Sunday, April 20, 2008

A New Orleans Interior

Because the New Orleans Heritage and Jazz Festival is scheduled to start Friday, April 25, I thought I'd post some photos I took in 1996 inside the
Josephine Guest House in the city's Garden District. I was fascinated by the decor and the gorgeous and exotic folk art.
I went down to Louisiana to attend Jazz Fest with my friend Susannah Pugh. She and I were reporters at the Springfield Union-News. As the driver left us off at The Josephine, he warned us that it didn't matter what part of town we were in -- they'd shoot us anywhere.
I feel as though I was spared not just bullets but a hurricane. Katrina could have happened in '96. What's nine years in the grand scheme?
I'd been listening to southern acoustic blues from the 1920s and '30s for years, but I hadn't been down south for 20 years. The culture was a shock because it was so rich and colorful and joyful. Of course this wasn't Mississippi, where most of the blues I'd been listening to began. My impression of Mississippi is that, in general, it's not as much fun as New Orleans. (Try reading `` `Worse than Slavery,' '' and you'll catch my drift. A lot of great music from a hell.)
I wish I could say who the painters are. If any of you recognize one of these painters, please let me know. If you can tell me something about the decor, please.
Before I would consider going to New Orleans again, I'd have to be assured that Katrina had not washed away the essence of the architecture and the music, leaving only germinating ground for crime, not culture. I'm sure that's not the case, but I'm still afraid that his time around my number would come up.
In 1997 I pressed my luck and went to New Orleans without incident.
The Josephine took some damage but re-opened two months after


Recent letters to The Miami Herald have focused on the sub-prime mortgage scandal and the real estate nose dive, the Democratic presidential primary, sexual predators, taxes, media companies, the possible legalization of hand guns in federal parks, the purpose of democracy, abortion, how to teach evolution in public schools, gas prices and global warming.
None of these issues is unique to Miami. Although each generation works through the same arguments about evolution – whether evolution really happened, and how the subject should be taught – the wrangling of Floridians with the teaching of evolution is fresh, and perhaps festering because the state school board just went through that debate.
Then you’ve got your perennial Church and State: Rep. Ed Bullard, a Democrat from Miami, wants to see Florida issue a vanity license plate bearing the words ``I believe’’ and an image of the Cross.
And although local corruption certainly happens elsewhere than in Miami, it comes up a lot in the letters because it is rampant in Miami Dade.
I’m interested in the local controversies: The melee in late February between police and students at Miami Edison High School, the recent governmental go-ahead for construction of a new Florida Marlins Stadium in Little Havana. Then there’s the question of how Miamians feel about the policies of Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti. There’s the question of how some Miamians feel about having people from those nations amongst them.
But I can’t restrict myself to local matters because I wouldn’t begin to approach a full sense of who the Herald letter writers are.

No reason to be concerned by Barack Obama’s lack of experience, said Glenn Huberman of Miami. Obama ``

will choose prudent and competent people to help restore this country’s stature that existed before the current administration destroyed both,’’
Huberman concluded, but not before noting that President Bush ``surrounded himself with people who spent many years in government.’’ Those advisers – Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, etc. -- ``laid waste to this country’s reputation.’’
Douglas Gonzales of Coral Gables blames ``The National Rifle Association and gun-culture Republicans’’ for the proposal to allow visitors to federal parks to carry guns.
``So will I have to arm my children every time they go out to feel secure? And once everyone has a gun, will the bad guys get AK-47s?... It’s not the weapon that kills you, it’s the element of surprise. To save yourself from an attack you must have your gun in your hand, loaded, cocked and ready to shoot. If being armed really protected us from harm, we would not have 4,000 dead soldiers in Iraq.’’
Tim Bricker of Key Largo asked:
``How long before we start to arm the bears to defend themselves against those with the right to bear arms?’’
Roberto Gonzales put to bed the debate over the morality of buying gas at Citgo, which is owned by the government of Venezuela, which has dictator Hugo Chavez for president.
``I will purchase gas everywhere I can save money, even if the station is owned by Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden, Evo Morales, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.’’ That would be no more unpatriotic than being a lobbyist, a corporation or a public official and ``wheeling and dealing’’ with these countries. ``We sell weapons to countries that, down the road, might use them on us… Accountability? None. Profit? Plenty.’’
The Herald heard from officialdom by way of Susan Levin, staff dietitian for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C.
The Herald’s story, ``Broward Students get a taste of veggie burgers’’ caught her eye.
``I was delighted that the free samples of flame-grilled Gardenburgers were so popular with Everglades High School students.’’
A meatless diet, which excludes soda, fried food and sugary snacks, can help kids avoid heart disease, obesity and some diabetes.
``Young people who add more vegetarian fare to their diet are on their way to a healthy future.’’
Thanks to the Internet, Levin was able to jump right on the Everglade High story.
Also from officialdom, Kathy Mizereck, executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools in Tallahassee, noted that the economic downturn, and tax cuts, mean less money for state colleges and universities in Florida.
Will this result in fewer college grads? ``The simple answer is no,’’ she wrote. The more than 750 licensed private and taxpaying career colleges and schools in the state
``provide practical education and workforce preparation for the 235,000 students attending our schools… Our students look to us for the skills they need to succeed in Florida’s workforce, and because of our low student-to-faculty ratio, they get those skills.’’
Thanks, Kathy.
John D. Johnson of Pembroke Pines said the current talk about global warming is making a great deal over nothing more than a naturally occurring climactic cycle.
``Apparently I missed the moment when planetary pollution rose to the same level of moral gravity as the Holocaust… We shouldn’t be changing policy or scaring the daylights out of schoolchildren just because alarmists need a cause to believe in.’’
In the meantime, everything was idyllic at the mall.
Sabra Brea of Miami wrote in about going to the grand opening of the TJMaxx HomeGoods store in Kendall.

``What a frenzy of buying – people were lined up for a half mile to get there for the 8 a.m. opening. They shopped until they dropped.
``The merchandise was plentiful and well-priced. Lines of people, with carts overflowing, snaked around the store. No sign of a recession there.’’

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Interesting that the stories at the bottom of the Washington Post's 10-most commented on deal with, essentially, the goodness of Obama's image. The fact that the topic doesn't get a higher priority perhaps means that the readers are content with Obama, that they don't need to read anymore about how he is liked. High up on the list is No. 4, Obama Painted As Elitest. The appeal to Obama supporters is that it talks about the sniping of Clinton (along with McCain).
No. 3 is about Hillary's supposedly tarnished image.

No Bail Out from This Financial Dilemma

We’ve got a bit of a problem at Granby Heights.
For years I assumed the odor was coming from one discrete cesspool, but, while walking my dog in the woods, I never did see a cesspool. It never occurred to me that the problem was bigger than that. Our septic system is a big one, and, as we’ve learned, it’s broken in several places. I’ve seen what looks like a manhole cover in the woods. The cover is caked brown and corroded and it’s propped a little sideways over a rim. But that could be part of a neighbor’s septic system because the dog path runs behind many houses on Route 116, and the nearest connection to the town sewer line is almost two miles away. That’s according to someone I talked to from SVE Associates, a firm that the Granby Heights Association has hired to help with the installation of a new system.
Enough of what I don’t know.
Residents of Granby Heights will have to choose -- not just for themselves, but for others -- whether the system will be replaced by having each of the 76 condos put out an all-at-once payment $16,000, or by having condo fees raised $100 a month for the next 20 years.
By asking us to make that choice, the Board is asking haves and have-nots to bicker about money, and then go on living together. I imagine that the have-nots are in the vast majority, and their votes will rule day, but it won’t dampen resentments stirred up during the debate.
And all this so we can poop in our own homes.
To say the least, the condo-fee option is more financially feasible to working families over the short term; over the long term, it adds $600,000 of principal to the cost of the project. I calculate that by the monthly condo-fee method, the new septic system will cost, before interest, $1.8 million. If everyone ponies up $16,000, it will cost $1.2 million.
The second scenario involves no interest, which means that as draconian as the $16,000 ``assessment’’ seems now, it will mean a savings of huge bucks over the long run.
Without the assessment, the association would have to take out a loan to pay for the work. To get authorization to borrow, the association needs a vote of at least two-thirds from condo owners. (I rent here.)
At any rate, on April 12 I put this on the Granby forum. I mentioned that the board has told us that the septic system is in imminent danger of failure. ``Then what? If it `fails,' will we be unable to take legally a dump?’’
Regarding the $16,000 assessment, I wrote,
``How do they expect anyone here to come up with that kind of money? And what happens if they don't get it? Will they throw those people out of the condos they own?’’

I said paying $100 a month is desirable because in 20 years, $100 will mean less, after inflation. What I failed to ponder was that the savings in this case may not equal $600,000 of principal, and the interest on that principal.
``Do you plan on living in Granby Heights 20 years from now?’’
I asked.
It wasn’t long before ``Nuts’’ wrote:
``Those were originally built as apartments and then they decided to sell them off as condos. If you wanted a real condo you should have purchased one at Pine Grove. The ole saying, pay me now or pay me later, applies here.''

To which, I replied:
``That's a `Nuts‘-y analysis. Actually, the fact that they were once apartments has nothing to do with it. The problem is that the place was open in 1973, and the kind of septic system it has now, which is smaller and much less expensive, no longer meets code. Hence we have to put in something more expensive.’’
Later the same day, MarkBail82 told me that he would post about the septic system problem on his blog. I replied and said that was OK by me.
Two days later I heard from ``bmax1390:’’
We have lived nearby for 12 years and every year the smell gets worse. We finally went to the board of health because the smell is sooo disgusting. We bought a house in Granby because we wanted fresh air and now every time it rains or it is humid out the smell is unbearable. I am sure it is a health issue for all of us living nearby. We don't even have family gatherings at our house in the summer because we are afraid they will smell the septic!!! IT NEEDS TO BE FIXED NOW not in the fall!!!

The gist of my replies to bmax1390 was that I doubt the new system will be installed in just a few months. ``It’s going to be a stinky summer,’’ I said in one message. ``We’ll see what the summer brings,’’ I said in another.
As of today, I have heard nothing more from Nuts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

'Gators on the Shore

This is as close as I've come to Miami -- Myakka River State Park in Sarasota. I visit my parents once a year in Sarasota, and we've been to the park three or four times. It took these pictures from the tour boat circa 2002. The boat used a 1975 Cadillac engine, and it went no faster than 5 mph.
The lake was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program of the New Deal.
I didn't get any pictures of the vultures. Vultures languish on the picnic tables near the gift shop. They hover above the trees.
In the bottom photo, that's my mom's white hat.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Hodge PODge

On her podcast of April 4, Kelsey Flynn asks Northampton, Mass., Mayor Mary Clare Higgins what she plans to do now that the warm weather is fast approaching. Higgins says she plans to spend a good amount of time walking her dog around the city’s Look Park. Flynn asks if the dog likes to ride the miniature train – actually the question had to have been whimsical because I don’t believe they would allow pets on the train.

Higgins replies that the dog would not like the train. ``She likes walking,’’ Higgins says. ``Walking and sniffing. It’s a pretty simple life.’’

``Well, the sniffing is like a dog’s newspaper,’’ Flynn says.

A new interactive medium, unearthed.

The podcasts with Higgins and the mayors of Chicopee, Holyoke and Springfield meet with my approval, for those holding their breath waiting for my judgment.

The broadcasts allow the officials a chance to tell their stories and elaborate at length. They bypass the problem of the necessity of ``sound bite’’ quoting used by newspapers and the half-hour local news broadcasts. A transcription of any of these interviews would take up an alarming amount of print space.

Also, with things such as Northampton’s Raise the Roof for First Churches and the Edible Book Contest, it allows officials to publicize in short order lighter news of civic-booster type events. They can get it out there without using up newspaper space.

Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno got to talk about what the city is doing to fight gang violence and introduce ``diversity’’ into his administration.

It is very important that Higgins, while discussing the city’s budget problems, was able to expound on the city’s one-time use of ``rainy-day’’ money to balance the last year, and to point out that that the city had been relying on a state meals tax, which ended up not being considered by the state Legislature, to balance the next fiscal year budget.

And Holyoke Mayor Michael Sullivan was able to squelch, once and for all, the rumor that he was considering a job at the Holyoke Housing Authority. ``Not a scintilla of truth,’’ to the rumor, he said. Sullivan said he doesn’t have the expertise. ``If the chief of surgery was open over at Holyoke Hospital, I wouldn’t apply for that, either.’’

The sand bagging of Gov. Deval Patrick’s three-casino proposal by House Speaker Sal DiMasi has Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette irked. Although it is a well-know fact that DiMasi was the principal opponent of the casino bill, Bissonnette doesn’t attach DiMasi’s name to anything. He said he was ``dismayed by the manner in which it was handled.’’ In attempt to embarrass the governor, Bissonnette said, no amendments to the bill were permitted.

Unsolicitedly, Bissonnette said Patrick is not ``the best political player in the world, (and) he’s not the master of the political universe.’’

Lots of fun for your junkies of local politics.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Post on Beam

After hearing exactly one of Alex Beam’s installments of ``Hate Mail,’’ I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Beam really wants to do this podcast. Beam writes a column for The Boston Globe, and he gets mail from readers who disagree with him. What a surprise.

Then he does this podcast in which some of the letters are read from, and then he defends himself.

From his column he gets the First Word, and from the podcast he gets the Last Word.

Whether Beam thinks that is a wonderful position to be in makes no difference. He sounds wary and bored.

``A lot of people are worried about the future of my soul,’’ he said. I’m not going to lose sleep. Beam was being facetious.

Alex Beam discusses his column about a book, ``The Art of Column Writing,’’ by his friend Suzette Martinez Standring. Beam informed us that he told Suzette that if she sent him her book, he would ``cruelly mock it’’ in the Globe. She didn’t have a problem with that, according to Beam.

Alluding to the chapter titled `Can a Columnist Have Friends?’’ Beam wrote that at least his dog still likes him.

A letter writer wrote,

``If your dog loves you so much, why did she piss in your oatmeal yesterday?’’

The remark was ``aimed to hit me right where it hurts,’’ Beam said with little or no pain in his voice.

But I don’t blame Beam’s tone on Beam. As I said, Beam sounds as though he does not want to be doing this podcast, that it is obligatory.

If I were in Alex Beam’s shoes, I’d start one of my columns like this:

``I’m Dan Miller and you’re not. Even if your objections to what I write in my public platform are serious and well considered, I’m going to respond like you need to find something to do, and then get the freakin’ podcast out of my life for another six weeks. If people have a problem with it, I guess that makes me a turd.’’

But at least Beam is intelligent and urbane. He and his letter writers discuss issues of the day.
He cannot be grouped with the yahoos.

Years ago, I learned that the ultimate phrase of insult is ``What a waste of human flesh!’’ Now you got a waste of air space.

The WEEI Whiner Line is an insult to the intelligence. Somehow those dudes managed to persuade a bunch of other dudes that a good way to spend 30 seconds is to bellow and squawk into some Boston radio station’s answering machine.

The hosts guffaw and yuck it up; they and the callers are one big happy family. And it is with reluctance that I say anything negative about the family.

It reminds me of the times I used to get together with a bunch of guys and we’d have a few beers and try to one-up each other (I'm terrible at it.) Except this way they do it by having guys call in, and then the hosts one-up the callers. Takes one-upping to a whole new level.

There is a primal urge for men to one-up. The trouble – maybe – in our society is that men have fewer chances to get together than they did 25 or 30 years ago – about the time I grew out of one-upping. Or they’re so frightened by the prospect of violence that they are less apt to go near each other. So they one-up the WEEI way.

I imagine that media theorists would classify Whiner Line under the talk-radio-as-strictly-entertainment heading.

Compared to Whiner Line, I would find a Partridge Family album much more entertaining and much less embarrassing.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


On April 2, I posted ``Crumbs Proffered by Crumbs’’ too see how many comments I could lure in from the outside world -- that is, from people who don’t know me or this blog.

As of today I have three responses, but they are all from people I know. Because I depended heavily upon my intuition going in, I can only cast about in my mind for reasons for the result.

It might have had something to do with the post's dearth of popular search terms. Also, I suspect that it was written in a way that would not attract blog readers.

To haul in comments, I included the key phrases The Boston Globe, the state Division of Unemployment Assistance, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Employment and Training. I supplied generic references to Massachusetts, unemployment insurance and job-training.
The small number of keywords reflects the fact that the post deals with a specialized subject matter. But using a narrow subject was my idea: I figured that if I wrote about the Democratic primaries (keywords: Clinton, Obama. Where have you read them lately?) It would get buried by search-engine results.
Perhaps there wouldn't be so many results under Massachusetts unemployment compensation. My problem is, I didn't check. It turns out that there were a lot. I tried to Google the post. After rifling through about 15 pages of results, I didn't find my blog. Then I gave up.
In an e-mail, my brother David said he agrees with the post, but he had nothing new to add.
``I wish I had something to say besides, `Right on, brother,' and I know it's frustrating not to get replies (most blogs don't get many replies, it seems). I'll chew on it and see what I have to post.''
I told David that there was no hurry.
All this after taking the friends-and-family route. It just so happened that I was switching my Internet service provider from NetZero to Granby Telephone & Telegraph. On April 6, to 31 people in my address book I sent an e-notice of my new address. Then I mentioned that, by the way, I’ve started writing this blog and, in case you’re interested, here’s the URL for this one particular post.
I didn’t want to look like I was cheating, however, so I warned:
``Just don’t make your response sound like you know me. Just joking – of course you can write anything you want.''
Most Googlers (ouch!) searching for collecting unemployment insurance in Massachusetts now might be more interested in information on how to apply for the insurance than reading someone complain about it.
After they start to get their money they’ll bother with some stranger’s opinion.
I did more networking. Natalia Muñoz, the founder and editor of La Prensa del oeste de Massachusetts, was kind enough to agree to put a link to my blog on La Prensa’s site. I tried putting a teaser item on, but the site never did send me a password. I did put a teaser on Red Mass Group, which promptly obliged with a password. I posted teasers on reddit and digg. Nothing to report so far from the two latter efforts. On April 15, I couldn't even find my thing on reddit.
On April 8 I posted Post on Beam which, to my astonishment, got comments from two people I don't know: Suzette Martinez Standring and Ruth Baltopolous. Can I count this one against the assignment instead, Scott?