Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don’t shout FEIR in a crowded auditorium

Comments for the Green Line Extension public meeting this evening, as delivered by Lisa:

I live in Medford Hillside, and I look forward to the day when the Green Line Extension comes to Route 16, so that I can actually walk to the Green Line. I am gravely disappointed that the state is still not planning to extend the Green Line to Route 16 by the end of 2014.

I believe that the decision to use the College Avenue Station as a terminus is a terrible mistake for the project as a whole and for my neighborhood. The Route 16 Station would allow Somerville and Medford residents to take the Green Line to green space and grocery shopping. The Route 16 Station would serve Medford Hillside, West Medford, West Somerville, and East Arlington, including the environmental justice neighborhoods that were used to justify the entire extension, but are ignored by the proposed project. The Route 16 Station would provide thousands of residents with better access to jobs, to education, and to health care. And the Route 16 Station would avoid the negative impacts of having College Avenue as a terminus. The Green Line Extension is supposed to benefit Medford Hillside with access to the Green Line, not burden us with more traffic and more pollution.

College Ave will serve Tufts and South Medford, but it will not serve Medford Hillside. The map of Medford Hillside in Appendix C of the FEIR is wrong. The walk access analysis in that appendix is misleading, deliberately hiding the fact that almost nobody in Medford Hillside lives within half a mile of the College Ave station.

More than 2,500 people signed a petition asking for the Route 16 Station. We filled the Route 16 Station Workshop beyond the room’s capacity. We submitted over 100 letters supporting the Route 16 station in response to the DEIR. We’ve done our part. You’ve said that Route 16 is your preferred alternative. It’s time to start treating it that way.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And sorry I could not vote for both

Two roads converged in a twisted maze,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one driver, long I stayed

And waited while my neurons frayed;
I doubted if I should ever get home.

The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (acronym not actually BURP or BUMPY) would like to know which intersections in your town need improvement, or at least a little couch time with a traffic therapist. Yes, you can vote an intersection off the island!

Here in Medford, 2 of the 5 worst intersections for crashes are within 1/2 mile of my house, and it’s not because of the way I drive. Seriously, I strongly recommend you select your town and vote, or just vote for my least favorites.

My votes and submitted reasons for Medford intersections:

Worst: High Street/Winthrop Street
Tied for worst: Mystic Valley Parkway/Winthrop Street

I drive through the High Street/Winthrop Street rotary and the Mystic Valley Parkway/Winthrop Street intersection all the time, sometimes 4 or more times a day. Both intersections are horrible, terrifying experiences, with cars stacked up and frustrated drivers who get aggressive and do stupid moves. The MVP/Winthrop intersection causes longer backups, but the High/Winthrop rotary causes more near-crashes and often at higher speeds. Both intersections are sheer hell to cross on foot safely, which is a grave concern given that there are commuter bus stops at the High/Winthrop rotary.

A lot of traffic uses both intersections, and the intersections are very close to each other, so a unified solution would make sense. I wish I could vote for both.

Bonus intersection: Mystic Valley Parkway and Auburn Street

I've seen more crashes at this intersection than any other. I've seen more red lights run at this intersection than any other. The light cycles are unclear, traffic often blocks the intersection, and a stunning number of cars end up using the wrong side of the road on Auburn Street coming from Whole Foods to turn left onto Mystic Valley Parkway.

Hosta leaves

Photo by Michael

I rescued these hosta leaves from a garden cleanup session and gave them a new home. 48 hours later, they still look great!

This variegated hosta was supposed to be a dwarf, and was certainly small when we planted it. The individual leaves are each now the size of my hand.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Roofers and writers

Why won’t the major textbook publishers hire freelancers who live in Massachusetts? WGBH produced an excellent 10-minute segment explaining the problem. A 2004 rewrite of the independent contractor law in Massachusetts said that a company can only classify a worker as an independent contractor if “the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer.” A restaurant can pay an interior designer or a web designer as an independent contractor, but a sous-chef is an employee. This law was written to target the construction industry in particular, in the hopes that more of the folks with serious work-related injuries would actually have worker’s comp coverage.

Over the past few years, textbook publishers have figured out that the law might apply to them as well. (There’s no reason why it wouldn’t, the way that it’s written.) So they’ve largely stopped hiring freelancers in Massachusetts when they need a writer, editor, proofreader, illustrator, photographer, or indexer. The publishers haven’t stopped downsizing and outsourcing—they’ve just stopped using in-state talent or they’ve inserted an employment services firm as an expensive buffer between themselves and their freelancers.

This is very frustrating for people who have honestly been freelancers in the creative industries for a long time. But the ridiculous part is that the Attorney General, Martha Coakley, has been ignoring her responsibility to issue clear guidance to employers about the law. Enforcement is extremely limited in practice but not in theory, so some companies are avoiding hiring any freelancers in Massachusetts while others are ignoring the law entirely. The law is in a section on fair competition, but there’s no level playing field when companies are taking such divergent approaches to complying with the law. We should have a clear discussion about when we want to allow companies to hire freelancers as independent contractors, and the decisions we make should apply to all companies. The WGBH segment is a good first step.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Restart My Day

Screenshot by Lisa

Monday, June 21, 2010

Black-crowned night heron on the Mystic

Photo by Michael

These black-crowned (or black-crested) night herons are more comfortable with proximity to people than the great blue herons, but they don’t like being approached from behind. While we’ve mostly seen them perched just above the water line on a branch or bank, they’re also happy to land on branches 10 feet over the river. We’ve seen up to four of these small herons on the Mystic near the house, but a few days ago they all moved on.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Passover wines

Best selection I’ve seen around around Boston was at Gordon’s Wines in Waltham, though the staff there was useless. Probably worth trying to go to a tasting, since they have one every year.

Winner: Tishbi Emerald Riesling 2009, purchased 2010: This is the Passover wine I want to have every year. Very drinkable for unsophisticated palates like mine, good on its own or with food. Semi-dry, fruity, no wood notes, not complex. Emerald Rieslings don’t have a very good rep, but this one startled me in a nice way.

Herzog Selection Vouvray 2006, purchased 2010: Good, but not as appealing as the Emerald Riesling.

Not impressed by the reds I found in 2010, which I think were a Yarden Mount Hermon Red (mostly cab and merlot) and a Dalton Canaan Red (cab, merlot, and shiraz). One of them, maybe the Yarden, was supposedly the owner’s favorite Passover red. Whichever it was, I definitely don’t share his taste.

I’ll try to remember to add notes to this post as time goes on. Comments and suggestions are certainly welcome.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I’m pleased that I was able to convince Comcast to remove the dangling 1-foot chunk of old utility pole from my street this week. A neighbor pointed out last weekend that the rope holding it up was fraying, and asked if I knew who to call.

The power company is responsible for the pole itself, and each utility is responsible for connecting and disconnecting their cables to the pole. The power company can install a new pole, but they cannot move the other company’s services from the old pole to the new pole. Nobody takes responsibility for coordinating between the power company and the other utilities, so we end up with lots of doubled-up poles. In this case, Comcast was the only company with cables still attached to the old pole segment 15 feet off the ground. 5 days, 7 Comcast reps, and 2.5 hours on the phone later, it was becoming clear why my neighbor had sounded so frustrated.

On Thursday I finally reached a live person at Comcast Executive Customer Care, the only folks at Comcast who appear interested in resolving the problem rather than resolving the phone call. In 3 hours, my street was filled with Comcast vans. If you were unable to get a Comcast technician to respond to a trouble report on Thursday afternoon, that’s because I was collecting the whole set.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Preaching to the bleachers

Johnny Baseball is the new Red Sox musical at the American Repertory Theater, a feel-good all-American musical about race relations.

I will never know the depths of despair that the Fenway faithful went through from 1918 to 2004. 86 years is a long time without a pennant, but I only became a local (and thus a Red Sox fan) in 1994. 8 years before that, I’d been cheering on the Mets among fellow New Yorkers clustered on Manhattan sidewalks around televisions tuned to the game in store windows on every block. I thought at the time that the drought for the Mets since 1969 had been a long time, literally a lifetime for me. I had no idea.

Johnny Baseball gives a sense of it, framing the story of the Curse with a group of long-time season ticket holders at Fenway Park watching the pivotal Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. We see their devotion to superstition and ritual, their certain knowledge of impending defeat, and above all their commitment to cheering a team that can never win the World Series.

But why can’t they win? The talented cast will sing you the story, and it’s not the canonical Curse of the Bambino. Babe Ruth is here, or at least the echo of his ego, but he’s not the center of the story. What comes to life is the story of Johnny O’Brien, a fictional young pitcher who joins the Red Sox in 1919 and would lead them to the Series if not for Boston’s legendary racism.

For Johnny loves a colored girl, and that just will not do.
Fans might forgive a drink or three, and painted ladies too.
But there is no joy in Boston when a hero of the field
Decides to love a colored girl, so something has to yield.

The racism certainly runs deep in the history of baseball and of Boston, but blaming the Curse on Boston’s racism is only slightly less problematic than claiming that the racism has ended. Throw in a magical negro in the second act of a musical decrying racism, and you start to wonder whether writers Richard Dresser and Willie Reale are also claiming that irony has ended. The only way past it is to focus on the love story between Johnny O’Brien and Daisy Wyatt, and cheer them on with the modern open heart that the historical characters lack. That’s a clever piece of pander, particularly when the show’s story allows us to point to the 2004 World Series win as proof of our moral superiority. While we’re merrily congratulating ourselves on that, will we even notice that the lyrics arguing for the right to love anyone you choose are carefully non-gendered?

Diane Paulus, director of this production and CEO of the ART, wants to bring new audiences to her theater, and it’s always interesting to see what she’s selling along with her trademark emphasis on concessions (sausages, hot dogs, and beer in this case). I heard her at the Boston Foundation last week discuss her inaugural trip to Fenway Park last season for a meaningless end-of-season game. She was confused by the odd slow clapping for a team that had fielded their worst players for the game and performed terribly, until a friend explained that it was [pause, beat] ironic applause. Her subtext: My God! If they can invent ironic applause, perhaps they might appreciate art! Or at least theater!

So now we have the Red Sox musical for Red Sox fans, because that’s a big market in this town. She says she wants to sell them tickets and convince them that they’ll be comfortable in the theater. That’s a fine goal, but the sociodynamics of an all-white audience watching a musical about racial integration are exaggerated by choosing the Loeb’s thrust stage configuration instead of its proscenium configuration for the production. (Mixing in the predominantly white Red Sox fan base does not change the racial balance of the ART’s usual predominantly white audience.) When she chooses the thrust stage configuration, does she innocently want to echo the shape of a ballpark? Or does she imagine it will comfort the Red Sox fans in the audience if they can more easily see so many white faces in the other seating sections? Or does she hope to reinforce the show’s message of social change by highlighting the lack of racial diversity in both the Red Sox and ART audiences? The only explanation that clearly isn’t right is that she knows how to block for a thrust stage. The entire show is played to the center orchestra, with only occasional nods, winks, or thrown peanuts to the side sections.

Messages aside, Johnny Baseball really is fun. The music is catchy, the musicians are great (with the wonderful Tim Ray on piano and conducting), and the cast is fabulous. Stephanie Umoh (Daisy Wyatt) has a couple of stunning solo torch songs in the first act, and I wish I had those songs on my playlist. There’s a good balance of humor and angst throughout the show, and we have the benefit of knowing how the game turns out. You just have to go and see it from a position of privilege. In the center orchestra.