What I Learned from Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff

I’ve put up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.  There’s no City Council meeting because of the special election, but there will be a School Committee meeting (that I assume Tracy will cover).

I just started my scorecard of important Council votes (in pdf; I’ll make it a little prettier as time goes on), and I welcome any thoughts about what might constitute ‘important’ votes.  Maybe I’ll do it for School Committee too; let me know if you have any thoughts on it.

I am also open to people sending me links for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

What I Learned This Week

CVS is coming to yet another block near you.  Also, Panera on Gold Star.

Three of us attended the City Council Meeting.  (Can anyone say Montvale?)

Sean livechatted with DPW and got an answer, and also got a No Parking sign installed on his street.

Jeff commemorated the one-year anniversary of RedactionGate and points us to a wonderful RSS-less blog by Dave Goldberg.

Tracy blogged about the PQA review, five things you didn’t know about the School Committee, and gym class.

Remember to vote next week.  Or not.

Photos: Lady Liberty, Big E, Big Iced Coffee in the middle of winter.

PS — In the “InCity Times time warp” category for the week, the piece on the Energy Barn-raising features multiple tenses: “Last month more than 100 people attended”…”there is quite a mix of people from all walks of life participating in both the planning and the workday.”  (I know, it’s relatively nitpicky, but the time vortex that is ICT is reason enough for me to ask my peeps: isn’t the new Doctor Who logo better than the old one?  It’s kind of growing on me!)

Historical Commission Meeting, 1/14/2010, part one

I’d thought about liveblogging the Historical Commission meeting yesterday, but I felt a more polished summary would be appropriate, because not everything is of interest to everyone.  (I’m also not familiar with half of what was discussed in the meeting, so I’m open to being corrected if I’m wrong.)

 The most interesting part of the meeting was at the end, when John O’Dell, the energy services manager for the city, made a presentation about City Hall projects for energy efficiency and a conservation block grant proposal.  The proposal for energy efficiency would include bringing gas in under ground (currently it’s oil), putting in a chiller on Front Street side adjacent to the proposed ice rink, and replacing the caulking on the windows.  (The windows were double-glazed in 2002 or 2003 with a $500k grant to replace the windows.  This would just be for the caulking.)  There would be a 4′x4′ gas meter installed on the outside of City Hall, which would likely not have obvious controls on the front.  (For this, he needs a letter of approval from the Commission because City Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.)

The controversial part of this was that one of the proposals for the grant is a long-term demonstration (2.5 or 5 kw) wind turbine on the Common.  The turbine would be roughly as high as the flagpoles (40 feet).  It would provide modest power to feed to the building (O’Dell estimated four houses’ worth of power), but the main purpose of the turbine would be to show the city’s commitment to be energy efficient and also to encourage homeowners to consider a smaller wind turbine.  The reason this model was chosen because it has a low cut-in speed (=it works at low wind speeds) and is able to handle wind from a lot of different angles, as can happen in urban locations.  The cost would be between $40-50,000, much of which is for the support structure. 

The Commission was not happy about the turbine.  The were told it couldn’t be located across the street, at Sovereign Bank, because it needs to be close to the meter.  The further you go from the meter, the more expensive it gets to operate.   They also wanted to know if it could be located on the Front Street side of the building, and O’Dell said he would explore that option.  They wanted to know if it could be located at another site, like the vocational school.  O’Dell said that they are looking into a larger turbine for the Voke school, and also that they wanted an example of a smaller turbine in a very visible location.

Much of the pushback from the Commission is that a wind turbine would detract from the Common.  (The rest of the pushback focused on how the turbine would only generate enough for “four toasters”, and O’Dell’s not losing his cool speaks as much about his personal fortitude as to the Commissioners’ need for hearing aids.) 

Now, one could argue that having a small turbine would detract from the beauty or historicity of the Common, but I don’t know how that’s inconsistent with the city’s recent (and not-so-recent) activity on the Common.  So, (really scary) fake Christmas trees don’t detract from the Common.  Ice skating rinks that need chillers installed?  Go for it!  Moving bodies buried on the Common and removing grave marker stones — not a problem!  Looks just like 1896 to me!  Let’s not show any sort of commitment to energy efficiency when it could get in the way of keeping a skating rink cold!

(In fairness, there was discussion of the chiller having a solar panel on its roof.  But maybe that proves my point.  One commissioner had asked O’Dell why solar panels on City Hall wasn’t considered; but I got the feeling that, if that had been considered, it would have been criticized and they would have asked him why there couldn’t be a wind turbine on the Common.)

Now, the bread and butter issues of Historical Commission meetings are vinyl windows and siding, and there was plenty of that, but I want to devote a separate post to that.  So I’ll be writing more about the Historical Commission on the weekend.

Canal District à la Rose

First of all, can we file this quote in Rose’s latest post under “Pot, Meet Kettle”:

I love Lorraine, but she can have a big mouth

Now…onto the real business.

I went to the DOT hearing on the proposed streetscape improvements to the Canal District last month.  I liveblogged it and summarized it.  (Also, at last night’s City Council meeting, Phil Palmieri mentioned that he and other councilors had had a meeting that day with those in charge of the project, so we can assume that the Councilors are somewhat in the loop, despite the hearing occurring on a Council night.)

Perhaps there’s a secret cabal that meets at Allen Fletcher’s house to hold seances to summon the spirits of Heidi’s Hippie Hideaway.  Perhaps he is a completely unreasonable person who pushes non-yuppies around every chance he can get in the hopes of having a waterway for his canoe.  Perhaps he wants to turn Green Island into his Own Private Montvale.  I can’t comment on those accusations.

I will say, though, that if Fletcher were in charge, the original design would have included lights on a more human (less highway) scale.  He mentioned this at the hearing.  If he’d met with them beforehand, and he were running the show, why wouldn’t that have been included so that he could compliment them on their foresight?

Despite conflicting with the Council meeting, the hearing was well-announced, well-attended, and open to the public.  I didn’t see Rosalie Tirella there, nor did either of the two neighborhood activists she mentioned get up to speak.  If you care so much about what happens in this neighborhood and if you call yourself a journalist, why exactly didn’t you show your face at the hearing, Rose?

Cheap Worcester Wednesdays

Those who know me know that I self-identify as a Cheap Yankee.  (One of my friends and I used to daydream about having our own radio show called “Cheap Yank”, where people could bond over our collective cheapness.  I was at his house this weekend and he offered me some tea.  “I got it at Price Rite.  It tastes like dirt, but I kind of like it.”  I think that pretty much sums up our attitude.)

Here’s how cheap I am: I bought nine kids’ books at the Salvation Army on Saturday and told my husband, “Only one of them was on sale, but I decided to splurge!”  And he gives me that “the regular price is 59 cents; you are approaching the cheap point of no return” look.  (But — let’s be real — I haven’t reached the point of no return because I actually bought the books.  Right?)

Charlene Arsenault had done a wonderful series in Worcester Magazine called “Chuckie’s Cheap Worcester” (see here and here) which brings tears to my eyes because Duffy’s (the epicenter of all that was cheap and wonderful) has closed.  (Even my elder son says things like, “It’s too bad Duffy’s closed,” and it’s been closed for over a year.  And he’s five!  So thriftiness must be genetic.  Also, we took his picture with the ladies who worked at Duffy’s right before it closed, so I like to think he has a special bond to the place.)

Since the “Chuckie’s Cheap Worcester” series is now a touch dated, I thought I’d do a regular, alliterative feature called “Cheap Worcester Wednesday.”  (I also welcome tips via email or comment, but I understand those who refuse to tell me about their favorite spot.  Sometimes when you’ve got a good source of goodies, you don’t want to share!)

So — for my first post in this series — I wanted to talk a little about gas prices.  (Well, actually, I didn’t, but my husband recommended it and he’s the kind of person who will drive an extra mile because he knows the gas is usually cheaper at this one station.  He’s also the kind of person who looks for excuses to make a trip to Fitchburg because there’s a stretch of Route 12 in Leominster, heading towards Fitchburg, where the gas prices are routinely 10 cents cheaper than they are in Worcester.  Does driving twenty miles one way completely defeat the purpose of saving money on gas?  You be the judge.)

My husband likes the Worcester Gas Prices website, which relies on users to post updates about gas prices.  He also uses the Price Chopper gas program, because that’s the supermarket where we tend to shop.  We tend to wait until we’ve got a big discount, and then he’ll fill up his tank when it’s pretty low, and also bring a gas container (so that we can take advantage of the 20-gallon maximum on the discount).  He also got the Shaw’s gas discount, purely by accident.  He was running low on gas, went to fill up at an Irving station, and the tank told him to put in his Shaw’s card, and got 20 cents off per gallon.

Does anyone else have any other gas tips?

City Council Meeting, 1/12/2010

Yes, I’m here, and I’ll be leaving shortly, but I have very little to say, beyond my disappointment at the Montvale decision, and that my irrational crush on Mike Germain continues unabated.  (Note that I reserve the term “irrational love” for Albert Southwick alone.  If Germain had voted my way on Montvale, we may have upgrade it to “obsession”, but crush it remains.)

I’d promised to put together a voting guide to the City Council, comprising the issues I think are important.  I put together a draft that you can find here, as a pdf.   Please send me any feedback on votes that you consider important or formatting changes you’d like to see.

Now that Tracy has helped me connect to the Wifi here, I’ll also be liveblogging the Historical Commission meeting on Thursday.  I won’t always be able to attend meetings of that commission, but I’m going to try to attend at least one commission or committee meeting a week.

Update, 9.43 pm: I should never shut off my computer just as Rick Rushton gets up to speak.  (I swear, this blog will not turn into Rushton-bash-central, so could another councilor say something that ticks me off next week and let Rick off the hook?  Thanks!)

Rushton’s reference to “Judge Van Winkle” (8.41 mark) was completely inappropriate.  While one might argue (and I certainly would) that the judge took quite a bit of time to decide on the case, it is not his fault that the public has been kept from records in the name of preserving privacy, and it’s not his fault the words “drama” were redacted not once but twice.  Shaun Sutner is also not his fault.  If there had been a public comment period (and maybe there was and I just missed it!), I would have taken the Council and especially the City Manager to task for totally disregarding the public’s right to know.  We had more discussion tonight about researching regionalizing police and fire services to/with surrounding communities than we did about what our own police officers may or may not be accused of. It’s all about the benjamins and not at all about accountability.

WorcesterPD on Twitter, part two

I agree with Jeff regarding RedactionGate, especially the last paragraph.  The city government should not be in the business of preventing the public from knowing what is being done in its name, period.

At the height of the insanity, I hoped that the WorcesterPD would be able to use social media like Twitter to better inform the public about public safety news.  As I mentioned last week, the Worcester Police Department’s use of Twitter has been somewhat spotty.  Here’s a review of the past three tweets from Worcester PD:

So, this week it’s a bit more prompt, but I’m not getting much more information (in a much quicker fashion) than I would from the Telegram. 

Part of the reason this has been on my mind is that the BBC World Service recently broadcast a documentary featuring the best of a podcast called Street Stories, put together by the Tulsa Police Department.  The podcast seems to no longer be produced, but it’s a great example of what a police department could put together as both public service and public relations.

WGBH vs. WBUR: midday lineups

When I previously wrote about the morning lineups, the WGBH noon-2pm slot was not yet ready.  Today was the first day of the new lineup (Emily Rooney from noon-1pm, and Callie Crossley from 1pm-2pm), and here are my thoughts:

Noon to 1pm

WGBH’s new radio program with Emily Rooney debuted with a lot of big-name guests (Deval Patrick and Donald Carcieri, Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino) and a relatively lousy theme song.  I don’t watch Emily Rooney on TV (she conflicts with Go, Diego, Go!), so beyond catching her here and there a few times, I’m not familiar with her work.  I think the emphasis with this and the Callie Crossley show is for WGBH to offer a bit more of a local alternative to what’s being offered on ‘BUR, and, if that’s the case, they certainly succeeded today.

The problem with the Emily Rooney program today was that she didn’t ask any hard questions of the politicians or have anything insightful to say (one of her suggestions: perhaps MA and RI can work together on renewable energy projects — like wind farms on the ocean — because they are next to one another); that I learned nothing of value from the discussion of political polls (news flash: no one’s thinking about the governor’s race!); and that I really don’t want to listen to a program to which two-thirds of the time is devoted to an executive at the Red Sox who seems to think that ticket scalping only began in the internet age.

Robin Young had much more going on in her show, with a bit more variety: Congress back in session, human rights in North Korea, an anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, plus lighter fare (Jay Leno, accordion music).  I went back and listened to Emily Rooney’s show (which I’d listened to live) to see if I’d missed a guest or a topic, but I hadn’t.  Young is able to pack much more into one segment of her show, asking guests like Don Schmierer some tough questions, than Emily Rooney was able to do in a whole hour.

Advantage: WBUR, and not just because my husband thinks Robin Young is cute.  Or because I love the accordion.  (Roll out the barrel!)


WBUR has Fresh Air with Terry Gross; WGBH offers the Callie Crossley Show.

I usually don’t listed to Fresh Air because I usually can’t deal with Terry Gross, but I listened today for comparison’s sake.  Today, there was a discussion of civilian contractors injured in wars and a review of the new Mary J. Blige album.  Typical Terry Gross: interesting topic with a good amount of time devoted to the guest, along with a touch of fluff.

From what I heard on Callie Crossley, I don’t think I’ll be listening again.  Her first segment was on “generational shifts” and differences in the way boomers and millennials use (and are comfortable with) technology.  The show does have a call-in component, and the first caller for this segment was an intense luddite.  At first, I thought she handled it well (steering him to a question, moving to the guests when the caller began an anti-technology rant), but then she and the guests laughed at the guy.  (Which was extremely ironic, considering Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot later spoke about relating to one another in respectful ways.)  The caller’s question – about how today’s youth don’t write as well as previous generations, which I thought was pretty legitimate – wasn’t answered.  The “millennial” guest, Alexa Scordato, responded that her generation feels “connected” and they “get things done faster” (note, not better).  By not responding to the caller’s concerns and by speaking in generalizations, she proved the caller’s point.  Scordato proved to be a particularly poor guest, making simplistic statements about racial issues (“My children will never have to be taught that an African-American is a person [because we elected the first African-American president]”; around the 10 minute mark of the day’s broadcast).  Crossley had some fluffy guests for the second half (a dancer who won So You Think You Can Dance!, an owner of a local bakery) who were much less painful to listen to; unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to redeem the show for me.

Advantage: WBUR, especially if you prefer a bit more “hard” news at this hour.

On a related public-radio note: Unfortunately for those of us in church on Sunday mornings, WGBH offers Bob Edwards Weekend Sundays from 10-noon; his guest at the beginning was Carl Kasell.  I wonder if it would be possible for WGBH to carry the weekday show as some sort of competition to Morning Edition on WBUR, because I think they’d pick up a decent amount of listeners that way.

What I Learned From Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff

I’ve put up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.  I’ve noticed that the Municipal Calendar for next week does not yet include the City Council or School Committee meetings, but I assume they are on.  I will likely be going to the Historical Commission meeting next week, and I’d like to encourage people to go to meetings, especially commission meetings, that you do not think the local media will be fully covering.

I’m also thinking of keeping a scorecard of important Council votes for the next couple of years that could be spun into a voting guide, so I welcome any thoughts about what might constitute ‘important’ votes.  Maybe I’ll do it for School Committee too; let me know if you have any thoughts on it. 

I am also open to people sending me links for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

What I Learned This Week

Karl had the single best post on the Salvation Army thing this week.

We had an inauguration and City Council meeting

Also, thanks to the person who wrote the following on the Virtual Assignment Desk about the Council meeting:
“Nat Needle gave his yearly ukulele crooning to the council. Rushton wanted the lyrics before Nat sang, but the rest of the council just passed the motion without him. Joe O’Brien lost his voice before the meeting and was sucking down coffees (or teas?) throughout the meeting. Konnie Lukes was cool as a cucumber and came to the meeting prepared. Many of the council members have gained weight over the holidays.”

Oh!  School Committee tooTwice.

Mike bought Inside Worcester so that I didn’t have to.  (And now I likely never will.)

Sean shows Rosalie Tirella some love for this post.

This week, it was Jeff’s turn to skewer Z. Nemeth  (I’m leaving out the “Robert” because “Z. Nemeth” sounds jazzier).  Jeff also scooped Dianne Williamson on the WRTA/Planned Parenthood ads.

Update, 3.30pm - Rosen and Novick on Saturday nights.

Library Magic Show

There will be a magic show with magician Steve Rudolph on Friday, February 19, 2010 at 7pm at FPBL.  Get your tickets now!  (Or send me an email and I’ll pick them up on my way home tonight and drop them in your mailbox.  You know who you are.)

Also, for those who missed Tanglewood Marionettes’ presentation of Hansel and Gretel at the Main Library a couple of weeks ago, my husband has informed me that the Overlook in Charlton is hosting a performance on Saturday, January 9 (tomorrow) at 11am.  Admission is $5 for adults and free for children. (Trust me, this is a really good deal!)

I will also be doing some interviews at the Worcester Public Library in a couple of weeks.  I especially want to touch on involvement with Worcester Public Schools (see the discussion of summer reading lists here), outreach to the elderly, the new Chat with a Librarian service, and (if possible) my first visit to the Worcester Room.  If you have anything you’d like me to ask, please let me know in the comments or via email.

The Ecotarium also kindly sent me an email about this post, so if you have any questions regarding the capital campaign or plans for the museum, please let me know as well.

You should definitely follow the library on Twitter or Facebook.  The only reason I mention this is because you can now fan me.  (Is that the right term, or should it be “follow me”? Obviously I know nothing about Facebook, but “fan me” sounds like something a Roman emperor would say, right after having a grape popped into his mouth…and “follow me” sounds like I’m a cult leader.)

Library Books of the Week

I love reading to my kids, and lately I got a little obsessive about children’s book authors.  Here are three of the better biographies I’ve read, all available at the library.

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll by Jean Nathan is the fascinating story of Dare Wright, author of The Lonely Doll and its many sequels.  If you’ve never read The Lonely Doll, it’s the story of a little doll who receives a visit from two teddy bears, how she gets into much trouble with the younger bear, and gets spanked by the older one when he returns.  The book was written in the 1950s and is at once incredibly stylish (awesome black-and-white photography by Wright) and a little bit disturbing.  Which is precisely how a lesser biographer might describe Dare Wright herself.  The Secret Life is the story of Dare Wright’s sad childhood, her weird relationship with her artist mother, and her inability to completely break free from a dream world/childhood and become a full-fledged adult.  The book is chock full of her beautiful photographs, especially her self-portraits.  (The woman looks better at age 50 than I will ever look in my whole life.)  I found it nearly impossible to put down, and equally impossible not to read passages and show photographs to whichever listener was nearest at hand.  If you’ve ever read The Lonely Doll and wondered exactly what the author was like, pick this up the next time you’re at the library.  You will not be disappointed.

Awakened by the MoonMargaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon isn’t exactly a page-turner, but I knew nothing about MWB before I read it, and a lot after, so that’s saying something.  The most interesting points were about her experiences at Bank Street, which goes a long way to explaining the sing-songy, almost rhyme of much of her work for young children.  Did you know she was involved in a long term relationship with Michael Strange, the former wife of my favorite actor of silent and sound movies, John Barrymore?  Yeah, me neither.  Marcus doesn’t shy away from some of the more difficult aspects of Brown’s personality, like her shunning of Esphyr Slobodkina when she found out E.S. was Jewish.  While the book gave me a lot of knowledge about Brown, she always remained a somewhat cloudy figure, though perhaps she was that way in real life as well.

Little Black Sambo has received a lot of attention with the publication of three revisions in the past few years (The Story of Little Babaji is our favorite, but Sam and the Tigers and Christopher Bing’s version are also quite good).  LBS obviously has a notorious reputation these days, and I was interested to read (via a library in Western MA) Sambo Sahib, a biography of Helen Bannerman, author of LBS and numerous lesser works.  The good news?  She wasn’t a racist and she and her family were horrified at the debasement of her best-known book.  The biography is a good cautionary tale in copyright law.  Bannerman lived much of her adult life in India, and had a friend negotiate her publishing contract in England.  The friend sold Bannerman’s rights to the book for a pittance, and that’s how a relatively poorly-illustrated book got turned into the most controversial children’s book of all time.  It’s also a reminder of how much the children’s book publishing industry has come in the past hundred years.

As a special to those of you who tolerate these posts of mine… I have an extra paperback copy of The Lonely Doll and will be giving it away to one lucky person who comments on this post by Monday morning.  So, if you’ve never read it and want to see what it’s all about, or if it’s a lost favorite of your own childhood, comment on this post and you may just win it!