s) were only $500 a pop, and she said that $500 is the maximum allowable contribution.

City Council rejects NV proposal

The City Council, after 1-1/2 hrs. behind closed doors, re-convened to announce that the group had taken a vote in executive session to "Reject the amendment to the Host Community Agreement as presented by New Ventures, and to direct the Mayor and City Attorney to seek an alternative further compromise on the 21E claim and additional benefits to the city and its inhabitants."

The vote was unanimous, but with councillors Katie Ives, Larry McCavitt and Tom O'Brien absent. At one point in their deliberations, raised voices could be heard from inside council chambers.

The landfill neighbors and other interested parties, most of who stuck it out, were pleased but not ecstatic with the language of the resolution. Stephen Tait talked to a lot of them so we can all wait for Stephen's report, tomorrow. Oh, and Kay Lazar from the Globe was also there.

But I will report that Brian Derrivan, Ward 5 councillor, replied when asked what the last part of the resolution meant, "Anything we deem that should be added into it, that is of benefit to the residents."

There was also some amount of grumbling when the spectators were thrown out of the peanut gallery so the councillors could go into executive session, and a few councillors were grilled after the meeting adjourned about why they went into executive session.

Empathy Deficit Disorder

I was just reading this piece about empathy, or the lack thereof, on; actually, it's from Oprah's magazine but it's on CNN's website. Oprah is everywhere.

[Psychologist Douglas] LaBier says we unlearn whatever empathy skills we've picked up while coming of age in a culture that focuses on acquisition and status more than cooperation and values, "moving on" over thoughtful reflection, writes Amanda Robb. LaBier is convinced that EDD is at the heart of modernity's most common problems, macro (war) and micro (divorce).

EDD is empathy deficit disorder. So far, I'm going along with this.

If you work with someone you despise (and who despises you back), and you try to understand why that person dislikes you, then you stand a chance of not hating every minute with her at the office. If you live in a world that you would like to see less divided by ethnic, economic, and religious strife, you'll find that attempting to comprehend the needs of your sworn enemies is a prerequisite to any meaningful action you can take.

Well, Amanda, I think sometimes people just aren't going to like you, no matter what; but I do agree with the second part, up to a point.

Empathy will also require you to get past rationalizations and admit wrongdoing.

This IS a problem (the rationalizing and not admitting wrongdoing). I find it alarming how much of this goes on these days.

About 10 years ago, my Muslim boss took exception to something I had said, or done (I don't remember now what exactly it was). I thought it was ridiculous that he had taken exception and I started rationalizing. It put a strain on our relationship. I asked my brother-in-law, who is a manager, what to do to make it right.

"Apologize," he said. "Tell him it will never happen again."

I thought this was rubbish advice, at first (why make what I considered would be a fake apology, I tried to rationalize). But I followed his advice, after some reflection. What the boss was upset about was me being what he considered to be disrespectful - but an American wouldn't have thought so.

I had to exercise my empathy and recognize that in his culture, it was insulting. But sometimes one-sided empathy does not work, as my more recent experience taught me.

I know that he (the Muslim boss) also was able to exercise empathy and recognize that I had not really meant to be disrespectful and that it was a clash of cultures.

But he also had, as did my former editor, a strong sense of the fact that he was the boss and I was the underling. Apologies do work, more often than not.

Do you know it's disrespectful to show the bottoms of your feet, even if they are shod, to a Muslim? That's not what I did, I just thought I'd throw that out there!

Is this sexist? (Part II)

This, believe it or not, is what I started out to post about in the last post of the same title as this one: women drivers!

I remember a while ago now, March 11 to be exact, being a little miffed at this post on Peter McClelland's blog, McClelland Miscellanea. He also submitted it as a letter to the Daily News.

I was also guessing that the young mother with the cell phone on the ear in one hand, steering wheel in the other, young kid in the backseat, and dog further back might appear in the letter [a previous letter to the DN, seeking a woman race car driver]. When the light changed, around the corner she went with a one-hand turn, no directional, and little interest in the rate of speed. There was no way that she was paying sufficient attention to driving. Dangerous? You bet.

My recent experiences driving around town, however, have changed my tune.

Yesterday, while both on the way to and coming home from Port Plaza in my Jetta, I was almost nailed three times by cars being driven by women, each one of which was talking on a cell phone.

I started paying attention (a little) and noticed that few, if any, men drive while talking on a cell phone.

Then I recalled a friend telling me about a friend of hers who has a second-floor office on Liberty St., near Abe's. He told her it was entertaining to each morning watch women trying to park their SUVs on the street while simultaneously holding, and talking into, a cell phone.

Actually, he mostly was in fear of one of them bashing his sports car.

I don't get what's so all-fired important that you can't wait until you're not driving to take a phone call. The other day, I laughed openly at the neighbor when I saw her pull away in her car and 30 seconds later she was on the phone - to me.

"Didn't I just see you drive off?" I asked.

People take calls during ball games, during dinner in restaurants, on boats, during social gatherings ... sometimes they relay that it's an urgent call, but mostly it's just someone wanting to chat. They chat.

But back to driving. I know from personal experience that talking on a cell phone is distracting. I once backed into a car behind mine, not because I was on a cell phone, but because I was on the phone while walking up to my car. When I parked there, on Pleasant St. at 8:30 in the morning, there was no car parked behind my car.

Because I was on the phone, and it was only about 2 minutes later, I did not notice that a car had parked behind mine in the interim.

Note: I do, however, occasionally see men driving with a newspaper propped up on the steering wheel. Less often, I see women applying makeup - but I was recently in a car driven by Triple-D, on I-93, when she decided to apply mascara.

Tell the person you'll call them back when you're not driving. Please?

Uncommon Dance, Saturday

(click to enlarge)

Is this sexism?

Over at Ari Herzog's blog, he has posted about sexism, and I've commented - but I thought I'd jump into the fray with a post of my own. A lot of people seem to have a lot to say about this.

Sexism, like racism, is an extreme word.

Was it 'sexist' for Katie Couric to ask Hillary Clinton about male classmates in high school calling Clinton "Miss Frigidaire?" I thought maybe it more cast aspersions on Clinton's sexuality, another issue hinted at by some in the media - so maybe it was more homophobic than sexist? Or both?

I don't know, for sure ... it's just as likely it was to hold the viewers' attention.

(By the way, Laura Bush only had one pregnancy - and nobody questions her sexuality. But she's sweet and demure, like a woman should be, right?)

What about the so-called "vagina vote?" People who used that term implied that women were only behind Clinton because of a shared anatomical feature. Does that include transsexuals, I wonder?

Would you vote for someone based on such loose criteria? People do.

I still think George Bush was elected (or not) the first time, not based on much other than the "good ole boy" image he projected to middle America. It was a brilliant marketing strategy. What kind of "-ism" was that?

Nothing wrong with that, except that the rest of us were stuck with Bush.

If Joe Lieberman had been in the race, it would have been the ... what? The "yarmulke vote?"

If Rudy Giuliani had stayed in and won the Republican nomination, what would that have been? The "Soprano vote?"

Mitt Romney, even though I didn't care for him as our (sometime) governor, probably could not have won because he's a Mormon.

Which brings me around to religion. I got into a debate a while back with someone who was contending that women are 'lesser' (as in, only good for making babies and raising the kids) because it says so in the Bible.

What do you call that? Before organized religion, most cultures were egalitarian. Well, except for the throwing virginal girls into the volcano bit ... but do we absolutely know that to be true?

There are a lot of prejudices out there. My sense is, Clinton did not make it because a lot of people do not care for her personality and some of that is because she is a 'strong' woman. Some of it is because of the Clinton political machine, which obviously tries to mow everything in its path down.

I think it's too easy to say she didn't get the nomination because of sexism, although I do believe that was probably part of it.

Reminds me of that Prince song, "Controversy."

"Am I black or white
Am I straight, or gay?

I don't have any answers; I'm just throwing this out into the local Blogosphere!

Geotextile tube the answer for PI beach?

In the Daily News today, there is a story about the Plum Island beach. You can read it here.

Seeing as how I just recently posted about erosion problems in 1975-76 and futile attempts to stop it then, and since the beach and the island are still here, my inclination is to give this one a pass.

But in brief, the latest measure under discussion is a geotextile tube, or geotube, says the DN. It's only a stop-gap type of thing.

This is what the associate technical director of the Army Corps of Engineers Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory, William Curtis, had to say: Curtis said the tube is filled with and covered by sand and could provide a soft barrier against the wave action causing the erosion. He said tubes are stable and easily repaired if damaged.

He also said that low-cost alternatives don't exist. The geotube is a 9-foot-tall, sand-filled tube that will cost between $250,000 and $500,000. The congressional delegation, on hand for another meeting at PITA hall that was not advertised, is said to be exploring measures to find funding for this - if it's approved by the DEP, that is.

Salisbury selectmen Chairman Jerry Klima offered two pieces of advice to his Plum Island counterparts. He said Newbury should start the permitting process for the short-term solution at the Center now, rather than waiting for funding. He also said the once the beach is replenished, the sand must be held in place with dune grass and snow fencing.

Isn't that what the Newbury Beach Committee was doing before all this started? With little or no funding? How many times do I have to say this? And when is the DN going to point this out? Never - that's my guess.

It seems as if there is going to be some serious studying going on anyway, which is all I was calling for.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who wants a fancy foreign car? I don't.

Last evening I did attend the "Spa Night" at my neighbor's house. And yes, I did end up bringing a bottle of wine. I'm such a sucker.

The night was in celebration of products made by Arbonne. They have a whopping 400 products in their catalog, which makes it more like a book than a catalog.

I am always skeptical of these types of parties. I know it shocks my readers that I would ever be skeptical about anything, but it's true, folks! I was/am skeptical.

Since, as I said before, I'm a sucker, I usually shell out a lot of money for face moisturizers. Since I'm running low on the cheaper brand than I used buy, I thought it wouldn't hurt to check out Arbonne's moisturizer.

Despite my skepticism, I still was willing to shell out $40 to protect my lovely, smooth skin. Even after they only let us have a "free" gift if we agreed to host a party of six of our soon-to-be-ex-friends.

(I declined, saying I did not know 6 such people. "What about your writers group?!" my neighbor exclaimed. "They'd kick my ass," I replied. Honest to God, that's what I said.)

There were a few things that disturbed me, like the woman who gave the opening spiel backhandedly criticizing the hostess (neighbor) for providing too much food, since anything more than food and crackers is "a distraction." (The 'party' started at 6 p.m.)

What's the marketing strategy behind that, I wonder?

Also, I didn't care for the hard-seeling pitch to join the company, which was given right up front, and was focused on how much money you can make. The company subsidizes the acquisition of a white Mercedes to successful reps.

You get $800/month (after you reach a certain sales level, not specified) and then $1,000/month after you go up a level, to pay for the car.

It seems to me that this is a hook of epic proportions. But the products seem to be popular, and they smelled nice. I don't know if they work for me because neither of the women representing the company had any samples to give out.

Anyway, according to The Beauty Brains, a website I found last night, Arbonne products are not any better (or worse) than less expensive products available at drug or grocery stores. It's just one opinion, but I like the site. It's a riot.

Hana Japan

Here's a place I seldom write about, but I love it: Hana Japan. Look at these photos - this is what they gave me to eat today (although I only tried one hunk of the roll thingie).

Those pork ribs (Hana Japan Ribs) were so tender I just plucked the meat off the bone with chopsticks. The photo (my camera sucks) does not do them justice.

The roll was developed especially for Newburyport, for party platters or groups. They are working on a special & unique Newburyport roll.

The salad and the Inari baskets won't be on the menu for a couple of weeks, but let me tell you ... YUMMY! The sushi is excellent as well; nice big pieces.
They have a Sunday buffet (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) - $15.45 for adults, $7.45 for kids over 3, and anyone younger gets to eat for free. In the Port Plaza, by the way, West Shops (where the Mexican place used to be, I gather).

Everett mayor talks trash about our city

When I got home just now, there was a comment to be posted, from someone in Everett. Thought it should stand on its own, especially since the comment is posted to the Obama visits Flint piece:

Just an FYI that Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria stated to the residents last night that Newburyport is in trouble because the city dumped waste into the landfill then tried to say it was W. Theabeault. Our Mayor told alot of crock stories about New Ventures and Woodwaste just to sell his story.

I wonder if this anonymous commenter would care to expand on this?

Creator of famous ad dies

Tony Schwartz, the creator of the famed "daisy ad" for Lyndon Johnson's 1964 presidential campaign, has died. You can read his NY Times obit here.

It's funny, I keep reading that the ad ran only once, during the Movie of the Week (yes, that was the only way one saw movies on TV back then). I remember it so well, I would swear it ran multiple times.

Since I have no idea how to insert a YouTube video, click below to view the ad.
daisy ad - Google Search

From the Times:

Of the thousands of television and radio advertisements on which Mr. Schwartz worked, none is as well known, or as controversial, as the so-called “daisy ad,” made for Lyndon B. Johnson's presidential campaign.

Produced by the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach in collaboration with Mr. Schwartz, the minutelong spot was broadcast on Sept. 7, 1964, during NBC’s “Monday Night at the Movies.” It showed a little girl in a meadow (in reality a Manhattan park), counting [upward] aloud as she plucks the petals from a daisy. Her voice dissolves into a man’s voice counting downward, followed by the image of an atomic blast. President Johnson’s voice is heard on the soundtrack:

“These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” (The president’s speech deliberately invoked a line from “September 1, 1939,” a poem by W.H. Auden written at the outbreak of World War II.)

The full poem is here, but this is the stanza from which Johnson borrowed.
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Though the name of Johnson’s opponent, Senator Barry M. Goldwater, was never mentioned, Goldwater’s campaign objected strenuously to the ad. So did many members of the public, Republicans and Democrats alike. The spot was pulled from the air after a single commercial, though it was soon repeated on news broadcasts. It had done its work: with its dire implications about Goldwater and nuclear responsibility, the daisy ad was credited with contributing to Johnson’s landslide victory at the polls in November. It was also credited with heralding the arrival of ferociously negative political advertising in the United States.

So there you have it. The 'father' of not only that single ad, but the 'father' of the political advertising that we have today.

If you read Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, and then think of this, you'll see how so very few people in the 1960s shaped today's political landscape. I'm talking 5 or 6 people here - but I guess, all it really takes is one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama visits Flint

Barack Obama visited my old place of residence, Flint, MI, yesterday.

If you don't already know this, Flint has almost been decimated by General Motors pulling out of the city. There used to be, at least, a Buick plant, a parts plant, a Chevy plant, a Chevy Truck Plant (called "The Truck Plant" by locals), and an AC Spark Plug plant in Flint. Oh, yeah, and Fisher Body.

Every little AC Spark Plug was made in Flint, at one time. Now the plant is being torn down.

Everyone thinks Henry Ford and Detroit when they think automobiles. But by 1908, the Buick plant in Flint was the largest auto manufacturing plant in the country. According to Wikipedia, of the nearly 80,000 people that worked for General Motors in Flint during its peak years in the late 1970s, only about 8,000 are left after the most recent 2006 buyouts.

Among other things Obama said (you can read all about it here, in the Detroit Free Press, if you wish), he said this: Above all, Obama said, education is key to U.S. economic strength. But while he called for more federal money for early childhood education, and revamping the No Child Left Behind act to to improve school curriculums, he said the responsibility for education falls mainly on families.

“Parents have to instill a thirst for education excellence in our children," Obama said.

But he added that the government would do more to help financially, saying “A college education should be a birthright for every single American.”

When I first wrote this post, last night, my initial reaction was that "I don't know that I agree with that; I think the cheapening of a college education is one of our problems. This idea that everyone should go to college, or it is an entitlement, I think is not a good one."

This is a real problem. I know that in England, for instance, tensions exist between people who went to college and those that did not. In England, to be blunt about it, you have to be above-average intelligent to get into college. But you also can be poor and get into college - if you're smart enough.

But hold the phone - One of my uncles, who did not go to college, was way more successful in his career than his 2 siblings that did go to college. But is he as educated as his siblings, whatever that means? ... As you go through life, you get educated (if you're paying attention). He may not know about Greek mythology, but he probably could teach his more educated sibs a thing or two about being in top management at a big company.

But here and now, my uncle would not be able to rise through the ranks as he did while I was growing up; not without an MBA.

So although initially I thought Obama was being elitist, today I think he was being naive - unless he meant access to higher education should be every qualified American's birthright, rich or poor.

What we need is to adjust the elitist mindset, because it turns most people off. Look at the extreme popularity of that anti-intellectual movie, Forrest Gump.

If I've learned only one thing from being a reporter, it's that nearly everyone is smart about something, and a lot of people are smart about a lot of things - yes, even people who didn't go to college. And nearly everyone I've met, rich or poor, highly educated or not, had something interesting to say (a lot of them really believed they didn't).

And the problems in Flint, one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country? General Motors (with a lot of help from the UAW) gave its largely non-college educated workforce a sense of entitlement and then left town; left the workers nothing else to do, no income stream, and no future for their kids.

Now the kids are angry.

Landfill, vol. XXXVI

From today's Daily News:

Newburyport notebook: Council to again discuss landfill, possible lawsuit
By Stephen Tait
Staff Writer

(edited down to remove all the historical references)

The City Council scheduled another special meeting this week to continue its strategy for dealing with the embattled Crow Lane Landfill.

Mayor John Moak and James Shanley, the council president, said the meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. Much of the meeting, the men said, will be in executive session for councilors to meet with city solicitor Mark Rich about a potential lawsuit stemming from the landfill, which is owned by New Ventures.

"We plan to discuss our strategy as regards to litigation," Shanley said.

It is unclear when the City Council, which must accept the proposal, will vote on the matter.

Wednesday's meeting will also include a public hearing aspect in which residents will get the opportunity to speak against or in favor of the proposal. Shanley said the meeting is designed to allow the council to move closer to a vote.

OK, first, Ron K. sent a notice around this morning that members of the public who wish to speak DO need to sign up first.

Second, I like Shanley's comment about strategy as regards to litigation.

Again, the rule on executive sessions:

Discussions concerning strategy with respect to ongoing litigation obviously fits within this purpose, but again only if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the governmental body. Discussions relating to proposed litigation are not covered by this excemption unless that litigation is clearly and imminently threatened.21 That a person is represented by counsel and supports a position adverse to the governmental body's does not mean litigation is imminently threatened. Nor does the fact that a newspaper reports a party has threatened to sue mean imminent litigation.

Note: A governmental body's discussions with town counsel do not automatically fall under this or any other exception.

I guess you could say that litigation has been clearly and imminently threatened ... I'm not sure any has been threatened, except by the city (to fight the demand for cost-sharing from New Ventures) ... but what strategy? Either there is a document someone signed on behalf of the city accepting responsibility for cleaning up the sludge dumped at the site, or there is not.

If there is, isn't litigation kind of a waste of time and money? Again, if this contract does exist and it is valid, what strategy is there to talk about? This new deal New Ventures is proposing isn't going to let the city off the hook for the sludge in any case.

So again, I'm not clear on the need for an executive session, unless it's to discuss potential litigation from landfill-area residents. Now THAT makes sense to me.

Not such a bad review

The River Merrimac(k) Bar and Grill gets the mixed-message nod in the Globe, here. I had read elsewhere (Yelp) that the review was not positive, or at least the person posting on Yelp did not see it as positive, but it's not that bad.

Having just touted somewhere that was $18.95 for Sunday lunch, I can hardly comment on the prices.

I find restaurant reviews in publications that have an interest in the business (as in, ad sales) to be pretty much useless anyway.

When pigs fly

I think that anywhere that chose the name "When Pigs Fly" for their business deserves a mention.

We bake old-world style artisan breads using the finest organic, natural ingredients.

You can pick up their bread locally at Tendercrop or Shaw's. Since I have purchased bread at Tendercrop (it was pricey, but good; I'm used to paying $.99 for Market Basket Italian), I've probably sampled their wares.

Bum's the word

Check out this CNN video report, about some angry naked bike riding people in Boulder, CO. The bare naked ladies (and men) were riding raw to raise awareness of the bicycle as a reasonable alternative to the automobile ...

I particularly liked the guy who says he put extra glitter on his "package," the other guy who says he only noticed that the treads on the bikes were good, and the little girl holding her hands over her eyes.


So I've got a question: when did it become mandatory for people who are invited to a social event to bring something, aside from a 'hostess gift?'

From what I recall, if someone invited you to a party and they wanted you to bring booze, they put "BYOB" on the invitation; if they wanted you to bring food, they called it a "potluck." Both of these are perfectly acceptable, as you know going in what is expected of you.

So now I get invitations that don't specify either of those things, I don't feel obligated to bring any food or drink with me. I might do it just because I want to, but do I have to feel as if I MUST?

I just got an Evite from someone, for a party where they are going to try and sell me cosmetic products. It's called a "Spa Night." The hostess of this event just emailed me and said, "feel free to bring wine or an appetizer if you want."

I hope she is kidding, since I had this same discussion with her last week. I guess since I told her it was unlikely I'd buy anything, she feels this is the least I could do? The reason it's unlikely I'd buy anything is because I'm living on what amounts to a fixed budget, and she knows that.

Cosmetics are for me a luxury, not a necessity. Eating out, however, is a necessity.

Am I so totally out of the social loop on this?