What did the Fessenden School know about “Howie” Leung?

There is a deeply disturbing report in the Concord Monitor, a New Hampshire newspaper, about how school administrators in Concord had failed to act upon red flags relating to the behavior of teacher Primo “Howie” Leung around students at a middle school there starting in 2015. Leung, who was concurrently a teacher at a summer program operated by Fessenden School in Newton, Mass., was arrested earlier this year and charged with two counts of aggravated rape of a child, one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child over 14. Some of these alleged assaults took place at a summer program operated by the Fessenden School.

To date, Leung has been the only teacher ever charged with abusing children at the Fessenden School, despite decades of reports and the arrest of two teachers in the 1970s for assaults that took place outside of Fessenden. At the time, Fessenden administrators lied to the media and to investigators about abuse on campus by teachers there, and at other times never reported claims of abuse to authorities. Since 2011, even though myself and many others have called for an independent investigation about abuse at the Fessenden School, the school and its administrators (including former Headmaster David B. Stettler) and lawyers have striven to cover up reports, downplay allegations, and deflect responsibility for the horrors inflicted upon students.

However, where Fessenden failed, investigators in New Hamsphire persevered and published what they learned. The reporters at the Concord Monitor, Alyssa Dandrea and Jonathan van Fleet, summarized what happened. We now have a better idea of Leung’s M.O., even while the Fessenden School claimed it had cleaned up its act. Here are some excerpts:

The girl, a former Concord student who is now 17, told police she was sexually assaulted by Leung multiple times in 2015 and 2016 at the Fessenden School in West Newton, Mass., which provides an overnight English Language Learning summer program.

In 2015, the girl would have been 13 years old. Think about that for a moment. This is during the tenure of David Stettler, the same administrator who pledged that the safety of students was the school’s “highest priority.”

Concord school officials were alerted Dec. 10 [2018] that Leung had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” with an 18-year-old female student, who is a different student than the victim Leung is accused of sexually assaulting. Leung was reportedly seen by other students kissing the senior girl in a car in Concord.

District officials said they did not report the incident with the 18-year-old to Concord police because of the student’s age. However, they did forward the results of their investigation to the Department of Education, which ultimately notified authorities.

Leung remained on the job for 3½ months before he was put on paid administrative leave.

Here, we see that this school took the Fessy path, avoiding notifying authorities and even keeping the teacher on the payroll — and around students — after serious red flags were raised. The difference between Fessenden and Concord, though: Concord at least notified somebody, who eventually dropped a dime.

At school board meetings in recent months, community members said there were many red flags before Leung’s arrest that should have caught the attention of administrators. Parents said he had close relationships with several female students he taught and would bring them coffee or buy them lunch.

Perkins said students should not be permitted to spend “significant time” with teachers whom they don’t have for class, and that students should not be permitted to change their schedules without written permission from their parents. She also encouraged the development of a policy that discourages staff from socializing with students outside of school.

Some Fessenden alumni will remember similar tales from the dark days of Fessenden in the 60s and 70s, when teachers like Arthur Clarridge groomed young boys with offers of car rides and special attention.

In 2014, a Rundlett Middle School student told her friends the way Leung treated some female students made her feel uncomfortable.

The girl, who was in seventh grade at the time, was called into the office the day before Christmas break, accused of spreading “malicious and slanderous gossip” and suspended for three days by principal Sica.

“A sexual predator will use any tools at his or her disposal, including ambiguity of rules, a lack of enforcement of rules, or a charismatic personality to accomplish it,” the report continued.

Sound familiar? Look at the comments by students who were abused at Fessenden and tried to report what had happened. Adults ignored them, and in some cases Fessenden victims were expelled.

District communications obtained by the Monitor in a right-to-know request this summer show that officials were aware of interactions between Leung and the 18-year-old student that included “friendly emails,” the “frequent” presence of the student in Leung’s classroom, Leung’s recruitment of the student to the Fessenden School summer program, and Leung giving rides home to the student and a $200 gift to the student that he said was for her mother.

So the Fessenden program was allegedly used by Leung in cases involving two students. The question I have: How old was the second student when this started?

More importantly, what did Fessenden do when it came to training and monitoring this teacher? Remember, Leung was only charged for alleged abuse at Fessenden after New Hampshire educational officials reported him. The Fessenden School (led by Headmaster Steven J. Armstrong since July 2018) either failed to monitor what he was up to, or if they had suspicions, never reported them to authorities.

Two reports about Leung were made to the Concord School District. The longer 100-page report which probably contains additional details about Leung, has not been made public. The shorter 10-page report consists of recommendations for schools to detect predators while improving student safety.

But at least the reports were made. Fessenden has not attempted any sort of independent report. Indeed, of the six points I highlighted at the end of “Headmaster David Stettler’s latest (and probably last) letter to Fessenden alumni“, five still remain true:

  • David Stettler only told alumni about some of the earlier cases in 2011, and only because the Boston Globe had just reported some of the cases. In other words, it was damage control, not an effort to promote transparency or justice.

  • No Fessenden administrator, board member, or legal counsel has ever been cited for negligence in failing to report abuse of children at the Fessenden School.

  • The child predators were able to get away with their crimes for years at Fessenden, and possibly continue their activities after they left. They got away with these sickening crimes, scot-free.

  • The victims were left without support, ashamed of what had happened to them and traumatized by the abuse. Many have been unable to come to terms with what they experienced, and as adults became addicted to drugs or suffered problems relating to people. Some committed suicide.

  • There has never been any independent investigation into what happened from the 1940s through the 1980s and how the school handled those episodes (the “comprehensive, detailed, and impartial investigation” he refers to below relates to a current member of the Fessenden faculty).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There needs to be an independent investigation of what happened at the Fessenden School over many decades and why administrators, Fessenden’s lawyers, and Fessenden trustees failed to monitor staff and report predators to authorities even after reports of abuse surfaced.

2019 Newton City Council Elections: Won’t get fooled again

It’s election season here in Newton, and residents have had lots of people knocking on their doors to ask for their votes in the 2019 Newton City Council elections.

Before I share my recommendations, I would like to share a short tale about elections in Newton.

I learned a lesson some years ago after voting for a local mayoral candidate who had a great ground game and engaging style. While his opponent assumed victory would be easy, this candidate actually pounded the pavement, knocked on doors in every one of Newton’s 13 villages, and talked with thousands of potential voters. He was earnest, and knew how to say encouraging things about issues that mattered.

I trusted him, and gave him my vote, as did more than 10,000 other voters.

However, as soon as he was elected, he went out of his way to accommodate developers like Robert Korff in their bids to get special treatment and outsized profits from the parcels they had purchased or leased.

Case in point: the 28 Austin Street project, leased to a developer for the equivalent of just over $10,000 per year. The cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment there: between $2800 and $3700 per month:

28 Austin Street prices

I learned my lesson. I did not vote for him when he was up for re-election, and I’m far more careful now when it comes to selecting candidates for mayor or city councillors. For the candidates who knock on my door, I will ask hard questions about local issues that matter to me, especially around development:

  • Where do they stand on the Riverside development? Do they agree that the developers — Robert Korff and B.H. Normandy — should be allowed to rip up a signed agreement negotiated with residents and the city to build about 300 new units, and instead build a vastly oversized luxury compound on a small, two-way street connecting Auburndale and Newton Lower Falls?
  • Where do they stand on Northland, another oversized development planned for the chronically gridlocked Needham Street in Newton Upper Falls?
  • Are they acting on residents’ concerns about rezoning Washington Street? Do they support the current mayor’s plan for high density, 5-10 story buildings running from West Newton Square all the way down to the Lake, even though a Newtonville Area Council survey found that more than 90% of city residents do not want this?
  • Do they use the term “NIMBY”? This patronizing acronym is intended to steamroll all arguments against massive development. Paradoxically, “Newton NIMBY” lumps in people who are concerned about a lack of affordable housing in proposed “market rate” developments with zealots who don’t want ANY affordable housing in Newton. Any candidate, elected official, or activist who casually uses this insult to describe any resident who dare to voice objections to high-density luxury developments and teardowns of modest single family homes to build McMansions don’t deserve support, in my opinion.

Of course, not every candidate for Newton City Council knocks on my door, or even makes their proposed platforms publicly available. Some outright refuse to state where they stand on Riverside, at least in part because of questionable advice from Alissa Ocasio Giuliani, a lawyer who reports to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller at Newton City Hall.

Fortunately, there are several local organizations that are vetting candidates, and this list of recommended city council candidates, from NewtonVotes.org is the one I will use as a starting point (links to candidates’ websites can be found on that page).

  • Ward 1 – Allan Ciccone Sr
  • Ward 2 – Emily Norton
  • Ward 2 – At Large – Tarik Lucas
  • Ward 2 – At Large – Jennifer Bentley
  • Ward 3 – Julia Malakie
  • Ward 3 – At Large – Pamela Wright
  • Ward 5 – Rena Getz
  • Ward 5 – At Large – Paul Coletti
  • Ward 6 – Lisa Gordon
  • Ward 6 – At Large – Greg Schwartz

NewtonVotes.org, incidentally, has a statement on its front page that I totally agree with:

“We are residents who think the City Council should work on behalf of voters, rather than for large, for-profit developers. We support village-scale development, affordable housing rather than luxury units, and small, local businesses, not national chains.”

NewtonVotes.Org website

For the full list of candidates in the 2019 Newton City Council elections, and to see sample ballots, visit the city’s official election website.

Why Amazon’s “Buy Box” policy attracts counterfeit books and cheaters

If you follow publishing news like I do (I own a small publishing company that specializes in how-to guides) you have probably heard about Amazon’s misguided policy change from a few years ago that allowed third-party sellers of books to “own the buy box” on publishers’ book listings. I predicted at that time that it would attract a wave of counterfeit books, which has proven to be true. But I didn’t anticipate another kind of cheater: Third-party book sellers passing off used books as new.

Amazon opened the buy box to booksellers in 2017. It said that it was following the same policy that was used in other parts of its marketplace, which allows third-party sellers to control the buy box on product listings if they offer the product at a lower price than the official source, which is usually the manufacturer or distributor.

Publishers immediately cried foul. This statement from the Independent Book Publishers Association outlines the concerns of independent publishers (disclosure: I was an IBPA board member at the time and gave feedback on early drafts).

The types of books most likely to be pirated

As an Amazon FBA seller of other types of goods (namely, genealogy charts and forms) I knew very well the threat posed by counterfeits. It’s a long-standing problem that has attracted lots of negative press (“Amazon May Have a Counterfeit Problem“, “Leveeing a Flood of Counterfeits on Amazon“, “How counterfeits benefit Amazon“) and impacted my company, which was forced to invest in Amazon’s anti-counterfeit service Transparency.

For an example, one publisher, Bill Pollock of No Starch Press, reported repeated incidents of counterfeit books being sold by Amazon. The first reports surfaced in 2017, and earlier this month it happened again.

I have been impacted by another problem that IBPA predicted: Third-party sellers flogging used books as new. It’s actually a far bigger problem for me than counterfeit books, and I now pay an independent contractor to help me monitor my own listings.

Here’s what I think is happening:

Publishers or Amazon sellers who have products that are easy or cheap to copy and have high list prices have the most to lose with the Amazon buy box policy. There is a real risk of pirates taking over listings with counterfeit, low-quality copies. Potentially, they will have to deal with third-party sellers passing off used goods as new.

My company publishes IN 30 MINUTE guides and cheat sheets. They are relatively low-margin and have a low retail price – $11.99 to $12.99 for most books, $6.99-$7.99 for the cheat sheets. Yes, they could copy the books, and do some cheap digital short runs to get bogus inventory into the system, but because my list prices are already so low I don’t think they could make much. The pirates know this, and tend to go for higher-priced titles (including textbooks) from other publishers. No Starch Press was a repeat victim of this, and I have heard of other cases, too.

Third-party sellers flogging used books as new

As mentioned earlier, I do have issues with other sellers listing used items as new. They are almost always third-party sellers concentrating on the book market, and offer the books as “new” with amazingly low prices to win the buy box or push my listing out of it. They have not purchased the book new through wholesale channels in which I operate (such as Baker & Taylor or Ingram), because the discount is below my wholesale prices — in some cases, below the cost of printing and shipping the book from the printer!

In all cases in which I have ordered one of these “new” books to determine the source, they have turned out to be used. This seller even sent a shrink-wrapped book with a USED sticker on it:

Amazon Buy Box used book sold as new

This book was sold as “new” on Amazon, winning the buy box, yet was a used copy by the seller’s own admission!

Third-party book sellers playing games with shipping prices

Here’s another trick third-party sellers use to take publishers out of the buy box: Offering a new book for a ridiculously low price and then charging a ridiculously high shipping fee.

Check out the example below for C. Diff In 30 Minutes. The paperback retails for $14.99, but my listing is no longer am shown in the buy box because a third-party seller from Missouri is offering the book for $3.99. Sounds like a great deal, right?

C Diff Bogus Buy Box 3-99 sample croppedBut clicking “4 new from $3.99” takes people to a page that shows the seller charging an additional $27.99 for non-expedited shipping from Missouri to the Boston area, even though USPS Media Mail costs $2.75 for book that size, USPS First Class around $5, and a two-day Priority Mail flat-rate envelope $7.95.

C Diff Bogus Buy Box 3-99 plus shipping 640pxIt’s also not clear if the book being sold is actually new. At least one customer of the third-party seller reported that a book sold as new was actually used and “looks stolen”:

Amazon stolen book report

When I notified Amazon of this problem, they restored my publisher’s listing to the Buy Box … but the “3.99” version is still listed for sale, even though the actual cost to the customer is more than $30.

Used sales are an important option

Don’t get me wrong — it’s fine for sellers who resell used copies listed as used for a profit, and think it’s a good option for students and others who can’t afford a new copy. I also have no issue with a customer or library which received a copy of one our new books not wanting or needing it, and turning around to sell it as new (or returning it).

That said, every time a third-party seller lists a used book as new on Amazon and underprices the publisher, it’s taking money that the real publisher would otherwise get from the sale of an actual new book. It deceives buyers, and it cheats authors and publishers out of revenue and royalties.

What they are doing violates Amazon TOS, too. Despite repeatedly reporting the bogus “new” cases to Amazon, I have not received any indication that Amazon took any action. The seller of the shrink-wrapped example with the “USED” sticker mentioned earlier is still selling books as a third party seller, and has lots of negative reviews:

Amazon seller negative reviews

After observing the mess caused by the Buy Box policy, and the apparent inaction on the part of Amazon to proactively stop the cheaters or punish wrongdoers, it’s clear that publishers are on the losing end of this fight. Pirates and sellers know it, too. Amazon’s message to them:

Win the buy box however you can. We don’t care if the original publisher/creator gets nothing. We won’t police your listings. We probably won’t punish you if you get caught, or we will only give you a light slap on the wrist. Even if many of Amazon’s customers are complaining, you can still stay in business on Amazon.

In terms of sellers of other types of goods winning or losing the buy box, Amazon makes available special services to brand owners (trademark owners with items in the Amazon Brand Registry) to fight counterfeits, including expedited take-down requests and access to paid services such as Amazon Transparency. The number-one point on the Amazon Transparency “learn more” page is “Proactive counterfeit protection.”

Sounds great in theory, but brands have to pay for it! For me, it works out to about 15 cents per item to use this service, not including additional manufacturing and design fees.

In other words, I’m paying for Amazon’s failure to police their own marketplace and prevent pirates and cheats. I’ve told them I won’t be proactively signing up brand SKUs for this service unless Amazon greatly reduces or eliminates the cost.

What has your experience been with Amazon counterfeit books or other goods?

A new Social Security guide gets an unexpected boost from YouTube

Last month, my company i30 Media released a two-volume guide to Social Security retirement and disability benefits: Social Security In 30 Minutes. This was a big project, but I was fortunate to work with a true pro, author Emily Pogue, who worked in human services for years and knew the ins and outs of various Social Security programs, including SSDI, SSI, and the gigantic retirement insurance system used by tens of millions of Americans.

Early reviews have been great. Here’s what Kirkus had to say about Volume 1 of the guide:

In this debut personal finance book, Pogue covers a wide range of topics, from who’s eligible to collect Social Security benefits to what useful information can be found on the Social Security Administration’s website—all in fewer than 100 pages, including a glossary.

The author walks readers through how Social Security benefits are calculated, the circumstances that can reduce them, and their long-term impact on total income. However, because many of these aspects are influenced by individual earnings and state regulations, the book offers explanations in general terms and encourages readers to consult experts regarding some of the more specific requirements.

Although the book’s primary target audience is readers planning for retirement, Pogue also explains how spouses and dependents may also qualify for benefits. Charts and examples make it relatively easy to understand how, for instance, one’s outside earnings affect benefit levels and tax rates, and readers will be able to easily use the provided calculation formulas.

The book also uses examples to encourage readers to make financially sound decisions, showing, for example, how collecting benefits as soon as one is eligible can substantially reduce one’s overall earnings.

The book is informative and easy to understand, which is no small achievement, given the many variables involved. There are several references to other books in the publisher’s series, such as the companion volume, which covers the disability portion of Social Security; there’s also an excerpt from a book by another author, Personal Finance for Beginners in 30 Minutes, Vol. 2. Despite these advertisements, however, the book is a solid account of how a complicated benefits system works, and it will be useful to readers looking for a concise introduction.

A Social Security explainer that packs a lot of information into a brief text.

NetGalley reviews were also very strong. I was particularly pleased to see this review of Vol. 1, which was also published on Goodreads:

I could not believe how much I learned. I have been reading the Social Security website and searching the web for info for almost a year straight and learned the answers to everything I was looking for and more in this short read. Thank you for making this book.

Another NetGalley review for Vol. 2:

In my work as co-director of an employability program for people with disabilities, one of the biggest concerns of those we support are questions around how working will impact their Social Security benefits. This short guide is informative, well written, and chock full of easy-to-understand details about the labyrinthine benefits world. I’ll be sharing much of this information with the families we support. A must-read for anyone who desires to know more about the process.

But some of the most interesting reaction to the guide has been on YouTube. When the books were launched, I created a few simple screencasts outlining some of the main points and posted them on the IN 30 MINUTES YouTube channel. Compare the number of views for the Social Security videos compared to the videos on other topics (i30 Media also publishes a book about Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel cheat sheets, a Twitter guide, etc.):

YouTube Social Security videos grid with numbersMore than 5,000 views in six days for Social Security: SSI and SSDI, side by side? It’s a seven-minute video outlining some of the points made in one of Emily’s charts in the Volume 2. It currently has 14 “likes” and 2 “dislikes.” By comparison, a new video about Twitter animated GIFs received just 12 views in the same time period, and no likes or dislikes.

The activity on the ongoing series of Social Security videos is not just helping to stroke my ego or fulfill my latent dream to become a YouTube influencer (with only 2,760 subscribers, the In 30 Minutes YouTube channel still has a long way to go). It has three direct benefits to my business:

  • Book awareness. About 10,000 people have become aware of the titles and the author via the short introduction at the beginning of each video.
  • Brand awareness. I mention that I am the publisher of the guides, which include more than 20 titles.
  • Sales. I have a very primitive tracking system which shows when visitors from YouTube go to the official book website for Social Security In 30 Minutes, and from there I can follow sales via my own website or Amazon.

Upon seeing the success of the first two or three videos, I set out to record some more videos on the topic. But I have to be careful that the channel doesn’t become all Social Security all the time. Many subscribers are there for other topics (mostly technology related) so it’s important to serve that audience, too.

 

Remembering Adrian Hooper

Years ago on this blog I posted some thoughts about the terrible sexual abuse scandal that the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts, was forced to reveal.

I didn’t expect it, but that post became a catalyst for dozens of victims to come out of the shadows and share their painful experiences while students at Fessenden. One of the accounts left by a former Fessenden student was particularly heartbreaking:

… The worst of the several sexual abuses was the violent sexual attack carried out on by [former Fessenden teacher Claude] Hasbrouck. I won’t go into detail. But I had had enough. I left during a snow storm and walked the 8 miles into Boston. During that walk I had a psychic break. I cried, a raged, I came to the realization that I could not trust those who were meant to help mold, nurture and protect me. The adults and the authoritarians in my life could not be trusted. They had betrayed, abandon and abused me.

From that day on I became oppositional, Defiant, rebellious and non trusting of other humans. I was moved two more boarding schools where I refused to toe the line and was expelled from both. I ran away from home at 16, never went back and have been running from the pain and shame most of my life, whether it be geographically or by self medicating with drugs or alcohol. I guess I am luckier that a few Fessy alumni who OD’d or committed suicide. The total cost of the illicit drugs I ingested to numb the shame and pain, the rehabs, the psychologists, psychiatrists, the antidepressants is incalculable.

Gratefully I have been drug free for 16 years, but since 1963 the harm done by the pedophiles and sadists at Fessenden still lingers.

The author of that account, Adrian Hooper, passed away last month. He was in his late 60s.

I never met Adrian in person, but over a period of five years had many conversations via email. A group of us became united in our mission to bring justice to the victims, and force a full investigation of the horrors inflicted upon students by certain faculty members and school officers and covered up by successive headmasters, boards, and administrations. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Adrian to acknowledge his abuse in public, but I also can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to keep his secret bottled up inside for so many years.

Adrian in a Boston Globe video about the Fessenden case

After connecting with other victims and a lawyer specializing in institutional abuse cases, he settled with Fessenden a few years ago. He told us how hard it was to dredge up those specific memories when talking with his attorney and later with the Boston Globe Spotlight investigative team. At the same time, I think the settlement served as recognition of what Fessenden had done to him (something that he didn’t get when he was young) and the process of meeting and learning other survivors gave some reassurance that he wasn’t alone. Was he able to achieve a certain degree of closure about what had been inflicted upon him at the Fessenden School? I certainly hope so.

Via his Facebook and Instagram feeds, I was able to learn about the other side of his life — his lovely family, the beautiful sailboats he crewed or followed as a young man, and his new home on the Florida Gulf Coast. He loved being near the sea, gardening, and the family dog. He treasured his wife and the time they were able to spend together. He also talked about his efforts to help others cope with addiction and recovery through a network of treatment centers that he co-founded.

In short, it seemed that Adrian was able to get himself to a good place in life after the trauma he suffered and the torment that followed. His untimely passing came as a sad shock.

Adrian, whenever I pass by the Fessenden School, I will think of you.

Whenever I see a boy trudging alone through the snow as dusk approaches, I will think of you.

Whenever I see a wooden racing yacht cutting through the distant waves, sails billowing as they catch the gusting wind, I will think of you.

Rest in peace, my friend.

How a question on Amazon about dog pedigree led to a new product

So my company just launched a new product, a kit that includes genealogy charts for dogs, health forms, and paper sheets that can be shared with caregivers and vets. This blog post discusses how the product came to be.

A few years ago, I received a question about one of the genealogy products I sell on Amazon. The product is a pedigree chart, printed on archival quality paper, intended to help genealogists track back up to eight generations along maternal and paternal lines.

The question wasn’t about using the charts to track people. It was about dogs:

Pedigree charts for dogs questionWhen I first saw the question arrive in my email inbox, I had a double take. I assumed that it was obvious the charts were for people tracking their own ancestry. But as soon as I saw the replies from my customers, I realized that there was another use case for the charts: People tracking the pedigree of their dogs.

And no wonder. There are millions of owners of pedigree dog breeds who want to track their dogs’ lineage. Here’s a list of the top 15 breeds (out of 192 total!) for 2018 from the American Kennel Club:

  1. Retrievers (Labrador)
  2. German Shepherd Dogs
  3. Retrievers (Golden)
  4. French Bulldogs
  5. Bulldogs
  6. Beagles
  7. Poodles
  8. Rottweilers
  9. Pointers (German Shorthaired)
  10. Yorkshire Terriers
  11. Boxers
  12. Dachshunds
  13. Pembroke Welsh Corgis
  14. Siberian Huskies
  15. Australian Shepherds

But that’s not the only group interested in their dogs’ pedigree. There are millions of dog owners who simply want to track their dogs’ genealogy because they love them deeply. Dogs are more than pets, they are members of their family. Why not use high-quality charts to track their dogs’ lineage?

Over the next 12 months, I considered whether there was a market for dog pedigree charts. I also thought about how paper forms might be used by dog and puppy owners for other purposes — tracking health history, or informing veterinarians and caregivers about canine behavior, preferred dog food, and dog activity notes.

The end result — the Friend Forms Dog Health, Activity, and Genealogy Forms Kit (21 Sheets) — was released earlier this month. There are three features that I think set it apart:

✅ Dog vaccination sheets to record vaccinations, microchip numbers, and other health data
✅ Share activity notes, food requirements, and your vet’s contact info with caregivers
✅ High-quality folder holds forms, receipts, and other pet documentation

Are there apps for this? No doubt. But some of the great advantages of pet health forms, pedigree records, and activity sheets is they never need batteries and are easier to share. They can also last for decades if stored properly — unlike digital devices or the data stored on them, which may become obsolete or deleted as accounts expire or tech companies get sold or go out of business.

Here’s what the kit looks like:

Friend Forms - Dog Health, Activity, and Genealogy Forms Kit
Friend Forms Dog Health, Activity, and Genealogy Forms Kit (21 Sheets)

Learn more about it at the official website or purchase it here or on Amazon.

Newton NIMBY, meet Newton CODS

Cods in Newton? Licensed from Depositphotos

Someone recently asked me how to handle a Twitter troll account that attacked anyone opposed to development at Riverside, regardless of the merit of the concern, as a “Newton NIMBY.”

Dealing with the troll is easy, I said. Just block them on Twitter. They won’t see your tweets, and you won’t see theirs. If the person behind the account elevates name-calling to harassment or threats, it’s possible to report that account.

But there’s another issue to address here: The use of the terms “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard”) and “NIMBYism” by people other than trolls, including activists, some Newton city councilors, and even the former mayor.

As I told this person, “Newton NIMBY” is a patronizing, insulting acronym meant to steamroll all arguments (good or bad) against massive development and put local residents on the defensive. It’s employed as a shrill battering ram against people who dare to raise questions about earlier agreements being abandoned by developers and politicians, increased traffic on small roads like Grove Street or large thoroughfares like Washington Street, the impact on school enrollment and education budgets, and how other infrastructure costs will be paid for in the years to come. Paradoxically, “Newton NIMBY” lumps in people who are concerned about a lack of affordable housing in proposed “market rate”/luxury developments with zealots who don’t want ANY affordable housing in Newton.

While it’s possible to block the Twitter trolls who use the term, I would instead suggest attempting to engage normal people and politicians with a polite question:

If you want to call me a NIMBY, would you mind if I referred to you as a CODS (Co-Opted Developer Stooge) in all conversations going forward?

If a sputtering, indignant reply is the answer (“but I haven’t been co-opted by developers!”) then he or she should understand why others might object to being called a “NIMBY.”

At that point, honest discussions can begin on the basis of mutual respect and a willingness to listen to the other side’s legitimate concerns, as opposed to starting off with condescending, sneering labels that aim to ridicule the other side and silence the debate about development in Newton.

Image licensed from Depositphotos

Thoughts on draft #3 of the Hello Washington Street zoning plan

The city of Newton is soliciting responses from residents about draft #3 of the Hello Washington Street zoning plan. The area they are talking about stretches from West Newton to Newtonville to the edge of Nonantum. Certainly no one wants to preserve run-down commercial properties, but what the mayor is trying to force on local residents (while trying to portray “Hello Washington Street” as a community-driven plan) is a massive developer giveaway worth hundreds of millions of dollars that burden the city with massive school, traffic, and infrastructure costs for decades to come. City Councilor Emily Norton was absolutely right when she said a few months back that the mayor is “bending over backwards” to accommodate developers.

Personally, I’m extremely skeptical of the way this is being handled (see Riverside and Newton’s draft zoning plans for Washington Street reveal “visioning” for what it really is) but remaining silent is not an option. Here’s the letter I sent to city councilors (residents can email the council at citycouncil@newtonma.gov).


Dear City Councillors,

I am responding to draft #3 of the vision and zoning documents for Washington Street. I have no idea if anyone will read this or any of the other comments I have made, let alone incorporate feedback from residents like me who are greatly alarmed by what’s being proposed. [UPDATE: The council president and several councilors acknowledged receipt] I have seen little change in the core concepts outlined in the successive drafts for Washington Street, despite widespread, vocal opposition from many city residents. Honestly, it seems that the current administration and some councilors would rather take their cues from developers, blogs, and the demands of activists, instead of from the ordinary residents who will be directly and irreversibly affected by this plan. Nevertheless, I want my voice to be heard, even if it is likely to be ignored.

The Zoning Document says:

“There is a strong interest in having varied building heights and cornice lines along Washington Street.”

Judging by the results of the Newtonville Area Council survey and the written comments left in the pop-up community centers when “Hello Washington Street” was launched, the above statement and similar claims made about buildings five or more stories in height are false at least where voters are concerned (from the NAC survey: “There is a strong preference for lower building heights: three or four stories.”). Conclusions in the draft plan that are based on such statements in the zoning document are therefore flawed.

The vision document says:

“Newton needs to create new housing at all levels of affordability in order to protect and promote one of the community’s core values – diversity. The city needs to expand its supply of low-income, middle-income, and even high-income housing choices.”

We have enough high-income housing choices, thanks to the relentless teardown phenomenon and desire of developers to squeeze as much profit as possible at the expense of options for ordinary middle class people, low-income households, seniors, and public workers. The above statement codifies the idea that “luxury”/”market rate” housing *must* be included in planning, which developers will be only too happy to provide en masse – with a mere sliver of options for everyone else. How about inserting language that minimizes or even eliminates the requirement that high-income housing be part of future developments?

The vision document says:

“If Newton is fortunate enough to see congestion because people are coming to shop, dine, work in, and explore the village centers, that is a sign of economic success.”

No resident sitting in a traffic jam on Washington Street in West Newton or Nonantum, let alone Needham Street in Upper Falls, Commonwealth Avenue in Newton Center, Grove Street in Auburndale, or any other thoroughfare, will be thanking city planners for enabling “economic success” at the expense of their time, effort, and other costs associated with driving to work or getting things done.

Many of the comments I have made elsewhere about Washington Street, including letters to the council and using online tools, still stand. Below, I am including my comment from March 10, 2019, which I submitted online but never got any response to and may not have been registered.

Sincerely,

Ian Lamont


My March 10 comment:

I appreciate the work that the planning dept has put into this plan, and the opportunity to redo some of the dilapidated sections of Washington Street. However, I and many other residents of Newton strongly object to the new “Village Gateway” (W-VY), “Station Area Central” (W-SC), and “Station Area Commercial” (W-SM) zoning designations. I have to ask how this was slipped into the plan considering the widespread public opposition to giant buildings expressed in surveys and the city’s own feedback-gathering process in the past year.

According to the draft, the maximum height *by right* for all of these zones will be 5 stories. If developers successfully apply for special permits at any of those sites (a requirement to maximize the value of their investments) they will be able to place gigantic buildings between 6 and 10 stories tall throughout West Newton. Village Gateway also appears in Newtonville to the edge of the Lake.

I’m sure developers and the tax office loves this prospect, but it’s not what residents asked for according to the Newtonville Area Council survey in October and the comments left in the pop-up community centers.

I participated in the early “Hello Washington Street” visioning process. The following comments were left by citizens on one of the “pop-up” centers in West Newton to collect feedback about Washington Street. Here’s what residents wrote when presented with a poster of large buildings:

“Too tall”
“Too big”
“Bad shadows”
“Big buildings ugly”
“Too urban”
“Air rights over pike”
“This doesn’t look like a suburb. Where are the trees?”
“No trees. Towers destroy neighborhood feel”
“Too tall. Too many people for the space. Too many cars. Overshadows existing homes. Overcrowding of the school system.”
“Seniors have few school age children and many no longer drive.”
“This is bogus. So unappealing I;m sure it’s only offered to make the other scenarios look better by comparison. West Newton resident.”
“No. This is not Boston. We do not have to agree to make Korff rich.”
“Never. We don’t wan’t Manhattan. “
“Have you been to Manhattan?”
“I love Manhattan and Tokyo.”
“No high rises in Newton!”
“Be careful. You will drive away all of the [] who make Newton a magnet.”
“No one who wants to make Newton a magnet can afford to live here now.”
“Underground parking is good. But these cars will still be driving around the city.”
“Way too tall. Big shadows on small houses.”
“Large number of affordable units”
“Build this over the pike”
“What about the existing residents who cannot unfortunately [] this monstrosity”
“Boston? MGH?”

In summary, almost NO ONE who lives in the city asked for developers to be granted 5 stories by right, or 10 stories by special permit. Even 4 stories is a stretch, considering the major impact on traffic, schools, and other infrastructure.

 

 

 

 

A Gold Ben Franklin Award!

This was a surprise: One of the titles my company publishes, Acid Reflux & Heartburn In 30 Minutes, won a gold Ben Franklin award from the Independent Book Publishers Association for excellence in publishing.

The author is none other than my dad, who at 80 years of age still goes to work every day at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston to treat patients, teach students, and serve as mentor to younger doctors. This book was a way for his knowledge and expertise to reach a wider range of patients suffering from acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn.

Kirkus Reviews chose Acid Reflux & Heartburn In 30 Minutes to be featured in the June 2018 indies section of the journal, and had this to say about the book:

The author begins with patient cases that show the effects of either GERD or heartburn on four people of different genders and ages. Using these stories at the very beginning of the book enables readers to immediately identify with the patients and understand that these conditions are universal. Each case ends with helpful takeaways that extract key lessons.

Subsequent chapters explore the causes of heartburn and acid reflux, how these conditions are diagnosed (including lucid explanations of medical tests and procedures), typical treatments, and a final chapter on severe acid reflux.

“Basic treatment of acid reflux,” one of the most helpful chapters, discusses foods that can trigger GERD and heartburn. Also in this chapter is a thorough look at acid-blocking medications, differentiating between H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. Here, Lamont indicates possible side effects and covers recent research that may indicate a relationship between taking acid blockers and contracting Alzheimer’s disease. “Coping with severe acid reflux” is an equally enlightening chapter because it candidly addresses medication versus surgery for more serious cases.

The author clearly describes various types of surgeries, including the recent LINX device, in simple language. He acknowledges that his intent is to provide general information rather than specific medical advice. 

Many thanks to the half-dozen publishing professionals who contributed to the success of the book, including TLC Book Design, Rick Soldin of Book-comp, Monica Hamilton, Kammy Wood, and ENMASSE. In previous years, other books in the series have won awards from IBPA and Foreword Reviews, but never the top honor, so I am very grateful for their expertise and insights.

 

Riverside and Newton’s draft zoning plans for Washington Street reveal “visioning” for what it really is

Recently, the Newton Tab published an article about the massive new development proposed for the MBTA Riverside T stop. The Tab article, titled “Crowd offers feedback about Newton’s Riverside site,” quoted Mayor Ruthanne Fuller describing the visioning process for Riverside:

“‘This process, in part, is trying to figure out what is the right size,’ said Fuller.”

I have news for Mayor Fuller: The “right size” of the Riverside development is already known.

The last time local residents were asked for input to right-size development at Riverside, discussions took more than five years. The resulting agreement, finalized in 2013, determined that the right size for Riverside was 580,000 square feet, including nearly 300 hundred new housing units.

It’s not local residents who want to go through this process all over again. It’s being driven by developer Robert Korff and his business partner BH Normandy (who negotiated the 2013 agreement). Instead of the agreed-upon 580,000 square feet, they are demanding 1.5 million square feet, including two 200+ foot tall towers, and many hundreds of additional units of luxury housing. They stand to add hundreds of millions of dollars in additional value to their project, while residents of Auburndale, Newton Lower Falls, Waban, West Newton, and other parts of Newton are saddled with massive costs related to traffic, schools, infrastructure, planning, and more.

And despite the mayor’s insistence that she is listening to local residents, the evidence that we see in the actions and policies of her administration is that while we may be heard, the preferences of Newton Voters are largely ignored.

For example, the Newtonville Area Council’s recent survey of Newton residents found that only 12% (Per NAC email: “Actually, it was 4% of all respondents, and 5% of those with a height preference”) were receptive to buildings five or more storeys tall along Washington Street. Of those who expressed an opinion about the number of housing units, 86% supported 500 or less.

Similar opinions were articulated during the long “Hello Washington Street” visioning process. The following comments were left by citizens on one of the “pop-up” centers in West Newton to collect feedback about Washington Street:

Hello Washington Street Visioning Process pop up center Newton

The comments include:

“Too tall”
“Too big”
“Bad shadows”
“Big buildings ugly”
“Too urban”
“Air rights over pike”
“This doesn’t look like a suburb. Where are the trees?”
“No trees. Towers destroy neighborhood feel”
“Too tall. Too many people for the space. Too many cars. Overshadows existing homes. Overcrowding of the school system.”
“Seniors have few school age children and many no longer drive.”
“This is bogus. So unappealing I;m sure it’s only offered to make the other scenarios look better by comparison. West Newton resident.”
“No. This is not Boston. We do not have to agree to make Korff rich.”
“Never. We don’t wan’t Manhattan. “
“Have you been to Manhattan?”
“I love Manhattan and Tokyo.”
“No high rises in Newton!”
“Be careful. You will drive away all of the [] who make Newton a magnet.”
“No one who wants to make Newton a magnet can afford to live here now.”
“Underground parking is good. But these cars will still be driving around the city.”
“Way too tall. Big shadows on small houses.”
“Large number of affordable units”
“Build this over the pike”
“What about the existing residents who cannot unfortunately [] this monstrosity”
“Boston? MGH?”

Now that the second draft of the vision and zoning plans for Washington Street have been published, it’s clear that there is a huge gap in what residents asked for and what we will be getting. Huge tracts of land from West Newton Square to the Armory/Trader Joes, parts of Newtonville on either side of the Pike, the lots where Marty’s and Whole Foods now stand, and the commercial parcels diagonally opposite Our Lady’s church in the Lake, will fall under the new “Village Gateway” (W-VY), “Station Area Central” (W-SC), and “Station Area Commercial” (W-SM) zoning designations:

draft washington Street zoning map feb 2019

According to the draft, the maximum height by right for all of these designations will be 5 stories. If developers successfully apply for special permits at any of those sites (a requirement to maximize the value of their investments) they will be able to place gigantic buildings between 6 and 10 stories tall.

This represents thousands of new units of housing (most of it market rate/luxury), and millions of new square feet of office and lab space. That’s not what residents asked for, but that’s what we’ll be getting if city councilors approve the plans for Washington Street. Similar zoning designations will likely be applied in other neighborhoods all over the city — a handout to developers worth billions of dollars, and a nightmare of traffic, massive infrastructure and school costs, and lost quality of life for the residents of Newton for decades to come.

Nobody cares about preserving an MBTA parking lot (or, for that matter, run-down commercial properties along Washington Street). But when it comes to replacing what’s there now, the people of Newton are tired of negotiating deals that are later ripped up because developers insist on getting more, and participating in acts of political theater in which their opinions are solicited and subsequently ignored. Any new vision for Riverside should align with what we asked for — and the city, the MBTA, and developers agreed to — six years ago.

If you are a Newton resident, please contact ALL Newton City councilors TODAY (easy way: EMAIL THEM ALL AT ONCE via citycouncil@newtonma.gov) and let them know what you think about the Riverside development. Even if you don’t live in Auburndale or Newton Lower Falls, your taxes will end up paying for developers’ profits through increased road, school, infrastructure, and other costs. The developers’ tactics to rip up a signed agreement also sets a precedent for similar tricks in the future all over Newton, including Washington Street, Newton Upper Falls, Newtonville, and elsewhere.