Saturday, February 27, 2010

Michael Cook: Is there any empirical data?

As I've been following the debate over the proposed placement of surveillance cameras on State and Inn Streets, and along the waterfront, the one question I've not heard anyone ask is, "Is there any empirical evidence out there that proves surveillance cameras actually deter or prevent crime?"

Think about it. There's not a bar or restaurant in Newburyport that is not chock full of video cameras watching their employees and customers alike. But their presence doesn't stop some employees from over serving their customers, and some customers from over indulging.

Here in Costa Rica, the capital city of San Jose is under intense video camera surveillance, but the city's streets still remain extremely dangerous, especially after dark.

Many restaurants, especially higher end establishments catering to upper middle class and affluent Costa Ricans, along with foreign tourists, have video cameras, but that hasn't stopped bands of well dressed thieves entering the establishments, pulling out their weapons, and robbing everyone in the place - a type of crime that is growing in popularity in metro San Jose, despite the presence of video cameras.

Before Americans surrender any more of our privacy and civil liberties, don't we at least have the right to ask whether these intrusions on both actually help keep us safer, and don't the authorities have a responsibility to answer?

Michael Cook
PN de Limon, CR
& Nbpt

Part of landfill cover ripped off

Oh, and yeah ... about 10% of the permanent landfill cover installed last fall was ripped off the landfill and the gas extraction system was damaged.

This DEP update was from early Friday:

This morning New Ventures and Shaw personnel reported to MassDEP that high winds overnight had damaged the Flexible Membrane liner (FML) cap on the southwest corner of the landfill. An initial assessment by New Ventures and Shaw personnel indicates that approximately 10 % of the FML cap has been rolled off the landfill to the landfill top. In addition, as a result two landfill gas extraction wells have been damaged. The landfill gas system is currently shut down due to the damaged wells and a power outage in Newburyport.

New Ventures personnel are implementing measures to secure the edges of the undamaged FML and assessing how to repair the FML. New Ventures has also indicated they are attempting to obtain an emergency crew from the FML installer to repair the damaged FML. In addition, New Ventures is evaluating and will implement measures to reactivate the undamaged portion of the landfill gas extraction system and the two damaged extraction wells.

And this one was from later in the day:

Shaw personnel have reported to MassDEP that New Ventures:

· Resumed operation of the undamaged portion of the landfill gas system resumed at approximately 1:50 PM today;

· Placed temporary caps on the three damaged extraction wells and related portions of the landfill gas piping pending repair of the wells;

· Secured the edges of the undamaged FML with sand bags; and

· Completed replacement of the automatic flow control valve on the enclosed flare.

Shaw personnel monitored the restarting of the flare and pre-treatment system and report that the pretreatment system is meeting the removal standard for H2S and the flare is operating at the proper temperature. Shaw personnel will continue to monitor the landfill this weekend and report their findings to MassDEP staff.

New Ventures is continuing to contact the FML installer, GSE, to arrange for an emergency crew to repair the damaged FML.

That's interesting wording - New Ventures is continuing to contact the FML installer, GSE, to arrange for an emergency crew to repair the damaged FML - since I just wrote for the Current that DEP had to use some of the financial assurance mechanism (escrow) put down by New Ventures to pay this vendor (the assumption being that NV refused or was unable to pay for it).

Also check out the story in yesterday's Daily News.

The aftermath

Well I can't assess the full impact of Thursday night's storm to our region, but you can read some info here, from the Daily News.

Also in the Daily News is this story, about officials preparing for a breach of the dune here on Plum Island. I'm no expect, of course, but when I on Friday morning stood at the edge of what's left of the primary dune at PI Center, I could see that a breach is imminent. And you can see it, too, in the photos I took (last post), although the get the full impact you sort of had to be there (or be a better photographer than I am).

The island was without power from about 11:15 p.m. Thursday to whenever it came back on last night (I returned to the island at about 8:30 p.m. and it was on). I was told that power to Plum Island was shut off when electrical transformers started blowing and wires were coming down all over the place - but I was told so many things (although this one made sense, given what the deputy fire chief from Newbury told me yesterday morning, at the beach).

I was nearly heartbroken to see that the big pine trees in front of the pink house on the PI Turnpike had gone down. The other part - the beach part - was just scary.

There does not appear to be a lot of damage over here, on the other side of the basin, just some fences down (including the one at the cottage and my neighbor behind me), but the river is high and obviously the marsh is saturated.

Good thing we didn't get a lot of snow last night - although I don't know what difference it would have made to anything. It's a dire situation.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010


OK, well I think this is as good a time as any to express how scary it is out be out here on Plum Island tonight! Have I ever mentioned how small this cottage is? And how close the ocean is? Not to mention the river, which is even closer.

I hope the ocean is not closer than it's supposed to be ... but I was scared about that last night, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mellow yellow

I don't know if a lot of people have noticed that the Mayor's Office is now painted a light, bright yellow!

I always wanted John Moak to paint the walls in there (and I brought it up as frequently as I was in there, which wasn't all that much). Not that I object to oxblood as a color - it really looks fine on shoes and boots - but yuck to the walls.

And not speaking of yellow - I can hear the ocean roaring from way over here, with all the windows closed. I hope that doesn't mean that's it's a lot closer than it was earlier today ...

Feeling the pinch

Wow, with all that's gone on so far today I'm already exhausted.

Wednesday is my deadline day for the Current, and of course there is the odd story for Newburyport Business that needs to go up online. And the numerous phone calls the news about Sean Sullivan generated ...

I have spoken to the mayor and I wrote up a short piece for the Current. I do not know what they plan to do with it, if anything. I have to say, I sat stunned for numerous minutes after I heard that Sullivan was gone ... I didn't know what to do ... my own multi-presence as a purveyor of news confounded me ...

Ultimately, I figured the blog was the best place to break the news.

As for the anonymous who asked if s/he could change their vote for mayor? That's the general reaction I'm getting. For a lot of people, I am told, that one little piece of information (that she would keep Sullivan) tipped the scales for them to Holaday.

I guess some people figure one little post on a blog has no effect, but ... oh, well. The anonymous reader who asked me to ask the question did good but now ... well, I just don't know. Let's see what happens, I guess.

What the ...? How things change - what I wrote first is correct

I was just told that Mayor Donna Holaday is not re-appointing Sean Sullivan as the Planning Director! After she told me prior to her election that she would! ... And in fact, he is already gone (he was supposed to finish out the week but he left early)! And yikes! He's not even on the city website anymore!

I can't reach the mayor but I have a call in to her. Geordie Vining is the Acting Director.

No Planning Director until May, I am told.

Too bad; I really liked Sean Sullivan.

More to come ...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More views from Costa Rica: Michael Cook

Richard Astukewicz, Hoping for Presidential Failure, and Patriotism

In the wake of the February, 18 release of a Dept. of Health and Human Services report documenting the coming unprecedented growth in the cost of health care premiums over the next year, and after reading Richard Auskewitcz's nonsensical column in the Daily News the day before, I could not not write this essay.

In his column, Mr. Astukewicz threw out all his usual right wing boiler plate nonsense about socialism, dictatorship, and his hopes that President Obama fails at everything he attempts.

I can only wonder what Mr. Astukewicz and others of his ilk think, if they bother to think at all beyond regurgitating right wing talking points, of the news about the 24 million dollars a year some of the CEO's of America's biggest health insurance companies received in compensation last year.

I wonder what Mr. Astukewicz thinks of health insurance industry profits soaring more than 250% between 2000 and 2009, even while more and more Americans go without coverage or have their claims denied.

But the news gets even more disturbing no, disgusting in fact.

When it appeared Dick Armey and the health insurance industry lobbyists had all but defeated health care reform, especially in relation to a genuine public option, the value of industry stocks soared into the stratosphere.

Apparently, that windfall was not enough.

Anthem Blue Cross of Calfornia recently announced premiums will increase by 39% this year.

The Dept. of HHS, in its report, predicted premiums in other states could increase by as much as 30%, or more, this coming year.

Here are some specific examples of what lies ahead.

BC/BS of Connecticut last year requested a 24% premium rate increase. The state denied the request, but a similar request is on the table again and it is expected to be granted. Ah, the power of the industry lobbyists!

Anthem of Maine requested an 18.5% premium increase last year, which the state denied. But it is now asking for a 23% increase this year and, as in Connecticut, it seems likely the request will be granted. Again, you gotta love those corporate lobbyists.

Blue Cross of Michigan is seeking a whopping 56% premium increase on its individual private plans this year.

United Health, Tufts, and BC/BS of Rhode Island are requesting premium increases this year of between 13 and 16%.

In Washington state, insurers hoped to increase premiums on private individual plans by as much as 40% this year, but it appears the state legislature has intervened and put the kibosh on that chicanery.

Finally, Wellpoint. United Health Care Group, Cigna, Aetna, and Humana took in combined profits of over twelve billion dollars in 2009, up 56% over 2008 - all the while the number of America's uninsured and under-insured continues to grow.

Now, one of the rallying cries of those like Mr. Astukewicz who oppose health care reform, aside from the right wing lunacy that it is "socialistic" and will bring on another "Holocaust", was that it, especially if it included a public option, would send costs through the roof. Ah, excuse me folks, but costs are going through the roof, not because we are actually providing millions of Americans access to health care, but because the insurance execs, much like their counterparts in the banking industry, are greedy "mother you know whatters", and they've come to believe they can get away with it.

But that may be changing. Recent polls show strong support still exists for genuine reform with the public option included.

Congressional Democrats, at long last, seem to be realizing they are the majority and, as a result, it looks like they are getting their mojo back and may invoke reconciliation, exercise their legitimate democratically bestowed authority, and pass meaningful health care reform - perhaps even with the much needed public option contained in that reform.

Now, current conventional wisdom says the Dems would be shooting themselves in the foot by doing that.

But I don't think so.

Approximately 37% of the national electorate is adamant they will not vote for any Democrat in November. Roughly the same number is equally adamant they will vote only for a Dem come November.

The rest of the electorate is up for grabs.

Current conventional wisdom says the Right is ascendant in American politics, with the faux grassroots Tea Party movement being cited as the clearest evidence but, again, I don't think so.

I personally, for example, know numerous intelligent independents, and even some frustrated Democrats, who voted for Scott Brown over Martha Coakley mainly because he was, simply put, a much more appealing and likable candidate than Coakley.

They were willing to give him a chance.

Many of those same people, after learning about his ties to the "Birther Movement", his putting six foot tall cardboard cut outs of then candidate Obama dressed as Osama bin Laden in his front yard, and his publicly stated position that issues pertaining to people's civil rights should be put to a popular vote, have told me there is not a snowball's chance in Hades they will vote for Bill Hudak against John Tierney.

They view Hudak as a fringe candidate, more aligned with the increasingly paranoid, extremist, Palin, Tea Party wing of the GOP than they are comfortable with.

They have, however, made very clear to me that if the state GOP could get either Bruce Tarr or Brad Hill to enter the race, John Tierney would be in for the race of his life and, frankly, would probably lose.

Those same independents, after watching the so called Tea Party Convention in Nashville, are distancing themselves from a movement that once held some appeal but quickly is revealing itself to be increasingly racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and not at all representative of the points of view of many, many independents hold, especially on important social issues.

It's for all these reasons that I do not accept the wisdom du jour that some new "American, right wing, revolution" is underway.

If the Democrats maintain their mojo, if they pass truly meaningful health care reform, if the Obama administration can continue to report progress against the Taliban in Afghanistan, if the Dow stays above 10,000, if the stimulus continues to create jobs, as we know it's been doing thanks to a recent impartial assessment by a bipartisan group of economic research firms, and, perhaps most importantly, President Obama takes off the white gloves and comes out swinging the way he did on the campaign trail, and if the Democrats can campaign this summer and fall on genuine accomplishments, with health care reform at the top of the list, the current obits being written about both the Democratic party and President Obama himself, I predict, will be proven to be very premature, very premature indeed,

But that's why Mr. Astukewicz and others of his ilk are so desperate for Barack Obama to fail.

After the mess the previous administration, in concert with its GOP majority in both the House and Senate for six years created, they know that if the Democrats and President Obama are viewed as even moderately successful by the American people, they and theirs will be banished to the political wilderness for a decade, perhaps even a generation or two.

Michael Cook
PV de Limon & Nbpt

Monday, February 22, 2010

Councillors speak out about surveillance

Two city councillors - At-large Councillors Barry Connell and Tom Jones - stood up during the "Good of the Order" portion of tonight's Council meeting and spoke passionately about the installation of surveillance cameras in downtown Newburyport.

Actually, Jones was a little more general. He spoke about the need for the City Council to approve expenditures from grants because it doesn't now. That's how we end up with things that make us go, "Huh?"

Connell said he had a long discussion with City Marshal Tom Howard about the cameras, which are not yet operational, and while the Marshal presented a strong argument for management (Of what? Crime?), Connell said there was a difference in opinion about necessity.

The reason my notes are so garbled is because he was so eloquent that I was sort of mesmerized.

The upshot is, he asked the Marshal to hold off on finalizing the installation (the software) until there can be further discussion on the need for the cameras "so we can preserve the sliver of personal freedom we still have in public places."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Who says the print media is not relevant?

I defy you to come up with a story more relevant than this:

Car broken into, 3 bags of chips stolen

The accompanying copy is also stirring:

FLINT, Michigan — A man reported that his 2003 blue Chevrolet Impala was broken into at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to police reports.

The vehicle was parked on the 4000 block of Van Slyke Road. He told police the driver's side door was dented and the handle was broken in the effort to gain entry to the car.

He told police that three bags of chips were the only items taken from the vehicle.

I bet you never would have guessed that it came from a newspaper in Flint ...

Snow emergency parking

City Councillor At-large Ari Herzog informs me that the Council's Neighborhood & City Services committee - of which he is the chairman - will meet at 6:30 on Monday (before the City Council meeting and in Council chambers) to discuss protocols for parking during a snow emergency, as in how to improve public notification and information.

"I think it's a conversation we should have," Herzog told me.

Apparently during the snowstorm that didn't happen a couple of weeks ago, 2 of the blue lights that notify residents of a snow emergency did not work. Herzog has invited Marshal Howard, DPS Director Brendan O'Regan and Julia Godtfredsen from the Mayor's Office to the meeting.

Also Herzog said the Budget & Finance committee will meet the same evening, at 7:15, probably in the upstairs auditorium at City Hall.

A favor

I wish Ed Cameron would just do me a favor and become the Ward 3 city councillor. He can switch with Bob Cronin ...

I don't know why, but I always (always) put Ed in Ward 3.

Sorry, Ed and Bob. It's a mistake I make consistently, and I never even notice it until someone calls it to my attention ... thanks, Bob, for doing that (and your email was indeed funny).

Oh, and by the way ... the senior center building committee meeting scheduled for Monday has been postponed! Ward 4 City Councillor Ed Cameron told me so.

The answer to my prayers!

I just found out yesterday that there are new Federal Reserve rules going into effect this summer that will restrict banks from charging overdraft fees on debit cards. Hallelujah.

From the New York Times, last November:

The rules, which take effect next summer, are the latest issued by the Fed after criticism that it did not move quickly and aggressively enough to root out deceptive and abusive consumer lending practices.

The law does not apply to checks you wrote on your bank account, though, only debit cards.

Here's something I didn't know, until yesterday: when the bank receives all the charges you made on your debit card, they rank them by amount, not by the date you rang up the charge. So they take the largest amount out first and thus it always appears as if the overdraft fees hit the smaller amounts at the bottom of the list (because they do).

Why is this deceptive? Because if it was that one big transaction that put you in overdraft, you should only have to pay a fee for that one transaction. But under the current system, you get hit with fees for any and all those other smaller charges that were actually made before you went into overdraft.

Many people would prefer to get hit with a fee than to say, reveal to a mortgage lender that they didn't have sufficient funds to cover their mortgage payment. That's an individual choice. But to render your check register null and void by "reconciling" debits in order of amount and not date is just wrong. And that's why it has been fixed.

(Thank you to the "store manager" at TDBank for taking the time to explain this all to me - something Bank of America never did. I now have an account there - I'm making the rounds. All the banks do it that way, he told me.)

But soon, if you don't have the money, the charge will be denied unless you expressly sign up for overdraft "protection."

Something that nobody ever says, though - these "deceptive and abusive consumer lending practices" really only affected people who live on the margin. If you have enough money to live comfortably, you're never on the brink of an overdraft.

Thank god I don't have a family and don't have to choose all the time between going into overdraft and feeding my children.

You think being poor is easy?

Banks, governments - what do you think the Lottery is but a mechanism for making money off low-income people? - you name it, the people living on the edge are the targets. And then the government turns around and creates all these social programs to "help" low-income people ... you know, the ones that banks used to pad their coffers by $25 billion to $38 billion a year and the ones buying lottery tickets and those paying outrageous taxes on cigarettes.

Preying on the poor is big business. I'm pleased that the government has taken a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More thoughts from Costa Rica: Michael Cook

Although I'm not due back in Newburyport until April, 1 my mind is already focusing on the coming job search, the apartment hunt, this year with a precocious, surfing and snorkeling Toy Poodle by the name of Jake in tow, and the sundry other hassles I've gone through every spring since I started this migratory existence more than a decade ago, whether it's been in Newburyport or Provincetown.

But those concerns pale in comparison to my very real fears that the United States I was raised to love and believe in is moving inexorably toward becoming a house so deeply divided that its ability to stand may cease to exist in the not too distant future.

Today, February, 17, was a typical day for this time of year on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. It's been raining, and I do mean raining.

As a result, I've spent a lot of time on line reading both English and Spanish language news outlets from around the globe.

When I visited the Newburyport Daily News website today and read Richard Astukewicz's bizarre column, I didn't know whether I should burst out laughing at its stupidity, or be enraged at its anti-Americanism.

Mr. Astukewicz's February, 17 column was, in reality, just more of his standard, right wing, boiler plate idiocy.

But when he came out and said publicly he hopes President Obama fails, I knew Mr. Astukewicz really was just as ignorant as his many right wing rants on the pages of the NDN suggested he was.

What truly patriotic American wishes for his/her president to fail?

I was never a fan of GW Bush, as a candidate or a president.

But I, unlike some of my liberal friends, wholeheartedly supported his decision to take on al Qaeda and the Taliban government in Afghanistan after 9-11.

I cheered his successful initiative to make expensive anti-retroviral medications available to millions of poor people in Africa infected with HIV.

I supported his efforts, working jointly with Ted Kennedy and John McCain, to try and intelligently address our broken and dysfunctional immigration system.

In short, although I disagreed with GW on many issues, I was more than willing to give credit to him when credit was due.

Right wing ideologues like Mr. Astukewicz, and his fellow Tea Party faux patriots, seem almost pathologically unable to give President Obama credit for anything.

Just today, virtually every legitimate economic research and analysis firm, from across the political spectrum, acknowledged that the stimulus is, albeit slowly, working and is directly responsible for almost a million and half jobs being created over the last year.

Although I wholeheartedly supported GW Bush's post 9-11 military action in Afghanistan, I never understood his dropping the legitimate anti-terror ball there to pursue his lie based personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The dropping of that Afghan ball allowed both the Taliban and al Qaeda to regroup to such an extent that they threatened not only the US installed government in Afghanistan, but the government of Pakistan - and its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Much to the chagrin of many of his more liberal, peace-nik supporters, Obama decided to take the bull by the horns and clean up the Afghan mess the chicken hawk neo-cons who dominated the Bush administration bequeathed to him.

And, much like with Obama's domestic economic stimulus initiative, his Afghan initiative is having a positive impact, as this week's news of the capture of at least two Taliban leaders and the expulsion of Taliban forces from a former stronghold, show.

So, where are supposed patriots like Mr. Astukewicz?

They are writing crazy columns, letters to the editor, and posting on anonymous blog sites in which they publicly say they hope the president fails.

Not only is that grotesquely unpatriotic in my book, it comes perilously close to bordering on the treasonous.

Michael Cook
PV de Limon
& Nbpt

What do you want to read about?

This is the question that every reporter/editor/newspaper owner wants to know. So naturally, I want to know.

I'm asking - what do you care about?

I know Newburyporters love to talk and read about food, so we recently added a food section on Newburyport Business. This was mostly because once Loretta opened, the hits on my December story about the new restaurant went up, up, up. I noticed the same spike in hits on posts on this blog about Oregano, once Oregano opened.

Do you want restaurant reviews, or just plain stories? Do you want photos of the food? Do you want menus? What? Do tell.

Mark these dates

There are 2 workshops coming up that people should attend, in addition to the March 6 forum that Mayor Holaday has organized to get input from residents about the city's future course.

I was just reading over on Tom Salemi's blog about apathy, and I have to agree that there is apathy out there. But there is also a lot of ignorance fueling the apathy (I think) and the cure for ignorance is knowledge.

Feb. 25, 7-8 p.m., Newburyport Public Library
The Newburyport Green Communities Act Action Plan will be presented to the Newburyport Energy Advisory Committee. I was told by the Planning Dept. that the part of the Act that relates to "right-of-siting" for wind turbines depends on the strictness of the community's zoning laws since the siting has to meet the community's zoning laws for siting a wind energy conversion facility. Speaking of which ...

March 3, 7 p.m., City Hall
The Planning Board/Planning & Development Committee is holding the public hearing on proposed changes to the wind energy conversion ordinance that deals with the siting of wind turbines. Unfortunately, it may overlap somewhat with:

March 3, 5:30 p.m., Salisbury Senior Center, 43 Lafayette Rd.
A workshop on the state's new voluntary "stretch" building code. This is very important for anyone planning renovations to their home or plan on building a new home in MA or if someone is planning on building a commercial building (although it does not apply to all new construction of commercial buildings). The "stretch" code has to be adopted by a vote of the City Council and it is a criteria for becoming a green community under the Green Communities Act.

That's all, for now. Thankyouverymuch.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New City Councilor Ari Herzog is earning his pay (as little as it is). He has started an initiative, with the blessing of Mayor Donna Holaday, to maybe get Newburyport to be a test site for Google Fiber Optic service.

What is this, you might well ask?

Who knows? I reply.

No, really, go here for more information and to nominate Newburyport. Actually, that's not very informative. Just ask Ari!

We're planning to build experimental ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States to make the Internet better and faster. Check out this short video to learn more, or visit

Guest post from Michael Cook

As the clock slowly starts to wind down on this nine month stint in Costa Rica, I find myself wondering what the coming tourist season will be like this year up in New England.

Last summer was one of the worst in forty years.

I can only imagine what the still moribund US economy has done to Costa Rica's all important tourism industry but, I'm sure, it hasn't been pretty.

But, as this visit plays itself out, I find my self more worried about Costa Rica and the direction she appears headed than I've been in the decade since I started spending extended periods of time here that, when I added up the monthly totals, came out to the equivalent of seven years on the Caribbean coast.

I actually said to a good Costa Rican friend in San Jose recently, "Your country isn't just being developed, it is being colonized. If this development/colonization craze is allowed to continue unabated, you may find that not only has your country lost her national identity, but her sovereignty as well."

He agreed with me.

A university educated business man, he summed the phenomenon up best when he said to me, "Mike, es como el Pacifico. No es Costa Rica no mas. Es Nueva California".

I wouldn't describe his stating such a sad reality as being overtly hostile, but there was a definite edge to the statement and it summed up similar sentiments I've heard other educated Ticos express during this campaign season.

What astounds me is how woefully ignorant so many Americans who've invested big money here, sometimes their life savings, are of the very real and potentially disruptive political, social and economic issues confronting Costa Rica in the coming months and years.

What is even more incomprehensible to me is that so few of them seem to care - whether they're faux green, Status Utility Vehicle driving, Obama loving bourgeois bohemians, or pistol packing, Dodge Ram pick up truck driving, right wing, Sarah Palin groupies.

While in San Jose two weeks ago, the only comment I heard about the presidential election came from an American pensionado who worried if Laura Chinchilla is elected, she would impose more regulations and taxes on the prostitution and gambling industries and that, in his view, would ruin Costa Rica.

I responded to the comment by saying I know many Costa Ricans who are, indeed, fed up with Costa Rica's international reputation being almost as closely linked to prostitution and gambling as it is to eco-tourism.

His response was, "Well, those Ticos can just go 'f' themselves. If it weren't for whores and casinos, this country would still be in the toilet."

I opted not to bother to try and engage this embarrassment of an American in any further discussion of Tico politics.

But I've heard equally ignorant, if not quite as offensive, remarks from other Americans on several occasions.

One of our local right wing, Sarah Palin groupie gringos here on the Caribbean recoiled in horror when I said I liked some of what Otton Solis was proposing in his presidential platform. He angrily told me flat out, "He's a communist, just like Obama".

I asked him to back up his claim with evidence that Solis is a communist but, of course, he could not and, just as I did with the fan of whores and casinos, I decided not to pursue the conversation any further with the Palin groupie.

But even many of the Status Utility Vehicle driving, faux green, upscale, bourgeois bohemian, Obama-maniac, wash-a-shore, gringos who've landed here on the Caribbean in the last few years are as uninformed, and uninterested, in Costa Rica's national politics as their right wing gringo counterparts.

It almost has an air of outright arrogance to it, as if, because they are Americans, they don't have to bother to inform themselves about something as trivial as Tico presidential politics.

I cannot, for the life of me, especially when people have often invested large sums of money here, understand how they can not be interested in and informed about the complex political and social dynamics currently in play in Costa Rica.

This visit, I have found myself spending much more time with Tico friends, both in the Central Valley and here on the Caribbean, than I do other Americans, and several themes run through our conversations.

One is that Costa Rica is, indeed, being "colonized" every bit as much as it is being "developed", and that reality raises big concerns about the long term implications of the phenomenon for the country's future.

Another is the glaring and growing disparity between those with and those without, especially in now pricey areas like the coasts, where the explosion in the numbers of affluent foreigners has resulted in the prices of even the most basic of food stuffs going through the roof, while the wages of low skill and semi-skilled workers, particularly in the construction and tourism industries, have not even come close to keeping pace.

To grocery shop here in Puerto Viejo, even with the arrival of the Mega-Super, which is actually a subsidiary of Walmart,,is, overall, as expensive as shopping in the US. There is nothing inexpensive about Costa Rica anymore, nothing.

How women working as chamber maids, waitresses, if foreign owned restaurants in tourist towns will even hire Tica women for those jobs, and domestics for American expats, along with the men who chop gringo's shrubbery and whack their lawns, are feeding, clothing, and housing their families when many are earning 1100 or 1200 colones an hour, the equivalent of two dollars US, if they're lucky, is beyond me.

More and more, my Tico friends tell me they worry that if these trends continue and these issues are not addressed, the subtle resentment expressed in comments like my friend's about the Pacific no longer being Costa Rica, but rather "New California", could give way to overt hostility, perhaps even outright social unrest, with foreigners, particularly Americans, being a focus, perhaps even a target, of that anger.

That would be tragic for everyone, but I remain astounded just how many of my fellow Americans here are completely oblivious to these very real dynamics swirling all around them and, even more troubling, when those dynamics are pointed out to them, how little they seem to care.

It's little wonder the stereotype of the "ugly American" still endures. Very few of us, when all is said and done, do much to leave people with any other impression of us.

That has become dishearteningly clear to me here over the last few years.

Michael Cook
Puerto Viejo de Limon
& Newburyport, MA

Monday, February 15, 2010

Humboldt Fog

I just had a taste of this delightful cheese, Humboldt Fog, at Grand Trunk Imports. It is a California cheese and man, it is delicious! It's expensive, too, but I find that a little bit of expensive cheese goes nearly as far as a hunk of cheap cheese because less is more, if you get my drift.

Ah, if only I had some discretionary funds ...

If you enjoy soft, rather strong cheeses, give this one a taste. Yum.


A friend took me to see "Avatar" yesterday afternoon. I had not been to a movie in I don't know how long ... adult admission was $9.50, it was $9.50!

The movie was kind of a mix of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and all the stories that are based on Tolkien.

Even now, I'm not sure what I think about it. The visual effects were certainly very pleasing, except that the 3-D made me feel dizzy for about half the movie (as it did my friend). I wasn't very thrilled that the adults sitting behind us brought 3 little kids with them - it's a long movie - but I forgave the little girl when towards the end, she sighed and said, "I love Jake (the hero guy)." It was just too cute.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Laptop update: does Compaq [insert a word here]?

Well my new friend Mr. T (not related to the one from TV) spent several hours on Tuesday looking at my laptop and trying to resolve my issues. It seems that there is some kind of dealie with the power thingie and it needs to drain off or the laptop won't boot, or something ... the long and short of it is, one of my business partners also has a Compaq Presario laptop and she told me today that she had the same issue. She sent it off to the manufacturer and it came back the same. To quote Mr. T, "Bummer."

On the good side, although hers also will not boot up on demand, it has never completely failed to start up. Of course, that is no guarantee that mine will not fail at the most inconvenient time possible. Mostly because that's the way it works, right? I mean, the laptop went south big time the same day that the muffler on my car broke (again). And that was about 2 days after the CD player went on the fritz.

I try to leave the thing turned on to avoid the issue altogether, but as Mr. T wrote (right after he said "Bummer"), "And Windows reboots if you even look at it sideways."

I just had to share that because it's so true ... last night Windows just had to install some updates and of course, when it was time to re-start ... black screen nightmare.

Anyway, a hearty "thank you" to Mr. T for spending all that time with me and my laptop yesterday. Newburyport is truly full of generous and giving people. Do those 2 words mean the same thing? Give me a break! It's 1 o'clock in the morning.

Police cameras downtown

Our city councillors are getting really good at disseminating news. Here's a post from Ari Herzog's at-large councillor blog about police cameras that have been installed downtown.

The cameras are connected by wireless signals to the department’s 911 center. Each camera can be zoomed in and out, and use wide-angle shots. They can be operated during both the day and night. The plan is footage will only be stored for 7-10 days before the video is recorded-over.

Short and sweet ... or not so sweet, depending on how you view police cameras.

Who needs newspapers? I feel so superfluous! Eh, well, I'm all for getting information out there, no matter the source. It's just getting harder and harder to keep up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shall we blame the landfill?

Now, about this mysterious smell at Newbury Elementary this morning ... I'm here with 2 children who were there ... "It just smelled really, really bad in the hallway," one of them is telling me. She says it smelled "gas-ish," as in gas that would be in your car.

The boy is telling me that it smelled like pizza with mushrooms, so he thought it smelled good. He says he thought it was just a fire drill when the fire alarm went off - until he saw the firemen. It sounds like a very confused situation as kids were told not to take their backbacks and whatnot, were told to leave the building (they were out there for 30-35 minutes) then they were sent to the cafeteria before being sent home. There was an early dismissal anyway, because of the alleged snow storm.

The girl is now telling me that they were told there was an odor coming from the kindergarten wing.

So, the buses bringing the kids home for early dismissal were late, which sent me into a panic as I was supposed to be watching these kids after they got home at noon. They actually got home at about 12:20.

OK ... so I told the girl that there was a red pickup truck behind me when I was driving off the island at the time this all started (10:30 a.m.), with its flashers on and driving right on my butt. She says that guy was probably a volunteer firefighter that she knows of. My apologies to him; I had no idea.

All day my throat has been scratchy and I've been coughing ... which way is the wind blowing again?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hearing on turbine/mobile signs March 3

The long-awaited joint public hearing with the City Council's Planning & Development committee and Planning Board on changes to the wind energy conversion ordinance and the mobile sign ordinance is tentatively scheduled for March 3.

Or it was as of last night, at the City Council meeting.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Landfill in the news again ... and again

At tonight's City Council meeting, Kathleen O'Connor Ives (councillor-at-large) will be presenting a draft ordinance to amend the city's atmospheric pollution ordinance and impose fines on violators.

Who knew we had one of those ordinances?

This relates to the Crow Lane landfill, of course. Mayor Donna Holaday told me in an interview for the Current last week that the Noisome Trade designation expired when New Ventures stopped bringing loads of C&D to the site (I gather the 'noisome trade' was the trucks rumbling in).

I'll write more about the ordinance after tonight's meeting, but the first link in this post is to an account in today's Daily News.

Meanwhile, landfill neighbors this past week were again complaining about that mysterious burning smell and someone as distant as lower Warren St. said she smelled it this week also and reported it on the Virtual Wolfe Tavern message board on the website.

I think I mentioned that I had also smelled it, last winter. It's a very acrid smell, which I thought was most similar to the smell of burning rubber, although writes and says that it reminds one of wood that has already burned - as in, is there burned wood in the landfill?

Holaday told me later in the week that she has met Mr. Thibeault (owner of the landfill) I think three times and that he is asking for a meeting with her as mayor. So far she is showing a lot of spine on this issue (and remember, she is a lawyer) so let's keep our fingers crossed!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Congratulations to the Saints

What a great game! Didn't think I would stay awake to watch the whole thing, but it was such a good matchup ... anytime Peyton Manning is crushed into the turf, I'm riveted to the screen (except for the frequent posts on Facebook, of course).

And congratulations to the City of New Orleans. Can't think of a place that needed it more (within the United States, that is). Next year - the DETROIT LIONS!

Meet the Candidates Night (from Larry Giunta)

Massachusetts Republican Gubernatorial Candidates

Christy Mihos and Richard Tisei

Please join us on February 25, 2010

7:00 to 9:00pm

Mission Oak Grill
26 Green Street
Newburyport, MA

Admission is Free

Just for clarification, Christy is running for Governor. He has not chosen a Lt. Governor candidate to run with him.
Richard Tisei is running for Lt Governor on the Charlie Baker for Governor ticket. Charlie Baker was invited but his schedule was booked into April so he could not attend.

All are welcome to Attend

Carving open space from the mess

A reader sent this link to me ... it's from the New York Times and it's about cities and parks and private money ...

The struggle to pay for Brooklyn Bridge Park echoes similar problems around the country in creating urban parkland in a postindustrial age when open space must often be carved, at great cost, from derelict manufacturing zones, military installations or rail yards. Governments no longer have the fiscal or political muscle to finance the projects alone, and the involvement of private donors or commercial ventures has led to public battles.

Very interesting reading. And as the person who sent the link notes, even though it's on a grander scale, it's the same problem we have here in Newburyport.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

This is all I got on a Saturday night, folks

Downtown Women's Club & me

This came from the Downtown Women's Club North. I will address the group briefly to introduce Newburyport Business.

Text of message: Great Networking and Free Food for Monday Night, Feb 8. Networking for Women, Mini Life Assessments with our speaker, Mikki Lessard. Oregano Pizzeria, 5:30. Join the meetup:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Added some blogs to the roll

I've been most negligent about adding the blogs of our newest city councillors - Bob Cronin, Allison Heartquist and Ari Herzog - to my blog roll. They are up there now.

Cronin also sends out an email to his constituents (and me) that is quite informative. He invites anyone (even people not in Ward 3) to sign up for these alerts. You can contact him via

Heartquist has updates on beach issues and the lead issue at the branch library in the South End.

Herzog has this button on his blog that you can click to call him! I haven't tried it and I'm not sure even how it works, but so be it.

And, of course, Ed Cameron still has his blog. He has changed the format and has a super night photo of the Newburyport waterfront taken from ... the mud flats? I really liked the last photo of downtown at night, too. And, of course, he's got his usual informational posts.

Government in action - so much information.

And speaking of complaints ...

Just a little bit ago someone I was talking to on the phone sort of complained that I haven't been posting much on here.

I've been terribly busy, both with Newburyport Biz and all of life's dramas. I really should write a book.

So yesterday, I went down to Gloucester, as I am inclined to do on a Thursday morning, to visit with my mom. Upon my return to our glorious city, I ran a few errands and then had to go to The Tannery. I turned down Federal St. off High St. and heard the distinct sound of something under the car breaking and the really obvious sound signifying that "OMG something is wrong with the muffler AGAIN."

Thus continued a saga that began some 6 months ago when the thing nearly fell right off the car; and part 2 was about 2 weeks ago when it happened again, only for a different (and much less expensive) reason.

After fleeing (noisily) to my home, I sat down with my laptop. Oh dear, the screen had gone all black and nothing I did brought it out of whatever mode it was in (I thought I had turned off the annoying "sleep" mode).

Well damn if the thing would not re-boot. It just kept turning itself on and off, on and off, from about 3:30 p.m. to midnight, when I went to bed. I saw my life (as represented by the content of this hard drive) swirling down the toilet.

All my photos! The spreadsheet I use instead of a check register! All my stories! Civ 4! I had not done a backup in months.

This morning, after a pretty much sleepless night during I debated just how much my life would be over if I lost my Internet access, and after a few feeble attempts to re-boot, it came back. But it's acting pretty strange.

So I'm hoping one of you genius computer people out there can tell me what's going on. And please don't say anything dire - I just couldn't take it right now.

I think I just painted myself into a corner.

"Complain" is my middle name

The other day I was told that I complain too much. I replied that it was hard work coming up with complaints all the time ... and I don't get paid for it ...

Since the person wrote this to me on Facebook, I'm going to complain some more about Facebook. More specifically, how people present themselves on Facebook.

I notice a trend for people to identify themselves as a place - Newburyport, Mass., for example and Plum Island for another. I have no problem with the former, at least with one of them because the admin of the page (Ari Herzog) is very upfront about who he is. (I would link to Ari's website but as I have already complained to him, it's hard to link to 16 websites and 52 Facebook pages. I'm kidding; it's only 2 or 3 websites and .... several Facebook pages)

But someone the other day wrote and asked me if I knew who was the admin for the Plum Island page because the questioning person, who owns a business here in town, had a proposal for the person running the page. No clue who the admin is. Why would they hide? It's a positive page that's had a huge positive response, so I don't get it. How "social" is that?

Then there's Lord Timothy Dexter. This person, whoever it is, is driving some people in town nuts because s/he uses Dexter's name and other data on a Facebook page. S/he even has a farm on FarmVille (an application on Facebook), or did! I have asked this person at least twice to please identify himself or herself ...

You know, Dexter died in 1806, but he did promise to maybe "come back toue see houe you all goue on." Spooky.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Brown cancels visit

The Daily News is reporting that Sen.-elect Scott Brown has canceled his visit with Mayor Donna Holaday that was scheduled for tomorrow morning. He may be sworn in today, according to CNN.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Holaday and Brown to meet

Hey, Mayor Donna Holaday just told me she's meeting with new U.S. Sen. Scott Brown at 11 a.m. on Friday.

I was terribly confused and conflicted about where to post this information ... like last night, when I was doing my babysitting gig for my neighbor in the Newbury part of the island and the girl I watch told me a fellow student had been arrested yesterday for bringing a gun to school (Triton Middle School). Not really my 'coverage area,' but it's weird where you hear stuff.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Interesting reading

Here's a link to a story that a friend sent me about a proposed wind turbine installation, from The Martha's Vineyard Times online.

The results of the acoustic study that was conducted by Tech Environmental showed that the community-scale wind turbine would increase the sound level for West Tisbury School's property boundaries and nearby residences beyond the acceptable level allowed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Noise Policy.

And interestingly, the powers-that-be in this town, West Tisbury, are following the 3x the height of the turbine "rule of thumb."

As a "rule of thumb" for minimizing possible noise, the study explained, a wind turbine should be sited three times the blade-tip height from residences. Based on the turbine initially proposed at West Tisbury School, that meant it should be located about 1,000 feet from residences.

The study referred to is "a wind site survey conducted by the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory in January 2007 ..."

I don't know how this noise controversy will ever be resolved!

Newspapers working with the competition?

I came across this today while looking for something else online .... it's from The Institute of Interactive Journalism at American University in Washington, DC and dated August 17, 2009.

Five news organizations around the country have each agreed to work with at least five hyperlocal news sites or producers in their communities in a Networked Journalism pilot project to gather ideas and lessons for future content collaborations, American University’s J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism announced today.

The one-year project is funded with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The funds will support a liaison at the newspaper and provide small stipends to local partners.

I think this is the only way to go in the future ... what do you think?