Are all congressmen this slimy?

I just read this piece by Larry Margasak and Sharon Theimer on the Seattle Times website, and can't tell you how mad I am. The story is about a Texas congressman and how he was corrupted:
As Tom DeLay became a king of campaign fundraising, he lived like one too. He visited cliff-top Caribbean resorts, golf courses designed by PGA champions and four-star restaurants — all courtesy of donors who bankrolled his political money empire.

Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often getting there aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests.

Public documents reviewed by The Associated Press tell the story: at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts; 100 flights aboard company planes; 200 stays at hotels, many world-class; and 500 meals at restaurants, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.
The congressman didn't try to hide it. Yet no one who bumped into him on these luxury junkets complained, raised their voice, questioned who was paying for it. He's a public servant -- doesn't it raise eyebrows when he travels first class, or stays in five-star hotels?

And I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. It was clearly business-as-usual for DeLay, and there's no reason to think it's any different for the hundreds of congressmen and their aides who inhabit Washington -- and the armies of lobbyists, corporate reps, contractors, and others who are paid to sway elected and appointed officials to support their causes.

Here's a challenge for our local media outlets like the Globe and Herald: Do a job on local Massachusetts congressmen and senators like the AP did on this corrupt jerk from Texas. Frank, Markey, Kennedy, Kerry. See who pays for their vacations, golf outings, expensive dinners. And if there are any infractions -- a single one -- bring the offender down like DeLay.

They work for us, not for corporate America. If they have been taking their marching orders from lobbyists and corporate bigwigs, it's time for them to leave.


A truck with attitude

There's some guy who runs a blog about "Massholes" on local roads. I can't remember the name of the blog or URL, but this evening I definitely observed a qualifying Masshole driver.

He -- and I know it was a he, even though I never saw him, because of what I am about to describe -- was driving a dark blue heavy-duty pickup (Ford F250 or Dodge Ram) with one of those steel contractor boxes mounted on the back of the cab. He was eastbound on the Pike in Newton at approximately 5 pm this evening, darting among cars at high speed, when he suddenly decided to pull across three lanes of traffic to get off at the Newton Corner exit. I was right behind him getting off, when I noticed something swinging from the undercarriage of the truck.

Strange, I said to myself. That looks like a pink plastic measuring cup set. What would a contractor need with those?

Then I realized: Those aren't measuring cups. They're oversized plastic testicles.

The truck with its swinging set of pink plastic testicles roared off at the top of the ramp, headed down Washington Street toward Brighton.


Borderline quoted in the Globe

Here's a first -- a local news outlet that pays attention to blogs, including Borderline!

I'm talking about the Boston Globe, which has its correspondents writing up what's happening in blogs, especially the ones that talk about local issues. Matt Viser covers the western 'burbs, including Newton and Waltham. In Sunday's article, Matt noted Borderline's recent post about the improvement in West Newton's restaurant scene.

Matt is also looking for other blogs from the region to monitor. If you know of one, email him at maviser@globe.com.


Bigotry raises its ugly head at Stanley elementary

Trouble at Stanley Elementary in Waltham. Seems that a few Stanley parents are angry the new principal, Pilar Shepard-Cabrera, who they feel favors Spanish-speaking parents and students, according to this Daily News Tribune article by Carrie Simmons. From the article:
Tensions between parents and the principal erupted after an anonymous e-mail was sent to more than 100 teachers and parents from the address "No.Spanish.at.Stanley@gmail.com."

The author of the e-mail typedover a letter sent to the district’s teachers by the superintendent and Laurie Zucker-Conde, director of English language learner and foreign language programs, offering free Spanish conversational classes for elementary teachers and English as a second language classes for parents.

The [text] superimposed over the letter stated, "Teach the teachers Spanish? Using MY tax money? What’s next, after our American teachers will be fluent in Spanish...will you force Spanish classes on our children as well??...STOP being politically correct on this issue!! This is America, and in America we speak ENGLISH!!!"
Of course, not everyone thinks this, but I have to note that this type of attitude is not isolated: the Daily News Tribune article also noted more than one person brought up similar complaints at Tuesday's meeting for Stanley parents and teachers, and Waltham school administrators.

It's a pity that these narrow-minded attitudes exist among some parents in Waltham. The goal of our school administrators should be to involve parents of all backgrounds, for the sake of school communities and educational quality. Why does the person behind No.Spanish.at.Stanley@gmail.com think that having teachers who can't communicate on even a basic level with parents and some students is a good thing? Does he or she understand that Spanish-speaking parents have just as much a right to talk with their childrens' teachers and administrators as anyone else, and respond to their concerns? Does he or she realize that everyone's children are currently growing up in a multicultural city, and need to have a better understanding of these differences as they make friends, join sports teams, and share classrooms with each other?

Certainly, the new principal needs to improve communication with parents, which is another issue brought up by many parents at the meeting. However, in Borderline's opinion, she is absolutely right to make an effort to reach out in different ways to the Spanish-speaking community, which the article says forms 40% of the student population at Stanley.

This effort should be duplicated at other Waltham schools where there is a large community of non-English-speaking immigrants and their children. I attended a planning meeting at Whittemore elementary school earlier this year, and was struck not only by the absense of Spanish-speaking parents, but also materials in Spanish to announce the meeting or explain the issues that were being discussed. Certainly, there are immigrant parents who didn't want to come -- a comment to Borderline's post indicated that attempts had been made by the Whittemore PTA to reach out, but foreign-born parents did not respond in significant numbers.

Still, I think for the planning meeting that Borderline attended, Whittemore school administrators didn't do enough to reach out, and let immigrant parents understand the major development that's coming down the pike.


Will the real Harvard Square please stand up?

I just spotted this item on Boston.com (via Steve LeBlanc of Associated Press), about the erosion of that luvable raggamuffin intellectual space that is Harvard Square and environs. Lots of old tales about Wordsworth, The Tasty, and Wursthaus. How the Square is changing. More commercial. It's not like it used to be.

Not again! Another death-of-the-square piece, like we've been seeing for the past 30 years. Quirky stores pushed out in favor of high-priced chain stores and real estate developers. Shock! Horror! What's to be done?

I hate to break it to you, Steve, but the food at the Wursthaus was good comfort food on a slushy winter's day, but iffy in any other season. The Tasty? The last time I went to the Tasty, the sarcastic hippy manning the grill admitted that the it was "shitty Campbell's chili from a can." Wordsworth was great, yeah, but the Coop was (and still is) better in terms of selection.

And you know what? A lot of those shiny commercial chain stores that everyone loves to hate have had a tough time, too. Chili's, Sunglasses Hut, Abercrombie and Fitch have all come and gone in the last two or three years, but no one sheds a tear. Meanwhile, there are a dozen new restaurants and cheap eats places in the Square that didn't exist 10 or 20 years ago, and I am thankful for them, not to mention the little boutiques and second-hand CD stores that seem to appear on every side street.

Yes, I mourn Cafe Aventura. Skewers. The Globe Corner Bookstore. The Janus Theatre. And I am sure somebody laments the passing of their chain-store, corporate neighbors -- Souper Salad, Compusmith, and the BayBank on Mass Ave. There may be a few old timers who recall the real Harvard Square -- the "Gold Coast" on Mount Auburn Street, inhabited by the sons of the American aristocracy, or the fetid train yards on the banks of a swampy Charles River. But that's the nature of the Square. Lots of churn, the old giving way to the new, the quirky and the cool standing next to the pricey and predictable.


"The market is probably off 10 percent"

The person speaking is mortgage broker Alison Freed, and the market she is talking about is Newton's real estate inventory. Yes, in case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of homes out there that are taking months to sell, and sellers are being a lot more cautious. Daniel Black of The Newton Tab has the story ("Slump hits Garden City").

Borderline, incidentally, warned of housing silliness and realtor/media hype earlier in the year.

Borderline would advise keeping the decline in housing prices in perspective. A 10% drop will take $40,000 to $50,000 off the springtime high for a typical starter home in Newton, but even with the discount prices are still about the same level as in late 2003. "Cheaper" is not the word. "Less expensive" is more suitable.


Where's the "news" in the News Tribune?

When your local newspaper can't cover a major piece of news that takes place within the community, I have to ask, what's the problem?

The local newspaper in question is the Daily News Tribune, and the piece of news is a case of alleged fraud perpetrated by Mark Conway, whose "hedge fund" company, Groundswell Partners, is based in Waltham. In early November the SEC launched an investigation and a corresponding suit that alleged millions of dollars in losses, doctored books, and fictitious auditors, all involving Conway and his company. Later in the month the SEC apparently froze his assets. Yet not a peep about this in the News Tribune.

It's not like the News Tribune didn't know about this case. It was carried on Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, and even sister pub the Herald had an item about it on Nov. 9. It's not clear if Conway is a resident of Waltham, but according to public records (thanks, Zabasearch!) he is listed as having an office on Moody Street. Couldn't the Trib editors assign someone to wear out a little shoe leather and check out the office, get comments from workers there, find out where Conway can be reached? What about Conway's business partner, Aaron Behle, apparently himself a victim of Conway's alleged deception? Couldn't anyone track him down, and call him, to get comments and/or additional background? What about the investors? Millions of dollars were allegedly lost. I am sure they have something to say!

This major item taking place on home turf was a chance for the local paper to shine. Instead, it blew the opportunity. Scratch that; it totally ignored the opportunity.

It seems the editors of the Tribune expect news to come to them in the form of press releases, city council meetings, the police and fire departments, and community events. Hence front page items like "3 cheers for Disney", pro-realtor fluff pieces, and token crime stories.

C'mon, Trib! You can do better!


Old School vs. New School: West Newton Restaurants

In the past Borderline has posted about West Newton square in the pre-Pike days, when businesses were thriving, and in the seventies when there seemed to be a stronger community spirit. But there's one aspect of the "squayah" that has greatly improved since those times, and that's the food situation. Don't believe me? Let's compare.

Here's the West Newton restaurant rundown, circa 1980:

Brighams (sandwiches and ice cream)
Tee Gees (bad pizza and OK grinders)
That pub near Tee Gees (Cherry Tree? Papa's I? Can't remember the name -- too young to go in!)
Captain Mardens (Fish monger, plus take away fish and chips)

There were also an Italian restaurant on Elm Street, and Keltic Krust and Shogun on Washington St., but those didn't open until the mid-1980s, according to my recollection.

Anyway, here's the West Newton restaurant rundown, circa 2005:

Shin Yee (Chinese)
Sweet Tomatoes (Good pizza, even if a little pricey)
Lumiere (gourmet, high Zagat rating)
Coney Island Ice Cream
That Italian cafe next to the movie theater (sorry, can't remember the name)
Asian Taste (take out Chinese)
Shogun (Japanese food by Taiwanese owners)
Paddy's (Awesome pub food!)
Keltic Krust (Soda bread, other Irish bakery stuff)
Blue Ribbon BBQ (Best BBQ I've had anywhere)
That new Chinese restaurant on Elm Street
That other pub further down Washington
... plus one or two others that I can't remember right now.

While I miss Brighams and Captain Mardens, if I were able to take a time machine back to 1980 I'd probably pack a lunch to bring along with me.

Interestingly, the West Newton Cinema was around in 1980, yet restauranteurs back then couldn't seem to figure out how well movies and meals compliment each other. It wasn't until the 1990s that they "got it." I believe the presence of a movie theater has really helped the food situation, not to mention the economy, in West Newton. In Moody Street in Waltham I believe the same thing has happened -- the theater on Pine St. helps draw people in as well. This "anchor" has helped save Moody Street from the grim future predicted back in 1990 when the Grover Cronin's department store shut down.