Sunday, February 25, 2007


Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times included a take on the movement toward energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs, the sale of which California would mandate by 2012.

The story talked to one average consumer — Marie Riser, 57, a discount-store shopper.

“They are telling me which light bulb to use?” Riser said. “Talk about Big Brother. It’s almost here.”

There are terrific advantages to the bulbs, including their longevity and ability to help the environment. The companies that make standard incandescent bulbs sound feeble when they vow to double the energy efficiency of their products within three years; twice the efficiency still gets them nowhere near the benefits of fluorescent bulbs.

Riser’s outrage sounds odd in California, among the first to toss cigarette smokers outdoors and where gas is more expensive because the additive MTBE is banned. But it sounds downright bizarre when contrasted with everything else going on in the country right now.

For instance, in addition to Guantanamo and illegal wiretaps and such, a defense budget signed into law Oct. 17 included a surprise provision, requested by the White House, that allows the president to declare martial law in the case of “natural disaster, epidemic or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” These are all powers added to the president’s ability “to suppress, in a state, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy.”

The added powers basically allow martial law for any reason.

But, yes, the whole energy-saving light bulb thing, stilll a proposal and not slated to take place for five years, is an outrage. Shocking abuse of power. Horrifying. We mustn't let them get away with it. Et cetera.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


To keep gawkers from the one-time home of serial killer Son of Sam, the city of Yonkers, N.Y., changed a building’s address. But if stressing normalcy was the goal, changing the number to 42 Pine St. from 35 Pine St. might not have been the way to go.

It sure doesn’t fool tourists, who have no reason to be on Pine Street except to see Shrine to Son of Sam. And innocent visitors must wonder aloud to the people they’re visiting why there’s an even-numbered building on the odd-numbered side of the street, to which the inevitable answer is, “Because that’s where David Berkowitz used to live when he was talking to dogs and killing people.”

But that still puts Yonkers ahead of Greater Boston, where civil engineering disasters linger and multiply like recessive genes in a claustrophobically incestuous multigenerational family.

Recently, headed to work from Allston instead of Porter Square, I aimed to catch Interstate 93 south from Route 28 north but — because this brought me into Somerville, and I can get lost in Somerville just by stepping across the city line — failed. Despite the painfully redundant checking of maps before the trip, I missed the turn I needed onto 28 and found myself ready to merge onto 93 once I crossed the Charles River Bridge past the Museum of Science.

But I wanted to learn, and the cross street I was stopped at, like almost every major street in the area, lacks street signs. So I gestured to the guys in the car to my left, who looked like townies, to roll down their window. When the passenger did so, I asked if he knew what the street ahead of us was.

He knew that ahead to the left was the Prison Point Bridge.

Okay. But did they know what the gigantic street ahead of us was called?

“Hey, buddy,” they chortled, “we’re not the one who’s lost.”

There were many things I could have said to this, including that I wasn’t lost — I was headed straight ahead onto Interstate 93 — or that knowing the name of a one-block bridge was not the same as knowing the name of the multilane, multiblock boulevard that fed into it. (We were stopped at Edward Land Boulevard, which changes into Charlestown Avenue at Route 28. The bridge is also known as the John F. Gilmore Bridge.) Or that I hadn’t meant to criticize their lack of knowledge with my innocent restatement of the question. But it was too late for that.

I just said thanks and ignored them as they kept chuckling over my foolishness. True, they were idiots who would rather make fun of me than admit ignorance, but their lack of knowledge wasn’t their fault. While Yonkers made an irrational change for rational reasons, Greater Boston resists improvement for no reason at all. Yonkers may try to obfuscate a murderer’s address, but Greater Boston won’t clarify an address used by thousands of people each day.