Monthly Archives: November, 2007

Sneaking in a Drive-Thru

This is when blogs become local and universal — when we can all relate to the experience of how decisions can be made and neighborhoods changed without most people being aware of what is going on. Here in Cranston, we have learned that a Dunkin’ Donuts Drive-Thru is about to be put at the top of our street. Currently it is a walk-in Dunkin-Donuts and convenience store with an 8-pump gas station.

I received an email from our Ward 2 Councilperson, Emilio Navarro, informing me that, despite a prior citizen opposition movement and a traffic engineer who concluded that this was an unsafe location for a drive-thru, the drive-thru has been approved by our local government. Now it is in the hands of citizens to appeal within 20 days. From Emilio:

I would like to pass along some important information that you can use to post on your blog so that the residents of the Eden Park and Auburn sections of Ward 2 that read your blog could be aware of.

I found out yesterday 11/27/07 through the Building officials office, while looking into some traffic concerns on the corner of Pontiac and Laurens St., that a building permit has been issued to complete and operate a drive thru at the Dunkin Donuts location on corner, 480 Pontiac Ave.

My understanding was that there were many residents in opposition to a drive-thru when it went for approval before the Zoning Board of Review (ZBR). The ZBR committee approved the coffee shop and gas pumps but left the decision of the drive-thru up to the City’s Traffic Safety Engineer who determined on 12/12/05 that a drive-thru operation would be unacceptable citing safety concerns. But since then, the owners have again filed for a building permit and have submitted modified plans to the City’s Traffic Safety Engineer who has now deemed the plans acceptable on July 31, 2007. Based on the decision from the Traffic Safety Engineer, and since this was the only stipulation needed, as per the ZBR, the building inspections office granted the permit for the drive-thru on August 6, 2007.

My main concern with this process, although legal, is that since the approval only rested with that of the Traffic Safety Engineer, there was no mechanism in place to notify the abutting neighbors. The only time they would have known about this permit would have been once they realized the drive- thru became operational and then they would be able to take action and file an appeal on the permit. My feeling is that an attempt to appeal on the drive-thru once completed and operational, might be a futile attempt to try to get the ZBR to reverse the permit.

But now, given the fact that no work has been done up to this point, if the neighbors file and appeal, I feel the chances of an appeal to have the permit overturned are much greater now.

I find this process, though legal, somewhat flawed. Once the Traffic Safety Engineer denied the drive-thru all subsequent attempts should have made the applicants once again file for a variance and start the process again, in which case the residents in the area would have been notified of such of an attempt to install a drive-thru.

This is my reason for this communication because in light of my finding out about this permit that has been issued, it not too late to stop this project but an appeal has to be filed within 20days of this communication.

The following city ordinance gives the residents the right to file an appeal under ‘Title 17 Zoning’ which states the following:

17.116.040 Aggrieved parties.
An appeal to the zoning board of review from a decision of any other zoning enforcement agency or officer may be taken by an aggrieved party subject to the following:

A. When the appeal is taken by a party aggrieved from an affirmative action of the inspector of buildings such as the issuance of a building permit or certificate of occupancy, said appeal shall be filed within twenty (20) days of the date when the aggrieved party became aware or could reasonably be expected to have been aware of the action.

I know some people who are very concerned about this. It would make more sense if the laws were written so that the public needed to be notified of a variance which would allow something that was previously opposed by citizens and objected to for safety reasons. Not having this provision leaves a loophole in the law that’s as big as a drive-thru, and makes people feel anger and distrust for the Cranston officials who are supposed to protect our mutual interests, but do nothing to inform us of possibly detrimental changes to our environment.

An Assault on the Poor and on Privacy

In the 19th century, it was not uncommon for the poor to be treated as criminals in America. In the 21st century, the practice continues, and we are all the worse for it, as the following New York Times editorial laments:

A Loss for Privacy Rights

The Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches, but for this protection to have practical meaning, the courts must enforce it. This week, the Supreme Court let stand a disturbing ruling out of California that allows law enforcement to barge into people’s homes without a warrant. The case has not prompted much outrage, perhaps because the people whose privacy is being invaded are welfare recipients, but it is a serious setback for the privacy rights of all Americans.

San Diego County’s district attorney has a program called Project 100% that is intended to reduce welfare fraud. Applicants for welfare benefits are visited by law enforcement agents, who show up unannounced and examine the family’s home, including the insides of cabinets and closets. Applicants who refuse to let the agents in are generally denied benefits.

The program does not meet the standards set out by the Fourth Amendment. For a search to be reasonable, there generally must be some kind of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. These searches are done in the homes of people who have merely applied for welfare and have done nothing to arouse suspicion.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, rejected a challenge brought by welfare recipients. In ruling that the program does not violate the Constitution, the majority made the bizarre assertion that the home visits are not “searches.�

The Supreme Court has long held that when the government intrudes on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, it is a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. It is a fun-house mirrors version of constitutional analysis for a court to say that government agents are not conducting a search when they show up unannounced in a person’s home and rifle through her bedroom dresser.

Judge Harry Pregerson, writing for himself and six other Ninth Circuit judges who voted to reconsider the case, got it right. The majority decision upholding Project 100%, Judge Pregerson wrote, “strikes an unprecedented blow at the core of Fourth Amendment protections.� These dissenters rightly dismissed the majority’s assertion that the home visits were voluntary, noting that welfare applicants were not told they could withhold consent, and that they risked dire consequences if they resisted.

The dissenting judges called the case “an assault on the poor,� which it is. It would be a mistake, however, to take consolation in the fact that only poor people’s privacy rights were at stake. When the government is allowed to show up unannounced without a warrant and search people’s homes, it is bad news for all of us. [link]

A Connection between Cell Phone Use and Autism?

Although Dr. Mercola has been talking about the dangers of cell phone use for a while now, this new research seems to give him even more to talk about. From Dr. Mercola’s article, “How Cell Phones Can Cause Autism”:

Rates of autism, a disabling neurodevelopmental disorder, have increased nearly 60-fold since the late 1970s, with the most significant increases occurring in the past decade.

The cause of autism is unknown, although theories include such potential causes as:

–Genetic predisposition

–Inability to clear heavy metals

–Increased vulnerability to oxidative stress

–Environmental exposures including mercury preservatives in vaccines

–Trans-generational accumulation of toxic heavy metals

Now a groundbreaking new theory has been suggested by a study published in the Journal of the Australasian College of Nutritional Environmental Medicine: electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from cell phones, cell towers, Wi-Fi devices and other similar wireless technologies as an accelerating factor in autism.

EMR May be the Missing Link

The study, which involved over five years of research on children with autism and other membrane sensitivity disorders, found that EMR negatively affects cell membranes, and allows heavy metal toxins, which are associated with autism, to build up in your body.

Meanwhile, the researchers pointed out that autism rates have increased concurrently along with the proliferation of cell phones and wireless use.

EMR, the researchers say, could impact autism by facilitating early onset of symptoms or by trapping heavy metals inside of nerve cells, which could accelerate the onset of symptoms of heavy metal toxicity and hinder therapeutic clearance of the toxins .

Speaking in reference to the huge rise in autism rates, Dr. George Carlo, the study’s co-author, said, “A rise of this magnitude must have a major environmental cause. Our data offer a reasonable mechanistic explanation for a connection between autism and wireless technology.”

They also suggest that EMR from wireless devices works in conjunction with environmental and genetic factors to cause autism. [full text]

Speaking as a clinician who has worked with a lot of adolescents who were still suffering from the effects of severe early life lead poisoning, I can say that children with heavy metals in the brain such as lead are some of the hardest to work with. Even though I am working with them as adolescents (between 12 and 18), their behaviors are often so much more like latency-age or even preschool children. It is very hard for them to control impulsive behaviors and they tend to struggle constantly with maintaining appropriate boundaries with staff and peers. This is not the same thing as autism, but sometimes there seems to be an autistic nature to their dyscontrol.

It will be interesting to see how the research on this connection evolves, and how the public reacts. I just got a cell phone about 6 months ago, and I’ve only used it a handful of times. It always struck me as not a good idea to hold something with that strong of a wireless charge that close to your head. But I know many people with children who are quite attached to their cell phones, and this might be a hard thing to change.

Return of The Blob

Swarming mobs of jellyfish gone bad devoured two huge fish farms in Ireland.

The salmon farm hit by a massive jellyfish attack last week has confirmed its only remaining site has now been wiped out as well.

John Russell, managing director of the Northern Salmon Company, said the juvenile fish that were growing to maturity at Red Bay on the Co Antrim coast were all destroyed in the last couple of days by a second jellyfish attack. Further huge jellyfish swarms have now been reported off the coast of Scotland, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

Yes, the Blob is spreading

A species of stinging jellyfish that swamped salmon cages off Northern Ireland was seen in swarms around the coast of Highlands Scotland.

The Marine Conservation Society is asking the public to report sightings of the mauve stingers in an attempt to gauge its unseasonable blooms.

Billions of the creatures covered an area of up to 10 square miles off the County Antrim coast this week.

Since the jellies are eating all the fish, we will just have to learn to eat the jellies. I was listening to NPR and a reporter was interviewing a Japanese cook and sampling the recipe. She said that the dried jellyfish felt like dead skin, and smelled like old cheese. However, after repeated soaking and preparation, with lots of salt and spices, it had a kind of neutral taste. You can get almost anything down if you put some wasabi on it.

As someone rightly said, the Earth will survive the worst we can do, but a warmer, more turbulent world might not be as hospitable to us. We’re eating salmon now, our kids might have to learn to love the jellies.

The Devil Is in the Detailing

In today’s New York Times Magazine, Daniel Carlat, a Massachusetts psychiatrist, describes his experiences in “detailing” for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. “Pharmaceutical ‘detailing’ is the term used to describe those sales visits in which drug reps go to doctors’ offices to describe the benefits of a specific drug.” The term also encompasses the visits made by physicians like Dr. Carlat, who are paid a stipend to speak to colleagues about the benefits of certain drugs. In Dr. Carlat’s case, he was promoting the anti-depressant, Effexor. However, over time, he found himself “tweaking and pruning the truth in order to stay positive about the product,” despite certain reservations about its use. As a result of his uneasiness, he modified his presentations to provide a more balanced perspective. Here is what happened next:

Several days later, I was visited by the same district manager who first offered me the speaking job. Pleasant as always, he said: “My reps told me that you weren’t as enthusiastic about our product at your last talk. I told them that even Dr. Carlat can’t hit a home run every time. Have you been sick?�

At that moment, I decided my career as an industry-sponsored speaker was over. The manager’s message couldn’t be clearer: I was being paid to enthusiastically endorse their drug. Once I stopped doing that, I was of little value to them, no matter how much “medical education� I provided.

The entire article is well worth reading. It is entitled: Dr. Drug Rep.

Check-Up on the Massachusetts Health Plan

Scott McKay of the Providence Journal reports on the changes that have come about since Massachusetts enacted its plan to bring universal health coverage to the state. From the article:

[...] Manghan is one of nearly 200,000 of Massachusetts’ more than 6.4 million residents who were uninsured and have signed up for coverage under the state’s ambitious plan — the first time any state has aimed to insure 100 percent of its population.

He fits the model of the largest segment of uninsured state residents — a man in his 20s or 30s. This group is what Governor Patrick, in a recent speech at Brown University, called the “young masters of the universe� — people who are not sick and “think they are going to live forever.�

To reach this group, Commonwealth Care has aggressively signed up state residents to new health insurance policies under a plan that has been so successful so far that the state is now worried about how much it will cost taxpayers to subsidize the effort at a time when the New England economy is flat and the state is short of money. One early projection shows the costs to the state could be $157 million higher than originally thought.

In Rhode Island, Democratic Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts has gathered a group of health experts and representatives of business, organized labor, hospitals, insurance companies and political figures to determine whether elements of the Massachusetts plan could be successfully adopted by Rhode Island, where about 10 percent of residents are uninsured. [full text]

I hope we can prioritize getting everyone insured in Rhode Island, as they have done in Massachusetts. But we also need to look at ways to decrease dependence on expensive and ineffective medical care. USA Today recently did a series of articles called “Prescription for Change” which outlined a number of ways we could decrease costs and increase quality. One way is to allow states to give people the option of limiting their end of life care, helping them with forms that clarify advance directives. Another way is for doctors to perform less surgeries that are costly and often ineffective. Another is to make sure medicines are safe before they are used, and to use older, cheaper medicines when the newer, expensive options are not proven to be more effective and may have more dangerous side effects.

A Thanksgiving Gift

On this day, give thanks for all the world—in its infinite and curious wisdom—proffers and provides. And be sure to give back…

THE GIFT

I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song.

Every day he sang from the rim of the field, while I picked blueberries or just idled in the sun.

Every day he came fluttering by to show me, and why not, the white blossoms in his wings.

So one day I went there with a machine, and played some songs of Mahler.

The mockingbird stopped singing, he came close and seemed to listen.

Now when I go down to the field, a little Mahler spills through the sputters of his song.

How happy I am, lounging in the light, listening as the music floats by!

And I give thanks also for my mind, that thought of giving a gift.

And mostly I’m grateful that I take this world so seriously.

© 1990 – Mary Oliver (from House of Light)

Governor Carcieri Avoids the Fighting Irish


This past Saturday, November 17th saw the dedication of the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial. I was glad to be there, being the descendant of Irish immigrants. The Memorial is a bronze monument; three figures that represent the suffering of the Irish during the Famine of 1845-1852 and the mass emigration that resulted. The Memorial is infused with the pride of the Irish and our love of America. A low wall bears plaques relating the events that led to the deaths from starvation and disease of an estimated million Irish, and the emigration of a million more.

The history of indifference to suffering, abetted by prejudice, bad religion and the politics of greed is unfortunately not unique to that time or place. The inscription on the Memorial has a resonance today.

[British Prime Minister, Lord John] Russell, and Sir Charles Trevelyan, his chief economic advisor for Ireland, believed that their government should take only a limited part in relieving disasters like the Great Famine. They thought that the private charity of individuals and philanthropic organizations should shoulder the burden of Famine Relief. Accordingly, religious groups such as the Society of Friends (the Quakers) came forward to offer unconditional aid to Ireland.

Above all, Russell believed in protecting the rights of private property owners and in the promotion of a free market economy in both Britain and Ireland. In fact, the Government believed so strongly in the economic principle of noninterference in trade that it allowed the export from Ireland of abundant supplies of meat and grain during all the Famine years.
–Donald Donovan Deignan, PhD

You got that right. As their children starved, Irish workers were forced to sell their crops or face eviction from their rich, absentee landlords. There was no safety net, only the life of a homeless refugee.

The Irish had been disadvantaged for a long time. The British occupied the best of their land and took the best of their crops, but they could and did get by on a cheap diet of potatoes and milk. When the potato crop suffered a catastrophic blight there was no alternate source of food unless foreign aid and debt forgiveness were put in place. At first, there was some crisis relief, but a new election brought a change in politics under ministers like Charles Trevelyan.

As Assistant Secretary to the Treasury [Trevelyan] was placed in charge of the administration of Government relief to the victims of the Irish Famine in the 1840s. In the middle of that crisis Trevelyan published his views on the matter. He saw the Famine as a “mechanism for reducing surplus population”. He described the famine as “The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people”.

I don’t know if Trevelyan would have been so serene about the suffering and death of a million people on his watch if he hadn’t had the consolation of religion.

Governor Carcieri is also a religious person. Here’s from the Providence Journal.

Benefit dinner: The Mother of Life Center, of Providence, a nonprofit pro-life facility offering free counseling and testing services, and the Little Flower Home for unwed mothers, will host their annual Rose Dinner fundraiser at the West Valley Inn in West Warwick on Saturday, Nov. 10. Cocktails are at 6:30 and dinner at 7:30 p.m. The Governor and Mrs. Donald Carcieri are the honorary chairpersons. Tickets are $65 each, $120 for a couple, and $600 for a table of 10.

The Governor is dealing with a budget crisis, his Big Audit never turned up the zillions of dollars he promised to find. His response is to cut programs for children’s health, students, the elderly, schools, and families. When an after-school program is closed or a grandmother doesn’t get Meals on Wheels the middle class will feel the strain. The businessman’s response is to go for the short-term gain and hope to swing a deal, the politician’s response is to find a scapegoat.

“Frankly, I think from the state’s perspective we’ve been enabling and continue to enable a lot of bad decisions,” he said Sunday on WJAR-TV’s 10 News Conference. Asked to define ‘bad decisions’,he said: “Most of the people on our welfare programs are single women, unmarried with multiple children.”

“I think it is a bad decision to have children you can’t support–I am not making a moral judgment,” he said. “What I am saying is that we as taxpayers and citizens of the state are being asked to finance and support those decisions.”

Going a step further yesterday on WHJJ-radio’s Helen Glover Show, Carcieri said: “When I look at our rolls of people receiving ‘family-independence’ [benefits] whether it be RIte Care, whatever, the vast majority of these are women with children and they are not married and this is not a good situation.”

With all due respect to the Little Flower Home, I don’t think they can fill the gap left when hundreds of infants and children are thrown out of their health insurance. This Governor is one of the most callous and short-sighted we have ever had. He may think he’s channeling Ronald Reagan, but we’ve heard the ‘welfare queen–Murphy Brown’ routine before. All his sanctimony about welfare mothers isn’t fooling the elderly I work with, or the hard working home health aides who save the state money by keeping people out of the emergency room. It won’t fool the students who are trying to afford their tuition, or young people who are just one health emergency away from financial ruin.

The Monument dedication was an occasion for many eloquent speeches about the burden of poverty and the struggle of immigrants for a better life. Governor Carcieri’s absence was noted.

The Irish had every mark of the undeserving poor, and every virtue of the deserving poor. They came here just looking for a chance. In the twenty first century we still need to welcome immigrants, we still need to feed the hungry. We need to be true to the best of America and have faith in what we can be.

This Is Not Your Uncle Sigmund’s Denial

Here’s a rather interesting article by Benedict Carey in today’s New York Times:

Denial Makes the World Go Round

For years she hid the credit card bills from her husband: The $2,500 embroidered coat from Neiman Marcus. The $900 beaded scarf from Blake in Chicago. A $600 pair of Dries van Noten boots. All beautiful items, and all perfectly affordable if she had been a hedge fund manager or a Google executive.

Friends at first dropped hints to go easy or rechannel her creative instincts. Her mother grew concerned enough to ask pointed questions. But sales clerks kept calling with early tips on the coming season’s fashions, and the seasons kept changing.

“It got so bad I would sit up suddenly at night and wonder if I was going to slip up and this whole thing would explode,� said the secretive shopper, Katharine Farrington, 46, a freelance film writer living in Washington, who is now free of debt. “I don’t know how I could have been in denial about it for so long. I guess I was optimistic I could pay, and that I wasn’t hurting anyone.

“Well, of course that wasn’t true.�

Everyone is in denial about something; just try denying it and watch friends make a list. For Freud, denial was a defense against external realities that threaten the ego, and many psychologists today would argue that it can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news, like a cancer diagnosis.

In the modern vernacular, to say someone is “in denial� is to deliver a savage combination punch: one shot to the belly for the cheating or drinking or bad behavior, and another slap to the head for the cowardly self-deception of pretending it’s not a problem.

Yet recent studies from fields as diverse as psychology and anthropology suggest that the ability to look the other way, while potentially destructive, is also critically important to forming and nourishing close relationships. The psychological tricks that people use to ignore a festering problem in their own households are the same ones that they need to live with everyday human dishonesty and betrayal, their own and others’. And it is these highly evolved abilities, research suggests, that provide the foundation for that most disarming of all human invitations, forgiveness.

In this emerging view, social scientists see denial on a broader spectrum — from benign inattention to passive acknowledgment to full-blown, willful blindness — on the part of couples, social groups and organizations, as well as individuals. Seeing denial in this way, some scientists argue, helps clarify when it is wise to manage a difficult person or personal situation, and when it threatens to become a kind of infectious silent trance that can make hypocrites of otherwise forthright people. [full text]

Price Drops Out from Under Local Foreclosure

I like to house shop just for fun, not because we are necessarily ever going to move again. I find it interesting. But rather than look at houses for how tony they are or whether they have an “updated” kitchen, I like to look at houses as signs of the economy. And my house of the week for interesting sign of the weak local housing market is this one at 1143 Narraganset Boulevard in Cranston. According to Zillow.com, this house just sold in August 2007 for $423,000. Now it is on the market for $259,000. If you type in anti-spam word on the Zillow page, you can see the sales history and also learn that on 04/04/06, it sold for $520,000 — more than twice what it’s on the market for now. You can also learn that on 11/29/2004, it sold for $480,000. That’s right. And now it’s on the market for $259,000. It needs a new roof and it’s in foreclosure.

It’s a nice-looking house, though — beautiful stone facade on the lower level, and a spacious refinished wraparound porch. And seems like quite a bargan for $259,000, though the taxes are based on a much higher assessed value — $4,931 for the year according to the Projo ad. But this is no market to be taking chances or trying to flip real estate. You’d have to really want to live there.

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