Waltham Halloween: Where'd all the kids go?

What a perfect Halloween night. Warm, dry, partly cloudy, a half moon ...

... But very few trick or treaters. It really was a big change from last year. Borderline remembers running out of candy in 2004 or 2005, and borrowing from our neighbors, but not this year. We got about a dozen groups of trick or treaters, and the flow stopped at about 7 pm. That compares with about 20 groups last year, including a few older kids coming until 7:30 or 8.

I'm not sure why that is. Part of it may be some of the houses nearby, who turn off the lights for various reasons. Some trick or treaters think, why bother with that side of the street?

I hope it's not like this next year ... we like Halloween!

Borderline thoughts from last year's Halloween:

Halloween dying in Newton?

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SNL vs. Mad TV

Saturday Night Live has been in a rut for years. Last night was no exception. They have an A-list TV actor, Hugh Laurie, and what skit do they lead off with?

An extended fart joke.

Why do I even bother? Probably the memories of seasons past. Good seasons, when the talent and skits were consistently funny. I can remember the last one, which would have been about five years ago, when Will Ferrell was still with the program. There have been a few good shows and skits since then, but they are increasingly few and far between. The Ben Affleck episode with the Gigli sendup ("Frondy" played by Fred Armisen) was good, as was Will Ferrell's first guest episode, with Queens of the Stone Age. The cupcake rap video was well done, but since then ...

.... Nada. Half the time it seems like reruns are on (SNL really does have a short season) and they are steadily bleeding some of their best talent. Tina Fey left this season, which turned one of the few SNL bright spots, the news update, into a borefest.

And the skits ... absolutely painful. The Hugh Laurie/farting thing was just the latest in a long line of unfunny bits.

And then on channel 25 there is an honestly funny, well-done comedy show that starts at 11 pm on Saturday nights, Mad TV. Six or seven years ago Mad TV was really amateur hour, but now they are on top of their game. Many of the people on the show have been around for at least five years, and are comfortable working with each other. The skits are well-written and funny. Crista Flanagan, Keegan-Michael Key and that McDonald guy are absolutely priceless. I only watched a half-hour of the program last night, but they had two or three really strong skits, including a Survivor/Cook Island sendup and a piece based on a sociopath concession counter employee (played by McDonald) that was just classic. The crazed basketball coach skit (recurring) based on steroids was great, too. Yes, sometimes Bobby Lee gets irritating with the streaking gags, but redeems himself with skits like the Asian translator who is only capable of saying "Oh No, Hotdog!".

I am far more of a NY kind of guy (Yankees excepted) than LA, but in this case LA wins hands down. SNL is on the ropes. Mad TV is the place to be ...



H2Otown's election blogging experiment, and an invitation to interview

Hmmm. Lisa over at H2Otown always has something interesting going on with the blog. I see tonight that it's an effort to welcome campaigners into the online community.

There are a lot of rules the contestants and their staffs have to follow, but they seem fair and geared toward starting a decent, honest conversation.

Borderline has talked about local elections before, like this entry, but I saved my analysis for after the fact -- I frankly don't want to endorse a candidate based on a limited amount of information I get from the Newton Tab, The News Tribune, and flyers that get dropped off in my mailbox. Very few local pols have emailed me, perhaps because Borderline occaisionally rips their heads off.

But Borderline will do interviews with any Waltham or Newton pol that wants to. I did one before with a local activist in Newton, and found that the format worked well. There are a couple simple ground rules, and they include that Borderline picks all the questions, the pol has the right not to answer a question but that fact will be noted in the transcript, the pol has to answer himself or herself (Borderline is good at spotting fakes) and ALL of the pols answers will be printed, except for profanity or things that could get Borderline in trouble. If you want to be interviewed, send Borderline an email.



Fading fall colors at the Riverwalk footbridge, one week apart

Calvary Street - Early Footbridge, Charles River, Waltham, Oct. 14 2006 11:10 am
Calvary Street - Early Footbridge, Charles River, Waltham, Oct. 14 2006, 10:40 am
Two views of the Mary Early footbridge and old railway bridge over the Charles, seen from the south side of the Bleachery waterfall. They were taken almost exactly eight days apart: The first on Oct. 14 (Saturday) at 11:10 am, and the second this morning at 10:40 am. There are not many sugar maples in this spot, so the transition goes from late summer dry green to faded yellows and tans. In one week's time there will be more yellow, and probably a few bare trees as well.

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Newton Police Department, circa 1889

This is great: An account of the size and responsibilities of the Newton Police Department in olden times, from M.F. Sweester's "King's Handbook of Newton" (1889):
The police force numbers 3 officers and 20 patrolmen. Of the latter, 4 are stationed at Newton, 3 each at Nonantum, West Newton, and Newton Center, 2 at Newtonville, and 1 each at Auburndale, Newton Lower Falls, Newton Upper Falls, Newton Highlands, and Chestnut Hill. There are also 6 police officers subject to call for special service. This vigilant civic force makes between 500 and 600 arrests each year, about one-third which are of persons who have imbibed too freely, while perhaps 100 are incarcerated for disturbances of the peace, and 50 or more for larcenies. Most of the rueful culprits are foreigners, some of whom are also represented among the 1,200 tramps that are yearly cared for by the city authorities. There are police stations at Newton, Nonantum, West Newton, and Newton Center. The City Council has just provided for the introduction of a police electric signal alarm.
Definitely not politically correct, but very interesting just the same -- this is an era before telephones and automobiles, and police could only be notified of problems in person -- which necessitated the force having an officer or two in every village of Newton.

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Patrick Hynes and New Media Strategics: A pattern of deception, and a Romney connection

Well, Hynes is back in action at his Ankle Biting Pundits blog, so it's time to continue where I left off: Exposing Hynes' bogus activities.

Turns out that Hynes and his company New Media Strategics regularly use deception to manipulate the public online and in print, and hide the identity of his true paymasters.

In his home base of Portsmouth, NH, he has been busy writing letters to local newspapers and misrepresenting that he works for Calypso Communications (another one of his PR gigs). It's happened on more than one occasion, according to Drew Cline of the Union Leader. Read about it here, and here.

And then there are some deceptions on the national political scene. You can read what Jim Geraghty found out in his National Review post. Seems like Hynes is or was John McCain's hatchet man, trying to sabotage Gov. "Slick" Romney's presidential ambitions in typical New Media Strategics fashion -- hot air and deception. Hynes' cover was blown in a rather embarrassing manner. But least he owned up to who's paying him -- which is quite unlike the pro-Verizon, anti-Net Neutrality (and now defunct) Channel Changer blog, which he amazingly claimed was some kind of personal hobby.

Anyway, I don't know if Hynes/New Media Strategics is still on the McCain payroll, but if he's not, I'm sure Deval Patrick could use the help against Romney sidekick "whats-her-name" Healey.

More background on Hynes' attempted deception of Borderline can be read here.



Just what Waltham doesn't need -- A Big Box Lowe's On River Street

I can't believe this is even being considered. A big-box Lowe's Home Improvement store in a place that already has major traffic problems -- The River Street/ex-Raytheon area, right on the Watertown line. The News Tribune has the details, including furious neighborhood reaction.
"That's not going to work in our neighborhood," homeowner Chris Hayes said to applause from his neighbors. "The traffic is already brutal."

Several residents mentioned traffic and loud trucks brought in by a recently built Shaw's supermarket on River Street. They said major retail on River Street is too damaging to the nearby Warrendale and Rangeley Acres neighborhoods, and some said office buildings would be preferable.
They are absolutely right. There already is too much traffic there, and the streets around that site, many of them one lane in each direction, are not meant to handle thousands of extra cars and trucks every day. People with families live there. I cross River Street all the time at that intersection to go to Dunkin's with my kids.

There's another thing that the News Tribune failed to mention: Just down the road, across the Watertown line on Pleasant Street (aka, across from Russos) someone is building a big-box condo development. Guess how many extra cars that monstrosity is going to bring to the area once it opens? There's only two easy ways to get there, Pleasant Street and River Street in Waltham.

Here's my suggestion to Waltham citizens: Let your councilmen know what you think about the Lowe's juggernaut destroying this neighborhood, and let them know that they need to put up a fight, instead of sucking up to developers.

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Last call for alcohol ...

Borderline has watched with great amusement the TV commercials for and against Question 1, which proposes that grocery stores be allowed to sell wine. Not surprisingly, the grocery stores are for it, while the local liquor stores (aka package stores, packies) are against it.

I saw a pro-grocery store ad last night, and it was a hoot. Packies are represented by fuzzy, neon signs at night. The grocery stores are well-lit bastions of civility, where a good-looking professional couple are smilingly picking up a bottle of wine.

But all this makes me wonder: Didn't Star Market in Newtonville sell booze until three or four years ago? Right in the back of the store? It was the only supermarket that I know of that was able to sell wine and beer, and it was very convenient. And then suddenly they got rid of it. How did Star/Shaws manage that for so long, and just in that store?



Tower Records sale? Yeah, right

Going out of business sales usually translate to major savings. Not at Tower Records. At least, not yet. I went to Tower this afternoon hoping for some deals, but nada. 15% off most stock, but the baseline prices are their regular prices, which are not cheap -- $13 to $18 for CDs, etc. There were no clearance bins or anything like that. The only extra discounts are for magazines and rap music -- 30% off.

So I guess that Metallica DVD that I had my heart set on will have to wait.

Or, who knows? Maybe the Waltham Public Library will have it ...



Calling all Newton and Waltham blogs ...

Borderline added a few new blogs to the blogroll last night, including Paula's House of Toast (Waltham) -- quite possibly one of the best local blogs I've seen to date (check out the fall photographs from the Sept. 30 post).

I am hoping to add some more, too. So if you live in Newton or Waltham, and sometimes post about goings-on or life in the Garden and Watch cities, shoot me an email.

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T.V. O.D.

Anyone notice all of the television sets lying on curbs all over Newton and Waltham? And not just 30-year-old sets, either. Lots of big 25" sets that are just a few years old, tossed out and left to sit there, often for weeks -- lots of people don't know that TVs and computer monitors contain harmful materials that require special disposal or recycling, and you have to call up BFI (Newton) or Capitol (Waltham) to arrange for special pick-up.

Anyway, Borderline noticed that the number of derelict TVs started increasing in the spring, and really picked up in late summer. What's behind this trend? Borderline believes it's all about HDTV, which started picking up steam as programming has increased and prices have dropped, and XBox 360, the newfangled videogame console which supposedly looks better in HDTV. The tax holiday in the late summer prompted lots of people to make the switch (LCD and Plasma HDTV sets can cost thousands, I hear) and say goodbye to their old-fashioned cathode ray tube TV sets.

Expect to see another rush post-Christmas ...

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Whittemore budget problems, and a warning for Newton

I was worried about the slow pace of the Whittemore Elementary School rebuilding project before, but after reading "Price won't deter Waltham from finishing school project" in Globe West, I'm even more worried now.

At first glance, the article doesn't seem unusual, or cause for worry -- typical Boston Globe fare, actually. The writer, Denise Dubé, quotes lots of officials, who sound determined and play down potential problems. Not once are ordinary people interviewed. (See "Sloppy reporting on Waltham development" and "Blackout, part II. Media misses the story at first, then gets it wrong" for other examples of the Globe's bias towards officials and company spokespeople)

But read between the lines. What worries Borderline about this article are some developments about the Whittemore rebuilding project that spell major problems for Waltham families and taxpayers.

Here's major development No. 1:
"Despite $25 million in cost overruns, Waltham officials say they will not scale back plans for rebuilding the James Fitzgerald and Henry Whittemore elementary schools."
Here's major development No. 2:
"The mayor has said the schools come first," [City Auditor Dennis] Quinn said of the loan. "I don't believe there will be a major impact on the taxpayer over the next decades because of the school building program."
And here's major development No. 3:
"Whittemore will be renovated and expanded, with bid solicitations due to go out this month."
$25 million in cost overruns? Let's put this number in perspective: It's nearly half of Waltham's "education budget for FY 2006. Moreover, $25 million is not even a final figure, because building hasn't started on these two schools -- it may very well go over budget.

And there will be no "major impact" on the taxpayer? $25 million short, and we need to find the money somewhere, and there's no major impact? What are you smoking? These types of comments are just the type of worthless B.S. that anti-tax fanatics love to turn into a major issue around election time.

Waltham will not scale back plans? Not only is that ridiculous, it is flatly contradicted by an official statement at the end of the article that says the city is trying to identify cheaper building materials to use.

And to top it off, no bids have gone to actually start work on the Whittemore renovation. Borderline thought something was odd back in August when no work was going on, but now it turns out that we don't even know who is going to do the work, or when they will start?

Whittemore parents have already put up with a lot. The teachers and classmates are all the same, but the kids have to go to a different, temporary school. It's far away, on Moody Street -- one of Waltham's busiest roads. There's no playground at the temporary school, and the crowded gymnasium is dominated by the older kids during breaks. Now we find out that we don't have the money in hand to rebuild Whittemore, and bids haven't even gone out!

Borderline has to ask: Is the planned 2008 reopening realistic with so many uncertainties?

And, why didn't any of our elected and appointed officials see this coming? If they did, why didn't they tell us parents about these problems at the community meetings in 2005 and earlier this year?

There's a Whittemore parents meeting coming up (tomorrow, I believe) to talk about some of these issues, but Borderline can't attend. I am not sure I can trust the local press to tell us what's going on with Whittemore -- apparently all they are capable of doing is reporting happy talk and hot air from officials. Therefore, can someone leave comments on this blog post, or email Borderline to tell us what happened?

Oh, and I almost forgot the warning for Newton. Check out this item from the Boston Globe article about the Whittemore/Fitzgerald budget problems:
Officials blamed escalating costs of steel, concrete, copper, and asphalt for boosting the total cost of the school reconstruction project from $165 million to more than $190 million.
Does a $165 million estimate sound familiar?

It should.




October is here, and pretty soon Fall will be in full splendor. Already the small sugar maple in Borderline's side yard has turned yellow and red, and in two weeks' time all the big sugar maples in this neighborhood will be peaking too.

I'll probably post some pictures at that time ... there's a few good spaces nearby along the river and elsewhere that make for good compositions.