Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Goodbye, Leominster

Sterling, here we come!

Monday, February 26, 2007

King of the Road

About six months ago I set out on a quest that will take me years to complete.

I am going to drive every mile of every state highway in Massachusetts.

I have posted a couple of times about things I have seen along the way as I have begun my travels: a route sign in Leominster that I think is the oldest in the state and a "moose crossing" sign in Ashburnham that include Rocky Squirrel. But I have also been photographing all of my travels, posting them on my other web site Massroutes.com.

I am particularly interested in a coupe of things: route signs, and the occasional piece of history that is still in use or visible along the road. The images seen here are good examples.

At the top of this post is a photo I took in Petersham. The old guardrail and overgrown road are what used to be routes 32/122 north of Barre before the highway was rebuilt about 20 feet east of the old roadway. There are a handful of these abandoned roadways still around.

The other two photos are of an old sign post standing on US route 202 in Baldwinville. These black-on-white signs are pretty rare; having been discontined in favor of green signs sometime in the early- to mid-60s. You may be able to see that this particular sign is marked "3-59" in the lower right hand corner.

Perhaps more interesting is the sign post on which the sign is posted. The concrete post with the state seal embossed on the side could date back as far as the 1930s or earlier. I have seen photos from the 1938 hurricane which include signposts of this style, with black on white guide signs like the one pictured here.

I think this stuff is really cool.

If you also find this stuff interesting, feel free to head on over to Massroutes.com and poke around. While there are a lot of empty pages (since I have only begun to drive the state), there are photo galleries of the different types of route signs, pictures of the ends of the routes that I have traveled, and a photo travelogue of each of the routes I've traversed so far.

If you're inclined to check in, the best place to start is the page listing updates, as it essentially lists everything that has been completed so far.

Happy motoring!


Friday, February 23, 2007

Patrick's tax relief is more bark than bite

Governor Deval Patrick unveiled another piece of his plan to ease the burden of property taxes yesterday, essentially proposing that the tax credits for seniors be offered to a wider group of property owners. While his plan will bring relief for some, it falls far short of the sort of widespread tax relief that the Governor hinted at during the campaign. Here are the details, from the Sentinel and Enterprise:

Single individuals earning up to $46,000, heads of household earning up to $58,000, or married couples filing jointly earning up to $70,000 would qualify.

The tax break would cover the cost of property taxes plus water and sewer charges that exceed 10 percent of the household income up to $870.

Let's take a mythical middle-class family with a $65,000 annual income. For that family, the tax break will not kick in unless they pay over $6,500 in property taxes (plus water and sewer charges). Using Leominster's tax rate of $10.79 per $1,000, the family home would need to be assessed for $602,409 in order to get even one dollar of tax credit. A family with a city-average tax bill of $2,881 would need to earn less than $28,810 in order to receive a credit.

I suggest that there are more fingers and toes on my person than homeowners in Leominster that would qualify for this tax break.

Simply put, almost anyone with a mortgage will have to make more than the maximum in order to pay for their home in the first place. Other than an occasional resident in 40B low-income housing or older folks who have been in their homes for years, have small mortgages, and are either out or work or disabled, I can't see how anyone else would qualify.

The only provision that might open up the credit to a few more people living in the Boston area is the inclusion of water and sewer rates when figuring "property taxes." Including those items won't help the mythical Leominster family qualify, as they are probably paying little more than $300 per year for their water and sewer. But put that family in an MWRA town with a similar tax rate, and you're looking at an additional $1,000 or more per year. That might increase the "tax" to the point that a few more homeowners are included.

If the Governor is looking to provide property tax relief across the board, he should propose that property taxes be deductible on the state tax return, as it is on the federal filing. In essence, everyone who owns a home and pays property taxes would receive a 5.3% cut to their property taxes. Would that provide a huge relief to every taxpayer? No. But that citizen paying the state average $3,800 tax bill would receive an extra $200 in their tax return.

When you boil it down, Patrick's proposal will only benefit the urban poor. In fact, it's hard to see any middle-class or rural homeowners qualifying for this tax credit, except in extremely rare circumstances. The voters of Massachusetts were expecting more.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stop the hysteria over taxes


Got that out of your system? Good.

For the last week, critics in the government, media, and the public have been instinctively screeching about Governor Patrick's plan to allow cities and towns to impose a meal tax of up to 2% in an effort to raise revenues and slow the rise of local property taxes. I support the Governor's plan.

The governor's plan allows municipalities who are facing budget crunches to levy a meal tax as a way to raise revenues. It makes sense. Cities and towns will be able to raise revenues from out-of-town visitors. And the tax is voluntary, in the sense that if one goes to the grocery store and cooks at home, he or she won't have to pay the tax.

There have been a number of arguments against the plan, but one of them is particularly mindless. Not surprisingly, an editorial in today's Sentinel and Enterprise makes the argument:

A meals tax might be fine in Boston, where millions of tourists come each year, but it could be a business killer elsewhere.

Pricing and value are very important to these fledgling businesses.

They don't need an extra tax to drive customers out of town.

If you don't think about it, the argument makes sense. If there is a local meal tax in Leominster and there is not one in Clinton and Fitchburg, diners will choose to eat in cities without the extra tax.

But if you think about it--and I mean think about it at all--this argument is not grounded in fact.

Let me use myself as an example. Sunday night, Michelle and I ordered out at our local Pizzeria for grinders, chips and soda. It cost us around $20.00. I drove a mile to the restaurant and a mile back. If there had been a local meal tax, it would have been about 40 cents. Now, lets say the meal tax "drives me out of town" and into Clinton to pick up the sandwiches. I will have driven about 15 miles round trip to save the 40 cents. Which means that I would have spent around $1.10 in gas to save the 40 cents in taxes. Would I do that? Not a chance.

Or take my commute every morning. Occasionally, I stop at Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and two donut combo, which costs me $2.99. There is only one Dunks along my commute to Metro West, and it's in Leominster. Will I be willing to lengthen my commute and wind my way through Clinton to save myself the six cents in taxes on those days I want breakfast? Of course not.

In fact, on a $100 restaurant bill, the additional meal tax will only be $2.00. Which essentially means that you'll save no money unless your extra round trip is less than it would take to burn a gallon of gas.

Only those who have no critical thinking skills (like people who will drive 20 miles out of their way to save ten cents on a gallon of gas) or are so anti-tax that they are willing to spend more on gas than they are taxes would make a decision like that.

Cities and towns who increasingly face budget crunches only have a few options available to them: cut services, collect more aid from the state, or raise property taxes. The governor's plan gives cities and towns another way to address their shortfalls.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Driving Nazi

A Telegram and Gazette reader has found a way to solve the problems of reckless, drunk teen drivers. Here is his plan, straight out of 1930s Europe:
....Drivers between 16 and 18 years of age should have a florescent yellow stripe on the back bumper of their vehicles, whether it’s their vehicle or their parent’s vehicle.

Police should...be able to randomly stop these vehicles. If adults are driving, let them go. If teenagers are driving and alcoholic beverages or drugs are suspected, they should not be allowed to continue on. They should never be chased by the police. The license plate number should be taken down, and if they run, a call should be made to their parents and their license should be taken away for 90 days.
Maybe we should also put blue stripes on seniors' cars, red stripes on the cars of people with moving violations, and paint question marks on the bumpers of people who have a tendency to get lost.

Previous T&G Letters to the Editor:
T&G Readers are off their meds again
"I like Jasmine Guy"
BREAKING: Election fraud in Auburn
"The sting of unboozed Democrats"
"Why is Mitt Romney ashamed of Massachusetts?"
"hot condiments cause them to be...interested in sex"
Disgust with that nasty Francona grows
It's that dirty Francona's fault
T&G reader takes on terrorism
Worcester: the San Diego of the East
Is State Senator Barrios a Bush Crony
Rem-Dawg Debate Rages in Worcester
Jerry Remy has "lost all touch with reality"


Friday, February 16, 2007

Sentinel turns its front page over to Patrick critics

The Sentinel and Enterprise (and its MediaNews sister paper, the Lowell Sun) has finally cast aside any illusion of unbiased "news" coverage and just turned its front page over to critics of Governor Deval Patrick.

According to the Sentinel, this afternoon's "breaking news" is that the governor has hired a chief of staff for the first lady, at the tune of $72,000 per year. This article tops the homepage of the Sentinel. Fair enough. Maybe that's an issue, maybe it's not, but since the media across the board has decided that the biggest news this week revolves around what the governor has spent on the trapping of his office, it's understandable.

But check out reporter Hilary Chabot's lead. She literally turned the article over to Barbara Anderson, Citizens for Limited Taxation director and noted critic of Democrats for decades. Here is Chabot's lead:

BOSTON -- First there was the million-dollar gala.

Then there were the helicopter rides.

Now Gov. Deval Patrick is spending taxpayer dollars on staff for his wife.

The state has hired a $72,000-a-year chief of staff whose sole job will be to schedule Diane Patrick's public appearances and media availabilities, The Sentinel & Enterprise has learned.

Compare that to what Barbara Anderson had to say in paragraph 13:

"This could be just the beginning. There was the big gala, the helicopter, and now the wife with paid staff," Anderson said. "He's creating an image of royal governorship that we're not accustomed to at all."

It's been a long time since I wrote for a newspaper, but I can't imagine that using a paraphrase of the only critical source in your story as your lead is an acceptable practice. Where was the editor when this story was filed?

Oh wait. The editor of the Sentinel already showed his hand during the election by cobbling together a series of Republican attacks against Patrick and placing it on the "Local News" section of the paper online.

Faced with the choice between journalism and partisanship, we know where the Sentinel will come down.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Storm's a comin'...Who'll hit the forecast UPDATE: Todd Gross wins!

UPDATED RESULTS: The results are in and the big winner is hummus hawker Todd Gross, who correctly predicted exactly six inches of snow and other icy precip.

Honorable mentions to 7NEWS, which predicted 5-9", and WBZ-TV4 and the National Weather Service, which each clocked in at 6-10".

First snowstorm of the winter is scheduled to roll in sometime tomorrow night. Let's compare the forecasts 24 hours out from the start of the storm and see who ends up the closest...

I'm going to look at the big four news stations (4, 5, 7, and 25), NECN, the National Weather Service, and hummus-hawker Todd Gross, and check them out against the amount of snow that accumulates on my back deck. My deck should be a perfect place...it is essentially protected on three sides so the snow won't drift, and it is wood, so the snow won't melt on impact like it might on asphalt or metal.

Here we go...

Channel 4: 6-10 inches.

Channel 5: 12-20 inches.

Channel 7: 5-9 inches.

Channel 25: 12+ inches.

NECN: 12-24 inches. Note, Matt Noyes posted the following to his blog at 12:10 pm: "Farther inland, areas from Central Massachusetts to interior New Hampshire and much of Maine will stay all snow or mostly snow, meaning accumulations of one to two feet would be possible." If he is correct, he would be almost 12 hours ahead of everyone else, as all of the big four raised their estimates between the 6 o'clock news and the late news.


Todd Gross: "storm still looks like mostly rain and wind on the coast after 1-3 or 2-4" of snow along and to the east of Rt. 95 with much more NW part of Rt 495 and beyond, maybe 6" there."


Patrick refuses to play along, angers wingnuts

Today's manufactured outrage comes in response to news that Deval Patrick refused to christen February 6 "Ronald Reagan Day."

The new icon of Massachusetts Democrats has rebuffed efforts to commemorate a day for Ronald Reagan, the last Republican to win the Commonwealth in a presidential election. And Reaganites are not happy.

Governor Deval Patrick decided not to sign a proclamation recognizing Feb. 6 as "Ronald Reagan Day." A month into his term as governor, snubbing the Gipper's birthday has left Patrick open to partisan sniping.

Partisan sniping indeed. According to Massachusetts GOP News & Views "Deval Patrick has chosen to spit on the grave of Ronald Reagan" with his refusal to honor the 40th president with a day of his own. The site sums up the issue succinctly: "Deval Patrick - You are a Loser."

Had you heard that there was a move to honor Reagan on that day? No? Neither had I, until I read about it in this morning's newspaper. Who's idea was it to honor the former president in this way?

"It's the difference between a little more sophisticated guy who's governor and a guy who's still playing partisan politics after a campaign," said Grover Norquist, founder and chairman of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project.

Thirty-three governors -- 20 Republicans and 13 Democrats -- inked the agreement to recognize Reagan's birthday in their states, Norquist said. The 17 remaining governors either didn't reply or refused outright; Patrick was a frank "no," Norquist said.

Grover Norquist? He maybe the "founder and chairman of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project," but he is much better known as one of the most influential Republican activists, founder of the conservative "Americans for Tax Reform" organization, and a colleague and associate of Republican felon Jack Abramoff.

In other words, he's a political figure through and through. And it's appalling that he is playing politics with Ronald Reagan's memory. Republicans should be outraged. Let's face it, one of the reasons for an initiative like this is to be able to plant stories about those governors who did not play along. It's a great scam, either alienate some of your liberal support by commemorating Reagan with a day, or get hammered by the right a week later for refusing to play along.

It would be the equivalent of Moveon.org or George Soros pushing all 50 states to commemorate John F. Kennedy with a day. I think we know how that would go over in the South and parts of the Mountain West.

Well, good for Governor Patrick for not playing along.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Remebering the King

Softball legend Eddie Feigner died Friday. At one time, he was renowned for his ability to pitch, and he made his living barnstorming around the country with three other players beating nine-man teams almost at will.

I was lucky enough to share Fuller Field in Clinton with him one evening in 1990 or 1991, as I umpired a game between the King and His Court and team of students and faculty from Atlantic Union College.

Well, "umpired" might not be exactly the right way to describe my role. Much like the way the Harlem Globetrotters put on their shows, the King and His Court played a few innings straight and a couple of innings mugging for the crowd. My job essentially was to do what I was told, and play along with the gags. For instance, the catcher told me to go out and clean off the plate, and when he popped his glove, I was supposed to dive out of the way like I thought Feigner had buzzed me with a pitch. I felt pretty stupid doing it (when I was asked to do the game, I was under the impression that I was actually, you know, umpiring), but I was honored to be there.

(Honored and a little peeved. I was a better softball player than at least a couple of players on the AUC team and thought that I should have been playing instead of umpiring.)

By that time, Feigner was in his mid-60s and only pitched a couple of innings. During one of those innings, Feigner fired one pitch off the plate and a little low and I quietly called it a ball as the catcher held his glove in place. The catcher said "Buddy, that's a strike." So I put my arm up and hollered "Striiiiike!" They thought I was trying to squeeze the greatest softball pitcher of all time!

In fact, the game I umpired was the second time I had seen Feigner pitch, as my grandfather took me to a game at Fuller Field sometime in the early '80s. I made a big sign that said "The King and His Court Will Reign Forever" (corny, I know. I can't help it, I was a bit of a geek) and the members of the team signed it after the game.

Anyway, as honored as I was to do the game, my grandfather was thrilled for me. Feigner was sort of an athletic "hero" to my grandfather. He loved to play softball, and used to tell me about the King and His Court frequently when I was growing up. I want to say he also was an Adventist at one time--or he was married to an Adventist, or had some other tie to the church--and that was another reason Gramp had such a strong interest in his career. Gramp was very proud that I'd had that opportunity.

I am too.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

How long before someone gets shot?

Gun shots were fired in Leominster's South End again Thursday, marking the third attempted shooting in the last 24 days. Six shots were fired in the shootout between two gunmen, no one was injured.

Apparently, someone told the mayor that there would be reporters on the scene...he finally spoke out against the escalating violence. But instead of pledging to end it, he pointed the finger at the landlords:

Mazzarella plans to meet with the management company to figure out what can be done to curb the crime, he said.

"They have 215 units, they have a responsibility to make sure their tenants are safe," he said. "It's not fair to the people. A lot of young kids are living down there, a lot of single moms. It's only a handful of people there causing the problems."

The company is probably making enough money off of the tenants' rent to be able to afford to beef up their security, Mazzarella said.

"These people," he added, referring to the shooting, "C'mon, you're talking broad daylight. Anybody could have been around."

After three shootings, the mayor's first thought is that an extra mall rent-a-cop or two are going to make a difference? The last shooting occurred when a maintenance man tried to foil a break-in (also in "broad daylight."). Does he really think that a guy with a flashlight, a badge, and a walkie-talkie is going to keep this from happening?

Well, someone must have talked some sense into the former police officer, because this morning's news included word that the city will be providing a police detail at "the complex for most of the time between Friday afternoon and Monday morning."

No word on if the shooters will be free to resume their target practice ofter Monday.


Thursday, February 8, 2007

My first car

I came across an internet discussion about the first car the participants owned and it go me nostalgic for my first car: a 1977 four door Buick Electra Limited. Boy, was that some car.

That car could hum. And it was huge. It was nicknamed "The Love Boat." Unfortunately, that was more because of it's size and comfortable ride than the prowess of it's owner. (OK, it was completely because of it's size and comfortable ride.)

It had been my grandfather's car, but he bought a 1987 Buick Park Avenue and gave me his old car. Frankly, that was a mistake. Not only was the '87 model a poor excuse for a luxury automobile, but the older car would probably have survived a lot longer than it did had someone more responsible been driving it.

The photo here is of me and my car on my high school graduation weekend. While my sense of fashion was not timeless (although that's a pretty good Miami Vice look, considering that I never watched the show), the car certainly is. I'd love to buy another one and restore it, but it appears that it's something of a classic. The few that I've found on line are priced in the $5,000 range...an awful lot for a 30 year old car.

And thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have found that my car actually appeared in Miami Vice. Not this actual car, of course, but another 1977 Electra. Don't ask me why anyone would want to do this, but apparently there is a car version of IMDB, where all of the cars that have ever appeared in TV or movies are cataloged.

Now, I ask you. Isn't my outfit above a significant upgrade on what these two are wearing? Thankfully, I don't think I've ever worn anything like this.

This photo is significant for a couple of reasons. Not only is the beautiful Buick hogging the scene, but it is also the inspiration for decades of Richard Simmons' fashion.

Man, the 80s were great, eh?


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Back from Vacation

Michelle and I were away on vacation last week, thus the time away from the blog. We took a cruise across the gulf of Mexico, leaving and returning from Miami with stops in Key West and the Costa Maya region of Mexico. We had a great time. Among the highlights was a visit to the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tulum.

Otherwise, we just hung out on the ship, reading and relaxing. Jackson stayed with my parents, and apparently had a great time.

My only regret is that I wasn't around to experience the hysteria surrounding the cartoon French fry bomb scare. We actually saw a news report on it while we were getting ready to go to dinner one night and worried for just a moment as the "Boston Bomb Scare" graphic flashed on the screen...at least we didn't have to worry for long.

Pictures follow:

At dinner on the ship.


Looking over the Gulf of Mexico from Tulum.

Jackson enjoying his vacation with Grammie and Grampie.


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