April 23, 2013

The Boston Lockdown; or, Don’t Judge a Cop by His Tactical Gear

Filed under: Greater Boston, Newton, Politics — marcstober @ 9:39 pm

I got upset on Twitter at a couple points during the great “Boston Lockdown,” mostly because I was just anxious about everything going on and and easy to upset. But, specifically, I got upset at posts I thought were implying that the scale of the police operation was some sort of misuse of police power.

Here are some things I observed on Friday:

Traffic continued all day on Route 9, a major but not limited-access highway at the end of my street.

I heard on the police scanner feeds that I found on the Internet officers escorting someone back to their home in Watertown to get medicine, and trying to figure out how close they could get a bus to pick up a disabled resident. I heard a request for less-than-lethal shotguns, which was interesting both because they weren’t just using lethal weapons, but also because they’ve gotten rid of the term “non-lethal” since that’s not always the case (as Boston police know from an incident a few years ago). At the end of the day (and I was probably listening to State Police channel separate from the FBI who actually made the arrest) I heard the caution they were taking to get the suspect in custody without anyone else getting hurt.

We received a reverse 911 call advising us to “shelter in place.” It seemed like the prudent thing to do. But it was not a threat, and I don’t think anyone who really needed to get any place couldn’t, except for a specific neighborhood in Watertown.

And, the bottom line is that no one else was hurt after the initial shoot-outs. And no one was arrested (that I’ve heard of).

As far as the enormous deployment of assets including SWAT and military response, well, that’s just how they do things. On a smaller scale, if you call to report a fire, you can’t ask them to only send one guy with a fire extinguisher; they’re going to send the engine and the ladder truck and probably police and EMS, and send them back when they’re not needed. And I’ve noticed that’s generally how emergency response agencies respond: deploy whatever assets you can just in case you need them. The alternative, I think, is to expect Andy Griffith backed up by Opie as all Mayberry needs to stay safe. But I don’t think that if this situation was, say, left to only actual Watertown officers to respond in their cruisers with old fashioned six shooters it would have had as good an outcome.

I’m not an anarchist. One of the great things about living in a democracy is that the police are here to protect us. And, it is a bit scary that to do so, they need to be able to respond with enough force that, if they misuse it, could take away our rights. I can think of cases, like the pepper spray incident during Occupy Oakland, or the NYPD’s treatment of protesters during the RNC, where, as a citizen of a democracy, I have some concern. But this was not one of those cases, and we should judge the police by their actions, not by what gear they come prepared with. This was exactly the situation we need strong law enforcement for and they deserve credit for a job well done.

December 6, 2011

Introducing Siddur Ruach Shabbat: Temple Emanuel’s New Family Service Prayerbook

Filed under: Judaism, Newton, Prayer — marcstober @ 9:23 pm

Cross-posted to JewishBoston.com.

This Saturday morning at Temple Emanuel’s lay-led Ruach Shabbat family service we’ll be unveiling our new prayer book, Siddur Ruach Shabbat. The product of over a year of collaboration between the synagogue’s volunteers and professional staff, the book aims to be “just right” by capturing the spirituality of a traditional Shabbat morning service and making it accessible to all. It also features 40 full color illustrations by the children of Temple Emanuel.

The book features a number of innovations to make it easy to understand and use:

  • Only the prayers needed for a regular Shabbat morning service are included, so there is no getting lost flipping pages.
  • Every prayer begins on a new page with English, Hebrew, and transliterated titles.
  • All prayers (except the silent Amidah) have transliterations.
  • Key phrases are bold.
  • And more…

As editor-in-chief my goal was to share with my fellow TE families and the Jewish world what I found so meaningful about Shabbat morning prayer. The book was a truly collaborative effort, from the first draft produced by committee Vice Chair David Goldstone, to the extensive editorial work by committee Chair Pamela Weinfeld, to substantive input from Religious School Director Ilene Beckman, Hazzan Sheini Daniel Nesson, Rabbi Michelle Robinson, and others. It may have taken longer than we thought but the result was far better than expected.

For now the only place to see the whole finished book is at Ruach Shabbat Family Services this Saturday at 10:45 a.m. in Temple Emanuel’s lower level activity room, and monthly thereafter. Please join us! For more information contact me at marcstober@gmail.com, Pam Weinfeld at drpamw@dermandskincare.com, or Wayne Goldstein at wgoldstein@templeemanuel.com.

March 22, 2011

Reflections on Japan, Itamar, and some events closer to home

Filed under: Israel, Metaphysics, Newton — marcstober @ 5:27 pm

Two of the top news stories of the past few weeks have been about the earthquake and subsequent nuclear accident in Japan, and the murder of a family in Itamar, Israel. Both are a tragic human loss. I’m not sure which is more challenging to understand.

I can’t begin to comprehend having your home and family washed out to sea, to be left on the shore without food, medicine, or electricity. Or, to live with the danger of invisible radioactive fallout. But this doesn’t shatter my worldview. We live in a universe formed by supernovas and plate tectonics, awash with cosmic radiation, where the basic laws of physics mean that we need to use energy sources that can sometimes be deadly. To me, the miracle is not that the universe was created with Man at the center in Copernican style, but that we so improbably thrive when it wasn’t.

On the scale of universe, tragedy in a single household in Itamar shouldn’t seem like much, but I find it even harder to understand. Bad stuff happens, and people get angry, but ultimately, we find a way to share a small planet. Or so I like to think, which is why breaking into a house just to murder an unknown family with children is something I just can’t comprehend.

Then again, just this week, we heard helicopters and learned the State Police were searching for the perpetrator of shooting at a store here in Newton. No one was hurt, but it was bizarre that it wasn’t attempted armed robbery as much as pure intentional violence.

Yet we survive.

November 10, 2008

Star Market considered kosher butcher in Chestnut Hill?

Filed under: Food, Judaism, Newton — marcstober @ 10:01 am

Cross-posted to TheGardenCity.net.

An article in Friday’s Jewish Advocate said that Star Market had been considering, but decided against, including a kosher butcher in their store being rebuilt in Chestnut Hill. The company didn’t comment on the plans in the article, citing only that they would be including a kosher bakery as part of balancing customer needs within the “footprint” of the store. The source for the article was Rabbi Mendy Uminer of Chabad Lubavitch of Chestnut Hill, who said had been in discussions with store management and he believed it was financial decision.

Of course, a kosher butcher, which would requires a whole second butcher operation, needs more room than a kosher bakery, where you are basically just certifying the same products you’d be selling anyway. The whole south of Newton seems to be under-served by grocery stores, probably a result of Newton zoning that makes it very difficult to build commercial structures as large as most new grocery stores, so it doesn’t seem like a problem specific to kosher-keeping Jews.

On a positive note: I noticed while shopping in Shaw’s in Newtonville yesterday the return of pre-packaged Empire kosher chicken along with Meal Mart kosher beef. A while back they switched exclusively to the Rubashkin’s brand, which has since gotten a lot of bad publicity for its labor practices. I’m not qualified to judge them, but I’d rather not buy a brand tainted by scandal. Still, a couple sections of pre-packaged meat really doesn’t compare in terms of price and selection to what you can get at a place like the Butcherie in Brookline.

I guess if Jews have waited thousands of years for a return to Zion and are still waiting for the Messiah, we can wait a bit longer for a place to buy kosher meat with adequate parking. 🙂

October 8, 2008

Why I live where I do

Filed under: Newton — marcstober @ 10:46 am

Check out this photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rcolonna/2916223664/

How many neighborhoods are there where you can raise you kid near rapid transit (and therefore a connection to the cultural goods of the city), and still have it be the sort of place where they can play along the sidewalk?

September 25, 2007

Speaking (really, speaking) out

Filed under: Newton, Politics — marcstober @ 8:25 am

Development (the real estate kind) and in particular development at the the former Omni Foods/proposed Chestnut Hill Square site in Newton is a topic that I tend to have interest in and opinions about. Last night I decided to put my “money where my mouth is,” or more accurately, put my mouth and the rest of the body where usually only my words go, and speak up at a public hearing on a zoning amendment being proposed in Newton.

It was terrifying. I got confused about when to speak and fumbled through what I was trying to say. A reporter from the Tab asked my name so maybe I’ll find out what I actually said there. 🙂

I do feel like I had my “day in court,” so to speak (sorry for the mixed idioms, I know this is a legislative not a judicial hearing, but that might have made it even more terrifying). Blogs are a great source of ideas and letters to the editor have their place as well, but if you have a strong and different opinion on a topic such as this, it’s important to register it in the official public forum. More people should do so. Moreover it was good experience for me – maybe things like the height of office buildings isn’t worth staying out late over, but certainly next time there is a matter worth speaking out over, I will be more composed.

June 11, 2007

More Starter Homes?

Filed under: Newton, Politics — marcstober @ 10:59 pm

Repost of an article I submitted on TheGardenCity.net:

This article in today’s Globe talks about “a disparate collection of real estate agents, homebuilders, housing activists, and public officials who expect to propose legislation later this year that would either require or encourage municipalities to promote construction of ‘starter homes,’ which are in short supply in Boston’s suburbs. The houses would be modest…priced so families earning between about$80,000 and $130,000 could afford them.”

Our house was featured in another Globe article on housing prices (by the same writer) just about a year ago, and our family income is in the neighborhood of the high end of that range. We’ve been talking on this blog lately about mixed-use development such as Chestnut Hill Square, and what demographic would like to live over a mall. Chuck has blogged in favor of building up. Current state affordable housing law seems to encourage these many-unit buildings. But I probably would not have moved my family to Newton if the only thing in my price range was a high-rise condo. I would have gone somewhere else, where I could get a yard and driveway, even if it meant a longer commute to work. In fact, we moved here from Brookline largely because Newton was, relatively speaking, more affordable. Of course, not everyone is going to be able to afford a single-family here, but is it inevitable that that Newton is no longer going to be a place where middle-class families have their own back yards? Is this something we want, that we should try to change, or that’s just going to happen?

April 24, 2007

Zoning Meeting

Filed under: Newton, Politics — marcstober @ 11:19 pm

Zoning matters in Newton, I think, for a different reason than a lot of people think. The Jackson Homestead’s website (our city’s history museum which I have yet to visit in person) has a great “movie map” of residential development in Newton; you can see on it that growth since about 1960 has been marginal, at the edges. I don’t agree with the people who quite vocally say that large new development will be a “disaster” to the “quality of life” in town. Perhaps building the Mass Pike or (the present-day) Route 128, or the railroads before that, or the subdivisions that created our neighborhoods mostly before anyone alive today was born were projects that could create such drastic change. Areas such as that south of the Fort Point Channel in Boston are undergoing the sort of redevelopment (to include new highways, subways, multiple high-rise buildings, museums, and a convention center that must be large enough to see from space). And let’s not forget this type of truly large-impact development is still the norm in areas that are less mature than Newton, or where economic conditions are such that old properties turn over and don’t retain value such as they do exceptionally well here.

The real threat zoning has to Newton is more along the lines of what economists call “opportunity cost,” that is, the possibility that once a given parcel is developed on the terms of a given zoning law we lose the chance to have that parcel developed into something else. This is particularly important in Newton because the city is so mature development-wise and most residents (and a lot of commercial tenants) have valuable property with no intention of moving; one a parcel is developed into one thing, there isn’t going to vacant land available for something else (at least when that something else requires a large commercial space, like a grocery store or hotel) anytime soon. Moreover, the threat may come from existing zoning as much as from new zoning—something could be developed in compliance with laws on the books that may not be the same as what would be enacted as the best zoning laws today (even in the theoretical in absence of proposed development). Put simply, when a large lot gets filled up with a large apartment building, a neighborhood loses its chance to have a convenient grocery store.

With these thoughts in mind I attended the public hearing last night of the Zoning and Planning committee of Newton’s Board of Alderman regarding the creation of a Planned Business District category of zoning, which may be suitable for various locations in the city but at the moment is being proposed by a developer who wants to redevelop a parcel that, until it closed, had the closest grocery store to my house, and is in a commercial area that I’ve been visiting for years even before I moved to Newton. In general, I am in favor of both the zoning change and the proposed development, in particular because I think the various elected and appointed officials, the city’s Planning Department, and even the developer and his attorneys have done an outstanding job in revising and amending the proposed change to make it conform with what is in the best interests of Newton and expressed in its Comprehensive Plan. I tend to see these sort of things in contrast to what I see in visits to my in-laws in suburban Cleveland where new developments are going up with all the problems we are talking about, such as the absurd Legacy Village which mimics a village center surrounded by a moat of parking lots (at least it has a grocery store). There are probably a couple areas that were commented upon by public speakers that are yet to be addressed: e.g., more direct mitigation for abutters, both during and after construction; and a need for “real” public transit that will encourage shoppers. Some issues are difficult: does limiting parking encourage transit, or merely increase traffic when people look for parking on surrounding streets? One commenter (who unfortunately did not have as good rhetorical styles as is points) asked why does the debate on height restrictions even matter; how tall the building is not as important measurement as how it actually impacts traffic—I thought that was a good point. In general, though, we are requiring developers to implement transit improvements, relationships to existing streets, etc.—we are ahead of the curve. Unfortunately our current zoning does not really match what we actually (at least as expressed by the Comprehensive Plan work) want Newton to look like, and state law provides that developers will get to do something with their land if the city doesn’t agree. (Avalon apartments are fine, but do we really want every vacant property to default to this?)

A few public speakers at the meeting spoke that we shouldn’t change zoning at the request of a developer. In an ideal world, we as citizens would figure out what zoning change we need and then the developers would build accordingly. In the real world, zoning changes don’t draft themselves, and I think it’s reasonable to allow that this is how the process works: until a property owner has a need to redevelop their land, we can’t expect that zoning changes will come before the board, even if it’s a change most citizens would agree to.

Of course, the citizens who show up at hearings aren’t usually the ones who agree to the request. This was part of my interest in attending; I’ve never been to an actual aldermanic-level (or selectmen or town or city council-level elsewhere) meeting before. I have been following local politics online through the Tab and the GardenCity.net sites, but I’d gotten the impression (confirmed by the meeting!) than this does not give a complete picture. In particular, what is the role of these blogs and websites in local politics? I find that I read these sites because I tend to empathize with the issues people raise in their comments and posts there, and because I feel I must have something in common with other citizens who want to connect with each other online. On the other hand, I don’t really agree with the decidedly antidevelopment sentiment of the most vocal people either at the meeting or online. My sense after going to the meeting (and this is probably “duh” for any experienced politicians) is that people who have a strong opinion or vested interest, particularly against what is being proposed, are over-represented both in the public hearing and online. (Much in the same way, as noted above, that it takes someone with a vested interest to propose a zoning or other amendment in the first place.) A smaller number of people—who may be for, against, or indifferent to the issue—are there out of motivation to participate or observe rather than a motivation to see the issue come out one way or another. As much as I’d like to think that I can get involved in politics from the comfort of my desk, reading blogs while waiting for code to compile, this is not the case on the conservative world of politics. As much as I appreciate Alderman Parker’s presence online, I do not agree with his views on this project (nor did I find his wandering around the room throughout and in one case, speaking out of turn conducive to due process). On the other hand, Board of Alderman President Baker made the most insightful comments I heard, although I haven’t come across a website describing his positions.

Anyhow, I am writing a message to the committee with my opinions. I like living in Newton because we have a local government that considers these issues, and is not driven by either the activists on one side or business on the other.

April 1, 2007

The Times on Life in Newton

Filed under: Newton, Politics — marcstober @ 4:15 pm

As I write this, Hannah is watching a Barbie movie, relaxing after a classmate’s birthday party at My First Yoga this morning. Not content to just sit on the couch, however, she saw Cheryl cleaning for Pesach and started putting away a stack of her DVDs.

Little did I know that growing up as a girl in Newton was going to be the subject of a New York Times article today that followed a house-of-worship-attending girl, including a mention that her church is right across the street from the aforementioned children’s yoga studio!

It’s a loaded issue. The politics of growing up are not new; when I was a kid, Barbie was bad because she symbolized the objectification of women, teaching girls that their worth would be rated on their friends and, especially, their figure. But something happened in the process of debunking that message. Barbie still looks great but now she’s a smart, confident, athletic leader who heroically saves the kingdom—girls have to be everything.

And, I would add, that I think we have made a lot of progress in gender equality since these issues were raised in my childhood in the ’70’s and ’80’s: today it’s just as important for boys and fathers to be thin and popular as it is for their moms and daughter to be smart and rich.

The article doesn’t mention it explicitly, but I think the religious angle is part of it, too, especially here. I tend to think of Newton a “capital of the religious left,” being home to, in addition to a seemingly disproportionate number of churches and synagogues, both Jewish and Protestant seminaries, a Catholic college, and an actual Chasidic Rebbe. We can debate whether buying organic or kosher is more politically correct. But in some sense this choice seems to be a luxury reserved for people who, even if we worry about paying a big mortgage, don’t actually worry about keeping chicken in our pots.

This raises two questions in my mind: first of all, who says we have to be all these things, and what is it about human psychology that we infer this intense competition? Certainly most of the other parents I’ve met seem like nice people who are, like us, simply trying to make the right choices do well for their families. It might be wise to keep in mind that destructive tendency to see others’ situation as competition goes back as far as the tenth commandment, not to covet. Secondly, what perverse incentives do we read into this article in which doing well in school, getting exercise, being involved in a church and having a good cup of coffee are now symptoms of a problem? I feel lucky that we live in walking distance of Newton Centre—we worked hard to find a house here (and are still working hard to pay for it!) because it’s a nice place to live.

As I write, the cynical answer that comes to mind is that this discussion helps sell papers. The New York Times is the parent company of the Boston Globe and, while the Times is often criticized for being elitist, it’s exactly that perception of elitism that propels it from being a metropolitan New York City publication to being a de rigueur national paper. To keep up with your neighbors in the Newton of the article, you need to take the Globe and the Sunday Times. From what I have seen in the media, it sure seems that way. But from personal experience, I’m not quite sure that’s the city I live in.

December 28, 2006

New Newton North?

Filed under: Newton, Politics — marcstober @ 4:01 pm

The big issue in local politics here is whether the city should build a new high school (and more specifically, whether it should build the high school we’ve already had an architect design).
I decided to chime in on the debate with a comment on the Newton Tab blog.

Stay tuned for a stronger endorsement (if I can come up with one) before the referendum on January 23.

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