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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What are magnets good for?

TOMORROW: Conservation Commission hosting a well water safety workshop

NOTE: Participants in the well water workshop must preregister with the URI Cooperative Extension Service at (401) 874-4918 

Science helps us to understand Charlestown Town Council

Bad Decisions Arise from Faulty Information, Not Faulty Brain Circuits

Making decisions involves a gradual accumulation of facts that support one choice or another. A person choosing a college might weigh factors such as course selection, institutional reputation and the quality of future job prospects.

But if the wrong choice is made, Princeton University researchers have found that it might be the information rather than the brain's decision-making process that is to blame. The researchers report in the journal Science that erroneous decisions tend to arise from errors, or "noise," in the information coming into the brain rather than errors in how the brain accumulates information.

EDC awards grants for RI solar projects

By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island may not be a national leader in renewable energy, but the Ocean State is making progress. The Economic Development Corporation (EDC) recently approved seven grants totaling $184,334 for several residential and smaller-scale renewable energy projects.

The awards, announced April 22, represent the first round of funding from a new program that assists installers and developers working in the state’s struggling solar-energy sector. According to the Solar Foundation, Rhode Island ranks fifth out of the six New England states in solar jobs per capita.

State approves request to expand the amount of nuclear waste stored 20 miles west of Charlestown

Millstone Nuclear Power Plant gets green light to add more casks for storing spent nuclear fuel. 
By Will Collette

The Connecticut Siting Council acted a few days early, granting its tentative approval to Virginia-based Dominion Energy to vastly expand its nuclear waste storage at its Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, CT, just outside New London.

The Council will make it official at its May 2 meeting, but the commissioners have voted 7 to 0, with two abstentions, to grant approval.

The two abstaining members are both alternates; the members they stood in for are expected to also vote “yes” when the formal vote is taken on May 2.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Deflecting blame for industrial murder

Rick Perry's Explosion
By Jen Sorenson

Click here to see what's gotten Rick Perry so upset.

Follow the money

Editor's Note: under Treasurer Gina Raimondo, RI is investing 14% of RI's pension money in hedge funds - TEN TIMES the median of other states. Tom Sgouros' series attempts to explain the implications of Raimondo's risky decision.

What’s the purpose of investing in a hedge fund?  Because “hedge fund manager” is almost synonymous with “fabulously wealthy” in the popular press, lots of people think hedge funds are all about high risk and high returns.

Originally, though, hedge funds were thought to provide high returns simply by being consistent, if dull. The idea was that by “hedging” risk with investments whose value fluctuates independently from one another, a good manager could deliver solid but unspectacular results, but do so year after year. 

Since the origination of these funds, more than 40 years ago, the industry has transformed from a handful of conservative investor funds in a relative backwater of the investor world to include funds that follow a much wider variety of strategies, and have trillions of dollars under management. In the process, the meaning of the term has changes, and these days, it just means any unregulated investment fund.

Sweet Shallots!

Photo and text by KARA DICAMILLO/ News contributor

I have a confession. The caramelized shallots that accompanied my salad greens this week were so good that I could have eaten them all myself. I love the sweetness of shallots and they can be found at local farmers market at this time of year, along with the greens.

Pros and Cons of flood insurance

By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

The state is urging residents, especially those in flood zones, to buy flood insurance. But is flood insurance good for the environment? Will it be so expensive that it forces property owners to forgo coverage? 

In an era of more intense weather, heavy rains and violent storms are causing more flooding and damage to property. Hurricane Sandy, tropical storm Irene and the flood of 2010 are no longer considered anomalies.

There goes the neighborhood!

Imagine the loud parties this summer
By Will Collette

From the Westerly Tax Assessor database
As if we needed further reminders that the 1% are not like the rest of us, country music diva Taylor Swift just paid the all-time record price for a Rhode Island property - $17.75 million for a “summer house” in Westerly.

The property is located at 16 Bluff Avenue. The former owner, James M. Benson, originally bought the 10,000 square foot home in May 1996 for $3.5 million. 

The house has seven bedrooms and nine full baths. It sits on five and a quarter acres of prime ocean front in Watch Hill.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cutting Your Benefits Isn’t the ‘Middle’ Way

The rest of us are being left out of the "entitlement reform" story.
The federal budget is, according to many experts, a “political document.” It’s how our political leaders convey their priorities to the people they serve.

So what’s the political lesson of Barack Obama’s recent budget plan? He apparently thinks older people could get by with less.

The Obama budget has attracted a lot of attention — and controversy — because he’s making a rather shocking opening offer to the Republican opposition: Let’s cut Social Security benefits and Medicare spending in the name of shrinking the federal deficit.

Texan Turf War

In the land of prickly pears and scrappy people, Dallas authorities are demanding that all homeowners plant "traditional" grass in their yards.

Turf wars can be the silliest of all scuffles, and no place does silly with more zeal than Texas.

For example, the fine people of Dallas recently fell into a doozy of a turf tussle between the natives and foreigners — and the foreigners are winning. The out-of-staters, hailing from such distant lands as Bermuda and St. Augustine, Florida, are not people, but turf grasses.

Bad Signs


Salt marshes are tidal areas that contain plants tolerant of salt water. 

Rhode Island salt marshes are found along the shores of salt ponds, Narragansett Bay, estuarine rivers — such as the Narrow River estuary — and small embayments, such as Allin’s Cove in Barrington. Salt marshes provide nursery grounds and foraging habitat for hundreds of species of fish, shellfish, birds and mammals.

In addition to their habitat value, salt marshes filter out pollutants before they reach coastal waters, and provide a buffer to adjacent developed coastal communities during storms and flooding.

Oh, my aching back!

Don't Let Yard Work Break You

Every year I see a spike in the number of patients as a result of the spring season.  This is mostly due to the naturally occurring events of spring… grass growing, flowers emerging, leaves popping, and of course yard work.  It is inevitable; we work just as hard getting the yard ready for warmer weather as Mother Nature.  The only difference is that Mother Nature has not been sitting on her couch all winter getting out of shape!

Why is the risk of spinal injury so high in the spring?  For one, we are naturally less active in the winter months for obvious reasons – less daylight and cold weather.  This inactivity deconditions our very important spinal stabilizers and the large muscles of the legs.  

Rep. Walsh reconvenes South County taskforce

Work resumes on wastewater treatment alternatives
News release from Rep. Donna Walsh

One year ago, representatives of South County town governments, DEM, CRMC and the RI Builders Association resolved a long-standing impasse and worked out a plan for new regulations to boost home improvement projects, open the door to new wastewater treatment technologies and promote efforts to restore and protect coastal ponds. DEM’s new regulations took effect in July, 2012.

The same taskforce that created this new regulatory approach met on April 8 to review its effects and set out a course of action for the future. “We needed to see what worked before we can decide what we need to do next,” said Rep. Walsh.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Horsehead Nebula in Infrared from Hubble 

While drifting through the cosmos, a magnificent interstellar dust cloud became sculpted by stellar winds and radiation to assume a recognizable shape.

Fittingly named the Horsehead Nebula, it is embedded in the vast and complex Orion Nebula (M42). A potentially rewarding but difficult object to view personally with a small telescope, the above gorgeously detailed image was recently taken in infrared light by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope in honor of the 23rd anniversary of Hubble's launch.

The dark molecular cloud, roughly 1,500 light years distant, is cataloged as Barnard 33 and is seen above primarily because it is backlit by the nearby massive star Sigma Orionis.

The Horsehead Nebula will slowly shift its apparent shape over the next few million years and will eventually be destroyed by the high energy starlight.


Drunk Dancing
As Seen on TV: Dancing Field Sobriety Test

A North Kingstown man doesn’t fancy himself much of a dancer, according to reports. The 40-year-old man was pulled over for speeding and suspected of driving under the influence, prompting officers to ask him to take a field sobriety test.

During one of the test’s components, the man allegedly told officers, “I don’t think I could ever do that dance. I’ve seen it done on TV.” The component in question really wasn’t much of a dance, however. Known as the “walk and turn,” the component requires a person to walk in a straight line and then turn.

Don’t get ripped off by Boston Marathon charity scams

Massachusetts Attorney General offers advice to help ensure your donations get to the right place
News release from the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley

In response to the Boston Marathon attack, Attorney General Martha Coakley and the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) are providing information about the resources, services and financial support available to victims of the marathon bombing.

MOVA and the AG’s Office have provided several links on their websites to the many services available to those affected by this tragic event.  Both are working together to coordinate with federal, state, and local providers to ensure consistent information about the growing resources that are available to victims.  Those resources can be found on their websites at and at

It could happen

Calculating Tsunami Risk for the US East Coast

The greatest threat of a tsunami for the U.S. east coast from a nearby offshore earthquake stretches from the coast of New England to New Jersey, according to John Ebel of Boston College, who presented his findings today at the Seismological Society of America 2013 Annual Meeting.

The potential for an East Coast tsunami has come under greater scrutiny after a 2012 earthquake swarm that occurred offshore about 280 kilometers (170 miles) east of Boston. The largest earthquake in the 15-earthquake swarm, most of which occurred on April 12, 2012, was magnitude (M) 4.0.

The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction

Compared to the lifetime of grieving ahead for the people of West, Texas, a few years of reduced crop yields is a small price to pay for converting from "conventional" to organic farming.

Mushroom cloud from West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion
My heart aches for the people of West, Texas, the tiny town where a fertilizer plant recently blew up. Many of the folks who perished in the blast were heroic volunteer firefighters who ran into danger instead of away from it.

With 14 dead and 200 injured, and a nearby nursing home, school, and apartment complex either badly damaged or destroyed, West’s brave citizens have hard work ahead.

As a nation, we must prevent a disaster like this from happening again. For starters, we can make fertilizer plants safer and locate them away from schools and nursing homes from now on.

Short Takes

A round-up of arcane facts and silly science
By Will Collette

I save up pieces on odd science and facts that might have some bearing in some remote way on Charlestown. I enjoy them and you never know when you need a topic to meet a deadline for new content on Progressive Charlestown.

I’ve to quite a backlog so it’s time to clear them out by sharing them with you.

Let’s start with…

Make it STOP!!! 

I learned a new term to describe one of life’s annoyances – “Earworm.” That’s a tune that gets stuck in your brain that you can’t get out. Among the all-time classics, “Feelings” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” 

Researchers at Western Washington State University worked on trying to solve the problem of getting David Bowie’s “Changes,” anything by Frankie Vallee, Abba, Barry Manilow or Celine Dion out of your head.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The best Senate money can buy

A Well-Funded Militia
By Jen Sorenson

See what you can get for your money by clicking here.

More Parks and Recreation Activities and Trips for You!

Tennis lessons ... and much, much more
Your Parks and Recreation Department and Commission are always thinking up new activities for our town. Check out this list, below the break, and sign up!

Where the Money Is

America's banks have always been shady.
As foreclosures
Trim our ranks,
The biggest scoundrels
Are still the banks.

The nation’s big banks are making big profits again. Whew! I was a little worried there for a minute. 

During America’s recent financial meltdown we actually lost a few biggies, and plenty more nearly crashed on the rocks. 

Sandy rattled the entire U.S.

Superstorm Sandy Shook the U.S., Literally
This map shows colored dots to represent the locations of portable 
seismometers in the Earthscope array. Most are now located in the 
eastern part of the United States. Blue-green dots indicate low 
seismic activity, while yellow-orange-red dots indicate stronger 
seismic activity. When superstorm Sandy turned west-northwest 
toward Long Island, New York City and New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, the 
seismometers “lit up” because of ground shaking by certain 
ocean waves imparting energy to the seafloor. 
(Credit: Keith Koper, University of Utah Seismograph Stations.)

When superstorm Sandy turned and took aim at New York City and Long Island last October, ocean waves hitting each other and the shore rattled the seafloor and much of the United States -- shaking detected by seismometers across the country, University of Utah researchers found.

"We detected seismic waves created by the oceans waves both hitting the East Coast and smashing into each other," with the most intense seismic activity recorded when Sandy turned toward Long Island, New York and New Jersey, says Keith Koper, director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

"We were able to track the hurricane by looking at the 'microseisms' [relatively small seismic waves] generated by Sandy," says Oner Sufri, a University of Utah geology and geophysics doctoral student and first author of the study with Koper. "As the storm turned west-northwest, the seismometers lit up."

Our Biggest Terrorist Threat

Senate inaction on guns was inexcusable in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Acts of terror like the ones committed at the Boston Marathon are reprehensible and lack moral or logical explanation. They rock us to our core.

They also unite us in common purpose. Victims and their families seem to become our own loved ones. We want to ease their pain. We want to do something to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Our togetherness as a nation is often most evident when something happens that’s meant to break us.

Our local nuke is typical of problems in the nuclear energy industry

Nuclear safety is an oxymoron
By Will Collette

Just 20 miles to the west of Charlestown sits the Millstone Nuclear Power plant. I have reported regularly on safety breaches that have occurred at that plant that were supposed to be corrected by the plant’s operator, Virginia-based Dominion Resources.

It turns out that Dominion was not so prompt in addressing problems after all. Plus, it's about to get approval for near permanent storage of 3.6 million pounds of high-level nuclear waste.

Waterford Patch Editor Paul Petrone reported that even though, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Millstone has taken longer than “the norm” to correct problems, it is dropping back its level of scrutiny over Millstone to regular levels.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


This Week in #Fail
By Tom Tomorrow

Read 'em and weep by clicking here.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

NGC 1788 and the Witch's Whiskers 
This skyscape finds an esthetic balance of interstellar dust and gas residing in the suburbs of the nebula rich constellation of Orion.

Reflecting the light of bright star Rigel, Beta Orionis, the jutting, bluish chin of the Witch Head Nebula is at the upper left. Whiskers tracing the red glow of hydrogen gas ionized by ultraviolet starlight seem to connect that infamous visage with smaller nebulae, like dusty reflection nebula NGC 1788 at the right.

Strong winds from Orion's bright stars have also shaped NGC 1788, and likely triggered the formation of the young stars within. Appropriate for its location, NGC 1788 looks to some like a cosmic bat. The scene spans about 3 degrees on the sky or 6 full Moons.

House Committee Passes Langevin Bill Protecting South County Rivers

Senate Committee considering matching bill introduced by Senator Reed

WARWICK, RI – Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) applauded unanimous passage today by the House Committee on Natural Resources of legislation that would make federal restoration and conservation resources available to the Pawcatuck River, as well as other South County and Southeast Connecticut streams.

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act, introduced by Langevin in the House and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in the Senate, would pave the way for the rivers to receive benefits under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which currently does not cover the South County waterways. This change would not increase federal spending.

What do we get for our money?

Silent spending
Click to enlarge: RI tax revenue compared to tax breaks
Tax breaks, or expenditures, are the entitlement programs that nobody seems to complain about. Though maybe we should, given they cost Rhode Island more than $1.7 billion a year in 2009. That same year the state took in just over $3 billion. In other words, we gave away more than half as much as we actually collected. The idea is that we’re getting something for these giveaways.

But nobody really knows how this $1.7 billion investment is doing for the state because nobody is paying attention to the money we aren’t getting.

A bill being considered by the House Finance Committee would remedy that wrong. It’s sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi of South Kingstown and Reps. Walsh, O’Grady, Valencia and Ferri have each signed on. 

Potential boon to Rhode Island’s fried calamari market

Researchers discover Giant Squid is essentially all the same species, regardless of where they are found
By Will Collette
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have made the discovery that the elusive giant squid, found in all the world’s oceans, is essentially the same creature regardless of where it is found. Their findings are based on sampling the DNA from 43 specimens gathered from oceans all over the planet.

Rhode Island is considering the merits of legislation declaring Rhode Island-style fried calamari with yellow peppers as its Official State Appetizer, partly to bring attention to the dish and to Rhode Island’s position as the #1 source for squid on the East Coast.

I asked Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D, District 34-South Kingstown, Narragansett) for an update on the status of the Fried Calamari bill, and her answer was “floundering.”

Stopping the Senseless Carnage

Could we just cut back on warfare a little?
It was a confusing week, dominated by the Boston Marathon bombing, the evil act of two young men who had been welcomed into this country and had repaid the kindness with unspeakable cruelty.

Then, for grim comic relief, letters believed to contain the deadly poison ricin were sent to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator, and a local judge. The FBI immediately arrested a serial letter-writer in Mississippi who is an Elvis Presley impersonator.

Lawrence and Memorial completes final hurdle before buy-out of Westerly Hospital

Deal to be closed on June 1
By Will Collette

I am happy to see that Westerly Hospital has been saved from imminent closure, now that they have received all of the state agency approvals they need. Lawrence & Memorial (L&M) Hospital of Stonington will sign all the final paperwork to get the keys to Westerly Hospital on June 1

That’s the same day that Westerly Hospital will close its obstetrics department, now that the RI Health Department has closed the door on retaining that service.

While this is a welcome bail-out, it does not mean that Westerly Hospital is out of trouble. Under the terms of the deal, L&M is only pledged to keep clinical services going for two years and to keep Westerly Hospital in operation as an acute care hospital for five years.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Marriage Equality Wins in the Senate, 26 to 12

Thank you to local Senators Dennis Algiere, Cathie Rumsey, Sue Sosnowski
By Will Collette

Only two more steps – and two relatively easy ones at that – and Rhode Island will join the rest of New England in acknowledging the civil rights of gay couples. The RI Senate passed its version of marriage equality legislation by a vote of 26 to 12. 

Up until the vote, no one really expected such a wide margin. Indeed, until the small Republican Senate Caucus, led by Sen. Dennis Algiere (R-Westerly, Charlestown, So. Kingstown) came out in unanimous support of marriage equality, simple passage was far from a certainty.

It took the Republicans to shame the on-the-fence Democrats to join in this historic vote.

Since the Senate version of the bill is slightly different than the one passed overwhelmingly by the House (51-19), the Senate bill now goes back to the House for final legislative passage. I predict the victory margin there will grow. 

It will certainly grow by one vote, Donna Walsh’s, because Donna was out-of-state when the first vote took place. As a co-sponsor of the House bill and a long-time staunch marriage equality supporter, I know she will add to the affirmative count.