Oh, so that's what 'moderate comments' does!

Borderline just had a d'oh moment. Please don't laugh. I have been wondering why the Borderline Blog has gotten absolutely zilch in the way of comments for many months, despite some posts that are bound to rub someone the wrong way, like my immigration amnesty post. Tonight I figured it out. The Blogger "moderate comments" tab actually stores up people's comments, until I approve them! And guess what, there were about 30 or 40 comments in there that needed moderating!

So I moderated them. My apologies to all the people who have posted something recently, and wondered why Borderline was too haughty to dain the missives with a reply. It wasn't disdain, it was my ignorance.

Now if I can only figure out how to get the moderator service to notify me by email that I have comments in the queue ...


Increased legal immigration: Yes! Amnesty for illegals: No!

I fully support creating an easier system for workers of all skill levels and their families to legally immigrate to the United States. The current system is clearly broken, and unfair.

But if Senator Kennedy and the other Washington pols think that voters approve of granting amnesty to the millions of illegals already in this country, they have another thing coming. The idea that the United States will grant citizenship to people whose first act on American soil was to willingly break very significant federal laws angers a lot of people. It's unfair to the millions of of people who are already standing in the queue and putting up with incredibly unfair restrictions on their movements, and unfair to those who will apply under the TBD legal guest worker/immigration program from their home countries. It's unfair to the millions of citizens and legal foreign residents who very closely obey all the laws of the land, ranging from passing a driving test to paying taxes. And it will send a message to anyone in the world who wants to come here illegally that there will probably be a third amnesty in 20 years' time.

I'll post the names of the Massachusetts politicians who support the amnesty for illegals legislation currently being rushed through Washington. If you disagree with the amnesty provision, feel free to write a letter, withhold your vote, or do whatever you can to them know your displeasure -- but don't let them get away with this travesty.



Borderline has gathered the links for the online contact forms for Newton and Waltham representatives in Washington. Whatever you feel about the immigration issue, I encourage you to let your elected reps know about it -- as it seems that a very important piece of policy is being decided with little input from ordinary citizens. The online forms are very easy to use, and it takes just a few minutes to let the pols know what we think:

Online contact form for Senator Kennedy

Online contact form for Senator Kerry

Online contact form for Rep. Markey (Waltham)

Online contact form for Rep. Frank (Newton)

You can also email the White House at comments@whitehouse.gov.


Quoted on the Globe again ...

Matt Viser of the Boston Globe quoted Borderline again. A few other local blogs were featured, most of which I already know, but there's one newcomer, Diary of a Reluctant website. I think it's a Newton blog, 'cause she does her shopping at the Newtonville Star, but that place probably has a few customers from Watertown and maybe even Brighton too. She's a good writer. Go!


Interview with the Barber

Today was my late winter haircut with George, the old-time barber down at Trundle's. Talk about Newton's school woes was bouncing around the shop, and then the discussion turned to Waltham schools.

"My kids don't have to deal with this," I told George. "They're going to Whittemore."

"Whittemore!" he said with a chuckle. "I went there the first year it was opened!"

I was honestly surprised. You hear about the rebuilding plans, and the architects talking about how the school's exterior will be preserved, and here I am, talking with someone who remembers when that exterior was brand new!

He told me he had gone there for sixth grade, after attending the South Elementary School (or something like that, it had "South" in the name) which used to stand on High Street, where the Lowell Street playground is located now. That school was old, in poor condition, and the kids were glad to get into the new school, even if it was only for a short time, as in George's case.

"It had lots of rooms, a big playground out back. Sure, we liked it."

I knew that Whittemore had been built in the 20s, so I asked George about the Depression. What was it like for Waltham?

"Raytheon and the Watch Factory kept people working."

"So it wasn't bad?"

"People had work."

"What about the other mills, along the river? Like the one that was here." I was talking about the River Street Plaza, where Shaws and Trundles are now.

"That's going way back. That was the Bleachery and Dye works. That's what they called this area, the Bleachery."

"You kids ever go swimming in the river?"

"Sure. In those days, no one had bathrooms or showers, so you went swimming in the river."

"What about the pollution?"

"We weren't supposed to, but we did anyways. That was in the summer. Otherwise, you had a bath in a big metal tub in the kitchen. Or you showered at school."

We talked about a few more things -- he remembered when horse carts were still on the streets, and the days when Model As and Ts were common sights. His first car? An old Dodge.


Where have all the fatties gone? Mass DOPH releases flawed study

I've been skeptical of the obesity crisis in this state ever since the media started screaming about it five years ago. What the statistics are telling me simply does not jive with what I have been seeing with my own two eyes.

And finally, I have been able to identify the problem: the methodology.

First, the latest statistics. A Profile of Health Among Massachusetts Adults, 2004 is an annual survey done by telephone sampling. The results were just publicized this week. The report found that in 1990, 10% of the adults statewide were obese. In 2004, the figure had risen to 18%.

Wow, that's terrible, you think. What's wrong with people? Why all the fatties? Newspaper and TV reporters casting about for answers invariably find a doctor or public health expert who points to the Internet, video games, sedentary lifestyles, high-calorie foods as creating a crisis.

I don't deny that there are more fat people now than in 1990, and these factors are likely to blame. But I have serious doubts about the new statistics. The reason has to do with the methodology. The 8,203 people who form the basis of the 2004 state data were surveyed by telephone:
The sampling of the survey population involves a list-assisted, stratified [random-digit-dial] sampling frame, which assures that Massachusetts households with telephone numbers assigned after publication of the current directories, as well as households with deliberately unlisted numbers, are included in the sample in appropriate proportions.
The problem is the methodology does not address major changes in phone technology. I read the whole document, and there is no mention of caller ID or mobile phones, both of which did not exist in 1990 but are now used by a significant portion of the population in this state. I screen all calls to our home phone and simply won't pick up the phone if I don't recognize the number. I am sure most of the people reading this blog are the same. However, 15 years ago, we didn't have this luxury -- we had to answer every call, including those from pollsters. As for mobile phones, not only do most of them have caller ID, but I also suspect many local handsets wouldn't be included in the survey because they use non-local area codes.

What does this mean for the 2004 data? I believe it undercounted more active and more technologically savvy people, who are more likely to use caller ID and mobile phones, while overcounting less active, less healthy, and less technologically savvy people, who are more likely to be using traditional landline phones without caller ID.

The survey methodology claims the final results "partially" takes into account "non-response" by weighting undercounted sections of the population, but it does not list people using caller ID or mobile phones as non-respondents.

This flawed methodology would also help explain the unusual one-year jump in Figure 3.5 in the report, which says the number of obese adults jumped from 14% in 1999 to 17% in 2000. That's about 145,000 people who suddenly joined the rolls of the obese (extrapolating from 2004 U.S. Census totals) in one year, even though there was NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE between 1998 and 1999 and 2000 and 2001. Yes, certainly more people were spending more time in front of a computer screen in 2000 compared to the previous year, but also more people were using caller ID and mobile phones as well.

I'd also like to slam the Boston Globe and reporter Stephen Smith for doing incomplete reporting on this topic and exaggerating the findings. His report didn't mention the sample size, or any information about problems with the methodology. Like many journalists, he rounds up for the sake of convenience -- saying "nearly one in five adults now dangerously overweight" -- instead of stating the actual findings, which is "18% of Massachusetts adults were obese based on their reported height and weight." The difference between 18% and 20% of adults is 98,044 individuals, based on the U.S. Census figures for Massachusetts for 2004.


My Newton: Why I've Never Been to Echo Bridge

I have a confession to make. I have never been to Echo Bridge.

Yes, I grew up in Newton, and live less than five miles away from Echo Bridge now. I have been on Rte. 9 a million times and even riden my bicycle partyway up Quinobeqin Road a few times, the southern end of which comes pretty close to the bridge and the gorge it overlooks. But I never stopped at Echo Bridge.

And here's why: My Newton is the Northern and Central parts of Newton. The further south a place is in town, the less likely I am to have visited it or even know about it.

I am most familiar with the villages and places North of the pike. South of the Pike, parts of Newton Corner, Newtonville, and Auburndale are quite familiar to me, mostly because of Newton North and the friends I made through North, and activities I did when I was a kid. I used to work in Newton Center and go to Crystal Lake, so I am familiar with that area as well.

But other than regular shopping trips to Needham Street over the decades, I am not really familiar with the southern part of Newton. Mt. Ida, Upper Falls, those neighborhoods south of Needham Street and Rte. 9, and the areas bordering West Roxbury and Dedham -- practically Terra Incognito.

So that's why I have never been to Echo Bridge. It seems like a great place, judging by all the news coverage about its temporary closure. Yeah, it's my loss, but that's the way it is. I think it's the same for a lot of other people from Newton, not to mention other big cities and towns with strong neighborhood affiliations.


Quoted: "Don't say anything about the war"

"If you don’t wear a uniform, don’t say anything about the war ... Earn your right to say what you think about the war."

-- Newton South graduate and U.S. Army PFC Michael White, quoted in the Newton Tab


Two good things about Fox 25 news

Two things I really like about Fox 25's local news show:

1) The talent is local. These anchors and reporters aren't people who parachute in from some other market, stick around for a year or two, and then blow off somewhere else to further their career. Most of the Fox 25 on-air talent are from here, or they went to Emerson or BU, and they stuck around. They know the place, they like the place, they understand the place.

2) They're like us. Tonight they were doing some fluff piece about American Idol, and the video editor put in as the background song "Rock and Roll Singer" by AC/DC. When they went back to the studio, Wade said, "AC/DC, Shoot to Thrill, let's keep it going."

I can't imagine Jack Williams, or the botox people on Channel 7, saying something like that.


Waltham's Best Asian Market

A few weeks ago, Borderline explored a new supermarket located in a most unlikely place.

The Asia Market is on Rte. 60 (Waverly Oaks Road) in Waltham in the back of a combined strip mall/industrial space. It's impossible to see from the road -- and in fact when we first tried to find it (a friend had told us about it), ended up driving far into Belmont looking for a sign.

There is no sign from the road. Driving north on 60 toward Belmont, you have to take a right into the industrial park entrance that's immediately past Yolanda's (the palatial bridal/beauty store on Waverly Oaks Road). Then you go between the two long industrial buildings, look for the Christmas lights on the left which is the entrance.

Inside they have all kinds of Asian delicacies, mostly from China but there're Japanese things as well. You can get noodles, Chinese cabbages, tofu in large plastic tubs, obscure cuts of meat, frozen dumplings (which are great!), instant noodles, two dozen varieties of soy sauce, Chinese tea, etc. They also have lots of freshly cooked foods, such as dumplings, stewed eggs, roasted duck, etc. There are some weird things, too. I spotted a package of seasoning with the picture of a crow and a black chicken on the front -- I wasn't aware that it was legal to eat crow meat but there is apparently a seasoning for it. Or maybe it's just a logo?

Anyway, the Asia Market is about half the size of Russo's in Watertown -- so it's not quite a supermarket, but it's not like the tiny Korean shop on Walnut Street in Newtonville either. Prices seem quite reasonable.


Why I won't be moving to Newton anytime soon

When my family were looking to buy our first house, there were only two places we considered: Newton, where I grew up; and Waltham. We were priced out of Newton. I was quite bitter about this at the time -- I felt I was denied the right to live in the place I considered my home -- but in hindsight, it was the right move for us. Not only is Waltham a great place to live, and nearby to family still in Newton, but also I am avoiding some major problems which I feel will greatly hurt the quality of life in Newton in the coming decades.

The first problem is illustrated by this article in the Boston Globe/Boston.com, by Mindi Pollack-Fusi. That's right, well over a half a million dollars for a bungalow not much bigger than a two-car garage. This tells me that despite the recent downturn in real estate prices, they are still so high that there is no real chance of moving to Newton, unless you already have money or real estate, are paid a lot of money, or inherit property and money. These are not common scenarios for most young families I know.

The second problem is illustrated by this guest commentary in the Newton Tab by Dori Zaleznik, chairwoman of the Newton School Committee. She's just talking about problems this year -- never mind the major plans the City has for the future. If Newton Public School insiders are this worried about budgets now, imagine the state of affairs five years from now, when the city has to start paying cash for a new high school.

What are the amounts the city is tossing around for a new Newton North? $125 million? $150 million? I guarantee you that it won't be just a few obscure school programs that will get the axe. Here are some possibile cuts that I anticipate seeing: Cops, teachers, DPW workers will be laid off, and the unions will call for strikes. Salaries will be frozen, maybe for years. New equipment purchases will be put off. Aid to seniors and poor people, in the form of housing or other assistance, will be reduced. Elementary schools and other facilities will be consolodated (again!). Trees won't be trimmed. Recycling collection will be cut to once every two weeks. Taxes will be raised again, hastening the outflow of the middle class and small businesses.

Will this have an impact on the character of Newton? You bet it will! It will be a tense, angry city -- not the kind of place that I would want to live.

And frankly there's not much anyone can do about it.

Or is there? I have floated ideas in the past concerning Newton North, and have a few others to discuss as well. Stay tuned ....


Gee, who forgot to turn out the lights?

Daniel Black of the Newton Tab digs into an interesting problem: Why is Newton paying for thousands of dollars in electricity bills for the Crystal Lake Bathhouse this winter, even though no one is using it?
[City spokesman Jeremy Solomon] said the gas boiler that heats the building is turned on each time by electricity, which, in addition to a soda machine and the alarm system, accounts for the usage. Asked why taxpayers should be paying to keep the soda cold during the winter when no one is in the building, Solomon said he wasn't sure.
Well, Jeremy and Dan, I'd suggest that there may be another force at work: Corporate greed on the part of NStar. This is a company that should be actively notifying its customers of winter electricity waste, yet does nothing so the money can keep rolling in. How about calling up the folks at NStar, and ask them to spend a day or two with city workers to evaluate energy waste at major public buildings in Newton? Here's another tip: Send notices to office buildings and schools, telling them best practices for conserving electricity during off-hours?

Another idea: Actually checking the electricity usage at the Crystal Lake bathhouse, to make sure the meters are accurately recording electricity usage there. I wouldn't put it past a monopoly to fudge the figures to their own advantage.

And while you're at it, how about checking the other unused utilities at public facilities? Maybe Verizon and BostonGas (or whatever they're called now) have similar free money deals with city facilities.


Newton as a model for Framingham?

A blogger over in Framingham writes about secessionist talk in her town, and suggests that the diehard South Framinghamites consider their town to be more akin to Newton or Boston, with village/neighborhoods scattered throughout the geographical area.

As residents of Newton know, these independent neighborhood centers -- such as Auburndale, the Lake, Newton Center, West Newton, Waban, and Newton Lower Falls -- are like little towns in their own right, except they have no political or administrative power. Political power rests in a neutral part of town -- City Hall, which is planted at the intersection of Comm and Walnut far away from any neighborhood center.

Boston has a similar setup, except that it has a real downtown area as well, and the historical reality of neighborhoods like Brighton and Roxbury were that they were once independent towns that merged with Boston proper in the 1800s (Brookline, interestingly, also had this opportunity, but declined, and is now an affluent semi-urban enclave sandwiched between Boston [Allston, Fenway, and JP] and Newton).

One thing the Framingham blogger touches upon is the dividing nature of Rte. 9. It effectively cuts off south and north Framingham, and contributes to this feeling of "us vs. them". Newton has its own north/south divide as well -- neighborhoods north of the Mass Pike at one time were generally more working class and lower middle class, while those south of the Pike were more affluent. There are historical reasons for this, relating to pre-Pike transportation issues (namely, the railroad and trolley lines), immigration, and the location of mills along the Charles in northern and western parts of Newton. Real estate valuations have changed this somewhat, but there's another factor that plays into the divide as well, and that's the existence of Newton North High School and Newton South High School. Families with kids attending Newton Public Schools will get into a North/South mentality at some point because of the high schools. When I was attending high school, and even to this day, running into someone who grew up here and asking where they went to High School can create instant bonds (if you went to same school) or a little bit of suspicion -- North people have a tougher reputation (this was told to me by a friend from South) while South people are almost guaranteed to be from more wealthy families, and softer.

On the other hand, I think that the strong village mentality in Newton offsets regional affiliation to a certain extent, and also curtails the rise of secessionist talk -- although I have a feeling the Lake would secede in a heartbeat if it was politically and economically feasible to do so.