Forecast: January

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Eagle Eyes Wanted

Getting an accurate count of the bald eagles in this state takes keen vision and warm coats. Every year, officials at MassWildlife—joined by volunteer bird-spotters—trudge the river valleys and swampy areas where eagles like to roost. It’s a one-day affair (lest the eagles fly off and get double-counted) that last year racked up 71 sightings.
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Keeping Geniuses off the Breadline

Our latest winners of MacArthur Fellowships—the no-strings-attached, half-million-dollar gifts to big thinkers—get the first installment of their “genius grants” wired to their bank accounts today, with payments following every three months for the next five years. This being a fine time to hit the lottery, intellectual or otherwise, we checked in with the suddenly flush brainiacs to find out what they have in mind for their prize money:

John Ochsendorf, an MIT structural engineer and architectural preservationist who works to apply old-school technologies to modern construction:
“I’m going to use it to support students, to help us go to conferences, to help us travel.” He’s not wasting a moment. By the time the cash is deposited, he and some grad students will already be en route to Cambodia, where they’ll study ancient temples. “We’ve wanted to go to Cambodia for years and haven’t had the funds to do it.”

Marin Soljačić, an MIT optical physicist who’s puzzling out how to transmit electricity wirelessly: “I have some laser projects I am going to mostly focus on.”

Rachel Wilson (pictured), a Harvard neurobiologist who’s figuring out new ways to study brain activity by unraveling the neurological mysteries of the fruit fly: “No plans. Given the current state of the world, it seems best to stuff it in a mattress for a little while until the situation becomes clearer.”


Educated Bets For The Weeks Ahead

Who’s fired up for ’09? Well, the Mashpee Wampanoag were: After all, the gaming-kiboshing regime in George Bush’s Bureau of Indian Affairs is leaving, removing an obstacle to the tribe’s casino. But then ousted tribal chair Glenn Marshall cops to charges he misused hundreds of thousands of dollars (under the direction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff) supplied by the tribe’s benefactor, Detroit casino king Herb Strather. With Governor Patrick pulling out his chips, that means 2008’s highly entertaining fight over casinos is now being reduced to questions about the Mashpee’s relationship with their investors, and whether the tribe’s leadership can keep the skeleton that popped out of their closet from scuttling their bid for federal gaming approval.

Holding a better hand is Cape Wind. After eight years of wrangling, the alternative-energy project is poised for the go-ahead; all it needs is the U.S. Minerals Management Service’s final thumbs-up this month. Oh, and for Ted Kennedy to not push back the ruling yet again. Then the easy part: erecting 130 windmills that’ll each reach higher than Boston’s Harbor Towers.

And speaking of fierce opposition, Cantabrigians should prepare for the sound of scraping as Bush-loathing 1/20/09 bumper stickers are rendered obsolete. A tip to avoid scratching your Volvo’s bumper: Wet the sticker with a lubricant. WD-40 works great, but—lucky you—so does extra-virgin olive oil. – GEOFFREY GAGNON

Orderliness Is Next To Godliness
One silver lining to the Catholic Archdiocese‘s relocation to an office park in Braintree was the opportunity it afforded archivist Robert Johnson-Lally to tidy up the church’s files. He’s been at it since June, sorting through 1,400 hand-scrawled volumes of baptisms, marriages, and the like that date back to the 1700s. The newly organized digs should help the genealogists who consult the material—as well as very thorough Catholics planning family reunions—as the archive reopens today for appointment-only public use.
66 Brooks Dr., Braintree, 617-746-5795,


Boston’s favorite oversize metal band, Bang Camaro, is scheduled to appear on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.


Harvard’s Cranking It Up
For all the attention Harvard draws, it’s been decades since anyone gave a toss about its sports teams. Second-year basketball coach Tommy Amaker is changing that. An All-American player at Duke, he landed a class of highly touted, occasionally academically shaky recruits—then cut five players this fall to make room for them. Tonight they face the biggest major-conference opponent of the year, Boston College, in a game that gives Harvard its best chance to show that the new skipper’s tactics are good for more than ruffling Ivy League feathers.
$10, Conte Forum, 2599 Beacon St., Chestnut Hill,

Major Lines at Louis

Louis Boston’s famous winter sale is a spectacle of markdowns not to be missed, even—or especially—in this economy. The store starts by cutting the prices of its entire winter inventory in half; then, after a week, another 10 percent comes off. The savvy shopper will want to case the joint beforehand and arrive early on sale day: Unlike in most years, when the truly stylish are willing to pay full price early in the season, you’ll be tussling for those Balenciaga and Dries Van Noten bargains with the best of them. If you miss out, the leftovers get shipped to the Newton Filene’s Basement.
Louis Boston, 234 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-262-6100,


Last Chance for your Two Cents on Pike Tolls

If the previous meetings about the Turnpike Authority‘s proposed toll hikes are any indication, expect shouting at the final hearing tonight. Inspired by our forebears, some motorists marked the 235th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party last month with mild vehicular disobedience (like paying tolls with small change—that’ll show ‘em!). Could we see a harbor full of toll tickets if the measure is approved later this winter?
Worcester City Hall, 455 Main St., Worcester,


This Kid’s Not Exactly Reading Bedtime Stories

A few years ago Cambridge’s James Boice dropped out of college and started writing unnerving stories. His 2007 novel, MVP, was a literary kick to the chest and his new book, NoVa—an evisceration of suburbia that centers on a suicide—is just as startling. He reads from it tonight.
Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-566-6660,


Avoid Getting Cork-Screwed at the Boston Wine Festival

The 20th-anniversary Boston Wine Festival, the 12-week-long juggernaut hosted by the Boston Harbor Hotel, launches with a grand gala at Rowes Wharf on 1/10. Skip it. Seriously: The festival itself features some of the best wine tasting of the season, with vintners showcasing beautiful bottles, but the opening reception is strictly amateur night—what Restaurant Week is to serious foodies. Make plans instead to hit one of the less-overbooked wine pairing sessions later in the month, such as “Battle of the Cabernets” from 1/14 to 1/16, or the introduction to the Italian standout Brunello di Montalcino on 1/27. Then spend opening night avoiding the throngs (who’ll be jockeying to get their money’s worth with quarter-ounce-only pours of room-temp reds) by spending that $100 entry fee on one of these bottles at a local wine bar:
1. 2003 Ferrando Nebbiolo di Carema White Label ($85) at the Butcher Shop. Decant this sumptuous red for 15 minutes, and blow the rest of your savings on the ricotta gnudi ($15). 2. 2000 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon ($66) at Troquet. Leathery and tannic, in a good way—especially with the crispy duck confit ($14). 3. 2001 Alain Voge Cornas Cuvée Vieilles Vignes ($99) at Les Zygomates. The most famous Rhône wines are delicate blends of 13 grape varietals. This one: juicy, unrestrainedly lush, 100 percent syrah. – JOLYON HELTERMAN

Bottom of the Ninth for Our Man Jim Rice

It’s become a rite of winter: bellyaching over the Baseball Hall of Fame‘s snubbing of the venerable left fielder. This year, after appearing unsuccessfully on 14 ballots, Rice will learn if he gets in on his final chance. In 2008, he fell less than 3 percentage points shy of the required 75 percent of voters he needs to back him. All told, he has earned the dubious distinction of having received the most total votes of anybody not in the Hall.

Rice is no doubt prouder of some of his other statistical achievements: He’s the only player ever to lead the majors in home runs, triples, and RBIs in the same year (a feat that won him the league MVP award in ’78). He also leads the Red Sox all-time in number of lives saved by rushing into the stands to help children struck by line drives (all right, it only happened once, but his nationally televised turn as a hero in 1982 should be good for at least a couple of votes, no?). Interestingly, some sportswriters have posited that the recent steroid stain on baseball could end up working in Rice’s favor in his make-or-break bid. The thinking being that as a bunch of cheating bums put up suspiciously gaudy numbers, Rice’s juiceless production over his 16 seasons becomes harder to dismiss. Here’s hoping.



The 90th anniversary of every trivia geek’s favorite disaster, the Molasses Flood, in which 21 people met a sticky end.


Sourpuss Edgar Allan Poe didn’t care for his Hub roots. B.C. is toasting the 200th anniversary of his birth anyway.


The First Draft on Deval

Remember the commotion last year over whether Washington Week host Gwen Ifill was fit to officiate the vice presidential debate because of the Obama book she was working on? That tome is out today, and despite its title (The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama), it’s not an “Obama book” per se, but rather an accounting of a whole generation of new black leaders, among them our own governor.

In her breezily paced chapter on Deval Patrick, Ifill is particularly struck by his come-from-nowhere candidacy in 2006. (“I certainly know that I cut the line by running for governor,” Patrick says.) But while her treatment is generally celebratory, Ifill resists the temptation to credit the governor with mission-accomplished. She quotes one very interested observer, potential GOP challenger Charlie Baker, admitting to keeping a close eye on Patrick. “People are making a mistake if they are presuming there is a trajectory here that is clear and defined,” Baker says. “I think it could go in either direction.”

Ifill, a Simmons College grad and former Herald writer, also interviews Patrick family members, including his generally reserved wife, Diane. Recounting the governor’s past PR missteps—like the plush Cadillac DeVille DTS that he ordered to replace Mitt Romney’s Crown Vic—Ifill quotes Mrs. Patrick seething at the Herald’s racially tinged contention that the car was “tricked out.” It’s all interesting stuff for Patrick watchers, if not entirely juicy. But then, Patrick is no doubt holding on to his best material. After all, he’s under a $1.35 million contract for a book of his own, slated to drop next year.


Susan Windham-Bannister, CEO, Mass Life Sciences Center

Illustration by Antony Hare

The point person on Governor Patrick’s big biotech-incentives fund starts handing out $1 billion worth of state cash this month. Here’s what else she’s got on tap:   

The highlight will be attending the inauguration. We’ll go down the Friday before, stay with friends, attend some of the galas, and just soak up the great energy. What does someone wear to an inaugural ball? My wardrobe decisions tend to be last-minute, but I’ll probably bring my favorite peach-colored Calvin Klein.

I go through six or seven books a month, usually a couple at a time. I read everywhere: in the tub before bed, on the plane en route to various board meetings. I’m looking forward to finishing The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s all about randomness and uncertainty, about how you have to watch out for things that are totally unpredictable. It’s especially thought-provoking, given the change in the economy. Who would have thought about that last July, when I took this job?

This month will also be my first chance to go skiing in Vermont, either to Sugarbush or Okemo. My husband and I started dating after a ski trip. I’ll do a diamond run to avoid being a wimp, but at this stage, I prefer the blues.- AS TOLD TO BRIGID SWEENEY


Frost/Nixon…and Zelnick

Hot on the heels of Ron Howard’s big-screen adaptation, the acclaimed theatric re-creation of the 1976 Frost–Nixon television interviews visits the Colonial for a two-week engagement. Students of BU journalism professor Bob Zelnick will be impressed to see their teacher at the center of the play. It was a young Zelnick, then an out-of-work radioman with a law degree, who was drafted for the job of prepping the lightweight British interviewer David Frost for his showdown with Tricky Dick. At the time, Zelnick called the spectacle “the trial that Richard Nixon never had,” and as a part of his gig on the prosecution team he formulated questions and then rehearsed with Frost by playing the part of the ex-president.
Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston St., 617-931-2787,


Out Of Town News is On Deadline

When the owners of itty-bitty Harvard Square newsstand Out of Town News announced last fall that they would not renew their lease, the city of Cambridge stepped in to throw a lifeline. At the end of this month, that, too, runs out. The possible demise of this icon is a bummer, another blow to the square’s quirky, intellectual, locally owned character—or so we’ve been told. But it’s also worth remembering that Out of Town has for the past 15 years been run by an out-of-towner, the Hudson News chain, which supplies every airport in Christendom with glossies and broadsheets. And there is a bigger, arguably better (if less cute) newsstand right across the street.

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