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)