Wednesday, December 26, 2007

And to all a good year

Don't let anyone tell you that after you retire, you will search for things to keep you busy.

This year has flown by and next year doesn't look as if it will be any less busy, thank heaven.

From now until the second week in January, posts on this blog will be sporadic because of commitments to friends and family. Besides, with the New Haven Independent on vacation, I lose my most reliable source of news and fun.

So this would be a good time for Len's Lens on Next Year, my hopes for 2008.

First, of course, is that we elect a president and Congress that will work for the American people and not for the lobbyists. This bunch we have now is much too beholden to special interests.

Bush and Cheney are just too tied up with the oil industry, so $45 a barrel oil costs more than $90 a barrel. Gas prices go up on speculation of a problem with supply or a stormy weather forecast, but don't come down again until well after positive events.

We are as much to blame for letting them get away with it and also for continuing to purchase large, gas-guzzling cars because it makes us look good to our neighbors or feel good for ourselves. We say we are safer in big vehicles that can't get out of their own way. We purchase SUVs and then forget that we cheaped out on the all-wheel drive or even if we went for the AWD, it doesn't stop us any better.

So wish No. 2 is that we come to our senses and tell car manufacturers that we want smaller but safer cars (not mutually exclusive, as companies such as Subaru have proven. Subaru doesn't make cars like the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Tundra or the Nissan Bravada and, our course, the GM, Ford and Chrysler monsters.) We need to stop buying cars that are way, way too big.

Hope No. 3 (it's really top on the personal list) is that nations like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the rest wake up one morning and realize there's room in this huge area for one small Jewish state that actually predated all the former British and French colonies by thousands of years. The borders of Iraq, TransJordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the rest were drawn up after World War I. The borders of Israel are in the Bible.

These Arabs and others in the region (you want a fight on your hands, call an Iranian an Arab) should also sit down with the Palestinians and tell them to grow up and realize that the Rolling Stones are right -- you can't always get what you want but if you play your cards right, you can get what you need. Israel wants nothing more than to be left alone and will give the Palestinians everything they need to live in peace and harmony. I will know that the Messiah is near when Palestinians go out and take the rockets away from the Hamasniks and tell them to knock it off.

I remember when Israelis were flocking to the Jericho casino before the Palestinians shot it up and spending big bucks, money that can help these people live in peace. Between 1948 and 1967, the West Bank was Jordanian territory and nobody was screaming for independence then.

Finally, I hope the Congress grows some guts and passes legislation that will hold to account those who lie and cheat and steal in the home-mortgage industry. I also hope that those who are talking about the American dream and how everybody should own their own homes would shut up. Home ownership is not for everyone. It's too bad, but in our system, some people are going to make out better than others.

I have been blessed with a great family and by finding a profession where I could have a whole lot of fun and still, in the end, earn a good living. It was pretty tight for a whole lot of years, but journalists are now able to make a living wage. I'm thankful about that.

On a personal note, a wish for those at my former newspaper in Westchester who are taking the next round of early retirement. Best of luck to you all. Spend a little time getting used to the idea and then get to work planning out the rest of your lives. There's plenty of work out there for those who want to continue working full-time. For the rest, I hope you settle in a well as I have. There is life after TJN.

Thank you to all loyal readers of Len's Lens. I hope you continue to read and enjoy in the new year.

Until next time...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thanks for saving my season

At the bottom of yesterday's rant was a plea to hear my favorite seasonal number, "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."

I'm happy to say I've spent a good part of today listening to that song, thanks to Dr. Elmo Shropshire. Dr. Elmo, as he's known to his millions of fans, is the man who recorded this wonderful song in 1979.

I got a note from Nancy at his organization with a link to his Web site (, which had a couple of links to the song, as well as other You Tube versions. It's lots of fun and thanks to Nancy for making my day.

Page 2

There's a great group called Honest Reporting ( to whom I give a few dollars when I can. It's dedicated to keeping the reporting about Israel honest. For example, there is a trial going on now in France on an appeal of a decision by the French judicial system that French television channel France 2 was defamed by a man named Philippe Karsenty, who said the al-Dura coverage was a fake.

On Sept. 30, 2000, a man named al-Dura and his son, Mohammed, were supposedly shot by Israeli troops in the West Bank. The boy was supposedly killed and his father severely wounded. The French channel, relying on film shot by a Palestinian cameraman, aired the episode and blamed Israeli troops for firing on the pair.

Over the past seven years, doubt has crept into the conclusion that Israeli did anything wrong, and now it seems the tape was doctored. A French court has finally ordered the raw tape to be shown and a decision on the tape's legitimacy is expected in February. It may be that nobody shot the boy, that he is alive and well and that the father's wounds were also only in some propagandist's imagination.

There was a photograph published by Reuters Ltd. that supposedly showed a mass of smoke over Lebanon during the was there, a photo that Reuters quickly admitted was doctored and withdrawn from publication.

The group has given its dishonest reporter of the year award to CNN's Christiane Amanpour for her awful three-part series God's Warriors in which she pilloried Christian and Jewish attempts to defend themselves from Islamic terrorists and puff-balled the Arabs.

Good for you, Honest Reporting. If you have few extra dollars, this is a good place to give them.

Page 3

Things you couldn't make up: According to the Web site GalleyCat, as reported by,, Lynn Spears' parenting guide book has been put on indefinite hold after her second daughter got herself knocked up. Lindsey Nobles, a spokeswoman for Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc., said the book written by the mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn won't be published now, but hasn't been canceled. Lynne's parenting advice book was to have been called Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World, according to the New York Daily News..

Wait, it gets better. Jamie Lynn is the star of kids' television network Nickelodeon's "Zoey 101" . Sigh.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Y'know, you'd think they'd learn

Are you ready for this one?

What's the great idea the federal brain trust has spawned to get us out of the housing debacle?

Wait for it...Lenders should make sure borrowers are able to repay the loans before granting credit.

That's it. What that means is that up to now, lenders have not, repeat not done their duty to be sure that the people to whom they lend money have got a ghost of a chance of being able to keep up their payments.

And it's not the first time this has gone on. More about that later.

And if you want to read my rant about the whole mess:

So who's to blame for this mess?

Blame it on the system? Sure. In the spirit of trying to convey the ability to own a piece of the American dream, a home of one's own, regulators and lenders skipped that little part of the equation.

One should also heap much of the blame, or perhaps most of the blame, on the fly-by-nights, the finaglers, the get-it-while-you-can operators who didn't care whether the borrower could pay back the loan, whether the borrower would eventually default and lose the house and all the money he or she had sunk into it. Why? Because they got fat fees for setting up the loan and then they could sell the loans to investors who bought them sight unseen.

It is those hedge funds and securitizers who are losing, as they should. Talk about buying a pig in a poke. But the loan granters should be held to task as well. They should be made to forfeit the huge profits they made by not explaining the consequences of taking out an adjustable or balloon or pay-what-you-wish loan to the borrower. Even if they explained it to the borrower, they didn't take the next step: telling the borrower, "I've looked at the numbers and there is no way on this green Earth you can afford this payment. Once you add in insurance, taxes, upkeep, utilities, and the inevitable increase in payments after the initial six months or year or whatever, you are in the hole even if there is no increase in taxes, insurance, utilities, upkeep and the million little costs a house presents. You should put down that pen and run out of this office now."

Of course they never said this.

Who else is at fault? The borrower, of course. It's nice to own your own home, but not if you can't afford the payments. The average borrower can add and subtract: add their income, subtract the amount of mortgage, fees, insurance food, clothing, car payments or costs and the rest. If the resulting number is a minus, they cannot afford this home, no matter what the ganif across the desk says.

So, do you think these guys have learned their lesson? Not on your abacus. There are still guys on television hawking cars and saying that no matter how lousy or lacking your credit is, you can drive away with a new car. What do they care? Before you turn the key, the loan has been sold to a bank and the dealer is counting his profit.

It's an axiom that history repeats itself. It certainly has in this case.

I remember around 1988 or 1989, I was working as real estate editor for the New Haven Register and I was doing a story on a condominium project somewhere in the Lower Naugatuck Valley. I had driven out to the site and it was atop a really steep hill. The site had been cleared and I think the builder was digging the holes that would become the basements.

As part of the story, I called the banker who had loaned the millions of dollars to the developer. The condo market had begun to go soft and I was wondering who would buy a condo way atop this hill, especially with the snow and ice we get.

The banker was shocked. He didn't know the project was way on top of a hill. The guy had loaned millions of dollars to the developer and had never seen the property. For all he knew, it was at the bottom of Lake Zoar.

That developer eventually went bankrupt and the bank went down the hole with him and other developers.

As Dylan wrote: "When will they ever learn?"

Page 2

I'm not a big fan of Chris Dodd, but I have to congratulate him for this master stroke of flying back to Washington from Iowa to lead the charge against the granting of retroactive immunity to those who would sell out our privacy.

Dodd spoke for a few hours -- he made sure not to call it a filibuster -- and Senate boss Harry Reid decided that he'd better rethink the bill. That gives the Senate a few more weeks to grow some guts.

By the way, it was interesting that someone decided to do a piece on how Dodd was going to be stuck on the ballot in the Connecticut primary even if he drops out before then.

The chances are he will, but this is Democratic presidential politics and the watchword is "Never say never." The Democrats have gone to dark horses before. Like I said, chances are Dodd has no chance, but remember Adlai E. Stevenson and a rat named Jimmy Carter.

Page 3

Speaking of presidential politics, what in the name of the Wide, Wide World of Sports was Joe Lieberman thinking when he came out for Sen. John McCain now?

On Neil Cavuto's Fox TV show, Lieberman said it was too important to wait, as he said he would, for the parties to determine their nominees and then pick. He had also said he wanted to be returned to the Senate, after Connecticut Democrats decided to endorse Ned Lamont, because he wanted to be able to assure that a Democrat would be elected president in 2008.

So, here he's saying that it's too important to keep his word in two instances.

Look, I know how important Lieberman thinks our continued involvement in Iraq is. I disagree. He also thinks it's important for us not to get bullied or lied to by our own experts on Iran. He feels Iran is still dangerous and that the intelligence estimate that Iran is not seeking to make an atomic bomb is naive poppycock. I'm not sure I disagree with him on that, especially since Israeli intelligence estimates say our analysis is cockeyed.

I also know Lieberman is very concerned about Israel, as am I.

But this looks lousy for Joe and I wonder how much help it is for McCain.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was very instrumental in getting Lieberman re-elected to the Senate after Democrats turned their backs on him. Many of the campaign leaders were Bloomberg operatives and a lot of their work was funded by Bloomberg. I worked on the campaign and I know this.

Unless Bloomberg has told Lieberman that he's definitely not running for president, no matter if Rudy Giuliani implodes and people decide they want neither Bible-beater Huckabee or rich-guy Romney and don't want war-monger McCain, then maybe Joe should have held off.

Unless...unless there was a commitment from McCain for vice president. Hey, Joe tried it once on the Democrat side, won it, but was denied by GOP trickery. So maybe he wants to try on the other side. After all, that would be geographically balanced ticket, if not a politically balanced one.


Page 4

Would it be too much to ask? Every time I step into a store -- Christmas music. All over the place -- Christmas music. Would it be too much to ask for once, just once, for somebody to play "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer?" I haven't heard it for two or three years.

I hope that hasn't fallen victim to political correctness, like calling Christmas Christmas. If I hear Rachel Ray yap once more about "the holidays," I think I'll puke. The holidays this. The holidays that. People are not shopping for gifts for Hanukkah -- that was over weeks ago. I don't think there's a great tradition of Kwanzaa gift-giving, especially since most of the people who celebrate Kwanzaa also celebrate Christmas and how many gifts should people be expected to purchase? There is a Muslim holiday going on now, but that isn't about gift-giving, it's about a pilgrimage to Mecca.

I guess all I'm saying is: They are Christmas gifts. Say Christmas.

And play "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" just once. That's all I ask.

Until next time...

Monday, December 17, 2007

There's a lot hidden in that etc.

This is not a "gotcha" story. It's a "be aware and be careful" story.

In the spring of 2004, we purchased a refrigerator from Best Buy. It's a great fridge, with the freezer on the bottom, well-engineered with a shelf on which to place things while loading or unloading. Since it was installed, we had not a whit of trouble from it -- until yesterday. (Dec. 16, 2007)

We noticed the plastic on one of the shelves had cracked. The shelf was no longer usable.

We also remembered we had purchased a five-year extended warranty from Best Buy. It cost us a hundred dollars but we figured the peace of mind was worth it.

Now comes the miracle: We were able to find the warranty and sales slip - all the stuff you carefully put away and eventually forget where it was that you carefully put that stuff.

Armed with the warranty booklet and the sales slip, I called the number the warranty booklet instructed one to call if one had a warranty claim.

In a remarkably short period of time (not quite as fast as Apple service, but pretty quick), a voice came on the phone, directed me to a representative, who was quickly able to tell who I was and that I had a valid warranty. I'll not identify her because she is the only actor in this story who was not authorized to speak for the company to the press.

I told her about the shelf. She told me it wasn't covered by the warranty. I asked why. She said the warranty had general exclusions and my shelf was one of them. Her computer told her so.

I quickly read the General Exclusions part of the warranty. She was very patient while I did so. I then told her that I couldn't see any language about shelves. It had the usual language about not covering intentional or accidental physical damage (remember that one: it'll be back later), spilled liquids (in a refrigerator), insect infestation, misuse, abuse and damage caused by a non-company repair person who messed up the repair.

Now we get to the good part. "Also not covered are replacement costs for lost or consumable parts (knobs, remotes, batteries, bags, belts, etc.), cosmetic damage" and more language about unauthorized and messed up repairs. I said I didn't see anything about shelves.

She said: "It must be covered by the et cetera."

When I stopped laughing, I asked her if she were kidding. Not at all, she said. It's excluded by the et cetera.
If I wanted, she would be happy to connect me to the parts-ordering department so I could order (and pay for) a shelf. I finally figured out that I was getting nowhere with the wonderfully pleasant but unmoving person. She sent my call to the parts-ordering people who were more than glad to sell me a shelf which, with shipping, handling and local tax, was a few cents shy of $85.

The more I thought about this, the more it didn't make sense.

So, like any newsman, I called the company's public relations department.

Justin Barber, a spokesman for Best Buy, told me that the warranty booklet "clearly states what is covered and what is not." I asked whether an et cetera clearly states anything. The booklet "clearly states what is covered and what is not," he repeated. He said he could not comment further, repeated the "clearly states" phrase four or five times with increasing frustration and offered to transfer me to a executive resolutions specialist. I finally allowed him to do so.

The et cetera certainly covers the situation, said Drew Schreiber, the executive resolutions specialist. If it didn't, though, the warranty exclusions against physical damage and cosmetic damage would cover it.

The warranty is there to cover the refrigerator's main goal, which is to keep food cold. If something happens that would prevent the refrigerator from keeping food cold, it would be covered, as long as it didn't also trigger the other exclusionary clauses, Schreiber explained.

There you have it. I'm not accusing Best Buy of any dirty dealing. I had a problem with a television I purchased from them and the warranty covered it.

All I'm saying is when you consider whether to purchase an extended warranty, be sure you understand what you are buying.

And hope your problem isn't excluded by the et cetera.

Until next time...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Talk about closing the barn door...

Today, (Dec. 6, 2007), the federal government, led by President Bush, announced help for people holding sub-prime mortgages who face losing their homes.

The government, using the bully pulpit it has always had but seems reluctant to use against business interests (especially oil-type and car-type business interests), has negotiated a freeze in the conversion of teaser-rate sub-prime mortgages to higher interest rates. This, it is hoped, will stem the tidal wave of foreclosures against people who cannot afford, and probably could never afford, their houses.

Even the city has gotten into the act. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Aldermanic Chairman Carl Goldfield each has announced a probe of sub-prime mortgages' effects in the city. They want to find out how many people are facing foreclosure and how many are circling the bowl. Then, they may see what they can do about it. The answer is probably nothing.

My question is the following: Where were they a year and a half ago when the specter of this financial disaster began to haunt them. Ebenezer Scrooge's three ghosts had nothing on the financial hardship that was marching toward this segment of the market.

Please read the article below. I wrote this article in the summer of 2006 for the Norwalk Hour and its weekly papers. I was not the only voice howling into the wind on this back then, although I think I was one of the first. I am not blessed with omniscience, and neither are the economists I quoted in the piece.

So please read the article and then ask the following question: Where were the feds, the mayor, the alderpeople 18 months ago when there was still time to derail this train? If I could see it, if the economists could see it, why couldn't they? And if they could see it, why didn't they do anything about it?

Article starts here
By Leonard J. Honeyman

First, there was the mortgage and it was good. Starting in the 1930s, people buying homes could pay off their houses over years instead of plunking down the whole price at once.

Then came adjustable-rate mortgages, a boon for people who moved fairly often or those who didn’t qualify for the typical 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. In the 1980s came home equity lines of credit and then interest-only and payment-option mortgages and reduced documentation and piggyback loans and even loans that let you decide how much you wanted to pay each month.

Today, there is a list of choices rivaling a diner’s menu.

The problem, according to experts, is that making a wrong choice from the menu of dozens of loan choices could leave a borrower with serious financial indigestion.
Mix in a real estate market in which home prices are flattening out or even declining in some places and interest rates that are rising from 40-year lows and you have the chance that some homeowners may end up in foreclosure or selling a house and still owing a large chunk of money, according to the FDIC and other economists and bankers.

“Widespread marketing of nontraditional products could be raising the risk profile of some mortgage lenders and consumers,” according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s FDIC Outlook.

House prices have been leveling off and will continue to fall as supply increases and demand decreases. People who have been counting on continued inflation in home prices to keep them ahead of rising interest rates should make sure they know where the lifeboats are, said Nicholas Perna, an economist and consultant for Webster Bank.

Some of those for whom those risks didn’t pan out end up in Larry F. Ginsberg’s office.

The look on their faces is one of desperation, hoping for some way to save their homes or at least get some more time to sell their homes so lenders don’t take them, said Ginsberg, a Stamford lawyer who handles bankruptcies and foreclosures.
The good news, Ginsberg said, is that his foreclosure-defense caseload hasn’t increased as a whole. But he’s seeing more foreclosures of those nontraditional loans, especially adjustable-rate mortgages and negative-amortization loans.

Foreclosures in Fairfield County aren’t increasing because the county is so affluent that negative economic trends get here later than other parts of the nation and even the state, he said. In Wilton, for example, there were two in the last 180 days.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, serious delinquencies, which include foreclosures, fell in the first quarter of this year as much as half a percentage point in southern Connecticut from the first quarter of last year.

A number of bankers and economists agreed that the risks are greater for first-time home buyers, those with poorer credit scores and immigrants who aren’t familiar with the myriad of choices and the confusing mortgage language.

The non-traditional loans aren’t just a scam. For people who know how to use credit and for those whose financial picture is bright, negative-amortization loans, ARMs, and interest-only loans may save them money, said Any Crews Cutts, deputy chief economist for Freddie Mac, a quasi-governmental corporation that buys mortgages from banks.

For example, a homeowner with an interest-only loan can save around $800 a month in the first year and more in subsequent years, according to, an Internet mortgage-calculation site. The trick is to remember that the money is still owed and must be paid, either at the end of the mortgage or when the house is sold.

“What has changed, however, is how these loans have been marketed and used in recent years. Lenders have targeted a wider spectrum of consumers, who may not fully understand the embedded risks, but use the loans to close the affordability gap,” said the FDIC. A study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies also confirms the trend of borrowers using interest-only loans and pay-option loans to purchase homes they might not otherwise be able to afford.

There is still no problem as long as there is sufficient equity in the house to cover any rise in interest rates or any hike in the amount owed. Equity is what’s left over when the amount owed on the house is subtracted from its value.

So you’d think that borrowers would be as careful not to max-out the equity in their homes as they may be not to max-out credit cards, but you’d be wrong, said Todd Martin, an economist who is a consultant for Peoples Bank.

For example, fully 43 percent of people who bought their first homes in 2005 borrowed every nickel of that purchase, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In addition, nearly nine of 10 Freddie Mac-backed mortgages that were refinanced in the second quarter of this year resulted in new mortgages with loan amounts that were at least 5 percent greater than the original, Cutts said.

Much of that money is going into paying off other financial obligations, including credit cards, car loans, as well as home improvements and money to start a business.

“Because rates on home equity lines of credit have risen to 8.25 percent or higher, borrowers who are looking for an inexpensive way to finance home improvements or business investments, or to consolidate high cost debt, are turning to cash-out refinance, Cutts said. “These borrowers are often willing to refinance into higher rates on their first…mortgages,” she said.

That’s true even though the interest rates for the new mortgages are 8 percent higher that the previous loans, she said.
So what? For the well-financed homeowner with plenty of equity in the home and good future job prospects, the answer is probably not much.

“Banks have given the consumer a long rope to hang themselves, but I don’t believe the average borrower is digging a hole for themselves.” Cutts said. Consumers have gotten very smart about options. On average, there is a solid amount of equity, with enough money to cover the payments easily, she said.

“Where I see the problem is first-time home buyers not realizing the water heater breaks and has to be repaired. Trying to afford an unaffordable house” carries more risk than some homeowners can handle, Cutts said.

“This is a time for people to be cautious,” economist Perna said. “Remember, it’s very difficult to refinance if you don’t have any equity in your home. People should behave as if they were bound to be blindsided by something,” he said.

Fully 41 percent of the people who face foreclosure get into trouble not because they are spendthrifts, but because their income is reduced and they can’t pay their loans, according to Freddie Mac figures. Illness claims another 18.9 percent.

Those are the people who end up in lawyer Ginsberg’s office, trying to keep their homes after receiving notice of foreclosure.
Ginsberg agrees that the lack of equity is the biggest stumbling block. People take out a 100 percent mortgage and then “there is a loss of job and you miss three payments and there you are,” he said. In today’s market, the house won’t appreciate in value quickly enough to provide a cushion, he said.

Since most of his clients are referred by friends or other attorneys, Ginsberg said he often could do little but buy more time for the homeowner to sell their house and reduce their debt, or to hold off the inevitable a bit longer.

The experts say that potential mortgage borrowers should know what they are getting into and how easily their dream can turn into a nightmare. Those sleepless nights, however, can be avoided.
If a borrower sees trouble coming because of a job loss or an illness, the first place to go is to the lender, said Chris Dannen, vice president and residential lending sales manager for Peoples Bank.

He said his bank and others don’t want to own real estate so they will work with any reasonable borrower to find a way that the client can keep the home, even to restructuring the loan. But the key is to seek help before foreclosure, he said.

All the experts interviewed said potential borrowers should get advice from reputable sources before taking out the loan. Those sources include the Connecticut Department of Banking, the state Department of Housing, the Connecticut Housing Finance Agency and the local housing agencies. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has literature and often runs seminars in home ownership and mortgage lending, especially for lower-income people. On line, the Home Loan Learning Center, a page erected by the Mortgage Bankers Association, is a good place to start.

The most important bit of advice, they all say, is the most basic. If the offer or the deal or the mortgage seems to good to be true, it probably is."

Article ends here

Again, why was nothing done back then?

Until next time...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mother Nature plays a trick and other concerns

Memo: To Mother Nature
Dear Ms. Nature:

You obviously forgot to read the New Haven municipal Web site before deciding on your own schedule this year.

If you had read the Web site, you would not have had the leaves on the trees quite so long. How rude of you to have the times chosen for leaf collection pass with no leaves to collect!

The folks who collect the leaves even added another collection time and you did not arrange for most of the leaves to be on the ground in time for that collection either. And now, you have brought a big wind to blow the leaves back from whence they came. At the risk of redundancy, how rude!

So now, we have the fussbudgets who insist that nary a leaf should be seen on somebody's front lawn. I'm lucky, all my leaves migrated to my backyard where, as far as I am concerned, they can spend the winter It's sort of a Cancun for leaves.

There is one serious part of this, however. That's when the leaf removal people who are too cheap to buy a vacuum rig for their trucks blow the leaves into piles in the street. Children like to play in the leaves. Older children driving cars like to drive into the piles and watch the leaves scatter in the wind. That's a real danger for kids, so parents, please tell your kids it's fine to play in leaves on your lawn, but not in the street.

As far as I'm concerned, people can leaf well enough alone (sorry, I had to) on their lawns, but they should sweep leaves off the sidewalks (do you hear, caretakers at Mondo Condo at the top of the Fountain Street hill, across from West Prospect Avenue?) The leaves are full of mold and when you walk on them, you stir up the mold and stirs up people who are allergic to mold and have problems breathing. Breathing is definitely recommended over the alternative.
The city should crack down on the people who blow leaves into the street. Wet leaves can be as slippery as snow and ice. So, police should give them tickets, but whatever you do, don't ask them if they're here legally.

Page 2

I am happy to hear that Sudan freed Gillian Gibbons, the British woman who was arrested and jailed for allowing her 7-year-old students in that nation to call their new teddy bear Muhammad. You know Sudan. It's the nation that brought you the Darfur catastrophe and genocide.

Ms. Gibbons was freed from her 15-day jail sentence and spirited out of the country after some moderate Muslims from Britain had a "now look, you idiot" conversation with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Hey, the 15-day sentence was a gift: She could have gotten 40 lashes and 60 days in the slammer, or, as marchers on Friday demanded, stood up before a firing squad.

The non-moderate Muslims were ticked off because the teacher allowed her students to name the bear Muhammad, which insults Islam, according to them.

According to most thinking Muslims, the radicals are the ones who are insulting Islam, as well as the world's intelligence.

Page 3

I'm sorry for Paul Bass, who got his car towed because of street sweeping in his neighborhood. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut, but in my neck of the woods, if your car is parked in front of your house when the street sweeper comes along, the driver just steers it around the car and you just don't get the gutter in front of your house swept. That seems like more of a just outcome than having to shell out a couple of hundred dollars for a fine and to enrich the towing companies.

While I'm on the subject, let me reiterate about the Orthodox Jew who had his car towed because the city posted the towing in his neighborhood on one day of a major Jewish holiday and did the sweeping the next. He could not drive his car because it is religiously prohibited. He got his ticket fee back from the city, but still have to pay the tow fee.

That's not fair. It's also not fair that things like the collection of hazardous waste should be only done on a Saturday, when Orthodox Jews can't participate. Orthodox Jews pay as much in taxes as the next guy, maybe more. It wouldn't kill the city to cut them a break and advertise that the collection center could be opened on a Wednesday once in a while.

Page 4

I love streetcars. I take the T is Boston whenever I can. I have taken streetcars in many European cities. I think Mexico City has electric buses, as well as a well-run subway.

I there is a chance to have streetcars in New Haven, we should go for it. They don't puff out the fumes that the Diesel engines of our buses do and are a lot more fun to ride -- a lot smoother than buses.

Three cheers for the federal funded study that could lead to the clang clang clang of the streetcar on New Haven streets.

Until next time...