Burns Bridge = Tunnel of Love?

While we were driving down route 9 recently, I asked my husband what he thought of the proposals to replace the Burns Bridge over Lake Quinsigamond.

“I’m not impressed,” says he.

“What about the so-called ‘artistic‘ one?” I asked.

“It’d be great if Worcester were the birthplace of the Hula Hoop.  It screams ‘Hula Hoop’ to me.”

“Me, too,” says I.

“What they need is something very unique, and Worcester-related.”

“Any ideas?” I asked, as we approached the bridge.

“Picture this — curved steel beams in the shape of hearts arching over the bridge at 20-foot intervals, with molded plexiglas installed between each, but only extending down about halfway on the sides, so as to not obscure the views.  The plexiglas will keep the weather off the bridge deck, thereby extending its life, and providing some shelter for pedestrians and drivers who pass through, but allowing light in. ”

(I did, indeed, picture it as we passed over the bridge.  It suggested something to me.)

“Sort of like a ‘Tunnel of Love’?” I asked.


“You’re so romantic.”

“Uh huh,” say he.

“Will you sketch it for me?”


A Convenient Scapegoat: Pit Bulls

“My kids are around Pit Bulls every day.  In the ’70s they blamed Dobermans, in the ’80s they blamed German Shepherds, in the ’90s they blamed the Rottweiler.  Now they blame the Pit Bull.”  — Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer

I visited Tim Hart and Pam Toomey one afternoon recently.  Tim and Pam are the proud owners of a pair of dogs — Zeus, who’s six, and Carly, who’s two.  Zeus & Carly greeted me enthusiastically, were well-behaved, and remained friendly throughout my visit.  Carly gave me a few kisses and Zeus thought I was his new best friend.  Pam gave Carly a quick correction when Carly became too interested in the food in her hand; Zeus was  interested in investigating the canine and feline smells on me, but immediately backed off when instructed.  These dogs had obviously been well-trained & socialized, and I felt very comfortable visiting with them.  They’re pets that anyone would be proud to own.

Carly & Zeus (center & right) with their friend Ava (left)

So, why would the Worcester City Council want to muzzle these dogs?
Not because of their previous behavior, and certainly not because of the behavior they display on a daily basis.  Not because  they have a dangerous communicable disease or a history of biting.  And not because their owners are irresponsible.
In a way, it’s mostly about how they look.  It’s because both dogs have some features that have been vaguely described as a category of dog called “pit bull”.

Pit Bulls — a distinct breed or convenient epithet?
A”pit bull” is not a breed of dog, but a term used to describe a certain kind of dog.   The term pit bull can refer to  an American Pit Bull Terrier, an American Staffordshire Terrier, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and/or a dog that is a mix of one (or more) of these breeds.

The original “pit bull terriers” were bred to combine the best qualities of terriers and bulldogs during the 1800s in the British Isles.  When the dogs came to the United States, they were used as “catch dogs for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to hunt, to drive livestock, and as family companions.”  While many today consider the pit bull a fighting dog, this dog has primarily been a family or working dog for the past hundred or so years.

Why would someone want to own a Pit Bull?
Most Worcester residents aren’t rounding up cattle or hogs, so I asked Tim Hart why he became interested in pit bulls.  “When I was seventeen,” he explained, “I had a friend who was older than me and he got a pit bull.  She was one of the smartest dogs.  And I fell in love with the dog, and another six or eight months later another friend got one, and then a year later my best friend got one.”  After getting to know so many great pit bulls, Tim knew that this was the kind of dog for him.

As Tim found, many pits are friendly dogs who are loyal to their owners.  Tim says that “irresponsible owners are drawn to [pit bulls], and the good owners are too afraid to adopt them.  They don’t want to deal with the discrimination that comes with them.”

Part of that discrimination includes the myth of the “locking jaw.”  I was very interested to discuss this with Tim, who assured me that this is false.  Pits also do not have a jaw strength that is stronger than that of other dogs of a similar size.  [See this pdf, especially pages 7 and 8, for more information on the myth of the locking  jaw and a pit bull’s jaw strength.]

Canine Aggression
Another myth is that pit bulls are bred to be aggressive.  A “pit bull”, as mentioned above, can be any one of several breeds which were meant to be working dogs and/or family companions.  As we can see on television shows such as The Dog WhispererIt’s Me or The Dog, any breed is capable of aggression.  What sets well-behaved dogs apart from aggressive ones is their training and socialization.

As Allie Simone of the Worcester Animal Rescue League says, “[Pit bulls] are generally great dogs.  [You can’t] just say a pit bull is a nasty dog. … You have to take the dog as an individual.” (47 sec mark)

If we can agree that any dog is capable of good behavior or bad behavior, then what sets them apart from one another?

The Owner
Dog ownership is a responsibility, and a long-term one at that — much like being a parent.  A responsible dog owner helps their dog learn how to behave well around other people and animals.  Unfortunately, there are many irresponsible dog owners, just as there are irresponsible parents.  The several breeds which have come to be called “pit bulls” have gained popularity with many irresponsible people, and some of these dogs have been allowed to become aggressive.  With the right sort of owner, these dogs would be no more dangerous than any other breed.

Violent dogs are a hazard that any community should address, and all towns in this area have ordinances that govern what is acceptable behavior.  It is the responsibility of the owner to make sure that their pet’s behavior doesn’t violate any of these ordinances.  Penalties can be as lenient as fines for small infractions like a dog running loose, or as severe as removal or euthanasia if the offense includes violent behavior.

Because of irresponsible owners, the several “pit bull” breeds have become a convenient scapegoat for public outrage when someone is attacked or injured by a dog.  However, local papers have featured incidents involving other breeds as well, such as a Belgian Malinois, a German Shepherd, a Blue Tick Coonhound, a Malamute, an Akita, and an English Mastiff .  So if the variety of breeds involved in aggression/violence is not limited to “pit bulls”, then what is the common denominator?  The irresponsible owner, of course.

According to Joaquín Pérez-Guisado, in a study on dominance aggression, “the greatest influence on dominance aggression in dogs depends on modifiable factors connected to the owner.”

How should a community address the problem of aggressive/violent dogs?
In upcoming installments, we’ll take a look at some of the approaches that cities & towns have taken with regard to canine aggression.  What works & what doesn’t?  What’s fair and what’s not?  I hope you’ll find this topic as fascinating as I have.

Review: WikiGovernment and Manor Labs

I’d read Wiki Government and, by the end of the book, my head was swimming with ideas about the City of Worcester could do better in their use of the web.

I had trouble articulating exactly what I wanted to see in a more interactive city website…until I came across manorlabs.org, which is the website for a town of 6,500 (people, not employees) in Texas. 

Basically, Manor Labs (pronounced MAY-ner, not “manner”) is a website (powered by Spigit) where citizens can submit ideas to improve the town.  There are four stages from incubation (the idea is submitted and voted on) to validation (reviewed by a department head when the idea gets the requisite number of votes and page views) to emergence (the innovation team meets to discuss the idea in more detail — cost, pilot program, etc.) to implementation/aborted (either the idea is implemented, or the citizen is given a reason why it can’t be).  You can watch the short video on their About page  to see how these ideas get evaluated.

This website has a lot of the features Beth Noveck describes in Wiki Government: ideas that have digg-like votes for or against (see the View All Ideas tab for some examples); users are evaluated by the usefulness and accuracy of their comments (see the Leaderboard for ratings on both ideas and users); easy usability (see here for videos).

Take a look at this idea: someone suggested that the town employ a part-time warrant officer, and people responded with reasons why it wouldn’t work.  Or an idea for automatic debiting of utility bills, which was successfully implemented.

You can read a WSJ article about the other awesome things this small town is doing and dream about a day when Worcester will have something similar.

What I Learned from Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff
I’ll be putting up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.  If you register at the WorcesterActivist site, you can update this as well. 

If you don’t have a blog but want to report on something, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Also, please feel free to send in nominations 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.

Contests & Other Publicity
Hearts for the Arts tonight

Center for Nonviolent Solutions annual meeting on Saturday morning at the WPL (via 508)

Worcester Tree Initiative on Sunday from 4:00-5:30 at QCC, regarding It’s All about the Trees!

 Arterial Street Sweeping next week.  (I was going to make a joke that included stents, but I’ll refrain.)

Worcester Arts & Culture Connection

News from Kate Toomey

Think Local, Thank Local campaign

Low-cost rabies clinic – April 10

Edgar Allan Poe/Big Read festivities.

Shameless Begging
As some of you know, the Regional Environmental Council is holding the 21st annual Earth Day Cleanups on May 1st, and for the third year in a row, I’ll be site coordinator for the Swan Avenue/God’s Acre site. 

A regular reader and future volunteer has taken extensive pictures of the area, which will either make you really want to help or (much more likely) scream in horror.  (The “free beer” washer has been number one on my list of things to get rid of since I started the cleanups, so if you’re interested in having that as a conversation starter in your home, or if you need some used PVC pipe or a couple of used wood pallets, let me know and I’ll bring them to you!) 

If you like reading this blog and you have a few spare hours on the morning of Saturday, May 1, please consider helping us. 

For interested volunteers, my husband has offered to discuss tree species (in addition to the previous offerings of Millerite theology, which is extremely important in relation to God’s Acre, and the Irish language).  Those who are interested in discussing which nighttime soap showed the most compelling insight into the eighties — my votes are either Dynasty or Knots Landing — can come work on my side of things.

You can email me if you’d like more information on the cleanup.

What I Learned This Week
Best mall idea of the week.

Jeff discussed two different online jerks (in a period of less than 24 hours), why that building on Mill Street won’t get a tenant anytime soon, more toxic players, anonymous pontificating, an excellent post about Taxi vs. Livery, CSX, and the reason five minutes were added to this morning’s commute.

Bill on another digital billboard rejectionwishful thinking, 47 Mason, and affordable housing.

Lance: Scott Brown’s legacy, wicked bad day, and dubious amendments.  Also, bringing new meaning to “ready for you”, which is so awesome I cannot express it in words.  (I think by now everyone knows how much I adore Lance’s blog.  Seriously, it’s all I can do to keep this weekly roundup from turning into a lovefest of No Drumlins posts.)

Tracy on the auditor’s report, the FY11 budget, NCLB, the power of no, and turnarounds.

Dee on Dress for Success, Macey Sign article (with a mention of Virginia Ryan), salutes to the WPD, happiness, and Saigon at Canal Nightclub.

Awesome post about volunteering at AAS.

Washburn & Moen fire in pictures and video.

Ada Lovelace, Seuss-isms, pills, saving the Google students, community service, the things I see in my nightmares, Coney Island, BBQ, and the potentiality of brick ovens.

Quote of the week: “There’s a big difference between being a resident and being a citizen of a community.”

The Week in Southwick
The Leicester Historical Society is going to be having their annual meeting/banquet on May 18th (it’s incorrect on the website), featuring the totally incredible Albert Southwick.  (My husband called me the other day and all he needed to say was, “Steak or haddock?”  Seriously, with Albert Southwick in the same room, I would be able to live without food for a week.)

Also — appropos of a comment to his column this week — you can find a reference to the Northborough mastodon here and a fuller account of it here.  (I was actually confused by the commenter’s reference to a Northborough mastodon, because I’d only ever heard about the Shrewsbury mastodon.)

Masterpiece Theatre: Past and Coming Months

Can I confess that I’ve never seen a version of Emma (except, of course, Clueless; no, I haven’t seen the Gwyneth Paltrow version because I try to save up Jeremy Northam for special occasions).  I haven’t read a lot of Jane Austen, but I’m familiar enough with the basic plot: Emma’s a know-it-all who fancies herself a matchmaker and is completely clueless about how she’s destined to marry her best friend.

There was a lot I didn’t necessarily love about the current Masterpiece Theatre production, but I couldn’t stop watching, either. And much of that was due to the utterly charming Romola Garai, who was just so fresh and brought a lack of obnoxiousness to a character (Emma) that could so easily be annoying.  Also, it seems that Masterpiece Theatre is doing its part to keep Michael Gambon employed in between Harry Potter movies; three cheers for that!

I would like a word about Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, however. I caught Miller in a production of Byron on Ovation a couple of months ago, and I think that he’s actually a very engaging guy, but I don’t think he’s right for period pieces. He’s a bit too modern, and he tends to feel like the best-dressed guy at a costume party, as opposed to someone who could have actually lived 200 years ago. 

(The real reason I watched the Byron miniseries was that Philip Glenister was playing Lord Byron’s manservant. Let me tell you, the main problem with that miniseries is the main problem with every television show ever: not enough Glenister. If PBS is hard up for money, I’ve got a recommendation: create a subscription channel that features everything Philip Glenister was ever in and call it “Pure Animal Magnetism TV.” Half the female population would watch…and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would never need to rely on the fickle ways of the federal government ever again.)


On a related “extremely attractive men I don’t see enough of” note, Rupert Penry-Jones, who I thought was pretty decent in the too-short Masterpiece production of Persuasion, and who is also married (in real life) to an actress whose character was the worst aspect of one of my favorite shows.  But we won’t hold any of that against him.

So, Penry-Jones starred in a production of The 39 Steps.  (This is the part where I confess that I really don’t like the Hitchcock movie, despite the presence of Robert Donat, who was in one of my favorite movies of all time, and Madeleine Carroll, who was in my absolute favorite movie ever.)  So it was touch-and-go whether I’d actually watch this version.

The problem with reviewing this version is that Penry-Jones is so distractingly beautiful that I have no idea whether he’s a good actor.  I can tell you that the plot (especially the ending) is different from the Hitchcock version, but I haven’t read the book, so I can’t tell you which version is more faithful to the book.  I thought it was more watchable and enjoyable than the Hitchcock, but much of that could be due to the leading man.

(For a short time, you can still watch all of The 39 Steps if you missed it.)


On Sunday, Masterpiece will be presenting Sharpe’s Challenge, which I caught on BBC America a while ago, but which I will definitely watch again.

If you’ve watched Sharpe before, you know the routine: Sean Bean’s Sharpe is war-weary, he’s got to find his missing sidekick, Harper, while wearing a jacket with a ridiculous amount of buttons, etc., etc. 

This time, though, Toby Stephens, my absolute favorite bad guy, is playing yet another bad guy.  (It’s also interesting to note that Stephens and Bean both played bad guys in Bond movies…)  I could watch Toby Stephens read the phone book as long as it was done with an evil voice and a maniacal twinkle in the eye.

And everyone knows Daragh O’Malley is extremely easy on the eyes, so just watch it and let me know how you like it.

Boston Globe Union Email

I suggest mes amis at the Telegram (and I know you all read this blog, because otherwise we’d never see this) draft something similar to this. 

(If I may take a moment to comment on the Globe, I think it’s perhaps a sign of hard times for the newspaper industry that they had to move their awesome religion reporter to be the city editor, but perhaps it’s also a sign of the Times [Co.’s greed, that is].)

(And I know that it’s been a while since I posted something long…and I promise the posts are coming…)

CWW: My Favorite Soap.

My husband called me last week and said, “Hey, I saw your favorite soap at the Grafton Street Building 19.”

“So, how much did you buy?”

“Well, you had a couple of boxes left from the last time it was at Building 19…”

So, of course I made the mad dash to Building 19 to buy thirty boxes of True Soap, which means I’ll be clean for the next decade or so.

The occupational hazard of keeping the boxes around the bathroom is that you keep getting that Spandau Ballet song stuck in your head.  (I know, because I’ve been singing it for months.)

If you like a nice, thick bar of soap that has a wonderful lather and no smell whatsoever, this is the soap for you. The clerk at Building 19 said that they do get it every once in a while, and it always goes quickly.  So keep your eyes peeled — this is cheaper than the equivalent package of Ivory soap, and a far better product.


You should also be checking that rolling bookcase near the entrance to the main library.  Lately, they’ve had a lot of great audiobooks (on audio cassette) and children’s videos (on video cassette).  Here’s a sample of what my husband found last week:

(That’s almost every The Way Things Work video ever made, some videos about human anatomy and other random stuff.  There were also two great videos about manners for kids that are cheesy-circa-1994 but have a lot of really good information.)

Penny Johnson Likely Interim Head Librarian

She’s willing to serve, and the Administration subcommittee will work out the details with her.  She likely will only be able to work for a limited time, because she’s a city retiree.

I’ll write more about the Library Board meeting after story time.

Update, March 30 — Then again, I fell asleep after story time.

So — as you read in today’s T&G, Penny Johnson will be asked to be an interim head librarian.  Because she is a retiree, she’ll likely work a reduced schedule (Tues-Thurs, or something similar) and the Board will need to interview and hire a new head librarian in a relatively quick timeline.  They will be request that the City Manager authorize Anne Hrobsky, Denise Faucher, Kevin Dowd (library board chair), and (perhaps) the interim head librarian have signature authority for anything that requires a head librarian signature until a new head librarian is installed.

Bill Coleman had asked why an internal candidate wasn’t being brought forward as an interim head librarian; Kevin Dowd said that this was considered, but that they hope that the interim period will be short.

Buffer Zones
The next time you visit, you may notice that the library has signs directing smokers away from the entrances, and that the cigarette receptacles (I have no idea what outside ashtrays are called) have been moved as well.

This is likely part of a larger move on the city regarding smoking buffer zones, and I believe an ordinance is being drafted and will be available for review in a couple of weeks.  (I think the library board has greater powers to make these kinds of changes to library property, which is why you see this change at the library but not at other city government properties.  It should also be noted that I have no opinion on this; I’m not a fan of smoking, but the smokers don’t particularly bother me.)

Youth — which, in this case, I think is a code word for “Teens”
(At this point, I should note that I have a cultural difficulty with the word “youth,” because Romanians use the word differently than almost any other group in the world — “youth” can mean anyone under 45 or so.  I thought I was exempt from being a “youth” now that I’m married with two kids — because once I had one kid, I’m not qualified to be called a “bride”, which is another one of those things that means something else to us than it does to the rest of the universe.  But my dad corrected me: “You’re not 50, you’re still a youth.”)

In this case, Bill Coleman was discussing applying for grant money to have a part-time youth activities coordinator, for 3-4 hours a day in the afternoon or evening, “to keep kids on track.” 

(So, it sounds like the teens are being loud/threatening/teens.  I actually don’t ever have any issues with them, but I’m also the kind of person who never got harassed by children selling roses in Italian cities, so perhaps that can be attributed to my personal vibe.)

Legislative Meetings (remember, the City Council is the city legislature)
Members of the library board will be meeting with City Councilors on March 30 in groups of five (to not violate the open meetings law) to show the awesomeness that is the library.  I said that part of the tour definitely needed to include the touch-screen early literacy computers in the children’s room, with which my children are totally obsessed. 

Other News
At least two members of the board will be attending the MBLC Trustee Symposium on April 10, and Kevin also noted that the MBLC will be holding a violence awareness in libraries workshop a couple of weeks later.

Government and Technology, March 23rd edition

1) Did you know that if you send an email to planning@worcesterma.gov, you can request to get Land Use News electronic newsletter, that you’ll get agendas for the ZBA and Planning Board via email?

Agendas for geeks like me.

Yeah, that’s kind of cool.

2) I rag on the WPD’s use of social media all the time, so here’s a shout-out.  Here’s a pretty good press release on scams in the city.  (via Twitter)

3) There’s an event tomorrow night about the Commonwealth’s ongoing Gov 2.0 initiatives, including the Open Data Initiative, which I know nothing about, but there’s some stuff on that Open Data website already, so check it out.

Actual Conversation from my car

(Yes, there’s a lack of serious posting today, but I promise you all that something more deep/informative will be coming soon…)

So, yesterday, we were driving to church and my husband noticed the signs (everywhere) for a huge sale at Sargent’s Country Barn.  (Because it’s reorganizing or closing or something.  I have no idea; I’m still a bit blinded by the bright orange.)

Husband: “I’ve never been there before.”
Nicole: “Well, it’s not really your scene.”
Husband:  “What’s it like?”
Nicole:  “Well, there’s kind of faux-antique or real-antique furniture and it’s out of our price range.”  [Note: our bed was bought for $29 via eBay — we picked it up — and is currently held together with screws and some old wood.  A couple of weekends ago, in what I wish would have been a recreation of my favorite scene from The Quiet Man, it broke not once but twice.  And yet the children still look at me funny when I tell them that they are really not allowed to bounce on the bed.]
Husband:  “Oh.”
Nicole:  “I think I went there a long time ago with my mom.  It’s her kind of store.”
Husband: “So why is it called ‘Country'”?
Nicole:  “I think it’s ‘country’ as defined by the people who subscribe to Country Living. Not my kind of country.”
Husband, without missing a beat: “Which would be trailers and cars on blocks in front of the house.”  [This from a man who likes to keep a parts car in the driveway.]
Nicole:  “Well, I was going to say Western shirts and cowboy hats, but close enough.”

(This whole conversation is brought to you by Justified, which is one of those shows Yankees who wear shirts with snaps love to watch.  My older son saw an ad for the show and asked me what it was about.  “Um, blowing up cars and kissing girls, as far as I can tell.”)