Borderlineblog apologizes, but stands firm on plagiarism

Just got an anonymous email from a reader, regarding an earlier post, Kudos to the Waltham Shopper; Questions for Sally Collura:

It's really important to me that bloggers put correct information on the internet otherwise you can hurt a lot of good people, businesses, etc.

1. The fact is the Waltham Shopper is not a weeky publication but a monthly one.

2. Councillor Sally Collura is NOT the publisher, Glenna and Joe Fabbo are.

3. Sally Collura does not claim that the information is all her own. If you read the first installment as I have you would know that she stated that she would "pass along information" in her column to others in hopes to educate them to the history and benefits of tea.

4. Sally Collura, a Waltham City councillor accepts donations to her campaign as many other candidates do and all candidates must file campaign finance reports on all funds raised.

Finally, I have also read that Ms. Collura over the years has done a lot of wonderful things in the Waltham community and through her local cable access show has promoted organizations such as the Salvation Army, Waltham Boys and Girls Club, GWARC and a host of other non-profits.

Bloggong [sic] can be a wonderful way of allowing people to express them selves and also to pass along information but it can also destroy good people as well.

The writer did not sign his or her name, but brings up some valid points. I have to apologize for making incorrect statements about the frequency of publication of the Waltham Shopper, and the identities of the publisher. I was wrong (although it would be helpful if this information was printed prominently somewhere in each issue).

I also apoligize for suggesting that Councilwoman Collura has a conflict of interest with real estate companies because of her Waltham Shopper association. This is not the case if she is not the publisher of the Shopper. I also recognize that Sally has done some great things for this town, and for that she deserves recognition.

However, I totally reject point #3 of the anonymous email.

If she puts her byline on an article, that means she wrote it. She most certainly did not in this case, and perhaps other cases too. It's one thing to paraphrase someone else's work, or distill it, as part of a report. But "passing along" some information about something by copying it verbatim and without attribution deceives the public and is unfair to original writers of the article. It would be like me copying and pasting the text from a News Tribune article and claiming it as my own. Or the Waltham Shopper copying something from me without saying so, and printing it as "By Jim Smith". If I found out that someone took a composition that I wrote without my permission and was claiming it or parts of it as his or her own words, I would be very angry. Additionally, if that person was making money off of my writing without telling me, and taking credit for it, I would demand that it stop and I be compensated for what has already appeared in print.

I just received the most recent copy of the Waltham Shopper, and I am going to check all of the bylined articles for evidence of plagiarism. I'll report my findings later in the week. I would be very disappointed if others are taking credit for copying other people's work without permission, attribution, or compensation.


Trash problems

What's the deal with putting out trash in my borderline neighborhood on Monday morning? Take a load of these examples that I've had to deal with since moving here five years ago:

  • I've had lots of problems with bottle pickers scattering non-refundables across my lawn and on the street, or dumping them into the regular trash or yard waste. Message to the people that do this: we are doing you a favor by leaving this stuff out, so don't make a mess for us to clean up.

  • Someone stole a new trash barrel and lid once

  • And this morning, someone dumped the remnants of an outdoor picnic right next to my trash. He or she could have put it in the half-full trash barrel that was right there, but no, blue plastic plates smeared with salad dressing, the remnants of a watermelong, and assorted other niceties were dumped right on the curb, for me to pick up by hand.

The first item has been frustrating enough for me to stop putting out my recycle bin until I go to work on Monday morning, but the second and third item require harsher thinking. A home-made video surveillance system? Perhaps. Some guy in the South End set one up to record the crime taking place on the street outside his home, and caught some very interesting footage.


Bank of America: Squeezing Newton Dry

I used to be a customer of BayBank. Remember BayBank? They had a cute little branch in West Newton Square, at the corner of Washington and Chestnut streets. I started going there in the early 1970s, when my mom helped me open my first savings account. I kept the account open through college, and into the early 1990s.

The Bank of Boston came along. OK, I could live with that. A little more corporate (remember the name change to BankBoston?) but still relatively local.

Then a few years later, Fleet took over. Corporate attitude, corporate nickel and diming, and, thanks to its near monopoly on state-wide banking, a "take it or leave it" treatment of people who didn't like the fees, minimum balance levels to waive fees, and other restrictions. A lot of people cried "monopoly", but the state's politicians sat right back and let it go through.

I left. Went to Citizens in Newton Corner in 2000, when they were still friendly, but dropped them two years later after more fees and they telephoned my house attempting to sell annuities to me (I was in my early 30s!). I went with a true local bank, Wainwright, which I was very happy with for a few years, but had to drop them earlier this year when I changed jobs and found they didn't have any branches near where I worked, or where I lived. That's generally a problem with really local banks, they are scattered across a few towns but if you go too far afield for housing or your job, it suddenly becomes a pain to go to the bank, and you get hit with ATM fees.

Anyway, to the main point of this point. Bank of America -- the same bank which started the ATM fee craze five years ago, and took over Fleet last year (laying off a bunch of low-level workers in the process), has a merciless attitude when it comes to overdraft fees, says the Boston Globe. $19 a pop, and they won't cut you a break. According to the Globe article by Sasha Talcott:

Overdraft fees are an important source of revenue for banks. In the last two years, the region's two dominant banks, Bank of America and Citizens Financial Group, have introduced "free checking" accounts, joining other banks that already offered free accounts. But free checking is not always free for customers: The banks profit from those accounts by charging customers overdraft fees, bank consultants say, while they also earn money on debit cards.

Another source in the article says on average, customers overdraw 3.4 times per year. Do the math ... tens of millions of "free checking" customers, overdrafts three or four times per year, $19 per time.

Are you still a Bank of America customer? I know they now occupy that cozy little branch in West Newton, and in a few other places in the Garden City. If you are one of the customers there, you might want to consider some of the other local alternatives in Newton. Some are real community banks, and treat their customers a lot better than this.


Waltham's Latino population

There's a story in the News Tribune this morning about Spanish-speaking residents going to Spanish-speaking clerks in Waltham City Hall. But a more interesting fact was this:

More than 5,000 residents (5,031) identified themselves as Latino in the 2000 census -- 8.5 percent of the local population.

I suspect the number is much higher than that, owing to the fact that many Hispanic residents live in Waltham temporarily, or only part of the year; can't understand census forms; or are afraid to answer them because of their illegal resident status.

It's good that City Hall provides Spanish-speaking services, but it has to be noted that there is still disconnect between Hispanic residents -- not to mention Indians and other immigrants -- and our elected representatives.

This segment of our population are not courted during local elections, and have no obvious representation among Waltham's elected officials. I get all of the campaign flyers and advertisements before local elections, but never do I see candidates highlighting their language skills, or even including a message in Spanish below the English. Elected officials should do more to learn about the issues that they are concerned about. After all, they pay property taxes either directly or through landlords, send their kids to local schools, and use other local services.


Local Japanese food revisited

Interesting question from a reader today, reacting to my post about the Boston Zagat survey and the presence of Japanese food near the top:

How about Shogun, in West Newton Square, a few storefronts to the left of Blue Ribbon BBQ? We've been going there for 16 years. The sushi chef and the older woman have been there the whole time. My impression is that they are Japanese, not Korean.

the last time I was at Shogun, about eight years ago, the owners were Taiwanese (!). I spoke with the older woman and asked her about where she came from, because I recognized she was speaking Mandarin.

A lot of Chinese and Korean restauranteurs know the money isn't in Chinese food (too much competition, and low prices) and Korean food (little local interest). So they do sushi. Most people here can't recognize physical or linguistic differences, so it's easy for them to pull off.

Of course, a well-trained American or Chinese or Korean sushi chef can make fine sushi, but I am not convinced that a newcomer to Japanese cooking is as familiar enough with the ingredients and techniques to do a good job with sushi. Shogun, and that Japanese restaurant on Galen Street near watertown Square are run by Chinese, and the sushi bar at "Asian Taste" on Moody Street in Waltham has a Korean chef and owner. Frankly, I don't think these places are that good, especially considering the prices charged for sushi.

We always go to Sushi 21 on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown Square, or, even better, Blue Fin in Porter Exchange in Cambridge. Both are Japanese owned and operated. They are a little more expensive, but we feel the quality -- and taste -- is worth it.


Latin American festival in Waltham

Went to the Latin American festival on the Waltham common today. For such an important segment of Waltham's population, Hispanics are practically invisible when one listens to our elected leaders or reads the News-Tribune. Yet probably a few thousand gathered today to meet, eat, and party at the festival. There was some kind of beauty pageant, and music, and all of these incredible foods from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Ecuador, and probably a few other places too -- I wish I hadn't eaten before going, because it would have been great to sample them all!


Waltham vs. Newton home prices

An article in today's News-Tribune discusses rising home prices in Waltham. It confirms what we all know -- homes are becoming out of reach for many young couples and families. But it also notes that people who have higher incomes still regard Waltham prices as a bargain, compared to Newton, where median home prices are twice as much.

Another interesting finding is that there is a trend of people who grew up in Newton but can't afford to live there anymore, and end up settling in Waltham.


Old School: West Newton Square, pre-Pike

Had my late summer haircut with George, the old-time barber and former U.S. Army veteran who still plies his trade every Thursday at Trundle's Hair Trends in the River Street Plaza in Waltham.

In the course of learning about his barbering career (which started in 1934 after graduating from Waltham High, he attended barber school after jobs were impossible to come by) I found out that he had once owned a barber shop in West Newton Square, in the 1950s, before the Pike was built. His place was near Harney's, next to a bar. All three no longer exist, but he remembers the Square as hive of activity.

"West Newton Square was a different place. A lot of people used to go there," he recalled to me.

We reminisced about some of the old places, a few of which I knew (Barbara Jeans) and a few that I had never heard of: the bar, a third hardware store, a place called Todo's (not to be confused with Tody's Towing, which is still there). All of these businesses had moved on by the time I started going to the Square in the mid-1970s with my parents.

"Before the Pike was built, what was on the other side of the tracks? Were there businesses that had to relocate?" (railroad or trolley tracks have been running through West Newton Square for more than 100 years)

"Mostly houses. There was a big neighborhood behind St. Bernards, all of that was knocked down."

"What did people think about that?"

"They didn't like it! But there was nothing they could do, they had to move out."

"How did that affect business in the Square?"

George kind of laughed. "That really hurt the small businesses. Used to be a lot of people going through, and Washington Street [where his shop was] was a two-way street, with parking on both sides. After, it was only one-way."

He explained that the income from his shop dropped to 15% (!) of its pre-Pike levels, which prompted a visit from the IRS. "They asked me what was going on. I said, 'stick around, and you'll see what's going on.'"

When people talk about redevelopment in the 1950s and 1960s, you always hear about the neighborhoods in Boston that were affected -- the South End, the no-longer-extant West End, the North End, Allston -- but never about the changes inflicted upon nearby suburbs as huge highway projects rolled through. In Newton, the villages of Auburndale, West Newton, Newtonville, and Newton Corner were literally ripped in half by I-90 (The Massachusetts Turnpike), and Newton Lower Falls was cut off from the rest of Newton by I-95 (Rte. 128). Houses were torn down. People moved out. Neighbors were seperated by six lanes of traffic. Businesses closed down. The damage to small businesses is still apparent -- have you ever tried getting from the businesses on the north side of Newton Corner, to those on the south side of the Pike?

George also had to move along. His barber shop closed. For a while, he worked for a friend's barbershop further down Washington Street in West Newton. It was next to a funeral home that used to exist on or near where the Dunkin' Donuts is now. In 1975 he moved again, and bought the barbershop in the River Street Plaza in Waltham. He sold it in 1989 to Bob (Trundle?) who still runs it now. George works there every Thursday, "for golf money," and to keep in touch with his trade and his customers. He says business there has been harder since Raytheon and Barry (Controls?) closed up their facitilities on the other side of River Street, but when I stopped by, there were lots of people still waiting for a haircut.


Bad business practices: Kerivan Lane Oil

We have been a Kerivan Lane customer for about five years. They are good in certain respects -- such as coming out for emergency service calls -- but could do a lot better in other areas.

My beef with them today is the annual oil burner check-up we had scheduled for yesterday afternoon. My wife went out in the morning, but was back by noon, and hung out all afternoon waiting for Kerivan Lane to show up. No one did. When I called them to ask what was going on, the guy on the phone admitted that yes, we did have a PM appointment. I could hear him turning to someone else in the office, and asking what happened. I heard the terse answer from the person who apparently was handling service: "We came, we rang the bell, no one answered, we moved on. End of story." He also claimed that he "left a message," but there was no paper or phone message that we saw.

Oil companies have been making money hand over fist for the last few decades, especially in the last few years, and for Kerivan Lane to suggest that this was our fault makes us very angry. We wasted a whole afternoon on a nice day, waiting for you to make your appointment, and you left us in the lurch.

As a result, we are seriously considering taking our business elsewhere, and I would suggest that new homebuyers in Newton and Waltham considering an oil company keep this type of incident in mind.


Homeland security run amok

While we're talking about homeland security today, I would like to point out another flawed aspect of the DHS/TSA "terrorist watch list": Infants (and their parents) being denied access because of a supposed match.

The Associated Press has a story about the frustrations some parents have had to go through, after their infant children have been flagged as potential terrorists.

And TSA sees as a priority excluding senators, congressmen, and other government "VIPs" from pat-downs and watch lists? How about ordinary parents and their kids, who have to put up with this baloney?

Homeland security revisted

On all the morning TV news shows they were talking about the review that TSA is going to conduct on their security procedures at Logan and elsewhere. One of the proposals: Allowing certain classes of people, such as pilots, military officers, and congressmen, to skip the security screenings.

While I am OK with uniformed and credentialed pilots and military officers skipping the screening, I have a big problem with congressmen and senators getting let off the hook. Why? There are several reasons:

1) It's not fair. We have to put up with this BS, why not big shots?

2) These congressmen have no way of knowing the frustrations ordinary people have to put up with at airports, dealing with TSA and other homeland security programs

3) This seems like a way of TSA deflecting congressional scrutiny and criticism -- treat Senator X and Congressman Y like VIPs, exempt them from pat downs and rude treatment at the airport, and you can bet that the questions at Washington hearings won't be so hard-edged, and budget appropriations processes will go more smoothly.

Case in point: remember Senator Kennedy raising hell when his name got placed on a "terrorist watch list" last year, and he was repeatedly given a hard time at the airport? It's one thing if ordinary joes are inconvenienced, but when a member of the powerful Washington elite gets hassled you can bet TSA/Homeland security is forced to react, improve the system, and answer tough questions from the people who control the purse strings. Giving senators and congressmen a free ticket to avoid the hassles that everyone else has to deal with is unfair to everyone else, and lets bureaucratic incomptence go undetected and unappreciated by the powerful people who should know what's going on.


News Tribune sucks up to the realtors

News flash: In case you didn't know it, the News Tribune is in the pocket of the real estate companies.

Want proof? Look no further than the article by Galen Moore in today's paper, Rogers named top real estate agent.

Is this news? Of course not! It's a fluff piece, written to appease one of the paper's biggest advertisers, local real estate firms. There's no substance, although the reporter, to his credit, has tried his darndest to play up the hometown-boy-done-good angle.

But the fact remains that readers will never see a story in the Tribune that profiles a crooked real estate agent (as the lawyer who handled my own closing remarked, "half these people are snakes") or details a homebuyer's unpleasant experience with a realtor in Waltham. If that were to happen, the News Tribune could kiss those page-sized ads goodbye for a time.

Also, we'll never see prominent articles about so and so named top librarian, or top convenient store owner, or top Indian restaurant proprietor. There's no business reason for the paper to do so, as the library and convenient stores and Indian restaurants seldom advertise in the paper. And thankfully, there's no news value either -- can you imagine seeing fluff pieces like this every week in the paper? No one would read it anymore!


The Rail Trail saga continues

Great news in the Trib today ... the long-discussed Rail Trail project is moving forward. The main issue cited in the article, the MBTA's request that it be indemnified for future contaminated land claims, is not as serious as once thought, but is still under review.

However, from my POV, the main issue is Weston's refusal to go along with the plan. This was apparently held up back in the 90s by a few hundred Weston residents who were afraid of two million sweaty, poorer "outsiders" streaming through their posh backyards, lowering real estate values, and preventing "equestrians" from using the trail. The article only says that the rail trail, if it goes forward, will end at the Weston line.

Whatever, Weston snobs. The fact that you don't want the rail trail doesn't mean that I and thousands of other people can't bike into Weston on ordinary streets to continue my ride.


Old School: Harney's Hardware

A colleague just mentioned "hardware store," and my mind travelled back in time to a pre-Home Depot era in which hardware stores were scattered across Newton's neighborhoods. There were two in West Newton Square -- Harney's, or Harnett's, and another one whose name escapes me, but whose name I believe began with the letter "R".

I can remember going with my father down to Harney's on sunny Saturday mornings, and the dusty wood floors and dry air that smelled like sawdust, and watching the paint mixers rattle away, as they shaked cans of paint for customers. Places like Harneys faded in the 1980s, as larger stores drew customers away: Grossmans, True Value, Sears, and eventually, Home Depot.

The closest thing Newton has to a real hardware store is the small Swartz True Value Hardware at 353 Watertown Street in the Lake. It has managed to survive despite the presence of the Waltham and Watertown Home Depots. How? Through personal service that the big box stores can't supply. For instance, when I painted my house's exterior last year, I was able to get the paint expert at Swartz right away to answer questions about oil vs. latex, caulking, etc. On the other hand, when I painted our basement playroom, I had to go to Home Depot to get kid's paint, but it was impossible to get human help -- the paint counter was too crowded, and I couldn't see any help in the aisles.

Minuteman network swamped

Interesting story today, datelined from Framingham: The Minuteman library network, which lets residents of about two dozen towns and cities (including Waltham and Newton) request material from each other's libraries, has been swamped by requests for CDs and DVDs, which make up about 40% of total requests. According to the article, the backlog forced the network to temporarily suspend CD/DVD requests (books were unaffected.)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: renting DVDs from the Waltham library is one of the best deals in town. $1/week, plus 25 cents per each additional day is something anyone can afford. The selection is great, you can rent CDs and books for free at the same time, and you don't have to deal with Blockbusters tricky rules. The fact that you can rent DVDs from other libraries is icing on the cake. Why bother buying, or attempting to copy DVDs with a resource like this?

Related note: I have to say that in my experience from previous years, the larger Newton Free Library had a more limited and heavily used selection of DVDs and videos. But I haven't attempted to rent from there in ages, maybe the selection there has improved.


McDonalds and Massachusetts highways

What's the difference between the McDonald's on I-95 South in Newton, and the McDonalds on I-90 East in Natick?

About 60 feet.

I'm talking about the sign, of course. In Natick, the giant golden arches are mounted on a giant pole at the highway restaurant. It's easily visible from nearby residential neighborhoods. At the Newton rest area, the only thing on a giant pole is the American flag. The McDonald's sign is where it belongs -- on a much shorter pedestal near the ground.

Why the different treatment? I can only speculate that it has to do with differences between the Mass Turnpike Authority -- which manages the Mass Pike (I-90) but does not answer to state voters -- and the state government, which manages I-90/Route 128. If a big, ugly corporation like McDonalds were allowed to place giant signs along the length of 128, voters would be furious, and there would be hell to pay at the polls and in highway maintainance budget meetings. But the Mass Turnpike Authority, which was made an independent body many decades ago, in order to create tolls and use other methods to raise money to build the highway without having to "raise taxes," pretty much does what it wants. If people living near the Mass Pike don't like the sound of idling trucks, or the smell of greasy food, or ugly yellow signs, complain all you want, but your elected officials won't be able to help you.

Just another example of government selling out the rights of citizens and voters.


Waltham, Newton, and homeland security

Spotted this article in the Herald today, about Homeland Security grants going to supposedly questionable security projects in the suburbs. Waltham is listed as one of the "leafy suburbs" that has received such a grant, but the article doesn't describe what it was for.

The Herald reporter, Dave Wedge, is wrong about this. Terrorists struck high-profile facilities in urban areas the last time, but the next attack may very well take place in a leafy suburb like Waltham, or Newton. They derive joy for causing pain, suffering, and terror, and "symbolic" targets -- or targets which could hurt or kill large numbers of people -- seem to be more likely targets than randomly selected targets. If I were Homeland Security, I would be working closely with the Waltham and Newton police departments to make sure the following facilities get extra attention:

- Schools and universities with religious affliations, or large numbers of students from a particular religious group

- Churches and temples

- Reservoirs

- I-90 and I-95, and large buildings adjacent to or over these highways

- Shopping malls

Providing extra security for these potential targets -- or setting up countermeasures to prevent attacks -- is not something local police departments can do in their spare time, or on their own coin. It takes training, equipment, and other resources that "leafy suburbs" cannot afford. This is where Homeland Security grants can help.

I hope this careless Herald article doesn't harm Newton or Waltham's efforts to become more safe in this regard.